Usually I seldom go overboard when it comes to birthdays, but this time my hand has been forced. I should have smelled the rat when my brother decided to come over from the UK – conveniently around my birthday, although I thought that it might be because while he tries to pick faults with Austria and Austrian life, he secretly rather enjoys his trips to see me.
For all he complains about the “Austrian way of doing things” he knows that I will put on a good show, will be a good host and will always find something new to see and do. And with sterling tumbling he appreciates having somewhere to stay and a brother who doesn’t spend money like it is going out of style.
Summer is also his wife’s “feast” time, with her zipping around the countryside giving crafts courses as an instructor at residential venues around Southern England, while the local adult education college she works at in term-time is shut or offering summer holiday courses for children. She was made for television of yesteryear with the motto “don’t work with animals or children” and managed to child-proof herself by offering courses that were not “cool enough” for the “cool kids”.
We (visiting brother, Mrs. Curmudgeon and I) decided to avoid the heat last Thursday by fleeing to the hills – well the mountains. With temperatures flirting with three figures (in Fahrenheit) increased altitude was definitely the best way to escape. Two upstanding fellow British bloggers in Vienna had been steeping praise on the Schneebergbahn and with our Niederösterreich cards we made a day out of it. Up by funicular and then a good walk up at the top where the temperature was very mild and a pleasant change from the wall of heat in the valley. Even my brother was full of praise for our little outing – the prospect of getting up to over 2,000 metres above sea level without breaking too much of a sweat and a Buchteln stop on the way down and he was in his element. Not a single complaint was uttered, and there was even faint praise “I can see why you enjoy summer here, and don’t see the need to head back over to the UK.”
Long-standing readers, and I think I know which six you are, are only too aware of how my trips to the UK have become less frequent. Being able also to make use of the shoulder season has meant that summer time has been a case for enjoying everything that Austria has to offer, and using only fleeing when the Neustifter Kirtag circus rolls into town, shattering our peace on the edge of the Cottageviertel. Next weekend we will venture away to another part of Austria to escape the droves.
On Friday my brother and I went out for a drive up towards the Czech border, and picked up some beers from just over the border and had some lunch. In hindsight I realise it was all a cunning ruse by my good lady wife to get things organised for last night. When we got back from our jaunt, she instructed us that we would be being picked up by friends for food and drinks for the evening to celebrate my birthday. On this occasion, knowing that my brother was likely in on the plan, I just went with the plan.
We went up with six friends to Klee am Hanslteich and my suspicions were raised slightly by the fact that my wife, who mentioned several times that we should go there, was happy not to attend. Not anything to do with my choice of friends, but presumably to aide her planning for the following night. We had a good evening up there – with two friends acting as designated drivers to ensure that the rest of us could have a boozy evening of it, and we then went into a bar closer to town by taxi to allow them to enjoy a few drinks with us.
Saturday began quietly, until reading the papers on the terrace was interrupted, albeit in a pleasant way. My wife had arranged for a few friends to come round for drinks on the terrace so we duly filled the fridge with our cache from the Czech Republic and had a lively gathering with some friends, before we commandeered a passing 35a bus to head up the Krottenbachstrasse to a Heurige in Neustift am Walde. The biggest surprise was my little sister turning up, a real surprise for me. My brother was clearly in on this with my wife, but kid sister (she was always known as this by my brother and me, due to the fourteen year age gap from me to her) turning up for a non-round birthday was nevertheless a very big surprise. We don’t see each other that often, due to her slightly haphazard artistic lifestyle – I saw her in Spain back in the winter and she announced this time that she was moving on to Portugal in October – we’re never quite sure how she manages it all, but she seems to be a very free spirit, who doesn’t settle anywhere and we’ve sometimes felt like we only manage to catch up with her shadow. Possibly she was the one out of the three of us who suffered most from being a forces brat – with her being that much younger and arriving at time as my father’s moves seemed to become ever more frequent, so she probably had the most disrupted childhood of the three of us. My brother and I were both already on our own two (relatively stable) feet while she moved around with my parents from one base to another for a while longer.
I am amazed at how my dear wife managed to get her onto a flight and get her to Vienna for a long weekend. My sister has moved around all through the Lowlands, then onto Paris and then Southern France, before moving around Spain and her next chapter will see her move to Portugal. She claims that this time she is moving for good, but we have heard that before, usually as a new man enters her life, although she claims that there is currently no man in her life (this would be a first).
My birthday weekend drew to a close with a sumptuous Sunday lunch at my sister-in-law’s. Another inspired bit of planning by my dear wife. My sister and sister-in-law who probably haven’t seen each other since our wedding got on very well, due to their similar free-spirited artistic lifestyles. Nephew excelled in making himself useful (yes!) and even said a few words of thanks and raised a toast to all my help in extracting him from his financial mire (although cheekily saying that he realised he’d skipped a couple of our monthly meetings). He had even cleared most of his garret out ready for his new life on the Ocean, which he seems determined to see through, due to start on some dreadful cruiseship from Hamburg in a couple of weeks.
Apart from elderly Aunt in Lincolnshire, who had sent a card, the whole “crew” was there. The wine flowed, the beer was enjoyed and it was early evening before we went our separate ways. Sister-in-law appears to have already made plans for going painting in Portugal with my kid sister.
All this for a non-round birthday. Family and friends really can make the difference, especially when they all come together at once. And last but not least, I have a few days away to look forward to next weekend, another treat from my wife. She is using it as a way to recharge her batteries and prepare for the school year ahead, but won’t let the cat out of the back about where we are off to, other than saying Southern Austria. Watch this space.