The joy of snow

Living in coastal Queensland means hot and humid summers, very mild winters and lovely seasons in between. We don’t really get to experience the four seasons because they seem to merge together so for us, spending a couple of days in the cooler climes of Innsbruck, Austria was utterly delightful. Both Hubby and I wanted to see snow, and perhaps explore some Christmas markets,  the timing wasn’t perfect however we discovered that the markets in Verona, Innsbruck and Berlin opened late November. In the days leading up to our arrival in Innsbruck we kept checking the weather reports and were happy to see that snow was predicted during our stay. Snow is not something we’ll ever experience where we live, Queenslanders complain about the cold if the temperature drops below 20 degrees celsius.

My first visit to Innsbruck was in 1999 and it was summer, no snow then just lots of rain. This time we travelled in late Autumn and I imagined snow covered mountains, Christmas decorations and huge Christmas trees covered in lights, Innsbruck did not disappoint. Hubby was ecstatic! On our second day in Innsbruck it snowed, we woke up to a view of snow covered rooftops and couldn’t believe our luck. The previous night we discovered the joy of Gluhwein, the spiced wine warming us from the inside out and it worked a treat during the day as well especially when combined with delicious food sold at the Christmas stalls. It wasn’t hard to spot the tourists, we were the ones with broad smiles, standing in the middle of the square and taking photos of each other in the snow.

The food in Innsbruck’s old town caters to tourists, the quality might be considered average and the offerings kitschy or old fashioned. We didn’t really care and were looking forward to schnitzel and strudel, dishes that Hubby’s Italian Nanna cooked for him as a child. The lovely staff at the Hotel Weisses Kreuz sent us to a couple of places where we could enjoy a tasty schnitzel and for afternoon tea, apple strudel and hot chocolate. The food was delicious and the hot chocolate incredible, served up was a large ball of dark chocolate that I dropped into a steaming glass of milk and stirred until it melted. The apple strudel was also good, apparently not as good as Nanna’s but I enjoyed every mouthful. There is nothing quite like a good, hearty meal on a cold, snowy day and not a day goes this summer without me wishing I was back in Innsbruck.

Not an apple strudel in sight

The Apple and Grape Harvest Festival in Stanthorpe is a fabulous way to indulge in delicious fresh produce, local wines and other tasty treats. An annual event complete with a street parade, the festival attracts thousands of visitors to the area. Accompanied by good friends and Woolloomooloo the bear I drove the three hours to Stanthorpe to experience the festival and hopefully track down freshly made apple strudel, as a day trip it makes for a long day of driving but there are plenty of opportunities to stop along the way.

We stopped for a caffeine fix and a stroll in the town of Warwick, a regional town west Brisbane and known for its annual Rodeo which is in its 77th year. Some of the buildings are from the early 1900s and provide a pleasant change to the concrete and glass architecture of the Brisbane CBD (Central Business District) and the Gold Coast, I particularly liked the way the light moved across the sandstone church opposite the coffee shop. From Warwick it is only a short trip to the town of Stanthorpe, the landscape changes dramatically from coast to the country and there is livestock aplenty. It has been a dry couple of years, the cows, horses, kangaroos and a few sheep are spotted in dusty paddocks, any splashes of green are vegetable crops or an irrigated field.

Stanthorpe is a small regional town, if you want to experience good, local produce and try some Queensland wines then Stanthorpe is an ideal location. Being the designated driver I opted out of the wine tasting although I did try a little peach cider later in the day at Castle Glen and found it to be quite pleasant. Going to Stanthorpe for me was really about the sweet, crunchy Gala apples, they’re great as a healthy snack and I also enjoy cooking them up and making apple crumble for  dessert. One of my friends was desperately searching for apple strudel, you would think that it would be easy to find during the Apple and Grape Harvest festival in a town with several bakeries and cafes, but no. We settled for grape and berry strudel which was nice and could have been exceptional had they not destroyed the pasty by heating it up in a microwave.

Despite the strudel disappointment we did manage to find a tasty treat in the form of a potato swirly or slinky, a potato sliced to look like a spring, coated in a light batter and deep fried – YUM! The market stalls at the festival sold all sorts of local arts and crafts in addition to local produce, lollies, hats, childrens clothes and anything that could be deep fried or coated in sugar. With only a couple of hours to spare we decided not to find a spot near the wine and food tents and instead chose to explore the countryside and see what we could find, first stop was a local fruit shop where we bought several kilos of apples and other fruit and vegetables, the sweet aroma of the apples on a warm autumn day filled the car. Castle Glen sells wine, liqueurs, beer and ciders that are all made on the premises, the range of colours and bottles are amazing and the owner is only too happy to chat and hand over beverages to taste. They also make a very delicious caramel fudge with a hint of cinnamon that is hard to resist and as my friends try the different varieties of cider I get busy with my iPhone and snap photos of the funky looking bottles.

Not far from Castle Glen is Granite Belt Dairy, home of the Jersey Girls Cafe and producers of good cheese such as Thulimbah, Pepato and Brass Monkey Blue (for those who like blue cheese – I’m not one of them). The cafe has a wonderful menu, we are there for the trio of ice cream and I have the hugest vanilla malt milkshake, all made from rich and creamy Jersey cow milk. Being there is like being back on the farms of my childhood, the cows can only be seen in the distance and a Maremma sheepdog (I think) wanders around and halfheartedly barks at arriving visitors, we could have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon recovering from a milk coma but it was soon time to hit the road.

The drive home was uneventful, but enjoyable. We watched as the sun set over the mountains, stopping to take a few photos and feel the rush of air as a truck zoomed by on the highway. One of my friends took on the role of driver and I was able to sit back and watch the light change as well as keep an eye open for kangaroos or wallabies, they have a tendency to leap out in front of traffic causing major damage to vehicles and fatally wounding themselves. The night sky in the country is the best place for looking at stars, the absence of street lights enables you to see them in all their glory, a beautiful ending to a thoroughly enjoyable day.