The last of the big three, and the home of Mozart’s balls

 As I mentioned before my brief hiatus, this week was Winterferien (winter half term – so that the kids can go out and do wholesome winter sports) and in the spirit of Winterferien I went off to Austria with my parents super awesome and smoking hot snowboarder friends for the week. Hence the silence over here. Also hence the photo; we were in Obertauern, a place so surrounded by stunning landscapes that I was stumbling around saying ‘Whoa’ like everyone in the world’s impression of Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Oddly, this is a skiing location which is relatively unpopular and unknown, partly due to the infamous wind which at its worst can scissor through your skin, punch the breath out of your gut and make you feel like there is no other human sensation in the universe than pure cold. However, this wind is infrequent and occurs mainly at night and most importantly does not affect the fact that this is one of the most wonderful places to come at this time of year if snowsports are your bag.
The pistes are beautiful, wide, varied and scrupulously maintained so that every morning the snow lies white, flat and soft like the surface of a handkerchief. I am a close-to-novice skier who refuses to attend any more ski-school lessons in favour of hurtling wide-legged around the blue slopes, but here I just breathed deeply, drunk in the surroundings and skied like a moron while feeling like a goddess. Mahvellous.

We stayed in the Hotel Latschenhof, a queer building right in the middle of the town which was run by the family Lürzer. With the hand-embroidered wall-hangings wishing everyone in the hotel a pleasant stay from all its members and the wholesome group photo of the whole family in Dirndls and Lederhosen in the lobby we understandably assumed that the Lürzers were a quaint and traditional family unit who had poured their lives into their beloved hotel. As we got to know the town we realised that the Lürzers are in fact the Mafia of Obertauern; they own practically every restaurant and shop in the place and have a family member in each branch, with our hotel boasting the tall and lanky son who smarmed about with bottles of wine and ushered his pregnant girlfriend around, making her eat cake as often as possible. However, as befitting a mob hotel it was drop-dead-fantastic, particularly with regards to the eats; for the pretty cheap price we paid we were given six courses per meal per evening, each of which was odd and meaty but always eye-rollingly delicious, always ending with a selection of cheeses and a new flavour of fruit-mustard jam, which my father tried every day with ever increasing astonishment at the new flavour: “Mustard and FIG?!! Call the clergy!”

But the really delicious part of the whole hotel’s restaurant bit was the staff. They were amazing. Not in the modern and limp sense of the term which seems to encompass anything which inspires a mild waft of pleasure, but the original sense of creating nothing but delight and incredulity in the beholders. Mario, our tea guy, brought us unlimited teas, coffees and hot chocolates for free every day with an unflinching smile and endless patience as we daily rejected the warm yellow pus (or ‘evaporated coffee milk’ as I was informed it was) that we were given and asked for real milk and generally behaved with such wonderful grace, politeness and kindness you might have thought he was trying to win our approval so he could marry our daughters. And he managed this whilst simultaneously being a fantastic skier and in possession of the name Mario, which in itself is enough for me. Beyond Mario and the real cherry on the Kuchen, though, was Horst, our Maitre d’ and big daddy of the restaurant. He managed all the tables but poured most of his energy into the more important job of being endlessly bloody entertaining. Let me break this down corporate-style:

  • He wore a large pair of bright red glasses every day.
  • He insisted on tying his tie with the thin bit on the front as a style statement (except for Italian-themed night, when he wore a bowtie of the Italian flag).
  • He had a tie clip that was a bent spoon.
  • He alternately wore natty, wildly-coloured and eccentric jackets and jerkins and occasionally a pair of top quality Lederhosen.
  • He poured the coffee every morning and while doing so would make an astonishing whistling noise without moving his lips and making everyone think the coffee-pot was magic (or rather fitted with some cheap novelty piece of joke-shop apparatus – nonetheless, it was great).
  • He brought in new toys every day to entertain this one little boy who was staying there at the time: a singing and dancing santa hat, a miniature drumkit, an electric air guitar, flashing LED sunglasses, a neighing horse hand puppet…
  • He was the most attentive waiter you could hope or wish for; every time I asked a question (and there were many, since I was acting translator for my parents the entire time) he whisked off to the kitchen at lightning speed and came back with just the right answer, and once, when the candle and tulip on the table had been arranged in such a way that when we arrived the tulip was sadly burned to a blackened crisp, one other waiter made a joke about it to him and within three microseconds there was a new, dew-glistening tulip fresh in front of us.

Tune in tomorrow for more stories from Österreich including the ski/apres-ski experience, traditional ski cuisine and getting to grips with a third type of German (and now you know what the first part of the post’s title is about).

Rose T