Austria: More than Mozart

I traveled to Austria for the first time in 2007. It is a singularly beautiful, captivating and complicated country. Arriving in Austria felt like visiting a place where the dust had just settled and making noise would be wholly unwelcome. Austrians don’t tend to be loud people but  as you spend more time there, you realize that the hush remains so visitors and natives can hear the country rumble and shake with the echo of the crescendos, stacattos and vibratos that outline its mammoth classical music tradition.

Vienna’s palaces and government buildings which  look like they have been carved from gigantic hunks of white chocolate are set slightly askew by the young pulse of the city’s scuffed-up and avaunt-garde underside. Tourists, such as myself, can ride a tram all the way around the city’s inner ring passing through a melange of modern and classical architecture and beautiful gardens.  I did not want to leave Vienna; my mind was blueprinting a plan to stay there as a psychology graduate student. I could just picture myself sipping powerful lattes while I pouredover the classical cannons of Austria’s own Sigmund Freud.

But Mozart called me to Salzburg  so I went. A Baroque city nestled against the northern boundary of the Alps, Salzburg is a tri-university college town. From Salzburg, I visited the lakeside towns of St. Gilgen and Abersee. The sailboat sheared through the mirrored Lake Wolfgang and we admired the summer homes poking up along the mountains that framed the lake.

Lake Wolfgang, Austria

During the tour, we took a short stop from sailing and climbed up to a look out for an expansive view of the lake. Some of the stonework had been graffitied with swastikas. The realization of the role that the country played in abetting the atrocities of the Holocaust became even more stirring than its cool natural beauty.

Austria undoubtedly bears a deep guilt for its role in genocide and, several decades after the war, acknowledged its wrongdoing. I saw very few signs of poverty in Austria but rather a country that invests in its people who quietly keep to themselves. I felt that if I ever were to enact my fantasy of living there, I would never really be perceived as Austrian.

The coolness of the culture is set aflame by the Austrian pastry tradition. Chocolate is a common aphrodisiac and the Austrians have mastered the art of baking chocolate into sensual treats.  The Austrians are known for decadent cakes; layers of chocolate, caramel, nougat, nuts and jams, usually sealed in a smooth layer of ganache. The Sacher Torte and the Linzer Torte are world famous. Less  intricate Austrian pastries such as strudels filled with apples, berries and poppy seeds and fried dough are must-have treats. Viennese coffee houses set the world standard for potent coffee and a space where thinkers and writers could sit for hours, rearranging and exchanging words, disturbed only by the poofing of espresso steam and the pour of fresh coffee in their mugs. The Viennese coffee house is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list and still exists in proliferation despite the expansion of Starbucks.

Cookie Chronicles developed four cookies based on classic Austrian desserts: Cardamom-Blackberry Linzer Cookies, Mocha Apricot Brownies, Viennese Chocolate Buttons and Chocolate Dipped Vanilla Crescent Cookies.