That Country Life

Trip Start Feb 02, 2010
Trip End Feb 02, 2011

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Flag of Austria  , Styria,
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saturday morning was much the same as Friday for us, helping with the animals and then going over to the house for breakfast. After we helped with the animals some more, this time cleaning out their stalls. Then we were left to relax in the sun for a while. I got into the old-school lifestyle cranking up the wood stove to heat water I hand pumped from the well to wash some of our stinky hiking clothes in a basin. Hans returned around midday and  needed logistical help getting a tractor out to a field to cut grass so Felix was given the task of driving wonkily the lovely little Austrian made Steyr 8055 tractor a few kilometres down the road. The whole way he had the biggest smile on his face as he bumped and rumbled down the road trying to drive straight and not into other cars using the road. When we reached the field Felix then happily drove round and round, up and down cutting the grass. He was still grinning from ear to ear the whole time, even while concentrating dead seriously on driving in straight lines so as to get all the grass. It made his day I think.

 After cutting the grass Hans drove us to a flea market in Passail on his way to taking a young mentally disabled man he cares for home. Ever since I saw the signs for the market as we walked along a few days earlier I had been hoping to go to the market, I assumed it would be a really big, big market in the town centre. However when we arrived it was a million times worse then I could have imagined. It was a tiny little carer business running it as a fundraiser, we arrived at five PM and anyone other than the staff had left. As we walked into the yard I couldn’t have felt more like I was in the spotlight if I had walked onto the stage in the middle of the Oscars. Even though they tried to hide it, it was clear everyone was looking at us and wondering “Who the hell are they?”. Felix didn’t mind it all but I felt very uncomfortable.

 We couldn’t just turn and run so we had a little look around but it was a pretty little market, I guess anything worthwhile had been bought a long time before we got there. Then Felix wanted to buy some food and sit down to eat but I was feeling way too embarrassed to sit as the only strangers in a crowd where everyone clearly knew each other very well. So we had a little walk through Passail and waited in the last of the evening sun, not arguing, but having a very emotional talk about my increasingly antisocial feelings towards people. Soon Hans returned from taking his client home and then we too went back home.  

 Sunday morning the ground was covered in frost, winter is coming! I’m probably the only person in the whole of Austria, aside from maybe some fanatical skiers, who is looking forward to winter - winter means going home time. After we had helped feed the animals and clean out their stalls we had the whole day to do as we pleased again. In the afternoon Kelly, Lena and their children came to visit. We took the donkeys on a little walk through the forest with them before a dinner in the yurt. 

 Monday, Felix got another go of the tractor, this time to put the grass which had now been laying in the sun drying for a few days into straight lines so the baler could pick it up and make into sileage. In the afternoon the local Tennis Club hired out the farm for what must have been something like an end of season break-up dinner. Hans had a barbecue going and after the party moved into the yurt, much to Felix’s joy, we were invited to eat the rest of the meat and salad. From the moment the smell of barbecuing of meat had reached Felix’s nostrils he had been salivating for a taste, for once Felix needed no second invitation to make it to the dinner table.

 Over this little informal barbecue Felix had begun talking to two German work placement girls who have spent almost four months helping out at Leska. They seemed to think Felix was the bomb. Everything he said was answered with much giggling and laughter, much to my amusement. I felt a little embarrassed for them acting like such silly little girls giggling away like that but they probably thought I was equally strange sitting there not saying a word all night.

 I woke up early the next morning and in the frosty cold and chopped some kindling to make a fire. I found some herbs in the garden to make a tea and collected water. When the stove was going and a pot of water heating up for tea, I swept out the little room. Even though I knew it was just a temporary game, playing in this little house like an early settler, it still was very enjoyable to light the fire, hand pump the water and sit around candles at night. There is no running water or power at the farm so every time we want to cook or drink something warm the fire needs to be lit and water collected. Not only is the simple living at Leska so nice but having a space to move around as we pleased was the most welcome break from our usual living in others peoples space. Having a little break with our own space has been the best, best part of staying at Leska, like I said, it’s just a temporary game but when I’m in a good mood I’m happy pretending.

 At eight, as invited and to feed the animals, the German girls Lisa and Vanessa arrived and joined us for hot chocolate made with fresh cow milk from the farmer they live with. Felix kept them entertained again while I made scrambled eggs for breakfast. 

 A few hours later Felix and I decided to walk into Weiz to buy some food. On the way we wandered through the forest very slowly and off the track looking for mushrooms. A walking trail, much like the one Felix and I had been following passes right through the farm so not only is there a heap of walkers from near and far passing through regularly but also a string of neighbours with children who regularly come for a walk to visit the animals. If Hans and Burgi charged everyone who walked through the place, goo-gooed at the pigs, patted the cats and scratched the sheep and donkeys behind the ears a dollar, by the end of the week they’d be millionaires, seriously they live on a pedestrian highway, I joked to Felix if it was my house I’d put up a big hight brick wall around the place. A few days earlier we had spoken to a neighbouring woman who was out walking and visited the farm with her children. The lady had been collecting mushrooms an showed us how to identify a golden type of Chanterelle which are supposed to be absolutely delicious and rare. 

 We found two on other walks through the forest but today under the trees in the moss we managed to find a very substantial handful. We also found another mushroom that is edible (we hope) when immature called a Shaggy Inkcap. This mushroom is really an amazing piece of work. Just a few days after popping up from the ground it releases it’s spores by liquifying itself. One day it will be a beautiful big, tall bell of a mushroom, so grand and fancy and the next almost the entire bell will be a inky black liquid on the ground. It will also totally self-destruct within hours of being picked. Back in the day people picked these mushrooms not only to eat them but also to let them liquefy, the liquid make a very good writing ink. The way to enjoy them is to cook them in butter as soon as possible after picking them, this stopes them liquifying and renders them edible.

 We left them hidden in the grass knowing they would be spoilt by the time we returned from our food shopping if we picked them right then. As we carried on to Weiz Felix was deeply lost in his phone researching if there was a risk they may not be the Shaggy Inkcap but something similar and sinister. When we were finished shopping and had made it back to where the mushrooms were growing, after comparing them to pictures and several different descriptions from different sources we were satisfied they wouldn’t harm us so we picked the four young mushies, leaving the old already partially liquified ones and took them back to eat.

 Along with the Chanteralles, the Shaggy Inkcaps fried in some butter with salt and pepper and then mixed into a light white sauce on pasta were really great. It was very exciting to eat something out of the forest and out of all those hundreds of mushrooms growing out there finally have found some that we were sure were good to eat.

 We had bought so much food in Weiz so almost straight after we had eaten the mushroom pasta I began making a vegetable soup and a delicious sweet chestnut paste for dessert with chestnuts picked from the forrest. It was such a pleasure cooking on the wood stove, so warm and toasty to stand by as I stirred the soup. By the time it was finished it was dark so in the now really, really warm kitchen we ate by candle light. 

 By Wednesday Felix’s felt like his leg might be ready to start walking again but I was lacking a lot of motivation.  So as well as having another massive cook-off making a massive tray of vegetarian lasagne, we spent the day trying to decide whether or not to continue on towards Mariazell. All this talking and not knowing what I wanted put me in a terribly bad mood which thankfully a walk in the forest and cooking improved. A bad day was turned into quite a nice night, Felix reading as I cooked, again all by candle light.
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