21 April 2009

Großmugl / Schillingers

One of the first things we usually do when we travel to a new town in check happycow.net
Happycow lists vegetarian restaurants worldwide w/ reviews and other info - and they do it fairly throughly. This usually determines where I'll be eating out in a given city as I only eat at either kosher or vegetarian places.

My dietary restrictions (strictly vegetarian, mildly kosher) often prevents me from sampling local cuisine, although I do my best to try what I can since I love trying new things and experiencing the places I visit as throughly as possible (and I'd argue eating is one of the most fundamental modes of experience). So when I visit a place like Austria where most of the traditional non-dessert, non-beverage cuisine is throughly meat, I tend to be a bit sad.

So when I read about Gasthouse Schillinger, I was really excited. Schillingers is traditional Austrian guesthouse/pub/restaurant located about an hour outside of Vienna. It first opened for business in 1793 (so order of magnitude its as old as the US) and has been continuously owned/run by a man named Karl Schillinger ever since. Something like 7 Karl Schillingers have run this place and the current incarnation decided 10 years ago to make the place vegan. Yup, vegan. They serve all the traditional Austrian meat dishes, just they don't happen to be meat. The existence of a 200+ year old authentic Austrian guesthouse where I could get as close to eating true Austrian cuisine as any vegetarian is going to blew my mind a little.

So with the kindness of Zsofie and Gabor (Linda's cousin and her husband) who lent us their car and GPS, Linda and I took a road trip there on Sunday evening. Before I continue I should also thank Perry & Stephanie Vais without whose instruction in the art of driving a manual vehicle some weeks before and willingness to rent a manual vehicle (respectively) - I wouldn't have known how to drive - and my mother's willingness to mail me the replacement license (which arrived shortly before my 29th birthday) - without which I wouldn't have had a legal license.

Anyway returning to the story, we drove out to Großmugl where Schillingers is located and really enjoyed the sunny afternoon in the most beautiful countryside. The trip was mostly uneventful until we came within about 5 minutes of our destination, at which point a huge mound rose out of the gently rolling countryside. The huge mound was topped by a huge (but much smaller cross) and a group of Austrians we later learned were having a picnic! The appearance of this thing answered one question that had been on my mind while opening another. You see on the Schillinger website in the directions page, a large mound with a cross on top was displayed, and not much else. I had no idea what to make of this, until of course I saw the mound. After seeing the mound, it was clear why this previously cryptic picture had been displayed. Of course, the new questions was "what the heck is it?".

As much as I wanted to stop, evening was coming and we were running late for our reservation. So we went to the restaurant, found they weren't too crowded, and Linda graciously agreed to return for a visit to the mound.

We got there, walked around, and then climbed up (rather steep and a good 50 feet up). At the top we met a collection of Austrians about our age having a picnic. They explained what the mound was - a 3000 year old pagan burial heap, the largest of it's kind in central Europe (its even got its own webpage) apparently at was probably closer to 60 feet high when it was made. This not only answered my question, but also explains the town's name - which translates to English as "Big Hill". We chatted with them a bit - really friendly folks. Looked around, savored the sunset on the countryside, took some pictures and then headed/slid down. Really neat and really unexpected! The only part that miffed me a little was the cruxifix. It seems a bunch of folks stuck it up there a couple of years ago. The locals seem to have a penchant for crosses - the locals crucify a Jesus figurine and stick the 2 meter (6 foot) business right at the roadside wherever someone dies in a traffic accident - the first one we passed gave me a bit of a scare. Anyway, so they took this historic, ancient, and oddly beautiful pagan burial place and went and stuck a 3 meter (9 foot) high cross at the top, like it was some kind of bizarre wedding cake needing decoration. Now I'm not a pagan (and I'll admit I've got no love for crucifixes or other instruments of torture), but I do respect the dead and it honestly seemed a bit wrong to put that crucifix up there - the mound builders went to what was evidently alot of trouble to bury their dead according to their belief system and then 3000 years later some folks decide to desecrate (from what I'm guessing the mound builders point of view would be) their gravesite with paraphenalia from a religion that wouldn't even be born for a millenium.

Returning to my main narrative: we waved goodbye to our Austrian friends (they had been tickled to hear what brought us to Großmugl) and drove back to town for dinner. The ambiance of the place was great. Drinking and smoking (which I don't love, but will admit creates a certain mood) Austrian (apparently locals) filled the place. Next to us was a group of guys with a large dog that occasionally started to bark at people. The benches were wood, the floor was wood, the place just seemed like it had been there forever and would continue to do so for as long as it pleased. But the waitresses foamed soy milk for the drinks and everything was vegetarian (most was vegan). We ended up ordering Amdudler (the Austrian national softdrink), two traditional soups, and a huge tasting plate. It looked awesome and I loved it. Linda loved the ambience, experience, and concept. Food-wise, well for her it just wasn't the real thing, but she didn't eat badly. I was a little sad we didn't both savor the experience (at least the gustatory part) equally, but as well as we work together there's always going to be some culinary gap between a relatively unrestricted carnivore and a vegetarian - but I don't think that's a bad thing :-)

After finishing up most of the meal, I couldn't resist ordering another dish to go - Deer ragout, bread dumplings, and pear and beery sauce! We shared an excellent berry tea while we waited. Then we drove home in the moonless (or what seemed like it), countryside darkness. Fun!

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