Kürbisfest for the fourth time

It is our longest running tradition here in Vienna, and we look forward to it every year.  The annual pumpkin festival is one of the few nearly Halloween-like celebrations here, and it reminds me so much of the decades of pumpkin picking and carving I’ve done back in the US.


545Over the years, we’ve gotten better at the whole thing.  The first few times, it took us hours longer to get ready and get ourselves there than it should have, and we always ended up out there either very much over or under dressed.  But now, we’re getting it.  We know how to get there, we come prepared with warm clothes and big bags with which to carry home our pumpkins.  We made it out there in the foggy morning (with the help of B, who acted as our navigator since he was learning about maps at school).  We had faces painted, enjoyed our favorite Lángos and pumpkin soup, chose and carved our pumpkins, and played on the recently renovated playground (still daring, even by Austrian standards).  And this year, we brought friends.




Elaine and Phil had been here nearly two years at the time (more than 2 years now), but this was their first pumpkin festival.  They were amazingly good sports in enduring the speed (or lack thereof) and attention spans (or lack thereof) of the kids while we shopped, enjoyed and explored.  We introduced them to Lángos, shopped together for pumpkin seed pesto and chose pumpkins.  Then we all sat down to carve them together — it was Elaine’s first time!  We finished out the day with some playground time (for us) and a warm drink around the fire (for Phil and Elaine).  It was a great day.


667The Kürbisfest remains one of my favorite annual Vienna traditions.  It reminds me of home, yet is also distinctly Austrian.  It celebrates autumn and helps us prepare for Halloween.  It is a wonderful day spent in the countryside with a marvelous view of Vienna.  And, getting to introduce friends to our much-loved tradition made it even more special this year.


Kürbisfest, again

005We love Kürbisfest.  This is the third year that we went to the one just outside of Vienna at Am Himmel, which this year was held the last weekend of October.  (Our first October, we also made the trek to Retz for the Kürbisfest there, and we planned to go back last year but got rained out.  This year, we kept it simple and just went to Am Himmel.)  Each time, it’s been just lovely, and now, after having been 3 times, we feel like we’re starting to master the art of attending this particular Kürbisfest.

011In German, a Kürbis is a pumpkin, so Kürbisfest is, principally, a pumpkin festival.  It’s more than that, too, though.  Besides the crates of pumpkins and gourds, the long tables set out for pumpkin carving, the pumpkin soup, pumpkin seed oil, pumpkin bread, pumpkin sausage and pumpkin seed pesto, there are all kinds of other vendors selling apples, grapes, candles, knit items, juices, ciders, wines and meats.  There are polka bands, face painting and kite-making tents.  There’s certainly a lot to do with pumpkins, but it’s really a celebration of everything autumnal from in and around Vienna.  And it’s pretty fantastic.


This year, the day started cool and foggy, so we bundled up in the morning.  By the time we got out to the hills beyond Vienna, though, the fog had started to burn off and it got really quite warm.  We walked through the festival, and took in all of our favorite parts.  024The boys chose pumpkins.  Benjamin got his face painted (he went for an orange dragon this year — Liam opted out).  We all had some of our favorite Lángos (made fresh, and covered with garlic and pumpkin seed pesto) and some pumpkin soup.  We scooped and carved the pumpkins we had bought.  We shopped for Styrian ham and pumpkin seed sausage, as well as pumpkin seed pesto (which is my absolute favorite).  We sampled some fresh apple and grape juices while listening to live polka music and finally finished up with a stop at the playground, and then dragged ourselves back to the center of the city, exhausted but very happy with our day, and feeling very seasonally appropriate.

040This year, for the first time, we started to feel like we’d figured out some important things.  We went first thing in the morning (always our goal, but this year we actually managed it).  We made the playground the last stop in our day, not the first, so the kids weren’t worn out until it was time to leave.  We brought a backpack and a shopping bag to carry our purchases, and we hollowed out our pumpkins before carrying them home.  All important lessons, learned over the years!

This year, we truly had another great time.  It was a great day, and going to the Kürbisfest has become one of my favorite Vienna traditions.


005Today we took the train to a very small town called Retz, which is apparently world famous for its Pumpkin Festival.  It was a long train ride which took us well beyond Vienna — we were about 5 km from the Czech border when we arrived at the Retz train station.  We had a great time at the Am Himmel festival last weekend, so we thought we’d give this one (which was supposed to be bigger) a try as well.  From Retz, we took a shuttle bus (three fully loaded tour buses ran every hour) to Obermarkersdorf.

It was certainly bigger.  There were nearly 60 shops, kiosks and food stands, several marching bands, a couple of regular bands, floats, a carousel, a bouncy house (actually, a bouncy fire station), a pumpkin maze and (according to the brochure) over 1000 carved jack-o-lanterns (I think that’s a very conservative estimate).

011The town is darling.  It’s the epitome of a little Austrian town, with narrow winding streets, cute little homes and a stream running through the middle, crossed by several footbridges.  In this case, the front yard and windows of each home was adorned with a pumpkin scene.  The theme this year is “around the world” so each home chose a country or region of the world and decorated based on that theme.  Some of the displays were stunningly elaborate.  We saw the North Pole, the Orient Express (accompanied by pumpkin Japanese Lanterns), the Loch Ness (Pumpkin) Monster, a bull and a matador, the Eiffel Tower, a pumpkin blacksmith who was actually moving, a massive pumpkin pyramid, a very long pumpkin train, and a pumpkin gondolier along with his pumpkin customers — all of whom were actually in a gondola, floating in a pond.

016We met up with some friends on the way, and some more when we got there, and together (and separately) tried a variety of fun (and, in most cases, pumpkin inspired) dishes.  My favorites from today were small apple/pumpkin fritters, coated in powdered sugar, and also the pumpkin cappuccino.  We also successfully scoured the festival for another jar of pumpkin seed pesto (because the jar we purchased last weekend is already gone).

Benjamin and I took part in several of the kid’s activities — we got through the pumpkin maze (actually a hay bale maze with pumpkins) easily and then decorated a glass lantern which we then lit and carried through the festival, hanging from the stroller.  (Yet a few more for the long list of things you’d never do in the States:  decorate a glass lantern with a 3 year old, light a lantern for a 3 year old, attach said lantern to the stroller and walk 060through a festival crowded with people.)  Decorating the lantern with B was fun (he opted for lantern making over pumpkin carving) and we’ll be keeping it to use for trick or treat . . . or just late night trips in the wagon.  (Liam, unfortunately, chose the time when we were in the kid’s section to sleep, so he missed out on that part.)

We had a great time.  We saw lots of fun things, we ate good food, we hung out with fun friends, we did fun activities . . . and then it was time to go home.  We caught the shuttle bus back to the train station . . . and then discovered that we had over an hour wait for our train.  In the cold.  With two kids.  Who didn’t get real naps today.  And were hungry.

065But, amazingly, we finished our day with a great hour in the train station and a nice ride home.  At the train station, Benjamin made a few friends (some adults and another kid), showed off his speed and spinning ability, and challenged the other little boy to several races back and forth.  Liam practiced his walking.  Once on the train, Liam took a good nap with Dan while Benjamin and I talked about our day and looked at the pictures we took.  In all seriousness, the grumpiest person at the end of the day was me.  My kids were amazing.  They enjoyed the day enthusiastically and kept their good spirits throughout.  I am amazed and impressed by them.

Retz’s renown for putting on a good Pumpkin Festival is well deserved.  We all had a lovely day in the Austrian countryside and we’re all feeling thoroughly festive and geared up for Halloween.