A year ago, we drove out to the Alps on a warm September weekend to watch the cows come home.
Like the rest of Austria, cows spend their summers wandering around in the mountains, relaxing in the restorative peace of nature and grazing on flowers in the high meadows of Tyrol. In September, they’re gathered up by shepherds and led back to their barns for the winter.
I think I would like being a cow in Austria.
Although maybe on this particular day, it would be a little embarrassing.
This year, Mike and the boys went back to Westendorf with Oma and Opa to watch the cow parade again.
We found a lively street scene full of music, sausages, and people decked out in lederhosen. Roads were closed so everyone could flock around tables to drink beer and watch the cows parade by, festooned with flowers and bells clanging around their necks. A cowbell actually has a purpose….quick, get out of the way!
The symphony of cowbells was even louder than the oompah band.
It’s fun to see people having fun. Children scampering around, boys with sticks and girls with braided hair, everyone careful not to walk down the center of the street where the cows left behind wet, steaming presents. There are vendors selling honey and enormous pretzels, and tables piled with embroidered pillows and rustic, woolen hats. Mike definitely needed an Austrian shepherd’s hat.
And the boys definitely needed a swirling hurricane of cotton candy.
Look, a lederhosen sale!
The beer was flowing even at 10:30 in the morning. In Austria, it’s never too early for a bratwurst and a cigarette.
And there is never a small town without a church in its center.
Austrians treasure their livestock along with their golden cuisine, dripping with cheese, cream, and butter. Cows grazing on sweet summer grass produce sweet milk, which the shepherds collect and churn into Sommer Butter. The shepherds spend their days in small mountain huts making butter and cheese, and baking dark loaves of rustic country bread. As hikers make their way through the twisting mountain paths, it’s Tyrolean tradition to offer them bread and cheese, along with a place to rest. Shepherds are devoted to the art of being shepherds. The September festival is a homecoming not just for the cows, but for the shepherds, too.
These welcoming huts for hikers and skiers are scattered all through the Alps.
September also means Sturm, a sweet, slightly fizzy version of wine released from the barrels before it’s done fermenting.
More juice than wine, a liter of it can go down pretty easy if you’re not paying attention! It can also spill in the back of the car pretty easily, since the active bubbling means the cap can’t be turned on tight. Sturm is usually served in a wine glass or a little mug, but if you’re at a cow festival, it comes in a plastic cup.
Those of us not drinking Sturm were excited to find cats!
But unfortunately, one of us was slowly getting sick. This is the last picture of Jake with all of his innards intact.
The next day he was rolling into surgery to have his appendix taken out.
My poor baby! Two days of not eating, not even cotton candy. Allegemeines Krankenhaus took excellent care of our precious Jake, and even though he missed most of the cow festival, the weekend could not have turned out better. I got to spend four days sleeping with my Jake in the hospital, watching Spiderman and Mall Cop 2. We both got a little tired of the hospital food, but Daddy and Eli, with their weird fondness for pureed creamy things, were in heaven.
As Austrian weekends go, this one is memorable for a lot of reasons. The cows will always hold a special place in our hearts.