Australia to Österreich

Despite what I may have stated with a fair amount of conviction in the past (mutterings along the lines of going to New Zealand and such), I decided to stay in the Northern Hemisphere for a while – jetting off to the other side of the world so soon seemed mad, especially when Europe is on my doorstep. I spent a large part of the past year or so in Australia comparing its landscape and climate to that of Europe, “it smells like the pine trees in Italy in the summer” and, “Look! The sea is nothing like Blackpool’s, I can see my feet”. Call it nostalgia, but I started a mission of sorts to spend time on my own continent in order to see more of Europe before heading off to the other side of the world again (maybe, you may have noticed that I change my mind a lot). You know what I mean, check out my doorstep in more detail before pottering off down the garden path and beyond (not my best analogy, but that’s more or less the idea).

Long story short, that’s how I ended up in Austria, unintentionally the one country whose name is phonetically closest to that of ‘Australia’, which has led to some fairly confused conversations: “Wait, you found a poisonous snake in the ladies toilet where in Austria?!”. Ehrwald is a large village (which sounds more picturesque than ‘small town’), in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena. It borders Germany, which enables us to hop back and forth between the two countries depending on our mood, whether we want to go to a Lidl or an Aldi, and most importantly: how big a beer we fancy. Recently, having popped over the Zugspitze mountain and into Germany on a Recce of one of our walks called the ‘Zugspitze Challenge’, I ordered a small beer as a midday pick-me-up. The pick-me-up was required as I may or may not have forgotten to bring enough money to take the cable car down from the other end of the walk (it was a point-to-point job)… so I had to retrace the 3 hours worth of hiking I’d just completed (no worries, all cool, all good). Anyway, I was presented with half a litre of the stuff. I’m not complaining, I happily drank it before pootling back across the mountain pass towards home. Although, as I soon discovered, the predominant reason for advising against drinking half a litre of beer on this type of hike is that throughout 3 hours of traversing an exposed mountain side, there is absolutely zero cover for a loo break. Luckily I found a singular larch bush behind which I could have a quick yet extremely conspiciuous Pinkelpause, and all the while praying no one from Austria to Germany had their binoculars out to witness the hasty nature break. I”m glad I blend in around here….

Beer aside (however in accordance with the stereotype of this part of the world, there is a lot of it over here so it’s hard to avoid as a subject), Ehrwald is everything and even more than I could have hoped it to be. I’m picking up pigeon German, and occasionally when I wear my dirndl and smile and nod and say ja in the right places, I can fool myself into thinking that all the locals believe I’m an actual Austrian (wishful thinking I know.) Despite my basic language skills, I’m getting by fine and dandy, not least because I get to walk up mountains four or five times a week. Disclaimer: “I’m not a qualified guide, just a (poor and lowly) walk leader”. Happily for a mega foodie such as myself, I’ve clocked pretty quickly that because of all the hiking we do, I’m able to over indulge in the Austrian diet of carbohydrates and meat without too many side effects, other than a severe increase in cholesterol (but that’s future Elly’s problem). Dumplings? Sure. Strudel? You bet. Schnitzel? Why not. Dumplings on a Strudel with a side of Schnitzel? Everyday please. Every. Day. My heart is where the food is, and that’s currently right here in this small Tyrolean town.

Oops, I got side tracked by food again… Moving on! I’ve taken up rock climbing (or trying to rock climb, and attempting to look like I have some semblance of knowing what I’m doing), which is going remarkably well despite my irrational fear of ladders… Apparently that one phobia doesn’t extend to scaling rock faces, but ironically I still can’t get myself up a rope ladder (?!), so riddle me that. In terms of current vehicle status, we are driving a 9 seat Renault Van around the mountains, which has less street cred but a lot more engine power than either Daisy or Mr Purple, both of whom looked the part (sort of, OK, not really) but couldn’t get up a hill in anything higher than second gear. Whereas (Reginald? Roger?) the Renault is not only pretty nippy, but also, bits of him aren’t falling off the front bumper, the engine coolant isn’t leaking and most of all the passenger door opens from the outside, so no guests have to crawl in through the window! It’s absolute luxury.

The Austrians around here have an incredible sense of tradition, so much so that the locals seem to have one public holiday a week, with absolutely minimal forenotice of when they do decide to take a day off, which leaves us to pick up the pieces from the ensuing chaos. For example, buses will suddenly stop running or just plainly won’t let you get on because they don’t really feel like it on that day (it has happened). There’s one especially sassy young driver who loves to give attitude with an eye roll and a head shake and then pull up the bus as far way from the bus stop as humanly possible so we have to awkwardly jog-run to get on before he zooms off again. On the most recent “holiday”, a marching band with a parade of Austrians in tow walked right through the town (extremely slowly) at 6 in the morning, on a Thursday, banging their drums and occasionally, just as you think they’ve gone quiet so you can grab a few more winks, they set off a large loud canon. I don’t know if  it was their intention, but they both successfully ensured that everyone knew it was a special occasion (but for what the occasion actually was, is still a mystery), and also that absolutely nobody got a lie in.

Other than the Oompah music at early doors, on the whole it’s very peaceful up here in the Austrian Alps, and living in a bubble is suiting me just fine. What election? Who is Trump? A c-i-n-e-m-a? Was ist das? Long may it continue.

"Drama Queen"
The vegetation free landscape of the Zugspitze Challenge, looking down into Germany.
Over the Border
The small wire fence and gate on the mountain pass which separates Germany from Austria. It’s incredibly nondescript.
The Zugspitze Mountain
The mountain after which the ‘Zugsptze Arena’ is named for, dominating the landscape.
A viewpoint from the Ammergauer Range looking out over the arena.
Austrian Lakes
A lunch spot at the Seebensee during a walk with guests. Swimmable in high summer but currently only paddlable, it’s mighty cold.
Greedy ducks
Janet and her entourage: Tony and Timmy. There is apparently nothing they won’t eat… Janet is particularly partial to a Danish pastry.
Kleines Bier
THAT beer (*ahem* … empty).
Moon rise
Looking out from our apartment balcony to see the full moon rising over the Mieminger Mountain range.
The Team
The Team during training week after having waded through the last remnants of the season’s snow.
Another Austrian Lake
View back over the Blindsee and towards the Zugsptize (and home).
Up, up, up.
Hugging the cliff face. All the gear no idea.
Cattle and Mountain
The most relaxed herd of cows pictured in front of the Gartnerwand Ridge. Each and every one has a bell around their neck, meaning you can hear them from a mountain away. They barely blinked an eye as we passed through, even with me cooing at them maternally, “Hello little cows!” (I would have given me a head butt).
Sunset as we were driving for an evening lake swim in the Heiterwanger See (nippy).
The Zugspitze Arena
Photo from the lookout platform above the arena. Ehrwald is to the bottom left with the infamous shard shaped Sonnenspitze next door.

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