My earliest association with Austria would have to be The Sound of Music, so in my imagination it’s always been Fräulein Maria and “♫ The Hills are alive….♫” and you know what – they really are! 😉
Being loved changes your eyes, and your eyes change the way you experience the world! That sentiment underscores every last experience we’ve had on our family road-trip across four countries – Germany (ok, just Munich and a few highway towns) Austria, Leichstentstein and Switzerland.
As I write this post, I’m filled with emotion, experience and a restlessness that seems to have followed me my entire life. The sort that I know won’t die down given time! The need to find home, to nest, to find my “space” has been at the heart of my every creative act as I’ve tried to appreciate the magnificence of being alive! Maybe it stems from the fact that I’ve lost a lot in my life, and I’ve lost it young… I was 17 when I tragically lost my parents and since then, I’ve stopped taking life for granted. I believe that our daily lives are worth celebrating, that there is indeed beauty and a sense of wonder that goes deeper than the clichés that shroud their discovery. (And no-I don’t mean going through life in a state of some unfounded, giddy euphoria!)
There was a strange intimidation as I came face to face with mountains that are millions of years old, of lakes that date back to prehistoric times – an overarching sentiment that populates every spiritual belief system; a sense of being face-to-face with something far greater and immeasurably more vast than yourself, glimpsing the essence of reality and being overwhelmed by it. For that brief spell, the ‘fret of life’ seemed lost! I realise that I’m neither the first nor the last to feel this way, to realise or revel in the fact that there is a harmony in everything – that I, like them are in part sulphur and selenium, manganese and magnesium! That if anything, I am but one tiny stitch linking all those eons to now! I thought a thousand thoughts as I approached the silence of the mountains, bathed in the lightness of misty clouds and carrying a thousand dreams that’ll stay with me, somewhere deep where my meanings are!
I once asked my mother what she might’ve done if she had a chance at another life, (mind you, this was a conversation we had post “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey!”) “Travel the world”, she said! To a teenager, that just seemed ‘meh’, but as an adult, it brings me a quiet joy that in many ways, I’ve lived a little bit of her dreams for her with her grandchildren!
I’ve been reminded this is a travel post, not philosophy, so “let’s start at the very beginning…” (If you don’t like clichés from The Sound of Music, you’re clearly in the wrong place ;))
We started Austria off at Salzburg, which is a lovely little city with some seriously gorgeous Baroque architecture. I didn’t get a good vantage point to photograph it so decided against using my camera whilst we had a look around, I thought my images took away rather than added to what was on offer there. (I nerd out on stuff like that and felt similarly in beautiful Vienna, it’s too busy to be able to photograph there…)
Salzburg is Mozart’s birthplace so if you’re a fan, there’s endless opportnity to delve deeper into him! We took the opportunity to go up to Hallstatt, to the Salt Mines that date back to 4500BcE and explore the villages of the Salzkammergut region.
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The one thing I regret not being able to see in Salzburg is a performance of “The Magic Flute” at The Salzburg Marionette Theatre. They were also performing Alice in Wonderland, but sadly, no shows on the two days we spent there. I know that I’ll return to that part of the world and this will definitely be a part of the agenda for then.
Following that we went up to the Austrian Lake District which is easily and really quite awesomely accessible via some seriously cool cable cars!
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The Alm Ehrwalder was a lovely restaurant that stocked authentic beers from the region and locally produced fare – some apparently sourced from the fields up there! It was idyllic- cows grazing unfettered, the sound of the alpine breeze rifling through the thin metal of carefully crafted cowbells. The stuff of dreams, really…
One of my most breathtaking moments was walking up to the lakes of Almsee and Seebensee. The clean, clear mountain air, the smell of the tress, the hum of crickets and the stillness of the very blue waters is something that I can’t describe in words. These pictures are but dim shadows of the reality of that pristine beauty! It’s the kind of beauty that blindsides you from every conditioning! I stood there, far away from my family with tears in my eyes, not being an ‘adult’, not being ‘in-control’, not feeling like I had it ‘all together’. I stood there thinking “this cannot be real, this cannot be happening to us…this couldn’t really be as beautiful as it is!” We were alone here…just us, we owned this space, we paddled here, my children fed and quacked at these ducks. I watched them from the opposite side of the lake, watched them purposefully walk out to kill snails and bugs and drag them mercilessly back to the waters to their young. I took in the noiselessness of that violence. The method. The beauty of the recurrent routines of nature!
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We stayed at the very traditional Gästehaus Panorama in Tiroler Zugspitzarena, run by the lovely Renate and Sepp Schönherr. I cannot recommend this place enough! Not only was Renate the most hospitable she could be, she went out of her way to ensure that we were comfortable and that our stay in Biberwier, Tirol was nothing short of extraordinary! We had a language barrier despite which she understood that we didn’t wish to see the tourist-intensive spots in the valley. I wanted to have an authentic Austrian experience, I wanted to go where locals go, eat what they eat! I was bored of the tourist menus which had a couple of sausages and a few local ales. I wanted the real deal…the “Jägermeister” fare (that’s master hunter, by the way!;)) Renate asked me if I was ready for horse, rabbit, venison, wild boar? We didn’t need language to confirm that I was game (excuse the pun, sometimes I just can’t help myself ;)), so she promised to arrange with her friends who ran an apres ski lodge for locals, no tourists went there for it was deep within the woodlands. We couldn’t drive up there, she’d have to arrange for us to be picked up and dropped off. I must admit I felt a bit apprehensive at the entire proposition- all a bit too Brothers Grimm, to be honest, replete with woodland trickeries…but you had to meet Renate to know you were in good, authentic Austrian hands. 😉 So we dressed up, got our cameras in form, counted our Euros (mind you, we weren’t told what we could expect in terms of a bill and it was cash only), and we waited. The air thick with anticipation and a degree of apprehension. An acute awareness of the varying shades of brown the 4 out of the 5 of us were ;P The drive was long and through some harsh terrain. Light from a setting sun filtering into our 4×4 as we went higher and higher into the Tirol mountains until we reached a clearing that we honestly wouldn’t have made on our own.
Enter Renate’s friend Frau Marie, from the Waldhaus! Bear skins on the wall, heads of what must’ve been yesterday’s dinner waiting to be stuffed/embalmed/Idon’tknowwhat –the entire spread 😉 I kid you not, she was the most hospitable and warm person I’ve ever met. We were there on personal recommendation and were her guests! The guesthouse had a few Germans, who again contrary to popular (and unwarranted) perception, were kind enough to translate some of the menu for us, chatted amiably and made very sure that the children had every freedom to be just that-children! I was a proud mama that day because my girls were immaculately behaved. I blame the bear skins on the wall…subliminal cues, I’m sure! 😉 Frau Marie made sure we ate well, and ate what the locals made at home! She invited me to come look how she made things if I fancied…We spent hours here, chatting with the locals, eating, drinking, letting the children get involved with children on the next table who now live in the Netherlands . It felt like home!
This is what we had :
Top row : Jaegerschnitzel with Spaetzle. (This one is with wild boar). Apfelstrudel with Vanillesauce.
Middle row : Trio Knödelteller (Speck, Leber, Kaseknödel) on a bed of Sauerkraut. Apparently, the leber (liver) was horse! Topfenstrudel with Vanillesauce.
Bottom row : Schweinebraten with Knödel and Sauerkraut. Salted Pretzel and an Alcoholfri Beer for me 😉
We heartily recommend it all! It was sublime…
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Just before we entered Switzerland, we thought we’d have a look at Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein and some surrounding villages. The villages had a very similar feel to Switzerland (given that you step into Liechtenstein just as you step out! Wish I had come up with that clever sentence, but tsk…it’s a local saying!) Vaduz had a distinct postmodern air to it. Known as their prized “Städtle” – a tiny town, we thought this might be the one-stop destination for everything from modern art and historical collections to outdoor cafés, restaurants and boutiques. I wouldn’t plan on stopping here a long while, but it’s nice for a little fly-by, and to stock up on a few “city things” you might need. There’s a lot of cultural stuff on offer, we went during the Vaduz Film Festival and had Ilo, Ilo playing on the day of our visit. The entire area is mostly pedestrianised and closed to cars…great for when you have children who need to run about and stretch their legs.
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Alt St. Johann Switzerland
Switzerland is beautiful–Fact! But when you do it after being in the encompassing mountains of Austria, it feels just a bit underwhelming! Who would’ve thought?! 😉 Nonetheless, there were several fabulous things we did that made it very, very special!
For starters, we had an amazing holiday home – all wood and extremely modern! Kitted out with a sauna, a fabulous garden with vines wrapped around trees and gazebos and a fully equipped stable with three ponies. The bathroom had no doors – took me about a day to just get used to that, though it was a point of great hilarity for the children, especially when one of us needed to bathe! 😉 A nice bean-to-cup machine and a fully stocked refrigerator gave it a very homely feel. Esther, who owned it was more of a friend that ‘landlady’, so much so that the highlight of the children’s morning was meeting Esther! She’d show them around the stables where they could feed the horses and play…something that sat very well indeed with Rahel! It made the holiday really, really special…
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We actually managed to go up to Alt St. Johann, the highest village in Switzerland and enjoyed some great Swiss food up there…lovely locals at the restaurant who told us about what we should try, I think I’m a fan of the Swiss röschti forever after that! And when they talk about Frische fruit up there, take them up on it 😉 Fruit never tasted so good! I felt like a rabid “locavore” after that…
Another nice place to go is the Bahnhöfli Golfplatz in St. Gallen. Great food, and a lovely ambience…plus, if golf is your thing, that’s where you want to be!
A flowerless home will always seem lacking after this Fresh delivery of flowers to the hotel! The horse is off grazing in the Swiss Valleys till it’s time to leave. It’s amazing how beautifully slow life moves up here-none of that city rush…I feel soul nourished sitting back, watching this scene!
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The Grand Resort
Wahlkreis of Sarganserland
St. Gallen Switzerland
This was my respite….I didn’t go into the SPA, but sat in the Cafe and read, well, visually scanned through some stunning German magazines! As much as I’ve enjoyed being with the children, I needed some time to recharge my creativity and get some me-time. The children and my husband absolutely loved the thermal waters and treatments, and could not get enough of it. Even the children had the most amazing time! 😉 A little tip, go after 7.30 Pm, it’s virtually half price!
The lovely staff brought me coffees on the house as I chatted with the owner about what in his opinion was Switzerland’s unique offering pitted against it’s neighbours. It was an enlightening chat that gave me a peek into the Swiss mind – I don’t usually get to talk about anti- immigration, nationalism and an abject aversion to losing one’s cultural identity. I had to appreciate the honesty and that it was “business, not personal!” Despite the very intense conversation, he did make sure that I was made to feel very at home at the spa 😉
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Suffolk, East England.
And back! I took this pic driving home from Stansted Airport. Back to the familiar sights of airport cafeteria pies and tea, to familiar voices and signs in a language I understand! Home is where we say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ unwittingly and apologize for things we know we haven’t done! 😉 Home is where we queue…religiously! My bed feels strange, and there seems to be that all-familiar longing that coils itself around my thoughts again ; a restlessness that the water and the mountains filled all these days! So until the next time I’m off chasing some spangled chimera- I will always be haunted by thoughts of a mist-drenched elsewhere!
I would especially like to thank Elisabeth from Lebe Leiber Langsam (live and love slowly, from what I understand) for the vast input I’ve had from her on Austria! Elisabeth is Austrian who now lives with her husband and twin sons in Denmark! She writes honestly about family life, meaningful living and the creative process – subjects that completely resonate with me so I highly recommend that you check out her blog. I have such a crush on her writing! 😉
I’d also like to thank Emma from A Bavarian Sojourn for her fab restaurant reccos in Munich and Sabine from _housefrau, who describes herself as a German living in Australia (on a mountain behind the sea) and blogs at Meet The Local, for being my German muse. 😉 Sabine takes lovely photographs and has a keen interest in meaningful community living! Thank you Daniel Simm, for the meticulous planning, and all-around great company! Dan is a part of our family, my photography guru and go-to tech geek… I owe so much of this blog to him! You can find his version of the holiday on his blog Daniel Simm. xxx
And finally, because nothing is complete in my life without some music, here is our Mountain Playlist! This will for a while transport me to our rental car on the wrong side of the road, winding through mountain roads. If you’re of similar mind, you might enjoy a tune or two! xx