Entering Austria from Lichtenstein you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve entered a very large architectural competition.
Each house is bigger, more interesting, and has better views than the last. And most are built on slopes that any sane British builder would shy away from.
Just over the border the fuel price immediately drops by 40c – that’s £30 on a tank of fuel. Blimey.
It’s national grass cutting day across Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria.
Just over the border too there’s the town of Feldkirch with a foreboding castle at ground level, and high, high up on a hill there’s a large wildlife park with everything from pot bellied pigs (dead cute) to wolves roaming in large enclosures (elusive).
The short drive to Sonntag was as spectacular as it was hard.
Mountain driving is something you get used to. But it’s also something you forget.
I’m very much in the getting used to stage again. Skimming the edge with a thousand foot drop alongside me for most of the way did little for my humour. I knew all around was beauty – but I daren’t take my eyes off the road for a second to look.
Things came to a head on a single track road when a certain driver refused to reverse to the clearly visible passing space behind her, suggesting instead that I reverse Archie (no mean feat) for what could have been a long and unknown distance. I’m usually polite, as accommodating as possible, but that would have been too much. I dug my heels in and sat, happy (well, not exactly happy) to wait awhile if necessary. With much huff our lady finally did the decent thing, by which time a few cars were waiting in both directions.
A planned drink free night didn’t happen!
Instead we stanked to the excellent Café Jager and drank good beer with our schnitzel and spaetzle. And my did it taste good.
The drive to our spot at the foot of the mountains just beyond Sonntag was the hardest in a long time.
The reward for completing that drive was one of the best in a long time.
I got up good and early and stanked hard for a couple of hours, invigorated by the clear air and the big temperature changes as I walked from shaded areas alongside melt water streams into full morning sun. The snow is piled high in these shady bits, most of it dirty now, and in retreat.
The whole walk was accompanied by the thunder of the mountain rivers and waterfalls.
For a while I was confused at the late spring of every imaginable flower.
Crocuses, lily of the valley, bluebells, harebells, campion, orchids, dandelions, a carpet of buttercups, hellebore, marsh marigold, tiny iris, little lilac puffballs that I guess are some sort of scabious, scabious itself, and the most delicate cow slips.
So many more that I don’t recognise.
Then as I came across another field of crocus with the snow covering the shaded side I understood.
The snow has only recently melted here, and every little bulb races to get its flower out.
It’s a beautiful thing.
Spring happens as soon as the snow goes, and if you’re at that melting point then you’re in for a treat.
After nearly two hours of hard Alpine walking, uphill from the start, but relieved by the scenery gradually revealed by the rising sun, and the delicacy of the flowers, I sped this little hut.
A hunter’s hide I guess.
At 7am and with the sun streaming through the no door doorway, it was the ideal point for a breakfast of an apple and a few nuts.
High. Very high on the mountain tops I watch a herd of red deer. Even at this distance they seem aware of me.
A loosened boulder crashes away from a misplaced deer hoof and all are startled as it violently smashes its way down the steep slope. It’s finally buried in the snow a few hundred metres below me.
I could sit here for hours.
I understand why someone made the effort to haul the materials all the way to this desolate point and create this most basic of shelters.
The sense of peace is perfect.
Although it’s far from peaceful.
Streams thunder all around.
Birds are tweeting in the dawn.
Just the rush of air is noisy.
But I don’t have hours to sit.
I said how long I’d be. I need to crack on.
Snow bars my way forward, I have to backtrack now.
Steep climbs. New heat. New Fan.
Last year we encountered some very steep roads.
We had high temperatures too.
But they didn’t coincide.
Leaving the best wild camping spot so far this year we climbed 10 – 15% hills for the first ten miles in 30 degrees and more.
Suddenly ArchieVan roared as a new fan kicked in that hasn’t activated before. I was worried at first, but once we started descending it cut out again.
This is hard driving, but the scenery is at its very best. Plentiful snow, but as it rapidly melts the rivers are full and the waterfalls numerous.
We’ll move on into the Tyrol on a higher mileage week to get to Vienna, or thereabouts, where we’ll stop at a campsite for another week as I go off on a job.
The Electric Mountain Bike.
What a brilliant thing.
I was a bit sniffy about electric bikes at first. It seemed like cheating.
Then I saw that more and more senior folk in their 70s and 80s were getting out and I realised the genius of this modern interpretation of the bike.
Here in Austria I’m still surprised to see folk riding up impossibly steep hills seemingly without effort.
Where we’re camped tonight near the village of Wissenbach on the Lech River we must be on a cycle route. Well over a hundred bikes have passed in a few hours, and most of the riders are well on in years. Some are clearly old timer cyclists who never stopped riding, they’re on real bikes, while their friends are keeping up with some electric assistance.
I won’t be taking the electric option anytime soon, but I lift my hat to all those who are getting more fresh air and enjoyment.
Pulling into a town after a drive can be both a relief and a challenge.
You’re relieved to be about to stop.
But you need a fair whack of concentration to wind the big van through often small streets, and this time squeeze it into a car park clearly designed for more modest conveyances.
Arriving in St Gilgen on the Wolfgangsee (lake) in 30 degrees centigrade (no air con in ArchieVan) I was ready for a rest, the drive hadn’t been long, but it had sapped my strength.
There’s no relaxing with a thousand cyclists sharing the road, although Austrian drivers seem a calm lot who are easy to mingle with.
It’s amazing what a cold beer sitting at the lakeside can do to revive you.
The St Gilgen International School
In the car park we met Neil and Leisa. Neil’s a Plymouth boy and they’re both teachers at the St Gilgen International School.
Neil invited us for a look around.
The school was founded when a successful architect designed and built its series of fabulous interconnected volumes and gifted it to his hometown.
It now has around 180 students and around 90 staff – I think back to the ratios at my school where that number of raucous kids would have had perhaps 5 staff to shape their futures.
I have always thought myself too left leaning to support private education, but this place left me wondering how I’d have turned out if I had such a wonderful start as these children.
I loved it enough to think of another career teaching there, although my lack of patience could prove an issue!
Last year we both had fantastic experiences when we needed a little help, Minty at an Italian dentist and me with a Greek dermatologist.
Yesterday Minty visited a doctor in the Austrian mining town of Eisenerz to discuss an infection that had been troubling for a few days. She was seen by an excellent doctor within half an hour, tested, with immediate results analysis, and had an effective treatment prescribed. All for less than £30.
A base for a week.
The longest drive since we left the UK took us to Klosterneuburg, just north of Vienna. We’d been unusually prepared and booked into a campsite so that Minty can have a good base while I’m away.
We arrived a day early – but there was no room at the inn.
Time for a charm offensive.
We were given permission to park on a scrap of land in a corner where there’s no electricity.
And what a cracking spot it is.
Everyone else is on designated pitches, and they’re squashed in German style, whereas we have a generous space big enough to get the awning out and make ourselves at home.
Here’s an interesting thing – the site is busy and generally pre-booked. And they arrange people by nationality.
A row of French at the back.
Dutch in the middle.
Most of the rest are Germans.
Even the Brits are together, except us, happy in our quarantine outpost.
Right. That’ll have to be it. There’s always so much to report, but I have to miss a lot out. This week I missed the swimming lakes, all beautiful, all warmer than the surrounding snow would suggest. I missed the motorbikes and their invincible riders. I hardly mentioned the heat.
It’s just gone mid-day and my Minty has served a fabulous looking breakfast of stir friend egg rice with a mix of vegetables and heavy on the garlic. Garlic makes a breakfast. Eggs make a breakfast. Both – well that’s pretty damn special.
There may not be a post next week. I’ll be sweltering in the Algarve driving a film crew and clients as we make summer sun commercials with Chief TV.
Here’s a link to Minty’s Our Travel’s map with some different photos and her place by place commentary. There’s a signup section there for updates as she makes them too.