Tag Archives: Skiing

Vienna – Finding the snow


Well we got fed-up waiting for the snow to arrive in Vienna during the Christmas/New Year break, so we jumped in the car last Tuesday and headed down the A2 motorway. Our destination was the town of Semmering which sits on the border of the Austrian states of Lower Austria and Steiermark (Google map).

This really was a case of travelling literally to the snow line. Looking along the upper valley into Steiermark presented me with a winter picture of snow and low cloud.

But as I turned back towards Lower Austria the view became one of snow on peaks bathed in sunshine and then replaced with the green and browns of the lower hills and valley.

Whilst R & H went sledging I took a more leisurely (if somewhat of the slipping and sliding variety) walk down the mountain. This rather less bumpy approach gave me the chance to take a few snaps as I descended. Skiing venues always leave me with the feeling of something rather industrial but they can be fun.


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Filed under Out and about in Lower Austria, Out and about in Steiermark, Sports, Vienna Life

The Dutch, me & winter destinations

You don’t have to like winter sports to enjoy spending time in the Alps.

A report in today’s derStandard names Austria as the top destination for winter sports according to a survey by a Dutch tourism website. Personally, winter sports and I go together as naturally as oil and water. However, living in Austria, winter is probably my favourite time of the year and I enjoy spending time up in the mountains.

Whist I may not participate in most of the traditional sporting activities of tourist and locals, I do find plenty of things to entertain, amuse and inspire me on my trips to the Alps.

One of my pastimes starts by travel up the mountain on a cab car with the morning skiers, strolling slowly over to the restaurant, taking up residents at a table by the window, and ordering the first coffee/strudel combination of the day. If you want an alternative winter sport let me explain.

Now some of these restaurant/cafe huts can have the look and feel of a factory canteen, whilst others have that traditional look associated with Hollywood Christmas movies . For this particular ‘sport’ either type of venue will do but you need a table with a good view of the ski lift(s).  Ideally, if they have one, your table should also be near a roaring open fire to add an additional layer of snugness and smugness. After having settled down with your coffee you can turn your attention to the warm-up game. This one is called spot the Brit and it’s not that hard to pick up your first points. You turn your attention to the endless queues waiting for the ski lift(s) and simply look for the ‘skiers’ who seem to be continuously failing to reach the front of the ‘queue’. These are the novices Brit’s who will take some time to overcome their ingrained desire to stand and progress in an orderly fashioned. Gradually you can observe them coming to the realisation that the word for queue when translated back into English from German re emerges as the word scrum. However all this, as I say, is by way of a warm-up exercise. The skill in this particular window ‘sport’ is to pick a dozen or so subjects and commit them to memory. This is a relatively easy exercise as you will have plenty of time to get to know your chosen targets – most people on the slopes spend hours standing/shuffling in the scrum for the pleasure of a few minutes going downhill on their bone breaking device of choice. You can then take up to an hour’s break reading a book or catching up with twitter (reception is often excellent in such locations whilst oddly and annoyingly none existent in some parts of Vienna!). It’s important not to spend more time on these distractions or you can miss the chance to pick up points. Three points are awarded for ever person who comes off the slope in under two hours and one point for those that last a full two hours. An additional three points are gained for each individual who spends more time then eating and drinking than they did on the ski slope. On a sunny day these points are also awarded if the individual takes a seat outside and after eating then joins the others around them in the ritual by which you spend a long period of time with your eyes closed, head tilted towards the sun. If you are playing this game competitively then the skill is in selecting those rare individuals who will provide you with an automatic 30 points. These are the ones who actually spend more time on the slopes than sitting around enjoying the food, drink and sun – but they are a truly rare breed and not easily spotted.

For a more energetic time on the mountains I would recommend taking a stroll along (safe) paths ways from the ski slopes. The frozen landscape, the beauty of the mountains and the peace of the walk is often without comparison. It also happens to be health, cheap, fun and you still end up in the ski hut drinking and eating but without the frustration of the queues and the pain from the bruises. For something even more special take a stroll through the winter landscape after dark on a clear night. Venturing out into the icy landscape and seriously sub-zero temperatures to observe the night sky, the woods and mountains under moonlight, the stillness in the dark, are all truly worth leaving the warmth of your accommodation and afterwards there is always a mulled wine to warm you up again.

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Filed under Entertainment, Holidays, Sports, Vienna Life

The sound of snow, an odd coffee experience, good wine….and Richard the Lionheart

As I stood alone in the woods, the only sounds were those of the occasional bird call and the noises of the snow melting around me. The silence at times would be almost complete but then the stillness would be broken by the sudden crashing of branches accompanied, as you looked up, by an isolated flurry of snow. With the sun shining through the branches, the light upon the flakes created a beautiful mix of bright colours contrasting in some places with the darkness of the wood or in others the whiteness of the trees still covered in thick blanket of snow.

The Wachau is a wine growing area that sits alongside the Danube River about an hour or so from Vienna. The area is very popular with day tripping tourist, with its attractive villages, vineyards, castle ruins, as well as orchards and places to sit and eat by the river. Away from the Danube it’s mostly steep, rolling hills but we had come on a day trip to a small mountain in the area in order for R and H to do a little skiing before the snows disappear completely. As the others started to ascend the slope on the ski lift, I set off along a nearby forest path to enjoy the sunshine and to walk through the snow covered countryside before this frozen world transformed itself into a muddy, damp landscape.

Although not far from the ski slope I quickly found myself alone in a silent landscape which was gradually emerging from under its thick blanket of snow. Much of the ground and some of the trees were either free from the snow or had only a little covering, whilst others remained entrapped in their thick wintery coats. This is what I had come to see the beauty of the colours and the strangeness of the shapes the come with the transition from wintery snow to spring blossom. As I moved through the open countryside and into the woods the images and the peacefulness of the scenes in front of me made the walk in the crisp sunny afternoon a real joy.

Nearing my destination I could hear the clank of metal generated by the ski lift at the top of the slope. I quickly found R and H preparing to make another decent and after confirming that they were happy to continue skiing, I followed the signs to the nearby cafe. As the path emerged from the trees I found myself looking at an old wooden watch tower which now housed the promised a cafe and with it my hopes for another enjoyable coffee experience. The venue was empty at this time but it was a quaint little place with an older lady sitting by the fire doing her knitting. She gave me a friendly welcome and after our exchange of greetings I successfully used one of the few German phrases I have at my disposal – ‘Black coffee please’.  With some effort I managed to keep a friendly if puzzled look on my face as I realised that my host was telling me that indeed coffee was available from the vending machine to my left. With a heavy heart I put my money in the slot, recovered the ‘coffee’ in its plastic cup and went to take a seat in the corner. In a country with true coffeehouses and great coffees it seems to me (despite my liberalism) that someone should pass a law banning the serving of coffee from vending machines.

Travelling back through the Wachau, in the late afternoon, we pulled off the main road to drop into the vineyard of Karl Mayr. I was first introduced to his St. Laurent red wine at my wedding reception. Although our wedding was held in England my In-Laws were kind enough to ensure that we had a true flavour of Austria with the supply of red and white wines from Karl Mayr’s vineyard. I have been a fan ever since and his wines provide an enjoyable glass with a meal or to share when friend call round. Unfortunately, as time was against us, we declined the invitation to share a glass of wine and some conversation. Instead we promised ourselves we would be visiting again soon, got some advice on the best place to purchase some local fruit  and having made our purchases headed back towards Vienna .

As we drove through Durnstein H groaned as I once again pointed to the castle that sits above the town and reminded her that it had once been the prison of Richard the Lionheart. Driving along the side of the river R commented that in the bright sunshine, for once, the Danube really did almost look blue. On the other side of Krems we again left the main road and entered a small village in search of fresh fruit. Unfortunately, by the time we reached Vienna the majority of the apples R purchased had already been eaten. So I guess it won’t be long before we are back in the Wachau in search of good walks, good food and great wine.

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Filed under Out and about in Lower Austria, Vienna Life, Wine, Beer & Food

Walking above the clouds

I’m never really sure what to expect when taking a cable car with the skiers to the top of a mountain. My previous experiences have included finding myself with no choice other than to slide down a ski slope to get to the walking path half a mile away, standing in a blizzard dodging snowboarders or more often finding myself sitting in a hut with a coffee whilst looking out upon the landscape below. However, the Dachstein glacier provided the family with the chance to enjoy a walk across some truly beautiful scenery.

It took a little while for me to drive the car up the icy road to the cable car station. Whilst the locals and regular skiers negotiated the mountain road with skill and speed, our car ascended with the speed of an ancient tortoise. The ease with which I could observe the views below and the way in which the wheels of my car kept sliding towards the outer edge of the road produced an endless commentary from yours truly and a driving technique reminiscent of a newly qualified driver. From the way most other vehicles were taking the road my inexperience in such conditions was probably making hard work of the drive but at least I felt better doing it my way and reaching our destination in one piece.

After leaving the cable car station and negotiating our way past the ski slopes, we found ourselves able to walk across the glacier and enjoying a landscape of snow, mountain tops and below us the ever shifting clouds.

On returning to the cable car station we quickly found a seat in the restaurant for the obligatory coffee and strudel.


Filed under Out and about in Steiermark, Vienna Life