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  • Writer's pictureDamian Robb

Stray Thoughts 08 | Mountain Madness







 

I live on the oldest, flattest, and driest continent on earth. I also frickin’ love a mountain.


Australia is located fairly securely on the Indo-Australian Plate. It’s not in the centre but it’s not far off, with a healthy amount of tectonic border around the country/continents entire edge. This can be a very good thing. Earthquakes are basically unheard of. Same for tsunamis. And volcanos? Let’s just say the average Australian worries about getting suddenly covered in lava about as much as they do getting run over by a waddle of penguins (which by the way I’ve just discovered is easily the most adorable collective noun for a group of penguins). Of course, without the edges of these mammoth tectonic plates very slowly crashing into each other underneath a country, you also lose the beautiful wrinkles such an action creates.


In short, Australia is many things, but mountainous isn’t one of them.


Thankfully for me, my twin brother Jonathan moved to Austria. He lives in Vienna, which it should be noted, feels about as flat as our homeland, but if you head away from the city and out towards the country, you’re all but guaranteed to run into some mountains. In fact, approximately sixty percent of Austrian territory is mountainous, covered by a little known mountain range called The Alps.


Presently, I am on a holiday/writing retreat in Europe with my wife Holly. Our first week was spent in Vienna with the aforementioned brother and his family, and which I wrote all about in the last Stray Thoughts. This second week though saw us heading west.


On Sunday, we managed to mooch a mothers day breakfast cooked by Jonathan of french toast, bacon, mascarpone, banana, strawberry, and maple syrup. With our belly’s feeling as full as the bags on our backs, we headed for the train station.


Now, I want to call myself out here because sometimes I can be a slow learner. Despite previous experience and having already learned this lesson on earlier trips, I hadn’t paid the extra required to book specific seats on the train. This meant that our trip started with a stressful rush where we randomly choose a carriage, then got halfway down it before realising all the seats had been booked, only to then get stuck by the onboarding horde of smug and knowing commuters who had booked their seats, before finally bullying our way through to the next carriage, where, it turned out, none of the seats were booked. Always good to start a journey with panic.


We found some seats and settled in. Stress must make you hungry because despite our tasty and filling breakfast, we immediately pulled out our lunch. This had been bought in an almost identical panicked rush about an hour before as, since it was a Sunday and mothers day, the few shops that were open were bursting with a swarm of customers. I pretty much got to the front of a line, pointed to the first sandwich I saw in the display booth and in broken and heavily accented German asked for two of them. They were delicious, it should be noted. A seeded roll with a mess of ham, cheese, chives, and just the right amount of horseradish. Hunger once more sated, we sat back, and waited for the mountains.


Train travel is by far my favourite form of transport. You’re on the ground for one thing, which I like, and your bags and belongings get to stay with you, so you have easy access to books and laptops and snacks, and also they have this great thing called legroom. It’s amazing, highly recommend. Also, if you’re heading from Vienna to the mountains, you get to see said mountains out the window long before you get there. It’s like mountain foreplay. I get all excited and worked up seeing those giant glorious protuberances through glass, before finally arriving and then being truly spellbound seeing them in the flesh. And yes, I am a mountain pervert.


In all seriousness, there is something about mountains that I can’t put into words. Something about their size, and grandeur, enraptures me. I can sit and stare at one and take it all in while also feeling like I can never truly capture it in my mind's eye. There’s also a comfort to being in a mountain town. To knowing you’re nestled in amongst all these giant sentinels watching over you, and that at any time you can look above the buildings and see a wave of tree, snow, and rock covered land reaching into the sky.


Like I said, I frickin’ love a mountain.


The mountain town we were headed for was Kufstein. If you haven’t heard of Kufstein, all I can say is that neither had I until the planning of this trip. We chose it for two reasons. One, it looked pretty, and, two, it was on the train line. This second week of our trip is still a working one, as not only am I writing, but Holly is quite literally not on holidays yet, simply working remotely. So, we needed somewhere convenient that would ideally still afford us some touristic possibilities once we’d clocked off for the day, and Kufstein seemed to fit the bill. Let me tell you; it delivered.


The town itself is quite a gorgeous one. It’s bisected by the Inn river, a tributary of the Danube, and features a picturesque fortress from the 12th century, paved roads, a town centre made up of a park, a university, and a number of shops and boutiques, and of course, is almost entirely surrounded by mountains.


Our apartment for the week, a clean and serviceable two bedroom, overlooks one of these mountains. Mostly, I wrote from the balcony, watching the many variations of its face as the sun and shade passed across it.



Holly had a desk inside, and we worked from 5am to 1pm to better crossover with Holly’s Australian coworkers. While we have many great places and experiences planned for this trip, this week was the one we had perhaps talked about the most. This is because the holiday proper starts after it. I’ll keep writing words, but for Holly, she’ll be closing the laptop with the intention to keep it closed until we’re once more back on home soil. And so this week was the only one where we would be working and holidaying at the same time. Taking the ordinary, working an eight hour day, and adding the extraordinary, immediately stepping outside under the shadow of the Austrian alps and heading towards one of its mountains as soon as the work day was done.


Which is exactly what we did.


The first day we did this we intended to start off easy and follow a walking track that would take us around the base of one of the mountains, but thanks to immediately getting lost and taking a wrong turn we instead accidentally walked up a mountain. We clued onto this pretty quickly. Our leisurely and mostly flat track was instead ascending rather rapidly. It would continue that way for the entire walk. An hour and a half of up. Deciding to lean into it, we chose a new spot on the map and headed for it; a mountain hut where we could rest and get a drink.


Accidentally walking up a mountain, it turns out, is tough. Our calves stretched and burned as our sweat kept up a steady stream. The scenery was beautiful. Green and lush and bursting with the bounty of spring. But there was one thing that it mostly denied us as we trudged our way up its side. Mountain views! To continue my mountain pervert line, the trail was edging us! Withholding those sweet mountain views behind its wall of foliage. And so, we kept on, ever upwards, and then more upwards, and then even a little bit more, with the path always reaching slightly higher in front of us, and always denying us a clear look at the mountains. I’ll also add in here, that I had gone for a five kilometre run earlier that morning, blissfully unaware at the time that I would be walking up a mountain that afternoon. Still, we carried on, and eventually, on the rise in front of us emerged the mountain hut. With great exhaustion, we climbed up its steps, and there the edging came to an end because spread out before us was an explosion of mountains. It was glorious.



Equally as glorious was the cool and refreshing lemon radler we would soon be guzzling. We headed inside and were quickly shepherded back out again by a ruddy faced Austrian mountain man speaking a flurry of german we didn’t understand. We got the gist though; pick a seat and he’d come to us. We did, choosing one with a choice mountain view, and, after another rapid fire scattering of german from our mountain man, we made our order. He was soon back with some long green bottles, sweating deliciously, which he poured into tall glasses emblazoned with his own ruddy cheeked face. We drank deep, looked out over the view, and spoke about how this was a pretty excellent way to end a work day.


As for the trail we had intended to do, we did eventually make our way back to it a few days later. The weather, being spring, had been moving rapidly between grey skies and bursts of sun, and so we were a bit unsure if we should brave heading out for a walk that day. But when the work day finished, the sky had returned to a warm yellow light and so we packed a small backpack and headed out. The path this time was indeed flat … for about ten minutes. Then it again shifted to incline and stayed that way. It turns out when walking in the Alps, even a track graded as “easy” is still going to see you heading up at some point. The grading was more gentle than the previous walk and so while I was still sweating it wasn’t nearly as taxing. And then the rain came in. And then the hail. We rushed underneath a tree, threw on our raincoats, and could do nothing but giggle as an onslaught of small angry chunks of ice pummelled us. Still warm with the gentle exertion and mostly safe under the twin powers of the tree’s branches and our raincoats, it was one of those magical moments where getting caught in the rain is a strange delight, and the intensity of the hail was mesmerising rather than upsetting.



The rain and hail eventually eased up a bit, and we made a break for it, heading to a small hotel located on the mountains side. We managed to catch them just as they were opening the bar and restaurant for the afternoon. We very timidly approached the door where we were greeted by an older woman. While her body language and vocal tone told us she would rather serve a dead rat than us, her words all but ordered us inside. We stepped into a hallway lined with rows of identical closed doors. The hotel's reception desk was at the end but because we weren’t checking in we were entirely unsure where to go. Another woman appeared, younger, gentler, but still with a level of intimidating sternness. She pointed at one of the many identical doors and kindly suggested we enter it. Or at least, that’s what I presume, as truthfully I have no idea what she said. But enter we did, and found a plush and empty restaurant. Picture in your mind what you think the interior of an Austrian mountain chalet’s dining area would look like. Yep. That’s exactly it. A wooden ceiling, deer heads and other knick knacks on the wall, and plumb seating booths in muted colours. A waiter soon arrived, moving with a speed and intensity that suggested he had a full house rather than just two wet Australians, and we ordered some beers. Then we ordered two more. Outside, the rain continued to pour.


There is one final mountain trek that I’d like to tell you about. This one took us higher and further than either of the other two, and delivered upon us scenes of such astounding beauty that despite seeing and standing amongst it, I truly cannot comprehend the magnitude and wonder of such a view.


It began with a chair lift.


Chair lifts have to be one of the more clever ways to get up a mountain. Definitely it was a lot quicker than either of our previous walks. They are also, for me, a little bit terrifying. Admittedly, it didn’t help that when I first got on this one, a single seater that quickly rose up and out of view, I forgot to put the bar down. That was until Holly yelled out at me from the ground to do so. I think the gruff middle-aged male chairlift employee was a bit too stunned that I had forgotten to do so to tell me himself. Thank goodness for Holly because the ground was already pulling away from me as I drew the bar down and held on tight; one more piece of security between me and all that open air around me. I planted my feet onto its lower half and rose into the sky. Thankfully, I was able to squash my panic pretty quickly, instead replacing it with anxiety as I potentially foolishly drew my phone from my pocket and did my best to both not drop it and capture the sights rising up before me. It got me mixed results, but it soon wouldn’t matter.


The chairlift took half an hour to get to the top, the town falling further and further behind us as in front, the distant mountain top became less distant. We got to the end, did the awkward lift-the-bar-and-jump-off mid-movement as the chairs don’t stop, and were punched in the face with mountains. I mean that as literally as I can without a mountain actually making a fist and punching me, as the view was a breathtaker. We stood on top of the mountain and looked out at a valley and beyond to all the rows and varieties of mountain that surrounded it. Complex and beautiful. In awe and speechless. Giddy and giggly with the inability to fully grasp or mentally articulate all that we were seeing. Faced with this incomprehensible natural spectacle we did what everybody does, got out our phones and started snapping photos.


Eventually, we pulled our eyes and phones away from the view to find the start of the nine kilometre trek we would do in and around that valley. We needn’t have bothered putting the phones away. Every step of that walk felt like standing at a lookout where each view was as unique and beautiful as the last. It alternated and changed with enough frequency that it was like seeing the collection of mountains anew every time. The impulse to take more photos than my phone could hold was huge, but I’ve danced this dance before and knew that to try and fully capture such a scene is impossible. If my own brain can’t do it there’s no chance my phone’s camera was up to the job. Saying that, I did take many a photo, but of a quantity that I feel was both appropriate and manageable.



The walk itself was perfect. Challenging but achievable. This was also on a Saturday, and not after work, and so we felt fresher and more ready to take it on. We also stopped at yet another mountain hut, this time to a coffee and a sausage, and, of course, views that continued to punch me in the face. Our walking was slow, mostly to take in all the sights, and of course, there were some moments of extreme incline – If there’s one takeaway from this post it’s always expect an incline – but we were able to overtake some people. Granted they were all either elderly or children but I still counted it as a win. It took around four hours from start to finish, including our rest, and by the time we were done we were pleasantly sore and ready to enjoy a grapefruit radler back at the apartment. We made our way down the mountain the same way we had gotten up and did a final walk back through the town and onto our temporary home. After a rest, we did one final walk that day, out to a small bar on the river. By the time the day was done, we had each completed around twenty seven thousand steps. The following day, we decided, would be a rest day.


There is of course more about this past week that I could tell you, more gushing over mountains that I could do, further tales of our small adventures, but this feels like plenty. I will however say that if you are a fan of mountains, or would even go so far as to call yourself a mountain pervert, then there are worse places you could visit than Kufstein.


In four weeks, I will return to the oldest, flattest, and driest continent on earth. Thankfully, I will also return with a phone full of photos and a head full of memories of one of those things I love most.


Mountains.


 

Thank you so much for reading these Stray Thoughts and until next time, do whatever you have to, commit whatever crimes necessary, travel as far as required to get yourself to some beautiful mountains.


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