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Austrian New Year 26 January 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Travelling.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On Christmas Eve, two twenty-something, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed tourists drove through the mountain passes in the south of Bavaria into Tirol, Austria. Another country neither one of us had ever been to. Another snow-covered, picturesque adventure awaited.

First stop was Wattens, the Swarowski factory and museum. Personally, it was a little out there for me, there was just too much glitter, sparkle and neon. But there were also some beautiful things: my favourite part was the Alexander McQueen/ Tord Boontje Christmas Tree, which was obviously most appropriate for Christmas Eve.

Image courtesy of the internet.

After frolicking in the vast expanse of glittery opulence that is Swarovski, we went on to Mayrhofen, a ski resort town where we had booked 3 nights accommodation to celebrate Christmas. We stayed at a wonderful chalet in the valley which was walking distance to the Penkenbahn, which is the main cable car that takes you up to Penken ski area.

My partner took a lesson on the first day to relearn the tricks of the trade, and I must admit that I took a while to get used to the long flat sticks on my feet, too. At one point standing at the top of a red slope and watching an older American man fall and fly head first all the way down the mountain, I could literally feel my knees knock together, and I felt fear for the first time in my life while skiing.

When younger, I never even thought twice. Back then, I would bounce back up after a fall. I used to ski all the time. And, the big clincher, I had never heard of anyone dying from a skiing accident. Now, older, more brittle, and with a few more skiing horror stories under my belt, I am not as confident. But slowly and surely, I regained my confidence. My partner reminded me of the technique, and soon, I was back to my old tricks, and it was fun again.

The second day of skiing, we had wonderful blue skies, fresh snow, and we found a fantastically fun slope with small cottages selling lunch in the middle of them. You literally skied around the cottages to go down, so we stopped off at one for Goulash Soup and beer. We left our skis on the slope and climbed to the top of a hill (snow boots and all) to get a better vantage point, and to take pictures of the gorgeous backdrop. Many people refused to believe that it was real when we later shared the photos. We sat there together for a while, in the snow, eating snickers bars and watching the sun hit the mountains opposite. Magical.

For my Christmas present, I was given a beautiful scarf (which I had plenty of opportunities to wear in the cold) as well as a trip on the Zillertalbahn, an old steam train going up and down the Zillertal. I love trains. I always did enjoy train rides and seeing old trains, so my partner decided to spoil me by taking me to Jenbach on a local train (which is quite fast) and then back again on the steam train (which is slow and very smelly, but mighty fun). The carriages are also all wooden and quaint, so I was in heaven. While riding, I walked the whole way from one end to the other, and we took lots of photos of each other hanging out of windows and standing behind the locomotive. Good times.

We then decided to drive through the Gerlospass, which is a mountain pass through the alps with more picturesque viewing spots and lovely scenery. We took this way, as we all of a sudden had one extra day (somewhere in the planning, I missed the 28th) and we thought we could do the Grossglockner Road. Driving along, the road started showing up on signs, but crossed out. In Zell am See, we pulled into a petrol station to ask about this, and we were told that this particular road, famous for it’s windy trail through the mountains, is closed for winter, from October to May. Thank you, Lonely Planet, for not mentioning this!

So, my partner suggests that the old farmstead he wanted to stay at should be somewhere nearby. He gives them a call to ask if they can take us. We are in luck, they have a vacancy. So where is it exactly? Turns out that Taxhof is literally 2 km away, up the mountainside. From Taxhof, we could see the petrol station where we had stopped and called them in the valley!

Taxhof, by the way, I will recommend to all who will listen. A real gem that we discovered via the New York Times. It was fantastic food, a relaxed atmosphere, friendly guests who greeted you when you went anywhere and the two sisters running the place are wonderful. The farm has been in the hands of the family for 300 something years, and it was completely different from anywhere I’ve ever stayed before. The barn had a number of donkeys and cows, and while we were there, a calf was born.

In the morning, after there being more snow falling all night, we drove to the start of the Grossglockner Road, and walked up along it to look at the amazing scenery, the snow covered trees and the curtains of icicles tumbling down along the rock face. We threw snowballs at each other and took (more) pictures, and generally amused ourselves by looking for deer (none spotted, but we found plenty of tracks).

After two dreamy nights, feeling most relaxed by now, we continued to Salzburg, where the kitsch and faux-glamour made us cringe. I am sure this is not what Mozart had intended for himself! We went to his birth place and ate copious amounts of Mozartkugln, but it all felt a bit off.

The highlight of Salzburg, however, was our accommodation, which was our Christmas present from my partner’s parents: a stay in Moenchstein castle for a night! That same evening we went to a concert in the Marble Hall in Mirabell Castle, which was quite decadent and wonderful. We ate sandwiches in an Italian pub around the corner.

The next day we continued in one go to Vienna, where we returned the hire car, and went sightseeing. Vienna was truly gearing up to New Years’ Eve, with a festive air throughout the city. We stayed in a private apartment (rented via a sub-let website) for two nights and discovered the delights of the city. We had more sausage (they have fantastic ones filled with cheese in Vienna!) as well as more gluhwein and hot chocolate.

New Year’s Eve we first went to the Statsoper (the National Opera) and saw Die Fledermaus, which was very romantic, although some of the people on stage were ad libbing in German, meaning that we had no idea why everyone else was laughing so hard! After the opera, we had Sachertorte (apparently a must, so we stood in line to get a table) and then we walked to the Heldenplatz for the midnight fireworks.

In Austria, everyone is still allowed to buy and set off their own fireworks, just like when I was little, so I was thrilled about being on a large open space with a 360 degree fireworks display overhead. Kissing each other at midnight with cheers and jubilation, and lots of fireworks… What could be a better way to usher in the new year?

After the fireworks, we walked along with the crowds returning home, calling our parents (his being nine hours ahead and already far into the new day, and mine being an hour behind, preparing to celebrate their own entry into 2011) and generally grinning from ear to ear.

Best holiday ever.


1. Dianne - 30 January 2011

What a wonderful commentary about your holiday.

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