Travel: Austria

Knitting: Austria yarn

Start of the Austria scarfYes, I know, I’ve jumped ahead in my yarn project, I have not forgotten about the yarns purchased in Madrid or Athens, I just have grander designs in mind for them. Perhaps nice cable designs. The Austria yarn is another novelty yarn that I can quickly knit a scarf out of. I will make this one before moving on to the others.

Austria was green, green, green. Even with autumn well on its way it was wonderfully green. I also had not yet bought anything even remotely green in this project of mine, so it’s perfect. It’s a ribbon of microfiber with variegated greens. I thought this would be chunky enough for larger needles, but I wasn’t happy with how it was turning out. Again, I have this cast on those favorite needles of mine, the 10.5 bamboo needles, 20 stitches cast on. I have enough of this yarn that I might attempt a matching hat!

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Austria: Leoben and Salzburg

Mur River and LeobenI spent one last morning walking around this lovely area. Mark would finish up around noon so I needed to stay close to town. It was sunny and clear, and I headed out on one of the closer trails. It is actually the bike trail (route #2) that goes on for miles and miles in both directions but follows along and stays close to the river Mur.

I also bought my yarn for my “scarves made from yarn from countries we visited” project. I found a great little yarn shop. Everything was on sale. Actually it was an “Everything Must Go” sort of sale. Apparently the owner had recently died and the executors of the estate were selling everything off to close down the shop. I bought four skeins of variegated microfiber yarn. I can possibly attempt a hat. A hat! I know! It’s not a rectangle, but I think I’ll give it a go.

Mark picked me up and we were on our way back to Salzburg, where we were flying out later that night. We had a few hours to kill before getting to the airport.

View from square up to castle in SalzburgWe parked in what turned out to be the coolest parking garage we have ever been in. It was carved in to the mountain side. Much like the Troglodite caves we visited in Turkey. There were several levels along with long cave tunnels leading to both sides of the mountain. The cave tunnels were lined with elaborate display cases for the shops, restaurants and theaters of the town. We spent some time in the Haus de Natur, the unexpectedly large natural history museum. The ground floor dominated by dozens of well kept aquariums exhibiting living fish, sharks and corals from around the world.

Over our amazing dinner, one of the most spectacularly prepared meals we have had in a long time from a randomly picked restaurant, we were thinking we should have tacked on an extra day just for exploring Salzburg. It is a gorgeous city. The shopping district was full of stuff we wanted to buy and we weren’t being harangued and harassed to buy anything. And actually we did buy something, I walked away with a new light weight coat and Mark a suit. This is the hometown of Mozart. We’re not classical music buffs, far from it. But how cool would it be to take the funicular up to the castle on the mountaintop where concerts are performed. We’ll have to visit here again.

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Austria: Leoben

Detail on a sunny dayOn this foggy rainy morning, I visited the Leoben Museum. Inside was several floors exhibiting the history of the region, lots on logging and mining. This town is known for its university specializing in mining and geotech programs. On the bottom floor was a special exhibit, “Jade and Gold” an exhibit of Chinese artifacts of, you guessed it, jade and gold. It was beautifully presented. In rooms painted a rich velvety red, all the artifacts stood out in sharp contrast.

Black and Gold Jesuit Church in LeobenI walked around the town, admiring some of the colorful architecture and stopped in another cafe for coffee. Another interesting getting out the rain stop was in St. Xavier, a Jesuit church near the town center. An organist was rehearsing inside on the pipe organ. I sat in this intriguing lavishly decorated black and gold church listening to the classical sounding music. A private concert as I was the only one sitting in the mahogany black pews.

After lunch I hopped on one of the many clearly mapped and blazed trails that intersect through Leoben. The Austrian trails are all blazed with little symbols that look like the Austrian flag. I spent the afternoon on trail 505. This took me past ruins of the Massenburg castle and an amazing view of the valley below.

Green orchid like flowers TBDAustria is so green but autumn is just getting started here, leaves are starting to turn. Flashes of red and yellow highlight the hillsides. Mushrooms are thriving in the moist soils rife with decaying fallen trees. A surprising number of flowers were blooming in the woods, including a pale green orchid like bunch that I nearly missed seeing.

Flower detailTonight was another very rich very delicious dinner. Pork medallions in a Stilton cream sauce. And just where are the desserts? Everything I’m reading is telling me about the amazing desserts in Austria. My guide book dedicates two full pages to photos and descriptions of traditional desserts and how Austrians eat desserts at any time of day. And yet, where are they? We have one more day here. I’ll be sorely disappointed if I don’t find a least one of these amazing looking sweets.

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Austria: Siez

Low clouds over the mountains, morningWe awoke to a foggy drizzly morning in Siez. After Mark left for work I consulted the hiking map. I was given advice on two routes. The first was toward the smaller rolling mountains across the road. It sounded like the perfect hike for this morning, a couple of hours up the hill to where there was a cafe to have lunch and coffee. The other took me behind the hotel, up into the higher peaks, as was told it’s better when the weather clears up, there are views for miles up there. Unlike the previous hotel that had detailed hiking maps of trails around Leoben that I could take with me, I didn’t have a map to take with me. I studied the map and made notes before heading out.

I headed out the door to the cafe on the hill. It was moist, misty and foggy, but not enough to deter me. However, the driving rain that started to fall an hour later was plenty reason to head back. Not too mention the map I had consulted seemed to have no bearing on reality. There was a major highway in front of me that was not on the map and with no immediately obvious way to get around it I decided to head back to the hotel.

Mur river in SeizAfter a suitable drying out period, the day looked like it might actually clear up, I decided to head into the higher trail. For a while I felt as if I was following a path laid out by a Hash House Harrier. It may have been coincidence or on purpose, but there were white arrows spray painted on the ground leading me along where the map said I needed to go. One intersection indicated either direction would do. I followed these along, thinking at some point I would see or be directed into the woods on onto an obvious trail. Instead, I was led along extremely narrow country lanes where the one or two cars that happened to fly by were flying by at obscene speeds.

And then the skies opened up again, rain pouring around me, the country lane started to resemble a small mountain stream as I hiked back past the farms and fields to the hotel. I’m not terribly disappointed, they were both nice walks that were interrupted by rain. And frankly, I was still recovering from the trauma of the previous day. I didn’t really feel like pushing myself. I decided it would be a good idea to head into Leoben tomorrow, where there are things to do indoors in case of rain.

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Austria: Dinner in Siez

I need to write about the dinner I had tonight. We decided to just eat in the hotel restaurant which was really quite nice. The waiter was so very patient with us, with our little knowledge of German and his limited English. I asked about a couple of the words on the special menu for the evening, our waiter didn’t know the English for the Venison so he drew a picture to communicate what the meat was.

It was a rustic and hearty autumn inspired feast. It started with a pumpkin and cream soup. The main dish involved Venison fillets with a rich brown gravy, roasted sweet chestnuts, a slightly spicy red cabbage side dish and a black currant relish. There was just so much going on on my plate, sweet and savory, tart and spicy.

Outside the fog and clouds were descending out of the mountains, a chill was in the air. With a soft white wine in my glass and a fire crackling in the fire place, we couldn’t have asked for better ambiance.

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Austria: Little Debbie Bloody Pee Pants

While we were in Turkey, nicknames were being tossed around, they were all Smurf themed. Smurf’s seemed to be popular there, seeing them in advertising and for mascots for charity donation boxes. Anyway, there was Disco Smurf and Disgusting Smurf, I was deemed Sexy Smurf and Mark was Broken Smurf. How did I go from having the nickname of “Sexy Smurf” to “Little Debbie Bloody Pee Pants” in a matter of weeks? Here is my tale of the super scenic Leoben emergency room and the Austrian health system and possibly crosses way over the TMI line as I, unlike Mark, am not as liberal talking about bodily functions and fluids.

I had devised an excellent plan for today the night before. I would rent a bike from the hotel we were staying at and set off on one the many marked trails around the area. The weather was going to be beautiful and the green hills and snow capped Alps surrounding this idyllic and picturesque valley were beaconing me to be outside as much as possible. What a perfect way to take in the city of Leoben than by bicycle!

Hindsight is 20/20 right. After this incident, the days preceding made a little more sense. I had never had a urinary tract infection before, I only had second hand knowledge of what the symptoms were and how they manifested themselves. I had only thought I had been consuming such vast quantities of liquid during the day that the urgent need to wake several times a night was easily explained away. This trend continued through the first night we were in Austria, only with greater frequency and much greater urgency.

I would get up, in the dark, and take care of business with the lights out. I didn’t want to disturb Mark. I think maybe at six in the morning I had accidentally turned on the bathroom light. It was on this tenth visit that I saw on the German style platform toilet where you can conveniently examine your deposit (remind me to discuss the toilet technologies we’ve been encountering) and saw the aforementioned bloody pee. I then started paying very close attention to what was going on in the bathroom.

I returned to bed and heard Mark stir, “are you awake?” I whispered, “hmmph, yes,” he mumbled, “I think I may be having some issues,” this got his attention as I explained the situation, “how do you know it might be an infection?” he asked, “I’m peeing blood,” “Oh.”

The hotel hostess was very helpful, giving me directions to a local private doctor. Here, trying to explain my symptoms to non-English speaking nurses and then to a doctor who mostly understood me, I produced a sample. The reaction of the doctor was an alarming and succinct, “Much blood. Ambulanz.” as he pointed to the hospital on the map.

All I wanted was to go on a bike ride today and I ended up trapped inside the darkest ER ever. I took my slip of paper labeled “urgent” from the doctor to the Urology Ambulanz and was given a number, #76 around 8:00 am. The counter was on #65 for so long I was starting to think that it was broken and they had been calling out numbers without me realizing it. But finally, it changed, after almost an hour. This was going to be a LONG wait. There was a flurry of activity where the charge nurses were getting information and further samples from all the waiting patients. I thought it looked promising, like things would be moving soon. But no.

I was texting Mark throughout the morning. Giving updates on the counter progress and mentioning how starving I was. Did I mention we didn’t have breakfast this morning? I was so concerned and honestly thought it would be a short visit to the first doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics that we would have time to go back to the hotel and have breakfast before Mark went to work and I could rent my bike.

Mark came to my rescue with a sandwich, cashews and smoothie at 12:30. Just as we finished up eating, the counter jumped ahead to #78, “Hey! They’re skipping over me!” number ticket in hand I ran to the door waving back to Mark and leaving him quite abruptly, “I have to go!” I was not going to be passed over after hours of waiting.

Inside the examining room I proceeded to have the strangest physical exam ever. Well, mostly it was strange because the doctor and nurse were chattering on and laughing in German, they could have been talking about the latest episode of a sitcom telling jokes while my bladder and kidneys were being ultra-sounded, or while the nurse very quickly sneaked in a catheter for anther test. The doctor turned to me, “everything is okay, bladder, kidneys, okay.” He sat me down, handed me a prescription for an antibiotic and told me in his broken English to, “drink lots. lots and lots.” Which the written instructions translated to 3 liters of water a day.

After being escorted to the payment office, lest I try to slip out without paying, I finally made it out of there by 2:00 in the afternoon. I needed to wait for the pharmacy to open at 2:30.

All I wanted to do today was take a bike ride and this is what I get. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a cafe, I was tired, having spent most of the night awake and trying to pee blood. I just waited for Mark to be done for the day and who officially so designated me as “Little Debbie Bloody Pee Pants” There is absolutely nothing sexy about that.

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Austria: Eisriesenwelt

Salzach valleyWe flew into Salzburg and drove through the Alps to get to Leoben. The mountains were towering nearby, we were excited as I had picked a driving route that would take us straight into the Northern Limestone Alps and down into the Central Alps. The Northern Limestone Alps are formed of soft carbonate rocks and although they have steep slopes the peaks are more rounded. The Central Alps consist of hard crystalline rocks like gneisses and shale. These have the characteristic steep slopes and craggy sharp peaks. Even now on a late summer day (well, early autumn now) that was in the seventies and sunny, snow was still capping the peaks. We marveled at how it seemed these mountains just didn’t seem to be high enough to have caps of snow.

Amidst this spectacular landscape, on the way to Leoben, we stopped at Eisriesenwelt, the ice caves in Werfen, the largest system of ice and rock caves on Earth, on top of the mountain Achselkopf, about 1575 meters (5167 feet) above sea level. How many caves have we been in lately? Chalk caves in England, countless Tuff caves in Turkey, now, an ice cave in Austria. These ice caves involved a twisty drive up part of one of the mountains, then a twenty minute hike up to the funicular, which was steep and fast on the exposed mountainside, then another twenty minutes or so further walking up the mountain to the cave entrance. Even at the cave entrance, we could see our breath in the air and we pulled on our warmer clothes to go in. Inside, it reaches freezing temperatures.

Our guide for scale, ice cavesIt takes about an hour to go on the guided tour that takes you in as far as the first kilometer or so of the cave system, and up 700 stairs and back down 700 stairs in a nice loop. There are over 42km of caves in this mountain. Although the caves were known by local hunters, they weren’t “discovered” until Anton Posselt, a natural scientist from Salzburg, did in 1879. As we passed the opening to the rest of the cave system, I wondered about how many spelunkers come to these caves and just how well mapped out the system is. At this point in the cave, we could see equipment used to measure the depth of ice as scientists were working out just how old some of this ice is.

Deb looking over the edge in funicularWe were given carbide lanterns to carry, Mark recognized the smell of the lanterns before we even saw them. The lanterns lit the ice formations eerily as we trekked up the steep stairs built into the cave (so we would could actually get up into the caves and so people don’t damage the ice by walking on it). There is a natural strong wind that builds and is at full strength at the entrance. Wind finds its way into the caves through various small cracks, there is no other entrance to the cave. As the air cools it sinks to the lowest parts of the cave system, the wind caused by the dramatic difference in air temperature outside the caves.

Before heading back down the funicular, we stopped at the mountainside cafe and enjoyed some frittatensuppe, a beef consomme with strips of the Austrian crepe like pancakes in it. Before us was the panoramic views over the Salzach Valley. The Salzach river below us, milky white with eroded particles from the mountains.

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Just catching our breath, Austria

Just as we’ve caught our breath, Mark is being sent to Leoben in Austria for work. We’re getting up far too early and catching a flight to Salzburg tomorrow morning!

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