Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Almost






















Up to Shilthorn Mountain (2970m, I can't ever seem to break the 3000m mark!) in the Bernese Oberland (Switzerland) with Allison at the start of my summer holidays. It was a dreamy 3 days, staying in a mountain hostel in Gimmelwald that you can only access by cable car or hiking. We hiked up to Shilthorn on a sunny morning and were greeted by cablecar loads of tourists at the top station (made famous by an old James Bond movie). It was a magical view over the Jungfrau nonetheless with noteworthy strudel at the restaurant. It's always hard deciding whether to take my camera with on hikes and usually I opt for the probably more necessary extra jacket or water bottle – hence it's mostly been iPhone photos on here of late.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wild











































It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.

- from Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I was reading Wild in the evenings during this hike and took a photo of this page on my kindle. It seemed so fitting, perfectly describing my sentiment of walking for entire days. It was a thrill to wake up in the mornings with the sun rising over mountain peaks at the same level. Kallie was visiting from Australia and, being a mountain enthusiast like myself, it was the perfect opportunity to use my new ‘alpine club’ (yes) membership to stay in huts and do a longer multi-day hike in the Rätikon region on the other side of Vorarlberg.



Of course, it's always more than good to come 'home' to Dornbirn. I love the local mountains that I've now gotten to know so well, all the other accessible nature -  rivers, canyons, waterfalls. Also the great people, some who I've only met quite recently but really make me feel a sense of belonging here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Donau

We were originally planning on cycling the Via Claudia Augusta from Bavaria to Italy, crossing some steep Alps passes, but Julia had to be in Budapest early August so we decided to cycle there instead. The Danube cycle path (according to the internet) is the most popular cycle path in Europe – which we also noticed by the amount of people we passed, especially on the first days. 
We met midday two Wednesdays ago on the train to Passau, it was so good to see Julia again after 1.5 years. We met on my gap year in Germany in 2010 and have done a few cycling trips since like Berlin to Copenhagen 2 years ago.
After brief confusion cycling the wrong direction along the Danube for some 10km (it was so well signed, this was literally the only thing you could screw up if you really tried, which we did) we were on our way east. The first day was it was sprinkling a little which didn’t bother us much, and low-lying clouds made cycling along the Danube valley very magical. We decided to camp on this trip which meant carrying a lot more stuff on our bikes, but apart from one day of climbs in Hungary this was fine as it was mostly quite flat. I love camping and the routine of finding a good camping spot, setting up the tent, cooking dinner (every basic meal we declared “best food ever” we were so hungry), falling into bed at 9pm, waking up with the sun, making tea in the morning and setting down the tent to repeat it all the next evening. The next few days were wonderful. I’ve only ever really visited the cities in Austria or the mountain regions, but have never seen what’s between the cities east of Vorarlberg. Had memorable Linzer Torte in Linz and cycled through the beautiful Wachau region with all it’s winelands and famous apricot tree fields. 
On the 4th day we arrived in Vienna and weaved our way through the city via a stop at an ice cream shop (min. 1 x ice cream/ day) to Maike’s place, a friend I studied in Austria with last time. It was really nice to catch up with her, have a nice vegan meal and sleep in a bed again.
The next morning was quite rainy so we didn’t spend much time in Vienna and got straight on the road to Bratislava. In the afternoon, my gym bro/ hiking buddy Jan met us there and gave us a nice, scenic (= getting lost) tour of the city. I think “Eurotrip” and some Slovaks’ opinions made me set my expectations of Bratislava quite low, but it ended up impressing me so much! It’s a lovely city, don’t listen to Slovakians if they try tell you otherwise. We had a very funny evening at a pub and tried delicious potato dumplings with smoked cheese and pasta (?) with poppy seeds and icing sugar. So good. The next morning we had breakfast with Jan’s lovely parents and they drove us back to rainy Bratislava city centre to pick up our bikes and continue onto Hungary. 
Hungary felt a lot “wilder” than the first half of the trip. We didn’t see many cyclists after Vienna and had to keep an eye out more so we didn’t get lost. I’ve been to Budapest a few times but like Austria, it was so interesting to see the places inbetween the cities that I would never have otherwise. Thank goodness that Julia is Hungarian and could ask for directions. The days of cycling in Hungary can be summed up by fields and fields of sunflowers and corn and really high  (35+ degrees celsius) temperatures. Hungarians were super friendly, offering that we could camp in their garden when we were looking for a campsite, helping us (ok me) find coffee in the morning and always being very helpful with directions. I can only criticise their very sporadic driving and parts of the path which gave us our first (unexpected) taste of mountain biking. On our last evening, exhausted from a big day of climbing and covering125km, I went for a dip in the Danube and we had a picnic watching the sun set in Slovakia on the other side of the river.
It was a thrill to finally cycle into Budapest on the 8th day. There we relaxed at Julia’s family’s great apartment, ate a lot of Hungarian food, met some Aussie friends for drinks, met up with Anna who’s now living there (come back!), went hiking in Buda in 40 degrees, ate soft serves and walked around Margaret Island. It was such a good trip.

I’m putting the words before photos because they’re nothing special – didn’t have room or weight left to carry a camera so they’re just mobile photos, but still help illustrate the story. 
















Thursday, July 16, 2015

Peak III

I've been up even more mountains lately.









Hoher Freschen, take 3. This time, in contrast to last time, it was a lovely, sunny day (less snow than expected for once) and we showed Maddie, Isabella, Thibaut & Isa the impressive ridge line and could enjoy the view that we didn't get to see last time. Both Maddie and Isabella wrote lovely accounts of this hike too, see them here and here.







My brother visited a few weeks ago and one morning we walked up Bocksberg. It was overcast in town but we had blue skies above the low-hanging clouds. It was really nice to spend time with my brother and show him my life here.





About a month ago I went on the craziest hike I've ever done, Zitterklapfen. Even though it isn't particularly high for this part of the world (around 2400m), it's know as the hardest mountain to hike up in the Bregenzerwald (fitting for such a scary-sounding name). The hike started quite tame but after a few hours (and steep sections) we came across a 65+, very experienced-looking Austrian who told us (in thick dialect) to turn back before anything happens. We told him we'd turn back if it gets too bad, he shrugged, mumbled something along the lines of "your funeral" and kept going down. True, we didn't have ropes or poles or spikes and Stefan was in running shoes and jeans, but how bad could it be if some old Austrian man had already been up there that day?
...more snow than expected. Once we scrambled up a long stretch of steep, loose stones we had to cross a very long and steep snow field. Once finally on the other side, there was a lot of (unsecured) climbing, the kind of thing I thought you might need climbing equipment for, but in the end we made it to the top. The tricky bit was descending the way we came, and we (half) jokingly considered calling a rescue helicopter. The rock climbing down was okay, but once we made it back to the snowfield the snow had become considerably slipperier in the sun. Not knowing much about avalanches, we decided to go one at a time to be safe. As I was walking across, last in line, I suddenly slipped and slid few metres down on my stomach. Luckily I could dig my boot in the snow enough to eventually stop falling and, very shaken, made my way back to the stones.





My dear housemate, (the German) Anna, left 2 weeks ago. On her last week here she had the day off so we drove with Maddie and Thibaut into Brandertal to conquer Schesaplana. First we hiked up to the amazingly blue Lünersee, then further up to Totalphütte for a drink, and onwards through the snow to the 2965m high peak sitting on the border of Switzerland and Austria. Apart from a risky climb through vertical snow just before the peak, it was a really lovely, stress-free hike with even lovelier people. I'm already missing Anna a lot, it was so nice to live with someone who I had so much in common with.




Sometimes I think I’ve gotten better at saying goodbye and then there are weeks like the past few where I get knots in my stomach before even meeting with the person to be farewelled. People whose smell you’ve gotten used to, who you know when to talk to and when to have silence, whose mood you can sense before they say a word. All my exchange friends have now left town and it'll be pretty quiet until the next group come mid-August. This time I’m the one who’s staying and I've gotten a taste of what it feels like for the people back home when I leave.