Tuesday, September 09, 2008

another merciless sweep through Europe

Just a few notes on our trip to Austria last week:

We flew from Gatwick to Salzburg with Thomsonfly; the flight out was about an hour late but apart from that it was all pretty trouble-free.

We stayed at Haus Hislop in Inneralpbach, about 90 minutes drive from Salzburg (or half an hour or so from Innsbruck, but flights there are a bit more seasonal, not to mention expensive, not to mention a bit more hair-raising as there is a bit of a tricky mountainous approach by all accounts). The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that Hislop isn't an Austrian name, and in fact the place is run by Claire Hislop, who's originally from Yorkshire and moved out to Inneralpbach in a Place In The Sun stylee a few years ago after purchasing the plot of land on which Haus Hislop now stands with her twin brother. We booked via the Owners Direct website - further information about Haus Hislop can be found here. The house, the location and Claire's mildly eccentric hospitality are all highly recommended - my top tip is to go for apartment 4 as you then get the use of the fantastic first floor balcony. It's an obvious point to make, perhaps, but being able to make enquiries and finalise arrangements for arrival and departure with someone who speaks English is a huge advantage (unless you happen to speak fluent German). Claire will even do a run to the local supermarket for you to pick up some essentials if you're going to arrive after the shops shut (as we did).

Inneralpbach is pretty small but there are a few local hot-spots, especially the excellent Zirmalm restaurant. We wandered up there for dinner on the Thursday night only to find that the place had been reserved for a private party for the landlord's 50th birthday - nonetheless (possibly due to us having Claire with us, who seems to be a bit of a local celeb) they fitted us in, rustled up a Wiener Schnitzel or two and plied us with free beer and schnapps all evening.

Most people's reaction when asked to think of Austrian cuisine is to conjure up images of massive piles of pork chops and cabbage with potato dumplings, perhaps with a couple of gallons of cream sauce sloshed over the top, and there's more than a grain of truth in this. I would urge you to give the spätzle a try, though, as they're pretty good. Here's a recipe; otherwise they are available in packets from the supermarket, as pictured.

As with the trip to Amsterdam, amusingly named food products are available to the eagle-eyed photographer. Here's a couple that we found in the Spar supermarket in Kramsach:

The Alpbach valley is surrounded by some interesting peaks, the highest one in the immediate vicinity being the Großer Galtenberg, which just happens to be right behind Haus Hislop. So there was no way we were going to be able to get away without going and standing on top of it, which we duly did. It's a long hard steep slog, but presents no particular technical difficulty; it's no more difficult than, say, going up Ben Nevis from Fort William. Heightwise it's pretty impressive though at 2424 metres (7953 feet), which makes it comfortably the highest mountain I've ever climbed. I think the previous record-holder was Ben Lomond near Queenstown in New Zealand at 1751 metres (5747 feet) which I went up when I was there back in 2001.

A couple of days after the Galtenberg trip we went tubing with Sport Ossi near Kramsach - basically flinging yourself down a set of river rapids on top of an inflated tractor inner tube. Great fun.

We drank lots of excellent beer, mainly in the Märzen style; Gösser and Zipfer being the best ones, I would say. We also drank some excellent wine (red, mainly), which shouldn't be a surprise, but the Austrian wine industry is still tainted by its association with the diethylene glycol scandal in the 1980s, unfortunately. Say "Austrian wine" to anyone over 35 and they'll snigger and say "anti-freeze", myself included.

General photos (including our ascent of the Galtenberg) can be found here; the ones of our tubing expedition are in a separate gallery here.

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