Winter arrives in the mountains

Trip Start Feb 02, 2010
Trip End Feb 02, 2011

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Flag of Austria  , Styria,
Friday, October 29, 2010

After we returned from our hiking we spent a week in Sankt Marein doing a few small things before heading off again, this time to the Siebenhofer house in Murau. We visited our friends Flo and Andrea who have just had a baby, a very peaceful, beautiful boy called Noah. We had a really nice evening with them talking, eating and drinking lots of tea. We also went mushroom hunting again, this time in the rain. Felix has become quite addicted to searching for the elusive chanterelles. I have been running a few times and very much surprised myself with my motivation and feeling of good-will towards the activity.

 But now we are in Murau, in the Austrian Alps enjoying snow, ice, freezing nights, sunny days, autumn colours, big mountains and a house the size of a castle all to ourselves. We rode here on Friday afternoon, stopping at a mountain Guest House for lunch. From the outside the place looked like it never, ever had anyone go inside but as we walked through the door we were greeted by a very friendly, perfectly mannered young waiter. The food was served in massive portions and was absolutely great. As we were leaving we started talking to a girl who had ridden her motorbike up especially for a vanilla slice (and I guess also for the beautiful winding roads and spectacular views). She showed us on her maps all the great motorbiking roads we could take to get to and from various places. 

 We arrived at the house in the dark and spent about an hour familiarising ourselves with the place. It is such a enormous house. Three stories, about fifteen bedrooms, two kitchens, three showers, two toilets, a cellar, too many living/sitting rooms to count, a million stairs, a rabbit warren of hallways. But before we noticed all that we noticed something else. The very, very peculiar and frustrating positioning of light switches. 

 As we entered through the downstairs entrance standing in the little room for taking off coats and keeping shoes from freezing outside in winter, we could not find a light switch anywhere. We fumbled around in the dark for about ten minutes, feeling around all the door frames looking for any signs of a switch or wire leading to one. We didn’t find a light switch until we had stumbles through the entrance and across a living room all in total darkness where we finally found a switch by the door into the hallway. We had been told to use the bottom story entrance and to sleep in the top floor. So we now had to find our way up to the room on the top floor with the balcony. It would be fair for one to assume that there would be a light switch at the bottom and top of the staircase so when one wants to travel up or down the stairs at night they can, without falling down after tripping in the dark. But not this staircase, we did find a light that lit the stairs but certainly not in the expected spot. The rest of the lights in the house we equally hard to turn on because of their switch location. If I need to go to the toilet in the dark, I must walk out of my room, around the stairwell, and halfway down the hall to where the hallway light is before I can actually see where I am going. A similar process applies to going everywhere at night in this house. 

 Aside from this interesting feature it is a wonderful house. Saturday Erstl arrived and spent the weekend laying a new floating floor on the top story with Felix’s help. While the boys were working I entertained myself in the kitchen, keep them supplied with brownies and cinnamon rolls. 

 By midday Sunday the floor as finished and the tree of us drive in the beetle up a mountain to a house where Ernstl’s sister and her family were having a rustic mountain holiday. We had lung strudel soup and blood sausages with potato for lunch - apparently real Austrian mountain farmer food. I managed to eat the lunge strudel soup by reminding myself I had also managed haggis in Scotland but the blood sausage and potato was more then I could handle, it was still bright red!

 After lunch Felix and I took a stroll up to 2041 meters above sea level. The first hour of walking up to the saddle wasn’t too steep or strenuous. Here we made a snow ball as big as we could and tried to roll it down the mountain. Sadly it broke up and only ended up twenty meters down the hill in three small pieces. Then the last bit of climbing up to the summit was really steep. We left the path behind and went straight up over rocks, shrubby, ground hugging plants and patches of snow. Both our hearts were pumping out of our chests and our lungs heaving. Many time I was tempted to give up but Felix was determined to reach the top and he pushed us on. When we made it was I was so glad for Felix’s persistence. It was so wonderful at the top. It’s one thing to stand among trees on top of a mountain looking out between them but to be on one so high the only trees are way below and the view unobstructed all around is something else. It was so spectacular, all around us the rocky mountain dropped steeply away and in the distance more huge mountains loomed, looking totally impassable and capped with snow so bright, white and shiny in the afternoon sun.

 By the time we were finished enjoying the mountain top an all it’s pleasures it was about an hour and a half before dark. So we decided to run all the way back to the guest house where Ernstl and the others were having a beer. The first bit of the decent was too steep to go any faster then a cautious slipping and sliding but from the saddle we ran almost the whole way steadying for the muddy snow patches and deeply eroded variations of the path. What took us about two and a half hour s to climb took about half and hour to descend. At the bottom my thighs were burning radiating heat like a heater and our ankles and knees feeling throughly tested and stretched. It was so much fun running down that mountain. 

 We had a dinner with Ernstl and long friendly conversation covering many topics at one of the guest house in the Murau before going back to the cosy warm house for bed.

 Monday Ernstl had another adventure planned for us. It had been snowing all night so when we look up at the mountains in the morning they were covered in snow. Sadly it had all melted about fifty meters above the altitude of the house so there was no snow in the valley where the town is. After breakfast we hopped into the beetle again and drove up to a lake. It was full on snowing up there. And not only snowing it was windy too so the snow was coming at us from all angles, blowing into ears and down the gap between my chin and scarf. Felix and I were so excited to be in the snow again, we were running around like little children shaking the trees so the dumped snow on us and trowing rocks at the ice forming on the lake. Not to mention writing in the snow with wee. The lake was very, very beautiful, just like on a postcard, a mountains, pine tress, snow and a european lake kind of one. (Just in case you were imagining a tropical beach.) we had lunch in the restaurant up there. (It was good food but I was a little worried the strange man working there had poisoned the food because he looked at me like a frightening deranged weirdo when we came in, however that was not the case, I’m still here, I hope he doesn't get onto this and hunt me down, I’m going to be really paranoid now.) 

 Battling half a snow storm and driving around on tiny little forest tracks on the side of a mountain covered with deep snow was a amazing and beautiful. Fresh snow is so wonderful, so crisp and crunchy yet delicate and pure. It’s very fitting to it’s name ‘virgin snow.’ I find virgin snow as alluring as a Catholic man must find a lovely virgin woman. It just has to be touched. Everything incrusted in white is so spectacular, it seems like another world to me. We made it back home and went off to our rooms to have a afternoon nap. 

 Tuesday morning Ernstl left and we had a long sleep in. We spent the rest of the day bumming around and cooking more cinnamon rolls. We went for a night walk to all the supermarkets in Murau (there are three in the actual town and another two very close by in the next town), looking for food in the dumpsters. I have been interested in dumpster diving for quite a while, the idea that some people live primarily off what they find thrown away is such a great idea but I have never managed to find a dumpster unlocked. Admittedly I haven’t tried a great deal but I would really like to meet some experts and pick up a few tips.

 We spent the rest of the week at Murau exploring the town and around. And a whole day fixing the taps on the second floor. But to cut a long story short when I went down stairs in the morning I noticed there was a steady dripping coming from under the floor and flowing down the stairs. I say we I mean Felix, he’s more naturally gifted in the plumbing trade then me but I was a trusty companion on the several trips back and forth from the plumbing shop. Felix managed to fix the water flowing down the stairs with a new custom made seal and fixed another dripping tap by removing the thirty years of calcium build up while he was at it.

 On Friday we went up to the church and old castle. The church was build in the 14th century and  there were people restoring the super fancy alter and other what not inside. Two people were painting a section of the alter at a rate of a about one square centimetre per minute and another man was carefully preparing a replacement piece of wood for one of the pews.

 After looking at the church we went further up the hill too look at the old castle. The front gate was closed but as no one around to tell us not to we crawled under the gate and had a little look around. We couldn’t get inside the residential building but from what we could see from the windows it look like it had been lived in pretty recently and had some big renovations maybe in the sixties judging by the interior decorating. 

 We found we could get into the stables and hay loft which was very exciting. Lights and water had been installed in the barn so that place had also been used recently. It was a really great barn, it would have been so great to see it full of animals with knights roaming around guarding the tower.  We couldn’t get up into the tower but we did get under it in what seemed to be some kind of store room or grain shed and looked up the the roof which was incredibly high. We then followed the remains of the city wall down to a second tower which we could climb up and enjoy the view from. We then walked down to the aerial ski acrobatic jump things. They were terrifying. 

Before going back home we had a hot drink at a very pleasant cafe looking out over the river.

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