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Journals from Austria Program Fall 2012

2012-08-19 Living in the Alps--Already Feels Like Home

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The gorgeous view from within the Sportgastein valley

Monday August 13th:

 

Everyday seems like such a beautiful day in the Alps! As I look through all my pictures, I still cannot believe I am here…that these mountains are all around me and I am lucky enough to get to see them, experience them, and climb them. On Sunday August 12th, we woke up to a kind of foggy, chilly morning and when we walked out onto the porch we could hear cowbells all around us.

We then experienced a wonderful traditional breakfast downstairs. This consists of a vast variety of rolls, (Semmeln are a specific type of roll with an interesting spiral on top) slices of bread, spreads like Nutella and jam, and most important different types of meat and cheese like salami and..I actually have no idea what the other varieties were, but I’m learning to just take it and eat it, and it all tastes great! (Except for that terrible onion and cheese sandwich on the airplane..but that’s airplane food, I have a good excuse!)

Following breakfast we made our way to the Bushaltestelle (the bus stop). There, we grabbed a bus to Sportgastein, where in the winter it is packed full of tourists. In one village, dozens of people got  on the bus. All the seats were taken and people were standing all the way from the back of the bus to the front door.

As we drove we saw the most beautiful mountains. I know I live in Montana and those mountains are stunning..but these mountains are stunning in another way. They are just different mountains and just as enchanting and beautiful as those back home. As I pressed my nose to the window glass I still couldn’t believe I was actually here in Austria in the alps! The members of our group just kept looking at each other like “I can’t believe this.. it’s so amazing!”

Upon our arrival in Sportgastein we began a mini hike through the valley, taking pictures every couple seconds! There were a bunch of people all around us. In Sportgastein this time of year there is an Almfest, which is a festival where people hike up to several cabins and drink fresh cow’s milk (straight from the cow, I mean, no pasteurization involved), eat different types of food, and enjoy a few beers and traditional Austrian music.

Our hike was absolutely beautiful and we saw a river flowing through as well as many tiny creeks. A handful of waterfalls also surrounded us and the sounds and sights of nature were absolutely delightful.

Around us also were many Ziegen and Kuehe(Goats and Cows) They either stood next to us or were lying in the meadows. I don’t know why, but Austrian cows are so much cooler than the ones back home, and everyone in our group seemed to agree.

Tuesday August 14th:

Well..I am definitely hurting this morning! Everything from the waist down is aching and complaining...but es lohnt sich as they say in Austria (it’s worth it).

Yesterday went on a beautiful, amazing and magical hike through the mountains here in Dorfgastein. I felt as if I was in Narnia, the Princess Bride, every fairytale I’ve ever read, and Bridge to Teribithia, ALL at the same time!

The trip started out with a super fun ride up the mountain in the Gondola! If you’ve never ridden in a Gondola, I hope you do someday. You just ride up the mountain and can see everything below as you make it to the top..

When we got to the top of the mountain we began our hike all the way down the mountain. We saw man-made lakes as well as natural tiny bodies of water. It was absolutely gorgeous; one of the most enjoyable hikes I have ever been on. We eventually made it to a tiny chapel and after that we followed the Pilz Pfad (Mushroom path. See how fairytale like it is?) down to a little cabin where some people rest and eat a light snack and/or drink a beer. We passed it however, because we brought a Jause (snack) with us.

We walked all the way to the Mittelstation (the station in the middle of the mountain, between the valley station and the Bergstation at the top) and ate our Jause before continuing down the mountain. It was then that I realized.. I had some pretty large blisters forming on my toes.. And..going downhill for  3 hours is really hard on your body and we will all be feeling it for the rest of the week! But it was totally worth it--never in my life have I been on a more beautiful hike.

We had an hour-long German lesson during the afternoon where we discussed the different “steins” in Gastein (the entire area where we are in the Alps). There is Dorfgastein (where we are staying) and Bad Hofgastein and Bad Gastein. On Thursday we will be vising Bad Gastein with Ewen.

We went out to dinner at another restaurant in town (a Pizzeria) where I finally figured out that when it comes to pizza, salami really does mean pepperoni..(as in spicy, not regular salami one puts on a sandwich) and I ordered that instead of Pfefferoni (which is like humongous peppers hanging out on the top of your pizza). It was very tasty and we were all exhausted and in pain but happy and content after our long day in the Alps.

Thursday August 16th:

The rest of the week has been pretty relaxing--a true vacation in the Alps while we prepare for our studies in Vienna. Tuesday we had a couple hours of German in the morning and then we went to the Schwimmbad (Swimming pool) during our free time. It was kind of interesting how they had a pool with two circles: the center one was 30 degrees C, the outer 28, but it’s amazing how different just two degrees C can be--small seemingly insignificant things that are different in Europe easily draw the attention of an American traveler.

That evening we had to hike about 45 minutes straight up a circular asphalt road to get to dinner. We were absolutely exhausted (not to mention extremely hungry!) and we were quite relieved when we reached the top. After dinner, we just became so delusional because of pain (all the hiking we were doing) and just general hyperness. We were waddling around like ducks (because our legs and everything from the hips down hurt) and began walking down the road. We were loud and crazy, but there was no one around to be annoyed so we had a great time.

Wednesday we went on a short 45-minute hike to an Almhuette (a little rest-cabin where you can buy small meals and drinks) on the mountainside here in Dorfgastein. This was also 45 minutes straight up hill but we were prepared this time and had a great hike.

For dinner we went to a place called Stauni which is dialect for Stein which means stone. We had a very nice time and the waitstaff were very generous and they gave us some champagne before dinner and Feuerwasser (fire water) afterwards.

Today we went with Ewen to Badgastein, which is about 20 minutes away by bus. It’s a small town, but it has an amazing, absolutely stunning waterfall. I know I’ve said this several times, but it really felt like we were living in a fairy tale. I just wanted to go home and read the Brothers Grimm, or write my own fantasy tale. I think I will buy the complete works of the Brothers Grimm in German before I leave Europe.

These last couple days have been very relaxing and it’s nice–sort of like a mini-vacation until school starts and I love being in these mountains. I still find myself realizing “Oh, right..I’m actually here. I AM back in Europe. Those signs really ARE in German.” I do believe I would be very happy living in Europe. Maybe I will move here after college..maybe I will be an English teacher at a Gymnasium (Austrain/German high school) I don’t know yet, but Europe is so wonderful, I know this cannot possibly be the last time I come here.

 

Ari Lipkind

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