Saturday, March 23, 2013

Awesome Austria

I've been in Germany for exactly one year now and the novelty of being transported to another country, climate and/or geographical zone by train still hasn't worn off. The smallness of Europe and the extensiveness of its rail network continue to amaze.

I'm not sure how much longer I'll be here but before I leave I'd like to complete my quest to travel to all nine countries that share a border with Germany, preferably by train. It's not that I have a burning desire to visit Luxembourg or Poland. But I like the sense of accomplishment that comes from making lists and crossing things off them. I also like circuitous challenges. And I like taking the train. Visiting all nine border countries combines the best of all three. The tally so far: Six countries down, three to go. Austria is the latest country scratched off the list.

Not that crossing a conveniently located country off an arbitrary list was the only reason to go to Austria at the end of February. There were other reasons too. Like the Alps, a shitload of snow and a joint birthday celebration.

I had a two-point plan to celebrate my birthday at the end of February. Sergey, who shares the same birthday, had a zero-point plan; he was up for anything. I wanted to trade Bonn's dark, soggy lowlands for somewhere more sunny, snowy and mountainous while, at the same time, setting foot in another German-border-sharing country. Austria was the obvious choice. Having settled on Austria, the next step was to find a place that offered every winter sport you could think of but mostly cross-country skiing. If you type "where in Austria can you find a place that offers every winter sport you can think of but mostly cross-country skiing?" into a Google search, you will not find a match. But if you type "cross-country skiing in Austria" into a Google search, you will find a place called Seefeld in Tirol.

Seefeld in Tirol claims to be the best place for cross-country skiing in all of Europe. Which seems like hyperbole but turns out to be fact. Seefeld in Tirol is located on a high plateau in the Austrian Alps with 279 km of groomed cross-country ski trails (154.3 km of trails for classic skiing and 124.7 km of trails for skate skiing). Basically it was a cross-country-skiing paradise. Which, for reasons I don't understand, seemed to attract a mostly older crowd. Like much older. Like 65+ older. If having an appreciation for silence and solitude on skis makes me old then so be it.

There were five villages within skiing distance so you could leave from Seefeld in the morning, ski all day, stop for lunch at one of the huts along the way, pop out in a different town and take the bus back. (Provided you didn't mind waiting for the bus, which ran only once an hour or sometimes not at all. But being in civilization, you could call a taxi to take you back.)

While skiing in Austria was incredibly beautiful, I wouldn't exactly call it a wilderness experience. The trails weaved in and out of forests but there were huts serving hot food and drinks every five kilometres or so. It was all very civilized. I especially enjoyed the complimentary blankets for coffee drinking.

Next weekend: A little trip to the little country of Luxembourg.

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