Friday thought #64 Salzburg

With parents out visiting last week I had the chance to go and visit Salzburg for the first time since arriving in Austria. Little is known about this charming city other than its link with the Sound of Music, and of course it being the birthplace of Mozart. I’m not a huge city fan but I really enjoyed wandering round Salzburg. It’s very picturesque, quaint and interesting, as well as really beautiful with lots to see. I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in that part of Austria.

The amazing bridge of padlocks
The amazing bridge of padlocks

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The charming streets
The charming streets
And of course Mozart's birth house! It took us a while to find it but finally there it was right in the centre of the city!
And of course Mozart’s birth house! It took us a while to find it but finally there it was right in the centre of the city!

Friday thought #63 The demise of human interaction

I’ve written about this before, but it is something that continues to bother me every day. Yes mobile phones have their place, they are incredibly useful and a wonderful modern invention, but what irritates me is that now wherever you go you are literally surrounded by people on their mobile phones. On a train or a bus, standing outside a shop, walking down the street, even whilst riding a bike. Have we really come to the point where we cannot physically function for more than 5 minutes without looking at a screen? What happened to reading a book, reading the newspaper, talking to each other, or simply looking out the window and enjoying the view? I recently took a long train journey from Innsbruck to Geneva and absolutely loved the peace and tranquility of just sitting and relaxing without having to concentrate, and more importantly without having to drive! No distractions, no internet, just the chance to read, write and chat. Lovely.

I teach a few lessons a week in a secondary school and was absolutely horrified during my first few lessons to look up and see students playing with their phones in the middle of lessons. Who on earth does a teenager sitting in a lesson need to contact? And why? Without even touching on how incredibly rude and disrespectful it is to the teacher. Whilst at school pupils do not need a phone, indeed I managed all the way through my schooling life without one. If a young child is walking home from school on their own and the parent wants them to have a phone to contact them en route, fine, hand it in to the teacher at the start of the day and take it back at the end. That’s what happened in the school I previously taught in and it worked just fine. It terrifies me that today’s youth are growing up in a world where mobile phones are not just convenient and useful, they are an everyday essential, just as food and water are. Children as young as 8 or 9 now walk around with smart phones, and teenagers can’t cope without one glued to their hand at all times.

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I saw on the news recently that a chef in Leamington Spa had controversially taken the decision to ban mobile phones completely from his restaurant. In his words; “It’s rude. If you’re coming out to eat it’s about conversation and breaking bread.” Unsurprisingly there has been plenty of backlash but good on him for standing up for his principles, and personally I couldn’t agree more. I continue to be appalled looking around a restaurant, cafe or bar and seeing both couples and groups of people, not talking, not socialising, not laughing and catching up with friends, but staring at their own phones in silence. Why bother going out and paying to eat if you are going to behave like that? I am pleased to see that other restaurants have followed suit, including Michelin-starred restaurant Turner’s in Birmingham, and some of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, however the sad question this raises is why does it take a ban being imposed to force grown adults to communicate and stop being rude?

Speaking of which, having your phone sitting on the table during dinner should absolutely not be allowed. Why does anyone think this is ok? Mid-meal or mid-conversation with your family it is not acceptable to take your phone out and look at it. As far as I’m concerned, this is simply another way of saying “Sorry but what you’re saying isn’t very interesting and looking at my phone is far more important.” Why does the presence of a phone change the rules of standard social etiquette?? And to add insult to injury, most people nowadays don’t even look at it when it makes a noise, they just check every five minutes, just in case someone texted them and they missed it…

AAAAAAAAAHH! I fear this is a problem which will only get worse so unfortunately I am probably ranting in vain. My only hope is that more people come to their senses and realise that you don’t need to check your emails 24 hours a day, and once upon a time it was rude to interrupt conversations and meal times; some believe it still is……

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Friday thought #62 The winter environment

It seems winter really isn’t coming to the Alps this year. As I write, the temperature outside is 16 degrees C, in February… This is by far the worst winter for snow I can ever remember, but we’re still managing to make the most of it and get out skiing whenever we have even just a dusting of fresh snow!

Last week we managed to get a few powder turns at Patscherkofel, just outside of Innsbruck. It was shallow, but still fun, and with a bright blue sky, stunning snowy tree formations and yet another new place to explore, I can’t complain!

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Friday thought #61 The fun of exploring a new place, on skis!

Moving somewhere completely new can be terrifying, but exploring it can be so much fun! What better way to meet people and explore your new home than through sport? It really does bring people together, makes finding friends so much easier, and instantly gives you so much to talk about and share. Skiing has really been the key for us here in Innsbruck, it’s something we already love, and has provided us with some great friends after such a short time here. Once you’ve shared a powder day, sat and had lunch up a mountain in front of a beautiful view, and laughed your way down a gully that didn’t quite lead where you’d hoped it would, it’s time to sit back and be pretty happy with your decision to take a risk.

This week we’ve been exploring the Nordkette; a huge, south facing ‘freeride’ mountain range separating Innsbruck from the Karwendel National Park. There are 2 cable cars and 2 chair lifts, allowing it to pose as a small ski area, but in reality it is simply there for the off piste, and my oh my is there a lot of it! Fantastic snow, hardly any people and above all, simply breathtaking views all combine to make this a very special place to ski. I think we’ll be spending a lot of time up here!

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Looking across Innsbruck city towards the Brenner Pass and Italy
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What a place to ski…
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Steep couloirs are ok when the snow is good…!
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The clouds make it so atmospheric
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I wonder where this goes…? Let’s find out!

Friday thought #60 Winter has begun!

It’s been a long time coming, but FINALLY the snow has arrived and winter can really get going! It’s fallen slowly so still far from full coverage, but it’s wonderful to be back out on the snow, and we even got some amazing powder today!

Here are some shots from the past couple of weeks in Innsbruck.

Stubai Gletcher, cold but very beautiful!
Stubai Gletcher, cold but very beautiful!
Early morning at Stubai, it feels unpleasant but it's always worth it when you're the first people there!
Early morning at Stubai, it feels unpleasant but it’s always worth it when you’re the first people there!
Arty mountains at Stubai
Arty mountains at Stubai
Midway up the first proper tour of the season
Midway up the first proper tour of the season, not a bad backdrop…
And always worth it for those powder turns on the way down!
And always worth it for those powder turns on the way down!
Stunning views on a powder day in Khutai
Stunning views on a powder day in Khutai

Friday thought #59 Proud to be English!

I recently heard a song by English folk bank The Shires, called ‘Made in England‘ and it reignited my love of the funny little island tagged on to Northern Europe. It sings the praises of England’s grey skies and the fact that when you step off the plane it will probably be raining… but the chorus happily declares:

Cause I’m made in England
And I’m proud to be
From this little island
It’s more than home to me
Yes, I’m made in England
Nowhere I’d rather be
Rainy days and milk in my tea
Is good enough for me

 We’re all a little guilty of berating our homeland from time to time and looking with desperate envy at the amazing places other people had the chance to grow up, but the older I get, the more proud I am of being English. Yes I could have grown up on a beach, or skiing in the mountains, or somewhere hot, or exotic, and if that’d been the case I’d probably be a completely different person speaking a different language now and I’m sure would have taken a very different path through life. In short, where we’re from shapes who we are.

What other nation could know and love lyrics like:

I only want a beer
If it’s poured in a pint

The taste of vinegar and salt on my lips, oh yeah
There’s nothing like a Friday night fish and chips
Sitting out, there in a coat, on a cold pebble beach

The grass will always be greener and human nature means we will never be truly satisfied with what we have, but we should always take the time to appreciate where we grew up and the memories we can take from it. From the mindless tv shows and pop songs we remember as kids, to the quirks and oddities of the people, and from the ridiculous eating habits that no other culture will ever understand to the weather we always complain about, it’s who you are.

I do give it some stick sometimes, and I don’t live there now (there are no skiable mountains and very little snow…!) but I’d never choose to have grown up anywhere else. Good old England!

Ah the beautiful English countryside...
Ah the beautiful English countryside…

Friday thought #58 A kindergarten with a view!

I teach English a couple of mornings a week in a kindergarten here in Innsbruck, which just happens to be at the top of quite a high building, meaning that I get the chance to see the sun come up over the mountains early in the morning. With this stunning Autumn/Winter we’ve been having so far, I can’t fail to appreciate that this has to be among the top 10 best views of any kindergarten in the world??!

Shame the 4 year olds probably don’t have quite the appreciation I do!

Wow
Wow…
Not bad
Not bad…

Friday thought #57 December…and we’re still rock climbing…!

I continue to marvel about how the good weather just keeps on coming in Innsbruck, and there are still no signs of it letting up in the near future. Despite starting to get a little concerned about whether winter will ever arrive, we’re thoroughly making the most of this unprecedented sunshine and, having discovered a superb little climbing area just 20 minutes drive from Innsbruck, have now been 3 times over the last 1o days! With a 5 minute walk in, enough sectors to keep you occupied for weeks, and grades from super easy to far too difficult (!), Arzbergklamm near Telfs has proved to be a brilliant find. Even now in mid-December it still holds the sun until after 1pm, and we have yet to see another person there. Stunning views, fun climbing and even a picturesque river running down the middle of the gorge. What more can you ask for?!

We had this crag completely to ourselves, not a single soul to be seen all day...
We had this crag completely to ourselves, not a single soul to be seen all day…
Super fun climbing, and in t.shirts!
Super fun climbing, in t.shirts!
The beautiful, secluded gorge above Telfs
The beautiful, secluded gorge above Telfs
Sunset, need I say more?
Sunset, need I say more?

Friday thought #56 Obnoxious church bells

When choosing somewhere to live what do you consider? Location, price, size, the view, outdoor space, access to public transport? Does it ever occur to anyone that they might be woken up at the crack of dawn by the outrageously loud bells from the neighbouring idyllic rural church?

No, sadly it didn’t occur to us either, and luckily when the windows are closed, it’s just quiet enough to avoid a rude awakening, but when we make the mistake of opening the door to let some air in during the night, like we did last night, at 6.30am on the dot we are jerked awake to the most deafening peal of bells. Now bells which tell you the time I can just about cope with, but these bells have no rhyme nor reason, they are random, disjointed and go on and on for far too long.

Who decided that 6.30am was an appropriate time to start the dawn chorus? What percentage of the general population is up at 6.30? Who wants to be woken up to a noise that loud? And not just weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays too.

Honestly, I’ll think very carefully next time I move house, and be extremely wary of those idyllic, rural, picture-postcard village churches…

Such an idyllic, picturesque scene. Who knew what was lurking in the tower...
Such an idyllic, picturesque scene. Who knew what was lurking in the tower…

Friday thought #55 Mountain hut etiquette

So last weekend we decided it would be fun to try and climb the Großglockner, the highest peak in Austria at 3798m. The weather was still warm, autumn colours still beautiful, the weather forecast good, and surely the route or hut wouldn’t be busy in the second week of November…?

How wrong we were.

After a 3 hour drive from Innsbruck, we parked up and set off on the 2 hour hike up to the Stüdlhütte at 2801m. We hiked the last section in the dark via head torch and arrived around 6pm to find to our delight that the winter room was empty. Fantastic, maybe Saturday it would be busy we thought, but clearly people were at work on a Friday so didn’t have time to get up there, lucky us. The hut’s winter room even had electric lighting and a long drop toilet, what luxury!

We melted snow, cooked our dinner, and generally enjoyed the peace and solitude of being alone at almost 3000m metres, then intending to get up around 5am to head for the summit, we settled down in the 14 bed dorm on our own around 9pm. However this signalled the end of the peace and solitude.

At 10.30pm we woke to heavy boots and loud voices. We scrabbled up confused, to meet 2 Slovenian climbers arriving, and telling us ‘there were more coming’. And so it began, from then until 3am, more and more climbers arrived; thumping up and down the stairs, slamming doors, unpacking their bags in the middle of the dorm, shuffling around in noisy goretex, waving torches around, and communicating at the top of their voices. One group even cracked open cans of beer and started having a party at 1am. There was no chance of sleep, yet worse than that was the utter confusion as to where these people were coming from. The walk from the car park was only 2 hours, so these people must have left well after midnight. Why?

Added to this, the wind was picking up outside to the point where it could only be described as howling; indeed the small winter room building had started to violently shake. By 5am we had had enough, it was time to get out of there. Looking around as we left, every bed in the dorm was full with people attempting to sleep, and every spare patch of floor and bench was covered in bodies, there must have been 25 people in the tiny wooden hut. And of course the group of Slovenians banging around shouting and laughing at the top of their voices. Where had they come from and why so late? There’s a question which will continue to baffle me for evermore…!

We battled our way down by head torch through the howling wind, finding it difficult to drag our thoughts away from sleeping. It was such a shame we couldn’t climb the peak, but all we could think about was getting away from those people! It really did make me question what goes through people’s minds when surrounded by sleeping bodies in the middle of the night. If I arrive somewhere late at night I creep around and do everything I can to avoid disturbing anyone. I am aware that 2am is an unsociable time and I try my best to not annoy or bother people. I foolishly thought this was fairly logical, yet I’m starting to think I may be in the minority.

We would still like to climb the Großglockner, but I think next time we’ll avoid the hut…!

Grossglockner - next time hopefully...
Grossglockner – next time hopefully…