The weather in the European Alps is never boring. It’s never just sunny, or simply raining, it’s always varied and interesting and often provides you with something you’ve never seen before; an incredible rainbow stretching across an entire valley, or a cloud formation so unusual that it appears the mountain peak is wearing a fleecy hat.
Every now and again you look out the window at a seemingly dreary day and find it difficult to muster the enthusiasm to get out skiing. But when you’re sitting on the chairlift, rising up through the thick cloud, and suddenly you burst through into a perfect sky, complete with blue sky and sunshine, you grin and quietly thank Mother Nature for the wonder that is a cloud inversion…
Me! Traditionally I have always associated November with grim, rainy, grey weather (growing up in England didn’t help!) The sun has gone into hibernation, the rain arrives, it’s cold. But this November in the alps has proved me wrong. With a few exceptions (!) we have had perfect cold, crisp sunny days, and the beautiful autumn leaves have really held their colour. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed still being able to run on the forest trails around Innsbruck, and couldn’t resist taking my camera out this week to capture nature at its best.
The snow is creeping closer, and skiing is not far away, but for now I want to hold on to autumn for as long as possible.
Despite Autumn faithfully and predictably arriving every year at the same time, it still never ceases to surprise me how beautiful it is, possibly because each year it seems to sneak up and blow you away with its seemingly impossible colours. The summer months are always wonderful, and living in a place which has the 4 distinct seasons makes the transition from hot, carefree summer days to dark, short winter days so much more bearable by easing us in to it slowly. Now I must admit a winter with snow and skiing is a great deal more tempting than a rainy, grey one, but it’s still always a challenge to let go of the summer regardless of what’s around the corner!
Every year I cherish the Autumn and make sure I stop to appreciate just how unique and stunning it is, even on a grey day…!
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!
This week brought yet more Autumn sunshine, and a bank holiday! We used it wisely and headed across to Achensee, a beautiful lake around 30minutes drive from Innsbruck. A ride up the Rofan-seilbahn cable car rewarded us with these views, and one of the best and most spectacular via ferrata routes we’ve done yet. Covering 5 peaks and traversing a truly stunning ridge line, it’s a day I would thoroughly recommend and will most certainly be back to do again!
I’ve written about this before, but it’s a subject I think about a lot. Whether through choice or necessity, the vast majority of people work either very hard, or an enormous amount, and I would never criticise anyone for the lifestyle choices they make. Everyone is different and everyone has their reasons for the decisions they make. Right from an early age I knew that a standard lifestyle was never going to be for me. The thought of working in an office terrified me and I always leant towards seasons abroad or travelling.
I spent the summer between finishing school and starting university in France, which set the standard for the next 3 years. I think once you’ve had the taste of an outdoor, slightly alternative lifestyle, it’s hard to ever imagine going back to a ‘normal 9-5 job’. I found out that what made me happiest was being outdoors and being barefoot. Whether that was in the mountains or on the beach didn’t matter, it was the fresh air and the outdoors that I loved. I discovered that I was a simple person who didn’t need much, as long as I had the outdoors, I didn’t feel trapped, I was happy.
And I’ve never really looked back, I found ways to make it work in France, and carved out a pretty good life for myself as a teacher in Switzerland. I’m happy to work hard, and when I put my mind to it I think I do a damn good job, but leaving home at 6am every morning, sitting in a traffic jam and driving for over an hour each way just to get to work, wore me in to the ground. Wrong or right, I knew that I wasn’t happy anymore, so after a few years of this I knew I had a choice, accept it or change it. Many people do this for their whole working lives, and I admire them for it, it shows a lot more commitment and dedication than I will ever have, but I knew it wasn’t for me and despite how much I enjoyed my job, I knew this lifestyle was never going to make me happy.
So I chose to change it. Me and my boyfriend made the rather life changing decision to hand in our notices and move to Austria. We knew we wanted to stay in the mountains, but we needed something more, something different. I’ve realised that there are 2 types of people, those who seek the path of least resistance, and those who constantly seek something more challenging. Neither is to be criticised nor celebrated, as both are perfectly acceptable life choices, indeed I often envy those who choose to keep things simple, life is complicated enough without adding in extra issues like language barriers and trying to get your head around an entirely new country’s social system. But I’ve discovered that it’s those extra barriers that keep me going. As much as it’s a very tempting prospect on paper, I’ve had to admit to myself that I don’t want to settle for the easy path. An cruisey job which pays well sounds like the dream, but I thrive on new challenges, on throwing myself in at the deep end and on feeling a bit terrified.
Quitting your job on a whim and moving to another country is never going to be the best decision financially, but you need to decide how much money you really need and what is going to make you happy. My commute has gone from waking up before dawn and a 2 hour round trip in a car, to a 10 minute cycle along a river and flexible working hours. I’m so much happier and I’m so glad we made the decision we did. You only get one shot at life and sometimes you have to stick your neck out and take a risk. If it works, brilliant, and if it doesn’t, well at least now you know!
Going somewhere new is always an amazing experience, especially when it’s in an entirely new part of the World, completely unknown and with no pre-conceptions. No matter what you encounter, it will be an adventure, and Eastern Europe definitely delivered. Our only basis for going was that we’d vaguely heard the skiing could be good, and the half term school holidays in France are as good a reason as any to get the hell out of the Alps. You can fly directly to Pristina, Kosovo from Geneva, so why not?
Some of the absolute highlights for me:
* One man chairlifts!
* Dinner for two for €3.50!
* A local Kosovar overhearing us speaking English in the street and proceeding to shake our hands, thank us profusely for our help in liberating his country, and paying homage to Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II!
* The wonderfully friendly and welcoming people
* The heavily armed ski patrollers on the pistes in Macedonia
* Hitching a ride with a cat ski operation in the back bowls of Popova Sapka in Macedonia
* Sledgers outnumbering skiers by at least 20:1!
* The severe looking guards at the Macedonia/Kosovo border seeing our skis, breaking out in to smiles and telling us through the hatch where to go next for the best skiing.
* The total and utter chaos on the roads to Brezovica ‘resort’, Kosovo, with cars, coaches and pedestrians all sharing a one track, rutted, snowy road.
* Getting a ride up to our hotel on the back of a skidoo.
* The touts flogging soft drinks, chocolate bars and cigarettes at the base of the chair lifts from rickety wooden tables.
What an endlessly fascinating and intriguing area, I don’t think I have ever come across a more welcoming, friendly and hilarious people. In both Kosovo and Macedonia there seems to be no logic, very few rules, and a definite lack of urgency. The lifts in the tiny ski areas may or may not open and if they do it might only be for half an hour.
What a wonderful place, we’ll most certainly be back!