Friday Thought #92 Travelling by train

Europe is a wonderful continent, endlessly beautiful, with ever-changing landscapes and enough different languages and cultures to fill a lifetime. However if you only ever travel by car, the majority of the scenery you will pass by will all blend into one, fairly uninspiring blur; edge of the motorway, fairly mundane and not worth writing home about. Now of course motorways are incredible, without them cross-country travel would be a nightmare at best, but there is no question that it is not the way to really see a country. You need to get off the beaten track, and while that may mean meandering off the main roads and winding your way through those B roads at a snail’s pace, a wonderful alternative is to travel by train.

Since moving to Austria, we have discovered the joys of superb, and remarkably reasonably priced, train travel, and these days we try and cover most of our long journeys by train rather than by car. For a start, it’s so much more enjoyable; you’re not stuck in a tiny box, or in traffic, you can walk around, eat in the restaurant and go to the bathroom at your leisure! You don’t have to concentrate; you can read a book, watch a film, catch up on work, or even go to sleep. But finally, and the best part for me, is that you become privy to, albeit only by a glimpse, secret parts of the country that only those privileged train passengers get the opportunity to see.

I recently travelled from Innsbruck to Geneva by train, crossing pretty much the entire country of Switzerland in the process, and what a delightful experience it was. Switzerland is a truly stunning country, with landscapes to rival the most impressive across the World, and what better way to see these beautiful lakes, mountains and villages? Why from the comfort of your train carriage, earphones in, gently rumbling through the countryside with not a care in the world!

The photos were taken with a phone whilst on the move, but hopefully they will capture some of the beauty and tranquility of the journey.

Friday Thought #91 Spring skiing in the sun

So the winter that never really started is drawing to a close. However, following several weeks of baking sunshine and temperatures in the high twenties, yesterday we awoke to a garden full of snow and a rather chilly shock of -1 outside. Just when we were about to let out a big sigh and put away our skis whilst tut-tutting but cheerily back slapping about how we’ve done our best to make the most of a poor winter, the almost forgotten winter seems to have staged a rather dramatic comeback. So the touring skis will stay out for a little while longer, and we will remember April as the month of surprises.

But before the rather bizarre and unexpected snowfall, we managed to get out and enjoy some cracking spring snow, and all under a big blue sky. At this time of year it’s important to stay as high as possible, mainly due to the distinct lack of snow lower down, so we decide to head to Ischgl, in the west of the country. Skiing off the back of the resort down to the Heidelberger Hutte not only provides a great lunch spot but also opens you up to a whole world of touring possibilities. With a number of peaks hovering around the 3000m mark and a ski track all the way back out to rejoin the resort at the end of the day, it was difficult to find any fault with the plan from start to finish. We opted for the Mottana Peak, around 750m height gain from the hut. We were the sole summiteers all day (it seems most Austrians just do the same tour as everyone else and ignore the alternatives!) so fresh spring skiing tracks all the way down and an uninterrupted view to rival most views. Not bad all round.

Friday thought #85 Cloud inversions

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…

Friday thought #83 Early season skiing – making the most of what little snow we have!

So I hear that North America is getting a huge amount of snow at the minute, however sadly this is not the case here in Europe. Winter teased us back in November and as ever the snow canons were blasting 24 hours a day, a few meagre pistes were opened and skiers hit the slopes in their droves. But since then we have had literally no precipitation, just bright blue skies, sunshine and well below freezing temperatures. So I can’t complain, this weather is gorgeous, and we have been determined to make the most of what we’ve got.

Those in charge of the ski areas have done a superb job of getting resorts open, and the cold temperatures have helped the manufactured snow stick brilliantly, so with zero off-piste or back-country touring potential, why not make the most of the magnificent sunshine and the spectacular ‘half Autumn half Winter’ scenery and hit the pistes?!

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Very respectable coverage considering we’ve had no snow!
Not a bad lunchtime view...
Not a bad lunchtime view…
A 14km track leading from Austria across the border to Switzerland. I love popping over the border for lunch!
A 14km track leading from Austria to Switzerland. I love popping over the border for lunch!
Yeah lower down the snow really does run out! Although there's something really fun about skiing along next to grass...
Yeah lower down the snow really does run out! Although there’s something really fun about skiing along next to grass…
When you get tired of the pistes, why not have a go on the airbag?
When you get tired of the pistes, why not have a go on the airbag?
Ah lovely...
Ah lovely…

Friday thought #82 Ski time!

Yes it’s here, I clung on to autumn for as long as I could, but I have finally given in and embraced winter! Although at this time of year the nights are closing in, the temperature plummets, and the sun retreats into hibernation, the wonderful thing about a place like Innsbruck is that with winter comes SNOW! Last weekend we dusted off the skis and had a fun blast round the busy pistes followed by a superb (and considerably quieter!) ski tour.

A great star to the winter and exciting to be back on the skis. Watch this space…

Stunning views above the clouds
Stunning views above the clouds
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The snow was surprisingly good!
Peaceful touring
Peaceful touring
Atmospheric snowy peaks as far as the eye can see
Atmospheric snowy peaks as far as the eye can see

Friday thought #81 Who said November was miserable?

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.

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Friday thought #77 Cows with attitude!

You will often come across animals when out and about in the mountains; mostly cows, goats, sheep, or the occasional marmot. They are always nice to see, I like sharing my mountains with animals, but in general I wouldn’t normally describe any of them as having a great deal of character, and I’ve certainly never seen one pose for the camera! However on a recent mountaineering trip we came across most definitely the coolest, most characterful cow I have ever seen, almost a cow with attitude!

She was in the middle of the hiking trail, and stood her ground as we approached, then as soon as the camera was on her, she tilted her chin upwards, looked nonchalantly in to the distance and struck a pose, no two ways about it. Judge for yourself, she was just marvellous!

What a poser!
What a poser!