Friday Thought #93 Awesome America

So I’m afraid I’ve had a bit of a summer break, but I’m back, and despite it feeling like a very long time ago now, I would like to journey back to our American road trip this summer. We try and do at least a 10 day road trip in the States every summer, simply because we love it. It is a country with endless adventures, you could spend multiple lifetimes there and still only scratch the surface of its diversity. Coming from Europe it’s hard to get your head around a land mass that size which is all one country, over here we are so used to being able to hop on a plane and be in another country in little more than an hour. And not just a different country, but one with a totally different language, a new culture, a completely different climate. And while that is just wonderful, the grass is always greener isn’t it?! What you haven’t grown up with is always intriguing and exciting, and it kind of blows my mind that in America you can drive in a straight line for 10 hours and still be in the same state!

I just love the American open roads, the big skies, the sheer enormity of it, the emptiness. Europe is SO full, especially in the summer. You cannot pitch your tent on a public campsite and be more than 5 meters away from the tent next to you. And try driving anywhere on mainland Europe in July and August without being stuck in dreadful traffic and adding at least a couple of hours to your journey. Away from the cities, the States is simply empty. During the week it’s not uncommon to have an entire state campground to  yourself, and as for the wilderness areas, wow, uninhabited wild spaces that size are just mind boggling, and it almost makes me feel worried that I’m never going to have the time or opportunity to fully explore even a fraction of these incredible places.

So enough of my rambling, this trip saw us starting in Seattle and finishing in Portland, Oregon, in between managing to explore a bit of the Olympic Penninsula, stay on a horse ranch in rural Idaho and journey across Idaho and Oregon, taking in some incredible places, including Boise, Bend, Smith Rock, deserted campgrounds, empty lakes, and of course those endless skies.

If you ever plan a trip to the States I can’t recommend road tripping enough. It is by far the best way to see the country. We didn’t really have a set plan, just followed the weather and went wherever took our fancy. The roads are enormous and there is never any traffic, which means that rather than being a chore, the journey to a new destination is all part of the fun, in fact it’s thoroughly enjoyable! Crank up that country music and sit back and relax under those big, open skies…

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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 #73 Discovering the lakes of Tirol

Living in a landlocked country I’m always keen to spend time near water whenever possible. Innsbruck isn’t inundated with nearby lakes, but if you are willing to get in the car there are some stunners within an hour’s drive.

We recently discovered Piburgersee, a small, enclosed and incredibly peaceful lake. Unlike many other such lakes, there are no big grassy areas for people to lounge around on, just tiny, private ‘beach’ areas right next to the water, nestled in between the tree roots and the atmospheric overhanging branches. The lake never gets very busy, and regardless of the other people, the enclosed nature of it always means that you feel like you’re on your own.

A lovely forest path circumnavigates the lake, with further trails leading off it for those who want a longer walk, and it is also possible to rent a boat for a bit of lake time without getting wet! Plus there are 2 lovely restaurants on the far side to eat, drink or simply chill out in the sun! A wonderful discovery!

The water is a lovely temperature, and the fish are very friendly!
The water is a lovely temperature, and the fish are very friendly!
Stunning reflections
Stunning reflections from our ‘private beach’
You can't fail to feel relaxed here
You can’t fail to feel relaxed here

 

Friday Thought #3 Seeing the same view from a new perspective

Anyone across Europe would be hard pushed to disagree that this has been one of the worst summers in living memory, weather-wise. Despite an early heat surge in late May/early June, lulling us all in to a false sense of security, July was abysmal and August not much better, well certainly throughout Western Europe anyway. In the final weeks of August here in the Alps we were experiencing midday highs of lower than 20C, and an afternoon thunderstorm that you could almost set your watch to; hardly what you’d expect from summer in France. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, there have been some lovely sunny days and if you are feeling enterprising you can always make the most whatever the weather, even if that means charging uphill in the rain for several hours simply to get some exercise!

I will generally spend a large part of my summer holidays rock climbing and mountaineering, but with rain forecast almost every day it was difficult to ever get a firm plan in place and in the high mountains, heavy rain means snow; not ideal for climbing on rocks. The last few weeks have seen the return to work and to more of a routine, and of course coinciding perfectly with this, the sun has come out and stayed out for the past week or so! Despite having a wonderfully extended summer holiday, I often find that once I return to work I end up doing more, as time seems more precious when you have less of it. When you have every day free it’s not so pressing to get out and make the most of every minute! So I have thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected week of warm weather and have used it to explore the hidden corners of this valley, places that are sitting literally on my doorstep, but which I have never set foot in.

I have lived here for almost 8 years now and feel like by now I should have seen every view. Of course no-one even in a whole lifetime will walk every trail or slide across every skiable patch of snow, but despite having spent so much time in these mountains, I am constantly amazed at how much there is still to discover. A simple run up in to the mountains behind my house last week revealed a completely new area I didn’t even know existed; full of charming chalets and beautiful meadows, and a day hike suggested by a friend took us across an area I had never considered walking to before. We were absolutely astonished that the view across the valley to Mont Blanc that we had looked at so many hundreds of times before could look so different and unveil smaller peaks and features that you simply can’t see from anywhere else. Looking down from a small peak to discover a series of hidden mountain lakes that can only be found by your own exertions is a wonderful feeling, especially when you are the only people there!

This is why I love the mountains so much. You can look at the same view day in day out and it will never be the same, and if you take the time to step out of your door on a sunny day and explore these wonderful places, you are guaranteed to see something that will take your breath away, and you might even discover something completely new!

Secret hidden lakes!
Secret hidden lakes!