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.

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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 #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!

Friday thought #69 A via ferrata with an unexpected bonus!

Via ferratas, or klettersteigs as they are called in German, are much more popular in Austria than in many other European countries, and we are very lucky to have several great routes within just a stone’s throw of Innsbruck. Now that the warm weather has returned we have got back out on the rocks, climbing and klettersteig-ing, and are loving it. Klettersteig is basically assisted rock climbing. You climb up and across enormous rock faces with the aid of metal staples and steps in the rock, all the time following a metal rail that you are permanently attached to, so there’s no chance of getting lost!

Most peaks in Austria have the standard summit cross to signal the top, and often there is a ‘summit book’ tucked inside for each climber to sign and date. It’s a lovely tradition, and the fantastic klettersteig in St Jodok, around 40 minutes drive from Innsbruck, is no exception. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable route, the view from the top is beautiful, and the solitude just marvellous. Hard to find any room for improvement!

So imagine our delight when we looked around and saw a large wooden chest sitting in the forest at the top of the climb, and opened it to discover a huge ‘outdoor fridge’ full of cold beer, water and soft drinks! The sign reads ‘Voluntary donations to the St Jodok mountain rescue fund.

A fantastic cause and a superb bonus after a sweaty climb on a hot day. What a wonderful idea!

Voluntary donations for the St Jodok Mountain Rescue
Voluntary donations for the St Jodok Mountain Rescue
What a sight to behold!
What a sight to behold!
What a view, not a bad spot to drink a beer
What a view, not a bad spot to drink a beer!

Friday thought #68 Lovely mountain quotes

I’ve always been a fan of a good quote, and although some run the risk of being either cheesy or clichéd, some get it just right.

Simple and thoughtful, that’s the key. I found these ones on the windows at the Seegrubbe lift station in Innsbruck, set against the stunning backdrop of the city and the mountains which overlook it.

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Friday thought #54 The good weather just keeps on coming…!

How does the saying go? Make hay while the sun shines? Well at the moment I’m very happy to keep climbing while the sun shines, and shining is exactly what it’s doing in Innsbruck right now, day after day. Traditionally November in Europe should be a pretty dreary, fairly miserable month; arguably the worst month of the year. But this year seems to be an exception (well certainly in Innsbruck!) and I am absolutely loving it. With a perfect forecast for the weekend we made the bold decision to head up in to the Karwendel National Park, just outside of Innsbruck, take on a 2 day via feratta, and bivvy (yes, sleep outside!) up in the mountains – on 31st October! Bags packed we headed off in the sunshine, excited about yet another new place to explore, and it didn’t disappoint.

Waking up outside at 2000m, watching the sun creep over the mountains on 1st November was certainly a first, and felt pretty cool. The views were spectacular, the sunrise and sunset stunning, and over 2 full days we saw perhaps only 15 other people. There is nothing like being out in the mountains, especially when it’s wild and virtually empty. It’s a perfect escape from daily life, somewhere you can feel completely free and happy. Plus, a full day out leaves you tired, content and fully ready for a big feed in the evening; very satisfying!

The views down to Hall in Tirol below
The views down to Hall in Tirol below
The 'bridge' on day one. Just 30 minutes before this we watched someone being helicoptered off after being terrified on the bridge
The wire ‘bridge’ on day one. Just 30 minutes before this we watched someone being helicoptered off after losing her nerve on the bridge
One of the remarkable 'stuck blocks' that the route traverses
One of the remarkable ‘stuck blocks’ that the route traverses
Sunset from our privileged view point at 2000m
Sunset from our privileged view point at 2000m
Perfect
Perfect
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Looking back at the ‘klein’ peak en route to the ‘grosse’! It’s big, wild country out there, apparently the largest uninhabited area in the Alps.
My first sighting of wild animals since arriving in Austria!
My first sighting of wild animals since arriving in Austria!
It was a long old descent and our legs were certainly feeling it by the time we got to the bottom. But of course another beautiful sunset made it all worthwhile...
It was a long old descent and our legs were certainly feeling it by the time we got to the bottom. But of course another beautiful sunset made it all worthwhile…