#1 Austria: Ski disasters and The Sound of Music

“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Sifting through my memories of this small, landlocked country, I’m surprised to find I’ve been there at least five times. The first was a family holiday in the 1970s. We travelled there by coach – it’s a long way from Barrow-in-Furness to Mayrhofen! My sister and I found our legs swelling uncomfortably in our skin-tight ‘stretch’ jeans – this was in the days before high-performance lycra. And it is this journey that raises the thorny question of Luxembourg: we travelled across it and I’m pretty sure we had a rest stop there. Does that count? I’m starting to think not, which means I’m going to have to go back …

Anyway, the things that flood into mind from that first visit to Austria are the quintessential wooden chalet-style hotel where we stayed, bedecked with window boxes flooded with colourful flowers; the heavy tinkle of cowbells; hillside meadows speckled with spikily starred eidelweiss; cable cars to stunning viewpoints. Just all the clichés then!

My teenage interrailing trip definitely took in Vienna, though I can’t recall anything about it. We probably slept at the railway station, scrunched into our sleeping bags. Then there was a weekend city break (warm golden glints of Klimt, calorific sachertorte, prancing Lippanzer horses) and another visit for a Pearson sales conference with my great friend Shannon (Klimt again, a stirring Mozart concert in a hot summer room with a hot breeze ruffling long curtains in a tasteful salon, tasting Gewurtztraminer in the cellar wine bar of Julius Meinl, a swanky Viennese department store).

And then there was the fateful ski trip to Mayrhofen, the site of my family (summer) holiday all those years ago, with my friend Jo. Despite being well into our 30s by this point, both of us were ski virgins, and after our first day on the slopes, swooshing cautiously down the nursery slopes as slowly as we could manage, we were excited converts. I was planning an annual snowy sojourn. Day two put paid to that, due to an unfortunate incident as our well-meaning but slightly insensitive ski instructor encouraged us to practice our turns in terrifying proximity to a black run. Focusing more on avoiding careering off down the icy precipice of the advanced slopes than on my technique, I fell awkwardly, injured my left knee badly and spent the rest of the holiday in a full length leg brace. Bravely soldiering on through lessons on her own, Jo’s apres-ski revolved around giving me anti-blood clotting injections rather than around finding the best bars. As I had been the designated driver, my days were spent on the phone to my insurance company, trying to arrange transport back to the airport and the collection of our hire car as well as medical cover.

Eventually we made it to Salzburg, where we had a surprisingly entertaining time, with me hobbling round the city on purple crutches and Jo having her stressed-out ski muscles kneaded by the hotel masseur. We milled around Mozart’s birthplace, visited a surprisingly trendy art gallery with a café hung with antlers and perched on a hill above the Salzach River, drank restorative glasses of wine in bars along the riverside and watched ‘The Sound of Music’ in our hotel room. My overall sense of Austria is that it’s politically unattractive, a little saccharine, but strangely appealing to visit. Maybe I’ll even go back for a sixth time!


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