Schnitzel & Strudel
Once again, we notice an undescribable change as soon we cross the border into Austria. In each country, there are subtle differences at first, but as you drive further they become more obvious.
In Austria, it’s the colourful flowers adorning every Window box and I mean every Window box. The architecture shifts, as does the quality of building materials between Slovenia to Austria. It’s probably taking it too far to say the grass seems more green and lush and the cows a bit fatter!
One again, we’ve not organised any accommodation, happy to keep winging it. We stop in Klagenfurt around 5pm, only to quickly discover this could be an expensive town. Our budget does not seem sufficient; welcome to Western Europe! We’ve noticed the prices slowly increasing the further west we travel.
We are keen to stay on budget and with a few hours of light still remaining, we decide to continue and look for a Zimmer/Gasthof along the way.
The rolling hillside is patchworked with crops and grazing cattle and surrounded by snow capped mountains; it makes you want to start singing: “the hills are alive…” As we drive, we watch the colours of the landscape change; shadows stretch across highlights of hues of gold, from the sun dipping behind the mountain peaks.
We are well out in the countryside, with not much around in the way of towns. We come across a few Gasthof’s, only to discover they don’t all do accommodation, some are just restaurants. We found one that looked hopeful, but they didn’t answer – must have been busy at the time (photo should explain).
Finally we find Gasthof Groblacher. It’s in a beautiful spot and whilst our stay is short, we do get up for an early morning stroll. And chat with a few locals on the way.
The next stop is Heiligenblut, a village near the southern gateway to the Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse (Austria loves a tongue twister); it’s the most famous mountain road in Austria. It runs north/south through some spectacular mountains up to the Grossglockner; at just under 3,800 meters its the highest peak in Austria.
I discovered a new website; tiscover.com, a booking engine for Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland; from hotels to farm stays. We decided to give it a go and book what looks like your typical Austrian alps chalet.
tiscover.com pays off; we find ourselves half way up the mountainside overlooking Heiligenblut in a lovely Chalet. The owners are only expecting one other booking so whilst it was a shared bathroom, we each had our own floor, so no sharing.
We are a reasonable way up the mountain and the road is somewhat treacherous, not something we want to tackle in the dark. Lucky for us, just a 100m stroll away is a little gasthof serving dinner. Don is looking forward to schnitzel and strudel.
Communicating is somewhat of a challenge. Don did German at school, but clearly should have paid more attention. I get a glass of apple juice rather than a cider in our first attempt at ordering drinks. Schnitzel? Not so hard to get across. Not long after we order, we can hear some heavy pounding from the kitchen. It should be a tender piece of veal.
Luckily we had decided to share, as it was certainly enough to feed two. More importantly, it left room for that apple strudel. The restaurant is renowned in the area for its wild game (sorry to all those vegetarians), so we took home some smoked elk sausage/salami to try.
The next day we take our time to drive the 48km Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse. We detour up to the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe visitors centre. Taking a hike for about an hour up the Gamsgrubenweg, a trail leading onto the Pasterze glacier. The first part is a series of old mining tunnels with historical highlights along the way.
At Edelweissspitze, the highest point on the road, we stop for a hot chocolate. It seems a bit strange to be sipping hot chocolate in the middle of summer and be surrounded by snow capped mountains. It’s also a chilly 9º Celsius.
The road has 36 switch-backs and an altitude ascent of 2,504 meters (yes, I looked that up). It’s a motorbike paradise (though not for you Graham Hemingway) and a perverse obsession for cyclists (looking in pain), both of which we see plenty. It is a spectacular drive, through some of the most beautiful majestic landscape we have ever seen.
Relying once again on tiscover, I’ve booked us into Gasthof Fritznerhof, just outside of Innsbruck. Again, we do well. Arriving late in the afternoon at a charming Inn; window boxes are of course adorned in colour and our friendly host shows us a large comfortable room. There is an added bonus; by coincidence, tonight the gasthof is hosting the annual Musikkapelle Fritzens Sommer Konzert! In english, that simply means the Fritzens summer music concert.
We join the locals at long tables set-up in the garden and enjoy an evening of Austrian folk music and dancing. Even though we could communicate very little with our neighbours, we could still participate in the traditional Schnapps drinking with them! The atmosphere was fun and friendly, it was lovely to see so many young people participating.