As the school year drew to an end, my wife bade a retiring colleague farewell at the end of a long teaching career, and so our thoughts turned to holidays. We’d decided to go for getting some down time, with fresh air, walks and scenery and decided to explore the Pinzgau and then come back through the Murtal.In the past, with my holiday days rationed somewhat by my employer, we used to have a fixed start and end date, and this time we decided that rather than doing the drive back from near Zell in a day as originally intended, that we would instead meander slowly back through the Murtal, and find a Pension along the way in a little village and extend our trip. As someone who is very fond of the train, we had considered doing the trip by train, by then decided that giving the car a run out would be a good idea, particularly if we fancied doing anything spontaneous, as we might otherwise have been reliant on Postbus services of reliable albeit variable frequencies to do so.
We decided to give the Großglocknerstrasse a miss this time round, having done it three times over the years and also used the opportunity to catch up with friends in Bad Ischl on the way to the Pinzgau. Apart from having lunch with some friends close to Zell, we avoided its droves of tourists like the plague, making Schönbach our base for a few days. Phone coverage was refreshing erratic, although my phone did occasionally seem to find a network in the middle of the night, which rendered my trying to escape the World Cup useless, and I was rudely awaken by news of England winning a penalty shoot-out.
Friends in the UK often said when I moved to Austria that I would become bored of a living in a small country, but having been here for over a quarter of a century, and probably having seen more than many Austrians do in a lifetime of living in the country, I have no yearning for living anywhere else, and even holidaying here is invariably pleasant. It is not all about resort hotels and luxury with eternity pools, and we are far happier in a basic Pension with a small terrace and a mountain view, where the Herr des Hauses offers me a cold beer from the fridge and some of his brother’s salami or Speck, and chews the fat with us, intrigued by an Anglo-Austrian couple from the big smoke of Vienna. There is no lost luggage, no delayed flights, and invariably also less starts at ungodly hours and passport control queues.
We also cut through the pseudo-tourist kitsch (the weekly pseudo-Tirolerfest in some villages was something that we actively would avoid when we errantly ended up in a hotel otherwise occupied by a coach party on past holidays). The Pension approach is a good ruse, as you don’t get to share the facilities with the Do-Europe-in-a-fortnight-including-shopping-opportunities, replete with set menus and pseudo-international food and most concerned about the wifi coverage in the hotel lobby. We’re not ones for experimenting with AirBnB – we’re too old to put ourselves out in order to save a few Euro by taking a fly-by-night landlord’s accommodation provision over those who work hard to keep their family-run Pension going, who will make sure you can get something to eat at their cousin’s Gasthaus, and if heaven forbid your car breaks down, will know the village mechanic, who will know what to do. We also like the fact that holidays like this are great for catching up with friends, many of whom are scattered throughout Eastern Austria – even if it is just for a coffee and cake, and to break up the driving.
The change of scene and the fresh air from a few days clearly affected us. We relaxed so quickly, that the prospect of driving back in one go didn’t appeal. We were due to head back on the Tuesday, but eventually slunk back to the Cottageviertel well after sundown on the Thursday, having stayed one night near Tamsweg and the following night near Unzmarkt. On the way back we managed to call in for a coffee with my wife’s cousin close to St Michael. We usually see about once every other year, exchange pleasantries, promise to catch up more frequently and then somehow not manage to keep the promise, although when I mentioned about doing the panorama coach of the train to Zurich from Graz, his ears perked up and he offered to plan the trip. Our final stop was in Semmering for an early supper with a former colleague and to get a last lungful of mountain air before returning to Vienna. We’re already making plans for our next escape – a long weekend down in Southern Steiermark to catch up with old friends, and to enjoy some fine food and wines, and no doubt also head over the border into Hungary and Slovenia.