Austria, you filter through my memory in waves. There are times I’m reminded of you and times I miss you. Amongst it all, there is still so much I want to write about you…
In Bärenschützklamm we ascended first the path and then the boardwalk and then stepladders and stairs, all the way up the ravined cliff. Above and along tumbling waterfalls and creeks, we placed our feet carefully at each rung, climbing higher, watching the water rush below and the world shrink away. In between bouts of curiosity and amazement, I thought “I bloody hope this is well made”. And then emerging at the top, along a small path and through the trees to meadow, we were rewarded with one of the things I love most about Austria: a gasthaus. With people here and there on the path and ladders, a small day pack and a car at the bottom of the hill, I didn’t feel so immersed in wilderness that the gasthaus wasn’t a welcome relief at the top. We sat with bratwurst and senf, sauerkraut and brot, bier and schnapps, absorbing the afternoon and salty delicious food. I love Austria.
Heading into Gesäuse National Park, we stayed at a gasthaus in Hieflau that felt much like a bed and breakfast. We had the upstairs to ourselves, a bedroom and bathroom, a balcony looking across the flowers to the mountains beyond, and we felt happily cosily at home as the thunder clouds rolled in. With our wine and each other we watched the lightning bear down on the mountain range, flashing the world into existence and extinguishing it back into darkness. There was such power in that night. Immense booms that shook the house, electricity like fire in the sky. And we fell asleep to that raging weather.
The next morning we rose to a soaked but bright world, alive after the onslaught of the night. Our host had set out breakfast, a beautiful classic Austrian breakfast: a napkin with cutlery, a small plate, a soft boiled egg in an egg cup, a basket with a selection of fresh breads, sliced or as buns, a platter of carefully folded cured meats and cheeses, cherry tomatoes and sliced capsicum, a platter of freshly sliced rock melon, a little pottle of apricot jam, a little pottle of honey, a plate with a sliced danish, a pitcher of juice, a tea for me and coffee for Simon.
With bellies full we took to the park and the sunshine, aiming for waterfalls and trekking through shattered trees. They seemed to twist in a spiral where the lightning had pierced and broken them, a reminder of the night before. We followed little painted Austrian flags like an easter egg hunt to stay on the trail. Where the trail disappeared to rocky cliff, we held on to a bar and edged our way around, climbing up and over nearer to the base of the big waterfall, and exposing the valley below. Dangerous clouds rolled over mountain tops in the distance. Light sparkled on the trees and water, and then dimmed in the passing cloud. On a rocky outcropping with lunch in hand, we looked longingly up at the rest of the trail, and smartly down to safety, tossing up which would be our path. And as we chewed and contemplated, the sky darkened, and any other hikers that had lingered rapidly disappeared. We packed up and headed back down the trail, but underestimating the rapidity of changing weather in the mountains despite knowing better, and soon we were sprinting best we could with our bodies folded in half towards the ground, back past those shattered trees as lightning ignited across the sky and thunder boomed through the mountains. The rain came down.
We made it. Of course. Laughing once we were safe, but not before. The rest of the day would be spent inside and in safer environments. We wandered the roads of Admont, corridors and rooms of the old monastery, the library and the church. We immersed ourselves in history, absorbing the immense age of the knowledge stored in those walls, the stories, the hard ships, the beliefs. And eventually with the sun emerging we were able to return to wander the trees for a brief moment more.
I left with a desire, as always, for more time there. More time immersed in those books, appreciating the development of knowledge, the power of written words, the beauty of the library. More time for the mountains and the forests, for the weather, for the trails. I’m still thinking of you, Austria.