We had travelled through Austria so many times on our journeys between Maastricht and Bardejovské-Kúpele in East Slovakia. However, Austria was usually simply a through-route, with only rare stops off the highway. OK, Eva and I had stopped briefly in Vienna, Linz, St. Pölten, and once we made a special detour intending to visit Salzburg, but didn’t because of torrential rain! One year we even went via Innsbruck, just to see something different. So well did we know the highway between Passau and Vienna that the highlight of the route would be the location of the roadworks that year. However, yet despite well over fifty pass-throughs, Austria remained for me postcard country, rivalling Bavaria in the size of meals (generally very good), and where the torte are unrefusable. But this time it was different.
Carmen and Martin live on the edge of the mountains in a village near Spittal. Fortunately Carmen arranged to meet me in the town, since I would never have found the place. There’s a curious habit in Austrian villages, maybe especially ones that are spread about: they apparently have no street names, and the houses are numbered consecutively. Ok you say, a house should be easy to find. Ah, but they’re numbered consecutively in the order in which they were built! So if you want to find someone’s house, you probably have to go to the local planning authority first.They took me on a tour up the mountain to the Egelsee – which has nothing to do with hedgehogs, as my Dutch readers might be tempted to think – and gave the dog Phoebe a chance to show her diving prowess. Then the rains then closed in. We ended up in a farm restaurant where everything you eat and drink is grow and produced on the farm: delightful cold meats and salads, but no beer or wine, only cider and an extensive display of schnapps which we sampled enthusiastically with the owner.
Plenty of fresh snow on the Alps as I zigzagged across the mountains to visit my Slovak cousin Maria who works in a small village not so far from Linz. A curious symbiotic win-win relationship this between Austria and Slovakia. Austria has problems in finding carers for her elderly. Slovakia has large numbers of experienced adults who are unemployed. After a training course, the Slovak women get to work in Austria caring for the elderly in their own homes. A win for Austria – it’s far cheaper than institutionalizing the elderly. A win for Slovakia – the unemployed get a job.
And after this I finally got to visit Salzburg on a relatively sunny day. So did thousands of other tourists. The beginning of the Salzburger Festspiele: but one youth orchestra (perhaps the European Youth Orchestra) gave a free concert in the gardens, profiting from the brief sunshine. Of course it rained as soon as they finished. Salzburg had to keep its reputation for me.