Thursday, November 14, 2013

A November Hike at Aachensee in Austria

About a kilometre before our goal: Gramaialm.
Friday, we--and you know when I say "we" I always mean Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder because I don't plan things, right?--so, we planned a spur-of-the-moment trip to Austria. We drove to Aachensee, just across the German border into Austria, then we hiked all the way to Gramaialm from the parking lot in Pertisau. When I say "we" hiked, I do mean that I was actively involved. I love hiking; I hate planning.

Although Aachensee is just across the German border, it's not a place that Americans usually visit. Sure, a few do make the drive, but most tourists tend to gloss over Austria with the Sound of Music tour. Which is a pity. Aachensee and Pertisau (pictured at the very bottom of this post) are always worth a visit. 

The walk from Pertisau to Gramaialm is a moderately long hike (2 hours) but also gently sloping, albeit gently uphill the entire way. But! But this means the walk back to the car is effortless. You feel as if you're flying, or at least floating, or maybe as if you're the frozen sediment of a glacier older than these hills. Maybe not, but there is a sense of relief that comes only with a constant, gentle downhill slope that makes you feel lighter than you really are. We were definitely a bit heavier actually, but I'll get to this in a moment. 

At the first and only Jausenstation (the Austrian word for a simple hut that serves drink and food in Austria) there were way too many people, so we slogged on toward Gramaialm, hoping it would be open. It wasn't, but it was a pretty place. I can imagine staying here for a weekend. In fact, both Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder and I decided we'd be back to cross-country ski once this valley is covered in six feet of snow.

Though the restaurant was not open, the dozen or so cars outside the restaurant gave us false hope that we'd find food and drink. The reality was that tourists--smoking tourists with shoes not meant for hiking--were ambling around the grounds with nothing much to do except, well, amble. They weren't going to set off on a three-hour hike up the mountain, and they, sadly, weren't going to find food or drink here either. Disappointed, we began our float back down the valley. 

The buildings at Gramaialm.

So how did these tourists get there? The road to Gramaialm is a toll road, but the toll booth was unattended when we were there last week. I suppose it costs more to pay the attendant in the off season than it's worth. We of course didn't drive to Gramaialm--because we are burly, manly, smelly hardcore hikers--but it's possible. It's also possible to stop along the way and walk. Walking is good.

The river that usually flows down from the mountains was bone dry. Eerily dry. As if someone had turned off the spigot up there in the mountains. Everywhere in the Austrian Alps there are signs along the rivers warning people of sudden waves. In Gerlos, Austria we experienced this. A lazy flowing, babbly brook became a rushing torrent in seconds. And children were playing on the banks. I wonder how many children die each year because someone suddenly opened the floodgates on the mountain.

On our way back to the car, we stopped at the same Jausenstation to have our "reward," which for me is a glass of white wine and for Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder a dark beer. What a cool. place this is. I'm going to teach you a German word now, so brace yourself for education.

Gemütlichkeit
(gheh-myoot-lich-kite) .

Germans--and I suppose the Austrians, the Swiss, the Alsatians and the South Tyroleans--are so proud of the fact that this word has no adequate translation in English. Obviously we just don't have Gemütlichkeit. We do, though; we simply don't know what to call it. I think it would be best to introduce the German word into English--like when we say Gesundheit when someone sneezes. Gesundheit means health, by the way. If you want to be funny when someone sneezes, say Schönheit or Reichtum. You'll get chuckles . . . if the person who sneezes speaks enough German to know that Schönheit means beauty and Reichtum means wealth.

I know I'm keeping you in suspense. You want to know what Gemütlichkeit means. Well, the only word we have that comes close to Gemütlichkeit is coziness (cosiness for the Brits), but it doesn't go far enough to define what the Germans feel when they describe something as gemütlich.

A little cabin in the mountains. A warm place to come in from the autumn weather. A familiar, friendly atmosphere. Blutwurst and Bratkartoffeln. The cabin smells of food, rich fatty things you don't normally eat unless you've just hiked for four hours. There's lots of wood. Dead animals' skins on the walls. There's the feeling of Heimat (home, where you belong). And it's warm here. This place is gemütlich in a way that the large restaurant at Gramaialm would never have been. I loved every second here. And my Leberkas, Spiegelei and Bratkartoffeln (a sort of meatloaf that is more like baloney that meatloaf, fried egg and fried potatoes) went so well with my Veltliner (an Austrian white wine).

 
Back at the car, we weren't sure if we'd been for a hike at all. The last couple of hours were so effortless that we felt more energized than tired when we got back. This area is beautiful, not dramatically beautiful but still beautiful. And quaint. And gemütlich. I'll leave you with a photo of Pertisau on Aachensee I took a couple of years ago. It turned out really well despite my two hands of thumbs.

Pertisau am Aachensee in autumn


I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.