Travel Articles




Z is for Zillertal

Sexy CowFor the last 18 years, I've been hearing Germans talk about where they renew their mental strength, where they recharge their batteries. For lots of Europeans--not just Germans--the place to do this is on a beach; but for lots of others, this place is the mountains. You're either one or the other, unless you're the sort of person who likes mountains that ram right out of the sea, I guess.

I'm not a cat or a dog person; I'm a cow person. I'm a Heidi-loving, yodeling mountain person, but I still don't understand the concept of recharging my batteries in them. I've just come back from six days of hiking in Zillertal (Austria), and I'm pooped. Have you been to Zillertal? If you're from the US, chances are you haven't. You've probably been to Salzburg for a couple of hours because it was easy to reach from Munich, but did you dig deeper into Austria? Did you have a Tiroler Gröstl--an enormous plate of fried potatoes with bacon bits, onions and a fried egg on top? No? Did you climb every mountain? And ford every stream? No?

You should. Austria, or at least the west part of Austria, is like an accordion of Alps, each valley prettier, quainter and more expensive than the next (unless you go backwards, I guess; then each valley would be less pretty and less quaint and cheaper--yay!--than the next). All the houses are straight out of The Sound of Music, and there are little girls singing 'Do-Re-Mi' EVERYWHERE. It's truly freaky.

OK, though freaky, most of that last part is not true, but there is an awful lot of traditional music being played by smiley men in lederhosen. And there are the ever-present cows. We stayed in a little miss-it-and-hit-a-cow-if-you-blink town called Gerlos. It's way up in the mountains and takes around nine pop songs to reach from the autobahn--many more if there's been a motorcycle accident. And there are many.

Waltraud waiting for the bus in Gerlos, AustriaI'd like to think of Gerlos as the Little India of Austria. Cows are certainly sacred here. They roam the streets freely and poop wherever they want. Gerlos is theirs; we are mere visitors. But they do high-tail it out of your way if you honk.

View from our pension in GerlosWe should have stayed in another town. Every time we set off for our hike in the mornings, we had to drive back down that stupid mountain. I say 'stupid' affectionately. I am a mountain person after all. If you're planning to go hiking in Austria, take into consideration where you'd like to hike first, and then book your pension/hotel nearby. Maps may be deceiving. It may take you twelve or even twenty pop songs to reach the next town if you have to drive up and down a mountain--behind cyclists, ever-present cows and motorcycle accidents--to get there. We--and when I say 'we', you know I mean Alberto the Spanish Barber's Consultant--didn't plan very well this time. 'Our' planning was crap.

You'll spend less money on petrol if you stay close to the mountain you want to slog up--but not down. We pass so many people on the way up who obviously did not walk up the mountain. How do we know this? They smell really pretty and are wearing the wrong shoes. You should never walk down the mountain unless the path is relatively flat. If the path is steep going up, you'll be doing your knees no favors by walking back down. Take the ski lift back down. It will set you back around 12 euros per person, but your knees will pay you back later.

Most of the enclosed ski lifts operate during the summer months, but you'll be disappointed to find that some of the larger ones run only in the winter months, when this part of Austria is booming. In summer, the chair lifts only work for the cows. They ride them up from the valley when they're done annoying the drivers in Gerlos.

Xavier, Inga and Trudy boarding the chair lift, on their way back to the valley
Sadly, I'm finished hiking until September unless Alberto the Spanish Barber's Consultant forces me to go hiking tomorrow. He claims his batteries are still half empty. I'd like to think mine are half full. I'd also like to think that lounging around the house tomorrow, writing, reading and daydreaming about cows will also charge my batteries. How do you recharge your batteries?

While you're thinking about this, here are a few more pictures of the grandly quaint place I've just visited:



This line of cars has stopped to let cows cross the road.
Today, I'm starting a contest for vicarious travelers: I Must Be Off! A-Z. All you have to do is follow the links at the bottom of the A-Z posts and leave a comment on each post (one that lets me know you read the post, please). The first three readers to do this will receive Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy's book Worlds Apart, an excellent travel book about India, China and life's lessons through travel.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to A is for Alsace.

I must be off,


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 SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, 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.

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