Monday, January 23, 2006

The Austrian Way

The Austrian map, looks like a fried chicken thigh, hehe. Check Zell am Ziller on the west tail end, our point of arrival, about 60 kilometers east of Innsbruck, the capital of Tirol region.

Being used to living in a flat surface country and a cold Dutch winter that seldom snows, I was almost in a speechless state when I looked out of the window as we rolled in into the Austrian highway.

“Are we in Austria?” I asked while rubbing my finger knuckles on my eyes and gazing back out of the car’s window. I slept halfway through the ride, somewhere after Frankfurt to the direction of Munich, I think. “Yes we are.” said the Dutchman grinning at me. “Did you sleep well?” “Yeah, I did.” I answered sleepily with my mind far away still lost into my new striking green and white surroundings.

1st foto is a service road going to the direction of Aschau and the 2nd foto is a panoramic view of Mayrhofen. Pay attention to the ice cap glaciers, the white blanket of snow and the lush of pine trees. That’s what you will see all over in Tirol region.

Amazing white alpine peaks and tall narrow stretch of alpine trees greeted me. The unsullied expanse, the soaring altitude, the beauty of nature and the lofty trees that flanked the roads, rivers, cliffs and mountains now covered in a mass of whiteness looked so exquisite, just like a dream.

The whole dreamy scene that leaped right in front of me seemed like a winter re-incarnation of some alpine dairy commercial that I once saw on TV back home in the Philippines. No wonder my sister in law loved Austria, she found what she has been missing all along in flat and jam-packed Holland.

The small street leading to our apartment between the municipalities of Aschau and Zell am Ziller in Ziller valley. The house on the far right end in front of the pole is our apartment. And yes, that tower is a church!

I was told that the idyllic and picturesque Ziller valley is conveniently located on a high alpine plateau about 1,300 meters to 3,250 meters above sea level, so even if the sun shines like crazy and wet snow pours, the thick laid white carpet of snow in the valley will never melt.

Ah... this is what people say, winter in wonderland.

Here are some of the distinctive things that we noticed in Zell am See [I believe is the name of the province Ziller valley belongs to under the Schwaz district of Tirol region]:

Super Ski Pass

The Zillertal [Ziller valley] municipalities promotes a very aggressive, organized and cooperative tourism business that benefits not only the organizations and entrepreneurs that sponsors the program, but also us, winter sport tourists.

The ski pass we had, worth € 170 per person, already includes unlimited public parking, information assistance, use of 176 lifts and cable cars, 625 pisten kilometers and unlimited use of the ski bus and public train. All these are inclusive from Hintertux to Fugen, in short, all over Zillertal, for a whole week.

The super ski pass and the ski information brochures.

The biggest of all ski zones is of course the Zillertal Arena, where we frequent in Zell am Ziller, and is the busiest small city in the Ziller valley too.

They also did a migration on the old ski pass scheme, from the previous hassling magnetic swipe electronic card system [like the ones we use in the office to get in] into this very handy barcode data capture scan system.

So no more swiping struggles, getting choked and worse, being hit back by the elastic necklace band where the ski pass card is supposed to hang. Now, you just conveniently pass through the secured terminals and the bar code scanner will scan through your jacket [or your trousers if you place your ski pass there] and will give you access to the lifts and cable cars.

A very opportune thing is the ski jacket I bought. It has this transparent plastic pouch on the lower left part where you can insert the ski pass in. Really brilliant design!

Overall, I am positively impressed with the super ski pass arrangement in Zillertal.

The Locals

Quite unexpected, the Austrians are relatively friendly, much friendlier than say, the calculated Germans. Or perhaps it could have something to do with the place since its a tourism infested valley.

The prime religion is Catholic and you will notice the colorful pastel church towers pointing to the skies in every village. I have seen rose pink, beige yellow and mint green churches. Really charming.

One of the mundane things I also noticed, which is to my delight, is that these Austrians aren’t that tall. And being at a disadvantage in Holland always [damn these tall cheese heads], I can only say that in this country my height has some sort of little value.

A pink Catholic church! Deutsch signs in Zell am Ziller center.

Deutsch is the official language of Austria but they have some localized accent and dialect variations. It’s the same case with the Belgian Dutch and the Dutch Dutch.

Many also speak English but since I can understand Deutsch just a teeny bit, I acquiesced and bravely marshaled myself.

On a given chance, I spoke select absolute Deutsche nouns and verbs, well the ones I only know, complete with accompanying hand movements in mono syllabic Dutch accent. Oh boy, was I very surprised. These Austrians are so clever, they perfectly understood me, haha!


An Austrian trademark is not only the inverted V roof design of the house but rather its artistic balconies. Some are quite modern but a great number of them speckled all over the valley were done in very intricate woodwork designs.

First 2 fotos is the city center of Zell am Ziller by the river and third foto is the center of Mayrhofen taken late in the afternoon. They are about 15 minutes from each other.

I wasn’t able to take pictures of some of the fancy balcony designs because the battery of our camera was experiencing dementia.

The houses too are very well insulated as they were built with really thick solid walls. Up to some point, we had to ask the lady running the apartment to turn the central heating a little bit down because we were horribly hot! Imagine sweating during winter? She did turn it down but it was still too freaking warm for us. So even if it was a freezing -17C outside, I managed to open a window about an inch or two in the bedroom. Man, I was just so dying for some cold air to flow in and freshen up the sauna apartment.

There, I was able to sleep without wetting myself in bed!

Environment Friendly?

And I thought the Dutch was bad enough! Hell, no! The Austrians are crazier bordering OCD and trichotillomania tendencies.

The land lady of the apartment ran through the house rules with us, lingering more on the interesting topic of afval [garbage], which is actually a very serious business there.

As a consequence, we had several boxes lined up under the breakfast table. A box for metal trash, a box for used plastic bottles, a box for used glass bottles, a box for all plastic trash and a box for all paper related trash. What else? Oh, a sack for all organic trash such as vegetables and fruits and a sack for any other type of trash not listed above.

This is our cozy kitchen in the apartment and check the boxes on the floor. On the 2nd foto is our scenic and tranquil view from the living room outside the balcony.

Okay, so where is the fuss then? Well in Austria, they meticulously clean and separate every damn little waste. Like the tomato sauce tin can, the plastic sack of green peas and the pack of milk or orange juice, they must be first cleaned, rinsed I mean, thoroughly, with tap water before depositing them in their respective trash boxes and sacks. The land lady specifically instructed us that they must be really, really clean!

I mean, WTF, is it not that a waste is a trash and therefore a garbage, so why clean that damn thing when it will just be thrown away to decompose or be recycled anyway? Don’t they have those high tech equipments that clean and separate every damn type of waste? Certainly rubbish!

And well, the plot thickens too, you can’t just use any garbage sack for the organic items, a special green sack must be used and that can only be bought from her for € 0.50!

Wurst Land

The number of dried wurst [sausage] shops in Zillertal would probably compete with the number of cheese shops found in the Netherlands.

A special meat shop, everything dried and cured… and my just enough Austrian take home kitchen souvenirs.

Having claimed the status, staunch and mighty disciple of the dried and cured sausage clan, I had the impression that I was in my ideal country of vacation. I almost raided the supermarkets and a few special shops, when I realized that I can’t really eat everything at the same time nor I can horde them all back to the flatlands because of staling and dietary reasons. Alas, I still have some sense of reality left in me, I do check the best before and how much my stomach can muster.

Fact: The Bavarian landjager dried sausage snack stick is very popular in the area and you can even order them in any terrace up in the Alps.

Tags: The Ski Experience Part I, The Ski Experience Part II, Wintersport Holiday in Austria, The Austrian Way, Ski Myth

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