Here’s a post from my trip to Austria back in 2018, when we did a 10-mile circular hike from Strobl to Rotwandl. With the current global pandemic, I have no plans to travel anytime soon, so I’ve decided to go back through my old trips and publish stories I never got around to.
After hitting the snooze button 3 times, my alarm finally fell silent and I fell back to sleep. At 7am I woke with a jolt, my whole body jerking awake as if attached to a set of jump leads. I glanced at Ian, who had done the same thing – only he was still in the land of snooze, blissfully unaware of the time.
My first instinct was to throw a strop. To roll around on the floor like a toddler, arms and legs flailing everywhere, wailing like a banshee, dramatically shouting about the time and how the day was ruined. But then I remembered I was 40. And on holiday – supposedly relaxing.
For 11-days, the aim of the game was to relax, unwind and generally take our time. To hike through damp, earthy woodland, run alongside tranquil glistening lakes, and explore the rugged, mountainous landscape of the Austrian Lake District. We didn’t have a schedule, a timetable, or any concrete plans. I was so out of my depth, I felt like I was doggy paddling, frantically trying to keep my head above water.
Just like Monica in Friends, I like to be prepared and I like itineraries. I like things to be meticulously planned, right down to the smallest detail and unlike a river rushing downstream, I can’t just go with the flow. But up until this point, I didn’t realise how badly I needed to be in control of everything.
For the next two-and-half hours, I tried to remain calm as we got ready – telling myself that the time didn’t matter. But in my head, an imaginary time bomb rhythmically pulsated – tick, tick, tick – reminding me we hadn’t left the apartment yet. As we made sandwiches, packed our walking bags, and gathered up last minute snacks, the sound grew louder – ricocheting back and forth through my head.
But then finally, after what felt like a lifetime, we were ready to leave.
As we headed out underneath a sea of blue, a few wisps of cotton wool clouds danced across the sky. The sun shone brightly like a great fiery ball overhead and the warmth of its rays felt hot on my exposed skin. With temperatures set to hit 29°, it was the perfect weather for our first full day of adventure.
Along the embankment next to the main road, we followed a lightly worn grass track. Walking single file, I strode on ahead and Ian walked behind me, clutching the map and the compass as if his life depended on it. He regularly checked them against each other, making sure we were on track and occasionally, I turned around to ensure he was still there and to confirm we were heading in the right direction.
About 1-mile later, we left the road and found ourselves walking through a street of houses, all with grandiose frontages. Just like every other house we’d seen since our arrival, an abundance of flowers were on display for all to see. Balconies were bright and colourful with a magnificent array of blooms, cascading downwards like a floral waterfall. We passed by a timber yard where the smell of wood hung in the morning air – something we would see many more of during our trip, and at the other end of the neighbourhood, was our destination: Rotwandl.
Rotwandl was a back garden bigger than anyone could ever wish for, and the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking, mountain biking, running; a casual Sunday afternoon stroll or an early morning dog walk, it was conveniently located for a multitude of activities.
Thick, green foliage and trees so tall they disappeared into the sky, formed an entrance to the forest, and through the middle of it ran a bridle way. Once inside, the trees offered some welcome protection from the late morning sun, and through the breaks in the branches, we caught glimpses of blue sky and flashes of sunlight. We hiked along a blanket of fallen leaves, and in parts, the silence of the forest was eerie. Occasionally, the silence was broken as we heard leaves falling gently to the ground, or an animal call out from somewhere deep within the foliage. But shortly after, we were drowning in silence again, with only the intermittent sounds of the woodland whispering around us.
Our breathing became heavier as we found ourselves hiking upwards along a steady incline. It didn’t feel too bad to begin with, but before long it became tiring, and even under the shelter of the trees, the heat was beginning to take its toll. As the breaks in the trees became more frequent, we were teased by glimpses of Lake Wolfgang down below. Occasional flashes of brilliant turquoise water glistened through the gaps in the branches – a taster of what was yet to come.
Suddenly, there was an opening within the forest, and we found ourselves dropped right in the middle of a postcard, looking down on Wolfgangsee in all its glory. Tiny houses were dotted around the edge of the lake, and tall trees were scattered across the rugged mountainous landscape. Varying shades of green dominated the canvas, but it was the rich turquoise hue of the lake that took centre stage, radiantly glistening in the mid-day sun.
We hadn’t seen anyone else in the forest, apart from one lone biker earlier in the day. Riding up and down the bridle way, he passed us 3 times before eventually disappearing into the greenery. At times, it was a little unsettling. The noises and echoes within the trees would ricochet through the emptiness of the woodland, while our voices and footsteps got carried away in the gentle breeze. The deeper into the forest we got, the more my anxieties started to lift. Gone was the anger from sleeping through my alarm and the stress from not having an itinerary. My shoulders finally dropped and with each step, I found myself starting to relax. With each new view of the lake, my heart would sing, feeling like it could burst at any moment from the beauty that surrounded us.
Occasionally, thoughts of work and going home started to creep in, but as the panic started to rise in my chest, I would tell myself I didn’t need to worry right now. The luscious green forest was a constant reminder that I needed to stay present and fully immerse myself in the experience. It was the peace and quiet I’d been craving for months, and I needed to let go of any anxieties and expectations and let myself free-fall into the depths of the woodland.
Coming to a fork in the path, we turned right and continued to climb upwards along the steady incline. It was relentless, and we snacked on trail mix to give us energy, deciding we should give ourselves another hour before stopping to eat our jamwiches. Breaks in the trees became more frequent, and we found ourselves looking down in wonderment at the views. Realising how far we’d hiked, we looked on the map for somewhere to stop, and saw there was a hut a little further on. It meant taking a slight detour up a steepish track through the trees, but we figured at least we’d have somewhere to sit and eat.
When the hut came into sight, we couldn’t tell if it was open or not. But on further inspection, it turned out to be locked up. A hornet guarded the gate as I tried to exit the balcony, making me uneasy about being in the area. And the constant low humming that surrounded us, confirmed there was definitely more than one.
The benches were placed neatly against the table indicating the hut hadn’t been used for a while, and there were no other visible signs that anyone had recently visited. Moving one of the benches into position, so we could sit and eat, Ian immediately made himself at home. He removed his backpack, sat himself down, and carefully started unpacking the jamwiches and flasks of hot water – laying everything out ready for a picnic.
After being stung on the lip earlier in the year, I wasn’t in any hurry to get comfortable, and the low murmur of the wasps and hornets made me uneasy. I refused to take my backpack off and began pacing up and down nervously. I wasn’t planning on staying long, so I declined a cup of tea as well – urging Ian to hurry the fuck up so we could leave.
He leaned back into the bench, slowly pouring himself a cup of coffee as I continued to hover. I loitered anxiously, examining the area a little closer as I did. There was running spring water flowing down the mountainside, filtering into a tap and then finally into a carved-out log. And at the back of the hut, was a wheelbarrow surrounded by piles of logs. I perched myself nervously on the end of the bench, inhaling my jamwiches as fast as possible, unable to take my eyes off the wasps as they danced around in the afternoon sun.
When Ian realised the buzzing was getting louder, and the number of wasps and hornets in our company had increased, he started to pack up. Already 10 steps ahead of him, I raced towards the trees – probably shouting I told you so, in the process. Running past swarms of wasps and back onto the steep track, I ran downhill towards the safety of the bridleway and was already halfway down before he caught up with me.
On the other side of the bridleway, the downhill continued and with every step, I winced at the pain in my knees. Our route of 892 was clearly signposted and on the map, it didn’t look too steep, but in reality, it was agonising. With each step, I could feel the pressure building; my knees burning from the pain, feeling like they could burst at any second. To ease some of the pressure, we detoured off our route onto a winding path that wasn’t quite as steep, before eventually re-joining route 892 for the last part of the forest.
At the edge of the forest was a clearing and a timber yard, with luscious green fields as a backdrop. Cows roamed around as their bells clanged loudly, a familiar sound we would soon become accustomed to on our walks. There was comfort in the echoing bells, reminding me of our neighbour from back home. She has a cow bell hanging in her back garden, and when the wind whistles through the trees, it swings back and forth, clanging loudly in the process.
The road back to our apartment, took us through a different set of houses – although all equally as impressive as the ones in the morning. Balconies overflowing with floral loveliness and gardens big enough to hold a small carnival. The timber yard was in silence, because the workers had finished for the day, but the familiar smell of sawdust hung in the afternoon air. The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky, but the temperature had dropped and was cooler on my skin. We re-traced our steps along the embankment, only this time we didn’t need a map – we knew exactly where we were going.
There was one last hill to go, and that was the road that lead up to our apartment. Once inside, I took off my backpack and placed it down, before removing my walking boots. Oh, the bliss. We made a coffee and sat down, sinking into the sofa and that post hike feeling, of being tired but fulfilled. Tired from doing something active and fulfilled from a day of exploring.
The stress of the morning was a distant memory, and the last thing I felt like doing was throwing a strop. With no concrete plans in place, I finally sank into the feeling of being on holiday, learning to relax and taking things one day at a time.