Snow Daze (there's an original pun for you!)

Next September, T & Px will be getting married. And let's go for a bundle deal and get the kid christened too, get her into the religion club early should membership be required in future days of clashing civilisations. Let her know early which side she is on.

Px has chosen to bring a world-wide collection of friends together for these significant cultural occasions in Mondsee, a lakeside village just outside of Salzburg.

On Tuesday, the weather was not good enough for them to go skiing in the afternoon, cloudy and windy and still snowing, so I joined them on a trip to check the place out. It's about 130km from our hotel. 130km, 150km, depending on the seemingly arbitrary calculation of the "ImmerVerloren" GPS that is vacuum-cupped onto the car's front window. We come over the Thurn Pass into the Mittersill valley again and find that some immense being has filled in the green swathes of farmland completely with white powder. The village deep in the valley, has a foot-high blanket of snow on all the roofs. The only colours are white with brown shadows. It is a Breugel painting. Snow is still falling, wafting in drifts in the light wind. I start singing softly "White Christmas" and Px comments that in a fortnight Austria will be changing its clocks over to summer time...


Winter tyres on the cars churn away the snow from the road, keeping it almost clear. We hardly slow down despite the flurries until we come up behind that rare thing, a cautious driver in Austria.

I drift off to sleep as the romantic views of ancient castles, old villages, and dramatic mountains flash past, that is whenever the clouds clear enough for a glimpse. T later tells us of a someone he knows he has an affliction that causes him to fall asleep whenever there is a constant monotonal sound, like the road-hum of a car or the drone of an airplane. He is not allowed to drive. He falls sleeps every time he travels, even short distances, but does not sleep at home at night as he has had so much rest during the day he is not tired. I think I have a touch of this transport narcolepsy...

Thankfully T does not.

The Mondsee turn-off woke me. I must have slept through Salzburg. When we look over the Schloss, we are slghtly taken aback as it is a hotel in the township itself, not on some gloriously romantic cliff-top as some of the castles were on the way here. It has more of a monastic or nunnery feel to it though it seems to meet with the approval of all whose opinions matter in these issues. The rooms are large and luxurious and there is a SAUNA! It might be nice to come back to Europe, I thought, if only to get a few more days with decent bread! And to get nekkid.

By late afternoon we were ready to head back. T set the ImmerVerloren to find us the fastest way home through the continuously driving snowfall. It was becoming darker as twilight set in. It is quite hypnotising to watch the white clumps of snow swirl into the headlights and then dissipate at the windscreen. The autobahn was clear of snow even though it was falling extremely heavily in some places, as the road has been salted. I saw the Salzburg exit as the autobahn by-passed the town. Ah, that's why...

A few miles on and the annoying voice on the ImmerVerloren told us to take the next exit, which we did. This smaller road was almost completely white. Only in the tyre tracks from the cars in front of us could we see the direction of the road ahead. T was doing maybe 100km/hr in our nifty Ford Galaxy which fortunately came from the Zurich Hertz office with coarse-treaded winter tyres installed. T at least felt safe.

It became evident we were not on the same road back to Mittersill via Zell-Am-See. We were going up hill towards Innsbruck. The background color of the signposts changed to yellow. An indicator on the left pointed to Berchtesgarten. Hitler's hill-top retreat is in a bulge of German territory that pokes into the north edge of Austria. We had crossed the border. We had invaded Germany! Our phones all beeped with Welkommen auf Deutschland! SMSs. Happily we were going much slower now, the traffic was moving more conservatively than in Austria.

The ImmerVerloren had gone to sleep, unable to find enough satellites signal for triangulation. Px took out a map and tried to work out where we were. After about half an hour we were back in Austria, but still driving slower, down to about 50km/hr. We had about 80km to get home.

The heavy snow was affecting driving conditions quite severely it said on the traffic reports of the radio. There were "stau" - traffic jams - on the road to Zell-Am-See. This was the way we had come out, not the way we were returning, so that was OK until, BRAKE! We came out of a tunnel by-passing the town of Lofern, smack onto a long line of unmoving traffic, red-lights curving out of sight ahead. Maybe there had been an accident up there somewhere. We sat for a few minutes until Px checked the map and we remembered there had been a turn-off to Lofern town just before the tunnel. If we u-turned and went back we could go through Lofern itself and maybe jump out in front of the jam! We tried to do this twice, missing the poorly-lit snow-encrusted signs of the Lofern turn-off on our first attempt. When we finally came out of the town and back to the road, we saw that the stau extended way beyond the entrance ramp and we were caught again.

However it was only 15 minutes before we started moving and then we saw what had happened. Several trucks has tried to negotiate the steeper hills here, evidently with only summer tires and no chains. One truck had slid its arse end off the road. Several other drivers had panicked and managed to stop, but in the middle of the lanes blocking the traffic in our direction. There was no accident, just clusterfuck of stalled trucks. Oncoming traffic had been halted by a policeman and that is why we were able to steal past.

We eventually came to the Kitzbuhl turn-off, no thanks to our GPS bitch. Snow was STILL coming down. The road was very white, and T had developed the frightening habit of only using the windscreen wipers when it was totally impossible to see out. Don't ask me why, it is a mystery. The last 20kms of so were along a road through some small ski-villages, gently uphill all the way. The winter-tyres were at their limit on this surface which had seen far fewer cars and the snow was much deeper. We had to push on though, we were SO CLOSE to home.

A series of sharper bends saw us take up most available parts of the road as T braked, turned the wheel and not much happened. Through the iced-over windscreen I could see that we were heading THISAWAY, forward towards the barrier, while the front tyres where pointing THATAWAY... Braking harder would only make it worse, so T lifted his foot over and accelerated... the front wheel-drive caught some traction and the winter-tyres pulled us straight... If we had run off the road, it was only 2km from the hotel, but I was wearing only conventional runners on my feet, not snow-hiking boots. Then, around the next bend, the golden lights of our hotel rose out of the darkness... I much preferred getting home within the warm car.


Friday. Last ski-able day of the trip. I tried some easy runs again yesterday on the kinder-slope again, but really my knee is not ready. I can't explain why it was not a problem on Sunday but has since been playing up badly. Maybe I gave it a wrench on one of those falls. If I go into a semi-squat and but a bit of twist in, as I would if turining, it hurts sharply and gives way. Shit. It wasn't doing that last week, when I was working it hard at the gym in Jakarta. Even after three days of double-dose anti-inflammatories it still hurts when I do this.

The quads on my right thigh are still much less prominent than those on my left; this is the root of the problem - my kneecap is sliding across, clicking and threatening to dislocate medially as the lateral muscle of the quads is not pulling it back strongly enough. Chondromalacia patellae. Classic weak knee. I will head down to the meagerly equipped gym here to do 15mins of cross-training, some simple deep-knee bends and 10min cycle work. I should have done this a lot more and lot more often... but it's been hard to get a work-out routine going I've been in Singapore hardly at all so far this year and many of the hotels I've been in have not had gyms.

The sun has been out for the last two days, and it is glorious on the mountain this morning. Cold air, fresh snow and brilliant sunshine. Perfect skiing weather. I take some photos from my balcony, and though some cloud has moved across as I was writing the above rambling post, it is still fantastische...


Bugger. Shit. Next year.



Posted by: expat@large on Mar 23, 07 | 9:30 pm | Profile


incredible journey..maybe the sound of the windshield wipers makes him sleepy...

it's 9.30am here and currently's supposed to hit 27C today...snow is lovely to look at, but i'm a warm weather gal ...

take care, hope you get an upgrade home!

Posted by: savannah on Mar 23, 07 | 10:32 pm

Lovely pictures E@L. Long long ago I, and a young lady from Copenhagen, stood by such a road trying to get somebody to take us out of there. A long comfortable, hassle-free, ride to Athens would have been ideal. Or even a lift to the nearest railway station.

Posted by: Dick on Mar 24, 07 | 1:16 am

Sav: I was more scared than I made out here... Yes everything and everyone was going to sleep, until the car started all that sliding...

Dick: And bejesus it was cold outside - about -6°. I would not have appreciated hitch-hiking to Athens let alone the 2km to the hotel (uphill). As the man said, if I was going there, I wouldn't start from here.

Posted by: expat@large on Mar 24, 07 | 4:43 am

dammit..posted in the wrong place..check your gmail...


Posted by: savannah on Mar 25, 07 | 6:30 am


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