Originally published November 12, 2009
It was in Austria that I went on a 25 kilometer mountain bike ride with my tour group, and I honestly believed I was going to die before I finished it.
To be fair, the scenery was spectacular. I felt like I was in a scene from The Sound of Music – just without the singing kids and Nazis. We biked through the hills, through fields dotted with farmhouses, along a river, up, up, and up some more. The cement path turned to gravel, the gravel to dirt. I couldn’t take pictures, because I needed to focus all of my attention on navigating through the wilderness. One girl passed out; another told us we were all insane, and turned back. I got one hell of sunburn, for the second time since my trip began in London. By the time we had finished and returned to the hostel, my legs and butt had turned to putty.
I was still smiling, however, because I was in Austria…
We stayed in the small town of Hopfgarten, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Everything is green and lush, and every single house has window boxes complete with blooming, fragrant flowers. House facades are light-coloured stucco, with boards painted in dark colours nailed in criss-cross designs along the walls. There is only one main road snaking through the town, and I’m pretty sure most people own mountain bikes as their main form of transportation. I wonder how tough their butts are…
In the afternoon, I followed Chris and another friend to a nearby fishing pond. This was not, however, and ordinary fishing trip. We arrived at a manicured and stocked pond, located in a valley beside the river. There is a nominal fee, which covers the fishing rod rental and one fish.
The interesting aspect of this fishing hole is what happens to the fish once it is caught. First, after catching a fish, the fisherman is expected to hit it over the head with a wooden pole that is provided. The hitting continues until the fish is dead. Then, a waiting employee collects the fish. They take it, clean it, cook it and serve it to the fisherman in a restaurant adjoining the pond. Beer is also available, to compliment the fish and add to the overall dining experience. Talk about different!
I was going to include photos of my brother beating the crap out of the fish, but I decided to hold off for two reasons. One, I don’t want to turn anyone off of fish. Two, he really didn’t kill it well. He kept hammering away at the head, over and over again, while screaming “why won’t you just DIE.”
I didn’t go fishing (because the idea of beating a fish over the head and eating it freaked me out), and opted to sit, drink beer and read a book at a shady table. I had a nice conversation with a group of Austrians about Angels and Demons, the Dan Brown novel I was reading in preparation for my visit to Rome the following week. They hadn’t heard of the book, or of Dan Brown for that matter, but wanted to know everything and anything I could tell them about Canada.
Conversation with Austrians was slightly difficult – as they spoke very little English and me even less German – yet I tried my best to oblige. One man told me that he knew he would never see Canada in person. Another woman told me (through her husband, who was translating) that I was the first Canadian girl she had ever talked to. After the conversation ended, I felt both fortunate and humbled. I am able to travel the world and see many different places. Some people aren’t as lucky, and I shouldn’t take my travel experiences for granted.
Austria was a brief stopover, but it was definitely memorable. On my next trip to Europe, I plan to spend more time there. I would love to visit the cities, especially Vienna. But, you couldn’t pay me to go on another 25 km bike ride. Never, ever again.