Friday, August 19, 2011

April 20th: What Have I Got Myself Into....

So our time in Austria wasn`t so much about exploring cities as it was about experiencing the outdoor activities that the Tyrol region is known for. And somehow I talked myself into joining the morning mountain bike ride.

Have I mentioned that I hadn`t been on a bike in at least ten years? Or maybe fifteen? That seems like an important piece of information to get across. :)

It all started out well and good, getting helmets fitted and being given bikes. Admittedly, the initial pedaling around the drive of the guest house was a bit wobbly, but then we headed out along this road through a grass valley with the sun shining on us and it all seemed like a great idea. We were encouraged to go along at our own pace, which meant I ended up near the back with my lack of need-for-speed, and my slight nervousness at being on a bicycle again.

We stopped at this point above for a brief break and were told that this was our last chance to turn around. Feeling good, I decided to keep on pedaling.

Of course, nice, peaceful meadow riding turned into up-the-gravel-road riding. We were on mountain bikes after all. That should have been my first sign.

I kept pedaling along at my own speed. Hampered by my congested lungs/sore throat and my lack of physical ability. (By this point in the trip a majority of us had caught some illness or another. The coughing up your lungs thing spread quickly with us all stuck on a bus every other day.) I did manage to ride up the whole way though. No walking the bike, which I was proud of. :)

The stream looked like a lovely place to stop and cool off as a couple people did, but I was worried that if I stopped for too long, I wouldn't get started again!

One of our biking guides stopped at this map to explain where we were from the guest house and how far up we rode. None of which I remember. I do remember having a massive coughing fit in the middle of it though. While all were quiet trying to listen to her talk. Strange what we end up remembering. :)

Eventually we hit the mid-point of our route and started heading (mostly) back downhill.

If you look at the picture below, that curving road at the bottom was the same road we were on near the beginning of the ride. Proof that we actually did a lot of uphill climbing!

The downhill half was the best part of the ride.....obviously! Lots of coasting past cute little chalets perched on the hillside and through woody forested areas, back down to the same flat road through the valley that we were riding on in the first picture of this post.

This picture below amuses me. We were asked to walk our bikes around this sharp corner as there was lots of traffic and not much room to ride. The bit of blueish building through the trees on the left side of the road is the guest house we were staying in.

We had a barbeque lunch after the ride. Heavy on sausage and potato salad. I tried some Almdudler. Funny name, but basically tastes like gingerale.

After lunch. Paragliding.

After driving in a van up an incredibly switch-backy road, we arrived at the top of this meadow. Far, far above the valley below. (Actually, it looked further down from here than it did when standing in the valley looking back up the hill. Why is that?)

The group of us got ourselves strapped into our harnesses....

And the guides got our parachutes ready...

And then we had to run downhill, and not stop running until we were well off the ground.

Slight mess-up at this point. My guide and I had a bit of communication issue, he thought we were running....I wasn't quite ready....lost my footing....not the greatest takeoff ever apparently. But we made it. I shouldn`t dwell on it, haha. He did tell me later, after a smooth landing, that I was much better at landing than I was at that`s something I suppose. :)

It was very relaxing being up in the air even being as high up as we were. Lazily floating along in the sunshine enjoying the view was great.

Also great was the roller coaster-y part where my guide whipped the parachute (glider?) around in a bunch of quick, tight circles. Felt just like a roller coaster, which was so much fun.

After paragliding, we headed back to the guest house. I ended up heading back to my room and climbing up onto my bunk where I attempted to update my trip notes on my laptop. (I was aiming to take notes for every day of the trip but I failed. I was either too tired or didn't have enough time or was trying to send emails home, so it was low on my priority list. Although if I'm honest with myself, I hadn't expected that I would make it though whole way through. :) I've always been great at starting journals....not so great at finishing them. Hmm....something like my progress with updating my blog? Lol.)

I had plugged my headphones in and was listening to music so as to not disturb a couple of my roommates who were napping. And I ended up napping too. For a couple hours.

It was heavenly. :)

After my lengthy nap, and dinner, a smaller group of us ended up in the common room watching a movie. Not that I can remember what it was now... but it was a nice quiet way to unwind and relax after the day.

And in the morning we would be leaving Austria to head for Germany. Tomorrow would be a busy day!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

April 19th: Into Austria

We left Italy bright and early in the morning to head into Austria. We stopped for an early lunch at our last Italian rest stop, and I took mine outside to sit in the sun and eat.

 I had a pretty decent view from my perch on the steps, with these ruins off in the distance, and the beginnings of mountains behind.

My sandwich....and a yummy frozen coffee drink....

I'm not a coffee drinker, but with a hint of mocha, and a texture like an extra thick milkshake, it really was delicious.

There was a gradual change in scenery as we crossed over the Italian-Austrian border and the terrain became more mountainous. Lots of old castles perched high on hilltops and rolling green meadows in the valleys.

And tunnels, wow were there lots of tunnels. Driving through the mountains at home, we don't have very many of these, just lots of twisty turny roads, but Italy and Austria had them absolutely everywhere, and some of them were extremely long.

The mountainous view below was taken off the bus arriving at our early afternoon stop in Innsbruck.

We had a few hours to wander the town...

...Which was fully decked out for Easter.

Giant Easter eggs galore!

The bakeries were decked out for Easter too. These little baked bunnies are almost too cute to eat!

I'm not sure what the goings-on in this next picture is all was all in German. :) This group of young boys were walking through the town ringing these cowbells slung from their waists. They were all dressed up and neatly arranged in order of height, smallest to tallest.

The, umm, tune? wasn't the greatest, but they did draw quite a crowd in there cute little outfits...wish I'd had a better angle of these cute little guys!

And then there was the store with the free schnaps tasting...which I'm sure was very popular with at least a few members of the tour. I was more interested in all the pretty colours in these large glass containers.

And then as we were leaving, there were aliens. Why? I don't know why, but there they were, in all their silver glory.

And some tulips, blooming brightly in the sun.

We made one last stop on this afternoon, at Swarovski Crystal World.

Our tour guide had been telling us all afternoon how interesting and crazily weird this place was. Not that we believed her. We were expected a not-so-interesting museum, with shiny, sparkly bits of things to look at and a shop at the end to browse through. It started off tamely enough with the giant face spitting out a waterfall over the entrance, and then a foyer with this giant jellyfish made of crystals which moved jellyfish-like with the use of moving wires.

And then we entered the first in a series of rooms, where crystal bedazzled shirts went flying through the air on wires, disembodied legs tap danced to the music, a female mannequin walked slowly in a circle in the center of the room, and more shirts stacked one on top of the other curled up and extended like some weird sort of worm. Oh, and a male mannequin splits into a dozen pieces before reforming.

See here. Or here.

Then you have your zebras in pink high heels, your ice skating sun and moon (the skulls were only visible when the camera flash went off)....

Your crystallized monuments...

Then there was the dark room with lights playing over mirrors where I was an inch away from walking into the wall, and the giant crystal room where the crystals changed colour and flashed along to the music....

(There was one point where they were changing to the sounds of a thunderstorm...that was really cool.)

One of my favourite rooms was the crystal dome. Standing directly in the middle, the shape of the room amplified any sound you made, and any flash of light bounced around crazily. No good pictures in there, but I took this one of a video that was taken in that room, with the woman pictured singing, to display the effects on the sound. It really did sound beautiful, thanks greatly, I`m sure, to her amazing voice.

You can see the crystal panels of the dome in the background behind her.

After all that, another giant jellyfish that lights up and changes colour, and a bedazzled elephant.....well, they just don`t seem that interesting do they?

After the end of the weirdness, we were back on the bus and headed for our nighttime destination.....the tiny town of Hopfgarten, where we would be staying for two nights in a large house on the edge of town. There was another Contiki group staying there on our first night. They were on a ten day tour headed in the reverse direction around Europe that we were, so it was fun to compare notes at dinner.

There may have been another party that night, with a tight-and-bright theme. I`ll just leave that up to your imagination, mention that our group would definitely have won a dress-up competition, and say that what I was wearing was nowhere near as tight or bright as some of my tour mates. :) (And a flea market in Bologna may have been slightly lacking in all things neon pink and yellow after the tour group passed through.)

Then it was off to bed for another early morning. And my first time on a bike in, oh, maybe ten years. Or is it fifteen?

Yikes. :)