Anyone can tick off Vienna in two days, taking a photo with the most famous monument in the city as a badge of evidence. But I have had a real, authentic Austrian experience courtesy of Nanette and Paul and their hometown, Ramsau.
I gazed at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, watched the Venice Boys Chior rehearse, biked along the Danube Canal and ate schnitzel at Figlmuller. But we didn’t stop there.
After seeing the sites in Vienna my Dad and I caught a bus to Schladming, four hours away from the capital. The city apartments transformed into log cottages with shingle roofs and flower baskets framing every window. The village was surrounded by snow-capped mountains and fairytale trees. From Schladming we continued 7.3km to Ramsau, a smaller village. Ramsau hosted the ski-jumping and cross-country skiing world championships in 1999. We walked up the ski jumps erected in the 20th century to contemplate the height and craziness of anyone willing to attempt these with velocity. Ramsau is a plateau between the Dachstein range and the Enns valley and is inexplicably picturesque. Qaint cafes line the mountain biking and hiking routes, offering beer and lattes on your journey. Couples picnic and families play along the tracks.
A cable car takes you to the Dachatein glacier for €22 where you can cross-country ski or just stare in awe at the mountain’s glory and the perfect town below. We stopped for a coffee in the restaurant at 2996m – mind-blown.
Back at the old-style house built in 1956 Nanette and Paul didn’t serve meals, they prepared lavish spreads. At breakfast the table was covered in ham, cheese, jam and black tea and in the evening foods I didn’t even recognise were presented to us in more than one course. You’d genuinely think they had a fear of peckishness as they encouraged us to make sandwiches to take with us each day. They spoke next to no English but somehow we found ways to communicate. I resurrected a German-English dictionary one morning to see through a joke about Dad’s terrible sense of direction and I feel like Paul appreciated the effort and humour.
You quickly adopt German greetings so that you don’t neglect your manners – Danke, Morgen and Ciao were crucial – ‘caffe latte’ arguably just as important.
It was completely refreshing to learn how to swim, or rather, paddle in a culture so different from my own, embracing full immersion.