Thursday, 16 January 2014

Vienna Pt Two; Snow, Schnapps and Schnitzel.

We were here!!

Hands down, one of the highlights of our trip.
Craig Writes;
1st January 2014
It's 6.30am and Nora, Anastas and Ana are back from their holiday in Dubai. They have great tales to tell of a city of towering architectural wonders, lavishly chromed Italian sports cars and of Anastas being held captive for five hours by customs officials .They thought him a potential spy for trying to bring his camera mounted Gyrocopter into the country. Not as bad as it sounds but it makes a nice little story.
Over zealous customs officials aside, Dubai sounds a very interesting place and another to add to our list.

They're naturally a bit tired having flown through the night but they stay up to enjoy a delicious Christina breakfast of baked eggs with smoked salmon, sour cream and chopped chives.  This was followed by my favourite cake of all time, a chocolate, cherry and walnut masterpiece. After breakfast Anastas decides to take the offending Gyrocopter for a spin and show us what all the fuss was about. 

It looks very 'James Bond'
It is a very impressive little toy with the potential to take some amazing footage. I guess I can see why in such a paranoid world some authorities may question a 'toy' with the capacity to fly to 2000 metres, be GPS guided and have the ability to have all sorts of little 'goodies' attached to it.

2nd January 2014
Today we headed off to Bad Kleinkircheim in the southern Carinthia region of Austria.  Our destination was The Kirchheimerhof Hotel, or for the mono lingual among us, The Harmony. It was a very pleasant four hour drive through the long tunnels and snowy valleys of the Alpine Alps.

It wasn't that Bad

A stunning drive of sepia tones

One view from our balcony 

The other view

It has over 2000 sq metres of pools, steam rooms, saunas and relaxation rooms to cater for the guests. Ideal for those arriving back chilled to the bone from their hours hitting the icy slopes. 
When your not busting your groove on the mountain you can be sweating your arse off in the Turkish Harman or rubbing an exotic salt scrub into your body in the steam sauna. Perhaps you make like to bake yourself like a potato in the dry sauna then go run around in the snow.

There is a whole section that is strictly adults only.  Children and clothing are banned.   The adults only relaxation area upstairs is the official quiet zone, R and R only. No one talks. It is lie down, take in the amazing view, read or nap. 

We met Noras mum, Marieta and her husband Oggi today.  Apparently Oggi worked for Marieta as her bodyguard. She was being stalked by a psychotic fan while on a world wide singing tour and it was his job to protect her. He saved her from mortal danger during a dress rehearsal in Vegas, she was grateful, they got close and.....Hang on, I might be getting that bit mixed up. But he actually was her bodyguard.

3rd January 2014
The others have arrived from Vienna. The ski equipment is hired, the lessons are booked and off we go. At first it was going to be the boys in one class and us in another but as good fortune would have it, our ski instructor, Margoose, bundled us together with a young Brazilian girl. It was as good as a private lesson but at half the price.
There was plenty of falling over, plenty of laughs and, surprisingly, plenty of progress.
We spent the first lesson learning the most important part of skiing, how to stop. By the end of the two and a half hour lesson we could snow plough with the best of them and make slow gradual turns to the left and the right.  Margoose was very proud.

This is us making gradual turns, no land speed records here.

4th January 2014
We decided on a second ski lesson, which in retrospect was a good idea. It would seem that stopping and turning are just the start of things and the moment you get a bit of speed up things can change dramatically. Margoose was the perfect teacher. A hard task master who made you work for your praise.   To complete the experience, finally, we got snowed on.  Not tens of centimetres but enough for a light dusting of fluffy white powder.
We worked hard for our lesson and by the end we had all mastered the slopes of Kiddieland. We could take the gradual decline at reasonable speed and although not as technically proficient as Margoose would like, we could all turn and stop. 

Thats Margoose in the green pants
We felt we were ready to move onto bigger and faster things. We said goodbye to Margoose and told him we would be fine from here. He didn't seem convinced but wished us good luck anyway. By the end of the lesson the snow had given way to a constant slow drizzle and people were slowing starting to drift off the mountain.  But not us.  Not yet.
At least not until we had given our new found confidence a bit of a thrashing on the adjacent Red slope.
Unfortunately they don't have the more gentle Green runs here, but hey, you have to work with what you've got.  Besides it didn't look that bad from down the bottom.

After a break for hot chocolates and hot dogs we grabbed our skis and headed for the lifts. The ride up was fun but the view was a lot different from the top.  We stood there for several minutes watching the dads with their four year old kids dismount from the lift and in one fluid motion glide to the top of the slope, deposit ski poles neatly under their arms and head off like mini ninjas down the mountain.
With gritted teeth and white knuckled grips Callum, Christina and I edged forward, peered down the slope to the tiny people at the bottom and adopt the full maximum snow plough position. Inch by inch we started to slip across the face of the mountain and all was well, until we had to turn. The speed you pick up in just that one little motion is instantaneous and utterly surprising. By the time your back in your full plough position your at the other side and having to turn again. Your now going much faster. Your hard won technique has vanished and your confidence is suddenly falling quicker than the drizzly rain around you.
By the next turn your basically out of control and looking for somewhere to crash where you cant be used as a ski jump by the guy behind you.
The next turn is more an upright fall.  It is your last, you know it and the guy who just flew past you shaking his head knows it.  As Margoose would say, it is now time to "make small' and take the fall. Which basically means crouch low and throw yourself into a face plant.  Not elegant but the best way of minimizing any breakages.
Callum and I did eventually manage to make it down to the bottom  and defying all reason decided to go back and have a second go.  Then a third and a fourth and a fifth.  Actually managing to stay upright for the entire journey on a couple of occasions. Callum more so than me.
Christina made a valiant effort but fell at the 20 metre mark where she made a judgment call to walk the little way back to the top and call it quits. Charlie, the star on the smaller slopes, was weary and would save his energy for another day.

Unfortunately the rain would continue and most of the snow we had was washed away. There is a forecast for 30cm of snow tomorrow.  Lets see.

5th January 2014
The day was a complete wash out, literally.  The rain had washed most of the snow away and today was a drizzly affair which was best dealt with by retreating to the spa area. The kids hit the swimming pool. Miraculously the snow began to fall while we were in the spa. Iv'e heard about those hardy Europeans who bake themselves in a sauna then go throw themselves in the snow. It sounded like a great idea and what a delicious experience it was.
It was now 4pm and the day had all but ebbed away.  We all looked skyward for the first sign of Gods dandruff and just like that, down it came. Big fat white flakes showered down, thick and fast, exactly what was required for a perfect days skiing.  We just needed about ten hours of it. Unfortunately, just as we sat enjoying the last of our delicious dinner discussing what a magnificent fall it was and what a tremendous days skiing we would all have tomorrow, it stopped.  And it didn't come back.

Try as we did we just couldn't convince that snow to keep falling

The good news was there was plenty of fresh powder for our planned after dinner snowball fight. Although hopelessly outnumbered it would be fair to say that Bulgaria was just outgunned by a determined and decidedly sneaker Aussie contingent.

Charlie about to cop a sneaky one from Callum

Pummelled, pounded and frozen.  Great fun.

To finish the night, and to our absolute delight, Anastas, a proud Bulgarian man who has embraced the traditional Bulgarian art of playing the Gaida,treated Callum and I to a late night rendition of some traditional Bulgarian music.  It was a real treat.  The Gaida is an ancient Balkan bagpipe made from either sheep or goat skin and takes considerable skill to master.

6th January 2014
This morning we looked out our window hoping to see a fresh blanket of white powder but instead saw only the trampled remains of our battle from the night before.

Yes, we did that
We had plans to stay an extra night if the snow had arrived but sadly, it had not.  We had a chat over breakfast with Nora and Anastas and a peek at the snow cams further up on the mountain.  It didn't look great but it looked better than in the valley where we were.  The decision was made.  We would go up the mountain for one last attempt to put our ski lessons to their test.

The sun was shining, there was snow on the ground, not a lot but enough, and the slope was beginner friendly. Our dear friends, who could have single skied it backwards, declined to go to the more challenging slope next door and stayed to baby us. It made it so much more enjoyable having them there.

Happy Campers

While not masters of the slopes - more like indentured slaves- The CVW'S would have loved to have spent longer perfecting those whipping turns and aerial moves but alas our time here was drawing to a close. But, to paraphrase that other famous Austrian,
'we'll be back'.

We had a short time to bask in the afterglow of our skiing triumph and chose to sit in some canvas loungers watching the throng of pre schoolers attack the slopes while we sipped hot Ameratto topped with whipped cream and dusted with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Austrian tradition demanded that we follow this up with a large hot chocolate liberally laced with dark rum, and more whipped cream.

Anastas,'I'll have two more: Christina, 'I love em, get me three'

With our cheeks reddened by the sun and the warm rum rushing through our veins, we reluctantly packed our gear and headed back to The Harmony Lodge for a quick lunch before the four hour white knuckle night drive back to Vienna.

Lunch at the Inn

Finally back home in Vienna we settled in for a simple dinner of red wine, cheese and fresh bread to dip into a delicious garlic chilli balsamic dip created by Anastas. Then it was a couple of puffs on Nora's Shisha. What's a Shisha you ask.  It's a traditional Bulgarian smoking  pipe that looks like it belongs on the set of 1001 Arabian Nights or a Cheech and Chong movie. It starts with a mixture of a tobacco and fruit jelly that sits over a small bed of hot charcoal in a small alfoil wrapped bowl. 

The smoke is drawn in through a long hose over a small amount of water that bubbles like a bong when you do it right. Unlike a bong, you don't inhale. You hold the fruity smoke in your mouth for a moment then blow it out. It's not an unpleasant taste but I managed to drawback on two of my three attempts and that is not pleasant.
Can't say it swayed me but Nora and Anastas love it. Thankfully the smoke is not pungent or offensive and seemed to dissipate into the air easily without the need for an open window. Just another of those unexpected experiences that travel can throw at you.

7th January 2014
Our last day in Vienna and besides a trip out to our favourite kebab kiosk for lunch it was a catch up day around the house. 

Five times. Says it all.

We packed, journalled and generally chilled out. Christina and Nora went out for a last ditch go at the New Year Sales later in the afternoon and then the whole lot of us took off to Prater to a favoured Mexican restaurant renown for it's ribs. Huge serves - always a good start- with a tasty garlic marinade.  A tad overcooked but delicious.
After dinner the girls took the kids of into Vienna for icecream while Anastas took me to the Admiral Casino where some of his work as a 3D artist for the gaming machines was on display. He produces those small screen eye catching videos that lure you in to sit in front of the slot machines and empty your wallet.  And judging by the number of people doing exactly that on a late chilly Tuesday night, he's very good at what he does.

Well, just like that our time in this most beautiful city has come to an end. Tomorrow morning we are on a 10am flight to Oslo and on our way to see one of the worlds great natural wonders, The Aurora Borealis.  Nora, Anastas and Ana will be following us in a days time.

No comments: