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Maria & Brett's HUGE Trip 06-07-08-09-? ok, so the Socceroos lost in 'that' penalty against Italy; Adriatic summers aren't long enough (bliss!); and we found that you should never use the term "Eastern Bloc" when talking to a Czech (Central Europe, please).

Cultural confusion in a corner of Europe - Dolomiti/Austrian Alps

ITALY | Monday, 2 April 2007 | Views [2412] | Comments [1]

You should see the goggle tan now!

You should see the goggle tan now!

"What is it?" we asked Pavel. "Slivovice, go ahead, take a swig" and with that, Maria had the hipflask to her lips quicker than you could ask what the hell this potent smelling stuff was. Luckily we'd tasted this wonderful Czech liqueur before - made from plums - and grown to look forward to its crisp taste on the tongue and deeeeep, deeeeep afterburn as it travels down your insides and awakens the fire that lurks within.

We'd signed up to a Czech-run ski trip in the Dolomiti/Austrian Alps with Pavel and Pavlina, friends of ours and two of the nicest Czechs you could ever hope to meet. (And we're only saying this because we know they'll check this out to see if we've embarrassed them with the photos we've put up of them. Just kidding, guys!). Maria met Pavlina when she taught her as an English student but the relationship quickly became one of friendship more than teacher-student. And the fact that Pavel is a witty, intelligent archaeologist and thoroughly charming bloke quickly extended the circle to include the guys (not that I could claim ownership to any of these qualities!). Oh, and their English skills put us completely to shame, especially when we realise that between them they speak Czech, English, German and Italian - especially given that Pavel has spent many a day digging in archaeological trenches beneath the fearsome Mt Vesuvius at Pompeii in Italy, slowly uncovering one of the world's best-kept ruins.

Boarding the bus in Prague that would deliver us overnight directly into the heart of the Alps, we could only begin our trip with a slug of slivovice to mark 5 days of alpine adventure. Waking up several hours later with the early morning light bathing the surrounding peaks in a gorgeous pink-white dawn, we knew we'd arrived in Italy but didn't remember being woken up to produce our passports at the Czech-Austrian border. "The driver told them we were all Czechs" someone said. Anything for convenience, we supposed. We were now in the land of oom-pah-pah, apple strudel, huge schnitzels, “Gruß Gott!” welcomes and big juicy sausages (even though you can find all but the oom-pah-pah in the Czech Republic).

Day one of four was going to be at Sillian, a resort in Austria with a peak of about 2400m. Our optimism was dashed when we got off the coach in the early morning only to be greeted by a cloudless blue sky and a balmy spring air. Nothing to complain about any other day of the year, except the fact that there was absolutely no snow in sight. What had we signed up for?! There were grass, flowers and cycling tracks where the home run from the mountain to the carpark should have been. However we were assured that once we take the cable car up to the top there’d be a white winter wonderland waiting for us to play in.

And there was. What a difference a couple of hundred metres makes! Instantly we recalled a recent finding that ski resorts the world over are facing dire reductions in snow cover as a result of warming temperatures, and resorts under 1500m would have to find alternative forms of attractions if they want to keep their dollars in the black – and traditional skiing activities would become secondary to other new pursuits like cycling, trekking, backgammon, knitting etc.

We found our snowlegs – and tasted the snow a few times when we hit it – and felt like pigs in sh… you know it!

After a day’s skiing, sweating, drinking beer and traveling overnight we were definitely a right sight and smell when we all boarded the bus again to make our way to our resting place for four days. Just think: body odour, smelly socks, unbrushed teeth, wet gloves (something about that smell that I’ll never get used to!) and all manner of burped-up remnants of lunch, brekky and last night’s fast food that we all grabbed at fastfood petrol stations on the way here. Nice!

After a compulsory snooze we found ourselves in a gorgeous little pension, recently renovated, in the small town of Natz which perched quietly atop a small hill at the bottom of a valley in the Dolomiti …“Hang on, Dolomiti? But that’s in Italy. We’re in Austria, aren’t we?” “No, we crossed the border shortly after leaving Sillian”. “But we didn’t have our passports checked”. “Yeah, the driver said….”. You know the rest.

It was also known as Naz in Italian and we would soon find out that we were in a very peculiar cultural corner of Europe. For we were officially in Italy, yet it seemed we were for all intents and purposes still in Austria: buildings were emblazoned with names like “Mittel Schüle” and “Gäste Hütte” and only official buildings like the post office had the infamous “PosteItaliane” signage on them. As a compromise, street names and town signs like Natz/Naz had the schizophrenic pleasure of announcing themselves by both names.

Day two greeted us with a short drive to Plose, a well-groomed resort at the top of a mighty valley which opened up below us and then reared up again on the other side at eye level. All day when we weren’t testing the aerodynamics of our gear or plopping into a rest hut for a Beck’s or knuckle of pork (yum!) we gazed at the paragliders who took to the skies like ducklings to water and spent most of the day drifting high above the valley floor in thermal currents that definitely had a springy lift in them. Luckily the home run to the carpark was also well groomed with snow that had been pushed down the mountain overnight, and the couple of runs we had were full of long turns and of course the advertising head plant that you’ll see in our photos.

A visit to Brixen/Bressanone was a perfect “après ski” where we spent an hour wandering inside this walled city that was both Italian and, you guessed it, Austrian in equal measures. Walking into a shop we’d announce “bongiorno!” and be welcomed with “Gruß Gott!” or vice versa. Only in the pizzeria and the gelataria did we have more of a clue, but we wouldn’t have been surprised if we got it wrong there too. Our bus visited Brixen for its legendary place in Czech political history – it’s where an infamous Czech writer, poet, journalist and critic, Karel Havlíček Borovský, spent four years in exile unable to return to his homeland. When he finally did he learned that his wife had died only a few days earlier. While Maria and I couldn’t connect with Brixen’s connection with a tragic event in history, we certainly felt its life and charm – a small town full of fashionistas, colour, and beautiful surroundings.

Day three saw us travelling to Kronplatz, a resort in the Dolomiti that spans several peaks and offers the discerning skier more runs than you could possibly experience. At times we were certainly the only skiers plying our turns on its wide runs and narrow lanes through the European forests. Another day of sun, laughs, suncream, Beck’s and… well it’s all starting to sound the same as the other days!

Fuelled by three wonderful days of action unmarred by any inclement weather or injury, we popped open a bottle of grappa that we’d sourced in town, and toasted our good time and equally good luck. Makes you sick, really, doesn’t it!

Day four was certainly an experience to savour til the end. We packed our things up and left Natz for the last time as we headed across into Austria (no passport control either) and high into a glacier called Stubaier, where you can ski even in the summer if you’re that way inclined. With 3000m peaks surrounding us all day it was easy to feel like we were in another world, on another planet or even on the moon – so dwarfed were we by these monstrous peaks. Hey, it’s nice to be a Lemming for a day! The highlight was setting off on the 13km home run from high up in the glacier to the carpark far below – which twisted, turned and plunged through valleys and around peaks until it finally spat us out into civilisation at the rear of the diesel fume-belching coaches waiting to pluck us up and take us back to Prague at the end of a couldn’t-have-been-more-successful ski trip.

Crossing back into the Czech Republic we were awake this time, passports ready, but the words of the bus driver to the border guards were unmistakeable “Česky!” he said, “They’re all Czechs”, and he was waved through.

Pavlina turned to us and smiled, “you’re both now officially Czech”.

Tags: Mountains



Hi Guys,

Your stories and pictures give me goosebumps. I'm seriously considering throwing on a backpack and doing the same for a year or so....we'll see.

Glad all is well with you guys, glad you survived the ski run and the stinky bus trip (Maria - I bet you smelt the worst :))

I'll be in touch again soon.

Thinking of you both.

Christopher Thomas MacLennan Esq of Southbank VIC

  Chris MacLennan May 1, 2007 12:47 PM

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