Excursion to Untersberg!

On Saturday (Samstag, in German), my boyfriend and I decided to take an excursion and be tourists for the day. We went to Untersberg, which is a mountain located on the border of Austria and Germany, in Salzburgerland. It’s one of the many mountains located in the Berchtesgaden Alps, which spread throughout Germany and Austria. Strangely, my boyfriend has lived in the same town in Austria his entire life and had never been to Untersberg before, despite having seen the gondola going up the peak as he drove by that section of highway a million times. However, to his credit, he has hiked many times up to the highest peak in the range, Hochkoenig, which is virtually in our backyard now. Despite being so close, the Untersbergbahn  is one of those things that is so close and accessible but as a local you don’t always take advantage of those types of places. Possibly because you think it will always be there and can go whenever you want.  Even still,  on Saturday we finally decided that it was the beautiful day we were waiting for to go up there.

To get to Untersberg, you exit highway A10 heading to or from Salzburg and then follow the directions on your GPS. Once you arrive in the village of  St. Leonhard, you will see the signs to the Untersbergbahn. Bahn translates to several words in English but commonly “way” or “track” and is used in a lot of complex words in German. For example, Autobahn, which refers to a highway, and Sommer Rodelbahn, which is a summer sled track. Hence, the Untersbergbahn is the gondola that you will take up to the top of the peak. Being that it’s Austria, it is of course possible to hike up to the top on your own and I think it takes about 2.5 hours. Once you arrive at the parking area for the Untersbergbahn,  you will buy a ticket to ride the gondola up to the top. When we went, there was a gondola going up every 30 minutes and it’s about a 9 minute ride to the top. It’s a very scenic and you get a sneak peak at the beautiful vistas you will see when you reach the top.

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O​nce we arrived at the top, we decided that we were hungry and wanted to get a bite to eat before hitting some of the trails that are up there. There were several small restaurants to choose from up there. We ended up going to Hochalm, a small place a short walk up passed the gondola station. As it was a gorgeous Saturday,  it was pretty crowded. Nothing crazy like Disneyworld of course, but when we arrived at Hochalm, all the tables outside appeared taken up. Not to worry though, because in Austria, it is very common to sit with other people at a table and enjoy your meal while sitting with strangers. It was no surprise that the inside of the restaurant was totally empty, but we, like everyone else, wanted to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful view and weather. So, we ended up sitting at the end of a table with a group of four people, a young couple with her parents.

The alm had a small but simple menu of Austrian specialty entrees and deserts. We were pretty hungry by the time we got to order but our dreams of eating more food were dashed when we notice on the menu that they didn’t accept cards for payment. I am still surprised and peeved about this fact but it seems to be very common in Austria. Businesses a lot of time prefer cash (for reasons you can probably figure out on your own) so you must make sure you carry cash while traveling around. This is something I need to get used to coming from the States where hardly anyone deals with cash anymore. We all usually pay by some sort of card method or more recently with a mobile app.   Luckily my boyfriend had some euros (he is a local after all!), albeit not much, and were able to order one meal and drink to share. We ordered Kasnocken, a traditional Austrian dish, and a Hollersaft to drink. Kaseknocken is a dish usually served in a cast iron skillet, or pfandl, as it is called in German. It’s basically like mac and cheese. It’s a noodle similar to spaetzle and is prepared with melted cheese and topped with chopped chives and crispy onions. ìt is delicious. We shared that meal and a hollersaft to drink, which is a refreshing juice made with holler syrup and water. Holler is a flowering bush found locally from which they make a light syrup that can be added to water to make a nice summer drink. We enjoyed our meal and the company of our table mates, who, once they realized that my boyfriend was speaking American English to me, began to talk to him about their trips to America and show us pictures of the Grand Canyon and beaches.

Once we finished our meal, we started on the trail that went up to one of the peaks. Untersberg is the name of the whole mountain, and there are two named peaks. One is on the German side, which is called ​Berchtesgadener Hochthron and is 1,973 meters high, the other is on the Austrian side and called Salzburg Hochthron at ​1,853 meters. We hiked up to both and there are crosses at each, which is very typical to see.  The trail to Berchtesgadener Hochthron was short, only about a 15 minute walk but pretty technical as it was a mix of uphill, downhill, rocks, and mud. There was still some snow patches up there which was really cool to see, especially since it was late May and it was a warm day. Even though it was noticeably cooler up there, down in Salzburg it was probably in the high 70s degrees Fahrenheit. The gradually melting snow made the path a bit muddy in parts. Nevertheless, anyone and everyone was on the path- old, young, people who looked ready to hike for the day and people who were clearly just making a stop off the highway wearing flimsy sandals. The views up there were absolutely stunning. You can see the entire Berchtesgaden Alps which is comprised of more than eight mountains in both Austria and German, the whole city of Salzburg including a clear view of the airport and castle, as well as the surrounding towns and rivers, and more mountains in the distance.

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Big surprise, after we were done hiking around on the top and enjoying the views, we were hungry again. Especially since we had only shared one meal earlier. We still had some time to kill before the last gondola went down at 5 pm so we sat down at a different restaurant close to the station. Again, very simple menu of Austrian dishes but this place accepts cards so we were in luck! However, we found out after ordering that they were out of pretty much everything (because ì guess it was just a busy day), except, you guessed it, schnitzel! Schnitzel is definitely one of the most popular dishes here in Austria, and I had yet to try it. It’s basically meat, normally veal, which I would never eat, or in this case turkey, that they pound very thinly, lightly bread and then fry. It’s pretty light as it’s very thin and not soaked in grease like the fried stuff in America. I normally don’t eat much meat but I was so hungry and decided to try it. My boyfriend and I both ordered the turkey schnitzel with a side of potato salad and I have to say it was quite yummy! They serve it with lingonberry jam (made from lingonberries) which adds a nice sweetness to each bite.

We had a great time on this excursion and had a perfect clear day with barely any clouds in the sky and it was very sunny. The air was fresh, the flowers blooming and birds flying. It was a great excursion and it was special that my boyfriend and I got to share the experience together for the first time.

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” – J.P. Morgan

Travelling with your pet(s) to foreign countries

Have you decided to bring your pet(s) along with you while you travel? Great! This can be an exciting decision as we all know it’s hard to leave them behind when going on vacation or an extended trip. I referenced in my previous post “Arrival in Austria” that I would be writing a post on the nitty gritty of travelling with your pet to a foreign country. Please visit that post for details on my recent experience.

First, visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/home. This is the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This agency provides information regarding the importing, exporting and interstate travel with animals. Specifically for this article, we will focus on the information provided for American citizens on bringing their pets into another country. This includes finding out the requirements of your destination country/countries regarding paperwork, pet health, and any thing else you might need to take them into that country.

Click on the Pet Travel link at the top of the page. For purposes of this article, take a look at the first category, which is about taking your pet from the US to a foreign country. There is a drop down menu where you can select the country you are travelling to. To be safe, you’ll want to eventually bring up information for each country you will be visiting or passing through with your pet. For my purposes, I only had to click on Austria. The selection you make here becomes very critical later on so make sure you click the correct country or countries.

The next page is where you will click on the category that matches your pet, whether it’s cats or dogs, birds or other. Here, I clicked on cats, the first category. This brings you to a new page with the requirements. As you can see, the first question asks if you have an EU passport for your pet. If not, then you will need to follow the following categories. I didn’t even know that EU pet passports existed so I obviously didn’t have one. (I will be looking into this for the future though!). Most folks do not have one so you will need to follow the remaining requirements. There is a down arrow in the right corner of each blue step. Go ahead and click these arrows in order to expand the steps and show the details of that particular step. I took the liberty of printing out this entire page once I had expanded all the steps. This way, when I did comply with all the requirements and for some reason had trouble at the airport, I could refer to this page as reference and say that I did comply with the rules.

I’m not going to get into the details of each step here as it could be quite boring and technical. Basically, your pet must have a microchip and a rabies vaccination. This is where it’s crucial to speak to your vet and generally start with these requirements at least two months ahead of time. This is because you will find per Step 3 that there is a 21 day waiting period after getting the vaccination. Luckily, my cat was not due for rabies until after my arrival in my destination country. Otherwise, I would have gotten him vaccinated and been subject to the 21 day waiting period on travelling. This was going to be impossible as I already had my trip booked within 14 days  of when I found this out. I know, I know, I didn’t start early enough and was a bad example. However, I fully admit that this was my first time travelling with a pet and this is exactly why I decided to write this post and inform others so that they can travel informed and stress-free!

The next step, Step 4, is where a USDA certified veterinarian needs to examine your pet and fill out the forms. However, you need to first click on the link in the yellow box in order to obtain the forms. Be careful here, this is where your pervious selection for destination country in the drop down menu becomes very important. For example, the form I had to get from Austria were bilingual and were written in both German and English. These will likely NOT be the same forms if you are going to France or Spain, for example. This is why you cannot rely on old print outs from your vet, or forms they have used before, or why you think you can just select any country from the drop down. These are very specific forms. You need to have the forms for each of your destination counties. I cannot stress this enough. The first time I took my cats to the vet, the assistant had filled out the wrong form. So I got down to Miami and the first thing the USDA official did was reject my form and tell me I had the wrong one. I can only suspect that the assistant had a folder of these forms and just used one that was used for, say, Britain, or an old form that she had made copies of. This caused a lot of stress and running around and money spent unnecessarily while the correct form was easily accessible by clicking on Austria in the drop down and then this link in the yellow box.

Once you download and print the correct forms, bring these to your pet’s appointment with a USDA certified vet. (If you need to find out if there’s one in your area, visit this link: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/find-a-vet/pet-travel-locate-an-accredited-vet and click on the link to the pdf in paragraph 4). Make sure you bring all their health information and medical history if this is not their regular veterinarian. The office should be able to fill out the form for you with the microchip number and vaccination information and dates. You will need to assist by providing your name and information and where you will be going, and an address and phone number.

The last step is to take your USDA veterinarian certified paperwork to your local USDA office. Visit this link to find out your local office: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/service-centers-endorsement-offices. The office I went to was in Miami, near the airport, and allowed for walk-ins and appointments. Call your local office and decide what is best for you. At the office I went to, if you were a walk in,  you had to come back the next day to pick up your endorsed forms. If you made an appointment you could get it all wrapped up in the same short visit. There is a fee so make sure you have payment. Once you get your forms endorsed, I recommend making copies and placing them in your pet’s carriers and also having copy on your person while travelling to reference. I also made sure I brought copies of my pet’s health and medical information just in case.

Safe travels to your and your pet(s)!!

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

 

 

Arrival in Austria

This past Monday, my kitties, Marco and Cairo, and I finally arrived in Austria. After some crazy last minute preparation and a long day of travelling, we were so happy to reach our new home. I decided to post about this experience instead of the myriad of other things that happened the week leading up to the move and now this first week we all spent in Austria. I hope it will be more informative for all my readers and that you enjoy our story. Updates on what we’ve been doing are forthcoming in new posts!

The preparation:

Most of the information I would place in this section will actually have it’s own dedicated post that I will do separately, solely regarding the “requirements” presented by the USDA for American’s interested in travelling with their pets to foreign countries.

As with any successful preparation, you need to start early. First, contact your veterinarian at least two months ahead of time to let them know that you will be traveling with your pet. Depending on vaccinations needed, you might really need this time to get everything done and satisfy any requisite waiting periods. If your vet is not familiar with the requirements, you’ll need to do your own research and educate them on what your pets need from them. Speaking with the vet also allows you to prepare for any prescriptions, tests or tranquilizers your pet will need during the trip and while abroad. Keep a file for each pet so you have this information and prescriptions readily available. As for tranquilizers, I received a prescription from my vet for one, but after discussing it with my boyfriend and family, I decided to only use in on an if-needed basis. I knew my cats were great travelers after driving with them in the car two hours to visit my parents most weekends. However, if you think you might need to use medication to keep your pet comfortable, you might want to test it out on them before the journey to see how they react.

Second, let the airline know that you will be travelling with your pet (what kind of pet, how many, etc.). You’ll need to find out what, if any, requirements they have regarding this. It doesn’t hurt to go online as well and print out any information to back up what they tell you so that you have something in writing in case you have issues at check in.

Third, get the appropriate carrier for your pet(s) to be contained in during the travel. I bought two soft carriers, one for Marco, one for Cairo. To get them comfortable with their carriers, I left them out in the house so they could explore and smell them and also used them on several car trips before the big day. This is essential as they will be stuck in these carriers for a very long period of time so you want them to feel like they are safe there and they have familiar smells and toys or padding in there.

Thirdly, prepare for the worst. I had toys, treats, food, wipe pads, paper towels, water, dishes and other things in case we had an unexpected layover, potty issues, etc. Use your imagination. Luckily, this time, we had no issues and I didn’t need any of these items.

The flight:

Luckily, our friends were able to drive us all to the airport in my car so for the first hour of the journey the cats were in familiar territory and could stay relaxed. Once we got out of the car in the departures area, it was pretty warm out and we had to get all our luggage out. Despite their first exposure to bustling travel, the cats were pretty good during this time. Marco cried a little bit but Cairo was quiet and seemed calm. We proceeded with check in and to security. During security we had to take each cat out of the carrier and hold them while we walked through a metal detector. My boyfriend held Cairo and I held Marco. They behaved pretty well and we made it through. They were happy to go right back into the shelter of their carriers after that.

Getting settled on the airplane was interesting. We had to be strategic about it as we each had to hold a cat in their carrier on our lap the whole time. Meals and bathroom breaks were actually welcome to me as we got to switch up and stretch our legs. During take off (and landing) we had to place the cats in their carriers on the ground “under our seats” (which didn’t totally happen because it was cramped down there). I think this was a bit scary for the kitties as they didn’t have our hands in their comforting them and it was probably loud and they felt all the movement being on the ground. They didn’t complain however and we picked them up as soon as we could.

Overall, the flight attendants and everyone on the plane made no issue of the cats. Some people seemed interested, especially kids, and were looking in at them. During the flight as we got comfortable and my boyfriend and I each tried to catch some sleep and watch movies during the time warp that is sitting in coach on a trans Atlantic night flight, the cats were mostly asleep as well. We each were pretty good about opening the carriers just enough to stick our hand or hands in to pet them or just leave our hand there for comfort and calmness. The cats didn’t really take advantage and try to get out of their carriers, for the most part. Cairo at one point did get restless and kept coming out. Luckily, my boyfriend was able to keep him at least on his lap and in between us. We were all under a blanket that I put over our heads and laps so we could have some semblance of darkness and calm. Since Marco was stretching while he was asleep, his whole head and neck were out one end of his carrier resting on my arm and Cairo actually took advantage of this and cuddled up to him. It was too freaking cute.

We arrived in Vienna (finally!!) and had to go through immigration and another security checkpoint.  Immigration was a breeze. My boyfriend took both cats just in case questions were asked as he is a citizen of Austria. The official didn’t say a word to me or him. At security, we had a choice. We could leave the cats in their carriers and put them through the security conveyor thought the x-ray machine or we could carry them over to  a separate checkpoint and go through a metal detector. However, with this option we also would have had to subject the cats to a physical exam by an airport official. We thought this was going to be a waste of precious time (we had a connection to catch) and also the cats would not like to be subjected to a physical poking and prodding by someone they don’t know. They went through the conveyor and it was fine, no issues. We went on our merry way to our next gate which was a connecting flight to Salzburg and would  only be a 35 minute flight.

The next flight was a bit much. We had to walk out on the tarmac to the airplane and walk up the stairs to the cabin. It was very warm out and the AC on the plane was not working properly. Marco was overheated and panting. I felt so bad for him and we tried to fan him off, remove the padding from the bottom of the carrier and I gave him some water on his lips. He became cooler as we ascended and seemed to be better. However, take off and landing of that flight was just something to get through. We were so happy when we landed and could step out of the plane into the fresh air.

After that flight, we were able to quickly get our bags and into the car of my boyfriend’s mom and on our way home. It was about a 30 minute drive through the mountains which was again taxing on the cats. I let them come out of their carriers a bit more but also hoped that they wouldn’t get motion sick from the curvy mountain roads!

The new digs:

We let the cats out as soon as we got in the front door. We quickly set them up in the bedroom with food, water and litterbox so that they could explore one room and not be overwhelmed with all the other areas of the apartment. While I was half dead, they seemed to have a renewed energy as they wanted to sniff everything and explore every corner of their new place. I passed out into a deep 5 hour nap shortly after we got home and ate and showered. During that time, my boyfriend brought his cat Yoda (only a month younger than Marco and Marco’s former roommate- more on this later;)), back home after Yoda was staying with his parents while my boyfriend was in Florida for the past two weeks. He told me later that everyone sniffed each other and proceeded with establishing the hierarchy of the house. Apparently Marco hissed at Yoda and Yoda hissed at Cairo. So there you have it. Cairo is the youngest at 8 months. Marco is just over 2 years old and so is Yoda.

This week the cats have really come into their own and seem very happy. Everyone is getting along great and playing. Marco loves that he figured out Yoda’s cat door to the patio likes to spend time out there. They all seem to have their favorite “spots” in each room. They love the fresh air when we have the windows open. They are still my little shadows and like to follow us into the rooms where we are hanging out. They like to sleep in bed and cuddle.

Overall, this travel experience to Austria has been a success. It was a hard and long day for us all but I’m glad we are all here together and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

 

Moving Day!

Sunday, May 14-

Just a quick post today as I am in the midst of doing last minute packing and getting ready to leave. I cannot believe the day is finally here! The day when I leave with my boyfriend and two kitties for our flight to Austria. It’s been two whirlwind weeks filled with saying goodbye to friends & family, getting in some last minute beach time and other things I enjoy locally. Then there was the whole saga with getting the cat’s health certificates. (FYI- I’m planning on doing a separate post about how to do this for those of you thinking about travelling with your pets). As we spend today packing up and doing last minute things, I feel as if I’m just moving through the motions. It’s been a challenge for me to fully soak in the weight of this move, even if it isn’t necessarily permanent. Every aspect of my life is going to change and I thought that I would be having trouble processing it and would be more emotionally strung out. However, the pace of the last couple weeks has been very fast and I haven’t been able to spend much time examining the emotions. I’m sure that will all hit me pretty hard once I’m in my new life. For now, it’s time to get ready and enjoy this last (half) day in Florida until August when we return for a couple weeks. Pictures to come!

“Life is either a great adventure or nothing.”- Helen Keller