Strange & Interesting Things About Austria

I’ve been wanting to do this post for a while now, pointing out strange and interesting customs and things I’ve noticed during my time here in Austria.

  1. Saturday alarm. So every Saturday, in apparently all of Austria, at 12:00 noon, there is an alarm that goes off in every town. I have yet to record the sound of this alarm yet because we are usually out and about doing something and I either don’t have my phone to record it or we are up on the mountain and can’t hear it very well. It sounds like a bomb alarm or a sound telling you to take cover. It’s a bit scary at first when you don’t know what it is. My boyfriend took advantage of this fact when I first heard the alarm. I was in one room, asking what the heck is that alarm?! and he comes running in saying, grab your stuff, we have to get out of here!!! I’m like WHAT?!!?! I became suspicious before he broke cover and started laughing but it was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard of.
  2. Grocery Stores Part 1. There are no complementary bags for things you purchase at the grocery store like in America. You need to either bring your own bag(s) or purchase a bag at the checkout line before buying your food so that you have something to put your stuff in before leaving the store. Unless you want to look like an idiot like I did the other day, trying to balance 15 odd shaped items in your arms while walking out to your car.
  3. Grocery Stores Part 2. Shopping carts require a “deposit”in order to check one out.  When you walk into the store and you see the grocery carts all waiting there ready to be used and assist you in your shopping, they are actually locked. You need to place a coin in the appropriate slot in order to release the cart and use it.  The coin then stays in the cart and you can get it back when you return the cart. Gee, thanks.
  4. Cash. Most transactions here are done in cash. It is very very common to go into a store or restaurant here and find that you are not able to pay with any type of card, credit or debit. I’ve been in a few situations here where I’ve been stuck and embarrassed because I don’t have enough euros on me to purchase a drink or some souvenirs. To be safe, when traveling Europe always make sure you have enough cash to cover everything.
  5. Lederhosen and Dirndles. Yes, they still wear them. It’s pretty cute. I like when I see places sticking to their traditions and customs. Usually these clothing items are worn at events such as weddings, parties, festivals or holiday events. However, I do see more people wearing them around Salzburg pretty frequently. Of course the workers in the tourism industry wear them pretty much all the time for work, for examples, staff at hotels, museums and restaurants. Some people also wear them to work or just out on the weekends, depending on the job and the person. This past week there was a holiday on Thursday. There was a parade in Muhlbach, as I think was the case in most towns and villages. Everyone wears their traditional garb to these types of things. Check out these fashionable little guys below. Apparently each town also has slight differences or their own customs when it comes to the traditional wear, whether it be colors or hats.

Well, that’s all for now but I will definitely be adding to this list as the weirdness definitely continues.  For now, I’ve learned that customer service here is pretty dismal. They definitely don’t make it easy for the customer. From what I’ve found, the businesses here get away with being able to nickel and dime the customer for everything. I was at McDonalds yesterday (I know, embarrassing but I wanted a coffee and an egg sandwich, without struggle, what can I say) and after I purchased my breakfast, I asked if there was ketchup. She said, yes but it’s 30 cents. Okay….. no thanks. I also witnessed the woman in front of me in line, after she received her meal, grab a Nutella packet from what appeared like the “help yourself area” where the coffee items were, etc. However, the cashier lady was very quick to come over and say that the Nutella packet was actually 50 cents so she would have to purchase it. Seriously?

Training for Kumpellauf!

What the heck is that, you ask?! Kumpellauf literally means “buddy run” in German and is a 26 kilometer trail run held annually in Muhlbach. This year it will be on June 24th. For my fellow Americans, 26 kilometers is approximately 16 miles. It’s called “buddy run” because it is set up as a relay race, comprised of six sections and five transition zones, one in between each section. After each section, you have the opportunity to switch “buddies” and the next person in your relay team completes the next section(s).

A few months ago, before coming to Austria,  I decided that I wanted to train for something big. I missed having that major fitness goal in my life, the long and difficult training, the excitement of race morning, the feeling of finally being able to just relax and take a nap after those long days of physical activity. More importantly, the feeling of accomplishment after reaching the end goal. Turns out, to no surprise, my boyfriend felt the same way so we decided to train for a big event together.  Since I knew we were coming to Austria soon and also of the Kumpellauf race held every summer, we agreed to make that our first goal.

Now, after having completed the entire course in training, I have to say that each section is very different from the next and the run itself is a whole new ball game, unlike any running I’ve done before. The race takes you around the town of Muhlbach up and down the mountains. It is challenging. The terrain is difficult and technical. The scenery is amazing. Check out the website here: https://www.kumpellauf.com/de/.

The course:

The course is six sections and you begin in a different place than you end up. The start is at the trailhead beginning at Arthurhaus and the end is the copper museum down in the town of Muhlbach. There are no out and backs or loops, nor do you cover the same footsteps twice. It’s a journey of many terrains, a lot of concentration, sufficient energy and fuel and some strong ass legs.

Section one starts out mild. It’s a wider trail of dirt and  scattered rocks, large and small, relatively flat, traversing west along the middle edge of the mountain range Hochkoening. A lot of people hike this portion, or better yet walk, because it starts right at the parking lot for Arthurhaus and like I said, is relatively flat. You continue on and the trail gets a bit more technical. It narrows significantly and you start to get into more roots and forest. You also get to pass a lot of farm area and there are many cows to say hello to. This track eventually takes you to some beautiful waterfalls as you end up in a lower valley section where you need to cross over some rock beds. The end of section one is killer. I think this is the hardest part of the race. This is your first taste of going uphill and it’s pretty steep. In addition, it’s super technical. You are significantly warmed up at this point which is good, but you still have to take those calculated steps in order to get up and around big rocks and roots. Luckily, while it seems to take forever, this last section isn’t terribly long, maybe about a half to three fourths of a mile. After running up yet, you reach the Vier Hutten “four huts” which are four small alms scattered close together. This is the transition to section two.

Section two is pretty nice. Starting out relatively flat, you are again traversing around the curve of the mountain range Hochkoening and heading west. The track is brownish red dirt, single track, with a few rocks scattered. You’re surrounded by mostly high bushes, no forest. You look up to your right and sometimes in front of you and look directly at the Hochkoening and all the peaks, including the one on which is Mattrashaus, an octagonal built on the literal top of the highest peak of the Hochkoening mountain. Don’t look up too long because you really need to watch your step here. You end up crossing several rock beds, I’m talking huge boulders that flowed down like a sea from the top. What happens is the water, melted ice from the glaciers, gets stuck in the rocks that form the mountain range and in the Winter, when the water freezes and expands it cracks the rocks. They all come tumblin’ down and you’re running across what seems like a river of rocks. About half way through section two you need to make a left turn to go further down the hill and start heading south. My boyfriend got us lost a few times because he couldn’t remember where we cut off from the main trail that we were on but need to get off for the race. You feel like you could tumble downhill because ht trail is pretty non-existent, you end up making your own trail through the thick grass of some farmer’s field. Eventually you end up back on a dirt wide trail through the lower forest, again heading down hill and south. AT the end of Section two is a pretty steep downhill section that seems like a relief but is also a preview as to how deceiving downhill can actually be. Your quads and knees are burning as you try to not get carried away with momentum and fly down the hill since you’re likely to trip or worse. The last part of section two has you crossing the main road and getting to the other side for sections three, four, five and most of six.

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Section Two, traversing along base of Hochkoenig

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Section Two, meeting a family of horses along the course

Section three has you running through what I call is “Twisted Ankle Row.” It’s not really a trial but just a  barely worn track of grass running along a fence in a big flat farm on really thick grass and dirt sections, which most of the time is  broken up by what seems like a heard of animals running through in the mud. If you take the wrong step, your foot can dip down into a chopped up section and you’re screwed. This past weekend I tripped over some wood boards that had been laid down over a section prone to muddiness and fell down into the mud and got scraped up. Luckily I didn’t twist or hurt anything. The last eighty percent of section three is uphill. Just uphill. Slow, shuffling, uphill. You’re on a very wide gravel road that in the winter is a ski slope. Gradual, hairpin turns, slowly making your way up the mountain. You arrive at the relative top of the slope, just below the Gondola station. You get a really good view from here as you are able to see both where you began and where you will end up.

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Meeting some goats 

Section four is back to a technical track traversing the mountain. It’s single track again, more roots, dirt and forest than rocks and boulders. You continue on through the forest past small waterfalls and vistas. The second part of section four you end up on a wider gravel trail and then on to more single track trails. You are now on the other side of Muhlbach, behind the hill where we live. I like it back there, it’s quiet, not much going on but still very beautiful and wide open farms. There are some alms back there but not as many.

Section five is again back uphill, the entire way. It’s a wide gravel and dirt road, similar to section three but it’s more forested and shady. Also, you’re not on a ski slope but on an actual road. I like this portion because of the shade. Just when you think you can’t go any more uphill, you reach the flattened portion and it’s about a mile more to Pronebenalm but on a relatively flat gravel road again. This portion is nice because you know that the uphill part of the race is pretty much over (except for a small part at the end). You end up a Pronebenalm and see the animals and people having lunch and just enjoying a nice day out on the mountain. Check out Pronebenalm and Gut here: http://www.proneben.at/proneben-alm/die-alm/

Section six is pretty much all downhill. A mix of single track, difficult and technical trail down the hill from Pronebenalm. it’s very forested which is nice because of the beauty and shade but still difficult because there are a lot of muddy sections where there is again pieces of wood laid out for you to walk on. It’s also very technical due to the tree roots and the fact that you have momentum going downhill and cannot miss a step.  You end up traversing through a farmer’s field and there I have seen the biggest anthills known to man. They are huge piles of what looks like thin mulch with big black ants crawling all over. You need to get through here quick as it seems these ant hills are everywhere! You end up coming down to Paussbauer Alm and say hello to the animals there and weekenders having lunch and hanging out. From there you are on a road, traversing down the hill back into Muhlbach. This portion seems easy but towards the end of the hill your knees and quads are again hurting due to the downhill running. Once in Muhlbach, you take the small trail that runs along the ravine and behind all the houses and then cross over into the middle of town where you have the last uphill run. I’t sonly a short uphill portion but takes you into the old copper mine and you get to run through the mine. I have yet to do this part because ht mine door is usually closed but I hear it will be very cold in there and dark! I’m looking forward to checking it out. After you come out of the mine, you’re practically at the finish line as you make your way towards the copper museum in town.

The training:

We started training pretty much as soon as we arrived in Austria some weeks ago. That is, as soon as I was able to get my mountain legs, which admittedly took a few practice runs and a day or two of being extremely sore. We began by starting at the beginning. Obviously.  Section One. We had actually run this section before many times as it, and consequently the race, starts at Arthurhaus, a mountain resort at the base of Hochkoening. We would typically drive up there and start the trail and run to the waterfalls and back, which in total was probably a three mile run. the thing with the training was that if we completed one section, we were  not close to where we live, so we had to get a ride or get picked up at the start or end, depending on the section we were doing. After running on section one and then another day one and two, we were ready to move on to section three. We parked at the top and did one through three and his mom picked us up at the end. Another weekend we were able to walk to the gondola station and take the gondola up to the top, which is near the transition zone from section three to four. From there we began on section four and completed the remainder of the race from that point.

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Section Five; Hochkoening in the background and Muhlbach down there in the valley. We began that day (and the race beings) basically where my left shoulder is 🙂

Last Sunday, we completed the (almost) entire course. I say almost because the last couple kilometers of this race are back uphill through town and through an old copper mine. The mine is normally always closed so we couldn’t do this portion anyways.We have a week left of training until the big day. We are confident and excited about the race, now that we completed it and know it’s possible, albeit painful and exhausting. I love that we can train for something like this together and we have the discipline and wherewithal to get through it. I’m aware that not everyone can do this sort of thing, but I’m also aware that people do way crazier stuff. (For example, this insanity was held last weekend: https://www.hochkoenigman.at/en/.) I’m so appreciative that I am able to train and participate in this race in this beautiful town and truly enjoy the challenges and beauty of this alpine landscape!

I’ll be sure to update everyone after the race with all the scoop and pictures!