Later this month, I’m off to Italy to review trains on behalf of Trenitalia and Trainline Europe, but I shall also be making a brief detour north of the border into Austria. I first visited at the tender age of nine months and since then it’s remained one of my favourite countries for a summertime visit. One of my most treasured memories is from a trip I took with my golden retriever Einstein a few years ago. The Pet Passport Scheme has made taking a pet abroad a simple and easy process. So long as I pack his favourite soft toy, Einstein happily travels in the boot of the car and loves nothing better than to give customs officials a surprise when they open up the tailgate to check what they expect to be luggage.
Here’s what happened when Einstein and I decided to take to the hills…
There was no way either of us was walking up.
Both of us were far too lazy for that, so I’d decided on the gondola. It was located up a gravel track, steep enough to confirm that the decision was a correct one. He looked at me expectantly, checking to make sure I wasn’t going to change my mind and demand that we walk to the top. I looked up the mountain and then at him and then climbed the few steps to the ticket office.
“Ein und ein Hund, bitte.” That was about as far as my German went (grammatically appalling I expect) but taking a dog on a gondola was common practice here and the woman slid me my ticket without comment.
Inside, we hit a snag. The gondola couldn’t stop and the dog wouldn’t move. Einstein was having none of it, digging his back paws firmly into the ground and refusing to go near the terrifying machine with its hum and its swing. Lifting him was not an option; he’s 32kg of solid golden retriever. After several aborted attempts, we managed to board, me first and Einstein preferring to jump into the unknown than remain behind without me.
This walking business was tougher than we thought.
At the upper station, we got off with somewhat less drama and took off at a slight run in the direction of down. Unfortunately, the path passed within a couple of feet of a toboggan run and a couple of kids flew past us, screaming and laughing. Slothful Einstein sensed his chance to speed our return to the village cafe where we’d both enjoyed a splendid Austrian breakfast, and dragged me forward in an attempt to slide down the mountain instead of walk. I yanked hard on his lead and disaster was averted.
Once we actually got into a proper routine, the walk down the meadow and along the mountain stream was really rather pleasant. From time to time, we’d pause to admire the view of the Wilder Kaiser in front of us. Stray clouds caught on craggy summit ridges. Geranium-adorned chalets peaked out from behind pine tree plantations down in the valley.
This area, in the Austrian Tirol, is one of my favourite. I’ve been walking in these mountains, off and on, since I was four years old. In the early days, I remember walks with my younger sister, a lot of cows and bellowing thunder – or was that a lot of thunder and bellowing cows? We got wet, she got chased, that I do remember. Later, as a student, I took Wilder walks, (that’s vill-der, not wild-er) and watched the cows being herded down to the village complete with flower-adorned headdresses for the annual Alm Festival. I always feel calm on these pastures, totally relaxed, breathing in the crisp mountain air and letting the freedom envelope the whole of my being.
That day, the sun shone on Einy and I, but the mountain stream was still icy cold and perfect for soaking tired paws as we trundled downhill. I chattered, he listened, ambling beside me obediently unless he saw a squirrel or a bird or a hiker. Aside from the odd cattle grid, always problematic, the walk passed without further incident and, down in the valley, we reached the main road.
Where was the village?
“Oh, bugger, Einstein. The village has moved. Not sure the last part of our walk is going to be as scenic…”
Yes, this walking business was tougher than we thought, I decided, as we finished our walk along hard pavements. But if you have to tough it out, then tough it out with the Wilder Kaiser in front of you, I’d say.
And so would Einstein, if he could talk.