Not Austria Day One

The Rotmoos Valley in Obergurgl

Dear Readers, for the past fifteen years (roughly) we have headed to Obergurgl in the Austrian Alps for two weeks at the beginning of July. It has always been such a pleasure, not just because of the clean air and the mountain vistas, but because the short season means that the flower meadows are extraordinarily diverse in plants and in invertebrates.However, this year what with all the Covid-19 shenanigans, I will be staying here in East Finchley instead. This is not such a hardship: when we do go away, I always have the sense that, when we come back, the decline into autumn is already advanced, even though it’s only mid July. This year, I’ll be able to experience the changes first hand, and indeed they’ve already started – there is a hazy, lazy feeling to most of the birds, though there is a male sparrow who is heavily into provisioning for his family (I am reminded that females prefer males who look after their families, and this little guy is extremely busy, diving in even when the young starlings are at their spikiest.I am wondering, though, what this squirrel is up to. He slinked along the fence as if he was tracking something, but I have no idea what. Every time I looked up he’d freeze, as if playing some version of ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf’.And there are hoverflies everywhere. I think my yellow dress might have attracted them. Certainly, every time I looked up there was a hoverfly a couple of inches from my knee. A more useful attractant, though, has been the meadowsweet which is just coming into flower, and seems to be a magnet for the smaller, less conspicuous members of the family.

I’m not sure if this dress is yellow enough. What do you think?

And in other good news, my great willowherb, the buds of which have been infested by moth larvae for the past few years, seem to be fine. I’ve pulled a lot of it up to make room for the meadowsweet and some angelica, but I like to keep a bit of it because it’s very popular with all sorts of invertebrates. Plus, how pretty it is!

Greater Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

But anyway, back to Austria. On arrival in Obergurgl (which involves a taxi to Heathrow (or a train to Gatwick), a flight into the Category Four airport at Innsbruck after a bumpy landing between the mountains, a wait at Innsbruck for people on another plane that have been delayed, and an hour and forty minute drive along switch-back roads) we fall into the restaurant at the Hotel Weisenthal and I beg for a Hugo. This is a long drink made with prosecco (or fizzy water) (or a combination of both), elderflower cordial, mint and lime, and this is when I know that the holiday has started. I note that some people also add gin, but this makes it all a bit too alcoholic and heavy for my tastes.The Hugo was apparently only invented in 2005 in the Italian town of Naturno by bartender Roland Gruber, but from there it spread through South Tyrol at a rate of knots, as an alternative to the Spritz (white wine and soda) which was all the rage back when i first visited in the 1990’s. Originally it included lemon balm syrup, but this was replaced with elderflower because this is much more readily available. Apparently Herr Gruber initally thought of calling it the ‘Otto’, but he decided that ‘Hugo’ was a bit more international.The first few nights in Obergurgl are already likely to involve a lot of wakefulness and strange dreams – I think it takes a while to acclimatise, even though the altitude is only 2000 metres. I certainly experience breathlessness at the beginning of the holiday, which is always a cue to take things easy at first. A Hugo seems to help just a little with the insomnia (that’s my excuse anyway). At least we won’t be having these problems in East Finchley (though I could probably simulate them by walking briskly up and down the stairs until I feel light-headed). I think I’ll just stick to the Hugo.Prost!

11 thoughts on “Not Austria Day One

  1. Gibson Square

    When I was in the scouts (many years ago) we went climbing using Obergurgl as our base. Clear streams, a glacier to transverse and beautiful alpine flowers.

    1. Bug Woman

      I first went to Obergurgl in the 1990’s and there’s been a lot of development in the village itself, but fortunately the streams and flowers are still there! The glaciers have retreated a long, long way even in the time that I’ve been visiting, however, and a lot of the glacier crossings are now no longer safe 🙁

      1. Gibson Square

        We would climb up, staying in a mountain hut overnight and go out on the glacier at first light. Unfortunately as there was no plumbing at 10,000ft the toilet was perched over another glacier 60ft below!

    1. Bug Woman

      It’s the highest parish in Austria, but pretty feeble compared to, say, the Himalayas or the Andes. However, I was going to say the Jungfraujoch, but that is only 3466 metres, so not much higher!

      1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

        Yes, I looked that up. But I think you meant 2,000m (or just under according to Wiki). That puts it on a par with Arolla, just up the road from us, so I can see why you were a little breathless when you arrived. As you say it’s not high compared to the Himalaya, but high enough for Europe. All you need now is some oompah music and cow bells and you’re away… 😊
        Try this: or this: (Classic!?)

      2. Bug Woman

        Ah yes, you’re right. The highest bits are about 3000 metres but that would be some of the highest mountain huts, like the one at Hochgurgl (3080 metres).

  2. sllgatsby

    Your title reminds me of a poem I first read in 1991, in which the poet is consoling himself about not being able to travel that year:


    How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
    wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
    How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
    fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
    and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

    There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
    domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
    of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
    No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon’s
    little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

    How much better to command the simple precinct of home
    than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
    Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
    Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
    eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

    Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
    I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
    known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
    paper, all language barriers down,
    rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

    And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
    willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
    I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
    what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
    It is enough to climb back into the car

    as if it were the great car of English itself
    and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
    down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

    Billy Collins


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