Or as the locals are wont to call it, Almabtrieb!
It is established that I have a fondness for the Moo, and that most thankfully Tony indulges me. He knows how to stop safely on a €0,10 piece because I have spotted the bovine beauties against a gorgeous alpine backdrop and must snap whenever we are out in cow territory. This being September, the two main activities across much of western Austria are harvest festivals (translation: wine-drinking ops) and Almabtrieb, the festivals celebrating a safe livestock summer in the high alpine pastures. The livestock, mainly cows are richly decorated and driven down through their home villages. In the villages, plenty of food, entertainment, and always, adult beverages to keep the cow-watchers content until the catwalks begin. To not indulge in one or the other event would be just wrong.
This was our third Almabtrieb, and I have to write that like fine wine, these events improve with time. Just as one might stake out a prime space for the American Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we Tony held a spot in Reith in Alpbachtal for our first event while Anna Grace and I roamed about the extensive farmers and artisans markets until the cows came home. Spectacular! we declared it. Last year we hiked up to an alm in St. Wolfgang to wait for the cows, who brushed me as they passed like the celebrities they are, and the paparazzi I was with my Canon clicking away. CTF came along for this event, and sang along in his Foxhound voice while the cowbells clanged. We did not think we could top that sunny Saturday in the Salzkammergut.
Fast forward to this past weekend. Anna Grace was not even hiding her excitement that Tony and I would leave her (and her study-buddy CTF) in peace and quiet for three entire days to stay afloat of the senior year IB workload and college application crush while we pointed the wagon west toward Tirol. And the cows.
The Friday departure dawned sunny, but we watched the Tirol forecast with consternation. At our destination, sun and 25C for our arrival was the forecast; the overnight forecast, though, loomed ominous with a drop to 6C overnight and RAIN for Saturday, when the 150+ cows would come home. With our Gasthaus apartment paid for and non-cancellable we headed out, fingers crossed.
We stopped for a longer-than-we-should-have lunch at the Mondsee rest station, soaking in the sun and the alpine air, and reached our cuter-than-cute apartment in the Gasthaus in the mid-afternoon.
Spectacular scenery along the drive.
The proprietor, upon welcoming us cautioned, “I know you’re here to see the cows, but the rain may come tomorrow and ruin the decorations.” She hastily checked us in and printed our access cards to the gondola so we could enjoy an hour or so atop the local mountain before the rain came, and reminded us that the grocer in this town of 950 people closed at 1800.
Needless to write, the views from atop Schatzberg were spectacular, and we could see the rain clouds forming in the near. We caught one of the last gondolas down to the valley and hurried to the grocer for a few breakfast provisions.
One can rent this sleeps-24-persons Hütte atop Schatzberg. I think I would feel rather stranded there at night.
In another first for me, I opened my eyes on the gondola ride into the valley!
The “grocer” in our little town was rather sad, and the wine section sadder, which surprised us given that the area is popular with skiers and sprinkled with guest apartments. The store did not even have a meat section!
Though it did have a 2-CD set of “32 Deutsch Country & Trucker Hits” (impulse purchase at the checkout, naturally.)
Dinner on this evening was at the hotel restaurant adjacent to our apartment, and it was the place to be. Except, not after 2000. While we had been faffing about the mountain top several tour buses had arrived, disgorging their pensioner travelers at said hotel. All told, there would be 17 tour buses parked in this little village by the morning, with many other visitors arriving by the local shuttles to ooh and aah over the Moo.
We walked the thirty steps to the restaurant for dinner around 1930 and the salad bar was in the process of being closed for the evening! The staff, I will write, thankfully did not rush us through our evening of an entire bottle of wine (!); amazing grilled Forelle; and a shared Mohn Germknodel, though we were among the last guests to depart the restaurant. At 2100.
Not just the Heavenly Father, but the entire Holy Family joined us for dinner.
Perhaps it was the wine thinking for me, but I decided we should sleep with both balcony doors entirely open for the night. My rationale was that the tinkling of the goat’s bells from the farm across the street would be a lullaby. Around 0230 I woke up convinced I had frozen to death, and subsequently woke Tony to close the doors. The next thing we knew it was 0700. The rain had fallen overnight. And the morning skies were dry!
We lounged over breakfast in the apartment, watching tour bus after tour bus after tour bus drop more and more people into the town. Our proprietor was excited, “Go enjoy the festival and we will keep a space for you!” as the cow parade would pass right along the Gasthaus. So we donned our Trachten and indulged in a little Frühshoppen and some market shopping before taking our reserved, front row seats for Fashion Week.
He takes his Frühshoppen seriously.
These festivals all have certain commonalities. There will be Sausage and Semmel; brandies and liquors made of anything and everything; Bergkäse, an alpine epicurean elixir; woodworking; and of course, cow bells.
Oh, look. A new goat bell for my collection.
Sorry, wrong country, and wrong event.
Sorry. Wrong everything.
The town pastry artists were hard at work, churning out Wildschönau Krapfen to meet the demands of festival goers.
They tasted as delectable as they look.
And there will be Trachten.
Who doesn’t love a man in Lederhosen?
For nearly two hours, families drove their cattle into the village every 20 minutes or so. To keep us all entertained and amused in between, the adjacent hotel had set up the grills and the beer taps, with a local Dirndl-ed Damen conducting the band.
We sat at the hotel table for lunch. How would you like your pork? With bread and mustard? Potato salad? On a roll? Roasted, perhaps? No beef on the grill today, obvs.
Like the divas they are, the cows strutted their stuff along our street.
How fun to see little girls herding cattle ten times their size!
Local traffic was not restricted during the Almabtrieb, as this DHL driver discovered when one herd diverted to head to their barn!
Antics! Rogue cows!
And then it was over, save for the cow patty-marred street. The cows had come safely home. We ventured out to the neighboring town for things to nosh with food we had collected from the market for dinner, and found ourselves in our own cow jam as one of the last herds was heading to their pasture!
That evening Tony and I settled in with dinner and watched Michigan wallop Nebraska in college football (the Apple TV travels with us…) and on Sunday the brooding skies bid us Auf Wiedersehen as we pointed the wagon home.