Our Austrian Adventure- Part 1

Sadly, I still haven’t found my camera but I still had loads of fun on our trip and I thought it was worth sharing a few things with you!  You can see what pictures I do have on my flickr account here.

Austria is a beautiful country and even though it was never high on my list of places to visit- it’s definitely on my list of places I’d love to go back to one day.   Other than losing my camera in Munich in the last hours of the trip, it was a fantastic trip.

I must say it started well- I had Shake Shack and got to visit the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai.  Jack, one of The Runner’s triathlon friends flies A LOT for work, and we were on the same flight to Munich so he was able to sneak me in.  I’m not sure which was more exciting for me.  I love Shake Shack, and the luxury and joy of being able to shower and change clothes during a long haul flight—priceless!  (The burger I later learned was $15… Damn you exchange rates!!!) So, it was pretty much the ideal long haul stop over experience.  (This was not the same on the way back—sadly we were back with the plebs, but I did have a burger AND a shake so…..it wasn’t all bad!

We arrived in Munich and luckily The Runner’s bike arrived too.  I had been trusted as a bike courier for Gary’s precious TT bike.  He may love the bike more than he loves me, so I was a bit nervous that it would show up mangled or crushed, or even worse not turn up at all.  Luckily, it arrived, safe and intact and in Munich.  Unfortunately, our friend Jack was not as lucky.  His bike was in Bangkok.  He was not happy.   He was not the only one but luckily Emirates put the bikes on the next flight and it arrived early the next morning.

In some ways, it was fortunate that we only had one bike to transport because when we collected our car- a Mercedes C Class Station Wagon (or Estate if you’re in Europe), it was clear that 3 people, 2 bikes and 6 bags would have been a bit of a squeeze.  Actually, it was very clear that one of us would have been dropped at the train station and sent on their way.  The Runner never did clarify which one of us it would be…

The trip from Munich to Zell Am See was beautiful- it was hills and mountains and bigger mountains and alpine towns.  It looked like something out of a postcard.  It was just stunning.   Everything I had hoped for in the Alps and more!  Driving on the Autobahn or Autostrasse is no joke!   It gave me a new respect for just how good German engineering is.   At first I was surprised that there were hardly any Toyotas or Fords or Peugeots on the road, but when you think about the German domestic car manufacturers (BMW, Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes), it’s pretty obvious why most Germans would support their homegrown producers.  I thought the Autobahn would be mayhem, but it really wasn’t.   I mean, it is a bit crazy when you’re going 140 km/h and a BMW M5 or Audi TT goes screaming past at about 170 km/h.  But people seem to know how to drive and they make it work.   One eye opening thing about German and Austrian roads is their rest stops, they’re quite nice but….. well, you have to pay to use the facilities.  In other words, you have to pay to pee.  And it’s not an honour system either, they have tickets and turnstiles and well, yeah.  But don’t worry, if you don’t have change, they take credit and debit cards.

Zell Am See is absolutely stunning.  It’s a ski resort in the winter, but in sunny, warm 30 degree (Celsius) weather, it was hard to imagine what it would be like in winter.   From what we heard, it is just as gorgeous in the winter as in the summer.  I’d love to go back and see for myself.  There were still some ski lifts running to take you up to mountain, but we didn’t decide to go up- we had bigger fish to fry but more on that in a second.

The atmosphere in Zell Am See was pretty amazing.  There were so many really fit people but beyond that there were so many nationalities represented there.  Everywhere you turned you could hear a different language.  Interestingly, the largest international contingent was actually from the US- there were 657 Americans in the race.   And we weren’t the only ones who had made the long journey from Australia- there were 250 Australians in the race as well!

All the way here, just to see Australians!
All the way here, just to see Australians!

I was shocked.  We didn’t do a lot of pre-race Ironman related activities, of course there was the obligatory cycle/drive of the bike course….Jack and The Runner went off on their bikes, and I followed in the car—except for when I took a wrong turn and wound up….somewhere in Austria.  Somewhere with little mobile reception and not enough German to ask anyone how to get to where I was going…wherever that was!  It all worked out in the end and I wound up seeing amazing scenery and gorgeous little towns like Maria Alm (We were told by a local that Maria Alm had won prettiest town to Austria- he may have been the head of the Maria Alm tourist bureau.)

The day before the race we did the Grossglockner or High Alpine Road, a twisting and turning road that takes you up to Austria’s highest points. (The bigger fish I was referring to!)  It is well worth the price of admission but it’s not for the faint of heart.  There are steep climbs, narrow roads, hairpin turns and a long long long drop if you make any mistakes.  The view from the top (or where we thought was the top) was breathtaking.  It was one of the most awe inspiring places I’ve been.  A place where you realise how beautiful the planet is and how many different terrains and landscapes there are in the world.  It left me speechless.

Race Day was good- it was hot.  Very hot.  Very Very hot.  The Runner had a good race, despite the heat and he even managed to give me a kiss in the finishing chute.  He got a medal which is massive and a t shirt he’s been wearing with pride.  The best part was that his whole family got to see him compete and to share a part of our life that they had never witnessed before.  I think they were pretty impressed with his efforts and I had a great time hanging out with them for the day around Zell Am See.

The day after the race The Runner, Jack and I went to Salzburg.   We vetoed going to the Ice Caves on the way (it would have been 0 degrees in there!) and went to a medieval fortress/castle/town in Werfen instead which was pretty cool.  We finally arrived in Salzburg and visited the Dom Quartier in the centre of Salzburg and the Hochensalzburg Castle.  We had the obligatory post-race McDonalds (obligatory for two triathletes not for me)- I did manage to try the Chicken Big Mac—it was kind of tasty.  A mix between a Big Mac and Chicken Nuggets.  I have to say I’m a fan.  It’s great for indecisive people like me.   From there we went to Hellbrun Palace in Schlosspark and the Trick Fountains there.  It was definitely one of the highlights of Salzburg for me. The trick fountains were really fun especially on a hot day.  They are over 200 years old and were designed by someone with a devious sense of humour.  The fountains are designed to surprise (and soak guests).  Luckily we didn’t get too wet, but it was fun – like running through a sprinkler on a summer day as a kid.  The Hellbrun Palace is also famous as part of the Sound of Music was filmed there.  Not being a big SoM fan, I skipped that part of the grounds.  I would love to go back and see more of Salzburg one day, we were only there for a few hours and there was a lot that we didn’t get to see.  I’d also love to go back and actually eat something other than McDonald’s there.  They have a load of chocolatiers and cafés that we didn’t get to try.

We had a lovely day in Salzburg but then headed back to Zell Am See for our last night there.  The next day we headed to Vienna……. OH Vienna……….

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The view from the High Alpine Road.
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News flash: Austrians like beer….a lot. And you can buy it from the grocery store….
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Ducks- Austrians and Germans LOVE them and I sort of collect them….
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The biggest race medal I’ve ever seen!
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Salzburg Square
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From inside the fortress at Werfern
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One of the drier rooms of the trick fountains…
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Inside Schonbronn’s music room
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The Sound of Music was filmed on the grounds somewhere…

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It’s Race Day!

Still 5 hours to swim start but if you want to track Gary’s race progress today.... Here you go and if you want his real time, GPS location, you can track him here (it only works for the race not all the time!)  On the second map, you will need to put his bib number in (1731). 
He starts at 10:58am Austrian time, which is 9:58am in Ireland, 6:58pm in Sydney, or 4:58am for the US east coast! I’ll also do my best to keep the updates coming both here and on the He Runs, I Cook Facebook page– (like it if you haven’t yet!)

Click here to see live race updates!

  

Road trip… Did someone say mountains?

We made it to Zell Am See thanks to The Runner’s excellent driving and trusty German roads and engineering!  The autobahn is pretty cool… And Mercedes Benz does make a pretty good car…. 

I did very little to help other than take pictures from the passenger side of mountains…. So many mountains!!!!
But we made it!   And we even picked up a new little buddy for our collection at home.  His name is Hans D. Ente.  (Ente is German for duck!)

And now for the official start of our Austrian adventure! 

    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 

Let the adventure begin!

On my way to the airport and we’ve already passed the first hurdle…. The bike fits in the Uber car…. Just!!

Fingers crossed the luggage gods smile upon me and I’m under my 30kg allowance…otherwise it’s $100 per kg and I’ll have to wear layers onto the plane!   
   

The Final Countdown…

Fun Fact:  The Final Countdown is a song by 80s group Europe.

(sorry if you actually clicked the link and watched the video, it’s not a great song or video unless you’re into 1980s hair bands and men with leather pants and makeup).

Fun Fact #2:  The Runner leaves on Thursday for Europe where he will compete in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Austria

Super Fun Fact:  I’m going with him

I’m excited because I’ve never been to Austria or Germany, and to be honest, I would never have put Austria on my list of places I’m dying to go. No offence to any Austrians who are reading this but if this opportunity hadn’t come up, I don’t think I would ever have planned a trip there.  But now that it’s less than 2 weeks away, I’m getting really excited to see the country and already feeling like we’re not going to be there long enough.  There is a lot to see- castles, palaces, natural wonders, art museums, musical attractions, you name it…. but we’re going there for the triathlon.  The Half Ironman (or 70.3 if you’re in the know) World Championships are being held in Zell Am See, Austria and that’s where we’re off to.

**You may remember that The Runner qualified for them back in December last year, if not, well you know now!

Obviously, I’m proud and excited to see The Runner competing in the triathlon itself- it’s a huge achievement to qualify for the World Championships of anything let alone an individual sport like triathlon that pushes your body to its limits.  I mean, I thought I deserved a medal for walking/running the City to Surf last week and I didn’t even finish in the top half of competitors!  (Actually, I did get a medal, but everyone did so….)

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Anyway– qualifying for the World Championships – and in a sport that requires 5-6 hours of exercise at once, well, to me that’s just off the charts!  He’s been preparing for it for months and I’m excited to see how well he does.  It seems like it was not too long ago that I accompanied him to his first triathlon up in Maitland, NSW (near the Hunter Valley- my main reason for going).  In fact, it was 5 years ago and much has changed since then.

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He’s come a long way and Austria really will be the culmination of years of effort and training on his part.  Austria will also be the first time his family gets to see him compete-and I’m thrilled that they’ll finally get to see him—especially on such a big stage.  A big downside of living so far away is that our families often miss the medium sized events—the things not important enough to come visit for, but that are big events for us nonetheless.  It will be great for them to be finally see him race in person– especially since this is SUCH a big race.

I’m also excited to see what a World Championship race is like.  We’ve been to so many races over the last 5 years of so many different sizes and varieties, that I’m excited to see what this one is like.   We’ve been to races like Maitland where there’s barely anything (or anyone there) and others (like Noosa) which are full blown multisport festivals with lots of sponsors, lots of people, television cameras and a whole city full of triathletes.  I’m expecting Zell Am See to be next level.    First of all, there are 12,000 age groupers (every day competitors) competing on the Saturday before the big race on the Sunday.  The Sunday race is the one you had to qualify for.  So, there will be about 14,000 athletes  and their supporters, sponsors, and other curious onlookers.  You have guess there could be 50,000 people there over the weekend- which is a lot.  Now I don’t know a lot about Zell Am See, in fact 12 months ago I had never heard of it, but 50,000 people sounds like a lot.  According to Wikipedia, the town of Zell Am See has a population of 9,573; so, 50,000 triathlon related people will be pretty noticeable.  I’m predicting a lot of shaved legs (on the men), ironman calf tattoos (also on the men), and a lot of talk about nutrition, transition, and lots of other –itions.   But I’m excited to see the spectacle—and I’m excited to see an Alp….

Actually can you see just one Alp or do they come in groups?

I don’t know because I’ve never seen one.  As much as I hate snow and cold weather, I’m super excited to see snow capped mountains (even in the summer) and excited to see what a real Alpine ski village is like (but so happy that skiing is not on the menu!).  For a girl from DC (the flattest place ever) who has moved to Sydney (the least wintry place I can think of), seeing an Alp (or multiple Alps) is a pretty big deal.  Even for me, a girl who HATES the Sound of Music (yes, I know, it’s weird and a long story), I’m excited to see the rolling, green hills and majestic mountains of Austria.   I’m kind of also excited to stand on top of a) hill and twirl around and sing….

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Ok, maybe not,  but I’m definitely getting excited for our trip!