We crossed out of Slovenia and into Austria via the Loiblpass, a fairly low mountain pass which Trevor managed easily. The first place to stop was Klagenfurt, a lovely germanic town with very importantly a tourist information office. To be honest we had very little idea what we were going to do as we travelled through Austria or exactly which way we would go except for North and perhaps towards Salzburg. The tourist info confirmed our suspicions that Austria is basically a country full of mountains. This is great for walking, but makes it pretty hard to decide which range of mountains to spend some time in. Thankfully looking up campsites solved this dilema for us and we ended up in Mühlen.
Mühlen, known as the Urlaubdorf (holiday village) is a small village on the edge of the Zirbitz-grebenzen mountains. We pulled up at the campsite which was unfortunately full to the brim. Luckily the owner made space for us on a pitch/car park just outside the campsite. That sorted we spent the afternoon deciding where to walk the next day and swimming in the lake. We had been lured into eating in the restaurant on site that night since they were cooking roast pork with dumplings and cabbage for just €9 per person. We sat down to dinnner just as the thunderstorm descended and had to make a quick move inside to stay dry. Our meal was fantastic and definitely set us up for our walk the next morning. We planned to rise early to beat the heat and hopefully get up to the hut on the Zirbitz mountain and potentially even the summit.
The next morning we woke up to children playing only to discover that our alarm had not gone off and it was already 9am instead of the 6:30am we had planned to rise. As it turns out Matthias had somehow managed to set the alarm for weekends only. That said it was an miserable cloudy morning with the rain just stopping. We changed our plans a little and went on a circular walk of the local villages. The highlight of this was the motion sensors and childrens’ fairytales in the woods. The least enjoyable bit was a guard dog coming at us barking, snarling and jumping but thankfully we survived that and the heat. With a fairly short walk behind us we spent the afternoon relaxing and booking our trains for the transmongolian railway.
Next morning we woke at 6:30am (yes the alarm worked!) and set off up to the Zirbitz. The way up was a little boring as we were on tarmac for a couple of km but it improved when we wandered into the woods. We reached the hut at the half way point around 10am and it was already getting hot. The hut was beautiful and surrounded by holidays homes with great views of the valley. We had a well deserved coffee before deciding our goal for the day was going to be a panorama view point rather than the Zirbitz summit. Surprisingly we planned to be back at the hut some time after 11:30am when they started serving Germknödel (large dumplings filled with plum jam and served with custard). We had a lovely walk up to the viewpoint where we admired the view before returning to our treat at the hut.
On the way back from the hut to the campsite the sun beat down on us and we pretty much melted, especially on the last stretch along the tarmac. Back at camp, we were relieved and very glad we hadn’t gone up to the summit. The lake was calling us and we quickly cooled off. Our long walk had worked up and appetite that Zoë in particular couldn’t ignore, so we went for pizza :-). Taking advantage of the fact we were still parked on the campsite, we had showers before driving on for the night. We planned to wild camp for a couple of nights and easily found a car park in the town of Neustadt. One thing we weren’t prepared for was the warning sirens to sound just as we were tucked up in bed. We had heard some strange things before like speakers all round town in Slovakia but loud sirens sounding was scary. We later learnt that the sirens were nationwide in Austria and are used as a warning system. Despite the rain and huge thunderstorm we stayed dry and warm in Trevor.
The next morning we set off to get over some more of the alps. Unfortunately the storm from the night before had definitely made its mark. The first thing we saw was a field covered in silt and with wood and wooden planks heaped along the bottom of it. We could see just how high the water had risen but didn’t know quite why there was so much wood. Further up stream we passed a very empty timber yard and some areas where the road had been flooded. The fire service were everywhere surveying damage and helping people. They had also been forced to close our road so we turned around and took a diversion. With the radio on we soon heard that the area of Oberwölzbach had been declared a disaster zone and more than 200 people had been forced to evacuate their homes with still more marooned on an island by the flood. We felt we had had a lucky escape at the bottom of our valley.