If your life is anything like mine, November is an unexpectedly manic month.
Maybe it’s because everyone’s preparing for the end of the year; maybe the worsening weather makes us simultaneously more lazy and more desperate to get motivated. Whatever it is, I’ve been mired in all kinds of work – from freelance writing projects to typing like a demon for my masters (hello, twenty thousand words to be submitted by early December!) – and I’ve also somehow decided it’s a good idea to participate in NaNoWriMo again.
Any of you who were following me on Facebook or Twitter last November may remember that my 2014 version was a flurry of late nights, obsessive word counting and many near-overdoses on caffeine – but by the first of December, I emerged pale and weak but triumphant, having written a record 50,000 words in thirty days.
If anyone’s looking for a way to get themselves out of a writing rut, then NaNoWriMo may just be your saving grace (although warn your flatmates first, as mine looked a little bit terrified when I told her).
If you’ve noticed that I’ve been slightly distracted this month, it’s because I was busy with #Nanowrimo – an online challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And I’m rather happy to say that I managed it!! Now I’ve got a whole 97 typed pages of non fiction which I’ll use as a very rough first draft of the book I’m writing for my Masters. It finally feels like all those late nights, endless cups of coffee and refusals to take part in social activities in favour of my laptop were worth it..
Luckily, I had the perfect autumnal travel escape to prepare myself for November – and now that I’m so busy, it’s a lovely trip to look back on and reminisce about.
October 20th was my dad’s birthday, so in true traveller-daughter fashion, I decided we should go away somewhere to celebrate. Thanks to winning a competition at a travel conference earlier this year, I had a trip to the Austrian Alps at my disposal.
What better way to enjoy a week in a tiny Austrian village than with my birthday-celebrating father?
Father & daughter time in Austria
When Dad and I arrived in Mellau, we didn’t really know what to expect. I purposefully hadn’t done much research, deciding it would be more fun to just turn up and see what happened.
Which meant I had no idea we’d be arriving to scenes like this.
Dad and I have travelled to our fair share of touristy cities together. There was religion madness in Florence over Easter week, Berlin in the chills of January, Malta for a week of sunshine and poolside lounging: but this trip to Austria was our first to a part of the world not overrun with national monuments and selfie-stick-wielding tourists.
I quickly decided that it was a damn good idea.
So why visit a tiny village in the Austrian Alps?
Mellau village sits in the Bregenzerwald, a part of Vorarlberg state and in a beautiful region of western Austria. Vorarlberg borders Germany, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, is right next to the northern edge of the Alps, and is best known for its fantastic skiing opportunities – although obviously that’s only possible when there’s snow.
Outside of the ski season, Mellau and the other twenty villages dotted around the Bregenzerwald are calm, quiet, and blissfully relaxed.
The Austrians who live here are surrounded by mountains, hillsides covered in forest, and wide open pastures dotted with happily grazing cows, sheep, and the occasional Shetland pony.
It’s a place where Lutheran church spires pierce the low lying clouds, and farmers carry milk pails on the forklifts of their tractors.
The alpine streets are quiet and safe enough to allow young children to walk home from school together, clutching hands and wearing high-vis tabards alongside the huge logging trucks that move slowly from one village to the next.
And as for visiting Bregenzerwald in the autumn?
I felt like we couldn’t have timed our trip better if we’d tried.
Autumn in Austria: the perfect season
I’ve always loved the combination of a brisk chill in the air and bright streaming sunshine. Fresh out of walking the Camino and being totally in awe of nature, I couldn’t get enough of the way the autumnal weather had seemingly touched every leaf and branch in Austria.
I basically reverted back to the best part of childhood: finding fascination in every single thing I saw. Every ten minutes was punctuated by me tugging on my dad’s fleece sleeve to point out a new discovery.
“Just look at the colour of those trees!”
I started getting obsessed with details – which is normally when I know I’m falling in love with a new place.
My camera lens trained itself on the tiny pewter busts holding every window shutter wide open; the burning red of the Virginia creeper leaves; the absurdly neat way people built up the wood piles outside their houses, like every stack was their own personal game of Jenga.
And with the details came awareness of the architecture. More often than not, my dad turned round to see me standing open-mouthed beneath facades of buildings covered with curved wooden ‘schindeln’ (or ‘shingles’ in English).
And clearly I’m a total sucker for the more weather-worn places. Old buildings with their shutters hanging at odd angles, the paint peeling and the wood of each shingle splitting up the grain.
I was mentally planning my move-in date for every property I saw.
Exploring the Alpine villages of Bregenzerwald
If you’ve ever wondered where I get the exploratory genes from, that guy wandering along an Austrian road is a fair bet.
My dad’s immediate idea for a week in Austria was to go and check out a different village each day – and because they’re all connected by a fleet of little lime green buses which run like clockwork every half hour, it’s wonderfully easy to get around.
Although I wouldn’t have said no to trying out a bit of road skiing…
First up: a cable car ride, high above Bezau
On Dad’s birthday we headed to Bezau, the closest village to our home base in Mellau. The sun was shining as we got off the bus a little too early, wandering through the charming streets until we reached the base of Bezau mountain.
The village is known for a cable car which stretches up the side of the valley to a panoramic terrace, a viewing platform – and a totally unexpected but stunningly beautiful snowscape.
Which is when we understood why everyone else in the little cable car had been wearing heavy duty hiking boots.
Together, Dad and I sipped coffees and hot chocolate in the little restaurant, shared a sugar-covered doughnut (while I apologised profusely over the lack of birthday cake), and eventually walked up to the mountain’s crest, crunching on fresh snow.
Dad also inadvertently befriended an old Austrian man. As you do.
Exploring a graveyard in Egg
The next village on the agenda was Egg, where Dad and I spent a happy morning making constant puns about the best named place we’d ever heard of and walking through a strangely beautiful cemetery with ornately carved crosses and a stunning view of the valley.
My dad also gave into his curiosity and visited the tourist office to find out why the village is called Egg. We’re still not entirely sure…
The architectural bus shelters of Krumbach
Thanks to a heads up from Katrin at Vorarlberg Tourism, we headed to the tiny village of Krumbach purely to see seven bus shelters, all of which have been designed by different architects from all over the world.
Dad completely indulged my blogging whims and became my photographer for the day as I posed in each and every shelter, not at all self-consciously. Ok, so various Austrian women were rather confused at our behaviour, but we had a wonderful time nonetheless.
A farmer’s market in Dornbirn
On the Saturday, we braved two different green buses to reach the bi-weekly farmer’s market in Dornbirn. It was a much bigger town than our usual village haunts, filled with well dressed Austrians crowded around restaurant doorways and balancing their glasses of schnapps on high tables.
In just a week, I’d become so accustomed to farmers and fleeces instead of sunglasses and shiny leather boots that I felt completely out of place – but the Dornbirn buildings were beautiful to look at, and it made me even more appreciative of the village life we’d been experiencing.
Our pseudo home in Mellau
Despite spending each day exploring a different village, Mellau was still my favourite part of the Bregenzerwald, simply because it felt so familiar so quickly.
Every morning, I awoke to the sound of ringing cow bells as the farmers led their herds down to pasture, and looked out at peaked roofs topped by wisps of cloud.
After a buffet breakfast in the restaurant, Dad and I walked out of our snug deer-themed hotel and looked up towards this mountain, which never failed to make us gasp, and smile, and glance happily at each other.
We wandered down the winding lane that led to the centre of the village, passing by beautiful houses covered in red Virginia creeper and a field which usually featured a friendly cat who bounded over to say hello – much to the joy of both our cat-loving temperaments.
And every evening, after a day of exploring, we were faced with five courses of food, served up by a smiling woman in lederhosen at the hotel restaurant.
Family catch ups, long overdue
Of course, the ultimate reason I loved Mellau – and Austria in general – was because I had the chance to have a week of one-on-one time with my dad.
We spent hours wandering along rivers, through forests and up mountains, but in amongst the reading of maps and the occasional missed direction, we settled back into an old familiar groove too.
Resurrecting half-forgotten family jokes, doing accents and impressions, talking fondly about my mum; we spent the week re-bonding, something I don’t do enough of – but I’m really glad we did.