St Leonhard – Into Austria – Country Number Five
I wake up to the sound of rain tapping against the roof a few feet above my head. It’s been tapping on and off throughout the night. I lie still for a minute and listen to it with my eyes closed. I don’t know where I am. What I have to do today. Not even what country I’m in.
Fingertips of consternation start a frantic scratching on the inside of my brian. But the sound of the rain is familiar and I quietly calm the rising, fearful panic.
“It’s fine. Just hush now. Wait a moment. It’ll all come.” I sense the normality of these feelings. The panicky underneath is pure instinct. My rational mind knows all is okay. Even if it doesn’t yet know anything else. Anything else but the tapping Austrian rain.
And with that one word, the dam bursts, awareness flooding back in with the sound of Marley stretching beneath me. The warmth of Jay’s body beside me. The creak of the drop down bed as I do my first, sleepy, morning stretch. Austria. We are in Austria. In St Leonhard, just south of Salzburg. And the rain is falling still, for the third day in a row.
I don’t know what day it is, or how long we have been travelling. For these things I would need a calender. But I know that yesterday morning I woke up to the sound of the rain on the other side of the mountains I lie next to today. In beautiful Neubeuern in Bavaria.
It pattered gently on the roof as I took Marley Dog for a last German walk before we headed for the border, and Austria. I had my usual “New Country Nerves” dancing a happy wee Tango up and down my insides. Everything was prepared, everything was waiting. I’d even kind of decided where we were going. Just a quick drive today, a few miles over the border to a free parking spot in St Leonhard.
We were going against our usual practice on this trip and buying some Toll passes – Vignettes – for Austria and some of the other countries. Eight weeks might seem like quite a long time, but it was a long way to Greece and back. We had to cover about 120km each day to make this trip work, and using the toll roads through the mountain countries would probably make that a lot easier. Plus we’d not driven through a lot of these places before. So the vignettes would make life a lot easier while hurrying through unfamiliar countries.
I use the excellent Tolls EU website for information on this kind of stuff. It gives a breakdown of what you need to know for each country, plus links to the official websites. Thanks to this I was able to purchase a 10 day Austrian vignette online for €9.20.
I also found out from the website that there were two sections of road we would be using that were charged extra. One in the center of Austria at €12 and the tunnel between Austria and Slovenia at €9.40. Buying the tickets online like this meant we didn’t need to stop at any booths, or risk being fined by the Austrian police if we strayed accidentally onto the wrong road. Number plate recognition would take care of everything, and we could just relax and drive.
Gray and rainy as it was Bavaria threw out a few stops to tempt us to linger as we headed towards Salzburg. Brooding, Colditz style castles loomed over us as we made a quick Aldi stop near the border.
Fields of head high golden grain painted the landscape all around us as we drove. An immense lake winked, sea like at us, as we shot past on grey, wet roads. And tiny villages with black peaked churches whispered “come…come see…” to our speeding eyes.
And in one final, delightful, belly aching laugh of a moment, Germany chucked one of her impossible road signs at us for the last time.
And then we slid over the border and were gone.
The Austrian side of the invisible lines men like to draw across our planet was, at first, of no real difference to the German side. The roads were good, the traffic was heavy, but not overly so. The Austrian villages, and Austrian churches, were not so different to their Bavarian cousins. And the rain fell indiscrimanately on one and all.
We whizzed past Salzburg with no difficulties at all, and before we knew it Iggy was off the motorway and pulling into a large, dirt parking lot in the little suburban village of St Leonhard. On one side a stunning, black topped church and a few pretty Inns. On the other a cable car station and a vertical slab of tree dotted, cloud capped mountain.
The rain alternated between light drizzle and thinking about it as we jumped out of the van to explore. We weren’t expecting a huge amount from St Leonhard, but the park4night comments had said there were some nice walks. A day off from interesting things was just what we needed. Especially Marley who could definitely use some doggy, country walks and sniffs.
As we got ready to go I was a bit worried that I’d brought us to a rubbish spot. The village was more a hamlet, just outside a bigger town, with busy roads passing by. On first glance it looked like we were going to be dissapointed if we were looking for nice country walks. Second glance took about two minutes walk from Iggy, and the sudden appearance of a rushing, eggshell blue mountain river. Complete with walking paths stretching for miles in both directions.
This was more like it! Just a few minutes along the pathway out of the village and we were completely alone. Marley’s lead was slipped and off she ran on what turned into a two hour hike to remember.
As if the tumbling river, and pretty wooded walk weren’t enough a few minutes further down the path and we discovered we were on an incredible Sculpture Path. All the signs were in German, which we barely speak, so everything was a huge surprise at the time. But we learned later from Google that the sculpture trail was in honour of Gustav Leube, a German chemist from none other than Ulm – our stop of two nights ago.
Leube was an important figure in modern cement making and, among other things, founded the Leube Cement Works in St Leonhard. It was his company – Leube – that funded the Sculpture Trail in his honour on the 175th anniversary of their founding.
Jay and I both love stuff like this. Amazing works of art. Lying around in a forest. And we just stumble upon them by accident when we’re out walking the dog. This truly is the great joy of Art. To be ambushed by it on the banks of a wild mountain river. Incredible pieces like the mesmerising Pixel sculpture. I could have stayed at that one all night.
But instead we carried on to see if there were any more. And there were more. Not a huge number, just five pieces in total. But five pieces were more than enough. Each one completely different. Each one captivating and engrossing in it’s own way. It’s own voice. Speaking out more strongly from this woodland walk than they ever would do from the safety of a gallery.
By the time we finished our time with the sculptures we wanted nothing more from the day. How could we? To have such perfect, private time with works of such thought provoking quality was an incredible gift. No crowds. No pressure. Just the roar of the river. The drip of water from the wet trees. The calls of birds. And us. Not a soul to be seen bar us.
The rest of the day in St Leonhard was just cherry on the cake. We walked on along the river. Marley splashed in and out of the fabulously coloured waters at every opportunity. And we found an old Shelter Hut, complete with stove and bench seats.
Jay looked more and more the part in his cut offs, hat, waistcoat and backpack. Though he did moan a little bit when I dragged him up a steep, twisty hiking track to get a bit of a better view.
He only moaned a little though. And, as always, he still came along. Matching me every step of the way. I’m lucky in that. Lucky to have found this rather lovely specimen of a man. Even luckier that he decided to like me.
We found out later that the path we hiked had brought us almost back to Germany again. Just literally a few hundred metres further and we would have crossed back over. St Leonhard was definitely a place with quite a few unexpected extra cherries to chuck on those aforementioned cakes.
And, for the most part, that was that. We went home and had coffee as we watched the cable car from our window. Rising and falling, in and out of the drifting clouds on the mounatin top.
After a break we went on over to the cable car station for a closer look and some better photos of it. We walked Marley the other way down the river. Stopped for a beer in the Inn near the parking lot. And then, on the way home, we walked around the pretty little Austrian church yard next door. Beautiful flowers. Ornate metal crosses and lanterns for the dead.
We are only here for such a little time. And the love we feel in our hearts is so much bigger than this tiny slice of time. But somehow, sometimes, on days just like this, it seems that just how it is … is just, perfectly, enough.