Austria Culture Food

Austrian Stereotypes #1: Hiking

Hiking in Austria – is it as popular as stereotypes suggest? Growing up in Austria, especially in the countryside, I always took walks for granted. It’s a way to relax after a long day of work and often a way to socialize. It’s not uncommon to see groups of people meet up regularly not for a coffee or a meal but to go on walks together to chat. I took that attitude with me to the UK, where I met my husband, Sam. In Barbados walking isn’t as popular thanks to the Caribbean heat. But he was so in love he happily followed me on 10 km treks through London’s Royal Parks. It was only when he mentioned how surprised his mum was that we had walked that much, just casually for fun, that I realized how much of an “Austrian thing” our obsession with walking is.

Village Hiking Days
It doesn’t always have to be a hike in the mountains. In the flatter parts and cities people enjoy going on a Spaziergang, a leisurely walk. The social and leisure aspect are often more important than the minutes of exercise you get in. Thus it comes to no surprise that hiking days like many villages in Austria organize are more about the socializing than anything else. For example, in our village the hike is 13km. On average this shouldn’t be taking you longer than about 2 1/2h but people plan in more around 3-4h because it’s not just about the walk.

Since it’s an event a lot of the village partakes in, it’s a chance to stop for a chat and catch up with people. Even more so at the rest stations of which there are even two plus another one after the finish line. There you can buy traditional Austrian sandwiches (although don’t call them sandwiches when talking to Austrians because we prefer to call them Weckerl to distinguish them from their American and British cousins which are very different). Of course, there’s also drinks and it’s not uncommon to see people have their first beer or wine at 10am at the first stop. If you happen to run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and who insists on buying a round, obligating you to buy another one, it might just be an hour before you’re back on the path.

Beware of the Sturm
Since our village’s hiking day happens every year early in September, it’s late enough in the summer for there to be Sturm. Sturm is the first stage in the wine making process. Once the freshly harvested grapes start fermenting they still retain a sweet taste, reminiscent of grape juice. Depending on how far along the Sturm is on becoming wine, it may already be a bit more acidic. It’s a popular reward for having walked so much of the path, especially since it’s cheap, considering you walk through the very vineyards it was made from on your path. But beware, it’s not just wine yet. That’s why rather than saying Prost to cheer you say Mahlzeit, which means as much as enjoy your meal. While Sturm is very sweet like grape juice, it is still more alcoholic than you might perceive. So don’t have too much to avoid head aches or heart burns from the on-going fermentation.

Sam’s first day in Austria
The first time Sam travelled to Austria, it coincided with my village’s Wandertag, so I brought him along to introduce him to everyone. Looking back he must have had quite a lot of trust in me to just follow me into the forest in a country where he doesn’t speak the language. But it seems like the desserts at the end of the path made up for the excitement of the day.

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