A couple of weeks ago we were finishing up in Vienna and the forecast looked ominous – hot weather down in the Danube valley. We needed to head for the hills if we were going to be comfortable. Intrepid Googling around and checking elevations of various camping places led me to the inescapable conclusion that Bella Austria would be our best destination. Was it the view? Was it the clean restrooms? No. It was the elevation – 2800 feet up in the Tyrolean Alps. This heatwave meant that a thousand feet or so just wasn't going to cut it.
We retraced our steps southwest from Vienna, turned due west once we hit the mountains, and soon we were cool and fresh compared to the sweltering lowlands. The roads got smaller and crookeder and we started seeing beautiful views out across the mountain valleys. The flat farmland with giant fields planted with wheat and soybeans were behind us, and it was meadows with small gardens around the farmhouses. We started seeing sheep and goats, not cows.
One really neat roadside pullout had a wooden trough with beautiful cold mountain water spilling into it – and a couple of picnic tables to sit at and relax as you listened to the water coming down from the mountain peaks. The Alps capture a significant amount of humidity coming off the Atlantic and up from the Mediterranean – they're steep like the Rockies but green like the Appalachians. And they're covered in species of trees and wildflowers I had never seen before. It was a new experience for me. One thing I noticed, though, was the introduced species. They just LOVE blue spruce and maples around these parts.
We followed the Mur River west up into the mountains, and up a side valley another 10 kilometers as the air temperature kept dropping, and there we were at the Bella Austria Campground. Like most campgrounds this time of year, it's two-thirds empty – the real crunch is in the second half of July and all of August. Also like many smaller campgrounds, it's cash only, which I knew going in, but it's very cheap considering what you get, about 21 euros a night for everything, including free hot showers in a spacious and a scrupulously clean “sanitation block” or bathhouse. If every camping facility maintained their bathhouses like the Austrians do, the world would be a better place. They are HUGE buildings, adorned with tile and equipped with the latest modern conveniences, and stocked with hand soap and toilet paper. Sharon loves them – it's like a temple of tidiness.
As is common in Europe, most of the campground was dedicated to accommodations for the unequipped campers who arrive in late summer – bungalows and tents where all you have to do is show up with a few changes of clothes and your toothbrush. From an economic standpoint, that's smart merchandising by the campgrounds, because that's where the profit is. The regular camping spots, or pitches, weren't numbered and delineated as in many campground – it was a big grassy area with water faucets and electrical hookups every fifty feet or so, and a gravel road down the middle. Fiona doesn't like property lines anyway, so it was all Fionaland as far as she was concerned. She stuck her nose in as much as she could as she explored our area, the tents below, and generally everywhere she could drag me on our walks.
The small petting zoo was something I'm starting not to be surprised at – Europeans like to think of themselves as getting back to their roots when they go on vacation. There were chickens, goats, bunnies, even some decidedly non-native guinea pigs, and a couple of palomino horses in a pasture right next to the camping area. Needless to say, all the kids staying there loved it.
The small town of Sankt Peter am Kammersberg is so close you can see the church steeple from your campsite, and has a small grocery store, bakery for the all-important strudel supply, gas station, ATM, and pretty much everything you need. The only trouble is, it's several hundred years old, not laid out for cars, much less campervans, and very, very steep, so I would have to park down on the main drag and hoof it up the hill to visit the bank. The houses were beautiful, with window-boxes full of flowers, and there was a giant kindergarten, which is more like an elementary school than what we think of as a kindergarten back home.
We hung out for a week, waiting for the weather down in the valley to improve to the point where we could head to Budapest so that Sharon could do her big city thing, and really enjoyed the break from the heat and the hustle and bustle of the more populated areas. Sharon and I are negotiating how much time we spend in each environment – and my vote is for more rural area. We'll count the ballots and see how I do – that darn cat always votes with Sharon.