Second First Impressions

From 1996 until 2001 I lived in Austria. Back then it had a reputation as an expensive place, but that was because the only people who had any experience of the country had been there on skiing holidays, and everything on a skiing holiday is expensive. A small, apres-ski schnapps cost upward of one kidney.

But my Austria – real Austria – wasn’t expensive, especially when the Austrian Schilling lost a third of its value overnight about two weeks after I arrived. It just made the UK mortgage I was still paying off cost a lot more.

I also know that, although conservative, the people are lovely and the weather is more often than not great: cold but dry in winter and a hot summer.

I’m glad I know this because if I didn’t, and based on the evidence of this trip alone, I’d assume Austria was a massively overpriced place with unfriendly people and the shittest, dampest weather.

This has been a wet spring. When I lived here, there was no spring. We just jumped straight from snow-on-the-ground in mid-April to 30C sunshine days in May. Some days it was hard to know whether I’d need a hat and gloves or sunblock.

But in the here and now, campsites are overpriced. It shouldn’t cost €20 for a patch of damp grass and access to a toilet. It should cost €5, which is what it was at my favourite site in Germany. And beer shouldn’t be nearly €5 a pint. (Londoners might still think that’s cheap, but not many miles ago, it was nearly half that.) But maybe this is just the inflation that has affected everywhere.

And the weather, a steady drizzle, is perhaps the new normal, maybe the result of climate change, or maybe I imported it in my rucksack from the Isle of Man.

In any case, I’ll be out of here in a day or four, but I’ll remember Austria for what it was back in the 90s rather than what I’ve experienced this time. I’m quite good at lying to myself. I mean, I walked 30-odd kilometres today and my feet don’t hurt at all. Honest.

Please could someone carry my back to my tent.

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