Peter and I recently returned from our first trip to Austria, a country that was not on our original “must visit” list, but we are both pleased that we were able to eat, drink, and tourist our way through the country.
We flew into Zurich and then had a very long layover before boarding a train and being transported to St. Anton am Arlberg. We spent three days schussing down the mountain and boarded a train that transported us to Salzburg. We spent three days in Salzburg, avoiding every eating and drinking establishment which allowed smoking indoors.
We have visited three countries thus far that still permit smoking indoors: Austria, the Czech Republic, and Russia.
Smoking is rife in Austria. As of writing, 50 percent of Austrian adults smoke, and Austria is ranked second in the world for the highest percentage of teenage smokers. It has only been within the past couple of years that Austria has shifted to public smoking bans.
In 2007, smoking was banned on trains and in train stations, and in January 2009, a new law mandated that all restaurants, bars, discos, and pubs between 50 and 80 square meters must have smoking and non-smoking rooms. Designated “rooms” sounds great; however, we found that “rooms” isn’t defined as its literal meaning.
In some situations, we found that an establishment would designate an area – or areas – in the dining room as smoking and non-smoking, but there weren’t any physical walls or doors separating the two areas. This means that there were smoking tables next to non-smoking tables. Additionally, we found that almost always, the smoking “room” was located in the front of the establishment, so there was no way of avoiding the smoke.
An even bigger problem is that most restaurants, bars, and pubs are less than 50 square meters, so we ran into the smokey situation almost everywhere we visited. Peter and I are non-smokers, so having to deal with this issue was bothersome.
The Zurich main train station, Zürich Hauptbahnhof, is very large, and since we had a very long layover, we had some time to explore. One of our explorations was to the pay washroom facilities, where I found myself dumbfounded. I never had been so confused about how a public washroom operated until I visited McClean in the Zurich main train station.
Peter and I were presented with many different options inscribed on the clear glass wall at the entrance. After five minutes of staring at the glass inscriptions and watching people enter and leave the facilities, I translated the pricing structure as such:
- Changing a baby’s diaper, beautifying oneself, female urination, and female/male pooping costs 2.00 CHF
- Male urination costs 1.50 CHF
- Showering costs 12.00 CHF
- No charge for disabled persons
Once finished navigating the washroom facilities, we got a bite to eat, wandered around the Christmas market, and then stared at the train departure board. Overall, it was extremely boring.
After a very long smoke-filled layover (smoking is permitted in Switzerland train stations), we finally boarded our train bound for St. Anton am Arlberg. The video below is from the first half of our journey, which took us through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, and finally into Austria. Peter slept through this portion of the journey.
The video below is from the second half of our journey, which took us through the Arlberg Pass. Unfortunately, it was almost completely dark at that point, so my reflection in the window of the train is evident in the video. What’s also evident is how close the train came to the edge of the mountain. Peter slept through this portion of the journey.
We found ourselves in St. Anton am Arlberg two hours and 20 minutes after departing Zurich. We chose St. Anton am Arlberg because it is one of few resorts with modern hotels.
St. Anton is recognized as the party resort of Europe and one of the top ski resorts in the world – not necessarily because it is the best skiing but because it offers the best all-around package (skiing, après ski, nightlife, restaurants, etc.).
Après-ski is basically a happy hour at a ski hut on the mountain (or in the village) whilst still donning ski gear. Après ski is taken very seriously in St. Anton, both on the mountain and in the village.
Unfortunately, we did not get to see the après ski in full force as we were in St. Anton the week before high season. No worries, though – there were plenty of drunk people stumbling and clomping around the streets with skis on their shoulders. They’d turn around, and their skis would swing around like a helicopter blade.
One guy (in full ski gear) fell while trying to climb the stairs to the “Burger Stop,” and another guy fell walking down the stairs to breakfast in the hotel. Oh wait, that second guy was Peter. And he was sober. And not in ski gear.
Our first night in St. Anton am Arlberg was very low-key after the long travel day. We walked to and checked into our hotel. We collected our rental ski equipment, ate dinner (veal schnitzel and dumpling soup), consumed several tasty cocktails, and strolled around the village.
I fell in love with the village and its holiday twinkle. It was everything I had hoped for and more.