Remember the Cows – guest post by Erica Murdoch

Photo by Tirol Bike Trail

It was our last day in Pertisau, high up in the Austrian Alps, and we were having our usual stilted conversation with our charming breakfast waiter. Clearing the table he offered the following,”Are you coming to see the cows today?”

Photo by Juniorpyro

We were puzzled. Cows had not been mentioned as a tourist attraction here. Pertisau is a place where you go to walk up mountains, eat huge amounts of food, brave the icy waters of Lake Achensee and do the same again. Upon much questioning we ascertained that each year in September the cows that graze up on the high alms are walked down to the valley in order to be housed for the long European winter. The festival is known as Almbetreib and is an annual festival across Austria and celebrates the end of  a successful farming season, but in particular celebrating the cow!

Coming from Australia we were  intrigued. As my husband is of Indian origin he could appreciate a little of this cow worship. We wanted to learn more and considered it a fitting end to our Austrian holiday. Our children were harder to convince. “What’s the big deal about a bunch of cows walking down from the hills?” said Miss Twelve. Miss Fourteen just plugged into her IPod  and looked bored as we explained the concept as best as we could.

Photo by Francois Schnell

Come midday we joined throngs of locals walking through the town and past the pastures to the head of the valley. We passed people setting up deckchairs in the blazing noonday sun awaiting the appearance of the cows. We ate our lunch sitting on tree stumps in the forest. Our children still plugged in to their IPods, we were in conversation with an elderly British couple who told us the biggest milk producers of the cows wear a special yellow garland and the lead cow of the procession a red garland and wreath.

Suddenly a cry went up which translated to “They are coming!” Our children, sophisticated city kids, abandoned their IPods and took off into the distance so they could see the first of the cows. Lines of cows accompanied by schnapps-sipping-lederhosen-clad-gorgeous-blonde-giants! As the cows passed into the centre of Pertisau, more and more people joined them so it became a joint procession. Sounds of cowbells jangling and cows mooing drowned out out conversation. Outside the guesthouses, temporary bars had been set up with the landlords offering the cow’s guardians liberal swigs of schnapps and huge steins of beer! Our children played “spot the best garland” and wrinkled their noses at the fresh cow droppings.

As we reached the centre of town there was a brief respite as the cows, their guardians, and the townsfolk gathered a meadow. There were speeches, schnapps, and dancing and it was only 1.30 on a Friday afternoon. Sadly we had to leave as we had been advised by the hotel that our car transfer to the local station would have to leave earlier due to the cattle. “If you leave later, you may get stuck behind the cows and they won’t care that you have to catch a plane.”

It’s 2 months ago now, but the kids still say, “Remember the cows?”

Erica and her family used Cross Pollinate for their accommodation in Venice in mid September of 2011. They stayed at Ca’ Francesco in the Jewish ghetto and wrote that “It was a terrific apartment. Alexandra the owner was so helpful and kind. Would highly recommend it and your service!”

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