My Own Personal Krampus

I have a photo, printed from film, old school … my husband and I are standing in a snowstorm in the Austrian alps. The flash from the camera reflects off giant fluffy flakes. The sky behind us is black – it’s early evening, but an alpine evening, so it is dark. We are wearing big coats and big hats and big snow boots. We are surrounded by a group of Krampus, the alpine monster of the season, big shaggy horned devils who strike fear into the hearts of small children, who chase taunting teenagers down the streets of snow-globe villages, who torment tourists and locals alike.

Only we don’t look the least bit rattled. We are smiling big holiday smiles. It looks like a family portrait with our pets.

The Krampusspiel – or, as I like to call it, The Running of the Krampus – takes place every year on December 6. It’s part of a series of deep winter alpine traditions around Christmas and the solstice that acknowledge the change of the season. Three Kings come to your house and chalk your doorways, and there are little sprites that rattle around in your fireplace until you give them candy to go away, and there are runners in all white who carry beautiful lanterns and ring bells to scare away the bad spirits of the previous year.

But the Krampus has taken the spotlight. His shaggy coat, his massive size, his devil’s face, and his swinging broomstick, have captured the collective imagination, perhaps targeting the same people that like slasher movies. Krampus parades take over the streets of popular ski villages in Austria (and some parts of Bavaria) in a pageant of Alien meets Satan. Removed from the context of all those winter traditions, the Krampus is now the star in a winter nightmare of swinging chains, of orcs set free from Middle Earth, of underworld creatures released from the pits of hell.Every year we read at least one story of a tourist absolutely terrorized by an out of control Krampus at a Krampusspiel. And every year we have to wade through a swamp of nostalgia and annoyance. These are not our Krampus’, they are not the Krampus my Austrian husband grew up with, they are not the Krampus he dressed up as when he was in his twenties. They are not the Krampus in our family portrait.

I was utterly enchanted with the Krampus the first time I saw him. He was in the hallway of our apartment building. I heard him before I saw him; he wore giant cowbells and rattled through the streets in the dark. I opened the door and he was standing there, filling the stairwell, while the neighbor’s kids stood silent, wide eyed in wonder. They looked tiny, awestruck, but not afraid. I’m quite sure if they’d looked up, past the shaggy monster’s waist, they’d have seen their expressions reflected on my own wondering face.

While locals line the sidewalks and await his (pre-scheduled) arrival at their homes, the Krampus runs through town, shaking his bells, swinging his broomstick, and admonishing the little ones about their behavior throughout the year. He’s got friends with him who carry baskets of treats for kids – peanuts and tangerines and maybe little chocolates. Sometimes, St. Nikolaus is there too, giving stern but affectionate lectures, asking the children to recite rhymes about Christmas.

The story of the Krampus is scary. He will beat you with his broomstick, stuff you in his sack, drag you back to his lair if you’ve been bad. He’s a terror. There’s no denying it. But our Krampus, the one that runs the streets of my husband’s tiny village, he’s more “Where the Wild Things Are” than hatched from James Cameron’s green glowing alien planet. His face is a carved wooden mask, not shiny resin and plastic. He carries a bundle of twigs bound into an old fashioned broom, not a length of chain or a whip. He will raise his hands over head and roar at the cocky teenager who taunts him with the traditional Krampus rhyme, but he will not chase a tourist four blocks in an act of aggression. He is campfire ghost-story scary, not “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” scary.

It is strange that I have affection for this alpine myth, for this black devil from places unknown, but each winter I find myself an unlikely defender of the Krampus. People send me videos of vicious looking beasts running rampant through snow covered hamlets and I think, “No, no, no. You don’t understand, this is not what the Krampus is.” My memory will not be ruined by this. I hold the picture in my hand and think, “Ah, there you are! This is the Krampus I know, the one my husband grew up with!” I stand in the snow surrounded by creatures imagined. There are big snowflakes and the sound of bells and eyes big with wonder and I am not even a little bit afraid.

[Photo credit: Pam Mandel]

Discovery Adventures Announces New Tours For 2013

Discovery Adventures offers new options for 2013The calendar may still say 2012, and I know we all have a busy holiday season to navigate yet, but it is never too early to start planning our trips for the new year ahead. To help us out with that process, Discovery Adventures has announced a host of new tours and destinations, adding even more depth to an existing line-up of stellar itineraries.

For 2013, Discovery has unveiled 13 new tours to 11 new countries, offering diverse and unique experiences in some of the most amazing places on the planet. Those new destinations include Malaysia, Bhutan, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Colombia, Chile, Israel and Singapore. The trips are designed to immerse travelers in the local culture and provide opportunities that aren’t easily found anywhere else. For instance, on the new Moroccan Dreams itinerary, visitors will camp in the desert and explore remote mountain villages, while the Malaysia & Borneo Adventure will provide contrasts between the bustling urban settings of Kuala Lumpur with the tranquil and serene rainforest. Other options include a visit to Iceland‘s lava fields, learning to cook in India and searching for the Big Five on safari in Kenya and Tanzania.

As the travel arm for the very popular Discovery Channel, Discovery Adventures feels that it has an outstanding reputation to live up to. That’s why the company is so selective about the destinations and tours that it offers. These new additions to their catalog bring the total number of trips to just 34, which is in sharp contrast to some other companies that offer dozens of options.

Their commitment to providing high quality tours for their guests doesn’t end there, however, as the company has also announced a new policy that guarantees that 100% of its trips will depart as scheduled. The new policy begins in January of next year and ensures that clients will be able to both book, and travel, with confidence.

[Photo Credit: Discovery Adventures]

Space Jumper Sets Multiple Records In Historic Free Fall

space jumper


Space jumper
Felix Baumgartner fell into the history books Sunday, jumping to Earth from the stratosphere and making him the first man to break the speed of sound in free fall.

Starting at over 128,000 feet in a helium-filled balloon, 43-year-old Baumgartner’s record comes exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier flying in an experimental rocket-powered airplane.

The Austrian skydiving expert also broke records for the highest free fall and the highest manned balloon flight.




Baumgartner spent five years training for the mission, designed to improve our understanding of how the body copes with the extreme conditions at the edge of space.

Skydivers typically jump from an altitude of 12,000 to 14,000 feet and reach a speed of about 115 miles per hour. Baumgartner’s record, when verified, will be about ten times higher and ten times faster.

“It was an incredible up and down today, just like it’s been with the whole project,” a relieved Baumgartner said in a release from Red Bull, the sponsor of the jump.

“First we got off with a beautiful launch and then we had a bit of drama with a power supply issue to my visor,” added Baumgartner. “It was really a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”

Space Jumper
[Images courtesy Red Bull Stratos]

Video: Call Me Maybe, Says Austria, In Style


In a parody of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” YouTube video, the Austrian Tourism Board is front and center with their rendition. The video was actually filmed in New York City as part of the Austria Dirndl Temptation campaign.

Have no clue what that means? Dirndl is a type of traditional dress worn in Austria based on the historical costume of Alpine peasants. Lederhosen are pants, either short or knee-length. Both are still quite popular today in Austria, and are worn at weddings, festivals and even in daily life in the Lake District, a resort area also called the Salzkammergut.

Since June, a group of Dirndl and Lederhosen ambassadors chosen by the Austria Tourist office have been going on outings all around NYC in traditional costume. As they interact with New Yorkers, they spread the word about Austria.

Like what you see? Follow Austria on a discovery tour of all things Dirndl-related, and if, along the way, you like them on Facebook, you’ll get the chance to win a trip for two to the heart of Dirndl-country along with your own Dirndl and Lederhosen.

Retreating Italian Glacier Reveals Dead From World War I

World War OneTwo soldiers’ bodies from World War I have been discovered on an Italian mountain, the Telegraph reports.

Workers on the Presena glacier in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of the Dolomites in Italy found the bodies at an altitude of 9,850 feet. The glacier has been receding because of an unusually hot summer and the workers were covering it with a giant tarpaulin to keep it from thawing further.

The soldiers are believed to have been from an artillery unit of the Austro-Hungarian army and were killed in 1918. The skeletons were identified by remnants of uniform and insignia. No word yet on whether they can be named.

During World War I, Italy fought against Austro-Hungarian and German forces in the bitter cold of the mountaintops. One favorite tactic was to fire artillery shells above enemy positions to cause avalanches to bury them. In other cases soldiers died from wounds or exposure and were lost. Many of these bodies have been found in later years.

From more on the Italian Front, there is an excellent website and photo collection here.

The Presena glacier isn’t the only one melting. The entire Alps is seeing less ice cover, reducing the number of ski slopes and increasing the risk of avalanches for trekkers.

[Photo courtesy German Federal Archive]