Having lived 13 years on the island of Hvar in Croatia - officially the sunniest island in Europe - one becomes used to the sun as part of the daily furniture. Having been born in Manchester, I have never been a sun worshipper, and I laughed when friends told me how much I would miss the sun when I moved to Munich.
Ha, I thought, how little did they know me.
And then there was yesterday. A Skype with my family back home revealed another gorgeous Dalmatian day in the background (thanks Rhona Crosbie for the lead photo showing Hvar in its late November glory). I looked out of the window after the conversation in suburban Trudering. Snow was falling. I shivered, but was warm enough in the house not to have to think about going out just yet.
Until my landlord popped in enthusiastically and invited me to go to the mountains in Austria to see a friend who is running a ski lodge near Schwaz. What the heck, I thought, a little mountain air might do me good. And had it just been a little, it might have...
I am not the most athletic type, even less equipped to deal with the Austrian winter outdoors. My fellow walkers, Nick and Marina, are the total opposite, active skiers and walkers, and just back from a fortnight hiking in the heights of Peru. Ideal companions to highlight my physical deficiencies. What I lacked in equipment, they more than made up for, and I soon found my shoes attached to some orange boards with metal grips underneath which would help me deal with the walk ahead.
For the idea to visit a friend in a ski lodge 1887m above sea level is a fine idea for an unfit middle-aged male if the ski lift is working. But if it is not...
The sheer horror of what was before me suddenly took hold. A walk which apparently took 90 minutes for the average human with no snow lay before me, and I was accompanied by two fitness freaks who looked as though they could run up the mountain and back six times in the time it took for me to get to the top.
"Leave me, you go on," I urged at least a dozen times, the first about five minutes after we started to climb when my first bout of breathlessness started. They were wonderfully loyal, insisting that there was no rush and that I should take all the time I needed. In retrospect, I realised they couldn't leave me, as there was every probability I would fall over and they would never see me again, and their cheery dispositions in the company of such an unfit lump was greatly appreciated, and will never be forgotten.
Onwards and upwards, oh, forever upwards. Here is Nick, marching forth. I would gladly admit that the photo was mine if it were true, but I was some way behind over the edge behind. Climbing snowy ski slopes is a cruel business. You see a horizon and make that your next target, only for the horizon to give way to another horizon before you get there. Will we EVER get to this lodge?
Yes was the answer finally, but not before we had climbed about 700 vertical metres, about 699 more than I am used to in my daily routine. Gallant Nick stayed with me all the way, a big smile hiding a little frustration I fear.
For no sooner had we arrived than we had to think about heading down the hill again, as darkness was not that far away, and I for one certainly didn't fancy that. For the journey down, I gave up my orange boards in favour of a ski pole. Of course I had set out with the wrong kind of shoes, and was rewarded by just the four falls on my back. It would have been a lot more without the trusty pole.
As ever, kind Nick guided me through the impending darkness, my boards attached to his small rucksack, making him reminiscent of a sad butterfly who had had his wings clipped - which is probably how he felt walking up the mountain with me.
Finally, a successful descent to the bottom, with just a few aching bones and a little lost pride, but also a sense of achievement and some lungs full of the healthy Austrian mountain air. It was an important reminder that my body is not the temple it once was, and also an afternoon of fitness resolutions.
As for the lodge which we hiked to, it is one of the great new additions to Tyrol for this winter season. Hecherhaus Alpine Lodge is set in a spectacular isolated location at the top of a ski lift, with its magnificent terrace overlooking the bright lights of Innsbruck in the valley below. Here it is from a photo on a day when the weather was more inviting.
It is being renovated and is under new management and will be opening next month. People are already talking about it and bookings are brisk, even though it is not yet open. Follow the Hecherhaus Alpine Lodge on Facebook to learn more.