Fiesta time in Tyrol
Life has been just that little bit different in Austria and Switzerland over the last couple of weeks. The joint organisers of UEFA EURO 2008 spent months preparing for the big event, making sure that the host cities were ready to cope with the influx of thousands of fans during the course of the tournament. And now that the colourful invaders have arrived, the locals have had to adjust their everyday routines somewhat.
The continental championship has also changed the pace of life in the sleepy villages chosen by the various national teams for their headquarters and training camps. One such place is Neustift im Stubaital, a small town some 25 kilometres from Innsbruck, which has become base camp for the Spain team during their Group D campaign.
Honoured to welcome their Iberian guests, the inhabitants of Neustift have gone out of their way to make them feel at home. The local authorities even went as far as to organise Spanish classes for the locals, and no sooner had their illustrious guests arrived than a group of four- and five-year-olds serenaded them with a traditional children's song that moved even renowned hardman Luis Aragones.
As well as "hola", "adios" and "gracias", another key word tripping off the tongue of the town's restaurant and bar owners these days is "cerveza" (beer), the beverage of choice for the hundreds of Spain fans who have flocked to this enchanting part of the Tyrol region. While tapas are not on the menu as yet, Neustift's restaurateurs have gone to the length of staying open later to allow La Furia Roja to dine at their accustomed late hour.
"It's amazing to still see snow on the mountains, and the countryside is just breathtaking," says Juan, who has travelled all the way from Almeria in Spain's arid south, a far cry from the lush green meadows of the Stubai Valley and the steep wooded slopes of the mountains that surround it.
The visitors are not the only ones who have been decking the town out in red and yellow, however. While showing their allegiance to the Austria team, the local people have also left a little space on their balconies for the Spanish flag, and some of the shops in Neustift have put up posters in their windows providing information on the Spain team and the country as well. The town's schools have also entered into the spirit of things, laying on special lessons on Spanish culture so that children can learn more about the country than just flamenco, bullfighting and paella.
"Austria-Spain in the final," says Hans with a chuckle as he returns home after taking his nephews and nieces to see Aragones put his team through their paces. The road leading to the training ground is usually deserted. But with David Villa, Fernando Torres and co. unwinding after their heroic win over Sweden, this is no ordinary day as a mass of cars and motorhomes jostle for access to the Spanish training camp. If anything, interest has grown now that the men in red have clinched their place in the last eight, and with it being a Sunday, a sizeable contingent of locals have joined the hordes of joyous Roja fans to see the quarter-finalists in the flesh.
After grabbing the opener against the Swedes, Torres is the man most in demand among the gaggle of patient young Austrian autograph hunters, suitably attired in red. And whatever their fate in the rest of the tournament, the Liverpool man and his team-mates know there is a corner of Austria that is forever Spain.