WALKING IN THE AUSTRIAN ALPS
A common complaint of Americans traveling in Europe, especially repeat travelers, is that everything is too grand: too many great cities, too many inspiring historic sites, too many romantic castles, too many wonderful museums and just too many magnificent cathedrals.
Have you ever said to yourself mid-way through a trip: “Here I am, right where I want to be, doing what I long dreamed of, and I_m not enjoying myself. I_ve lost interest. I_m tired.” Or worse: “I_m bored.”
Chances are that you are more saturated than tired. The key to avoiding interest-fatigue is variety. In travel, as at table, you can get too much of a good thing. Don_t do non-stop city tours of museums, castles, and museums. Do something different occasionally. This is easier, of course, when you plan your own trip or if you go to Europe with nothing more definite than your arrival and departure dates. But if you are careful, you can choose a tour that offers variety, or your travel agent will help you lay out an itinerary that includes variety.
One of the most delightful travel breaks that I have discovered, which now has become for me the high point of trips, is walking. I don_t mean an evening stroll along Montreux_s flowered lake front or even a brisk walk through London_s Kensington Gardens before tea time. I mean a walk.
I hesitate to call it hiking, because that conjures up images of backpacks, bedrolls and unwashed bodies. The sort of walk that I enjoy is pleasant, refreshing for mind and body and, for most people in good health, not taxing.
Try this: En route between Bavaria and Venice, or between Switzerland and Vienna, take a day out for a walk in the Austrian Alps.
My family and I took a summer day trek in the mountains above the Montafon, the lovely valley between Bludenz and Partenen in western Austria. The region is popular for both winter and summer sports.
We picked up picnic supplies in the morning at Tschagguns and drove a bit higher to the Golmerbahn cog-train station. The train ride up the mountain to Grüneck in open cars is alone worth the trip. The scenery is breathtaking. The twenty-minute ride includes a mid-point change in cars.
If you are not a walker and will be content to sit at a table on the terrace of the station restaurant at the top and drink in the spectacular view, buy the round trip ticket. There_s also a bargain family fare. There are frequent departures both ways.
Of course, you can avoid the train altogether by walking up the mountain. There are ample trails. But I wouldn_t advise the climb unless you are an experienced mountain hiker in top physical condition. Thus, the advantage of the cog-train. Pay your fare, and you are an alpine trekker.
A number of well-marked trails begin at Grüneck. You might decide to walk out an hour or two and return to the restaurant for lunch on the terrace–be sure to linger over coffee for the view–and ride the train down the mountain.
Or follow our route. We took the trail for Lindauer Hütte, a popular stopping place for hikers. The path is quite safe and mostly level. Walkers occasionally share the trail with sleek, belled cows, brought to the high country for summer grazing. The Alpenrose (alpine rose) and other wildflowers added color to the lush green hillsides against a backdrop of snowy crags. The air was crystal-clear and just cool enough to be positively exhilarating. All my Heidi fantasies were satisfied.
We stopped often, less to rest than to enjoy the view. The slopes drop off gently to the valley thousands of feet below. Ahead, a range of peaks rose to the heights of the massive mountain called Drei Türme. Around every turn of the trail was another panorama that required yet another stop.
We didn_t see many people. The trails were pleasantly uncrowded. We heard mostly German spoken. Indeed, we heard no English all day other than that of our own party.
Lindauer Hütte is more than an alpine hut, a small lodge actually. Services include a tiny restaurant that serves salads and sandwiches of sausages and bacon. There are also toilets and a most inviting sun deck. Hikers stripped off sweaters, and a few shirts, and sat at wooden tables, eating lunches of cheese, meat, bread and wine.
The remainder of the walk was downhill. The low brush and sparse conifers gave way to thick forests. The trail ran alongside a small, clear stream and crossed it occasionally over narrow log bridges or on stepping stones.
The path became a single-track road and passed through fields of freshly-cut hay with its heady perfume. Picturesque farmhouses with traditional balconies and flower-filled boxes bordered the fields. We turned more than once to look back toward the mountains.
The trail eventually led us down to the lower station of the Golmerbahn where we had parked the car. In all, from Grüneck at the top of the cog railway back to the car, we had walked about five miles.
Transportation and accommodation in the Montafon valley are no problem. Schruns is the principal village, with rail service from Bludenz. There are buses to other villages and to the cog-train station. If you arrange your trip through an agency, you will likely be booked into one of the area_s fine tourist hotels. If you are doing your own planning or you are driving in, you might prefer to stay in one of the smaller rustic hotels or simply take a room in a private home. Look for the “Zimmer” signs.
We were fortunate to walk with Austrian friends who planned our excursion, but you can do it easily on your own. Begin planning early, and write for information. Send for general tourist brochures from the Austrian government tourist office in the United States, but also write directly to the areas you plan to visit. For example, for information about Schruns, write Verkehrsverband Schruns, A-6780 Schruns, Austria, Europe. (Add “Europe” to signal the harried American postal employee not to send your inquiry by mistake to Australia. It happens.) Ask for detail about tourist attractions and a list of accommodations, including zimmers. Then you can write or telephone ahead if you wish.
If you want to write for specific information from any other town in Austria, use the framework suggested above. “Verkehrsverband” is the official local tourist agency. Most towns have them. Give the postal code, if you know it. If not, give the province, if you know it, after the town name. Example: Verkehrsverband Imst, Imst–Tirol, Austria, Europe. The town is Imst, the province is Tirol.
You don_t need to fill your luggage with a special outfitting for the walk. My family wore khakis, jeans and shorts. If you plan to take a number of country walks, invest in a pair of light hiking boots. A pair of sturdy walking shoes will do as well. My ultralight RocSports serve quite satisfactorily as town, theater and walking shoes.
Carry a good sweater and windbreaker along. To be absolutely safe, add a light plastic raincoat or poncho. Mountain weather can change rapidly. One member of the party should take a small knapsack to carry excess clothing and a lunch if you decide to carry it, as we did. You can avoid the weight of the food by buying lunch at Lindauer Hütte.
The trail we took was just a bit higher than 6,000 feet, so most people should have no trouble with altitude. It goes without saying that anyone who plans a hike, even one of this little difficulty, should be in good health and reasonably good physical condition.
If you spend the night at your Montafon lodging following your walk, and you are driving, the next morning continue southward and eastward and see some lovely country. The trip from Bludenz to Innsbruck via the Montafon is three to four hours of easy driving and is most rewarding.
East Anglia is quite near London, close enough for day-trippers. This might lead to the conclusion that its scenic countryside and attractive villages would be gorged with people on holiday. Not so. During a two-week visit, I saw a few English tourists, almost no foreign visitors, and not one American until the twelfth day.
The English neglect of the region I can only ascribe to the same sort of malady that afflicts some San Franciscans who have never seen Yosemite, an affront for which they should be put on public display in front of City Hall. Foreigners probably do not visit East Anglia because their holiday time is limited, and they choose other regions that are better known. And, though there are bus excursions available from London, one needs a car to see the area at its best.
As usual, one must make choices, and what follows is a suggested driving visit of five or six days. Use a good map of the region, and stay on the backroads if time and navigational skills allow.
Caveat: pick up a book that describes traffic rules and parking regulations and curb markings. Don_t watch locals. They often park illegally and hope for the best.
To capture the essence of East Anglia, begin with the Lower Stour (stew_-er) River, just east of Colchester. This is Gainsborough and Constable country, renown ironically not so much for agriculture as the early cloth industry. Gainsborough, the portraitist and landscape painter, was born in Sudbury, probably in 1727, and worked there for a time. His birthplace, now a museum, can be visited. Constable, Britain_s premiere landscape artist, was born at East Bergholt in 1776. His birthplace was pulled down in the 1840s by a neighbor who wanted to improve his view.
Constable painted some of his most famous canvases around Dedham and Flatford Mill. Dedham is probably the most popular village in East Anglia. An important weaving town until the mid-eighteenth century, Dedham today is tidy, quiet and picturesque. St. Mary_s Church, the present building dating from 1492, owes much to the lucrative wool trade. Walk about the town, taking care not to miss the Flemish Cottages, originally a medieval cloth factory. Dedham Mill, now a private home, was the last working flour mill on the Stour. Ask at The Sun, an old coaching inn, about Elsa, their resident ghost. Don_t miss tea at the delightful seventeenth-century Essex Rose Tea Room, opposite the church.*
Drive northwestward now toward Lavenham. En route, visit the fifteenth century Gainsborough_s House, just off the town square at Sudbury, a busy market town. Lavenham is something else. One of the most interesting medieval towns in England, Lavenham is quiet and tranquil, a treasure of timber-framed buildings. Spend at least a full day here. Purchase a walking-tour guide from the Suffolk Preservation Society, just off market square. The Corpus Christi Guildhall on the square, built in 1520 as headquarters for a medieval guild, is magnificent. Now owned by the National Trust, the structure serves as community center and a museum of local history.
Half-way through the one-mile walk, stop at The Priory on Water Street. Originally the residence of Benedictine monks, and later medieval cloth merchants, the timber frame house and gardens, now a private home, are open to the public. Refresh yourself at the pleasant second-story tea room. For dinner, try the fish and chips at the pretty little pub at Bridge Street, a nearby village.
Make your way by scenic lanes or the more direct A-roads to Wymondham (win_dum), a few miles southwest of Norwich. Begin at the seventeenth-century Market Cross, a curious octagonal structure, with an enclosed second story resting on wooden columns. The upper floor houses the tourist office. At the bottom of the square, on Church Street, stop at the fifteenth-century Green Dragon, the oldest inn in town. The pub has a small beamed dining room and pretty hotel rooms.
Continue down Church Street to the brooding double-towered abbey. From its founding in 1107, townspeople and monks vied for control of the church. The Pope intervened in 1249, giving the east end of the building to the monks and the west end to the town. Each faction built its own tower. Henry VIII settled the dispute when he dissolved the monastery and demolished the east end, happily leaving the tower. The intact portion still serves as the parish church.
Nearby Hingham (hing_um) is a pretty village with many Georgian houses around two greens. The town is most interesting to Americans as the ancestral home of Abraham Lincoln. There is a bust of the American president in St. Andrew_s Church, and the town has exchanged various monumental stones and timbers with Hingham, Massachusetts. We had tea and scones at–what else–the Lincoln_s Tea and Coffee Shop on the green. Nice place. Some Americans will also remember Hingham for its associations with the American 452d Bomber Group that was based nearby during WWII.
Turn north now through lovely countryside and villages to Little Walsingham, north of Fakenham. Walsingham has been a pilgrimage center since 1061 when a vision of the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared here. As well as Anglican and Catholic shrines, the village has some fine examples of architectural styles through the centuries. The most popular pilgrimage is the walk, often barefoot, from Walsingham southward to the Slipper Chapel at Houghton St. Giles.
While my wife shopped at the Sue Ryder gift shop on the high street, I had tea at the pleasant coffee shop adjoining. I struck up a conversation with an elderly man who announced that he was going to walk the path to the Slipper Chapel barefoot. “I never!” his wife said. She leaned toward me. “He_ll never make it,” she said. But he did. In the Middle Ages, the devout, including Henry VIII, walked in the opposite direction. They left their shoes at the chapel–thus the chapel_s name– to complete the pilgrimage barefoot to Little Walsingham.
In Little Walsingham, we stayed at the Sue Ryder Foundation Retreat House, located behind the coffee and gift shops. Rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable, and reasonably- priced. Meals can be taken in the coffee shop or the Retreat House dining room. Recommended.
From Little Walsingham, drive north, then west along the scenic coast. If your journey takes place during summer, you will be blessed with purple fields of lavender around Heacham. Stop at the demonstration farm near the village. There are rows upon rows of lovely varieties of lavender. An inviting pavilion for lunches and teas is set up in the display area.
Just south of Dersingham on the A419, turn left for Sandringham. The Jacobean-style Sandringham House has been a country home of the royal family since Queen Victoria purchased it in 1862. The house and gardens are open to the public when family members are not in residence. The mansion and nearby church, a small gem in Perpendicular style, contain many memorials and memorabilia of the royal family.
Now turn westward for Stamford, long proclaimed, and justifiably, as “The Finest Stone Town in England.” Dating mostly from the medieval and Georgian periods, the town is a happy blend of glorious past and modern vitality. A leisurely walk through the town is quite rewarding, in spite of the busy streets and sidewalks.
The local tourist office has lately added a new boast. Stamford is the site of the popular BBC television series, “Middlemarch,” based on the novel by George Eliot. The brochure that describes the Stamford sites used in the series was the first offered to this tourist. I enjoyed the television presentation of “Middlemarch” immensely, but I wonder at city authorities who make much of serving as a stage for fiction when their town is layered in history. I bought a copy of the fine official town guide that wisely neglects to mention the program.
End your journey with a visit to Burghley House on Stamford_s outskirts. Built in the mid-sixteenth century by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I_s favorite councilor, the house is one of England_s most magnificent. Cecil_s descendants live there still. The west front is surely one of the finest examples of man_s handiwork. The interior and furnishings are equally impressive. Even the facilities are regal. A bronze plaque in the men_s toilet announces that it was “Opened Privily” by the Stamford mayor on 4 May 1984.
Write to the British Tourist Authority, 551 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10176, for general materials. Ask also for specific materials on East Anglia and addresses of local tourist authorities. Here_s one: Tourist Officer, Suffolk County Council, St. Edmund House, County Hall, Ipswich, IP4 1LZ, UK. During your trip, do yourself a great favor. On arriving in a town, make the local tourist office your first visit. They can provide the best advice on what to see, what to do, and where to stay.
*Since publication of this article, Ian from Essex Rose informed the author that the tea room in fact is five hundred years old, dating from the late fifteenth century. The building is listed by the national historic buildings department of English Heritage.
ON THE TRAIL OF LEWIS AND CLARK
The Lewis and Clark Expedition has excited the imagination of Americans for almost two hundred years. President Thomas Jefferson instructed the two United States Army officers to search for a water route though the continent and learn as much as they could about the unknown interior. During their trek from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast and back again in 1803-1806, the expeditionary force roughly paralleled the courses of the Snake and Columbia rivers. Their journals describe a three-year journey of hardship and foul weather, particularly on the lower Columbia.
Our journey, by contrast, was a delight, relaxing and educational, and good weather all the way.
We boarded the M/V Sea Lion in mid-May at Portland_s Riverplace Marina on the Willamette River. The 152_ ship, constructed and registered in the United States, would be our home for the next week as we followed in the wake of Lewis and Clark by ship, jet boat, and zodiac.
The ship_s shallow draft and bow thrusters permit the Sea Lion to go where most cruise ships turn back. Cabins are comfortable, and all are outside. Dress in the lounge and dining room is informal, and all passengers can be accommodated in one seating at meals.
Indicative of the nature of the cruise, the ship_s staff included a historian, a geologist, and a naturalist. No social director. During cruising, one or more of the staff were always on deck, commenting and pointing out sights along the bank. They led walks ashore as well.
As we cruised down the Willamette to its confluence with the Columbia, thence up the latter, Carlos Schwantes, noted historian of Lewis and Clark and the Pacific Northwest, presented an overview of the Lewis and Clark expedition, particularly pointing out where our course would touch theirs. On the afternoon of the first day, we debarked for a bus excursion, choosing between a visit to the Columbia Crest Winery or a birding walk in the McNary Wildlife Refuge.
A few miles upstream from Portland is Bonneville Dam. From the dam to a point above the confluence of the Snake River, the Columbia, properly speaking, is a series of artificial lakes. The same can be said for the Snake. From its mouth to Lewiston and Clarkston, two Washington cities that straddle the river at the Idaho border, the Snake is a stair-stepped lake.
In the course of our cruise up the Columbia and the Snake, we passed through locks at eight dams, with a combined lift of 726 feet. The 105-foot vertical lift at John Day is the largest in the world. The lock gate of 700 tons looks like a guillotine for giants. Most locks employ the more common miter doors, which open and close like the two doors of a formal dining room.
Long before the arrival of Lewis and Clark, the river was home and gathering place. We saw petroglyphs on rocks just above the water_s edge that speak of ancient inhabitants. Representations of human figures with what appear to be antennae have led to interesting speculation about the artists. Melancholy abandoned farmsteads of more recent date suggest a lonely existence. A child_s swing hanging from a branch of an ancient apple tree spoke volumes.
The ship_s staff geologist often commented on the geologic origins of the region. Huge sedimentary boulders, mudstone or shale, at the water_s edge on the upper Columbia were deposited here by moving continental plates about 100 million years ago. Several layers of volcanic basalt are revealed in the walls of the gorge. Cliffs of columnar basalt that sweep up from the water_s edge are particularly striking. The severe aspect of the gorge is often softened by hills, some rolling, some sharp and craggy, that appear covered with green velvet.
At Clarkston on the Snake, we transferred to jet boats for an exciting ride into Hells Canyon. The desert canyon is reputedly the deepest in North America. The boats glided across rapids and bounced over rolling white water. On one occasion passengers were thrilled to see wild bighorn sheep on ledges high above the river. Five minutes later, our driver brought the boat quietly into the shallows to watch bighorns grazing at the bank.
We had a pleasant buffet lunch on the lawns of the headquarters of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. There are no roads here, a questionable disadvantage. The site can be reached only by water.
Turning downstream now, we rejoined the Sea Lion and soon anchored inside the mouth of the Palouse River, which flows into the Columbia from the Washington side. Zodiacs ferried us to a waiting bus that took us to Palouse Falls and its deep, sharply-etched canyon. Usually clear and blue, the water at the falls was the color and consistency of thick chocolate, attesting to erosion from heavy rains in the high country.
Returning to the river, we boarded zodiacs and cruised upstream. Uplake, actually. The Palouse at its mouth is part of the lake formed by a Columbia dam. Reeds and marshes harbored an abundant bird life. In a short stretch of river (lake), we saw orioles, meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, hawks, belted kingfishers, caspian terns, gulls, Canada geese, and lots of swallows flying about their adobe nests clinging to the cliff face and fetching mud at the riverbank. We saw two beaver lodges, but no beaver.
Our zodiac finally reached the head of the lake and the beginning of the free-flowing Palouse River. The stream, about twenty feet wide, was too swift and probably too shallow for the zodiacs, and we turned back. The chocolatey flow mixed gradually with the clearer blue-green water of the lake.
One morning, we were bussed to the heights of Rowena Plateau for a panoramic view of the gorge of the Columbia. We continued inland through the beautiful Hood River Valley to Parkdale. The view of tidy spring-green orchards, with snow-capped Mt. Hood rising above them, was captivating. At the historic Parkdale Grange hall, we were treated by local people to coffee and tea and forced to choose between half a dozen kinds of homemade pies. The mixed berry was delicious. So was the apple.
For our return, we boarded vintage coaches of the Hood River Railroad. Half way down the valley, in order to negotiate a steep slope, the train slowed to a halt at a dead end, then rolled backward through a switch and down a connecting track. The remainder of the journey was made in reverse. It seems that this technique was cheaper to build than cutting switchbacks on the hillside.
Back aboard the Sea Lion, we continued down the Columbia and passed a stretch of river that is mecca for wind-surfers. The upstream winds here are strong and reliable. Later the ship tied up at Bonneville Damwhere we toured the visitor center and watched salmon and other species swimming through the underwater viewing windows of the fish ladder. We returned to the ship and cruised downstream, enjoying the waterfalls that tumble from the heights on the Oregon side.
We were blessed with uncommon weather at the mouth of the Columbia: bright sunshine, cloudless sky, little wind. Lewis and Clark never had it so good. A director of the Columbia River Maritime Museum at Astoria gave us a personal tour of this world-class facility. Later We toured Fort Clatsop, a careful reconstruction of the expedition_s 1805-1806 winter lodging. The diarists complained bitterly that the weather was cold and debilitating, the rain constant. We had sunshine and balmy breezes.
On our last evening, we anchored near the shore between the Columbia_s mouth and Portland. I stood at the rail at dusk, watching the sun set. A Canada goose swam into view near the ship, followed by a perfect file of fifteen tiny goslings, followed by another adult. A fitting end to a memorable trip.