Friday, August 28, 2009

Up and down and round about; Lindau to Mt Blanc

On then towards Lindau through more impossibly green fields, pretty mountains and the constant alpine villages around chair lifts for skiing and summer tramping. Most telecabine type lifts were open, some chair lifts but not into snow, which has gone in all but the highest mountains.

Rural hamlets

The lake front at Lindau was a lively place, a harbour guarded by a lion and a lighthouse, with cafes and restaurants, street performers and musicians.

Harbour light

Harbour lion

The contrast between the Lutheran Church with box pews and no pictures and the Baroque Cathedral was marked and interesting.

Lutheran Church

Baroque Catholic Church

The paintings on some of the buildings were really beautiful.
Such care has been expressed in the decoration.

The Rathaus

We did a small boat trip on the lake, very smooth and gentle. All along you could see the towns with Lido areas close to the lake, not beaches but green parks with umbrellas and people swimming and sunning.
A Cistercian monastery on the hill above a nearby lake was beyond Baroque and into Rococo, the interior in swirls of salmon stucco and gold scrolls. Since the Cistercian model in France is plain, no ornamentation except leaf capitals on the columns and a statue of the virgin, we can't help but feel the model is different in Germany.


Out of Brunnen we also experienced another monastery in Rococo decoration at Einsiedien, and again no photos were allowed, though I bought one of the interior as it was so unbelievable.

Einsieden Basilica outside

Brunnen is set on Lake Luzern, a large lake among high mountains in Switzerland.

Lake at evening

Mountains behind Brunnen

We took a cable railway up to Stoos, a village in the high alps, and shared our lunch with a million flies which we kept at bay with the trusty Aerogard, much to the interest of the locals.

A boat trip to Luzern was also on the agenda. What a lovely town! A long wooden covered bridge with old paintings in the roof gables inside (where they were not lost in a large fire some years back).

Covered bridge

Pictures in the gables, most of things like saints being martyred

Pretty churches, lovely cafes beside the river flowing from the lake or in the arches under the old buildings, many swans, red geraniums.

We had lunch here

Lunch for others under the arches

We found it like a much nicer Annecy which we visited in France last year. A bicycle town too, with bikes just everywhere.

Parking problems in Luzern

The houses are often painted and decorated, some in old styles but some much more modern.

Decoration on a cafe

St George

On to Chamonix for the last of our mountains and cable cars. We had not counted on the dense clouds on the mountain passes, making it difficult to see the road or even the car or bus in front.

View from the car

Then over the top at Furka Pass and "bingo" the cloud was on one side and we were on the other. Mind you, when we could see the roads and the drop off on the side, maybe the cloud had been merciful for our peace of mind.

Cloud one side

The roads travelled

I was fascinated by some unique buildings in a few villages here. Dark wood, slate roofs in need of repair, no windows, ladders for entry, and the whole building set on points topped by large round stones. I correctly surmised old barns with the stones to keep out the mice and rats, but the theory is not dissimilar to the termite caps on the stumps of Australian houses.

Barns with stone cap protection from mice

Coming in towards Chamonix we noted that every part of the country was being cultivated if possible, leading to terraced hillsides covered in vines. The amount of work to tend these vines must be enormous and backbreaking. It would be impossible to get mechanical sprayers and harvesters to the vineyards.

Vineyards on the mountain slopes

Chamonix was buzzing, many people in the squares and town, unlike when we went through a year ago. We later learned that most people are up mountains during the day and the town blossoms in the afternoon/evening.Of course the point was indeed the mountains and we embarked on our biggest "up and down" adventure, the two cable cars that take you from Chamonix to a halfway point up Mt Blanc, and then a virtually vertical ascent via a second cable car to 3,800 metres.

Coming down and heading for that little red oval

The only times that were a bit scary were going over the three pylons on the first leg. The car jars and sways a bit. These are big cars, holding 50-60 people.
The final ascent to the top station goes almost vertically shortly after leaving.

Heading for the top at the red circle

We were surprised to find that even small exertions such as walking up a flight of stairs left us a little breathless and we had to take things easy for a bit. We didn't stay long at the top but descended to the halfway stage and enjoyed a drink on the terrace as the cable cars passed by.

Cable car

Needless to say, with clear blue skies the snow and mountains looked spectacular and the photos aren't half bad.

View at the top

Intrepid souls

Wildflowers and mountains, half way

In summary:
# We probably tried to fit in too many lakes and mountains.

# We did tend to find that the lake towns were filled with older people and I wouldn't be in a hurry to go back to them, perhaps too much of a reminder of what lies in the near future for us.
# In hotels we neglected to stipulate a lift or only a few stairs and that caused a few difficulties with luggage.
# Europe has had a very hot summer, so we should have requested airconditioning in all our accommodation.

# In most places the people in restaurants and hotels moved effortlessly between the languages, making it easy for us when ordering food or asking for information, but I am more confident in places where I have some understanding of the language, especially France and Italy. It will be interesting to see how we manage Spain later in the trip.

From now on, Italy and Spain. It is good to be back to Italian food.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Up and down and round and round: Hallstatt to Innsbruck

Leaving Bolzano and driving to Hallstatt had its moments, not the least of which was our GPS having dyslexic moments and suggesting left turns when we needed right. Nicknamed "Fred" ( "right" said Fred) he liked to take short cuts through back roads and to turn across town squares where there was no road at all.

We were accompanied with glimpses of the Dolomites through clouds and beautiful green country,

Dolomites from our lunch restaurant

Village on the way

Alpine fields and cloud

through to a National Park area in Austria that led up to the Kaiser Wilhelm lookout to glaciers and the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria.

The road to the top

Even as the clouds set in we had a glimpse of this beautiful mountain and people walking on the glacier.


The run into Hallstatt along wet roads was a bit nerve wracking. But the town was wreathed in mist and sitting right on the edge of the lake looking very picturesque.

Hallstatt at evening

And in the morning

The rain kept on the next day so we began by visiting the local museum which turned out to be a real gem, covering everything from Celtic influences and trading to the salt mines and ancient burial grounds and the history of the town itself. As the weather cleared we took our first trip "up and down" apart from the switchback roads so far, via a funicular railway to the top and the high meadows and salt mine areas, though we chickened out on sliding down into the salt mines themselves.

Funicular meeting in the middle

Lovely views across the lake. That night the local band played in the town square as we ate dinner, the locals wore their national dress and others watched from their windows.

Band members (love the one going cross-eyed)


Window on the square

The Trinity represented in the square

And the most gorgeous Ape I have seen

Nick liked the road signs

To Innsbruck past pretty lakes and reflected villages and mountains.

The hotel, the White Cross was right in the charming pedestrian centre where places had more of those beautiful old signs over the street.

Here we had our first encounter with a baroque cathedral and there were to be more at Wilten nearby and later at other cities in the Austrian/German areas.

St Jacob's modest altar

Wilten Basilica

Innsbruck has had two winter Olympics so the ski jump is a prominent feature above the town, easy to see from the Wilten area as we visited the basilica and the local bell foundry, a fascinating place with lessons in bell shapes, decoration and casting.

Love how the ski jump seems to lead here

Historic bells at the bell foundry

The Palace in Innsbruck is being restored so only a few rooms were available to see. No photos unfortunately, but the ballroom, the so-called "Giants Room" was amazing with enormous crystal and gold chandeliers made of carved and gilded wood.The Queen, Marie Theresia, was a force to be reckoned with. The palace now has some areas that are apartments owned by citizens and the cafe Sacher is below it. Naturally we had to sample some of the fare and take photos to prove we had been there. The famous Sacher Torte was a quite plain, tender chocolate cake filled with a little apricot jam and covered with a rich chocolate icing with a Sacher "seal" on each slice. They were selling whole cakes in boxes like, well, hot cakes.

My Sacher Torte

The ultimate in iced chocolate

Now for our next episode of "up and down", up the modern funicular railway, then two cabin type cable cars to the top of Hafelekar. The views of the town with the river Inn sweeping through was amazing, though a little hazy. People buy one way tickets and take their mountain bikes or hang-gliders up. You can see the path down for the bikes and walkers.

Cable car view with bike path

The alpine paths across the top of the mountain area were very narrow and across steep areas. Scared the daylights out of us but the hardy Austrians strode off with their alpenstocks in hand.

Paths for walkers


At the halfway Seegrube stop we had a drink and watched the hang gliders set up their gliders while flocks of crows circled effortlessly above.

And finally, the souvenir logo that caught our eye. Maybe they have the opposite problem in Austria, "Oh you're from that place with the kangaroos..."

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