Friday, August 22, 2014

Over the border into Austria

We left our wonderful accommodation and headed towards the Austrian border.  In the process we went over some spectacular passes and every corner revealed another fantastic view. Words really can't do them justice, so I have included a number of photos below. 

We stopped at Lienz for lunch, the first major town across the border. It's clean, but unexciting, so I can understand why it is not big on the tourist route.  Still it was fine for a lunch stop.

Lienz town square
We are now seeing dirndls in the shops

I had then planned to drive along the Grossglockner road, but it was getting late and the weather was not good, and I thought the views etc would not have been good, so instead we decided to head to Bad Gastein, which was a 19th century spa resort town. To get there we had to put our car onto a train which was a car shuttle. It was an interesting experience,  especially when I had to leave Andy, who was the driver, and get into the passenger carriage, while he got the car on board and struggled to understand the German instructions (his German is very limited).

We arrived in Bad Gastein and were not at all impressed. It was very crowded, full of ugly buildings as well as some old ones. It appeared overly commercialised, and not at all welcoming. So we kept driving. 

One of the things I found most beautiful were all the wildflowers we saw everywhere. Some by the road, and other times whole fields of them.

Eventually we found a lovely little village well away from the main road called Embach, and found a guest house with a vacancy. 

Salaterhof in Embach
Around Embach
Our accommodation did not do evening meals, so they recommended that we go to the restaurant at another hotel. It really was very good. It was a table d'hote menu, rather than a la carte, but there was still 4 choices of mains, and the food was excellent.  You helped yourself to the soup and to the salad & veggie buffet to start, then for our main, we both chose the fried chicken Austrian style which came with German potato salad and cranberry sauce. The desert was another buffet.

Dinner location
We arrived there before the restaurant was open, so we had a cold drink outside. They had  ducks (or are they geese) and their own little "Hauskapelle". Very picturesque.

Walking back to our accommodation it was quiet except for the cows lowing and their bells ringing, and the sound of a cuckoo. In the words of Pa Larkin from The Darling Buds of May it was "perfick!"

View from our room

View showing carved balcony

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Dolomites

After leaving Bolzano we headed off through the Dolomites. How do I begin to describe them - they are totally breathtaking. It was one of the few times in my life that being short was a bonus, as driving through the winding mountain roads I could see up through the windscreen, and from my low vantage point had a much better view than Andy did (especially as he was the driver and therefore concentrating on the road).

We made a stop at Lake Carezza, which was a blue-green lake with crystal-clear water surrounded by mountains and fir trees (much sought after for making violins, apparently).

And at the cafe where we stopped we discovered we were in Apple Strudel country!

After that it was more of the spectacular Dolomites, and of course, the picture-postcard Germanic buildings and churches.

Driving through this awe-inspiring scenery Andy spotted a hotel (called Casa Padon) that looked like it might be a good prospect for the night.  He couldn't have been more right.  It was quaint (though not very old), with a beautiful outlook, friendly staff and the price (which was very reasonable) included a three-course dinner. It was located in Pieve Di Livinallongo, in an area of the Dolomites where neither Italian nor German is the native language, but Ladinia. It was the scene of some of the most bloody battles of WWI to gain the top of the Col di Lana.  The names on the memorial on the outside of the church speak volumes, with person after person of the same family listed amongst the dead.

Casa Padon

Andy enjoying a coffee in the sun

View to the left

View straight ahead

View slightly to the right

View to the far right

Clouds starting to hide the mountain

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bolzano and Ötzi the Iceman

We travelled up from Trent towards Bolzano, the Italian town that has become the home to Ötzi the iceman.  

It looked like the museum housing Ötzi was located near the town centre, so we set the SatNav accordingly and were trustingly following her.  Sadie directed us straight into the pedestrian-only portion of town, where we drove straight towards an Italian policewoman who just looked at us, shook her head from side to side and wagged her finger at us in the same manner.  Sadie, it seemed, was either trying to get us injured (see previous blog post) or arrested.

For those who are not familiar with who he is, Ötzi  was discovered in 1991 in the Ötzal Alps on the border of Austria and Italy by hikers.  They at first thought they had found a recent body of someone who had been lost while hiking in the mountains, but it turned out that the body dated from about 5,300 years ago and the ice and snow had resulted in a remarkable degree of preservation and mumification.  More information about Ötzi can be found here.

There was an entire museum devoted to Ötzi, but unfortunately no photos were allowed.  There are, however, some on the web site above.  It was a fascinating museum.  I think the thing that I found most interesting was his fur cape - it had been made with stripes of different coloured pelts.  The only reason for that was purely decorative.  It amazes me that more than 5000 years ago, when I imagine (perhaps incorrectly) that life was a continuous hand-to-mouth struggle, they still bothered to add purely decorative aspects to the clothing, which would have increased the effort to make such clothes.

Up in Bolzano, though you are still in Italy, people are starting to talk in German (which is much easier for me than Italian). In fact the buildings also look more Germanic than Italian.  There is a reason for that. Until the end of WWI this area was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but was annexed by Italy at the end of the war. It was in fact, the scene of much fighting during the war.

The fact that we were now closer to the Germanic world was illustrated when we wandered around Bolzano's markets around lunch time.  Amongst the tempting stalls we found one selling Wurst (German Sausages). That was lunch sorted - we had after all overdosed on Italian food by this time. Below are some pictures from the markets at Bolzano.