For the 2nd time in a month I’d got the train from Portsmouth to London, left Britain at St. Pancras what with passport control, boarded the Eurostar for the Channel Tunnel and Europe.
The 3rd trip was going according to plan. Much more ambitious this time. Instead of heading for Brussels it would be Paris, beginning a railway blitzkreig being on the move almost every day across 6 countries, 3 of which I hadn’t seen before: across France, the Alps to Vienna, then up through the Czech Republic to Poland and Warsaw, where I would link up with Jocelyn, who’d accompanied me to Kiev. This time I had my camera too.
I didn’t see much of what was left of the UK and northern France for there was a window partition where I sat. In Paris I would be staying at a youth hostel for a night near the city terminus station, the Gare du Nord, before departing onwards from the Gare de Lyon without seeing the sights. I’d seen Paris on a school trip and stayed at a youth hostel on the other side of the city when I was 21, but hadn’t seen Paris since 1973 and that was from one airport to another.
Once outside the Gare du Nord Paris was unmistakeable: its architecture with that look of fading but enduring elegance. I had a flat hike of 1 kilometre through narrow streets with the odd bistro and groups of coloured men, maybe Algerians, while watching my camera, to a modern Youth Hostel between the railways ending at the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est. Half way there was a broader boulevard to cross, with an elevated railway structure running down the centre like in Chicago, but there was no sign of a Metro station which would be my link to the train running through France tomorrow.
The elevated railway was the Metro! I made a joke of it when I found the Youth Hostel when I found it, by mimicking looking down then looking up. I’d booked a room there for the night. Echoing corridors in a slab like building led me to it. Comfortable enough with a shower and lockable windows. Just as well, there was a balcony running the length of the building I didn’t trust. There was also no toilet which was down the corridor. A diagrammatic notice told one that the sink was not to be used to take a leak. I doubt if many took notice of that.
Europe could be seen as an obstacle course of languages. I knew slightly less French than my random German words. It’s surprising how one could often get by with a vague understanding brought about by inflexion and gesture. Also if one could understand one word one might make a stab at an educated guess about the rest of it. Anyway the British are privileged if not spoilt. English is the most widely spoken language on this planet so many on the European continent know a few words and some can speak it fluently.
That’s the way it was at the bar next to reception and a handy barbecue on a terrace; where one overlooked the main line coming up from the Gare de l’Est. I’d always been in Paris in summer and the weather always seemed to be hot or at least seriously summer, with mellow evenings. The local beer went down well, relaxing me into the summer dusk. It might have helped me take a few good shots with the Nikon.
An early breakfast and off to the Metro on a sunny morning. Wasn’t easy to find the station entrance but once it was found and a train caught I had a nice ride on ‘Line 2’ that happened to be above ground on that section, taking me through the rooftops of Paris and treating me to an intriguing view of an unexpected formal lake or big canal – it turned out to be a canal – stretching through the cityscape, before going back underground for most of the ride.
I got lost further down the line when I had to change near the Gare de Lyon. Despite that though and the proverbial little old lady that the ticket office staff seemed unable to handle I got a place on the train I was aiming for that would arrive at my destination in mid afternoon. This felt improbable because it would be crossing a huge part of France, all the way to the French Alps in fact. Trouble was, the European rail pass I’d spent a lot of money on didn’t cover me for this train, the woman dispensing the ticket charmlessly told me. Also I was to change twice at;- where? I’d never heard of these places but I ascertained they were near the French Alps.
The rail pass must have helped though for the money I was paying must be cheap for the French fast train – ‘TGV’ – I was on; the fastest train anywhere in 2011 travelling at 200 mph. Also this expense was nothing remotely like a rail fare in England for a similar distance.
Once out of central Paris one could feel the acceleration powering the train around the curves on the track through the suburbs. Hoped the driver knew what he was doing after that Spanish train disaster on a curve last month.
There was a tunnel. No more Paris on the other side! Open country, not as many curves. Now the TGV was fairly flying across a broad river valley. Onward through France at maximum speed and it didn’t feel as though the train was straining itself.
What should have been a great trip though was marred by petty infuriations. A wait for the loo was followed by a persistent rattling of the door handle while I was in there. Not a place to spend long in or have this sort of thing to deal with, but ignoring it was a mistake for I was drying my hands when the door opened and I had to confront the railway official unlocking it with my partially dried hands while the woman causing the trouble and too many in 2 carriages looked on! He tried to justify himself and the woman in English saying they didn’t know what was happening behind a closed door. Disgusted that I was in the spotlight because they couldn’t wait at all while I and others were obliged to, I made my point about being intruded upon when I’d almost finished anyway, without bothering with any French!
Then there was probably revenge in the form of covert harrassment later when a female official insisted on me getting the paperwork from my backpack in the rack above when she saw my Eurorail pass. Disturbing all around me.
Look at the scenery, that’s a good antidote for stress. France comes close to being a mirror image of Britain with its scenery. The geology of southern England is also that of northern France with the chalk of Salisbury Plain forming the Somme uplands and the older rock of Cornwall cropping up in Brittany. Paris is like London, in a syncline; a dip of strata. The further away one gets from both capitals the older the rock is. Often the higher it is too. In Britain there’s Wales and the Pennines. In France the Massif Central and Jura, though Britain has nothing like the Alps.
The terrain was generally gaining in height and hills. There was a slightly drier look to the land as one got well to the south of the Paris basin. The architecture of the occasional village, hilltop farm and chateau seemed older and more substantial than what was to the north. I tried a few shots with my Nikon.
The hills were developing into a scale that was interesting when I noticed that part of one was missing: the sudden vertical profile I’d not seen so far of a considerable cliff. Just beyond here the country dropped into a broad valley or plain and we crossed a big river. Possibly the Rhone I thought, but it turned out to be the Saone, which continues the Rhone valley further north, the Rhone coming in from Lake Geneva.
The first changeover was probably approaching. Before that though were the Jura Mountains: rank upon rank of forested ridge with limestone cliffs. The Jurassic period – famous for Dinosaurs – is named after this region, but the rock forming these mountains was laid down in a shallow tropical sea so plesiosaurs would be more likely to be found here.
Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. That was the first change of trains and the TGV was just arriving there. Almost immediately I noticed that there were actually 2 stations here but there was a dome of a building in between where I should be able to check what platform my next train was leaving from and the Eurorail pass procedure. Plenty of time as long as I didn’t muck around too much. In theory.
There were only 2 people in front of me but the only person on duty was occupied by a tall woman, whose casually crossed ankles formed an X sending a signal that barred all progress and said it all.
‘You are subtly forbidden to proceed with your adventure for as long as I chose. I’ve plenty of time and am too nonchalant to care about how long you wait. Will I go soon or will I stay? Who can say? You will wait anyway. Your affair may be urgent, it may not, unless I stay, but you will wait. Patiently and politely while dangling in frustrating indecision about how long you will wait. Please relax. Just as I have done in my controlling position. There is nothing you can do.’
Well her stance is certainly irritating but I have a quarter of an hour to 20 minutes to play with so there’s a good chance she’ll…. words fail me for this blog.
I also had an ally. A Frenchman behind me who was clearly less patient than I was. Despite not being able to understand each other’s language we had common cause. Before long he’d interrupted the women’s meeting to politely ask them not to keep us waiting much longer. I say politely because I definitely heard him try diplomacy in the form of “s’il vous plait.”
They must have fobbed him off for it didn’t work. Nothing changed.
At noon another female member of staff arrived to sit next to the woman engrossed in the chat with the crossed ankles, who was intent on a leisurely examination of every minutia of the many tickets spread like a smorgasbord before her. Now we’ll get moving I thought, but no: the girl did her nails and anything else she could think of before deigning to open up and help anyone.
Time was getting truly tight but at least people were moving forward. But my turn looked like coming just too late for me to hang around.
The midday girl was occupied for the immediate future too. The crossed ankles looked like leaving. Then she changed her mind and stayed put as the clock reached the deadline I’d set. That’s it I’m out of here! But my ally called me back, she was leaving. Then she changed her mind again “OH COME ON!” I blasted her in English. I’ve got 4 minutes to my train!
They were stupid enough to look as though they’d been mildly surprised from a trance. My approach didn’t work immediately but nobody challenged me; the queue behind feeling I was speaking for them maybe. Then I was at the desk sorting the Europass as fast as possible bearing in mind that thanks to one nonchalant cow I was not only cutting it perilously close but the guy behind who’d tried earlier looked like having even less time than I did!
“That’s it. All yours!” I said to him hoping the spirit of the message would get through. Just after he got to the desk I realised I’d forgotten my most urgent mission: finding the platform my train was leaving from. Too late now and I was out of there.
I made the right train. I’ve actually lost my memory as to how I achieved that!
Scenery soothed me again. Especially an out of this world view from a height it seems of a forested mountain ridge as regular as a wall fading down into distant blue, vaporising into distant summer haze. It looked a beautiful place to live and many seemed to have that idea for it was well populated in that direction too. It was the other side of the Jura range, we were running along the southern edge of the Swiss border and the suburbs of Geneva.
I was chatting with an American family who were on the same journey as me, saving their bacon when I noticed the son had got off the train at the wrong station for the 2nd change. A large family were held up in this confusion though and I had to block the door to stop the train leaving while they were getting off.
Mountains or foothills again. Behind them though, bigger mountains, then mountains beyond emerging out of the faraway haze like a range of legend, dwarfing the nearer ones again. The Jura was regular and green with forest, shaped like oversize ridges and hills with some cliffs thrown in; these others were developing up out of their forest cloak into towering rock masses, some snow capped. Soaring higher and higher the further they were. Awesomely out of scale with any landscape I’d seen for a long time. Opening up new realms of fantastic scenery for the imagination. An uplifting sight. We’d made the Alps.
I helped the American family to the right platform at the right station.
Now it was the final valley to Chamonix where I was staying for the night and what a valley! The Alps as a mountain range is nothing much at all in terms of land area covered, but it’s extremely high for that area. That and the very deep valleys make it one of the most spectacularly jagged mountain ranges on this planet. It’s also young like the Himalayas, so less likely to be worn down. Both didn’t really get going until after the Dinosaurs and both mountain ranges were still growing! About as fast as ones fingernails I’ve heard.
One gets used to thinking of landscape being more or less level with one’s eyes, not at 45° upwards or thereabouts all the time unless it’s a similar angle down. It brings on a whole new perspective on reality and thereby life.
One could actually see Mt. Blanc and that was one Mother of a mountain! What I thought was the summit was a great dome of snow to the right but the real summit was still just visible looking like part of the ridge further back from the dome at this angle. The general mountain mass was unmistakeable because there was a glacier from the Mt. Blanc massif draping down into the Chamonix valley with its snout above the Youth Hostel I’d booked a place at. I could see the glacier from the train and the belt of bare rock around it was a measure of how far it had recently melted, good evidence for global warming.
We were there and I had a longish walk uphill from the town centre to the hostel but I considered myself lucky. Once in awhile I’d discovered fragments of Heaven on Earth and this was one of them. Once out of the well kept Swiss Chalet style centre the straight road I was to follow was more of a lane with a gentle gradient slanting away from the valley centre up a lower slope. All around were beautifully maintained places with flowers everywhere soaking up the sunshine of a serenely sunny day with white puffs of cloud far above. Up where there were awesomely high and huge exhibitions of stunning scenery cloaked in dazzling snowfields. There were cablecars up there; the cables going up the valley sides looking as insubstantial as a few strands of spiders web. People were enjoying themselves up there. I’d seen a paraglider back at the last changeover flying along the collosal vertical rock face of a mountain. There were many more here drifting so far above the valley they reminded me of dandelion seeds or thistledown. Meanwhile back on the ground there were even roadside stone troughs thoughtfully provided where somehow I just knew I could drink the crystal clear water. I’d taken a train ride to Heaven. Didn’t suffer any ill effects from the water either.
It got a lot steeper across a motorway below the glacier but the Youth Hostel was not far and there was another water trough there. It was 4 o’ clock and the reception desk did not open up for another hour. Not that I cared for it was hard to find a nicer place to wait and I could explore a bit and clean up. Odd to think I was in Paris this morning when was here this early.
I wasn’t even annoyed when reception opened up and the jovial young Frenchman there tried to overcharge me by 10 Euros. I had a bunk in a dormitory so I was to leave the camera in the office for safe keeping. Despite the money I decided to trust him.
The hostel itself was the best one I stayed in on this trip. The main floor had a giant chessboard and chess pieces on the side of the room with a valley view. There was also a small library and – to my delight – a vacuum formed relief model of the Chamonix region on the other side. In the centre was a hexagonal hole in the floor with a broad stairway going down to a bar and TV area, for the hostel was built on a sloping site. Outside below was a games area with French bowls and table tennis. The other way was a nice courtyard with a view of Mt. Blanc and access to sleeping quarters. The lights going out in the corridors to save power was more of an adventure than anything. My dormitory was small and cosy with a view of the valley.
The only thing wrong was the optional evening meal. Hardly French cordon bleu cooking. The best I can say of it was that there were plenty of vegetables. Meanwhile though there was still the view. Earlier it was the snow expanses pocked with random chunks of shadow; of seracs, crevasses, cornices, outcrops and cliffs. Now in the evening cloud was drifting across rock faces and snowfields making what was beyond appear to hang in space. It all reminded me of photos I’d seen as a child in my Dad’s Himalayan mountain books.
People seemed healthier in the French Alps. Mine was good for my age in south Hampshire but here it was mediocre. I’d be well up for a hike up to the glacier but higher up and Mt. Blanc itself? That would really be rolling the dice, but I got the impression people here seemed to look upon that the way we regarded a hike on the South Downs at home. As for running 100 kilometres in this kind of terrain? Absolutely no chance! That was what a Japanese man sitting next to me did and was about to do and he was only one year younger! Heaven is good for your health it seems.
Anyway I helped ensure I never would by a good drinking session into the evening at the bar.
Morning. The camera was fine and could take photos of the sun behind the mountains casting vast shadows of them overhead, miles long, during the downhill hike to the station. There was no trouble this time with the Eurorail pass either. Now to venture into the unknown for although I knew roughly where hostels were I had nothing booked with accomodation and wasn’t familiar with any train timetables.
I did however have a good idea of the route. The train I caught pulled out of Chamonix to the valley’s end and through a knot of towering jagged rockpiles of mountains. This was one of the mountain masses interrupting a trend of valleys I’d noticed running the length of the Alps through most of the spectacular parts of them. It could be a major geological feature and research on Google Earth seemed to show that there were railways making use of it, through its length it appeared. In theory it should be possible to cover ground quickly that way for one could take photos while on the move since the mountains would be all around one and it would be hard to avoid spectacular views of them.
That would be my route then, that would take me across Switzerland and well into Austria, to Innsbruck and beyond.
Certainly was a scenic route! Surprisingly most of that mountain section was tunnel free though by now the track was protected by avalanche shelters here and there. An interesting challenge for photography but I got a some of those jagged rocky mountains heaving up of out precipitous pine forest, deep valleys too and a small town squeezing into whatever land it was possible to build on.
It was hard to tell where the border was, probably that town or one of the few other settlements. Anyway, it was definitely Switzerland when the line – avoiding a gorge – came out far above a broad cultivated flat bottomed valley with some of the higher mountains on this planet on both sides, like a geological version of a colossal trench: a typical Alpine valley. The railway zigzagged down into it through the forest; much as roads do when crossing the Alps. This valley actually led from the upper end of Lake Geneva and did a dog leg into the valley system along the Alps I’ve described.
That was at a town called Martigny. From there the valley led east. From the train one could see a lot of cultivation that looked like vineyards. The drawback though was the upper mountains tending to be hidden by steep valley sides of rock strewn grassy moorland and forest, but I got some good shots.
Sion, Sierre, Salgesh, Leuk, Varen, Raron and Visp. These were the small towns cum villages with short and often strange sounding names, going up this valley. Near Visp I chatted to a friendly railway official who was gome home to Visp and would show me the station layout there. Maybe she liked it when I said I just loved mountains.
Visp actually had 2 stations: the main one and one that was more of a mountain railway just outside that with the pleasant neat main street of a provincial Swiss town stretching beyond.
Things started to go wrong here when I got on the wrong train. I’d got my sense of direction all wrong and the right one pulled out at the right time on the next platform while mine stayed still. I used the time to buy some lunch and a drink but by that stage I was grappling with problems found in Switzerland. They still had their own currency here although Euros were often accepted, probably at a higher rate. Also one wasn’t sure what language to attempt. I thought it was French in the west, German in the north and east, Italian in the south. Later I was told that French was for the sophisticates in the cities and bigger towns whereas German was the language to use in the countryside and villages.
An hour later I got the right train but the bad luck continued. Near the next town, Brig, I confidently flourished my Europass to the official doing the rounds only to be told it wasn’t valid for this train. The price was more than the TGV and it was only for a fraction of this railway’s network covering my route. The company was exempt or didn’t want to know about Europasses this tight lipped man told me, probably prematurely old with the unpopularity gained from dedication to this commercial concern.
Commercial concerns can overdo their cause of course and just after this vistation I had another: this time a woman official all set to needlessly repeat her colleague’s infliction. Luckily she spoke English too so I was able to give the devil in me some leeway in the form of being chatty.
“This reminds me of my country.”
“Oh. Yes?” That brought out a smile.
“Yes. The railways are run by companies, they’re run commercially there too.”
Now be sure to assure her cheerfully with a big happy smile:- “No. Bad. Very bad!” That forced a matching smile from her and ought to add that .999 % recurring irritation percentage. Just enough to be irritating in the lingering sense.
So a geographical opposite – a landlocked mountainous country as opposed to an island – had led to a similar result: insularity from what was happening in neighbouring countries leading to a different currency and commercial excesses.
There was a Youth Hostel ahead. That would mean another early stop in the afternoon but the next one would risk late evening. The train was climbing up the long valley to a kind of pass and that should be it.
There was a halt at the top of the pass. Well the village was supposed to be small but where was it’s name? All I could see was a sign called ‘Lax.’ Nobody was around.
One advantage of Switzerland was lack of fences. One could just wander across fields so I made my way acrosss one towards a big building on a road in the right direction. Sometimes I worry about my brain though for I was on the road before I realised that ‘Lax’ was the name of the place I was in and it was very lax of me not to notice that.
Another wait for an hour in weather that had closed in and was trying to forget about summer it seems.
Feisch, the village with the hostel was not much further on. All I had to do there was cross under a bridge, go up a wooded slope and I was there basically. I say basically because the hostel was incorporated within a massive sports centre and it took some time to navigate the layout. After a spell at reception I managed to get a single room.
When I found it the room was massive with minimalist modern design, a double bed and balcony. Part of the fun of staying at Youth Hostels as opposed to hotels is that one was less sure what one would find. Here it seemed as though I’d wound up in a place that seemed to be a Swiss attempt to resurrect the traditions of the Nuremberg Rallies and Hitler Youth. The architecture was monumental concrete and the emphasis was dedication to youth and fitness. Later I would encounter sizeable parties of well organised youth. Perhaps I’d wound up in the kind of room that had been used by Obersturmbahnfuhrers and their mistresses: although its facilities were the same as Paris.
My Nikon batteries often needed recharging I’d learned. I’d bought 2 adapters before the trip so there ought to be a powerpoint somewhere in this room that would do.
There wasn’t. I eventually found. The sockets were a 3rd variety. Another advantage of being in Switzerland.
A trip back down to reception produced a box full of adapters to dig through. One of them must be okay.
None were. It was turning out to be one frustrating afternoon. I had to walk down into Feish itself to eventually find an electrician to find this unique adapter I would never need again and probably got ripped off. There was a cafe overlooking a rocky river and a few cows nearby where I tried to relax but going there led to a muddle over cheesecake. The woman running it seemed to contradict herself. And I didn’t want to hang around too long for it looked as though it was going to rain.
It started on the way back. I still checked the train times at the station. Yesterday I’d just about crossed the whole of France. Today I was only half way through Switzerland. I organised a packed lunch in the modernistic cavern of a dining hall. I was getting up too early for the early breakfast being determined to get my journey going again that was running out of steam.
Up early for a lovely dawn at the station then onward. I had a few ideas for how to improve on yesterday. There might be a concession for me being over 60. If there wasn’t, a branch line led to a northern terminus that should be cheaper. Although this was abandoning my plan of following the valleys the railways I could link up with could take me to Zurich. Zurich meant faster trains. Intercities. Just what was needed to regain the time lost. Zurich could in fact line me up for Vienna and get me back into those valleys before Innsbruck, which meant more mountains. Vienna was the crucial objective. Warsaw was a day from there by rail.
The official seemed a clone of the first, another old thin lipped wonder. Hell he might even be the same man! No there was no concession and the price if I was following the valleys dwarfed the French TGV. He agreed that going north would be better for me. Especially as his bloody company could hardly lose since the price going there wasn’t much less.
The valley ahead though level bottomed and cultivated was getting narrower all the time and eventually ended at another knot of mountains. A side valley led to a tunnel.
Tunnels, wild valleys, slopes of scree and rock, grassy slopes, forested slopes, views of distant mountains, then Andermatt. This was the junction for the line going north.
Not far to the north through similar terrain and a steep descent was Goschenen. Change here for trains north. Just south of the station was a double tunnel entrance. The St. Gotthard Tunnel through the Gotthard massif which was the knot of mountains I’d just come through. It seemed to be a tunnel of fame in train books I’d read when I child. No wonder. 9 miles long. Took 10 years to build. Opened in 1882 after the deaths of 200 workers and the Swiss engineer who surveyed the construction, who had a heart attack inside the tunnel.
This time the Europass worked and I continued north. Google Earth shows a long tunnel following a rocky wild pine wooded valley cum gorge. Also there were views through the valleyside columns of avalanche shelters. The more one continued the more cultivation clung to any slope that wasn’t too steep. It was difficult to see the upper mountains far above because of the steepness of the valley sides in Switzerland. ‘U’ shaped valleys is what they were, carved by glaciers long since melted away, which I learned long ago in geography lessons. This meant the slopes further up were less extreme, sometimes enough to allow pastureland and houses. This is actually where the name ‘alp’ came from: a local name describing this geographical feature.
I was actually going around the eastern side of a mountain mass in which there was a valley where I’d taken my first holiday abroad: when I was 13 on a school ski holiday. I remembered seeing spectacular mountains for the first time in my life, along with my first cablecar ride and walk along one of those ‘alps’ with a friend; where it was sunny and much warmer than the town below which didn’t see the sun in January and was freezing. We even chatted with with the PE teacher up there as though we were equals instead of teacher and pupils. Now it was like seeing the dark side of the moon;- travelling up the far side of those mountains and the other end of Lake Lucerne just to the north. We’d crossed Lake Lucerne on the school trip to get to the valley.
Lake Lucerne is actually a series of lakes joined up. This part of it looked deep and mysterious as the mountains on the other side plunged into it and the habitations over there looked cut off from elsewhere. Trouble was the weather had closed in again making the images photographed through a train window look rather flat. Taking photos through a train window is not easy to do anyway and I’d made a mistake in not bringing a polarising lens: that would have cut down on reflection.
I like stormy skies for photography but not uniform grey shit. The blue skies in France were a memory and it looked more like November than summer, except for the deciduous trees being green with leaves.
Progress was good going north though. A change without waiting too long at Schwyz, another lake which led out of the mountains to Zug and so on to Zurich.
A longer wait and lunch here at the cavernous station. The weather was still grey and would continue to be so. The good news though was that not only could I get a train through to Innsbruck and Vienna but my Europass remained valid. I didn’t know it then but it would continue to be so all the way to Warsaw.
Zurich was at the northern end of the ‘Zurichsee;’ a very long narrow lake curving round to the east, the northern flank of the Alps being a regular lake district. The railway and train threaded its way down the western bank of this one and out along the southern end through a suburb of houses with spacious gardens and the odd satellite town, that stretched down both sides of the lake over gentle hills. It would have been a good place for photos but for the murk.
A stretch of pastoral countryside then back into the mountains again along yet another lake like Lake Lucerne. Once past that though there was a broad flat bottomed valley which carved its way through the Alps in a ‘U’ up to the north past Leichenstein. Borders seemed non existent so I wasn’t sure which country I was in around here and have had to create computer files like Switzerland/Leicenstein for the photos I took.
There was also Austria. I was seeing Leichenstein, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland for the first time in my life. I was now in Austria and back in that Alpine valley system I wanted to follow, heading up a long ascent to a pass. The valley continued on the other side to Innsbruck.
It seemed that the further east one went the less spectacular the mountains were; or was I just getting used to them? They were still awesome enough for me to get some excellent shots of a fold mountain range.
If I could find a cablecar to get up above the valleys and if I was lucky with the weather.
I could reach Vienna by nightfall or at least Innsbruck earlier but I chose this route for mountain photographs so I started looking for cablecars to get out of the valleys for some panoramic views. The first station beyond the pass was hopeless: virtually roofed in without a clue as to what was outside. Much further down the valley was a station that didn’t seem to offer a view of a cablecar… until just before the train pulled out! This was where I would stay for the night and go up tomorrow. I could still reach Vienna and the Czech republic by tomorrow evening.
The station served 2 small towns or large villages: Landeck and Zams. There was no hostel which didn’t bother me as I felt like a bit of luxury. After a footslogging reconnaisance to find that a cheap place didn’t seem to exist I chose the Hotel Jagerhof which was actually right by the cablecar. A good hotel for luxury with female staff in ethnic dress and a stuffed bear just inside the entrance. Maybe they wanted one because a translation of ‘jagerhof’ could be ‘hunter house’ or ‘farm.’ On asking if the bear was local I was told it actually came from Alaska.
Google Earth though shows a World Wildlife Fund project re-introducing brown bears into Switzerland, along with the wolf and lynx.
I went out for a meal, into the centre of Zams, finding a substantial hostelry under one of the broad roofs one finds in this region. ‘Gastov Schwarzer Adler.’ I found all I needed there including waitresses who were friendly enough to be flirtatious.
Also a bicycle was parked against a boulder in front of the building which had been converted into a monument. It wasn’t only the statue on top with rifle and forage cap but the gaunt head with the German helmet arising out of the rock itself that hinted at a dark past here.
Back at the Jagerhof I’d checked the weather on TV. Only the British could have found that peculiarly apt name ‘depression’ for those low pressure weather systems of cloud and rain that plague our green and pleasant land. They seemed to have come down from the UK for a convention in central Europe, depositing all the crud weatherwise up against the Alps and Carpathians. It would rain tonight but with luck this would all start to clear by tomorrow morning.
Outside it started to rain.
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