It’s mid-August and HOT in Vienna. From my perch at the kitchen table, with a fan fighting the summer heat wave, it’s high time for an update — featuring Haleys, Hiking, and Home.
[Disclaimer: the title of this blog post is hardly accurate, really. In the vein of the writer of Hebrews, I do have time to tell about waiting for chimney sweeps, experimenting with music for church, camping out with Anne on the roof terrace, watching para-gliders with Elisabeth, eating scones with Rachel, talking about views on marriage with Katharina, schlepping luggage and fans around Vienna, organizing church music files and sermon recordings, skyping across 12 time zones, listening to jazz with Yuri, watering plants that are determined to bloom in beating sunshine. All these, small and great, are but hints of the good gift of friendship and of God’s provision day by day….)
Barcelona meets Vienna
As a rising high school senior, I made my first trip overseas — to Spain — and spent a total of 5 weeks with family friends the Haleys, then based in León; seven years ago I visited them again, this time in Barcelona. What a delight to be able to welcome them to Vienna for most of a week; I felt very honored they’d share their vacation time with me here!
We did lots of walking, despite the summer’s first heat wave…taking in famous spots and much “needed” gelato, and enjoying the circuitous side-streets that make central Vienna so charming.
Because I’m house-sitting for the summer and have access to a vehicle (thanks, Hunters!!!), and since Jon enjoys driving (I have strong memories of driving through the Spanish countryside and of a spontaneous day-trip to Portugal, just 5 hours each way), we also got to make a couple of lovely day trips. One afternoon we drove to Mödling, where I worked for two school years, and on to the resort town of Baden.
And, one day we drove out along the Danube, stopping in the little towns along the river for a walk up to a castle ruins (where Richard the Lionhearted was long-ago imprisoned), a meander along quaint cobbled streets, stops to watch birds (the Haleys being keen bird-watchers), a late lunch at a restaurant perched at the edge of a vineyard, a peek at an anything-but-austere monastery.
What with all the activity, it was also nice to just hang out at home. One morning briefly found us each reading the Bible in another language — Jon in Greek, Kathy in Spanish, me in German. Two evenings we watched movies. There was a lot of kitchen activity (Kathy and Eva), coffee drinking (Jon and Eva), and good conversation (everything from family to travel to politics to missions to books).
I felt like I’d really been on holiday, too! Thanks, Jon and Kathy, for the visit!
Hiking in Tyrol
Day 1: By mid-afternoon, I find myself at the Gamshütte, the first of four I will visit this week on this summer’s hiking adventure. It’s been a pretty long day — an early start (to feed the dog, hedgehog, and axolotl where I’m house-sitting and to make sure everything is squeezed into the pack) and a series of transportation (tram, train, steam train, bus) in mostly dour-looking weather that bodes ill for a hiking trip. About 50 feet up the trail, I manage to fall — absolutely harmless but a good reminder of three facts: 1) wet paths are slippery, 2) heavy packs are unbalancing, and 3) hiking alone, one should be careful. …It’s a sweaty but good first afternoon of hiking in Tyrol (with the weather clearing and even some blueberry and raspberry bushes along the way).
It’s hard to put in print what exactly is the appeal of a hiking tour in Tyrol. It’s some gourmet concoction of splendid views, quiet, new faces, early–to-bed and early-to-rise in rustic accommodations, hearty appetites and hearty fare, exercise with a clear goal in mind or in view, being above the line of trees, wildflowers, the hope of seeing a marmot on the day’s march, strong echoes of many Rocky Mountain hikes with family. This time, I’m on my own, since I couldn’t find any friends with matching holidays and since I couldn’t let go of the idea of a hut-to-hut trip like last year. But, to repeat the speech I prepared for anxious friends, I know the general terrain (having hiked the second half of this particular trail last year), there are sure to be other people on the trail should I run into any problems, and there will be some friendly fellow hikers to chat with in the evenings at the huts.
Day 2: It’s supposed to be the longest day (9 hours); so, after a quick breakfast of oatmeal I brought along and a cup of cowboy coffee, I head off about 7:15. The path is not strenuous, just winding along on a narrow, often muddy, path. There might be great views, but the fog has hidden many of them. Funny fog — containing, defining the space, but also receding ’round the next bend in the path. …There are some particularly sure-footed companions, plus a trail marker that looks like a stack of pancakes topped with a happy trout, as well as an oddly placed pot marked with “Bitte umdrehen” (“please turn over”) and a funny message:
By 2:15, I’m already at Friesenberghaus, much earlier than anticipated (thanks in part to the energy-saving hiking poles). I drop my pack off and place a dinner order for goulash and polenta. And, with the weather turning fare, I decide there might be time to make the Friesenbergscharte (mountain saddle) and still not miss dinner at 6:00. (I’m not sure quite why I had so much energy on Tuesday!) Ah, this trail is good, including a nice chunk of my favorite — rock-hopping. Only near the top do I really debate the wisdom of having dashed up a trail marked with a black dot, meaning there might be a patch or two with a cable to ward off a nasty slip. I am too close to the top to turn around without clear reason, so instead I just take more than the usual care. Looking over the pass provides a view of a ski area, the interrupted snow and brownish landscape looking a bit forlorn in mid-summer. On the way down, I catch two young marmots unawares — and they surprise me, in turn, by their cautious curiosity. After a three-way staring contest, a sentry nearby shouted the alarm.
Back to the hut, the dinner feels well-earned and tastes incredible. I sit for most of the evening with the two middle-aged brothers (Germans) I’d met the day before and with two older Austrian ladies out for a simple overnight venture. Part of hut culture is going to bed incredibly early; I join the late-night crowd for a bit more conversation and laughter till everyone disbands close to 10:00.
Side note: It’s funny how fast a person can adjust to some new cultural context. Only in a hut would I be determined to stay up “late” without a to-do list or compelling book. Only in a hut (and having forgotten my flashlight), would I crawl into my Schlafsack without being particularly perturbed that I-don’t-know-who is wrapped up in his or her cocoon just a few inches away.)
Day 3: The first leg of Wednesday’s hike is just two hours to the next hut. I enjoy the subtlety of the fog-draped landscape and the quiet. Unfortunately, by the time I reach Olpererhütte, my excess energy of the day before has worn off and my left baby toe has begun to hurt with a vengeance. A cup of coffee and wonderful views of the turquoise lake below (clouds drawing back in ideal timing) make a good excuse to take a break, find some dry socks, and try not to worry about the state of my increasingly dilapidated hiking boots.
Onward forward! Down to the lake, through a bit of “civilization,” along the length of the lake, and then an hour’s jaunt up to the next hut. I arrive in time for some grand views — before heading off to find a shower (3 minutes of warm water worth every cent of 3 euros), only to emerge to find that a cold shower was being provided gratis.
A slightly lonely evening. People reading, playing games, chatting, but I don’t feel quite like I can jump in without intruding.
Day 4: With the prediction of rain (and maybe snow up at the pass), I figure an early start is the best way to avoid unpleasantness. (Boy, I’m glad I got up early!) During breakfast around 6:30 (ah, I finally perfect a cup of coffee — not instant, mind you, and no grounds in my cup this time!), the fog bank hanging outside the wall of windows begins to pull away. The first sight? A glacier! Wow, what a gift!
Heading up the trail, the views just get better and better — lush greens, joyful blue above, luminous fog, paling blushing clouds, jagged peaks. It’s a good, steep up, but totally worth the sweat and the bit of a climb at the top. I am pleased to be the first to the pass/peak for the day. I do a tiny bit better with a “selfie” shot:
On the other side, the going is slower — first a longish section with cables to assist, then a steep down-down-down that seems like prime territory for a twisted ankle or knee, then fog rolling in for the remainder of the journey. But, by about noon, the familiar visage of the Berlinerhütte appears — the first hut of the hiking trip I made last year with Stefanie and this year’s final destination. (Note the sign offering warme Duschen [“warm showers”] and, below, frische Milkprodukte [“fresh milk products”]. All you need after a long hike, apparently.)
There isn’t much option besides a quiet afternoon indoors, what with fog and rain. I enjoy the beautiful building (a very unique Hütte — built on a grand style in the early days of mountaineering, when the upper crust of Austrian or German society made fashionable and adventuresome forays into the Alps), chatting with a group of guys from Sweden (did you know that it’s popular to go ice-skating in Sweden — to the tune of a 100 km run along an incredibly long lake?), played a board game with a German couple (both police personnel), and eating dinner with the same couple and another German guy. (It is a trip highlight that when I ask the Berliner to guess where I was from, he guesses Holland first. When I say no, he says that it has to be something northern. My, what a compliment — thanks Klaus! Not in the least that I’m not glad I’m an American, but I am delighted that my accent might not be so easily identified, at least not with the stereotypical American twang.)
Day 5: Perfect sunny morning! Oh my, I want to keep hiking, knowing that the next two legs of the trail are particularly grand! But, my hiking boots are literally on their last leg, my backpack has also developed a tear, the food supply is running low just in time, and I have an opera ticket waiting for me in Erl. So, a smart 2-hour march down the trail/road to catch a bus. (Incidentally, I am the only person on the bus at first, and the bus driver strikes up a conversation. Despite the sign that says not to speak with the bus drive while the bus is in operation, it is fun to learn, among other things, that he is his church’s organist.) At the train station in Mayrhofen, I throw away my boots. Well, they have lasted for 3 hiking trips in Tyrol, 6 Colorado 14ers, various shorter hikes, and lots of daily wear-and-tear around the city.
Only about 60 miles from where I’d been hiking — but a bit farther away in terms of type of activity — I found myself on Friday afternoon joining a large crowd of Wagner fans in an opera house perched in small-town Tyrol. (Well, just about all towns in Tyrol are small!) I don’t really put myself in the category of Wagner fans, but I am very much a fan of Marianna, the friend who invited me to hear her sing Sieglinde in Wagner’s opera Die Walküre. Such a treat!
The story line is pretty ridiculous (all about gods and goddesses who are quite mixed up about their morals), but the music is beautiful. Also, it was quite funny to see the Valkyrie (8 goddess daughters of Wotan), who were supposed to appear on war steeds, but who instead road bicycles. (Note: It can’t be easy to ride in circles on a bike on a stage and have to sing at the same time!) Because Marianna’s brother was there for the same performance, we had backstage entrance — kind of cool.
The next day I trekked the 3 or 4 kilometers to where Marianna and Alex were staying (across the border in Germany, actually) for a delightful breakfast and relaxed walk before I caught a train back to Vienna.
What a delightful holiday! …Despite the dour weather predictions, I only encountered a few motivational raindrops nearing the third Hütte along the Berliner Höhenweg. Wonderful views, safety, friendly fellow hikers, a plethora of wildflowers, a grand opera. Wow, what a blessing!
Tomorrow I fly to New York, en route a few days later to Knoxville. It’s been 20 months since I’ve seen Dad and Mom and Hannah and friends State-side, and to say that I’m excited would be a gross understatement. Better tie up the lose ends and make sure the bags are all packed!