28. Alpbach 2

The next morning we set out to scale the peak on the other side of the valley (the one I mentioned to K. while eating lunch at the top of the gondola life on the other side.)

The early going was through thick forest.

The trail had lots of panel paintings with iconic Catholic imagery.    I think they employed the same woman who did the touch-ups in Spain a couple years ago.     



This may look like the summit but it’s only the first peak in a series of three. You got up to a high point after a scramble and then had to descend down again into a ravine, before ascending to the next peak.

Here was a French family at the summit, which overlooks the Inn valley. The father walks up to me and asks in German if I would take their picture. I answered back in German and then he switched to English. They were a nice bunch and I spent a good ten minutes talking to them. They asked if I’d been to France and I mentioned our days in Nice, and then I said, “I’ve also been to the coast on the Pacific side. I was once in Biarritz and Hossegor.” -Eh, I think you mean the Atlantic side. -Yeah. Right. Did I say ‘Pacific’? Pierre was thinking, “Typical American level of geographical knowledge.”


This is looking the other direction toward the Inn valley, via Lover’s leap. I took one zoom shot of the couple on the bench, but deleted it for propriety.

This lightning rod keeps the wood cross from being zapped to a crisp.

I got Pierre to take our picture too.

Not a bad zoom on the little Canon.


Can you see the ducks and the chicken?

Notice the trough with fresh, cold mountain water. I’d been wondering if these water spouts all over the place were taking water straight from the streams, or underground springs, and how safe it was to drink. “Aren’t the Austrians susceptible to giardia?” I wondered. Turns out, you could poke around upstream of the spigot and usually find a filtering system at work. So the water was clean.


These trees were all planted in honor of long time guests to Alpbach. If you’d been visiting the town regularly over the course of 40 years, you got your name on the tree. The great majority of the names were from Germany and the UK.


     Keenan in the Alpbach meditation chapel.          

There was a reading room, with books from all the major religions and philosophies.    


Here are some of the earliest attendees of the Alpbach forum, which was founded just after WWII. 


I took this boring picture because on the way back to our hotel this crazy guy in a white VW Golf was driving wildly up the hill. He was slamming on the brakes and then gunning the engine again all the way up the hill, making a great screech each time.  I was a good 80 yards or so in front of Keenan. Drunken Hoerst, the driver of the VW, pulled up in front of me and said, “Hey baby, Yeah baby, Rock and Roll let’s roll it, a yeah baby!” He and a guy in the back seat (the passenger seat in front was ripped out) had a great laugh as they pulled into our hotel lot and walked across the street. K looked a little shook when he got up to the hotel. Hoerst had pulled the brake slamming trick on him.


Another open-air dinner with Walter and Klaus.    


Performance art in the street after dinner.

Next: On to Switzerland!  

27. Alpbach

What can I say about our experience in Alpbach? The next two days we woke up, had a big breakfast downstairs, went on a long hike, ate a store-bought lunch on the mountain, came home and rendezvoused with Walter and Klaus for dinner.

funeral in town



 Alpbach bakery. It’s great to wake up in an Austrian inn and know you have a hearty breakfast waiting for you downstairs. The downside is that after all those rolls with cheese and wurst, local jams, yogurt with muesli, fruit, egg, coffee, there is no more room, so you have to pass on the bakeries, with all the fresh bread, rolls, and strudel.



 hay bales      


     back on the gondola. we waited for a few to pass so keech could ride the blue one



 just as Keenan started up this steep part, a guy passing us going the other way said, in German, “You don’t have to take the steep route. Go to the left and there is an easier trail.”

I told Keenan that but he was already halfway up, and would have chosen the scramble anyway.



There wasn’t much wind this day, so when Keenan reached this peak, rather than taking in the view he spent the time swatting flies.


 Still swatting flies



 Horsepoo Ridge



The hills are alive…with the sound of thunder. 



The rumble of thunder was everywhere but directly above us. One quick photo and then we’d better get off the ridge.




 No retouching here


 Cue angel voices





One of Alpbach’s claim to fame is being home to the world’s longest cow.





This is The Path of Reflection, which ran parallel to a little stream just down from our hotel.


Of course I had to pose like this and mock the new-ageyness of it all. But later that night, at dinner, Walter frowned on my mockery and said, “The path is a good thing. We need to stop and meditate and reflect in this modern industrial world.”

Fair enough.



   K. feeling the vibe.

    Must take photo of all hotels and inns named Edelweiss, as per my Austria rules.


That night, dinner again with Walt and Klaus, who had a nice round of golf at the Achensee.

next: another good climb


25. Idyllic Tyrol

We took an 11 o’clock train out of Innsbruck, and headed East, down the Inn Valley, to Brixlegg, where we’d catch a bus up to Alpbach, “Austria’s prettiest town”, according to the travel brochures produced by the Alpbach Chamber of Commerce.

 on the way to Brixlegg

We found our hotel, dumped off our stuff, bought lunch at the supermarket, and walked down to the gondola.

 The lift was free for all overnight guests in the area.  at top of lift

lunch with view, the opposite peak looks like a good scramble. “Hey Keenan, why don’t we climb that one tomorrow?”

K: “Mehhh.”

After lunch we went back down the gondola and caught the bus down to the town of Reith. The busses were also free for local guests.

We went for a dip at the little lake in Reith. 


Tyrolean villages are such an eyesore. What a dump is this town of Reith.


After swimming we caught the bus back up to Alpbach. This is the view out our room: 


We only had to wait about ten minutes until my German buddies Klaus and Walter pulled up in Klaus’ Audi, and we gave each other a hearty greeting.

Soon we were all walking the streets of Alpbach, looking for a good restaurant. We found an outdoor terrace with a friendly waiter and settled in for a hearty Austrian dinner. Keenan had Wienerschnitzel for the first time, and was quite pleased.


Next: Around Alpbach

24. Enter Austria

The train out of Bolzano was a local, terminating at the border, so we had to get out in Brennero and walk over to the Austrian side of the station. I didn’t see the modern ticket machine on the platform and instead found an old one in a waiting room. Had to break a bill at a fruit stand, so K and I had a big bunch of green grapes to munch on on the way down to the Inn valley. 

Austrian trains are new and fancy, from the locals to the expresses. I struck up a conversation with the woman across from me. Actually she spoke first.

“Hello, Excuse me, can I ask where you’re from?”

“I’m from the States.”

She thought it odd that an American wouldn’t be loaded down with tons of luggage and would be traveling for more than a week. She had just spent the day at her dentist’s, in Bolzano. The dentist used to have his office in Austria but had returned to his birthplace across the border and was in semi-retirement, limiting his services to family and VIPs. She was a woman with lots of travel experience-she worked for the UN and had been around the globe doing humanitarian and diplomatic work.

I told her we were headed to Alpbach and she said she was surprised we could get a place there, because of the Alpbach Forum.  

“It’s our version of the Davos Forum. It’s usually booked up this time of year.”

She said the Alpbach Forum was mostly attended by do-gooders, not the super-powerful who meet at Davos and scheme to consolidate the dominion of the aristocracy. 

I said, “speaking of the diabolic aristocracy, how about the Bilderberg meeting this year, just down the road from Innsbruck?”

I knew that the once mysterious Bilderbergers had met in a town just down the hill from Leutasch, where I had stayed with Una the year before.

“The what?”

-The Bilderberg group. The ones that meet every year in some secret location that’s not revealed until the last minute (or at least that’s how they used to do it about a decade ago. Before that they never told anyone and just denied that the meeting took place at all. If you mentioned Bilderberg pre- 2000s you were a kook.)

-No, I’ve not heard of them.

-Really? They were just here, in a town near Seefeld. There are big industrialists, bankers, politicians…Kissinger used to attend every year. I’m pretty sure the Clintons have attended. It used to be secret but now they are all over the Internet and can’t hide it. Apparently there was a huge police presence, and they weren’t very friendly to curious reporters.

-Oh! I believe you are referring to the G8 conference, which was actually across the border in Germany, but you are right about the police presence and the town they held it in isn’t actually far from Seefeld. 

I knew about the G8 already, and that it had been held near Garmisch, across the border. I was going to mention a prominent and infamous Austrian businessman/criminal that had attended the Bildberg, but I couldn’t remember his name. I let it slide. But here was an international diplomat, someone who we would expect to be fairly well-informed- she could tell me all about the Alpbach forum and who was present in such and such a conference in Nairobi discussing the situation in Darfur, but she had no idea that the Bilderberg conference had just been held right under her nose in Austria, let alone that such an organization even existed. You see reader, to be informed sometimes you have to ignore the scoffing and eye-rolling of your friends and just  bravely go ahead and read those “conspiracy” web sights. Heck, in this case you could have picked up the Guardian and followed Charly Skelton’s reporting in Austria and you would have been better informed than this worldly diplomat. 

This was our room at the Techniker Haus in Innsbruck- a former dorm room at a nearby Technical university. We got an extra large take-out pizza next door and wolfed. Keenan found a beer machine for me downstairs (I thought they only existed in Japan!) and I told him to bring me up a pint. 

-Which one?

-Whatever they got. If it looks like beer, choose it!

Keenan did as told, but what he brought up was a Radler, the beer/lemonade combo stuff, 2%. Not the greatest match for pizza but I was happy. (Note to Americans. I did not send my 13yr old boy out to buy beer for me. I made that all up.)

Next morning we walked through beautiful Innsbruck.  That’s the famous Golden Roof. Lots of tourists in this part, especially Chinese. 

 I love all the water spouts in Austria and Switzerland. Refreshing and cold on a hot day.


Next- to Alpbach

23. North to the Alps

Goodbye lovely Verona. I think I’ll return with Fumie after retirement, in my years of wealth and ease. Get a room overlooking the square, dine along the Adige, take in an Opera at the Roman Arena, etc.

Our train followed the Adige north to Bolzano, or Bozen if you prefer the German.



Bolzano wasn’t quite the mountain town I’d envisioned. This is the town Rheinhold Messner, great South Tyrolean climber, and  first to ascend all fourteen eight-thousanders, calls home, but it’s still way down in the valley where the Isarco meets the Adige. It was quite hot without a breath of wind this day, and didn’t feel much like being in the Alps, and the mountains that surrounded the town were lush green with thick forest and underbrush. I found out at the tourist office that to get the Alpine feel you had to hop on one of the gondolas that took you to the mountain villages. She showed me the map of all these high elevation towns, well-connected by a train/tram/gondola network, and said that’s where you should stay if you want the Alpine experience. Alas, we had to be in Alpbach, Austria the next evening so we had to pass on the mountain experience in South Tyrol.

Bolzano is the capital of South Tyrol province, a land that used to be part of Austria, but was ceded to Italy after the Austrians lost in WW1. South Tyrol was promised to Italy as booty, an incentive to enter the war. Under fascism, Mussolini attempted to Italianize the region by banning German from publications and in school.  In 1928 the Italians tore down an old Austrian war monument and put up the Bolzano Victory Monument. On the façade, the latin script reads, HERE AT THE BORDER OF THE FATHERLAND SET DOWN THE BANNER. FROM THIS POINT ON WE EDUCATED THE OTHERS WITH LANGUAGE, LAW AND CULTURE. He he, not provocative at all!

Hitler and il Duce had a plan to relocate the German speaking population to parts of Austria and Germany but that plan was put on the backburner when WW2 began.

Since WW2 there has been a considerable degree of ethnic tension and a number of secessionist movements. 

When we got off the train, I expected to see swarthy Italians and blonde Germanics going at it- arguments, fisticuffs and the like. However, the scene in the park across from the station was, except for a little garbage and bare spots on the well-tread grass, downright idyllic. There was almost no ethnic tension whatsoever as the Somalis, Pakistanis, and Uzbekistanis got along swell. 

We took a walk around town. By the looks of things, I wasn’t going to find any lodgings in the DW Shumway price range. Bolzano is often ranked at the top of the “Most liveable cities in Italy” list, and SouthTyrol is one of the wealthiest parts of Italy, and the entire EU, according to sources. 

We found a cafe selling grilled sandwiches. I tried unsuccesfully to get a cheap place to sleep, gave up and we were soon on our way to Innsbruck.


Next- Austria