Sunday 18 October 2015

Trolls in the Alps

High in the Italian Alps a chairlift is an altogether different experience outside of the skiing season. 

Having already taken a cable-car to a dizzying height (below) to reach the base point of the sessellift, it seems incredible to be going higher still.

But the views from above the tree-tops are pretty spectacular and I much prefer this mode of fresh-air transport to being in an enclosed bubble.

Some odd things start to happen as I float gently upwards suspended from a wire. The pure silence you get on mountain peaks is penetrated by the sounds of eerie music, 

while down below, some not quite normal-looking people appear, dotted around in the forest under the chairlift's path.

They turn out to be trolls. A fact that surprises me but not the Alpine cows who seem unmoved by the sight of these strange folks.

Some are playing traditional instruments

and soon they begin to seem perfectly natural in these surroundings.

Even some of my fellow-travellers-in-space are trolls, friendly types who smile without speaking

(this one hanging precariously from a tree; I worried about her)

Our trolls turn out to be a Norwegian (what else!) group of travelling artists, bringing the traditional music of the area alive, in an unusual and unforgettable performance.

Hopping off at the top, there are hiking trails to be followed in crisp, cold (and thin at nearly 2000 metres) mountain air ... Alpine donkeys

and a tiny church perched at the highest point (whoever comes here? I wondered).

Then some hours later the ride back down

past a picture-perfect chalet.

From the cable car going further down still, the lush valleys of the South Tyrol filled with vineyards and fruit orchards extend behind the window reflections

And then it was time to hit the road north to Innsbruck ...

Vigiljoch, near Merano, Italian Alps, September 2015

Monday 5 October 2015

Alpine passes and some goats

The Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road connects the Austrian and Italian Tyrol, starting not far from Innsbruck and leading down on the south side to Merano in Italy.

It's Austria's highest border, open only for a few months of the year between June and October, and breathtaking to experience.

At hairpin bend no. 5 (there are twelve, it turns out) you are already at a seemingly dizzying height

Even the bikers who love this route (and how I envied them experiencing it en plein air) stopped to gawk at the incredible views.

 At the summit of 2500 metres there was a posse of Porsches parked outside the café and viewing hut.

I discovered later that this is a well known Thing (see here) that Porsche drivers do. But when this lone cyclist emerged puffing and weary at the summit ... well, that was impressive.

I loved the strange colours and textures of the mountainsides high above the treeline

From the summit the views across peaks and glaciers are spectacular.

Winding down on the south side towards the Italian border I had to jump out to say hello to these friendly Alpine goats.

This curious chap was an absolute pro at posing for pictures. I just wish I could send it to him!

Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrasse, Austria, September 2015

Saturday 3 October 2015

Schloss Neuschwanstein

King Ludwig II of Bavaria's fantastical folly appears suddenly on the approach road, perched on forested mountain-tops 

but the image is so inescapably etched in my mind as a Disney castle that the real thing has lost some of its impact.

Photochrom print c 1900 of front facade of Neuschwanstein (photo source)

The dramatic setting is undeniable though. Young Ludwig, obsessed with his friend Wagner's operas, designed it as an extravagant stage-set - complete with private grotto with artificial lake, waterfall, stalactites, swan boats and special lighting effects where operas were performed for an audience of one. 

What else was a young gay king forced into conventional roles to do with his fantasies?

The opera house in nearby Fussen trades on the Wagner connection. Poster at foot of Neuschwanstein.

Even (just) out of season, the crowds were there. The access road is steep, and we joined a queue for a horse-drawn carriage (why not go the full touristy shebang?).

I felt for the horses, powerful though they looked, dragging heavy carriages upwards, but was entranced by the surroundings

plodding past pristine ravines and waterfalls in the forests of German mythology

Close up, the fairytale references become legion

I didn't join the tours of operatic-themed lavish interiors but admired the 360 views loved by Ludwig before taking a slow walk down through the lush wald.

Neuschwanstein, Germany, September 2015

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