Berchtesgaden - Innsbruck

Day 7 - Thursday, September 22, 2005

We now leave the elegant cities behind to head out into the countryside. We depart early in the morning and there is a thick mist upon the mountainous land. To get to Innsbruck, we pass through the German border a couple of times. Thankfully, in the last few years, Austria became a member of ???? which meant no internal borders required a passport to cross, only borders with non-member countries had this restriction. Was much more convenient, especially when traveling in a bus.

Anyway, we travel through the Berchtesgaden region in Bavaria. We drive past many streams, all a bright aqua blue, an incredible colour that I'd never seen water to have before. While in this region we stopped around 8 in the morning to visit a small village. The bus parked right next to a cemetery which a few of us decided to explore. As the mist had not yet burnt off, it was eerie, yet beautiful.

Many times, there was no body to bury, so instead of a grave only a plaque with a picture of the fallen soldier was put up.

The village itself was small and quaint, and of course, very quiet this early in the morning. Though we weren't the only tour bus that had made this stop. This first picture was across the street from the parking lot.

This next one was taken as we walked up and to the right of the first picture. This village was known for having painted buildings.

We wandered around in this area for a little while, stopping at one point to go into a little shop where we bought food and drinks. I think this is the first time my mother realized that all bottles have a very large deposit on them, to encourage recycling. The lady at the counter asked if we were going to be drinking it there or would we take it with us. The difference in price was significant, but we didn't have time so we had to take it with us.

Well, we were on our way again, the mist was starting to fade, but still remained higher up. Along the way we passed a couple of sites that were used in various WWII movies, like Where Eagles Dare. Again, I couldn't get over the very green-blue waters all the streams seemed to flow with, which is why the region was known for its spa towns.

We leave Germany and reenter Austria in the Tyrol province. We drive around and over these amazing mountains and gaze out at the beautiful pasture lands, so very very green. And then we get stuck in traffic. In the middle of nowhere, there is an incredible 45 minute traffic jam. We later find out this was due to construction on their well maintained roads. Though it was annoying to be stuck for so long, it gave me an opportunity to take some pictures from the bus that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to do had we been in motion. And so I present, the Wilder Kaiser Mountains.

We stopped in front of some villages. All the buildings had these beautiful flowers by their windows.

Currently I'm using slightly modified version of this one as my desktop on my computer. It was taken as most of the group got out of the bus to take a little horse-and-buggy ride around the mountain villages. My mother really wanted to get to Innsbruck to see the Swarovski factory (which it turned out one cannot do) so we didn't take this optional excursion. My dad did get out of the bus to take a picture, almost getting left behind in the process!

This picture has another odd little story attached to it. In the beginning of November I was eating breakfast before going to work. I happened to be watching The Today Show (the NY morning show), rather than my normal Canadian Global morning show. I look up to see a picture of a mountain...a familiar one. I think for a moment, NY news show, must be showing something from Vermont, but the mountain was so treeless which was unusual. I see a couple cows and some village houses and then suddenly it hits me why it feels like I've seen this before. It was because I'd been there before!!!

Matt Lauer then goes on to show us around Innsbruck. It made my day. Especially since I recognized the mountain itself. I still can't get over the coincidence.

One final picture:

While we were stuck, our tour guide decided to entertain us by putting on some music. In Vienna we had Strauss, in Salzburg we had Mozart, and now? Yodeling and other folk songs. I didn't mind it for a little while, but by the time I heard the same girl yodeling the same song for the third time it started to get on my nerves. It was a good thing we didn't sign up for the Tyrolean Folklore show that evening.

Our tour guide Noel, helps to pass the time by telling us about himself, since he lives nearby he knows a lot about the region and the customs. But while I'm at it, I'll gather everything he told us during the entire trip in this one place. I'm sure you'll agree he was an interesting character.

He grew up in somewhere in Africa (don't remember the exact country), going to school barefoot, and more often than not, skipping class to go surfing in the ocean. He then joined the, I'm actually serious. He used to perform on the trapeze. Then he joined the merchant marines.

How he came to live in Austria, I'm not sure. I do know he joined Trafalgar 25 years ago and has been doing tours for them all over the world, including India and other far off places. He lives in a small village close to Innsbruck, has two sons and one ex-wife who lives at the other end of the village. Fortunately they are still friends.

He told us stories about living there. About how the villagers take the cows from the lower pastures of the winter to the higher pastures in the summer. The lower pastures are then used to make as many crops of hay as the season permits. As the villagers pass home after home, they are given schnapps to drink, so they are pretty much plastered by the time they get to the edge of the village. It's a wonder they find their way up to the summer pasture...maybe the cows are the ones who know where to go. Generally the old grandfather will stay up in the higher pastures to watch over the cows while the rest of the family farms the lower pastures.

While on the topics of cows and wives, he explains to us how his wife's name ended up in the cow registry. See, one of the cows in the village was having trouble giving birth, so his wife went out to help. The farmer was so thankful that she saved the cow and calf that he named the calf after her. And since all cows are registered, he can now go about claiming his wife is...well, you get the idea.

He then tells us that while we're in Innsbruck he intends to pass by his home, which he can sometimes go for months without seeing depending on where Trafalgar is sending him. You see, he left his plants outside to get some sun...but while he was gone it had snowed. He wanted to see if there was anything left to salvage, though he had some hopes for them considering they survive those month long stretches without any watering or care from him. Probably couldn't kill them if he tried.

On the topic of flowers, as I mentioned before, most houses have beautiful flower displays off their windows and balconies. There's actually a competition every year to see which village has the most beautiful displays. His little village actually won last year.

He also tells us about his sons. One very nearly became a member of the Austrian Olympic ski team, but didn't care for their bureaucracy and chose not to join. He's even better known for his snowboarding, winning competitions all over the place. So if you ever see a Percival on TV (that's the last name), you'll know we know his father. Noel spent much of his children's childhoods bringing them to various competitions in the area, and to various nearby hospitals as well. It sounded like they picked up their father's wild streak. Well, at least one of them did, the other I don't remember much about except that he went to some technical college.

Life in this village is completely different from what us big city dwellers are used to. He told us a tale about one of his sons who had gone up to the grandfather to bring him some food. The boy went alone and he was around 3 or 4 years old. A sudden freak snowstorm hit and the boy didn't return. The village went looking for him, and eventually found him. He'd slept with some goats for warmth...and he smelt like it. But the boy wasn't even scared, he had loved every moment of it.

And finally, the one tale that kind of personifies our illustrious leader. While on tour in Munich, he sets his group free and decides to go into one of the English Gardens. In this garden there is a river that people can swim in. Now an important thing about Munich, in some regions like this particular garden, nudity is permitted. So our tour guide strips down to his birthday suit, hops into water and lets the current carry him downstream to a bridge. Under this bridge there is a bar that one can hang onto and let the water rush by you. He holds on for a while and then looks up. To his dismay he discovers a good part of the tour group had decided at that very moment to look over the side of the bridge, only to see their tour guide, in the nude, floating in the river. Quickly he lets go and lets the current take him further away. He crawls out of the water at this point, but he's a fair distance away from where he left his clothes. So he starts walking back through the garden part, hoping to miss the group on the bridge. But by some strange quirk of fate, they've decided to wander the gardens as well! Anyway, somehow he managed to get his clothes back in the end, but I think you've now got an idea of his quirky personality.