Saturday 30 September 2023

Austria: Rain and Reading (Sept. 13)

Last night's rain returned the next day (Wednesday, Sept. 13). It had also cooled off considerably to a maximum of 18C (64F).

It didn't look so bad just after 8:00 that morning.

But by early afternoon (around 1:30 pm) it was obvious the rain would stay for the rest of the day.

After breakfast, the rain held off just long enough for us to go for a walk around the village; our first proper exploring of the place after that very first brief stroll on the evening of our arrival.

We discovered an enclosure were deer were grazing and a beautiful private chapel on a hill, but unfortunately, neither of us had brought our phones/cameras along, and so we decided to come back another day to take pictures.

Back at the hotel, rain set in properly for the rest of the day. We gave our legs a good rest and spent the day reading until it was time for the sauna (you put your name down on a list for a certain time slot and then had it all to yourselves - great!). Afterwards, another delicious four course dinner awaited us.

A quiet, slow day, very relaxing and therefore not unwelcome.

Friday 29 September 2023

Austria: Goats & Angels (Sept. 12)

The forecast for Tuesday, the 12th of September, was mixed - chances for rain and thunder were high, but the day was going to be quite warm at up to 27C (80F), and in any case, it started sunny and dry.

Morning view (7:37) from our balcony towards Kanisfluh...
...and along the valley.

As is our habit when we arrive at a hiking/walking holiday, we pick up leaflets with suggestions for tours, preferably close enough to not make a car journey necessary. We found one that ticked all the boxes: The "Goßarweag" (German "Geißer-Weg", meaning "goat herders' path").

For centuries, many people kept goats, especially those who could not afford cows. In areas such as Bregenzerwald, where pastures are precious and first and foremost served to feed the cows and horses, herders were needed to make sure the largely free-roaming goats would not graze on the best pastures - and not invade people's vegetable patches and orchards.
Therefore, every year in the spring, the herding rights were auctioned, and the herders (usually one experienced man and several boys, often barely in their early teens, if that) took responsibility of the village's goats, making sure that they stuck to the rules (try that with any animal, especially one as inquisitive and adventurous as your regular goat!), did not come to any harm and were returned to their rightful owners in time.

The route follows some of the herders' most popular paths, and there are several stops with sculptures of goats and information boards along the way. Especially with the boys, herding often provided a small, but much needed income for their families, and that way of life (from spring all through the summer until autumn) was a mix of physical hardship, loneliness and freedom - those boys were officially exempt from school (which of course meant they had "freedom" but would never gain more than the most basic education during the winter months).

climbing up from the village and looking back (yes, Kanisfluh again in the background)

I had to!

A glimpse of Bizau church from the woods

view of Bizau (and - you guessed it - Kanisfluh)
A sure sign of summer coming to its end: autumn crocus
in the woods
a clearing where goats may have been allowed in the past
Can you imagine having to lead a herd of goats along a path like this (in all weather)?
Farm at the end of Bizau

After having completed the tour, we took a bus into Bezau (where we'd been the day before to visit O.K.'s retired colleague) and took a stroll through the village (almost a small town), stopping to admire the church and then taking the funicular up to the mountain rising at the back of Bezau.

Angel (nearly life-size) in Bezau church - this one is for my Mum.

Bezau church

Bezau church

Quirky modern building in the centre of Bezau

The obligatory restaurant/beer garden at the top offered not only beautiful views, but also a refreshing shandy.
View from the top

Back down to the bus station, the short bus ride to Bizau and our hotel, a shower and then dinner - not in the garden this time, as the rain and thunder that had been threatening during the afternoon arrived just then.
It did not last long but brought a freshness to the air that was quite welcome.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Austria: Kanisfluh (Sept. 11)

Our first full day here in Bizau promised beautiful weather, sunny and dry at 26 C (78.8 F). Since the forecast for the following days looked a little unsettled, we decided to tackle our "biggest" hike right away.

Kanisfluh is the name of the mountain visible from our hotel room, and today we were not only going to look at it, but to get to its very top. It is a famous landmark and even has its own wikipedia entry in English - click here if you want to read it.

Looking to the left from our balcony at 7:44 in the morning, the sun was lighting up the valley. 

Looking straight ahead, the Kanisfluh was just beginning to catch some sunrays on its eastern flank.

After breakfast and changing into our hiking gear, O.K. drove us the 10 minutes to Mellau, where we took the funicular up the steep mountain slope. Since we were going to walk to the very top on a round tour with still plenty of steep up and down hill hiking, we decided to forego the long way up all the way from the bottom of Mellau.

aboard the funicular

Just got off the funicular - not done anything yet!

There was still enough height to cover on steep, rocky paths, often only as wide as my two feet - as comfortable as in the picture below only at the beginning and end. 

I puffed and panted my way up, needing several breaks, but I made it - and was rewarded with great views and the feeling of having accomplished a good, strenuous hike.

Almost there! But don't be fooled - it was harder than it looks to go that last bit to the top.

Looking back on the way down. Yep, we've been up there.

silver thistle, native to this area and a good weather indicator (closes when rain is near)

Just a shed, but I liked its position against the dramatic mountain silhouette and clouds.

Continuing the round tour, we stopped at Wurzach-Alpe for a shandy. "Alpe" is the name for a place high up in the mountains, usually not inhabited for more than a few months each year from around May until September. An Alpe usually consists of a wooden house, sometimes hardly more than a hut, surrounded by pastures where cows (and sometimes goats) stay to graze all summer. They are milked every day by the people living on the Alpe, and more often than not, much of the milk is used for making cheese right there. Many - but not all - of those places offer food and drink to hikers and walkers, and we took advantage of that (we still had water in our flasks).

private chapel at Wurzach-Alpe

Who wouldn't want to rest there?

Sorry - wrong order, this was at the top.

Returning to Mellau via the funicular, we decided to drive to Bezau (not to be confused with Bizau, "our" village). A former colleague of O.K.'s was staying there in a camping ground with his wife, getting their caravan ready for the coming season. They are firm skiers and have been enjoying winter camping and skiing at this same place every year for over 30 years.

We payed them a surprise visit and sat down for a while in the sun for a chat before driving back to Bizau.
At the hotel, it was time to shower and dress in fresh clothes, and then dinner - again out in the garden under those large chestnut trees.

The first full day here had brought great weather and the most strenuous of all our hikes of this holiday, getting up to 2,044 m (6,706 ft).

Sunday 24 September 2023

Austria: Arrival (Sept. 10)

Sunday, the 10th of September, was very warm (30 C/86 F). My packing had already been done back home in Ludwigsburg; now it was O.K.'s turn.
We had a cold light lunch, including about half of the cheese we had made the day before, said good-bye to O.K.'s parents, put our luggage in the car, got the cottage ready for our absence, and at almost precisely 2:00 pm started on the drive to Austria.

The distance from Hofweier to Bizau is given at 253 km, and the satnav estimated it would take us 3 hours 40 minutes. We had a good drive with a quick coffee break and a short hold-up because of roadworks, and arrived at the hotel just before 5:45 pm. You can click here for the hotel's website (in English - although not everything has been translated; it should still give you a good impression of what it was like).

Bizau is a village in the Bregenzerwald, a region of Austria that (as the name "Wald" suggests) is rich in woodland, mountains and mostly small towns and villages, often showing the typical wooden houses of the area, old and new.
The wikipedia entry about the area is here, giving you a good overview and an idea of what you may get to see over the next weeks (I estimate it will take me at least three weeks to post about our ten days there, what with work and so on).

We unpacked and then had an excellent dinner in the garden under large horse chestnut trees - it was still warm at 27 C/80 F.

A first quick stroll around the village followed, to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings. Sunset came soon, and we were still tired from the lack of sleep between Friday and Saturday, and so it was an early night for us.

Here are the first few pictures we took on that day:

Bizau church, separated from our hotel only by the hotel's garden and parking lot.

This yellow armchair in the lounge was my main reason for wanting to go there! :-D


Kanisfluh, as seen from near the hotel (we had the same view from our balcony)

Bizau church again, upon returning to the hotel

By the way, this was not our first stay in the area. Back in 2016, O.K. spent a week in another village nearby, and I joined him for the weekend. I posted about it in September 2016, starting here.