Monday, 22 August 2016

From the Alps to the Black Forest

From Innsbruck the Fern Pass connects the Austrian Tyrol with Germany, a fabulously scenic route with views to the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain. 

And just as well there were pretty sights, since we encountered an Alpine traffic jam over the Fern Pass (the beginning of European school holidays) and were obliged to inch forward in a slow crawl -
as the weather shifted from cool with dramatic clouds ...

to stifling (even this high up) July heat. 
I watched enviously as the driver in front raised the doors on his vintage Mercedes Gullwing to let fresh air flow through - what a fantastic design!

By mid afternoon we reached the Black Forest and the spa town of Baden Baden. 
I'd posted (here) about taking the waters here in the autumn a year ago, and was really excited to be back in this lovely town in full summer.

Baden Baden has such a solid, prosperous feel. There's conspicuous affluence but it's understated and undershot with a sense of the history of this town

and cushioned in the surrounding natural beauty of the Schwartzwald.

Walking from the town centre we passed the colonnaded Trinkhalle (pump room) for tasting  the restorative spring waters

to the less salubrious Kurhaus (casino) where Dostoyevsky famously gambled his earnings away.

In front of the casino, the July Sommernachts fest was in full swing, with food and drink at outdoor tables. 

Crossing the road at the grand Theater, in the style of the Paris Opera,

 we headed along the Lichtentaler Allee, the parkland that runs along the river Oos, lined with elegant classical villas

where well-dressed people were walking well-groomed dogs 

past the Museum Frieder Burda, designed by Richard Meier, which has one of Germany's biggest collections of modern art

ending at the grand 19th century Brenner Park Hotel 

for a drink in the terrace gardens, before heading back into town in search of dinner.
And to contemplate the end of a fantastic 8-day road trip from London through France and Belgium to Luxembourg, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, the Austrian Tyrol, Germany 

Baden-Baden, Germany, July 2016

Monday, 15 August 2016

Flying high in the Austrian Alps

From sunny Trieste on the Adriatic we drive up through the Dolomites and over the Brenner Pass into Austria. 
In Stubaital, very close to Innsbruck in the Austrian Tyrol, there are enticing views to the Stubai glacier.

Sadly a trip up to the glacier was a no-go as the lift was under repair. But the Kreuzjoch mountain peaks are accessible via a cable car that whisks you up well over 2000 metres - to some pretty fabulous close encounters with the Stubai Alps.

In summer this is fantastic walking territory with the dozens of trails that are mapped out across the alpine landscape full of hikers. But the Stubai Alps and the Kreuzjoch in particular is also flying paradise for hang-gliders and para-gliders. 
It's something to do with wind conditions and thermal lift - whatever, there were countless human birds floating well above the height of these dizzying peaks.

I watched as Birdman here made awkward progress towards the take-off platform, suited in a contraption not designed for walking on terra firma ...

and stood for a very long moment on the edge, perhaps considering the wisdom of the terrifying leap he was about to make (well, I would too) ...

before tipping himself forward over the precipitous edge 

and into flight.

 This one, in contrast, less encumbered by gear and on a different slanted platform like a ski jump, didn't stop to think, just ran madly headlong downwards and off ...

Walking along an alpine trail I was glad to have the earth under my feet but couldn't stop wondering how incredible it must feel to be floating at these heights, light as air

At the chalet style café there is local beer, sausage and strudel served by dirndl-ed waitresses

and the less adventurous enjoy the views from benches

Give me a ski resort in the summer months any time.

Kreuzjoch, Stubaital, Austrian Tyrol, July 2016

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Castles on the Adriatic

Just along the coastline from Trieste is the gorgeous Castello di Miramare

built mid-1800s to be the summer home of Habsburg Archduke Maximilian of Austria and his wife princess Charlotte of Belgium.

Charlotte's royal family relations were legion: daughter of king Leopold I of Belgium (her brother became Leopold II, infamous for his brutal exploitation of the Congo), she was grand-daughter of the Queen of France and first cousin of both Queen Victoria and Albert, as well as of King Ferdinand of Portugal. And completing a triumph of genetic inbreeding, her husband Maximilian (younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria) was her second cousin.

None of this (or being one of the richest women in 19th century Europe) helped avert a bad ending for these two.

Maximilian, eager for a more impressive title, sailed off to the new world with Charlotte to take up the crown of Emperor of Mexico, made a series of poorly judged political and life choices (the least of which was sending home a request for 2000 caged nightingales) and was summarily shot dead by a firing squad.

Charlotte sailed home to live alone here at Miramare castle where she went certifiably mad.

And only a little further along this coastline, the thin finger at the bottom of Slovenia created to secure Trieste within Italy's borders ...

is Duino castle - in different style but more dramatically located on a cliff-top overlooking the Gulf of Trieste

Called Castello, Schloss or Grad - reflecting the fluid national borders of the last century - Duino belongs to the von Thurn und Taxis family.

It was also built as a summer home in the 19th century and the gardens and chapel have a distinctly Italian Tuscan feel.

There's a view down to the ruins of a much older castle from the 11th century.

Rilke famously spent a lot of time here, having an affair with princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis and wandering along these cliff-top trails - both inspiring him to write his Duino Elegies, considered his best work and dedicated to princess Marie.

I liked the family dining room ...

with french doors opening to a balcony

with these views down the cliffs

where swimmers were just visible, lazily floating in the calm sea.

These were my last views of the blue Adriatic before heading back north to the Alps.

Castello di Miramare and Castello di Duino, Gulf of Trieste, July 2016

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