To the Austrian Alps

A casual start as I only had a 3 ½ to 4 hour drive planned through Innsbruck to Kals, deeper in the mountains.

I made a stopover at the Kaiserjäger museum, who I suppose were a bit like the US Marines in their days. This meant that they were utilised in the front lines in tricky situations in war. They lasted from the Napoleonic wars around 1816 to just after the First World War, when what was left was disbanded. The museum doesn’t just cover war though, but the history of the entire Tyrolean area. It even has the old summit cross of the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria and one of my major goals for this trip.

I gave the other Palaces and Churches a miss due to the continuous rain. SO I found my way back onto the main road and onwards towards Kals. The 6km tunnel under a mountain was interesting, as the mountains themselves were hidden in cloud.

Once in Kals the weather did clear for me to walk to a local place the “Gams Alm” for dinner and then pack for the start of the Grossglockner climb tomorrow

Regards

Walter

Zugspitze Plan B

The plan was to walk up the back of the Zugspitze. The weather took care of that. Rain and snow down to 200 meters does not make for a comfortable or safe climb up a 2960 meter mountain.

So I went to visit the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world at Ehrenburg near Reutte instead. It is 179 meters long and about 140 meters above the valley floor. The mesh on the walkway meant you could look straight down and the movement of it made it feel a bit like you were walking on a ship at sea. A few of the tourists were walking along holding on to the edge for grim life. I swear a few of them had their eyes closed. The fortress ruins either side of the valley added some extra interest. The old part of the Ehrenburg was started about 1200 AD and it was added to and changed as weapons improved.

Back to Ehrwald and as I had to get to the top of the Zugspitze I cheated and took the cable car from the Austrian side. It was minus 3 degrees at the top, windy and with about 10 cm of new snow. No views, just an experience. Once I returned to the valley I went for a short walk in light drizzle to the Hochthörle Hut and the nearby Eibsee Lookout at the German side. Only a few people on the well-formed track (read narrow bitumen road) through the conifer forest. No animals. Quiet.

Back to my Hotel for a tasty meal and a beer.

Regards

Walter

From Aachen to Ehrwald

It’s 13.30 and I’m on my third train. Made the first one with 15 minutes spare, second one with 10 minutes and third one with none. It got moved to a different platform so just about had to run, but all good.

Got picked up by my relatives in Schwäbisch Gmünd, followed by a short drive up the hill to their home in Lindach and a refreshing coffee. I needed this for the 200km drive to Ehrwald just the other side of the Austrian border. With the steering and the gear stick and indicators all on the wrong side whilst having to drive the wrong way round roundabouts it was a bit interesting. Anyway I got there to a lovely room at Mairs Gasthof, evn though I couldn’t see the Mountains surrounding us due to the low cloud and light rain.

Regards

Last day at Aachen, a walk in the Park

I managed to score a ticket for the Kur that was left at reception by another guest. It was a bit like finding Gold. Not even a spare seat at the stadium as you would often see at supposedly sold out shows.

And what performances they were. I enjoyed the Spanish rider’s freestyles the most. They seemed lighter, happier. Maybe they did not have the technical aspects perfect though as the best Spaniard lagged by about 14 % to the winner Isabel Wert with 89.6% Weihegold.

Then a quick 15 minute lunch and to my seat for the Rolex Grand Prix Showjumping. The best of the best come here to try to claim a share of the 1 Million Euro price money. 40 Riders and their trusty super athlete steeds in the first round, the 18 best for a second round, followed by a jump off. The jumps were huge with some at 1.65 meters. The patchy rain did not help, but 4 riders progressed to the jump off and it came down to 0.4 seconds. Excitement plus in front of 40,000 fans there were groans and applause as riders and horses got themselves in and out of trouble with Gregory Wathelet on Coree being the eventual winner.

A range of officials presented the prices, from the German Defence minister Ursula von der Leyen to the 91 year old legend of showjumping Hans Gunter Winkler. Google him.

Then the closing ceremony with a Dutch feel as the Netherlands were this year’s partner country. More Friesian horses than you could poke a stick at. Shame about the rai, but not even that could dampen the spirits and everyone stayed and enjoyed themselves.

Back to the hotel for the last time via the Mercedes Shuttle I’ve been privileged to share. Then a walk in the adjoining parklands. Aachen has a number of mineral springs that are claimed to have curative properties, so the place has a bit of a health resort feel. This park had plenty of water features and in the corner an interesting bit of a forgotten garden complete an overgrown iron hothouse frame.

Enjoyable walk before my final dinner and drink at the hotel.

Regards

Walter

Aachen 2017 CHIO, World Festival of Horse Sports

There were some long days spent at the Aachen CHIO grounds to spectate at everything from dressage to showjumping, 4 in hand carriage driving, and of course my favorite, eventing. Apart from the sport aspect, the statistics are staggering. This is a huge event. For 2016 they are summed up as follows. 350,000 spectators, 334 competitors, 567 horses, 2.7 million Euro price money over 9 days of the event.

The first day for me included the Eventing dressage, The Grand Prix special and culminated with the Eventing showjumping, along with walking the cross-country course for the following day.

The following day I tried to follow some riders at some of the more thrilling (difficult) jumps before settling in at the Rolex Water complex where I managed to get a prime spot after a while for photographing the last 10 or so riders coming through. As the cross country was run as the last phase in a reverse order, it meant the last 10 riders were currently in the top 10 spots. The winner ended up being Ingrid Klimke, second Michael Jung and third place Australian Shane Rose, With Chris Burton also being in the top 10. This meant that the Nations Cup winners in eventing was the German team, second being the Australian team. Good effort.

Some of the other events I watched that day was the Hickstead jumping in the Main arena, the 4 in hand Marathon driving on the Cross-country track and the very fun Jump and drive, where the rain did not dampen the spectators or competitors enthusiasm

Regards

Walter Berger

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Cologne to Aachen

A great 10 hours sleep, breakfast of waffles and coffee and a short walk to the station and the ICE train to Aachen.

You could just about smell the horses as you arrive. Horse statues outside the station, banners, signs. The main reason for my visit there the CHIO Aachen World Festival of Horse Sports is a big thing here. That and the history of Karl the great – Charlemagne who lived and reigned from 742 AD to 814 AD. He was the first emperor in Europe since the demise of the Romans and made Aachen the capital of the Carolingian Dynasty. Apart from uniting Western Europe one of his crowning achievement was the building of the Aachen Cathedral in a Byzantine style. It was consecrated in 805 AD, and was the site of the coronation of over 40 Kings and Queens. The throne sits on an elevated platform in the cathedral and is constructed of plain marble slabs brought back from Jerusalem. The lead lights had to be replaced after WWII due to bomb blast pressure waves blowing them out.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and rightly so. I much preferred it to the more opulent Cologne Cathedral. The 400 year time difference might have had something to do with that. The reliquary in the treasury doesn’t pull any punches though. Charlemagne having been declared a Saint had bits of him in ornate gold plated silver arm and bust, which even appeared in a movie.

Then it was time to leave town, and the country. I needed the walk anyway. I headed to the 3 countries corner, where the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. It also happens to be the highest hill in the mainland Netherlands, the Valserberg at 323 meters. The climb up the lookout tower was almost harder than the few kilometer walk from Aachen to here through bucolic countryside. At the border intersection there was a pointed stone marker. If you carefully jumped on top of it without impaling yourself you could be in 3 countries at once.

Then back to the hotel and on the CHIO Aachen to play spectator and watch some World class riding

Regards

Walter

The Plane the Plane then onwards to Cologne with the train

Whilst boarding was on time, the sitting on the tarmac bit for what must have been an hour was a bit boring. I woke up a couple of hours somewhere over the old Soviet Union after indulging in a second champers whilst waiting.

It was dark, so nothing to see here until breakfast just before the landing in cologne 1 ½ hours late. So no time to dawdle on landing to get a coffee. Got a move on to catch the shuttle bus to the other terminal and the train to Cologne. The ICE (Inter City Express) is better than anything in Australia. Travelling at close to 300 km/h we made it to Cologne in just under an hour.

The Ibis Hotel I am staying at is on the edge of the train station, my window overlooks a square with views to the justifiably famous Cologne Cathedral (Der Dom). Time for some sightseeing and exercise it turns out. I get a ticket to climb up to the main tower, all 157 meters and 509 steps of it. In the steep winding staircase you don’t notice much apart from your rapid breathing. Through the occasional small windows you see intricate stone carvings that decorate most parts of this Gothic masterpiece.

There are also the massive yet delicate flying ramparts that made this construction possible in the middle ages from 1200 to the late 19th century with Friedrich Renard being one of the last Dom Baumeisters (master builder). The footings of Basalt and Tufa under the tower dive 16 meters into the earth to support what was the tallest building on the planet for a number of years. The layers of human presence under the cathedral include parts of a previous cathedral and Roman Structures 2000 years old.

Onto more worldly matters. The cathedral’s liturgical treasury items are supposed to show the glory or something like that. I personally found it a bit over the top, even though as some of the items as a demonstration of the art of gold and silver smithing is fabulous. One of the bits I enjoyed the most at the cathedral was a tour of the excavations under the cathedral. The Archeologists drilled through meters of the thick foundation walls to get access to the sub floor area and below. The cathedral is retrofitted with a concrete below the original floor, and the history beneath back to Roman times is then exposed.

By the time we emerged back to the surface the warm sunshine was replaced by lightning and torrential rain. Back to the hotel to recover from 2 days of travel.

Regards

Walter