A hundred years ago southern Germany was a train ride, a ferry journey and more train rides away. If you had made this journey in 1913 it might have taken you two days from London, even if you had been travelling as fast as you could, or three if you were starting from here in North East Wales. You would have marvelled at the speed of modern travel. You would think yourself fortunate to be living in the railway age. After all if you had done the journey in 1813 you would have had to go by horse and carriage. That might have taken you about two weeks, maybe you could have cut the time a little if you had a desperate need to travel quickly and could throw money at the problem. But faraway places were far away then. Is it a wonderful thing to be able to get on a plane and experience another country in the space of a day? Or does it diminish experience to turn travel into a blur, to fail to see how the land changes, how the houses in one place are made of stone and in another of brick, how the angle of a roof reflects snow or rain? Am I being overly romantic about the impact of slow travel? Would you even notice these things if you trundled through Europe in a carriage with the curtain drawn at the joggling window, feeling a little sick? I think you might. I think slowing things down helps you to understand and appreciate place. And yet it was a fine thing to wake up in Munich and to go out for breakfast just round the corner and for life to be different.
Two days in Munich, two in Salzburg. We travelled by train between the two cities. In Salzburg we stayed in another beautiful flat (both via Air B&B, highly recommended). This flat was five floors up in an old building with a mezzanine bedroom up a steep yacht type staircase. It was also fabulous. To my shame I am not an extremely musical person and I had always thought of Salzburg as a place to go for music. But it is also a place for architecture and history and food, all much more my things.
It is a place for little and large squares and gracious buildings. I liked it very much.
From Salzburg we took two buses to arrive at the town of St Wolfgang in order to catch a train up a mountain. I don't know quite why watching a tv programme about a train which went up a mountain in Austria had resulted in our being there, instead of the usual murmurings about that looking interesting, followed by life mooching along as usual. We are not train enthusiasts particularly. We do like mountains but generally for walking up. Perhaps it was the lure of getting to the top for very little effort, other than the effort involved in getting from Wales to Germany to Austria to a station by a lake at the bottom of a mountain.
I was very taken in an entirely non techy way by the fact that the train has to be higher at the back than the front so as to cope with the steepness of the ascent. But what really transfixed me was the view from the top of the mountain.
We ate a ferociously Austrian lunch in a hotel on the mountain top which opens from May to September. Ian's involved dumplings and mine sheep's cheese and a lot of onion. Mounted heads of crows looked down at us from wood panelled walls. I loved it.
Then we came back down the mountain, got on the bus, returned to Salzburg where we ate and slept, caught the train to Munich, ate a sandwich in the Old Botanical Gardens, took a bus to the airport and flew home.
Part of me hates air travel with its plastic food and its plastic air and the drudgery of airports. But it was wonderful to be there. I feel as if I have had a window into another world. Once, a few years ago, we stood on the edge of a very beautiful square in Croatia, looking out across the polished stone at buildings which breathed power and history and civilisation. The square was empty. The air was cool. It had rained earlier in the day and pools of water caught the last light of the evening. We were travelling with friends. We stood in silence for a few minutes. "I must get out more," said our friend with Northern dryness. I know what he meant.