Monday 2nd September sees our intrepid trio rise early and head for the border.
Within 3 hours of getting up this morning we are in bumper to bumper traffic courtesy of the UKs good old M20. Deep joy.
We are home at around 11am. The usual things assail our senses and inveigle our minds as we finally pull up at Chez Nous:
Lawn needs mowing
Hedges need cutting
How much post!?
Why does this water taste so bad? (Thames Valley affliction)
What’s for dinner?
Do we really need to go shopping?
Can’t we just have pizza?
I have to get ready for work!!!
Shall we unpack now or tomorrow?
How much washing!?
Is our neighbour still alive?
That last point may not be a universal but our lovely neighbour was extremely ill when we went away. We are overjoyed to see that he is considerably better and very much in the land of the living.
By way of procrastination we go for a walk.
The forest is dense. A dark tangle of branches, twigs and fallen leaves. Moss coats the floor and brambles tug at our clothes. We see an unprepossessing building through the gloom. Mrs P turns to Mr P and says, “You’re going to have to mow this lawn.”
The rest of the day sees Mrs P starting a big pile of washing and beginning to unpack Gandalf while Mr P tackles the jungle.
We’re back. It’s been a lovely holiday as always. The following few photos are an attempt to précis our trip.
…and sport climbing in Nassereith, Austria…
…over the Reschen Pass…
And into Italy.
…and we climbed both snowy mountains…
We met up with old friends…
…and some REALLY old friends.
We had toughdays (there were no tough days). We had active days…
…and lazy days.
We’ve seen some sights…
…and we’ve inflicted some sights…
…and through it all, despite all we put him through, Gandalf looked after us.
Way back in the 7th Century local monks here started carving channels through the sodden peaty soil for cultivation. A thriving market garden industry was in place by the 19th century and today, more than 50 vegetable varieties are grown there. Admittedly 49 of those varieties are cabbage but still…
The influence of cabbages can be felt, quite literally, when, following every harvest, fences across the region are blown down by mysterious winds seeming to emanate directly from the marshes.
Enough silliness. It is a beautiful place…
It’s a bit like parts of the Thames near Henley, though without the aeroplane noises, congestion and ocean going liners.
(Aside: Why do people buy ocean going vessels to noisily cruise up and down a 60 foot wide, 3 mile stretch of the Thames at Henley?)
All this loveliness is too much for us so we cycle into town to have an end of trip drink.
We don’t stay long. If we missed the crowds, noise and smells of the Thames then Saint Omer did its very best to make us feel right back at home.
After a quick drink, a dose of other people’s cigarette smoke and a vehicular assault on our ears we head back for the tranquility of the marshes.
Where Mrs P feeds the duck…
…and Mr P tries out the very latest in aquatic turbo trainers.
All followed by a lovely glass of French red.
Last year, at the end of our 4.5 month trip one the final photos was an image of our shadows on the beach in Spain. Whilst this is not quite the final blog post of the trip it is the final photo of this particular post, we thought we would do something similar…
Saturday 31st August and Sunday 1st September will be travel days to get us back within easy driving distance of Calais and the Channel Tunnel. Or, as the French call it; Le Place from which Le Stoopide Brexit people come. (Zoot Allors!) You think I’m joking? They’ve already changed the signs at customs, as follows:
EU Nationals ➡️
Roast Beef Eating Foreign types ➡️
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Possibly because I am writing this in the tunnel between Calais and Folkestone.
So, dear reader, let’s go back in time, way way back to Saturday 31st August. We have a cunning plan. It’s a dreadful plan but, at this point it time, we are blissfully unaware of just how uncunning our cunning plan is.
It all starts well, a carefully plotted early morning flit from the campsite. No rations (read: breakfast and a cup of Rosie Lee), bypass the guards (read: ‘the people in the tent next door), avoid the searchlights and crash (read:,’raise‘) the barrier doing 98 (read: ‘quite slowly actually‘). Steve McQueen would’ve been proud (read: ‘ashamed‘).
By 05.30hrs we are on the road and by 06.30 we have negotiated the 4th longest road tunnel in the world.
The Arlberg Tunnel is 16km long. The sun wasn’t quite up when we entered the tunnel but it certainly was when we came out the other end. Weird!
All good so far, but did I mention that the sun came up? That’s where the trouble really began.
It got hot…
I should mention here that Gandalf has no air conditioning. His only concession to hot weather comfort is electric windows. There is also a thermometer inside the cab to rub your nose in the fact that we have no air conditioning.
The thermometer inside Gandalf reads 37.8 degrees C or, for our US readers, 100 degrees F.
“Open the windows!”
I hear you chorus.
This is not as good an idea as you might think. We are traveling on motorways and the noise with the windows when open is horrendous, besides that, any air that does rush by at deafening velocity is akin to that kicked out by your average hairdryer. So we opt for the stifling still heat as opposed to the deafeningly noisy heat.
To add to our woes we had decided to alternate 2 hour driving stints but, for some reason, had not considered any breaks. This was a mistake. It turns out that Mr P does not do well without his morning hot drink and a spot of food. In fact he can get quite grumpy so, when Mrs P misses the turn off the Autobahn adding a whole 15 minutes to the 6-7 hour journey, Mr P in his lack of hot drink, no breakfast and overheated state gets quite unnecessarily fractious.
Mrs P, being the saint that she is ignores him. Best way. He falls asleep.
Several million hours and a couple of driver changes later and the temperature in the van has at no point dropped below 6 billion degrees centigrade (about 42.8 billion degrees F for our US readers). We finally arrive on the outskirts of Verdun with just one simple task left before we can go to the campsite and break free of Gandalf’s searing, suffocatingly oppressive, oven like grip. Time to get fuel.
This is a mistake.
Fill up with fuel and pay. (Miraculous, since most French petrol stations refuse to employ human beings and then refuse to take our good old English bank card.)
Then, horror of horrors, Mr P fails to negotiate a carefully camouflaged bollard and does damage to our home, our friend, the van we all love, our very own Gandalf.
This has the effect of turning Mr Ps already dark mood to inky black.
To précis the rest of the afternoon and evening I will simply say that Mrs P was very patient.
The evening was rescued to some extent by Mrs P taking a very grumpy Mr P out to dinner (Mrs P: “Can you believe it, he even complained about having to eat late!”).
Well, enough of my failings as a loving husband for now. I shall catch up on Sunday and Monday in my next post.
Spoiler alert: Mrs P’s patience is less tested as Mr P cheers up.
…as Pooh Bear once said. Friday August 30th and it’s our last day in the mountains. Do we climb or do we go for a walk? Decisions, decisions.
Much as we would like to do both we eventually decide on a hike. And, since time is limited we are going to cheat.
We take the chairlift up from Hoch-Imst at 1,000m to 2,050m. We only have a freebie map. It’s one of those horrible 3D affairs designed for people who can’t read maps. This kind of map is infuriating.
I have this theory that we can walk from the top of the chairlift at 2,050m, over the Hinteres Alpjoch (2,425m), down to the Mutterkopfhutte (1,934m) and back up to the chair lift. However, the HinteresAlpjoch is not marked on the map. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Maybe it is the one have indicated. Maybe we should’ve bought a map! Maybe, maybe, maybe… However, it’s a stunningly beautiful day, we are wearing walking boots and have made sandwiches. Only one way to find out…
We quickly find a summit of sorts…
…and stop to pose with the ubiquitous summit cross.
From where we can see our possible route.
Time for a few flower pictures I think…
In the UK such a walk would be rammed but, there’s just us. This is because we have passed the magic, 20 minutes from the chairlift zone. Few users of such mechanical uplifts will go beyond this point without the imminent promise of a cup of tea or beer.
We found the top of the Hinteres Alpjoch (2,425m). Disappointingly there was no cross by which to pose. Just a small yellow, plastic sign so, I took a picture of the ground instead…
Anyway, lets go down to the Mutterkopfhutte. Where is it?
The sign says 1.5 hours but we are ‘ard and have gravity on our side. So, 45 minutes later…
I was going to suggest a coffee but, strangely, the word ‘beer‘ came out instead. Go figure!
Under the influence ofein kleines Bier, I decide to try a ruse on Mrs P. I tell her that I am taking a picture of the reflection in her sunglasses when really I am just after a close up. She’ll never know.
She returned the favour…
We finished it all off with a short but stiff (and rather Tolkienesque) walk back to the chairlift.
The above picture is a vain attempted zoom in on the lone walker on the path. I hope he’s insured, I’m sure his wife was right behind him about 30 seconds ago!
A splendid last day in the mountains.
Back at the campsite…
…Gandalf is patiently waiting.
Tune in tomorrow for the tale of our, oh so hot, journey North.
If you are feeling under the weather what would you choose to do? Duvet day, raise at noon and spend the rest of the day reading books? Not Mrs P. The following is what Mrs P chose to do (of her own free will I might add) because she needed an ‘easy day’...
This Via Ferrata (or Klettersteig in German) is in Nassereith, Austria and, while short (1.5 hrs) it is quite hard. Graded ‘D’, they only go up to ‘E.’
Basically this is cable pull ups for an hour and a half.
So not necessarily what Mr P may have considered the wisest of choices for the recovering Mrs P. but, we all know who’s in charge, so onward and upward.
Anyway, it seemed to work…
…and a great time was had by all.
It’s difficult to show the height of such a climb but the following photo attempts to do that by zooming in on a couple of climbers on the route.
There was even a fun bridge over a gentle abyss comprising only 3 cables. One for your feet, one for each hand. Got some good video but unfortunately the bandwidth here is not sufficient to load to the blog. Sorry.
Tomorrow, Friday 30th August, is our last day in the mountains before we begin the long, depressing drive home. Now I admit I am 24 hours behind with my updates but, tune in tomorrow to find out what we got up to.
When life slows you down, for whatever reason, and the journey focuses more on the minutiae of every step than on the summit in the distance, the focus of your eye readjusts and is drawn to such things as the beauty in a leaf.
The delicacy of a butterfly (or maybe a moth? Who can tell?)
The myriad, and potentially poisonous, mushrooms.
Even the insects at work…
…and other things for which I have run out of adjectives…
The walk on which we found all this carefully annotated and taxonomically accurate (yeah, right!) flora started and finished at this place…
I think you will agree that that is an insanely long way for pizza.
It does of course beg the question; ‘Why?’
Well, are you sitting comfortably? I shall take you back to my last post when I said…
“…We are off back into the mountains tomorrow. Going to climb the Ortler…”
Now you may remember that Mrs P has been a bit under the weather. The Ortler is graded PD+ (for a idea of a PD+ grade climb see our Allalinhorn trip last year). We decided that, discretion being the better part of valour, we would leave the Ortler for another day. We will definitely be back as it looks stunning.
Anyway, we are sat in our campsite wondering what to do instead…
…and we decide to go and climb the Monte Zebru (3,703m) from the Rifugio V. Alpini-Bertarelli. The guide book says; “… park in the big car park, (the other side of the Umbrial Pass), take a Jeep to the road head and then walk for a few hours to the hut.”
…over the Pass we go. Get to the big car park and…
…big!? Define ‘Big.’ There are already about 12 cars parked up. Practically on top of each other in true Italian style and literally (and I do mean ‘literally’) nowhere else to park within 10 km. Even then only about 5 of the spots were long enough to cater for the not very long Gandalf. We investigate alternatives but, sadly, it looks like a wasted journey. Only one thing to do (well, 3 actually):
So, that’s the story of Gandalf’s long quest over the misty mountains to do battle with Smaug get pizza. Tolkien would definitely have written a better story.
The following day we went all the way back over the pass (another 90+ hairpins). Don’t consider doing this in your white behemoth Campervan by the way. There is a 10m length restriction and in places the road is barely wide enough for a car.
How it was all meant to be…
So, back in the Val Venosta, as a consolation prize, we decide to go climb possibly the easiest glaciated peak in Italy, Piz Sesvenna, 3204m. What can go wrong? Well…
…It turns out that Mrs P may be a bit more ‘under the weather‘ than she has been admitting.
We set out from the van for our 2 hour, 600m climb to the Sesvenna Hütte. It’s a lovely day…
But, Mrs P is struggling.
We stop for a rest…
…and a contemplate…
…we head back to the van
Poor Mrs P.
Will she pull through? Will our normally athletic, dynamo of a heroine return to her peak of fitness in time to partake of more daring adventures before we must begin the long journey back to Blighty?
Tune in next time to find out.
Possible spoiler alert. Should Mrs P fail to rally, I can assure you that she, and in fact I, will bravely undertake gentle scenic bimbles, heroically visit restaurants and cafés and, casting caution to the wind, finish of the day with schnitzel, chips and wine (distant relatives of Crystal, Tipps and Alistair).
We have taken a couple of days out of the mountains while Mrs P recovers from the lurgy and while the weather up high sorts itself out (bit damp). There’s not much rock climbing in this area so we have spent a day and a half at a medieval festival in Schluderns, Italy.
The festival went on for 3 days though we only spent a day and a half wandering around.
The premise of these events is that hundreds of people who are fascinated with a particular medieval period in history live their lives as medieval characters every weekend throughout the summer with like minded people and all their best mates. It sounds really nerdy and, in some respects it may be but, that doesn’t stop it being great fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to dress up like a warrior and hang round the tavern with their mates?
The only issue is that it provides a stark illustration as to why wars will never stop…
…the thing is that some people (men. Ok, me) just want to feel tough. I can’t explain just how much I wanted to buy a sword.. and a helmet. Oh, and one of those spikey things on a stick and, and… a bow and arrow… and…
Last time I wrote anything I fell asleep mid sentence so, I must confess to slipping standards and the need to catch up. We have been in Arco for 3 days now and would love to stay longer. For this post I am going to throw caution (read: data) to the wind (read: Vodaphone) and try to recount 3 days in pictures. Wish me luck…
Arrived late Monday 19th August all campsites full so hung around down by the river with all the other cheapskates.
My guidebook for this area is sitting at home in Berkshire so borrowed a book from the neighbouring van and took some photos.
For those interested in how such diagrams help it goes something like this;
Find crag (Climbing area) A dark art all of its ownTry to make real rocks look like diagram – this is akin to a vet using a Walt Disney drawing of Pluto or Goofy to operate on a real life dogSelect climb from diagram – use same analogy as above but now we have to find the dogs appendixClimb 30 metres of rock using a description of a mere 5 words e.g. follow crack to tricky overhang. (Thanks for nothing description!)
This is day one of climbing near Arco. South facing slab and super hot so, I’m wearing a buff under my helmet to keep the sun off my neck. Lunchtime, I take helmet off. Mrs P takes photo, I assume because I look cool but no, it is because I look like a pillock.
I have included a definition of the word ‘pillock’ for my non-English readers but I think the picture says it all
Met up with some old friends back at the campsite. Mr & Mrs McD. We first met this splendid pair last year in Switzerland. We all went off to do a via Ferrata above the village.
The return trip passes through Arco and its assorted bars and pizza restaurants. We succumbed to temptation and stayed for both.
The following day, 21st August (Aside: Happy Birthday Mrs P’s brother) we set off to higher climes (and climbs) to a crag 550 metres up. A lot cooler and both lovely and quiet.
Did a climb called Winnie the Pooh (5a+) which I’m not entirely convinced the bear after which it was named would have been able to scale. Fun but no honey.
Mr & Mrs McD joined us and had a great time. Both nearly 10 years older than us Mr McD only took up Climbing a week ago!
I also climbed a 6a+ without crying (well, not while anyone was watching anyway). Mr McD took a couple of nice shots of me on the way down after the falling off bit.
That brings us to today. Thursday 22nd August. Just a few climbs on a crag local to Arco followed by a visit to Arco itself.
When we were last here in 2006 it was a pretty quiet place with lots of climbers but only 2 climbing shops and not much else. It’s changed though…
Every other shop seems to be a climbing shop.
I was very good, I only spent €3 on a pair of laces and I bought Mrs P a small gift for being the best belayer ever.
Our favourite pizza restaurant however has not changed. Still perfect pizzas at reasonable prices in delightful surroundings.
We must leave Arco in the morning but have vowed to return for longer next time. So much to climb. So much to see. (So much pizza to eat!)
Tune in tomorrow as we head back to the South Tyrol…
We first met Otzi back in 2006. We were hanging out in the Otztal valley hoping to climb but the weather had taken a serious turn for the worse.
Trawling through tourist info leaflets we found that behind our campsite was Otzidorf.
Travel Back in time to an era where Ötzi ‘the man in ice’ lived. Said the flyers.
So, off we pottered for a very informativeif rather damp few hours finding outabout Otzi the iceman.
It turns out that Ötzi, also called the Iceman, is the well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE. When he was discovered, by 2 climbers in 1999, poking out of a glacierthey thought he might be from the war, just 70 years ago but, it turns out that he is about 5,300 years old. I’m usually happy if someone thinks I look a few years younger than my current 55. Ötzi was mistaken for a man 5,130 years younger! That’s either one serious skin care regime or some blooming awful guess work from the experts on the spot.
Anyway, we’ve been to the outdoor museum, we’ve been within a few miles of the spot he was actually found. Time to visit the museum in Bolzano, Italy dedicated to and housing the man himself.
Click on the image for more info…
The museum is excellent and I thoroughly recommend both it and the city of Bolzano should you find yourself in that part of Italy.
The museum tells the story of the find and the research undertaken in the decades up to now. Strangely they only got forensic scientists involved relatively recently to reveal the possible scenarios around Ötzi’s ‘murder‘. Pause for dramatic effect…
… [pause ends].
You can’t take photos of his body so, no pictures here. (The National geographic have a good site where it can be seen) His body is kept in a frozen state and is visible via a viewing area with the exhibition culminating in a full size recreation of him.
Looking good for a 5,300 year old murder victim
After a very educational visit we headed off for lunch. This turned out to be very expensive because it also involved a couple of visits to shops as follows:
Book shop: €36 – Climbing Guide book to replace ancient one.
outdoor shop: €60 – lightweight trousers for Mr P for next years trip!Outdoor shop No. 2: €240!!!!! Mountain trousers and top for Mr P who has lost so much weight over the last few years that everything is falling off him (and other such vague excuses)
We can no longer afford to eat. Ever!
Those concerned that this spending spree is somewhat Mr P centric may be heartened by the fact that some years ago a similar shopping spree took place that just involved Mrs P.
Moving on, which is exactly what we did, we then drove south for a couple of hours to Arco. We were here in 2006 also. Sleepy little town at the northern most tip of Lake Garda. I’m sure nothing has changed…