Friday 31 March 2017

Bad For Good: Part 2

Day 3 – Grune Baum to Prossau and back to Bad Gastein

10.00 miles

By now, we were getting the geography of the valley and the transport options a little clearer in our minds. There are lots of ski buses, which walkers aren’t able to use, but also a good service bus timetable, with major routes running along the length of the valley and side services from each of the main towns.

The service buses are half price using the Gastein Card (which is free from hotels) which made most journeys about €1.20 (about £1.00). This is good value: there is a walkers’ pass available covering all buses and ski lifts, but its €89 per person, and unless you intend to use the lifts a minimum of 4 times return, it doesn’t pay off (although it might do in the summer – there looks to be plenty of walking in the area). So, we would recommend pay-as-you-go as the most cost-effective way of paying for transport during the ski season.

Anyway, we caught the 9.15am bus to Bas Gastein and had a quick look around some gear shops before catching a connecting service to Grune Baum at the entrance of the Kotschachtal valley.

Grune Baum

Looking along the Kotschachtal valley

It was immediately clear that it was much quieter here. Once past the stop for the Graukogel lift there is no skiing in the valley, and for the first time we got a real sense of peace and quiet.

Following the track through the valley

We followed a wide track through the steep-sided valley, with wooded slopes to either side and occasional glimpses of the higher summits beyond. Before long, we passed into the Hohe Tauern Nation Park – Austria’s largest National Park, and home to its highest mountain, the Grossglockner, only a few miles away as the crow flies, but hours away by road.

Entering the Hohe Tauern National Park

Rain had been forecast, but pretty much kept off all day. In fact, there was sunshine from time to time, and with the relatively warm temperatures, it felt at times more spring-like than wintery.

Sunshine and snow, a winning combination

Shadow on the snow

After a gentle climb of around an hour and a half, we reached the Alpenhaus Prossau. Rather surprisingly, we found it open. Inside, temptation was put in front of us in the form of a naughty-looking menu and a lovely smell of baking.

Alpenhaus Prossau

We resisted, but only for a few seconds. Then our will-power melted as quickly as the ice cream on two delicious helpings of hot strudel (complete with whipped cream, vanilla sauce and a shot of liqueur for that extra-warming touch). Glorious! Well, it was Shrove Tuesday, and it would have been disrespectful not to celebrate it. In fact, I seem to remember hearing that there’s an EU directive compelling foreign visitors to eat cake/pastries/puddings* on Shrove Tuesday in Europe – it’s the law! (* delight as applicable).

Suitably fortified, we headed back towards Grune Baum on what was now a much busier track. The sun was out and the snow melting as we reached the village. After a brief coffee stop, we picked up the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Promenade back towards Bad Gastein, which offered level walking and good views over the valley and town.

View down the Gastein Valley from the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Promenade

About 100m before the stop we saw a bus pull away. Not to worry, though: they are frequent enough, so we caught the next one and were soon back in Bad Hofgastein.

Waterfall in Bad Gastein

Shrove tide is time for celebration in Austria, and as we made our way back to the hotel we were confronted with the sight of clowns playing brass band music. Not people fooling around with tubas, you understand, but actual big-haired, baggy-trousered, badly-made-up creepy clowns, with all the proper instruments, and trombones.

Sadly, or maybe not so sadly for the Coulrophobics amongst you, we were too stunned and disconcerted to take any pictures of this weird phenomenon.

Day 4 – Around Bad Gastein

9.25 miles

And then this …..

Early morning, March 1st. White Rabbit!

We awoke this morning to find it had snowed overnight. Not much, but it did now look a lot more like the winter wonderland we had hoped for.

Our option was to stay close to Bad Gastein and wander to some of the nearby points, eschewing the need to compete for bus seats and valuable oxygen with the newly excited skiing crowd.

The new snow would only last so long. With the temperature firmly stuck at a balmy “above zero” figure, even as we set off, the trees were beginning to shed lumps of wet snow on our heads.

Bad Hofgastein in the snow

The first part of our plan was to walk from the town centre up the east side of the valley, making our way via paths and minor roads to a vantage point over the town from where great views were to be had.

On the path towards the Cafe Sonnberg 

On reaching the road, we turned south and followed it to an old water-driven flour mill and nearby communal oven. 

What appeared to be a communal oven

Although we could only see inside through the gaps in the wooden walls, it gave a good insight into how the mill operated using variable water flow to adjust the speed of the wheel.

Rauchberg Muhle

Useless, old millstone, plus the thing
that used to turn the wheat into flour

The waterwheel speed could be adjusted
by how much water was directed to it

The road beyond the mill was closed. Had we been able to continue, we could have joined the Gasteiner Hohenweg that runs to Bad Gastein. So we turned back, retracing our steps to the Café Sonnberg and following the road upwards.

Beyond the Annencafe, the road was again closed, so we decided to pop in for a coffee before making our way down to Bad Hofgastein again on largely the same paths as before.

Heading back down into town, with sunshine breaking through

The clock struck midday as we reached level ground again and sauntered through the streets on the north side of town. A quick stop for lunch things at the Hofer supermarket (Aldi equivalent in Austria) proved interesting, then we walked on to cut through some houses and eventually pick up the riverside path.

We stopped for a quick bite. Our current sandwich of choice is cheese and ham, the choice of cheese this time being some of the most >ahem< “robust” we had ever bought! We had to consign the remainder to outside on the balcony.

View from the second lunch stop in Weiden

However, even it couldn’t deter the cold wind that had decided to scythe through the valley at that particular moment, so we hurried on. Doubling back on ourselves, we turned for home through the small village of Wieden, where we stopped for the rest of our lunch – this time, in warm sunshine.

Crossing the Gasteiner Ache on the way back into town

It was then just a half hour or so back to the hotel, taking a slightly roundabout way through town on the way, before settling in for our evening routine.

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