World Travel - Tyrolean Days
( Originally Published 1903 )
WE walked down to the banks of the River Rhine during our afternoon in Basle, and when we saw there some attractive swimming baths, we Iost no time in paying the small fee required and in getting in the water. We were hot and tired after our long ride on the train, and I don't think either of us ever enjoyed any bath more than this one. The water of the river was so clean that we could almost see the bottom near the shore, and, flowing down from the mountains, it was also deliciously cool. We paddled about in great style for nearly an hour, and when we left the bath we felt better than for a long time before.
We started out in great spirits to see something of the city of Basle. We found it to be not a large place, but an exceedingly interesting one. There was the old church, for instance, where many important historical events have taken place, and there was a museum containing what were said to be fine specimens of the old style paintings. Jack and I couldn't say that we thought these paintings very beautiful, but since they were executed hundreds of years ago, we decided that we couldn't expect them to look like modern works. We went through this museum most religiously, examining everything we thought it important that we should know about, and when we had finished we were both pretty tired. I then suggested that we get something to eat, and in the place we visited not a soul could speak English or French, only German. Jack pulled out a little German-English dictionary he had bought in Paris, and tried to make the waitress under-stand that we would like a frankfurter sausage and a glass of milk, each. We thought the frankfurters were German enough to be understood by any waitress, but for some time this girl only stared at us in amazement. It was only after great effort that poor Jack pronounced the words so that she understood him, and when he finally succeeded he threw down the book in great disgust. " You'll have to attend to the talking on this trip," he said. But I refused to undertake the job. " You've begun it," I replied. " Now you'll have to keep it up. It will be good training for you. You ought to be able to speak good German by the time you're through with this book." So all through our tour Jack acted as spokesman, and after a while he did succeed in speaking the words well enough to secure what we needed as we went along. Some of his mistakes, however, were most amusing, as when he used the word gegessen (eaten) and meant to say gesehn (seen).
Again In Switzerland
There were many things about Basle which were interesting to us. We had never before seen such houses as were some of those in the old, back streets of this city, and certainly we had never seen a cleaner, or more generally attractive little place. It seemed typically Swiss in all respects, though we thought it so near the German border that it must be German, too. We walked through the principal streets in the evening, when the lamps were lighted, and then we succeeded in finding a very cheap room for the night in a little gasthaus in an out-of-the-way corner of the town. Before going to bed, we decided to leave for Zurich early the next morning, by train, because we thought the carfare so cheap that it would hardly pay us to walk the distance, especially as the scenery would not be particularly interesting. We also decided that from Zurich we would take a train part way to Innsbruck, and walk only through the most interesting part of the country. We were sure that we would have enough walking before we had finished with our trip to Ober-Ammergau, and afterward we were very glad we had adopted this plan.
In Basle we had our first experience with the European feather bed. It seems that travelers are always surprised when they encounter it, though they've been hearing and reading about it for years. We knew that as soon as we entered German speaking countries we would probably be given one to sleep under; but when we saw it lying on our bed in Basle, we at first didn't know what on earth it could be for. Then we remembered our information on the subject, and we lost no time in piling the thing on to the floor, for the night wasn't so freezing cold that we felt we would need to sleep under feathers. With the feathers off, we slept very well indeed, and awoke in the morning feeling much refreshed, and ready to start off in good spirits for Zurich.
I'm sure that everyone is delighted with their first glimpse of the Alps. They are always more grand in their beauty than anyone imagines them to be, and travelers are almost invariably enthusiastic when they see them first. And if most travelers are merely enthusiastic, Jack was almost wild when on our way to Zurich the scenery became more and more magnificent. I had been in the mountains before, so it was not so new to me, but I enjoyed it greatly, nevertheless, and Jack sat with his head out of the car-window all the time, calling for me to look at each new view of the mountains. It was indeed a lovely morning's ride. The air was so much better than in Paris that we felt we were in a different world, and the scenery seemed to be more beautiful with every mile. The little villages which were scattered here and there through the valleys were interesting, too, and the people who came to their fences to see the train rush past. Jack said that it all reminded him of a panorama he had once seen when in Chicago, "only this is more beautiful than any painted picture could be," he said.
When we at last reached Zurich the view was finer than ever, for there we had the deep blue lake added to the attractions of mountain and sky. The lake was a lovely color, and seemed made just to set off the surrounding mountains in a proper way. We both decided immediately that Zurich would be our choice of a place to live if we could live anywhere we liked; but afterwards we found other places we liked quite as well, so if we were to be given our choice I'm afraid we never could decide which place we liked best.
Zurich, the Swiss Metropolis
There wasn't much that interested us in Zurich after the scenery had been admired, and we had taken a ride on the beautiful lake. The city is too large, we decided, to be very picturesque, and it isn't large enough to be interesting merely as a city, after we had been three months in Paris. We thought it a busy, bustling place, and learned that it is the chief centre of the silkmaking industry in Switzerland, and the largest city of that little Republic. The people seemed very proud of their parks and driveways and other metropolitan improvements, and no doubt the Swiss find Zurich a most fascinating place in which to spend a week. We would have found it attractive, too, if we hadn't been for so long in " Gay Paree," that our taste had been. spoiled. As it was, we looked up our time-table of trains and decided to leave very soon for a point just within the Austrian border of the Tyrol. From there it would be a nice walk to Innsbruck, and we would have a chance to get our legs in working order before starting north to Ober-Ammergau. We expected to find it hard work for the first day or two, and knew we would be sure to have sore feet for awhile.
We remained in Zurich one night, and again succeeded in finding a cheap lodging. For a franc, or one franc fifty, we could usually manage to get good beds. Nearly always we would be sleeping in a room with other persons, but we didn't mind that after we were used to it. When we reached the mountains, and stayed overnight in small villages, we often secured accommodation at an almost ridiculous price, especially in the places where tourists are few and far between.
We left Zurich in the morning, and at noon we had reached the town from which we were going to walk to Innsbruck. It was a picturesque place, located in a long, green valley between high mountains, and we looked forward with cheerful anticipations to the pleasant tramp we would have through this valley to Innsbruck. And it did turn out to be a pleasurable experience, in spite of the troubles which naturally beset the beginner in mountain pedestrianism. We didn't linger in the town at all, but pushed bravely forward after the train which had disappeared in the distance ahead of us. We had na mountain sticks, and felt the need of them, but wanted to wait until we reached Innsbruck before buying any. The sun was very hot on our backs from one o'clock until four, and Jack was sweating most awfully ; but, like a brave boy, he never complained, and kept jogging along at a good pace. Our bags rested easily on our backs, and we were not tired to start with, so we may consider that we began our walking tour under very favorable auspices. The only thing that bothered us was the heat, and we knew we would get used to that in time.
In the Tyrol
The villages were frequent through the valley in which we walked and the road was as good as we could have desired. All through the mountain districts we were surprised at the excellent roadways, until we learned that they are kept up carefully by the government, especially in districts where there is no railway. The road leading to Innsbruck was hard and smooth, without much dust, and as it was level for most of the distance, we pushed ahead at a good pace. I imagine that we must have made at least three and a-half miles an hour during this first afternoon, and always after that we tried to do at least three miles an hour. There were times, when we had long inclines to go up, that we didn't make more than two and a-half miles an hour, but we made up for the loss when we were going down the mountain on the other side. The walking made us very thirsty, but to our delight we found fresh spring water at close intervals all along the road. Some of the fountains must have been standing for centuries almost, from their appearance, and it was interesting to conjure up in our minds visions of the various travelers who had stopped at them to drink, long before there was a rail-way through the valley. The water was always good and cold, and it seemed that the more we drank of it the more we wanted, so that we were drinking all the while. Jack was a little afraid that so much water might not be good for us, but we never suffered from any bad effects, and always drank all we wanted at every spring.
The walk to Innsbruck took us two good days to do. We were not able to go as fast the second day as on the first, because our feet were very, very sore. Jack's had blisters on nearly every toe, and mine were nearly as bad. We had not expected to have them so very sore, because we had walked so much while in Paris, but it seemed that mountain roads were harder on the feet than city pavements. I'm sure my shoes were responsible for most of my difficulty. They were of English make, and fitted me not at all. I would have thrown them away, only I was afraid that the shoes I would buy in Austria might be much worse. I certainly wished for a pair of good American walking shoes, such as Jack had been wise enough to bring with him. We didn't know any remedy for our feet, so we had to let them cure themselves, which they did in time. They were hurting us so badly at about noon of our second day, that we decided we take off our shoes and stockings and bathe our feet in the cold water of a near-by mountain stream. This was the most comforting thing we could have done, for our feet felt fine after the cold bath, and we were able to make faster progress during the afternoon. After we had washed our feet, we washed our stockings also, and laid them out in the sun to dry. Then we went barefooted into a little gasthaus to get some dinner, and when we came out again our things were ready to be worn again. We often did this during the succeeding days. No one ever stared at our bare feet, because all the people in the neighborhood went about in the same way, even the women, and we found this the best possible means of resting our feet.
The Most Beautiful Country in Europe
The country through which we walked was charming. The scenery was different and more beautiful than any we had seen in Switzerland, and the villages along the road were ages old and wonderfully interesting. The people, too, were good and. kind, and we were almost sorry when at last we saw the spires of Innsbruck rising ahead of us.
Innsbruck proved a very attractive place to us. The city was so different from any place we had visited before, that we never tired of exploring its quaint streets and old buildings during the short time we were there. It seemed almost like an Oriental city, with its gaudy colors and arcaded thoroughfares. The buildings were nearly all constructed of white plaster, and were invariably painted on the outside with all sorts of queer figures and designs, which gave a peculiar appearance to the whole city. The location of the place is superb. It is built in a kind of hollow among the mountains, which rise to a great height on every side but one. Many of the neighboring peaks are snow-capped, and through the valley there runs a swift blue mountain-stream, turning the wheels of what few mills there is in the city. But Innsbruck is not a bustling place like Zurich. It was for this reason that we liked it better than the Swiss city. The people moved slowly, and we could imagine them doing the same things two hundred years ago that they were doing when we were there. Certainly the place is very old ; one can see that by the ancient structures which abound in every street. We thought it older in appearance than any city we visited during our stay in Europe, and on this account we will always want to go back there some time. We were often dis-appointed because things seemed so little different from what we have at home. In Innsbruck everything was different except the hotels,' and of course one finds these in every interesting place of Europe.
We bought a good map of the district we would traverse on our way to Ober-Ammergau, showing all the roads and hamlets, because we didn't want to run any risk of getting lost among the mountains. We bought also two good alpenstocks to help us up the inclines, and exchanged our caps for the picturesque Alpine hats, which were very comfortable for our heads, but didn't protect us from the sun. These few purchases attended to, we had no reason for remaining in the city after we had visited the interesting places. There was good reason, moreover, why we should start at once over the mountains, if we were to reach Ober-Ammergau for Sunday's performance of the Passion Play. So we shouldered our bags early in the morning of our second day in the Austrian city, and started out on what we thought was the road up the river. Jack thought it was the right road, at any rate, and insisted that he was right. I had my doubts about it,- and said so. It seemed to me that we were going in the wrong direction. This turned out to be the case, for after we had walked about an hour, I inquired of a peasant if we were going in the direction of Zirl, our first stopping-place, and he told us that we were going just the other way. We then had before us the pleasant-task of retracing our steps in the hot sun, and of beginning all over again.
A Bad Start
The next start we made, I inquired the direction of nearly every one we met, until there was finally no doubt that we were on the right track. Once this was settled in our minds, we were able to walk along and cover much more ground than when we had been hesitating and doubtful. After this, I always inquired the way often enough to make sure we were going right, for it would have been discouraging to return more than once to Innsbruck to begin over again. For some distance on this first morning we followed the same road which had taken us to Innsbruck in the first place, and we were also following the railway track, so there seemed no danger of our making any mistake. Yet this was what we did. We made the mistake of starting from Innsbruck on the wrong side of the river to reach Zirl, and when we finally began to approach that village, we could find no means at all of getting across the stream. We walked up and down the bank, looking for a foot-bridge, or a bridge of some kind, but there was apparently none nearer than Innsbruck, and we were determined that we. wouldn't go back there again if we could help it.
We sat down on the bank and considered the question. It was about noon, and we were both hungry. But we couldn't get anything without we got across the river to Zirl. There seemed absolutely nothing to do but return again to Innsbruck, and we were feeling pretty blue, when I noticed a party of men in black on the river-bank with a boat. They were some distance off, and we couldn't see them well, but as we approached them we saw that they were monks. All wore black robes, and sandals on their feet. Their heads were shaved close, except for a little rim of hair which extended around their crowns like a halo. Evidently they belonged to some near-by monastery, and when we looked up-stream we saw a great stone structure on the mountain-side which looked as if it might be the building. Jack didn't want to speak to the monks, but I told him that we might get them to take us across the river, and that it was our only hope of reaching the other side without going back to Innsbruck. So he went up to them with me, and we were surprised to find that all save one of the number were boys of about our own age, or a little older. I addressed the elder one in what little German I could command, and pointing to the boat, I motioned to the other side of the river. He seemed to understand at once, and nodded his head. He didn't speak a word, and we decided before leaving him that it must be one of the rules of his Order not to speak.
The Friendly Monks
After a few minutes the monks entered the boat, and we with them. Then ensued an operation which we had never seen before. We had been wondering how they would get the boat across, because the current of the stream was far too strong for any one to row against it. We had noticed a heavy wire stretched overhead from bank to bank, but didn't connect it with the boat until we saw the monks attach a rope to the pulley on the wire. Then they pushed off from the shore, and, to our surprise, we saw the boat move rapidly across the river without any rowing at all. By some ingenious arrangement the current was utilized to propel the boat across- instead of down stream. The wire held it in place, of course, and the pulley slipped across the wire. It was all very neat, and some-thing new to Jack and I.
During the crossing, we learned that one of the youngest boys could speak excellent English. He had studied it at school, he said, and certainly he spoke it very well. He was able to give us a great deal of information about the neighborhood, and especially about these monks and their monastery. He said that the great stone structure on the mountain-side had been standing for centuries, and that during all this time it had been occupied by this one Order of monks. And as we looked at the building from closer range, we could well believe that it was centuries old. It looked like some ancient fortress constructed for defense in the days of chivalry. The boy said that the monks owned most of the land in the neighborhood, and that they raised enough produce to support themselves and several neighboring churches without any aid from the government. We told him about our difficulties of the morning and how hungry we were, and I noticed him talking to one of the other boys. Then he turned again to us. " I think you can have some dinner at the monastery, if you like," he said. " They are always very kind about caring for strangers, and if you care to go up, they will be glad to have you. And you will have an opportunity to examine the building, which is very interesting." Jack nudged me not to accept the invitation. I could see that he had no liking for such peculiar persons as these monks seemed to be, and that he would just as soon not go into the monastery. But I was very anxious to see more of their way of living, and particularly did I desire to see something of the great gray building on the mountain-side. So I told the boy that we would be very grateful for something to eat, and when the boat reached the northern shore, we followed the monks up the mountain-path to their home. The path was very steep and rocky, but it seemed to be the only entrance to the monastery. At the top we came to a great iron gate with stone pillars, and our guides rang a bell for entrance.
The gate was opened by another of the monks with shaved head, and he didn't speak, either. It seemed to be only those with hair who were allowed to speak.
Shut in from the World
Inside the gate, we found ourselves in a courtyard paved with stone, and the building towered above us to a height of at least a hundred and twenty-five feet. It was built just like pictures we had seen of ancient castles. There were no windows at all, but just openings in the wall, which were evidently more for loop-holes than anything else. At the side of the building was another gate, and through this we were taken by the boy who had talked to us in the boat. The gate opened, to our surprise, on a level plateau of several acres extent, planted with grain and vegetables. We had been unable to see this plateau from the river, and the slope of the mountain behind had also been invisible. On the slope were cattle grazing, and we could easily imagine that the monks were comfortably well off in the midst of all this prosperity. Jack and I were more interested in the building itself, however, than in the fields, and we were glad when the boy took us into the hallway. It was a very grim-looking place, nothing but stone benches and stone columns and arches. Evidently things were not made for comfort. We were shown into the chapel, and found it a beautiful place, all exquisitely decorated with paintings on the walls, and with an altar that seemed to be of solid gold. There was a great organ, too, and we wished that there was a service in progress, so that we might hear it played.
From the chapel we were shown into what was apparently a room for reading and study. There were several tables of fine carved wood, and book-shelves along the walls, which seemed to contain many old volumes. No doubt some of the books were extremely valuable, but as we had no knowledge of the subject, we didn't examine any of them closely. We did look at the Bible which we saw in the chapel, and it was certainly older than any we had ever seen before.
Our dinner was served to us in a small room, which was quite as severe in appearance as the others we had visited. We sat at a small table without any cloth or napkins, and were obliged to eat alone. The boys said that the monks didn't usually eat in the middle of the day. Our meal was not elaborate, but we had some good pork and potatoes and black bread. They gave us beer to drink, which they said had come from their own brewery; and we thought it strange that monks should have a brewery at all, until we discovered many of them during the succeeding days. We had a hard time drinking the beer, it was so strong, and after that we didn't hesitate to ask for water instead, though people always stared at us when we did so.
Life in the Monastery
When we had finished our dinner we hoped that we would be shown over the upstairs of the monastery, but no one offered to take us, and we soon took our departure. We offered to pay for our food, but they wouldn't hear of it, saying that they counted it a privilege to care for two boys who were so far from home. We thanked them as well as we could, and then made our way down the rocky path, and to the road which would take us to Zirl. " Well," said I to Jack, " this has certainly been a novel experience. I've always wanted to visit a monastery, and now I've been through one of the most interesting ones imaginable. It was great luck that we met those monks when we did, else we might be back in Innsbruck now, or on our way there." Jack agreed with me that the experience had been an interesting one. " But I'd hate to be those fellows what are living there with the monks," he said, and I couldn't say that I envied them their places. They were studying to become members of the Order, and never expected to live any-where but in that gray stone building. It was a life that didn't appeal to two boys who had set out to see as much as possible of the world.