Fotoeins Fotografie

questions of place & home

Posts tagged ‘day trip’

My Tirol: Brenner Pass

After a mid-May morning in the Alpbach alpine valley, I spent the afternoon on rail to Brenner via Innsbruck, with both legs of the Innsbruck-Brenner stretch on the S-Bahn Tirol S4 train. I used my Eurail Pass the entire day.

Squeezed between the Stubai- and Zillertal-Alps in the Wipptal (Wipp valley), Brenner Pass stands at an elevation of 1370 metres (4495 feet) above sea level and is one of the lowest mountain passes in the Alps. The low mountain pass meant that humans have known about, climbed, and traversed this area for thousands of years. It’s also why the Romans incorporated this pass from the 2nd century AD/CE as a part of a critical north-south trade and security link between the heart of the empire to the south and the frontier provinces to the north.

By the Middle Ages, the pass was a part of the Holy Roman Empire on the “Via Imperii”; this imperial road stretched from Rome to Stettin via Florenz, Verona, Innsbruck, Augsburg, Nürnburg, Leipzig, and Cölln (Berlin). In the mid 15th-century, most long-distance trade between Augsburg and Venice was transported through Brenner Pass; by the early 16th-century, a north-south postal route was founded.

Empress Maria Theresa of the Habsburg Empire ordered in 1777 an upgrade and development of the road through the pass to mitigate the dangers of summer landslides and winter avalanches on the important trade route. Recognizing good timing and an opportunity, German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe travelled through Italy between 1786 and 1788, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Goethe would have started from Munich and travelled on the road for two days with a stop in Innsbruck before entering Italy. From his notes, he published in 1816 “Italian Journey” which became a best-selling book of its time and paved the way for Germans to satisfy their romantic dreams by travelling to Italy. The Brenner Railway line was inaugurated in 1867, heralding a faster connection between Innsbruck and Bolzano and the first rail line through the Alps. Construction of the 38-kilometre Brenner Autobahn between Innsbruck and Brenner Pass began in 1959 and by April 1971, drivers got to experience the full width of a speedy highway, now known as the A13 in Austria and E45 in Europe.

From its origins, the road today is a vital link between northern and southern Europe, providing trade shipments by truck and rail transports. Concern about environmental impact by record numbers of trucks (about 2 million every year#) is also why the European Union initiated construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel to divert more freight onto rail and further cut rail journey times between Austria and Italy by about an hour.

It’s difficult to imagine a time in the recent past where this border was heavily guarded and all traffic was stopped and checked, with stories of smugglers secretly climbing over the border mountains in the dark and stories of death from exposure and misadventure. With Austria’s formal acceptance of the Schengen Agreement and entry into the Schengen Area, all border controls here were abolished on 1 April 1998.

Separate European nations with unguarded borders was once thought impossible. It’s a modern idea that cannot be underestimated and for which I’m thankful: I arrived by plane in Frankfurt, Germany where I entered the European Union. Because Germany, Austria, and Italy are within the Schengen area, I was able to travel freely among these nations. From Stazione Brennero, I walked out into town and across the border from Italy to Austria and back again, without checks or controls.

# 2 million trucks per year, 5500 per day, or about 230 per hour. Delivering goods is an important economic engine, but that’s a lot of trucks, noise, and exhaust.


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My Tirol: Alpbach

On a beautiful spring morning, I set out from Innsbruck in a search for physicist Erwin Schrödinger. What Isaac Newton is to classical physics; Erwin Schrödinger is to quantum physics. In a modest church cemetery in the centre of Alpbach lie the graves for Erwin and Annemarie Schrödinger.

At an elevation of 974 metres (3196 feet), Alpbach is situated along the Alpbach river and nestled among the surrounding Kitzbühel Alps (Kitzbüheler Alpen). Many of the town’s buildings have traditional architecture with wood moulded and ornamented balconies. With population about 2600, key activities consist of summer hiking and winter skiing via a number of cable cars to the surrounding mountains including Wiedersberger Horn. Known also as “the town of thinkers” (Das Dorf der Denker), the 21st-century glass-and-wood construction of the Congress Centre was designed for the purpose of fostering and strengthening intra-European communication and cooperation. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Alpbach has hosted since 1945 the European Forum Alpbach, held annually in August with more than 5-thousand people in attendance.

This for me is classic Tirolean alpine idyll. Next time, I’d like to come back and stay awhile.


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My Tirol: Wilder Kaiser

Above/featured: On the drive west from St. Johann in Tirol to the town of Going are the peaks Treffauer (2306 m), Ellmauer Halt (2344 m), Ackerlspitze (2329 m), and Maukspitze (2231 m).

Du bist die Krone über einem begnadet schönen Fleck Tiroler Erde.
(You are the crown above a beautiful patch of Tirolean soil.)

– About the “Koasa” as the Wilder Kaiser is known by residents, written by Fritz Schmitt in his 1982 book “Das Buch vom Wilden Kaiser.”

About 95 kilometres northeast from Innsbruck, the alpine landscape in Austria’s northeast Tirol is dominated by the Wilder Kaiser (“Wild Emperor”) mountains which tower over the towns of Söll, Scheffau, Ellmau, Going, and St Johann. From a distance, the wall of rock appears like a crown over the region. Thanks to the establishment of a nature reserve in 1963, there are no lifts or ski areas on the Wilder Kaiser mountains. The benefits is the development over time of a diverse array of alpine and subalpine flora and fauna. For those who must, lifts and ski areas are available to the south on the slopes of the Kitzbühel Alps.

This day trip to the “Koasa” consisted of:

  • regional ÖBB/S-Bahn Tirol trains from Innsbruck to St. Johann in Tirol;
  • drive to Going (am Wilden Kaiser) for tea, followed by artisan ice cream;
  • drive to Scheffau and a walk around Hintersteinersee (Hinterstein Lake); and
  • drive to Gasthof Pension Jägerwirt for beer.

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My Tirol: Scharnitz and Porta Claudia

Where: Scharnitz, at the northern edge of Austria’s Tirol, next to the Austro-German frontier.
What: Porta Claudia, mid 17th-century fortifications directed by and named after Claudia de’ Medici.
BTW: Scharnitz Pass is technically not a mountain pass.

I’m interested in geography, historical relics, and the topography of European borders.

Scharnitz Pass is one of the lowest crossing points over the Alps at an elevation of only 955 metres (3130 feet) with the Wetterstein mountains on one side to the west and the Karwendel mountains to the other side in the east. The pass might better be described as a “gorge”, given how the Isar river traverses the valley floor between the two sets of mountains. Naturally, a road at this location would’ve been ideal as a vital north-south route for trade and communication, which is why the Romans built the stone road, Via Raetia, through the river valley. A 200-metre section of this old Roman road remains in the woods outside the nearby town of Klais. The location of the pass/gorge is also why the Romans built a guard station “Mansio Scarbia” here to control traffic between the northern outer provinces and the rest of the inner empire to the south.

One of the earliest records from the 8th-century AD/CE documents the establishment of Scaraza Monastery, known also as Scarantia#. The name evolved to “Scaraz”, “Scarbia”, “Scarnize”, and eventually “Scharnitz”. Today, between 1300 and 1400 people live in the Austrian town of Scharnitz in the Tirolean region of Seefeld. The town lies on the road between Innsbruck and Munich and next to the international border between Austria and Germany; the strategic importance of this modest town has never gone away.

“Porta Claudia” is the name of former fortifications on high ground at a narrow curve over the Isar river valley. In the midst of the pan-European Thirty Years War, Claudia de’ Medici, the Regent of Austrian Tirol, ordered in 1632 the construction of a strategic defensive rampart at the Tirol-Bavaria border to protect Tirol’s northern border from invasion by Swedish forces. The Bavarians overran the rampart in 1706, but fortifications were expanded in 1766. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about passing through Scharnitz in 1786 on his journey into Italy. In 1805, Napolean’s army laid siege and destroyed the fortifications, freeing the path for joint French-Bavarian armed forces to enter Austria. Remnants of the retaining wall up to six metres in height and an archway through the wall are visible today.

I’m up and about at dawn, and within 50 minutes on an S-Bahn Tirol S5 train from Innsbruck, I’m about to satisfy my curiosity about this stretch of the Tirolean landscape in Scharnitz. With the existing Schengen treaty among participating European nations, anyone can walk, bike, or drive freely across the unguarded international border between Austria and Germany%.

More

•   Alpenpässe.
•   Bergfex.
•   KulturAtlas.
•   Seefeld.com: Scharnitz | Porta Claudia | Kulturwanderweg Scharnitz.
•   Scharnitz.gv.at: Porta Claudia | Wissenwertes.

# “Scar” (noun), 2nd etymological meaning.
% I entered the European Union at Frankfurt am Main international airport where I went through passport check and control.
^ The Scharnitz bypass tunnel “Porta Claudia” opened 10 November 2018: ORF.at | Land Tirol.


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1-day in the American Southwest: Taos area

Above/feature: In the background at right-centre is the sacred Pueblo Peak (Taos Mountain) with a light dusting of autumn snow.

The following takes place entirely within day 7 of our time and drive through the American Southwest.

In a daylong trip from Santa Fe, we’re in Taos for the first time where we meet with nature photographer Jim O’Donnell, whose writings also appear locally in The Taos News. We also marvel in the hamlet of Embudo the collection of paraphernalia associated with American automobile culture at the Classic Gas Museum.

Our drive is on the Low Road in both directions. It’s no real surprise we’re in the Taos area longer than anticipated, but we leave the area a little earlier to catch a couple of sights back in Santa Fe as we must depart the following day for Arizona. It’s curse and benefit, wanting (or needing) to stay in one place for an extended duration with the anticipation of a return, because there’s much more to see and learn.

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