A new week dawned on the Euro2008 Tour, and with it, a fresh plan for the day. We decided to pay a visit to Scharnitz, a small town about 5 miles northeast of Seefeld. The guidebook claims that there are some lovely paths around Scharnitz ― flat, easy, 45 minute walks. We never learn. Mary and the girls elected to take the bus to Scharnitz, while I, engaging with the alpine outdoor ethos, decided to hike the number 6 path between Seefeld and Scharnitz (guidebook: a walk of no more than 1.5 hours).
I passed through Seefeld on my way to the trailhead. The Blumencorso celebrations had run far into the night: singing, dancing, drinking. This morning, Seefeld resembled a typical British high street after a Saturday night revel: beer bottles and McDonald's wrappers littering the streets, pools of vomit clogging the gutters, young people sleeping off hangovers in the alleyways.
But I jest: the good people of Seefeld have far too much civic pride to allow their town appear in such disarray. At 9:00 AM the downtown core was pristine ― not a stray fish and chip wrapper in sight. Shined up and spotless, Seefeld glistened beneath the morning sun, its peace disturbed only by my fellow hikers, who were poling through town, decked out in shorts and rucksacks.
I ascended to the base of the Rosshutte, the massive lift that, in the winter, hauls skiers to the top of Seefeld Joch. A turn north put my feet on the path to Scharnitz. The first stage of the trail consisted of a a narrow dirt path paved with tree roots. I followed the trail as it snaked northeastward, winding around the contours of the ridges.
The first sign of trouble came when my dirt path merged into a wider, well-graveled track. The yellow sign aimed at Scharnitz suggested that the town was 2.5 hours away. Now the trusty guidebook had stated that the total trek was only 1.5 hours in duration, and based on that optimistic proclamation, Mary and I had arranged to meet in Scharnitz at 11:00 (it was now 10:00). If it took me two-and-a-half hours, then I was going to be 1.5 hours late, and she would be wondering if a bear ate me, or if I had eaten some woodland mushrooms and slumped to the side of the trail in a psychotropic stupor. Moreover, she and the girls would have been cooling their heels at the tourist information office in Scharnitz for two hours. There was only one thing to do: put my legs in high gear and hope that the time estimate was based on the average speed of elderly women in walking frames.
The trail edged around the fenced off grounds of an amazing, apparently deserted, castle. After snapping some pictures, I walked past and noted that the northern side of the castle had been grafted on to a modern building. I couldn't tell which came first and was left wondering if the castle was a fake. It looked nice, set against the mountains.
As I was packing my camera back into its bag, I heard the nasal voice of an American pre-teen boy coming up the trail behind me. A family of four broke cover, the boy still whining loudly about the outrage of being forced out on a wilderness trek. Zounds. This wouldn't do. I set off quickly, intending to outpace them and reclaim the contemplative silence of my morning hike.
After five minutes, I stopped to make a note or two. Before I could finish, that boy's voice came droning through the woods again, grating like a poorly-played bagpipe. They were right behind me, four of the seven dwarves marching quickly, hiking poles flashing in unison. I folded my notebook into my pocket and took off like a startled deer, legs kicking into turbodrive. This time I didn't stop charging down the path until I'd put a good quarter mile between us. At least their appearance pushed me along faster toward Mary and the girls.
The trail ran alongside the train tracks for a long stretch, and the mountains bracketing Scharnitz grew steadily closer. Near the town of Giessenbach I went badly astray. The path broke out into a clearing which offered several different options for onward travel. Unusually, there was no sign for Scharnitz, and the big map posted in the clearing seemed to suggest that my path followed the highway for a short distance before returning to the woods. I tromped across the pasture to the shoulder of the busy road and started walking. Cars blasted relentlessly past at unnerving speeds. Unfortunately I never found the way back to the path, and ended up walking the last mile-and-a-quarter alongside the highway (which was less than pleasant). It did afford me an opportunity to take some pictures of sheds in alpine meadows, the function of which mystified me on our train ride from Munich, and, in fact, remains an unsolved mystery. Why does every Austrian pasture have eight or ten wooden sheds spread across it? Who owns these sheds? Why do they need so many? Surely one large barn would be more efficient.
I walked into town, past a Benedictine convent and saw Mary waving at me in front of the tourist information office. I should point out that there is a distinct difference between an Austrian ski resort (Seefeld) and a real (non-tourist oriented) Austrian town like Scharnitz. I'd been marveling at the palatial chalets of Seefeld, impressed by both their size as well as the lack of small rundown houses. Scharnitz suggests that not all Austrians live in regal splendor. It was a village of small houses and the usual clutter of small town life. On the other hand, Scharnitz is placed in a gorgeous location, tucked between the glacial blue Istar river and the soaring Brunnensteinspite, a majestic peak that rises behind the town.
The girls were keen to start hiking, so after a few minutes rest we set off on a scenic walk that had been recommended by the tourist information office. Our goal was the Wiesenhof, a restaurant hidden somewhere up the Isar river. Once again we took to the hills, deluded into thinking that we were embarking on an easy, 45 minute walk.
The Wiesenhof was our first proper Austrian restaurant: it doesn't serve pizza. I wondered what the less-adventurous eaters in our party were going to do. I shouldn't have worried as, after a great deal of scrutiny of the German menu, Mary found a ham and cheese sandwich, while the girls both settled on ham and cheese omelettes. I chose to believe that whatever was served at Wiesenhof was going to be terrific, and so I chose a course at random ― Schweinebraten, a word that certainly sounded tasty. I was well rewarded for this leap of faith. My meal consisted of roast pork slices, the tenderest, most luscious sauerkraut I have ever had the pleasure of eating, and a round doughy bread ball with bacon baked into it. Absolutely fantastic food, probably made all the better by the hunger that was chewing passages through my bone marrow.
The only drawback to the Wiesenhof was its popularity. You wouldn't think that a place out in the middle of the woods ― a long march from town ― would do that well, but as we ate, groups of hikers kept popping up on the porch like Gandalf and the dwarves at Beorn's house. The problem came when we tried to get the bill ― with only one waitress hustling around 25 tables, it took long time to secure her attention, and we were very tired of sitting by the time she cashed us out.
The hazy skies had yielded to lowering clouds. As we walked back to Scharnitz on the northern side of the river, I felt the first rain drops brush against my arms. The surrounding mountains were funneling a thunderstorm right toward us. I encouraged the girls to walk as quickly as they could, but we were unable to outrun it. Before the deluge descended, I guided us under a stand of trees, and we managed to stay somewhat dry while the storm passed overhead. Our adventure concluded with a fast dash into Scharnitz, a train back to Seefeld, and another rainy night indoors.