September 6 Bari, Italy
I board the ferry boat, Egnatia, with a minimum of hassle. I am a bit concerned about my Greek visa having expired a few days ago, but no one seems to notice. The trip is very pleasant and uneventful. We arrive in Brindisi about 17:00 and I shoulder my bag (damn thing hasn’t gotten a bit lighter) and begin to walk out of the city. I reach the outskirts and get a ride to Bari in about ten minutes. The old hitchhiking luck seems to be still holding. On the bus to the Bari Youth Hostel, I meet an Italian student who is very friendly. He takes me to the hostel and introduces me to his friends, a dance band group. The hostel is very modern and comfortable, if somewhat uncongenial.
September 7 Potenza Lira 1300 (US$2.35)
I have a fantastic day on the road! It takes until noon to clear the city of Bari. First, I try the autostrada – never again! It is almost impossible to get a ride because everyone drives insanely fast and no one wants to stop. I try the smaller roads instead and have the greatest time. For some reason, I had a picture of Southern Italy in mind of a hot, dry, dusty country; poverty-stricken and desolate. In fact, it is really beautiful. I walk for miles though rolling countryside and fertile, green farmland. The biggest surprise is the people -- they are lovely – by far the pleasantest and friendliest I have met up until now! It may just be the contrast to Spaniards and Greeks. In both of those countries, the people are not used to seeing foreigners and are quite xenophobic. They just don’t understand somebody hitch-hiking and are slightly afraid as a result. Italians, on the other hand, seem genuinely interested, wanting to know where you are from and where you are going. A Spaniard will just stare at you suspiciously as you go by (sometimes we even got “the evil eye”), whereas an Italian will speak to you and offer to buy you a coffee. I am able to get many short rides, here and there – real, true hitchhiking. At some point, I realize it is Sunday and that is why there are no traveling businessmen on the road, normally, a staple source of rides. Instead, the cars are filled with families returning from church or just out for a Sunday drive. Even so, they stop for me and I stuff myself and my packsack into the tiny backseat beside the bambini and away we go for a few kilometers until they reach their home village.
I meet many people, but most notably Gino and his family, who are more friendly to me than anyone else I have met. Gino picks me up and invites me to come home to his apartment for Sunday dinner with his extended family. At the dinner table are he and his wife, who are both quite young and have a small baby. Also, there is the wife’s mother, aunt and grandmother. I get the impression that these people are quite poor and when we sit down to the dinner table, they only serve me a big bowl of plain pasta. I’m a bit disappointed as I am hungry and really looking forward to a good home-cooked meal. Wanting to make the best of the situation, I eat as much of the pasta as I can. Then to my total amazement, they serve course after course of the main meal – apparently, the pasta course in Italy is only an appetizer! Naturally, I can’t seem ungrateful by turning down the many delicious dishes that follow, so I eat heroically. We finish with coffee and a delicious homemade coffee liqueur. I am so stuffed I feel like the Michelin Man. They insist I take along a little bottle of the liqueur, because it is very good for: “mali alla testa and mali al estomacho”. After dinner, Gino drives me to the outskirts of the village, to a good place to catch a ride. The whole experience was just marvelous and part of what makes hitch-hiking so fascinating.
About 21:00, I arrive in Potenza, a little country town, built on a hilltop and looking like a picture in a history book. It is very charming and picturesque and I wish I could stay longer to look around. Like most towns in this part of the country, it is built on a high hill, supposedly for protection in medieval times. There is a church on the highest part with the other buildings crowded around it.
September 8 Napoli ₤2130 (US$3.55)
I leave Potenza in good time and walk to the edge of town. I get a ride with a fellow though some fantastic, mountainous country and a huge valley. Shortly after he lets me off, I get a truck into Salerno and then nearly immediately, another truck into Napoli. I find the Youth Hostel and then spend the afternoon waiting for it to open. Youth Hostels in Italy are very strict about rules. I meet some English boys who are good company.
September 9 Napoli ₤2645 (US$4.40)
I set out this morning to see the ruins of Pompeii. I arrive there after about two hours of traveling by bus, train and tram. It is worth the trip; the ruins are fantastic! The excavations are much more extensive than I expected and everything is as interesting as I hoped it would be. It is so cool to see in person, all the artifacts that were illustrated in my high school Latin textbook. As I walk through the streets, it is easy to imagine living in Roman times.
September 10 Roma ₤2130 (US$3.55)
I leave Napoli about 8:30 and get out of the city early, with the help of Dick, a young American fellow. Several quick, short rides bring me to Formia, and then I have to walk a few kilometers. More short rides and a bit of rain bring me to within 30 Km of Rome. Then a fellow picks me up and drops me right at the door of the Youth Hostel. Talk about service! The Hostel is very big and modern and very comfortable.
September 11 Rome ₤2400 (US$4.00)
I spend the day sightseeing. I meet an Irish fellow, Kieran, and we wander about together. I see the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus and a few other sights. The Coliseum is impressive, but a bit disappointing. I always thought the Romans were good engineers and builders, but their bloody buildings have all fallen to bits after less than 2000 years. Nothing like a Greek building made out of good Paros marble!
September 12 Rome ₤2830 (US$4.70)
I spend another day sight-seeing, this time in the Vatican. Saint Peter’s church is a real mind-boggler! Very different from other churches in that the inside is not dark and plain, but fantastically ornate and decorated. However, the wonder of it is the sheer amount of money it cost to build it. As if the whole thing is done, not as a creation of beauty, but as a display of wealth. Impressive, but not inspiring. The climb up the dome is well worth it and the view from there, out over the Eternal City is memorable. I meet a really sweet young Australian girl this evening.
September 13 Pisa ₤1800 (US$3.00)
I leave Rome in the morning and clear the city easily. Two buses to get on the Via Aurelia, a short ride and then I am out of the city. A long, slow ride takes me to Cecina and then a couple of short ones into Pisa, about 325 Km altogether. In the hostel, which is like living in a museum, I meet two Scottish fellows from Aberdeen.
September 14 Florence ₤2310 (US$3.85)
I leave Pisa in the morning and see the famous tower on the way out of town. Yes, it really does lean! I get a ride with a German fellow and then a couple of Italians and arrive in Florence about noon. I kill a couple of hours and then come to the Hostel about 3:00. Get soaked in a rain storm! Italian Youth Hostels are very strict. No one is allowed to be in the Hostel during the day, so I have to wait until late in the afternoon to get in.
September 15 Florence ₤2560 (US$4.20)
I spend a rather uneventful day, wandering around the city. Probably one of the nicer cities that I have been in. Very traditional, with classic buildings and streets. No skyscrapers or other large buildings. I meet an interesting Greek fellow in the hostel, tonight. He is a student from Athens. By coincidence, I am reading the Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone. It is a biography of Michelangelo and, of course, is mostly set in Florence.
September 16 Florence ₤2160 (US$3.60)
I do the tourist bit and tour the Medici chapel, the Uffizi Gallery and the Academia. I especially like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Some people ask me if I have seen Michelangelo’s David yet. The statue is in a separate gallery a dozen blocks away and I am tired of trudging though museums all day. They insist that I must not leave Florence without seeing David. I give in and drag my aching muscles to the Galleria dell’ Accademia and somewhat grumpily pay my admission. When I see David, standing in solitary splendour, in the rotunda under the huge dome, my jaw drops and I am struck speechless. I spend more than an hour, just gazing in awe. I keep moving around the rotunda every few minutes so I can look at him from different angles. This is not a stone statue, this is a living, breathing human being! All the hundreds of paintings and sculptures I have seen in the last few days, fade into insignificance in comparison with this majestic work of art.
September 17 Formbio ₤1450 (US$2.40)
I try to hitch a ride on the autostrada, with the usual poor results. Finally, I get a ride to Pistoia and then head for Bologna, but on a secondary road through the mountains. I arrive in Bologna about 3:00 and from there have a difficult time: short rides into the centre of cities and then much walking to get out the other side of them. I finally reach the little village of Formbio about 9:00 pm and sleep by the roadside, behind a hedge. It is fairly comfortable -- Not!
September 18 Locarno ₤695 + Swiss francs 6.65 (US$2.60)
I get up about 7:00 am and make it into Milan by 10:00 or so. Then I proceed to WALK out of Milan. I finally get a ride about 12:00 or 1:00. Get rained on. Several rides later, I arrive at the Swiss border and then another ride, which lets me off at the causeway across Lake Lugano. The Swiss Polizeia politely but firmly throw me off the autostrada. Three weary, unhappy hours standing in the rain in Lugano and then get going again with the help of an elderly Swiss. Finally arrive at the Youth Hostel in Locarno and cook myself a big meal of fried eggs and bread.
September 19 Grindelwald, Switzerland SF16.30 (US$3.60)
A long, hard day! Two short rides to Bellinzona and then many hours standing in the rain. Finally, a ride right through the San Gottardo tunnel to Wassen. Then a ride, which, for some strange reason, deposits me at the very top of the Susten Pass. It is windy, cold and bleak up here and I wonder if I will end up sleeping out – above the snow line! Fortunately, a young couple takes pity on me and gives me a ride down to Meinigen. Switzerland pretty well has some of the most fantastic scenery I have ever seen. At Meinigen, I ride the cog railway up into the high valley to the picturesque town of Grindelwald. After asking for directions several times, I finally find the Jugundherberge (Youth Hostel), well after dark.
September 20 Grindelwald SF10.10 (US$2.38)
You just wouldn’t believe Grindlewald! The Youth Hostel is a traditional Swiss mountain chalet, located well up the side of the valley above the town. Arriving last night after dark, I couldn’t see any of the scenery. This morning, I awake and stumble over to the window for a look. In the brilliant morning sunshine, the magnificent north face of the Eiger fills the entire window. I am staggered! The population of the town isn’t very large but it spreads out all over the floor of the valley. Every house looks like a Swiss chalet on a postcard – which, of course, it is! Outside of the business section of the village, there are tiny farms all through the valley. Each one is a house and a stable about half an acre of farm. The fields all look like lawns with not a blade of grass out of place. All around the valley, the mountains rise up to 12,000 feet with snow on top.
Ten years ago, our family sponsored Albert Jaggi, his wife and five children to emigrate from Switzerland to Canada. Albert worked on our farm for several years and the family lived next door. The Jaggis came from Grindlewald and they urged me to go there and look up their relatives.
I set out this morning to contact the Family Jaggi and the first thing I discover is there are about ten Family Jaggis. At the first house I go to, the Frau calls her neighbour because he speaks English. To my immense good fortune, the neighbour turns out to be the best person in the whole village I could possibly meet. Herr Christian Roth, is a really fantastic fellow in his early sixties; very interesting and infinitely helpful. He is a retired school teacher, the organist in the local church, a conductor on the cable car in summer, an emergency technician for the local telephone system, a sanitary inspector of local restaurants and bars, a brucellosis and TB inspector of local cattle, the founder and leader of the Grindlewald Yodeling Club, amateur historian, godfather to 17 children and, needless to say, knows everyone in the community. In his spare time he built and installed in his living room, an entire pipe organ. He takes me to his house and spends a couple of hours telephoning Jaggis and helping me to sort out their genealogy. Of course, he knows precisely who is related to whom and where each one lives.
He arranges for me to visit one of the families in the evening and then invites me to go hiking in the mountains for the afternoon. I wonder if this somewhat elderly and rather frail-looking person will be able to hike very far. I needn’t have worried! He meets me wearing lederhosen, hiking boots, a small rucksack and carrying a stout staff. We ride a cable car up to the Pfingstegg and then set out to hike up along the Unterer Gletscher, past Stieregg, and Banisegg to the restaurant owned by Herr and Frau Morisson.
The “frail and elderly” Herr Roth takes off up the path like a mountain goat, trailed by a 21-year-old boy (who is in pretty good shape) puffing and panting and trying valiantly to keep up. At intervals, he stops and explains the geology and history of the area and points out interesting sights. I suspect he is just letting me rest and catch my breath. We hike back down past the Marmorbruche (marble quarry) and then into Wärgistal and Vor Dem Holz where the Families Jaggi live. Herr Roth points out the house where our Jaggis used to live and the school they attended. While hiking down the mountain, I make the acquaintance of several cows. Most are Simmental but I meet a couple of Brown Swiss as well.
In the evening, he takes me to the home of Christian Jaggi Senior, one of Albert’s two brothers. Unfortunately, Mrs. Christian Sr. is very ill in the hospital in Interlaken and Mr. Christian Sr. is visiting her there, so I don’t get to meet either of them. However, I do meet their son, Christian Jr. and his wife who are about thirty and their son, also Christian. I also meet Marguerite, Albert’s sister, who lives in Winterthur but is visiting here at the moment. The family is quite subdued because of the mother’s illness, which seems to be quite serious, so I don’t stay long. They give me bread and wine with homemade cheese. The family makes me feel very welcome and wish me to send their regards to “our Jaggis” in Canada.
September 21 Grindelwald SF23.70 (US$5.50)
This morning, I set off on my own at a good time. I ride up on the FirstBahn, a fantastic chairlift ride that takes 30 minutes to the very top of the lift. Then I hike across to Grosse Scheidegg and down into the valley. It is a beautiful hike and I really enjoy it. This evening, I visit Hermann Jaggi and his family and have a very pleasant visit and a nice dinner (my first hot, home-cooked meal in more days than I care to remember) Hermann is the son of Albert’s brother, Peter. They are a nice young couple with two small children and make me feel very welcome. They don’t speak any English so my German is improving quickly.
September 22 Grindelwald SF24.80 (US$5.75)
I start out the morning by buying a beautiful Omega watch for SF140 and a genuine Swiss Army knife for SF15. I don’t really want to spend that much of my carefully hoarded money but I can’t resist the watch and I have always wanted a real Swiss Army knife. Then I ride up on the cog railway to the Kleine Scheidegg. The railway goes all the way up to the Jungfraujoch at 12,000 feet, mostly through tunnels in the rock, but I can’t afford the fare to go all the way to the top. I hike over to the Mannlichen. From this ridge there is a terrific view down into the village of Grindelwald on one side and down into the valley to Wengen on the other side. On the way, I meet a fellow playing the alphorn. His name is Adolf Inäbnit and he knows Albert Jaggi and the family. I introduce myself and he plays a tune “for Albert”. From the Mannlichen, I hike down through the alpine meadows, past the mountain stables where the cows stay during the summer. By this time of year, the cows have already paraded back down to the village pastures for the winter. My route takes me down through a forest and eventually back to the village. A really fine hike! Grindelwald is the most beautiful place I have ever been. All the other such claims made before this are hereby cancelled!
September 23 Vaduz, Lichtenstein SF19.60 (US$4.50)
I go in the morning to say goodbye to Herr Roth, but there is no answer, so I leave him a note, thanking him for his help and for being so kind to me. I leave Grindelwald regretfully, riding the cog railway back down to the valley. By a series of rides, I arrive in Vaduz, Lichtenstein about 7:30 pm. Vaduz, apparently has no Youth Hostel so I curl up in my sleeping bag on a park bench and pass the night in relative discomfort.
September 24 Munich, Germany SF6.05 (US$1.40)
I get up early and find the police station so I can get a Lichtenstein stamp in my passport. There is no border control between Switzerland and Lichtenstein, but if you ask for a stamp they are quite happy to give you one. I am on the road at a good hour and make excellent progress. A series of quick rides takes me into the Vorarlberg province of Austria. A couple of Australian fellows in a tiny British car pick me and we head up into the Arlberg pass. I think I will have to get out and walk, as the poor little car wheezes and labours its way to the top. Then I think I better get out and walk again as the brakes overheat and smoke as we careen down the other side. We go right past the village of St. Anton where I hope to ski this winter. I would like to stop for a look around, but no hitchhiker ever gets out of a car that is going in the desired direction. At Landeck, I get a ride with an interesting fellow who says he is the pilot of a helicopter based in St. Anton. He drops me off just outside of Innsbruck where I have to take the road north towards the German border. About fifty Km from Munich, a nice fellow picks me up. He drives me around the countryside, takes me for a ride up in a cable car and buys me a really nice lunch at the restaurant at the top. I wonder if he might be gay, but he seems to be just friendly and good company. Then he drives me right to Matt’s apartment and I get there around 8:00 pm. Matt Pawley is the American fellow that I met in Greece this summer. He teaches at the American Armed Forces High School in Munich. He spent his summer holiday in Greece and we met him when he was hanging around the sailboat harbour. He invited me to come to Munich for Oktoberfest and stay in his apartment. To my surprise, Cathy, our partner on The Bounty, who left Piraeus the same day I did, has arrived before me.
September 25 Munich DM22.50 (US$5.60)
I spend a quiet day in Matt’s apartment and go downtown to American Express to pick up my mail. Tonight, I go to Oktoberfest with Cathy, Derrick and Pat. We go to the Hofbräu tent. Although it is all it was promised to be, I think it somehow seems less genuine than the Oktoberfest in Kitchener, Ontario that I went to last year. This is more commercialized and less of the true Bavarian beer fest atmosphere. I meet Groovy John’s friend, George Morisson later on during the evening. George is an American who has lived in Munich for many years. He is a musician and teaches music at the International High School. I met George last Easter when he came to Greece for a few days.
Munich is a great city and Oktoberfest is incomparable! It is bigger than the Canadian National Exhibition, has a huge midway and eight beer tents. Each tent easily holds 5,000 people sitting at picnic tables and in the centre is a stage with a 40-piece Bavarian brass band. It is quite an experience to see an entire city, seriously devoted to drinking as much beer and having as good a time as possible for two solid weeks.
Some friends of Matt, teachers at other American Schools, are here for the weekend. In the morning, as I awake and sit up in my sleeping bag, someone hands me a beer, to get the day started off right. Then we have breakfast, hit the Fest by noon and stay there until midnight
Matt comes home from school today and asks me if I have a degree. I explain that I am one semester short of a general B. Sc. He says that is too bad as his high school needs supply teachers and they pay US$25, per day, but they won’t hire anyone unless they have a degree. I have been living for months on a budget of $3.00 per day -- $25.00 sounds like a fortune.
Mike Hammer, an Australian, who I know from Greece, arrives from England with his girlfriend, Barb. They have a Ford Cortina with right-hand drive and we make the mistake of driving it downtown to the fest, instead of taking the tram. Mike, Barb, Cathy and I spend a long and beery day in the tents. At closing time, we make our way to the car. Nobody knows where we are or can remember how to get home. Just then, I spot #7 tram and, say: “Mike, follow that tram. It goes right past Matt’s apartment!” The tram tracks run down the middle of the street, so all is well for the moment. A few minutes later, we follow the tram around a corner as it turns into Karlsplatz, the central square of the city. I shout: “No, Mike! Don’t go in there!” Karlsplatz is the main tram station – no cars are allowed! Alas, it is too late to turn back and Mike drives the Cortina right into the station and pulls up behind #7 tram as it stops at the platform to take on passengers. There are hundreds of people standing on the platforms and we cause quite a stir. The Munich Transit Police are a fearsome bunch, who wear intimidating, quasi-Nazi uniforms and have no sense of humour whatsoever. One of them spies us in our right-hand drive British car and starts to shout: “Das ist verboten! Hier ist verboten!”. Mike, in typical Aussie fashion, leans out the window and drawls: “Oy know it’s verboten, Myte. Give us four ‘alf-fares and we’ll be on our woy!” Just then #7 tram starts to move and Mike sedately follows it out of the station. The transit police stand looking after us dumbfounded as we drive away. We think for a moment we have gotten away scot-free, but, almost immediately, we are in really serious trouble. The cobble-stone surface of the square comes to an end and now there are only rails and cross ties. The Cortina struggles valiantly to cope and we go bumpitty-bumpitty down the tram line hoping to reach the next cross-street where we can finally get off the tracks. Inevitably, about 20 feet from the cross-street, we get hung up and the Cortina lurches to a halt. It has chosen a most unfortunate place to do so. As luck would have it, we are now blocking the tracks in BOTH directions. Within seconds, there are two trams facing us and one behind us, all loaded to the luggage racks with inebriated, homeward-bound Oktoberfesters. At this point, my instincts for self-preservation (and my terror of German prisons) take over and I flee the scene. From across the street, I look back and there are so many people standing around the car, pointing and roaring with laughter that I think I must be missing something interesting. I go back and we attempt to organize the passengers, conductors and drivers into helping us push the car. I look over my shoulder and there are uniformed officials running towards us from all directions. With the help of 15 burly Bavarians, we literally pick up the rear end of the car and push it forward onto the cross-street. Cathy and I leap into the back seat on the run, Mike floors it and we disappear into the darkness as fast as the little British car can go. Ten more minutes and the entire tram system of Munich would have been hopelessly snarled and we would surely all have been arrested!
Matt arrives home from school with the strangest story: “I heard a bunch of foreigners in a funny car drove through Karlsplatz on the tram tracks last night and created havoc with the tram system.” Oktoberfest is fun!
October 4 St. Anton-am-Arlberg, Austria
Groovy John gives me a ride to St. Anton and when we arrive takes me straight to the Kegelbahn (bowling alley). It seems to be the place where all the local young people hang out and drink beer. I drink quite a lot of it and have only a hazy memory of a chubby little Austrian maiden named Veronika, who speaks not one word of English, but seems to be quite keen on foreigners. I also meet a strapping local lad who takes serious offence at foreigners consorting with local maidens and I narrowly escape getting my lights punched out. I meet Hubert Alber, a young ski instructor, whose family has a small farm just behind the Kegelbahn.
John helps me to find a place to stay. I rent a room from Frau Falch, in a beautiful old traditional farmhouse, with low ceilings, wooden beams and geraniums in the window boxes. It also has no discernible source of heat and hot baths are available: nur bis Samstag (only on Saturdays). My new friend, Hubert, has a line on a job for me. The ski school that he works for is building a new T-bar lift and they will hire me to dig trenches. I can start tomorrow. It only pays 80 cents an hour but it is very cheap to live here. I am only paying 25 schillings per day (about US$1.00) for my room and beer is practically free.
My new job is going well. It’s all physical work, digging trenches or shoveling gravel, but I enjoy it. The weather is lovely; the locals say we are having Altes Weibes Sommer (old wives summer). I guess it would be the Austrian equivalent of Indian Summer. In the morning, when we start work, it is incredibly cold and the ground is covered with frost. Then, the sun starts to peek over the mountains across the valley, and the shadow line on our side creeps down the slope towards us. Within minutes of the sun reaching us, we are down to T-shirts and sweating. The air is so clear that the sun only warms what it shines on; the air itself doesn’t warm up. If you leave the beer in the shade, it stays nice and cold.
I think I had an epiphany this morning! I am up on the side of the mountain above the village, swinging my pick, digging a trench. I am thinking that this is pretty hard work for 80 cents an hour. Then I start thinking about supply teaching at Matt’s high school for US$25.00 per day, if I just had one more semester of university. I wonder if somebody is trying to tell me something important….
I go to see Mr. Hans Klepetko, the manager of the chairlift company to ask him for a job for the winter. Hubert assures me that Herr Klepetko speaks English, but he, in fact speaks only German and French. It takes some effort to switch linguistic gears on short notice but I manage to convey that I plan to stay for the entire winter and I would really like a job. He explains that they hire only one or two full-time employees. As the work requires, they also hire several daily workers who work three hours each morning. These workers don’t get paid, but they get a hot meal at lunchtime and a free lift pass for the day. The work involves skiing with a shovel, maintaining ski runs and packing loose snow with skis where the snow-cats can’t operate. I say that I really need a full-time job with a salary or I won’t be able to stay. He tells me that I would have to be able to speak German, as the workers are all local farmers who speak no English. A full-time worker has to be able to communicate with the others and speak on the telephone that connects the lift stations. At any rate, he doesn’t turn me down, but tells me to come back and see him in six weeks, at the beginning of the ski season. Great! I have 40 days to learn to speak German!
I hear the village of St. Anton, in the Hochsaison (high season) is pretty cosmopolitan, but now, during the off-season, I am the ONLY foreigner. This, and the fact that the only facial hair worn here is a small Hitler-type moustache, makes me quite a curiosity. I’m pretty sure that if you asked any random person about that auslander with the red beard, they would know who you meant. I think mountain people are typically very reserved, a bit suspicious of outsiders, and very cautious with their schillings.
Well I’ve been here for two weeks. I have visited Hubert’s family several times, helped load a large pig onto a truck, hauled out manure and carried concrete blocks for a new building. I must have passed some kind of test because I have been offered a room in their house for the winter. I am pretty pleased because they are only charging me 25 schillings a day, the same as I am paying now and they have central heating, running water and a pretty daughter. A room in their house during ski season would cost 50 to 60 schillings per day.
My German is improving, but when I first arrived here, I thought I had suddenly become stupid. I communicated quite well in Germany, but here I can’t seem to understand anything anybody says to me. This evening, Hubert and I go to a movie at Der Kino. The movie is Die Cannonen von Navaron (The Guns of Navarone), and the soundtrack is in High German. To my surprise, I can follow a lot of the story and I realize that it is the local dialect that is causing me so much trouble. Tirolers speak a particularly weird version of German, although it is not as difficult as the Schweizerdeutsch in Switzerland. I am slowly catching on to it, but if everybody would speak Hochdeutsch, I could learn a lot faster.
A man is building a cabin up on the mountain and he has four cubic meters of sand to take up. Hubert’s father has a tractor outfit and Hubert and I are contracting for the job. The tractor is a real mountain rig. It looks like a large, walk-behind garden tractor, only with a wagon attached. The driver sits on a seat in front of the wagon box and steers with handlebars. Both sets of wheels drive and it can go practically straight up. Even so, the trail up to the hut is so steep that we can only carry 600 – 700 lb. of sand and each trip takes about an hour and a half. This is called schwarzarbeit (black work), which means no tax deductions or health insurance premiums, so we are making pretty nice money. Of course, it also means no compensation if we hurt ourselves.
Hubert and I take the weekend off and hitch-hike into Munich. He has never been to a big city and I need a break from the village. I’m not a city person, but after three weeks in St. Anton, I am glad to see all the people and the traffic. We stay with Matt and spend some time seeing the sights. In the evening we go to the Hofbräuhaus and a couple of other beerhalls to sample the local brews.
We start for home this morning and hitch-hiking is very slow because it is Sunday. Sometime during the afternoon, I realize I have made a real rookie’s mistake – I left my passport at Matt’s apartment. We reach the Austrian border about 5:30 and of course they won’t let me cross without my passport. Hubert goes on and I turn around and stick out my thumb to start hitch-hiking back to Munich. It seems that my favourite Greek: St. Nikolas, the patron saint of travelers and sailors, is helping me out again. The second car, a BMW, stops for me. A nice German couple, returning to Munich from a weekend in Austria, chat quietly to each other while they tear along the autobahn at 190 kph! By 7:15, I am back in Matt’s apartment.
I set out from Munich again (with my passport, this time) and make it back to St. Anton by mid-afternoon.
I get a letter from Don, my traveling partner, whom I haven’t seen since he left Greece at the end of August. Apparently, he and Deanne went home to Toronto for a quick visit and then came back to England. There he met up with Robin and Jillian, the friends of Richard who came to Greece last April in the old Bentley. Robin is an oil refinery construction engineer and owns a converted 65-foot motor fishing vessel, called Fortune Sustain. Robin is sailing the boat from England to southern Turkey where he will start a new job and he needs someone to crew on the trip. So, Don is off on a five-week trip across the Bay of Biscay to Gibraltar, up the Coast of Spain, France, Italy and Greece, ending in Bodrum, Turkey. Don is making noises about buying a boat and getting married. I think he might be smoking too many of these funny cigarettes they have here.
My job helping to build the ski lift comes to an end, but now I have a new one. Hubert’s step-brother, Hermann, is building a house next door, on the family farm. Hermann and Barbara and their baby, Thomas, currently live in a little attic apartment on the third floor of the farmhouse. Hermann works at the Postamt (Post Office) and is building the house during evenings and weekends. He is anxious to get it closed in and heated before winter so he asks me to help. I work 10 to 12 hours a day and make $50 to $60 a week, which is pretty good money for these parts. I get lunch and supper as well, so I am saving quite a bit.
Today is Allerheiligen (All Saints’ Day) and this being a Catholic part of Austria, the whole village is on a praying spree. They pray in the church, they pray at home and they pray in the cemetery. Practically everywhere I look there is someone praying. I am confused as to the significance of the event until I make the connection to Hallowe’en or All Hallows’ Eve, which is the day before All Saints’ Day. Now it makes sense.
Hubert’s father gets me out of bed at 7:00 am to help deliver a calf. I think they look after a freshening cow better than an expectant mother. I came home at midnight last night and looked at the cow and said: “She won’t calve until morning.” Nevertheless, Hubert Sr. gets up every hour all night to check on her. He just gives me a queer look, when I say that many of our cows have their calves all alone without help. I guess it is more stressful when you only have four cows. At 7:00 a.m., I look at the cow again and say: “Another hour.” Shortly after 8:00 a.m., I help to deliver a healthy calf. My predictions are mostly luck, but they have increased my “farming cred” quite a bit.
One of the challenges of living in this culture is that I am just not getting enough to eat. When working hard, I eat like a horse and I am pretty sure that I am slowly dying of malnutrition. Breakfast is bread, jam and coffee, which isn’t too bad. At noon, the big meal of the day, we have soup and dumplings and that’s all! I clean up a couple of bowls of soup and then I am ready for meat, potatoes, vegetables, pickles, bread and jam and dessert, but they just eat soup and sometimes, fruit for dessert. Not even bread and butter and nothing to drink. Supper is only bread, cheese, jam and coffee. I eat supper with Hermann and Barbara and they let me eat as much bread and jam as I want, but usually I am still working on it long after the two of them are finished. I can tell they are astonished and amused at how much I can put away.
I am really enjoying building this house and I am learning quite a lot. In the morning, Hermann says: “Build a brick wall here!”, and then he rushes off to work before I can summon enough vocabulary to tell him that I have never built a brick wall before. European building methods are a bit unsettling. Nearly the whole house is built of cinderblocks and concrete. The blocks just have to hold together long enough for the mortar to harden, then you can plaster over it and everything looks good. Before the plaster goes on though, it looks pretty primitive.
I go back to see Herr Klepetko at the chairlift company as he suggested. This time in very well-rehearsed German, I say: “Now that I can speak German, can I please have a job for the winter?” He must be impressed by my efforts because he offers me one of the full-time jobs, with a salary! Then, to my total astonishment, he says: “Aren’t you the fellow that knows how to drive a bulldozer?” I don’t know how he got that idea (I suspect Hubert had something to do with it) because it certainly wasn’t mentioned in our first conversation. The correct answer to this question is surely: “Yes, of course!” Herr Klepetko goes on to explain that they are buying a new snow-cat this winter and need someone with equipment experience to operate it. I’m over the moon! What a break! Cruising up and down the mountain in a warm cab sounds a lot more pleasant than shoveling snow and packing trails. I love operating equipment so this is the perfect job.
I am making enough money that I start buying some ski equipment. Hubert finds a pair of used skis, complete with bindings, for me. They are called Kneissel Red Stars and were only used about 5 weeks last year. Kneissel is an Austrian company that makes one of the three or four best skis in the world. All the ski instructors use them. The skis are made of fibreglas, which I had never heard of before coming here. They cost me 1400 schillings (about $56) and would have been nearly $150 new.
Snow! Snow! Big beautiful white chunks of it! You’ve never appreciated snow until you have spent five weeks in a ski resort waiting for it. It’s still pretty early and it probably won’t stay but at least it is encouraging.
A snow cat is something like a bulldozer only much lighter and with very wide tracks. It is used for grooming ski slopes. There is a big roller on the back that packs down loose snow or breaks up hard crust. Some have a blade on the front for clearing snow after a storm or for filling in holes on the ski trails. I am supposed to start work on December 10 – if there is any snow by then. My work schedule is three days on and one day off. I get to ski free on all the lifts operated by our company. On my day off, I can request an ausweiss (pass), which will let me ski for free on any lift in Austria. It’s not as great as it sounds because with only one day off, there isn’t enough time to travel to other resorts, but the ausweiss does let me ride the Galzeig -- Valuga cable car. Their base station is right beside ours, but the lift is owned by a different company and serves a different mountain.
I’m still house-building. I’ve actually pretty well had enough house-building, but it still brings in nearly 1,000 schillings a week plus meals so I can’t really complain. I’m surviving on the short rations without too much serious discomfort. It’s not so much the quantity, although there is never too much, but I do get tired of eating only bread, cheese and occasionally, wurst. Also, because I don’t work on Sundays, I don’t get meals and have to go into the village to eat at a restaurant. Can you imagine us telling our hired man that we won’t feed him on his day off? This family is really nice but they are definitely mountain people!
My German is improving all the time. There are more foreign people starting to arrive in the village, but I usually stay home on weekdays, so I hardly speak English at all, except with Hubert. No one in his family speaks any English. In a situation like this, you just have to learn or leave. I remember when one of the Swiss boys first came to live with us and didn’t speak a single word for more than six weeks. I now have a much better idea of how he must have felt. I am even managing to get used to the local dialect, which at first, I found incomprehensible. I would say that the Tiroler dialect is roughly as different from High German as a really thick Scottish brogue is from English. Ich weiss es nicht (I don’t know that) becomes in Tiroler: I’ wasses ni’te. Ich habe gesagt (I have said) becomes: I han’ g’sett. Nicht mehr (no more) becomes: ni’mmer It is still the same language but it takes some getting used to and when the local farmers are talking among themselves I still understand very little.
I can tell you it isn’t much fun sitting around in a ski village waiting for snow. There is absolutely nothing to do except talk endlessly about skiing. It has snowed a couple of times but never more than an inch or two and it doesn’t last There is snow higher up and Hubert and his friends are planning to go to a village further up the pass, to get a few runs in.
I planned to buy a pair of Alber custom-made leather ski boots. They are made by craftsmen in a shop right here in the village. When I get to the shop to be measured, the salesman talks me into a pair of Köflach plastic boots, instead. He says leather boots will soon be obsolete as the plastic materials are so much superior and also cheaper. At first, I think he means fibreglas, which is the very top-of-the-line and the most expensive boots, but he explains that these are made of epoxy, a material new in ski boots just last year. Epoxy boots are cheaper than fibreglas and have the advantage that if they pinch your foot in a certain area, the material can be stretched out a little bit. They are beautiful, hi-tech boots and would certainly cause a stir at the Dryden Ski club! They cost me 1400 schillings (US$56), which seems incredibly cheap for the quality of the product
I go into the chairlift company office this morning to ask when I am to start work and Herr Klepetko asks: “How would you like to go to Italy?” It seems I am to go to the Prinoth factory in Val Gardena, Italy to take a course in operating and maintaining the new snow cat.