I go into the chairlift company office this morning to ask when I am to start work and Herr Klepetko asks: ďHow would you like to go to Italy?Ē 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.
Sepp Gruber picks me up at 6:00 a.m. this morning in his VW beetle and we head for Italy. Sepp is the senior snow cat driver and the two of us are going to learn about the new machine. We drive east to Innsbruck and then turn south towards the SŁdtirol, the province of Italy that used to be part of Austria before WWI. We drive across the EuropabrŁcke (Europa Bridge), which until a few years ago was the highest bridge in Europe. A couple of hours later we arrive at the Prinoth snow cat factory in the Italian ski resort of Val Gardena.
We spend several hours in a classroom while sales people tell us how wonderful the new machine is and then technical people explain how to service and maintain it. It strikes me as pretty incongruous that I am sitting in Italy, listening to a lecture in German and taking notes in English. An Austrian fellow leans over to peek at my notebook to see what I am writing and then shakes his head in puzzlement when he canít understand it.
The factory puts on a big lunch for us and then we get a chance to see the machines and drive them around a bit. Sepp is anxious to start for home as we have a long drive ahead of us. We get back to St. Anton quite late in the evening.
Whew! I survive the off-season and finally get on skis. Hubert and four of his fellow ski instructors take me with them to ZŁrs, a small resort village higher up in the Arlberg Pass. It is two years since I was last on skis and Iím afraid it shows. These guys have skied since they were two years old and are expert ski instructors. I tell them that I want a nice gentle slope to practice on so I can get back in shape. They say: ďRight!Ē and off we go to the very top of the mountain and down through about a meter of powder snow. I eventually make it to the bottom, but Iím afraid Hubert is disappointed in my abilities. I probably gave him the impression that I am a better skier than I am. Itís easy to be a good skier, sitting in the Kegelbahn drinking beer!
The lifts in St. Anton finally start running. Hubert takes me out for a couple of hours and gives me a lesson. I have never had a proper ski lesson before and just learned by watching other people. Naturally, I learned lots of things wrong and now itís harder to relearn it properly.
Hubert is away for two weeks on a ski instructor course and I have to do his chores, so I am officially a farmer again. The farm consists of four cows, a calf, two pigs, ten sheep, twenty chickens, and thirteen rabbits. Each morning and evening, I have to clean out the manure, water the sheep and chickens, sweep the floor and bring an armload of firewood into the house. It only takes me 15 or 20 minutes and I get my supper free.
There is a bar-restaurant called the Krazi Kangaruh, part way up the mountainside above the village, owned (naturally) by an Australian. It is the hot spot for people to gather for aprŤs-ski drinks and has a reputation for legendary parties. For the last few days, some of the locals and most of the ski bum crowd have been helping to clean it up and get ready to open for the season. Tonight, the manager opens it up for a St. Nicholas Day party. It is certainly the biggest social event of the pre-season and everybody is there.
Hubert favours Swedish girls Ė he says they are pushovers for ski instructors. I donít rate anywhere near ski-instructor status, but I do seem to appeal to chubby little Austrian maidens. At any rate a particularly friendly one follows me around for most of the party. I donít have a clear recollection of every detail, especially late in the evening, but I do vaguely recall her leading me into the furnace room at one pointÖ??
My skiing is already starting to improve. I donít actually start work until later this week but I am allowed to use the lifts free as an employee, so I am just burning up the slopes. I came home last night ready to collapse and then this morning set off to the slopes again.
Today is my first day of work at Schindler Seilbahnen AG. My new machine hasnít arrived yet as it is being built in Italy and inevitably, the factory is on strike. Our company owns two other snow cats, called Rad-Tracs, made in Switzerland. I operate them when the other drivers are on days-off. One of them looks a bit like a Bombardier, like the ones Ontario Hydro uses and it has a blade on the front. It is used for plowing snow as well as packing ski runs (called pistes here).
Rad-trac SW snowcat
A couple of days ago, I developed a raging toothache. I hoped it would go away as I donít have the money to go to a Zahnartzt (dentist). Hubertís father has a friend who is actually a dentist, but works as a ski instructor instead and it is arranged for me to see him. I go to his house early this morning before his ski instructor duties begin. The dentist chair is a wooden kitchen chair with a cushion on the back for my neck. Dressed in his ski pants and ski school sweater, he pokes around in my gum. I guess he manages to drain the abscess and relieve the swelling because the pain goes away immediately and I am soon as good as new. When I offer to pay him he waves me away and says it is a favour for his friend.
This morning, Sepp and I go out in the snow cat with the blade on the front to plow an access roadway, which angles down across the slope of the mountain side. In my first ten minutes, I nearly fall off the mountain! The road is cut into the slope and my blade keeps catching on the inside bank. The snow makes the roadway look wider than it really is and as I ease out to avoid the bank, my outside track slips over the edge. It takes me only seconds to figure out that I am not going to get out of this pickle by myself, because the more I try, the more the machine slips over the edge. The view out my side window shows only the tops of spruce trees far below in the valley. There is a winch and some cable in the machine and Sepp and I soon have both tracks back on solid ground. Since then I have been driving with a great deal more caution.
The work becomes particularly challenging when the sky is cloudy. Everything is white to start with, so when the light goes flat and there are no shadows, you canít see any detail on the snow. It is very difficult to ski in these conditions, too. The piste looks like it is perfectly flat, but your legs are pumping up and down over the bumps like pistons.
The fellows I work with are pretty decent. A few are permanent employees and the rest are local farmers who just work for the winter. Heinrich WŲrle drives the second snow cat. He speaks pretty good English and is not much older than I am and he helps me quite a bit to figure out how things work in the organization, what I am supposed to be doing (and who to watch out for). I am just doing odd jobs for now, since my machine isnít here yet.
There is a fair bit of snow to shovel and we do a lot of skiing, carrying a shovel instead of ski poles. At first I wonder what to do with the shovel if I start to fall. I soon find out: Throw the shovel as far away from you as possible or it will hurt you.
One of my duties includes sleeping at the top of the mountain two nights of each month. The lift machinery is operated from the top of each section. At the end of the day someone has to stay at the top overnight to stop the lift and shut the machinery down. In the morning, he starts up the machinery to bring all the workers back up again for the dayís work. This is called nacht dienst (night shift) and it pays 50 schillings extra. There is a comfortable little bedroom plus the restaurant supplies a nice supper.
I feel inspired to write another poem:
The last goes down
The sun slides down
But very soon
I start a part-time job in the evenings at a restaurant called the Berger Stuberl, quite close to where I live. I work for 2 or 3 hours each evening, mainly running the dishwasher. I get a nice hot meal for the first hour and 20 schillings for each additional hour. The work isnít too exciting, but the people are nice and the extra money is welcome. Frau Berger turns out to be a bit of a tyrant, but I am managing.
Wonder of wonders, I am finally getting enough to eat. The chairlift company operates a cafeteria restaurant at the Gampen middle station and employees get a hot meal at noon for nine schillings (35 cents). Frau Helga, the restaurant manager, presides over the cash register and she and Hans, the cook, seem to have taken a liking to me. Every day she asks, with a big grin: ďBob, hast du groβen Hunger?Ē Then she shouts: "Der Bob hat groβen Hunger!" and Hans dishes me up a huge plateful! The food is plain but very good.
The high season has definitely begun. In fact, there are thousands of people in the village, the slopes are crowded and a beer in a nightclub costs half a dayís wages. On work days, I just go home. After working 12 hours I donít have the ambition for partying. The much discussed and long-awaited Swedish girls have started to arrive. What nobody mentioned during the pre-season is that there are just as many Swedish men here too. At any rate, Swedish girls are much more interested in Austrian ski-instructors than penniless Canadian snow cat drivers.
I get a letter from Don. He is presently in Malta with Robin on Fortune Sustain. They are en route to Turkey.
December 24 Heiligabend (Christmas Eve)
Everyone wishes each other ďFrohe Weinachten!Ē (Happy Christmas). Christmas Eve doesnít include any of my familiar traditions, but it is very pleasant anyway. The people at the restaurant serve me a special Christmas Eve meal: an aperitif, a glass of wine, a delicious Wiener Schnitzel that melts in my mouth and a nice dessert. After work, I go to a nightclub with some friends and then we sit around in Pepiís Restaurant to visit and even sing some Christmas carols.
When I get home, Frau Alber invites me to join them for a late Christmas Eve supper, before they go off to church for midnight mass. I donít expect Santa Claus to find me here, but somehow Das Christkind does. (Saint Nicholas visits children on December 6, but on Christmas Eve, it is the Christ Child who brings gifts). He brings me a nice pair of thick hand-knit socks. I think He must have noticed me sitting in Frau Alberís kitchen, darning my ski socks!
December 31 Sylvester Abend
(New Yearís Eve)
Arriving home from work, I am in for quite surprise. Dominique, the aristocratic French girl I met in Greece and her friend, Mary, are waiting at the farm house for me. She wrote to me before Christmas to say that the two of them wanted to come to St. Anton for a few days to ski and could I find them a place to stay. I quickly wrote back to tell them not to come as there would not be a spare bed anywhere in the village at this time of year. Boy, if Joseph and Mary had arrived in St. Anton instead of Bethlehem, there would have been no Christmas, because there isnít even a spare manger here this week. Unfortunately, Dominique never got my letter and now here they are. I contact several friends and acquaintances to see if they know of an available room but the best I can do is book them into a hotel in Landeck, a town about thirty km away and they will have to commute by train. I work at my restaurant job until 11:00 pm because it is so busy. Then we all gather at Pepiís restaurant and have a very nice time bringing in the new decade.
Before I knew that Dominique was going to arrive unexpectedly, I had earlier asked Veronika, one of the chubby little Austrian maidens, to meet me at Pepi's and celebrate New Years Eve with me. In the confusion of trying to find Dominique and her friend a place to stay, I quite forget about Veronika until she shows up. Sheesh! It never rains but it pours! Iím pretty sure she will never speak to me again. She never did!
January 1, 1970 Sylvester
Up bright and early at 6:30 for work. Good thing I didnít celebrate too hard. They call it Sylvester here, not New Years Day. I think because January 1 is the name day of St. Sylvester. At work everyone shakes hands and wishes each other: ďAlles gute im neuem Jarhre!Ē (All the best in the New Year)
The Christmas high-season is over, thank goodness, and we are now into the January low-season, when everyone rests up and recuperates for the busy times ahead. There were more than 6,000 guests in the village over Christmas Week and it was nuts! The ski runs were crowded, the lift lines were long and every restaurant and nightclub was packed. Now it is quite pleasant, but beginning around mid-February until after Easter, it will get busy again.
One of the more boring jobs is to be the safety man at the top of a ski lift. Each T-bar lift has a little hut at the top where people get off the lift. Whenever the lift is running, someone has to sit in the hut and watch for people who fall or forget to let go of the T-bar. There is an emergency button to stop the lift if that happens. It is easy work but it gets really tedious. There are usually cheap magazines and pocket books in the huts and I am slowly teaching myself to read German out of sheer boredom.
The skiing isnít very good now because there is hardly any snow left. We havenít had a flake since two weeks before Christmas and the runs are getting bad. The weather is lovely; bright sunshine and warm temperatures. Most days, I ski with no hat and often with bare hands. Today I spend the whole day being the safety man, but sitting outside the lift hut, wearing sunglasses and basking in the sun.
I am really starting to get in good condition with skiing and working so much. We go up on the lift at 7:30 each morning and work and ski all day. There are muscles in my legs that I never knew I had. Every afternoon, after the lifts shut down, we make a control run down each ski trail to look for stragglers or someone who may have had an accident. A couple of times, I have helped people get down to the village who are much better skiers than I am, but who are exhausted because they are in such poor condition
The redoubtable Groovy John arrives from Greece to spend the winter in St. Anton and he brings news of everyoneís doings since I left. He also brings a bottle of ouzo, but the galloni of retsina that he started out with only lasted as far as Bulgaria. He also brings word that Bob and Eunice Carruthers would like to hire me to skipper their boat, Beelzebub Jones II, next summer. Now there is a tempting offer!
I explain to John about my epiphany and how I am determined to go home and finish school, but I will be back in Europe by next Christmas.
John says: "Don't go home! If you go home, you will never come back to Europe! In fact, I will bet you a galloni of retsina that you won't be back!"
My snow cat finally arrives, but for now, there isnít enough snow. If it doesnít snow pretty soon I am going to use it to do some plowing and put in a crop!
I wind up at a party in an old farm house in St. Jakob, the little village just next to St. Anton. I drink an inordinate amount of Austrian weisswein for some reason. Somebody gives me a ride home but it is very late when I finally get to bed.
I sleep in and miss the van that takes us to work. By the time I get there, the other workers have already gone up on the chairlift. The guys working the bottom station tease me about my obvious hangover and give me a hard time about being late for work. I get to Gampen, the middle station, where Edi Kessel, the foreman scowls at me for being late. The other workers are about thirty chairs ahead of me on their way to Kapall, the top station, so I hurry to get on the lift. When I am about half-way up, and still out of sight of the top station, the other workers get off and set about their various duties. Nobody realizes that I am still on my way up and they shut the lift down.
Here I am, sitting on a chairlift, 20 feet above the ground, halfway up the mountain. The lift wonít start again for an hour and a half when the ski runs open for the day. There seems to be no alternative. I undo my bindings and drop my skis into the snow. Then I wiggle out of the chair and climb down until I am hanging by my hands from the foot-rest like a chimpanzee. I am not very confident that my Greek Orthodox friend, St. Nikolas, the patron saint of sailors, knows very much about snow or even has jurisdiction over skiers, but at a time like this, it canít hurt to ask him for a hand. I close my eyes and let go, dropping a good twelve or fourteen feet into the snow below the chairlift. All limbs seem to be intact and functioning, so I strap on my skis and ski back down to Gampen. Edi Kessel accuses me of goofing off and skiing when I should be working. I attempt to point out that it was inconsiderate to shut the lift off and leave me hanging in mid-air, but Edi has little use for ďAmericansĒ at the best of times. He points out that if I had come to work on time, I wouldnít have had a problem. ďNow get back on the lift and get to work!Ē
Well it is finally snowing! Maybe I will be able to fire up my new snow cat and try it out. It is quite an interesting machine Ė very light and an innovative new design. It is basically two identical units, which sit side-be side and are joined with flexible rubber blocks. Each unit has a 500 cc air-cooled engine and a variable-speed belt-drive transmission, like a snow machine. The operatorís cab and the controls are in the left-hand unit. There are two levers, one for each engine. Pushing a lever forward speeds up the corresponding engine and pulling back applies the brake. To go ahead, you push both levers forward. To turn, you brake one side and accelerate the other. On the back, is a wide, toothed plank that drags on the snow with an electric vibrator mounted on it. A small gasoline engine with a generator powers the vibrator. The vibrating plank knocks the air out of the fresh snow and leaves a beautiful smooth piste behind, which is really nice to ski on. It is quite an innovative design and seems well-engineered.
My part-time restaurant job is working out better than I expected. I thought it would be a drag having to work every evening, but I donít mind it at all. January is slow so I only work an hour most nights and get a free meal, then I can still be downtown before 9:00 if there is anything going on. It is homey eating in the kitchen with the family and the food is better than I could afford if I had to go out to a restaurant every night. When the season is busy, I work as much as two or three hours each evening and on top of my free supper, I make 40 or 50 schillings
Several of us ďski-bumsĒ were all skiing together today. In less than an hour, two of our group were carried down the mountain with broken legs. One of them, a Canadian from Fort William, has a spiral fracture, with the bone broken in five places. In the X-ray, his tibia looks like a candy cane. I guess itís no coincidence that there is a private orthopedic Sport Klinik in the village, specializing in ski injuries. The ski patrol doesnít even load the victim into an ambulance. They just kick off their skis at the bottom and run the rescue sled right down the main street to the Klinik.
The young fellows that do the rescues are local farm boys -- short and built like beer-kegs Ė but can they ever ski! They ski that rescue sled, with the victim aboard, straight down the mountain faster than I can ski by myself. When they come to a field of moguls, they donít even slow down, but just pick the sled right off the ground and carry it over the moguls at high speed. it must be a terrifying ride! I hope to God, I never have to experience it!
I drive the snow cat now pretty much every day. Like all machinery, itís fun at first, but then it just becomes boring. Still, it is better than shoveling snow, although I donít get to ski as much as I used to.
There was a Dutch girl here a couple of weeks ago and we hung around together a bit in the evenings. After she returned home, she wrote me a letter, but knowing neither my full name, nor my mailing address, she addressed it to:
who drives the snow cat.
c/o Pepiís Restaurant.
St. Anton, Austria
I received it!
Well, we have snow! It began to snow just before noon yesterday. During the night it turned to rain in the village but kept snowing and storming up on the mountain. It isnít very nice snow Ėheavy and wet -- and feels more like sleet, but it will help to cover up the bare patches and create a base. The mountain is closed for skiing and we are spending the day just trying to keep the lift station clear of snow so the chairs can get through. Finally, about 3:30, the lift is shut down and we all go home.
I have to work today, even though itís my day off because there is so much snow to clear. I get paid double time and I canít ski anyway until the trails are opened up again.
I have an unfortunate accident today. No damage to my person but my skis are not so lucky. I am skiing my usual style, which is to say, going as fast as I possibly can with a minimum of style or finesse. The light is flat and I ski quite unexpectedly into a little gully about six feet deep. The tips dig in and I do a complete forward somersault out of my skis. My bindings release as they are supposed to, but the shock tears the heel piece right out of the ski. I manage to drill new holes and screw it back on again, but I have skied so much on such poor snow that Iím afraid these skis are pretty much worn out. I hope I can finish the season with them. I should have bought the White Star model in the first place as they are stiffer and stronger. The Red Stars were right for me at the beginning of the season but now I ski so much harder and faster that I could use the better model.
Well, we are now into our 21st straight day of snow! In the village it falls more or less straight down, but up on the mountain, at Gampen, where our base camp and the restaurant are, it snows sideways. The second section of the chairlift, from Gampen to the top station Ė called Kapall Ė has only been open three days in the last three weeks. There is now over 10 feet of snow on the mountain. Boy, when it snows in this country it doesnít fool around!
With the great amount of fresh snow, I am fulfilling a long-standing ambition of learning to ski in deep powder. The idea is to face straight down the slope and make short turns back and forth to control your speed. It is the most fantastic sensation, just floating down the slope. On each turn, you bend your knees deeply and spring up to make the turn. It feels like flying! I still canít do it with much success and I spend a lot of my time digging myself out after a fall, but every once in a while it clicks and I get to experience the rapture.
Powder skiing might, just possibly, be better than sex!
Another half-meter of snow today! Iím working my proverbial butt off, with all the snow and now the high-season is starting again. Iím in the snow cat from 7:30 till 5:00 and then work at the restaurant from 6:00 or 6:30 until 10:00. it doesnít leave much time or energy for night-life but I am saving money. I should have three or four thousand schillings by the time I leave.
The snow continues to accumulate and now everyone is concerned about avalanches. There hasnít been any here, but in ZŁrs, just up the road about 15 km, one came right into the village. In the next valley over, there were several and the village was without electricity and cut off for three or four days. The road through St. Anton was blocked in both directions for a day or two and even the trains couldnít get through. The railway tunnel under the Arlberg Pass begins right at the edge of the village. When the road is blocked like it is now, cars are loaded onto railway flatcars and carried through to the other side of the pass. The smaller resorts of Lech and ZŁrs, higher up in the pass have been completely cut off for days. They are being supplied with food by helicopter.
My collection of incredible experiences just keeps growing. A few days ago, the storm got so bad that they shut down the lift up to Kapall, the top station. The guys turned off the lift machinery and skied down. When the storm lets up, a crew of eight of us fly up to Kapall by helicopter, so we can dig out the station and start the lift running again. The flight up over the village and landing beside the lift station is incomparable. The pilot is the same fellow who gave me a ride back in September when I was hitch-hiking through on my way to Munich.
I donít know why I am one of the small group chosen to go on the helicopter ride (except I think the boss, Herr Klepetko, has a soft spot for me). I wonít be surprised if it creates some resentment among the fellows who donít get to go. This occurs to me at the time but I am not about to pass up a chance at a helicopter ride. The flight is fun but the work, when we arrive at Kapall, is not! The snow is drifted more than ten feet deep right across the front of the lift station and the little restaurant. Not only that, but the drift is packed as hard as concrete and is just about as heavy. We use big handsaws that look a lot like the hay-saw Grandpa used to open up a haymow. We saw the snow into blocks about 30 inches square and ten feet high. Using a snow scoop, it is all two men can do to slide the block across the platform and tip it over the edge. By the time we finish around lunchtime, I think I am going to have heart attack. We are at an altitude of 7800 feet and Iím gasping for breath. Iím not the mountain man my coworkers are.
Herr Klepetko gives me 300 schillings out of the blue. Apparently, the fellows that work year-round get an allowance from the company to buy skis. One of them quit before the season is over and doesnít get his bonus Ė so the boss gives it to me instead! Edi Kessel, the working foreman, has been riding me pretty hard, ever since the helicopter ride. It would be a safe bet that he resents the boss showing me favour. There is a fair bit of post-war, anti-American sentiment still lurking just below the surface of this community. Pointing out that I am Canadian, not American, doesnít change anything.
Matt and his girlfriend come down for the weekend and stay at Hubertushof. Matt is the sort of guy who doesnít let a little thing like a missing foot prevent him from doing something he wants to do. He has some obvious difficulties in controlling the ski without a functioning ankle joint but he does amazingly well. Half the time you would never know he had a handicap. Matt is going to England for the Easter vacation and I am tempted to catch a ride with him. Herr Klepetko is not pleased with that idea. Easter week will be very busy and if there is a big snow storm, he will be struck without a driver. He has been such a good person to work for and has treated me so well that I wonít leave him in the lurch.
The snow has apparently stopped. You should see this place now! There is snow everywhere! The trees are hanging with it and the mountains are spectacular. Today is brilliantly clear and the sunshine is so bright, it is really beautiful.
There are little log huts all over the mountainside where farmers store hay during the summer. In winter, they come up on the ski lift with skis and sledges and haul the hay down to their barns. There is so much snow that it drifts against the uphill side of the huts. Naturally, this presents an irresistible challenge -- ready-made ski-jumps!
The photographer was a bit shaky
As my skis hit the edge of the roof, the snow
My family generously offers to help me buy new skies for my birthday. I had decided to make do with my worn-out ones until the end of the season, but when the letter comes, I think it over (for about thirty seconds) and then whiz off to the ski shop. I buy a pair of second-hand Kneissel White Stars for 1200 schillings and then a new set of top-of-the-line bindings for 800 schillings. It may seem like a lot for just a pair of bindings, but it is not the place to scrimp (after all a broken leg costs 22,000 schillings at the Sport Klinik). The difference the new skies make is really terrific! They have such spring and stiffness and they are a joy to ski on, but they are also more demanding. My old ones were softer and more forgiving, but if my attention wanders now, I find myself face down in the snow very quickly.
The upper section of the chairlift usually runs about 20 feet in the air; slightly less where it passes over the crest of a ridge. There is so much snow up there that, in several places, we actually have to dig a trench to allow the chairs to pass. Riders canít see over the top of the trench as their chair passes through this section. Every morning, we go up with shovels and dig the trench out so the chairlift can begin operating. This means that there is a base pack on the ski runs that is more than 20 feet thick. Unbelievable!
Upper section before the heavy snows
Digging a trench for the chairlift to run.
This afternoon someone says: ďSkene, come with us!Ē I grab my skis and jump on the chairlift with three or four of the workers. The older one is wearing a packsack but, as usual, nobody bothers to tell me what is going on. We all ski down and stop just uphill from a ridge with a big overhanging cornice Ė like a huge snowdrift. A cornice is a hazard on a ski slope as it can give way and start a dangerous avalanche. I begin to realize what we are doing but I am not prepared for what comes next. The fellow with the packsack pulls out a small bundle of dynamite. He lights the fuse and he and the others calmly discuss tactics while it sputters. Finally he tosses the dynamite over the edge of the ridge like a grenade. In a few seconds there is a big boom! The cornice doesnít dislodge so I guess they conclude that it isnít going to cause a problem. We all ski down and go back to work.
Today is Heiliger Freitag (Good Friday). Every morning at coffee break, company workers get coffee and a wŁrstbrot (salami sandwich) at the Gampen restaurant. This morning there is only kšsebrot (cheese sandwich). I must look puzzled because Frau Helga, says: ďAh! Bob, bist du protestantisch?Ē Then, despite my assurance that I am happy to eat a kšsebrot like everyone else, she shouts to the kitchen to make a wŁrstbrot for Bob. A non-Catholic in this community is definitely a visible minority!
Guess what? It is snowing again! A snowstorm at this time of year is very unusual. Typically, spring skiing starts in early March and everyone skis in shorts and T-shirts. Easter week is always very busy, with as many sunbathers as skiers. Not this year! It starts snowing on Good Friday and storms and blows right through until Monday.
Today is my last day of work at Schindler Seilbahnen AG. Mr. Klepetko generously agrees to let me ski for free for a few extra days.
Instead of skiing, I just stay home and sleep in. This is the first day in four months that I havenít gone up the mountain. I spend the day getting organized to leave.
April 5 Munich
I say all my goodbyes and leave St. Anton about 9:30 with an Australian friend, Peter Davern, who offers me a ride to Munich. We stop in Garmisch for lunch and arrive at Mattís place about 3:00. I wait around until 8:30 expecting him to arrive home from his trip to England as I know he has to work tomorrow. Finally, I head downtown to stay at the Youth Hostel. When I get there they wonít let me in as my card is expired and I havenít had a chance to renew it for 1970. Of course, I can only renew it at the Jugundherberge office and it isnít open on Sunday. Of course, their Teutonic sense of order wonít let me stay, even for one night, without a valid card. I try some pensions but they are all full. In the end, I head back to Mattís apartment and spend the night sitting on the landing outside his apartment door.
April 6 Munich
About 6:30 am, I go downtown to ship my skis home. No luck! There seems to be no way to ship or mail anything longer than 1.60 meters. Late in the afternoon, I decide to take the train to England, so I can take my skis as checked luggage. Before the train leaves, I phone Mattís place one last time and he finally answers. He didnít arrive home from his trip to England until Monday morning and then he went straight to school. I arrive back at his place about 7:30.
I go downtown and see the Munich production of HAIR! Matt gives me a free ticket that he got through his school. I have been playing Mattís recording of the music from the play and it is a real thrill to see it live. Of course, the music and dialogue is all in German so it is a little different, but a great experience, all the same.
Groovy Johnís friend, George Morisson, plays the trumpet in the orchestra so I go back stage to say hello during the intermission. There, I nod and smile at a scruffy little black girl who plays one of the leading roles. She smiles back. I think she could use a shower. Her name is Donna Summer.
I spend a couple of more days with Matt and then catch the train to London. The train goes from Munich to Oostende, Belgium. There we transfer to the cross-channel ferry to Dover and I get to see the ďWhite CliffsĒ. They really are white.
April 11 London
On the train from Dover to London, I meet a stunning blonde Welsh girl, Diana Evans, who gives me her address and suggests I look her up if I get to Cardiff. Ah! So many girls, so little time!
I arrive at Victoria Station and look for my address book which contains ALL my addresses and phone numbers. It isnít in my bag! I must have left it at Mattís place. All I have is a phone number for Mike Hammer on a slip of paper in my wallet. I call him and he comes to rescue me and takes me to his flat in Maida Vale.
I do a lot of sight-seeing in London, go to a few parties and drink a lot of warm British beer. I see several movies Ė in English, for a change Ė what a treat! With a bit of practice and a map, I can get around the city on the Tube pretty well, so I tramp around and see Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Canada House. There are a lot of pretty girls in VERY short miniskirts in London! Of course I also have to walk down Carnaby Street, just to say I have been there.
Mike takes me out for a drive to show me some English countryside. We go south from London into Sussex and visit the picturesque old medieval town of Rye. It was an important port in the 13th century but the river gradually silted up, the surrounding marshes were reclaimed and now Rye sits several miles from the sea.
The Mermaid Inn, Rye
I set off on a tour of the West Country. I take the train as far as Reading to get out of the city and to visit a friend who is a student at the University there. Then I set off to hitch-hike through Devon and Cornwall.
I spend the night in a youth hostel in Portsmouth and do some sight-seeing around this famous port city.
I visit Southhampton, tour the port and stay in the youth hostel.
While hitch-hiking in Cornwall, I get picked up by Donald and Irene Ramsden, two fabulous people. They drive me out to Landís End and then take me to St. Ives to see the beach where Richardís boat, The Rosalind of St. Ives, was built in 1903. Then they treat me to a lovely steak dinner at the Admiral Benbow Inn in Penzance. I am fascinated with this place, which has been an Inn since the 1600ís. It has a thatched roof, low ceilings, coal-burning fireplaces and is entirely decorated with artifacts salvaged from shipwrecks. There are old cannons, anchors, lanterns, binnacles and more. I will never forget the kindness shown to me by the Ramsdens.
I spend the night at a bed and breakfast in Redruth. It costs a little more than a hostel but is much more congenial and in the morning, I am served a magnificent English breakfast. I donít have to eat again until suppertime. I take the train back to London and settle in again at Mikeís flat.
I get in touch with Niki Bent, a nice English girl who spent some time in Greece last summer and go to her place for a party. It is nice to see her again.
I find an advertisement on a bulletin board in Earlís court, offering the return half of a charter flight to Toronto for £35 (about $95.00). I ring up and agree to buy it. Since the ticket is in his name, Phil has to be at the airport with his passport to check in my bag and get the boarding pass. Then I can board the plane. I agree to meet him at Gatwick Airport at 8:00 a.m. on the day of the flight.
My address book finally arrives from Munich. Now I can get started on visiting my relatives.
April 28 Harrogate, Yorkshire
I take the bus to Harrogate and call Helen and John Berrey from the bus station. They are a little startled by my sudden appearance. Helen is my mumís cousin and they have been waiting for my promised visit for over a year. I just kept getting distracted by other countries. I also visit with Chris Vaughn (another cousin of my mum) and her son, Christopher, who is sixteen.
Christopher takes me out on his Honda motorbike to show me around and we go to a pub and meet some of his friends. John and Helen treat me to authentic fish and chips, at a famous shop where they still wrap up your take-away in newspaper. The fish is incomparable!
I watch the football final with John. Leeds loses 2 Ė 1.
Chris and Helen take me for a drive across the moors to Whitby. The moors are beautiful in a barren, bleak sort of way and Whitby is a pretty little harbour town.
I also spend a very pleasant evening with mumís other cousin, Rena and her family. They live in an old-fashioned row house and still have a real coal fire burning in the grate. I am quite intrigued. Mum has always told us about growing up in a house like this with coal fires and no central heating.
May 4 Glasgow, Scotland
Mum has no relatives left in Glasgow but an old family friend, who she calls Uncle Billy, lives in the suburb of Clarkston. He offers me a place to stay so I take the train from Leeds. Uncle Billy meets me at the Glasgow station and we ride a red double-decker bus out to his house.
I set out to visit Edinburgh for the day. I take the bus into Glasgow and catch the train for Edinburgh. I hike up the Royal Mile, tour Edinburgh Castle and see the Walter Scott monument. Edinburgh is a lovely city, very picturesque, but I think Glasgow is more interesting. It is a big, bustling, dirty port city, like Piraeus. I take the train back to Glasgow in the late afternoon and then I realize I have a problem: I donít know the number of the bus to take to get back to Uncle Billyís house. Another real rookieís mistake for someone who has been traveling as long as I have! I donít have my address book with me, I donít know his phone number and I canít remember the address.
There is more than one bus that says: ďClarkstonĒ, so I choose a likely one and sit in the very front seat, upstairs. From here, I can watch if we are going in the right direction. At first I am pretty sure the streets look familiar. We are nearly to Clarkston, when all of a sudden the street doesnít look familiar any more. I quickly jump off and ask someone for directions. It turns out I am only a quarter of a mile from Uncle Billyís street and I am soon back home again.
Uncle Billy takes me to Kilmarnock to visit mumís lifelong friend and mentor, Miss Elizabeth Harvey. Mum trained as a Chiropodist and worked in Miss Harveyís clinic for several years. I only ever knew Miss Harvey through the lovely books she sent to me every birthday and every Christmas. At mumís direction, I would write painstaking thank-you letters to this mysterious lady whom I had never met. Finally, I meet her in person and we have a very nice visit. Miss Harvey is gracious and kind and I enjoy the opportunity to get to know her very much
Uncle Billy sees me off on the train to London. We have had a nice visit and I enjoyed meeting him. The train is a high-speed express and does it ever fly across the countryside. It is more like being in an airplane than a railway train. Once back in London, I look up Niki Bent again. I feel the need to celebrate my last night in Europe and I get to bed rather later than is good for me.
I am not at my best early this morning. I fall asleep on the Tube and miss changing to the Gatwick train. Eventually, I stumble into the airport to find Phil in quite a sweat because he thinks I am not going to show. He is also in a sweat because he has neglected to bring his passport to the airport. After all, he isnít going anywhere. I have my passport because I am going to Canada, but I canít check in because my name is not on the ticket. I am too hung over to concern myself with the details, but somehow he manages to show other ID and talk them into giving him a boarding pass. He checks my luggage onto the Air Caledonia charter flight, I get aboard and before long, I am landing at Pearson International in Toronto.
Riding the bus downtown through the dreary suburbs of Etobicoke and Mississauga, I have never been so depressed.
I am homesick for Europe for years afterwards.
Two years later, my brother, Alan, went to Greece and I gave him names of my friends to look up. I told him, if he met Groovy John, to offer to pay off my debt. As Alan walked down the quay in Pasilimani Harbour, Groovy John spied him and shouted: "Skene, you owe me a galloni of retsina!"