A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Hooptedoodle #233 - Hannibal, Me, and Napoleon Makes Three

Useful hiker's map of the Zillertal area - our grand walk seems insignificant,
up in the top right hand corner, starting from the blue reservoir and heading
towards the corner
Yesterday we arrived back from our family holiday in Austria. We had a really great time, for a number of reasons, though it was a bit hotter than I find comfortable, and we have duly started sorting through our photographs. There's a sort of drill when we get home - check the house is OK, check the goldfish are still alive, switch the phones and the water heater back on, look at the mail, unpack the bags, put the dirty clothes in the laundry basket, and check we have enough to eat for the next 24 hours. This year we had the additional task of summoning the man from Lothian Pest Control to sort out a mighty wasps' nest in the roof space over the South Wing of the Chateau, and only after that did we have the time to check over our photos.

Funny things, holiday photographs - if you look through them as soon as you get home you see lots of stuff that is familiar because you have seen it very recently - it's basically just more of the same, and the tendency is to judge a photo by the quality of the composition (or something); a lot of them can get ditched because they aren't significantly interesting. Fine - now go and look at some holiday photos you have kept from 5, 10, maybe 20 years ago. Apart from the fact that everyone looks so much younger (ouch!), the pictures will leap at you, and will bring back places and events and feelings and people which would otherwise have been forgotten. What I am trying to say, I think, is that the criteria by which we judge very recent pictures are likely to overlook the main reason why we store away pictures at all - to jog the memory. Stryker recently commented here that once upon a time he carefully excluded his schoolmates from his snapshots of a school visit to the Tower of London, and now rather wishes he hadn't - with the passage of the years, those long-gone faces would be more interesting than the cold old stones of the Tower. I think that is significant - something to keep in mind.

One of the events we recorded in our photos from last week was a major hill walk on Wednesday - major by our own standards, that is. It was a wonderful day's outing which I shall certainly never forget, and as a result of it I am pleased to consider that I have joined a select group of people - some of them rather famous people - who have walked over the Alps into Italy. No matter that my route was not especially historic, nor that the definition of Italy for my purposes is rather new-fangled (post-1918) - that's close enough for me to claim Hannibal and Napoleon as potential drinking buddies. Also, if my own march lacked a bit of classical authenticity, I can claim the distinction of being older, by quite a bit, than my distinguished predecessors at the time of making the journey. Better and better.

We started by taking the public bus up a spectacular toll-road to the reservoir at Schlegeis - right up at the southern end of the Zillertal, and then trekked up the valley to Pfitscher Joch and the border with South Tyrol, which - thanks to President Wilson's crayon alterations to the maps at Versailles - is now in Italy. That probably sounds pretty unspectacular, but for a family day out this is tough going. The walk is about 5.5 miles each way, the start is at about 1700 metres and you climb up to something over 2200 metres. The path is rocky and steep in places, the temperature on Wednesday was about 30 deg Celsius, without a cloud in the sky, and the air is thin, offering reduced oxygen and pretty trifling protection from the sun. The trees gradually disappear as you climb, and there was still plenty of ice up on the hillsides - even in a heatwave in August. This is serious boots and walking poles and plenty of sun-cream, and no messing about. We took about 2-and-a-half hours on the way up, and a fraction under 2 on the way down. Marvellous - unforgettable views and a real sense of achievement for humble hikers like us - my knees are still stiff now!

The magical reservoir - what a place!

So off we go, climbing steadily...

...and the trees start to peter out, and it gets steeper...

...and more rugged...

...and steeper, and hotter...

...and we try not to think too much about the fact that the only way back
is the way we have come...

...and we drank about 2 bottles of water each - the stuff evaporates without trace...

...and eventually, with my Polar pulse-meter reading a steady 140+ because
of climbing in the thin air...

...we reached the border...

...courtesy of the Treaty of Versailles.

Here's a peek into Italy - I was interested to remember that Andreas Hofer and
many of his Tirolean rebels of 1809 would technically have been Italians
in the modern world. I wonder how they would have felt about that! 
Here are some of Hofer's pals on the monument in Innsbruck - doing
some serious skulking - it was a speciality.
We also did a few trips on the excellent narrow-gauge railway which
serves the Zillertal - it's efficient and it's cheap, though if you want to go
anywhere outside the valley you have to travel to Jenbach and get on to a
proper OBB train

And we did some cycling along the valleys - I have put my son's chain back in place
in some surprising locations, over the years.
It's always good to get some insights into someone else's culture.

The Catholic church is everpresent - the inescapable social, as well as spiritual,
core of the community. Here is the church of the little village of Hippach - this
was the weekend of the Ascension.

Moo. The Austrians manage to to make farming pay. After WW2, a great many
demobilised soldiers were given land grants to set up smallholdings - the
intention was that they would learn new skills, would feed their communities,
 and would eventually sell off the land and work on bigger farms. In fact, the
majority of the smallholdings are still there - the small farms were
kept in the families, and agriculture is the second most important industry,
 after tourism. The cost of living in Austria is not particularly high, but
farmers get about 28-30 euro cents a litre for milk, while their British
equivalents average about 19 pence (which is about 21 cents).
Differences? - subject for a lengthy debate, but the use of co-operatives and
the absence of chains of middle-men are contributors.
The rest is simply a series of things which amused me:

Not sure what this is (anyone remember Harry Worth on British TV?) - it seems
to be a very compact device for coming and going around town.

A warning of the potential dangers of walking on the river

...and of possible drastic measures for unathorised parking at the shoe shop. 

Here's an attractive sight for those who like their knackers smoked...

...but a street sign from the Old Town in Innsbruck reminds us of the need to avoid overindulgence.


  1. Gorgeous mountain scenery! Looks like a very enjoyable diversion for you. Appreciate your travelogue greatly.

    1. Thanks Jon - as always, I forgot to pay tribute to my shameless theft of the Contesse's photographs - most of the good ones here are hers.

  2. Hahahaha. Great to have you back, Foy. Congratulations on your mountain trekking triumph. The wife forces me up some enormous lump of NZ on an annual basis. I love it every time. All the best, WM

    1. Thank you, young sir. There are different ways of giving thanks - I have always felt that those of us who are still able to get out and do these things should really do so - not least as a tribute on behalf of those who cannot. Very little obesity in the Tirol - amazing. Everybody walks - all ages - and the kids start school early in the morning and do sports and other exercise in the afternoons - the school activities are not compulsory, but everyone who is able to is expected to take part.

      And then there's the topography - those cows are always up a bloody mountain somewhere, and they get milked and tended without fail. The majority of Austria is Alpine - they have working farms in places we would regard as hiking trails. Never saw such hard-working, straightforward people.

  3. They were much younger.....so...what took you so long?

    Most enjoyable photos though, the only mountain hiking I did was in the Rockies over 40 years ago, wearing army boots.

    1. Interesting question - I have to admit that one fundamental point here is that these other guys were invading, and I've never done a lot of that. It may be down to my retiring personality, of course, but I suspect that invading is not so much the thing to do now. Fashions change, and we are all influenced (sometimes more than we realise) by the blight of political correctness, but opportunities for a good-going invasion are relatively few and far-between these days. Naturally, given the opportunity, I would have been a conquering emperor with the best of them, but I just never got the breaks.

      It's tough, but I guess that's the way the cards play out. I quietly get my own back by putting the toy soldiers through hell.

    2. ....and I roll my dice with a practised look of haughty disdain - pretty good, actually. I studied newsreels of Mussolini.

    3. Invasion really never goes out of fashion....

  4. Trekking over the border from Austria you MUST have gone through the full repertoire of the von Trapps surely?!

    All I can remember from Harry Worth (I'm a bit too young really) was the opening credits and THAT pose in the shop window.

    1. Funny you should mention that...

      In truth, nobody gave much thought to singing - breathing was enough of a challenge. I suspect that any Von Trappists in our group would have been left behind as an awful warning. I can't remember much about Harry Worth - one of a succession of harmless, politically lobotomised BBC comedians who weren't actually very amusing.

      Or so my grannie tells me...

  5. Foy - did you pass by any elephants on route? I do hope that you did.

    Harry worth was not very funny but in the days of only three TV channels was vital viewing...

    1. I have to be honest here - not one single elephant. Disappointing. On the border. at the top of the climb (thank you, Woodrow Wilson) there is a mountain "Hutte" in the Austrian style, which serves food and beer and so forth - after the trek up the hill, this is as much a shock as if you found an ice-cream van on top of Everest. A couple of things about this Hutte:

      (1) The Italians who work there are all German-speakers - Andreas Hofer would have been reassured that all those modern Italians named Müller and Schmidt in the South Tirol have not lost their identity completely (and, of course, the Italian ski team has never looked back)

      (2) The puzzling question of supply is explained when you find you can drive up the Italian side - another cultural clue - if these were PROPER Italians there would have been a row of motor scooters parked outside the cafe.

      Harry Worth - I understand he was a nice man, and he was certainly an improvement on Harry Champion and Tommy Trinder and all these in-yer-face cheeky chappies, but his endearingly dippy TV persona was mostly irritating after a few minutes. I recall a sketch in which the Queen is visiting his town, and in his efforts to get rid of a nuisance beggar he ends up throwing water over HM. The denouement was obvious about 5 minutes in advance, which probably goes to show that poor Harry was a victim of the eternal dumbing down of BBC scripts.

      The optical illusion in his famous TV show intro sequence


      puzzled me as a kid, since he checks to see if anyone was watching before he does it, and any kid who has tried this knows very well that you need a mate there to line it up properly and, of course, only the mate can see the illusion, so you need him to take a turn for your benefit. These scriptwriters were overpaid.

  6. German is definitely the funniest language a native English speaker can encounter. Thanks for sharing.

    1. My first wife went to German Conversation evening classes for 3 straight winter terms, and at the end of the 3rd series she and her pal Mrs Haggart were still giggling helplessly every time some referred to a Fahrt. Perhaps there is a correlation with the fact that, in an actual conversation with an actual German, she was still unable to contribute anything at all. Kein Wort, old boy - nichts.

      I studied German at school, and have had a couple of serious goes at brushing it up, since at times in the past I had non-trivial plans to move to each of Switzerland and Germany (neither of which came to fruition). I also used to travel to Germany with my work and my musical activities, so - though my speech is halting and unpractised - I can read and understand German reasonably well, and have gained a lot of understanding of English grammar as a useful by-product. One thing that occurred to me on this last holiday is that, though German is often more precise than English, you have to listen awfully carefully. Because of the way in which past participles and detachable verb-prefixes move to the end of the sentence, as do all sorts of verbs in subordinate clauses, I became aware of train conductors and similar listening carefully to the end of what i was saying, to see what I wanted! The idea of the important words coming at the end does something profound to conversation and listening patterns - in English we can frequently trail off halfway through a sentence (with a series of dots...) and the listener can understand the rest of what we mean (or, in the case of my former mother-in-law, can finish the sentence for us) - in German that doesn't work.

      The beggars still speak far too quickly for me(!), but I do like to have a go - it seems only polite, somehow. I was appalled that the two reps from our British holiday company in Tirol spoke no German at all - if we contract a serious disease or have an accident on holiday, it is not ideal if our guardian angel on the spot is reliant on Google Effing Translate.

      To end with another unkind poke at the previous Mme Foy, there was an occasion in Italy when she screwed up some fairly trivial exchange, and stated that she couldn't explain it, but her attempts to speak Italian (Gawd bless her) seemed to consist of waving her arms about and speaking French - something which, I observed, she never seemed to have managed when she was on holiday in France... (those dots again...)

    2. Henning Wehn mentions this fect, sorry fact, about German grammar. "German is the most exciting language in the world. Because the verb comes at the end of the sentence it keeps the suspense going right to the last word."

      Going off tangent a bit regarding English entrances trailing off. You ought to listen to two Finnish women talking (it never seems to be men - who maybe don't even start talking in the first place, unless it's absolutely necessary). They have the knack of breathing in when they speak and the words get quieter and quieter until you're straining to hear what you wouldn't understand anyway.

    3. Excellent. My visits to Helsinki were all in connection with musical gigs at the Storyville, so I'm not sure I ever met a Finnish man who was sober - they were mostly very loud!


To avoid spam and advertising material, comments are moderated on this blog, and will appear once I have seen them.