While we were in Germany, amidst all the family, food, music, beer, beer and more beer, we managed to find time to rent a car for a couple of long distance excursions. One of these was a planned day trip to Italy.
The drive to the Italian border was to take just over two hours via the Fern Pass through Austria, so by leaving in the morning we could make it to Italy with plenty of afternoon left for us to explore the country before having to drive back. In fact we seemed so unconstrained by time that we decided to make an early stop along the way to see the palaces of Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein, both of them former residences of King Ludvig II. Days later we would head on a separate drive northward through Germany and visit Heidelberger Schloss while spying several other such fortresses along the way, and cries of “Look at that castle!” would become gradually less enthusiastic with each consecutive sighting until waning down to compulsory acknowledgements of “Oh, look, another castle…” But those structures formerly of Ludvig’s were the first of their kind for us to witness, and so we took time to gaze at their exteriors and wander their vicinity. Perhaps if not in such awe of their majesty our visit might have been briefer, and our timing more propitious.
We didn’t make it far from the castles. “Recalculating,” our car’s GPS unexpectedly warned us on the highway, a series of bold red X’s on its screen signaling trouble ahead on our current route. We took our newly designated exit, though misfortune seemed inescapable.
Heavy winds were cutting fiercely through the valley and its forests, causing branches to break and scatter across the road. Around some corners we had to swerve to bypass full trees that had been uprooted and were partially obstructing our way. Soon these became entirely unavoidable as we passed through the Austrian municipality of Biberwier and came to a stalled line of vehicles at its far side, none able to navigate the aftermath of nature’s volatility. An attempt by us to backtrack revealed the same situation now on the municipality’s other end, with workers busy at clearing the mess. In the meantime we were stuck.
Hoping we might take advantage of our helpless situation to sample some Austrian fare we searched for a restaurant, but it being midway between noon and dinner we found only a single place open, one which specialized in Italian cuisine. However we were hungry, and the prospect of our actually making it to Italy given the present weather circumstances was questionable, so we settled for eating pasta in a place which was close enough to the country for which it is renowned. As it turned out it was some of the best I had ever consumed, baked with generous amounts of Gorgonzola, and I enjoyed it while steady groups of folks with trekking poles walked by outside.
By the time we had eaten the traffic leaving town was finally moving, though at a gradual pace. We eased ahead between the pristine slate smoothness of Alpine Peaks, eventually gaining speed. We passed by Innsbruk and a giant ski jump twice used for the winter Olympics general large hill event. We followed a narrow winding road above valleys and along green hills dotted with sheds and quaint houses. Our path was sometimes narrow, becoming lined with walls built of stones and occasional roadside shrines. Evening fell and it was several hours past the time we had intended to reach the Italian border, but we finally did cross it into Brenner. And we stopped there.
Gone was the day we had hoped to devote to a deeper undertaking into Italy. It was getting dark now, and soon we would have to return the way we came. Still we had made it, even if ever so barely. Before turning the car around we settled in a small eatery right on the border’s edge for a victory feast of pizza and tiramisu. It was drizzling without, but some accompanying cappuccinos kept us warm and cozy inside until the time came for us to leave.
We took the fast way back, this time eschewing the scenic voyage for the Autobahn. Little could be seen anyways through night’s heavy shroud of blackness settling upon the three countries we had set foot in that day. At the same time we were weary, and we had further adventures to rest for. In Germany, on top of all we had experienced already, there would still be an apple orchard heist, a meeting with the oldest living war veteran in Memmingerberg and his 60 year old turtle, and a visit to the NaturKultur Hotel Stumpf where the for the first time I would meet someone sharing my surname with whom I have no direct relation (there are significantly fewer Stumpfs in Canada than in Germany). Beyond this we were also scheduled to visit France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and for a second time the Netherlands.
But those were countries for other days, their stories to be saved for separate narratives. This one ends with a much shorter drive home than that with which it began, tolerable amounts of rain instead of unruly gales, and a vow to one day pay Italy a much more thorough visit.
We will be back.
– Cory Magnus Stumpf