It’s all Michael Portillo’s fault, or at least having seen one of his televised railway journey’s ascend the Schafberg Mountain high above the Wolfgangsee near Salzburg where we were staying on holiday, we thought we would follow in his footsteps.
I’ve written before that the best place for a sailor away from the sea is in the mountains, so what could be better than a steamer trip along an alpine lake and then ascend the high peak in a steam driven, cog railway. Well while it was actually a good trip and the scenery was breath taking, but it was all a bit too organised and as a result frankly disappointing.
We arrived at the very pretty little town of St Gilgen on the Wolfgangsee, something like a small version of Lake Como. The ticket office seemed incapable of taking money off the queue of eager tourists, but we eventually managed to pay and get on the steamer just before it left despite having arrived 25 minutes ahead of schedule on what was a slow day.
Bizarrely we were told that we had been “booked” onto the 11.45 train to ascend the Schafberg which gave us just about time to buy Joseph an ice-cream between disembarking at the dock at St Wolfgang and getting on the hot and crowded train at the station just across the road.
Once at the summit you need to book a seat for the return trip down, and while the view of the surrounding mountains was breath taking, we had barely 50 minutes before getting onto the return train. The train has hot, stuffy and crowded and the whole experience had far too much similarity to a morning commute on the London tube, with people pushing and jumping the queue to get seats.
On the way down a woman sat opposite us with a tee shirt which said “collect memories not possessions.” Now maybe I'm being churlish and I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, but I couldn’t help thinking that rushing around on what was little more than a tourist theme park ride was hardly any kind of experience.
The day after our Schafberg Mountain trip found us at a village the name of which I have no idea, we followed a trail between low alpine pasture and a fast flowing river until we found a perfect picnic spot under some trees looking up at the surrounding peaks. All of the few passing walkers wished us “gutten appetite” as they went by, we played and read from Joseph’s book before walking back to the village in the shadow of the almost sheer high peaks which surrounded it to the west. That was an experience worth collecting.
The Salzkammergut Mountains near Salzburg are fantastic and we had a great time holidaying there, maybe I'm just not too keen on being organised.