WINTER HOLIDAY (Feb/March 1993)
(West Germany, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria)
(Touching on Italian & Yugoslavian borders)
(Updated Jan. 2013 (Links to photos on Flickr added)
DEPARTURE & ON THE FLIGHT DECK
We departed on Sat. 27th of February, from Didcot station, at 08.50, to Reading, then by Airlink coach, at 09.45, to London, Heathrow airport, where we departed at 11.30am to Munich Airport.
We then spent a few hours at Munich station taking photographs of trains, while having to suddenly adjust to the much colder and snowy weather conditions. Once it became too dark for
photography, we took a walk around the town. It was nice seeing trams once again and the streets were very busy. On our search for a restaurant we looked at shops and enjoyed a spot of live
street-entertainment, by a three group band, let by an American.
After a very pleasant meal we spent the last couple of hours just walking the streets taking in the sights then returning to the station where we took a few night shots before catching the
overnight train to Dresden. It was a sudden delve into winter as we really haven't had anything like a winter here and the snow was a good 1-2 feet deep everywhere and the temperatures far
below what we have been accustomed to. (Around 7 degrees of a difference).
But as it was the first time I had flown on a journey like this, it was fascinating suddenly being in the depths of Germany within a couple of hours after leaving the UK. I am not a great lover of
flying, but it was interesting watching the ground get smaller and the whole of London looking like a map. However it didn't last long as there was plenty of cloud. Also with just an hour and a
half flight most of the time was taken up in serving and eating the `plastic` food they serve on planes. Is this what they intend to lower British Rail to, when Virgin gets their hands on our railways?
It's got to be the lowest part of the otherwise good service the airline gives.
At one point I had a chat with the male steward and mentioned my last flight to the USA and wondered if it was possible to visit the flight deck. He said he would see what could be done.
However when the plane went into it's decline I gave up the idea, but the Steward suddenly came up and called us forward. It was fascinating entering the flight deck, which was no bigger than
the cab of most of our diesel locomotives, but with so much equipment all around them, they had even less space to work in. But what I didn't expect was the magnificent view, looking down on
a wide expanse of Germany completely covered in snow, but you could make out many towns and cities all over the place. It really does look just like a `living` map from up front.
At one point a plane flew across our paths, well below of course but I had seen nothing like it before. You could really sense it's speed and it really motored away into the distance (Left to right).
Of course, we were doing a similar speed, although it looked as if we were just `hanging` in the air. However, every now and again while chatting to the flight crew, when you looked out again, the
ground looked just that little bit closer.
The Captain and his co-pilot were as fascinated in knowing about our jobs as train drivers and we spent quite a while exchanging shop talk. They have far more expensive electronics then we have
and they showed us how they set up the plane for landing. They simply select `set` numbers ascertaining to the flight-plan and the computer does the rest. I would think, at a guess, and reckon they
have a more boring job than mine, once they are in the air. Whereas `we` have to have time to learn everything about a route we have to work over, and have to `sign` that we know it, they seem to
work to a `flight- map` and tap in the beacon numbers into the computer, to keep the flight path. However I would much prefer to have my feet on solid ground than be in the air all the time. But I shall
never forget that magnificent view as we, ever-so-slowly, (Around 400mph, I would think) descended towards the ground.
We left the cabin about 15 minutes before landing time. I felt a little better having met the `humans` behind the actual flying of our plane. They also said we were the first train-drivers they ever had up
front. The plane was a Boing 757 of the British Airways fleet.
AROUND MUNICH & NIGHT DEPARTURE
The over night train journey was North-Eastwards via Freisling, Landshut, Regensburg, Weiden in der Oberpfalz to Hof, Pluen, Zwicka, Chemnize (Carl Marx Stadt), & Freiberg to Dresden. We then
had the whole day to search out a narrow gauge steam line before having to find our hotel which was out in the outskirts of the City.
While it had been snowy at Munich it wasn't that bad here, but, over night we went through some of the heaviest snow falls I have ever seen and the temperatures dropped to Siberian levels. I looked
out at Zwicka where we changed locomotives (Electric) and it was a `white-out and the snow was so frozen it was falling as solid crystals. I didn't envy the men having to do the station work.
Zwicka is a hugh industrial city and it's factories were churning out air pollutants at an excessive level. Every where seemed to be belching out `coal` smoke. I could well imagine the working and living
conditions in that city. However both the weather and the snow eased off while we reached Dresden, in first light, and things looked a lot better.
TWO DAYS IN DRESDEN
I quite liked Dresden although there were no buildings of any significance. Eastern Germany is still very run down after it's Communist control. There are some nice houses but they were dull and drab,
seemingly, never having had a lick of paint since they were built. In fact this is the feeling you got about most of Eastern Germany. However since unification you can see they are trying very hard.
There are excellent train, bus and tram services. I took a couple of night-time, long-exposure shots, which have come off very well. However all that remains of the old City centre is an old Church,
which is flood lit. The massive `flat` open square has never been re-built after the war-time
bombing. Though around the square and Station is all `new` modern flats and shops.
The two steam lines we were searching for, here, aren't preservation lines, but are still in normal daily service. And it looked it. The state run system was very basic and run down.
We caught a local `double-decked` train out to Freital Hainberg where the narrow gauge stream line started. We took a number of pictures of the train and loco in the station before taking a run up the
line. We in fact got off at a couple of places and returned to the main station, before going out again, a little farther, to Spectritz. This was a pleasant little spot by the river which had a weir that would
add a little interest to a
picture or two. Once the train had departed the wooded valley became very rural and quiet, helped no doubt, by the deep layer of freshly fallen soft snow.
I had seen Brian's video of this line, taken in summer, but we were deep into winter with heavy snow and it looked quite different, but at least the weather remained reasonably bright to give us
descent exposures. Mind you!,
suddenly being thrown into heavy snow scenes, I wondered if I had got the exposures right. As it was like this for the week, I wondered just how many good ones I would have. Snow is very difficult
to expose right, especially
when the rest of the scenery is rather `black & white`!
With the arrival of the next train, coming towards Dresden, we got on that as far as Freital Grossendorf where we decided to look for a hotel. We got the name of one from one of the staff at the small
wooden station building and it
turned out to be over a mile away and up a very heavy gradient, which took a lot out of us as we had been traveling all day and night and still had our luggage with us. It was a long weary walk,
especially when our endeavors ended
unsuccessfully, and we had to walk back down the hill again. However it gave us a good insight to Freital which is a very quiet little town, if a bit on the `hilly` side and a bit run-down. As already
mentioned, the atmosphere and the heavy use of coal fires everywhere, gave the place a 1940`s-50`s feeling about it.
The steam train makes a very dramatic approach to the station as it climbs heavily up the side of the main street, belching plenty of black smoke. Along with the carpet of snow and the warm evening
light it made an excellent picture.
We returned to Dresden main station and as Brian had stayed here before, he knew of a hotel out the other side of the city and we caught another double-decked local train to it. There was also a
narrow gauge steam line from here, and while we took a couple of pictures, didn't actually use this line. While watching the steam train depart I noticed a strange `flickering` of light just above us, and
at first wondered if I was seeing things, or if the long day and night was affecting me! But on pointing it out to Brian, he too started to notice it. It seemed that the overhead electric wires must have
been shortening in the steam! I can't say that I have ever seen this occur anywhere else before, and wondered if it had something to do with the Eastern German system of designing their overhead
wires! I noticed too that their `insulators` are far smaller and narrower than ours, and wondered if it was really `that safe` as far as steam locomotives ere concerned!
The hotel, ---- ----, turned out to be a very pleasant hotel. There was a TV in the room, which we tried and in spite of having 9 channels couldn't really settle on anything as it was all in German.
I can't understand why they don't just use sub-titles as watching and listening to Robin Williams and Walter Mathau speaking in German just doesn't work, especially when every voice sounds
exactly the same.
NARROW GAUGE STEAM & CZECHOSLOVAKIAN BORDER
Next day we caught a local train back into Dresden centre and then a main line train, this time pulled by a Russian built locomotive. On the way we passed through a small town with the most
unlikely name of "FRANKENSTEIN". We reached Floha, where we changed for a narrow gauge branch line to Cranzahl for the steam line to Kurort Oberweisentahl. This turned out to be quite a
different type of line from the previous one. We really climbed into the mountains, with the loco working hard and making plenty of black smoke. It was the only day where we had heaps of snow
with nice sunshine. We used our sun-glasses for the first and only time, in the week. It made the exposures even more difficult, but what a lovely run. There were a couple of passing points where
trains crossed. In this country you would be enjoying a journey like this on a special steam excursion or on one of the preserved railways, but this was on a normal everyday service.
During the last few miles to Kurort, Brian pointed out `yellow` notice boards on posts every few hundred yards. This was the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia and all that separated
the two countries was a 2-3 foot narrow stream and these yellow boards. It was interesting being that close to a Russian `type` country. Likewise the announcements changed dramatically and
while we can pick out a few German words these were totally alien and very Russian like.
However we reached the end of the line at Kurort Oberweisenthal and found a most pleasant little town. Set high in the mountains. There was a ski run (quite busy) which made an excellent
background to the station setting. I could have stayed here longer but we had to return on the next train, so what time we had was spent taking pictures of the surrounding village area and locos at
the small depot, then a welcome cup of coffee in the station restaurant, where I bought a set of postcards of the place (however on getting home I found they are all of steam engines in different
locations!). There were a few interesting old railway relics on one wall which we photographed.
The station was a single storied, long sandstone building with only one track in the platform line, with a run-round line, also leading to the yard and loco depot. On the outward gable end of the
station there is a large sketch with the station`s name. It looks very Russian with it's hammer and sickle added to the sketch. Thick large icicles added to the interest and sparkled in the bright
The locomotive made the scene come alive for a few minutes while it was uncoupled and moved to the head shunt and run to the depot for servicing. The narrow gauge tracks were almost covered
by the deep snow, and the locos made a colourful picture with the `shunter` standing on the steps or getting off to pull the points.
There were two more engines in steam on the shed, and another nice picture was taken as the loco returned to the station by way of a slip road that took it beyond the shed and on return made an
excellent picture with the name of the station/depot, on the side of the wooden shed building.
I didn't take any pictures on the return journey but just enjoyed the trip back to Cranzahl station watching the bright sunlight scenery going past. We were in the leading coach, next to the loco,
and while these are `narrow-gauge` locos, because of the larger `Bern loading-gauge, they are as large as our `main-line` locos, and you had to lean out the sides to view the forward scene, ahead of
Kranzahl station had an air of hustle and bustle as the steam loco ran round it's train for it's next journey. It stopped at two places for photo opportunities, one on the small coaling stage and
another on it's train, waiting departure.
We then returned to Dresden via Floha where we did some loco spotting before having a well deserved meal, in the station buffet. Until recently (according to Brian) it had been an excellent
full- service restaurant, but now it has been turned into the `usual` quick-service buffet with self-service. While the meal was alright, it wasn't anything special. We spent the final moments in
Eastern Germany looking around Dresden city centre before catching the over night train to Budapest (a 12 hour journey through Czechoslovakia to Hungary).
While in Dresden station I got chatting (sort of, as he spoke no English, but simply pointed out things) to a driver on one of the Russian built diesels and when he found out we were train drivers
he welcomed us onto the cab. It was very interesting seeing some Russian built, hardware. I recognised most electrical and mechanical parts as they don't vary much from one locomotive to
another, but while his controls were like something out of the past, he had up-to- date electronics for safe running and breaking. I expect this has come about from unification, to bring all electric
and diesel locos up to Western Germany standards.
I enjoyed that cab visit. I took a flash photo of the maker's name on the side, but all I could understand was the date (1972).
OVERNIGHT THROUGH CZECHOSLOVAKIA TO HUNGARY
As I say, the overnight journey to Budapest was a long one, taking us right through Czechoslovakia. This is the only country where I felt a little apprehensive, as we could neither read station
signs (Apart from the obvious known places) or understand any of the language. However, thankfully we had no problems with the border guards who came through the train and were left alone
the rest of the night.
My only irritation was that, while they simply glanced at my workmate's `English` passport, at both ends of the country (and in Hungary) the border guards took longer with mine, while checking
through a booklet in their shoulder bag! I suppose, to make sure that `Scotland` was part of the `English (U.K)! As you see, this happens everywhere! Outside the U.K. people really do think the
UK consists only of England. Scottish M.P`s want to do something about that, after, all we are now supposed to be `all` part of the EEC!
I stayed awake as long as possible as I wanted to see some of Czechoslovakia, even if it was in the dark. We set our alarm clock so that we would be awake to see Praha and Bratislava. Praha is
another massive city, better than East German cities, as they have excellent, strong buildings, very much like western cities. There were some nice views high above the town where we could see
trams and traffic going about their business. At the station, which was exceptionally busy for the time of night, people milled about everywhere and the strange accents were amusing to listen to.
However after this the scenery became dull and flat and even at Bratislava where it was just starting to show some day light, everything was rather boring and scruffy. I didn't realise this was
going to get worse as the day went on. Having had a reasonable amount of sleep I stayed awake the remainder of the way to Budapest and wished I hadn't bothered. Along with the flat, dreary
scenery, everything is gray and drab. I had hoped it would improve for Budapest, but in fact it got worse.
The Station (Budapest Nayagti) was grand and stock and locos quite modern but everything needed a good wash or a paint job.
Whereas our station bookstalls are full of brand-new books, theirs were full of old and rather worn books, more reminisant of a second- hand bookstall.
We had a whole day to look around Budapest and to find a station and depot where we hoped to see a certain class of loco.
You are only allowed to take œ4 of money with you into the country and that is all we had, each, and I wondered how we would manage on it. However I didn't realise just how poor a country this
is and while we just spent on a few snacks to keep us going, we just couldn't spend that amount.
One nasty experience was at the second station we went to (Budapest Deli). We bought a cup of tea!! and a sandwich at a stall, and when it was served to us I couldn't believe what we had got.
I said to Brian, "What the F--k is that supposed to be"? "Its tea" he replied. Well it was liquid alright and steamed a bit, but it was transparent and `BLACK`, the nearest I have seen to sewage water,
in a `cup`. I wasn't going to drink it, but Brian said he would. Thankfully, when he opened the little tub of milk and poured it in, it was so sour it `plopped` into the cup and just floated in lumps in the
black liquid. So! that was it. I was going to complain and ask my money back but when it was pointed out to me that the `whole` lot only came to 10p in our money, it wasn't worth the bother, but
showed how poor a county we had entered. Still I can't believe any of the locals would buy, never mind drink such rubbish! After that I couldn't even face the sandwich and threw that away too.
The next thing that opened my eyes was while walking through the town to find the `famous` scene, showing Buda & Pest, on each side of the Danube. I have never seen so many poor people, and
tramps. The place was choking in car exhaust. Not like ours! They seem to use quite a different quality of petrol than we do, and it is hideously smelly and choking, more like you get from a lawn-mower
engine!. Men and women were walking the street trying to sell old magazines, so old, they were tatty & yellow. For pennies. Fruit on street-side stalls appeared to be very poor quality. On one corner,
two men dressed like `Cossacks`, were selling mats and things on the pavement. They stood and looked at us in the same amazement we looked at them. I even considered taking a picture but they
were big lads, so I thought otherwise. But it was interesting seeing these people at close hand.
The immediate buildings around the center are quite grand and well looked after, but it's difficult to photograph anything because of the heavy traffic. I enjoyed seeing the trams once again and there
were some nice old ones, as well as up to date ones. If anything the government certainly looks after the city's transport and everything seemed to be nicely integrated. There is also an `underground
train service, but we didn't use it.
However among this poverty there was suddenly a wailing of sirens and anyone on the road, walking or driving, suddenly stopped or moved to one side. We thought it was an ambulance or fire engine,
but it turned out to be some Government `big-wigs` going about their business. There they were, in their big-cars, and dressed in expensive camel hair coats and with everyone else (The peasants)
rushing out of their way. It was like a scene from a film.
If this wasn't enough, what I considered the worst was the mess of everything. We traveled on three trains that day and not one had a working toilet, they were dry and stinking. Seats, handrails and
tables were thick with muck and grime and you could hardly see out of any window, which were `brown` with dirt from rain showers. As I couldn't get a wash anywhere I soon started to feel
uncomfortable and dirty.
Another sign of the lower quality of life here was when, at one point, a man, tattily dressed, came through the train selling really well worn, yellow and dog-eared magazines, that looked impossible to
sell, probably for pennies!
Our time in the city was spent looking at some of the sights. The view from the river bridge is as we expected it and quite pleasant. The Cathedral is one of the largest I have ever seen and stands out
nicely on the river bank, but apart from that there is little of interest and I must think the person(s) who promoted this city as being scenic, in the past, must have seen it through some very `rosy` glasses
, or before the `motor-car`, although I expect it looks better in the summer time with blue skies and some real `greenery` to break the winter drabness.
From Deli station we traveled about half an hour to a station called, SZEKSFEHERVA, (try saying that, mate!) which is as difficult to pronounce as it is to spell. But it was a bit more pleasant being
away from the main city and we quite enjoyed it there, and saw some interesting locomotives. There was a large freight yard, reasonably busy with electric and diesel locos, and an old `round-house`
loco shed, which was still in use. The City end of the station was nicely framed by a tall concrete built signal box, which straddled over two tracks.
In the station was a Russian built diesel electric loco, on a one coach train. It looked very dull with peeling paint and signs of small collision damages, showing bare, rusty, metal. Later we saw and
photographed one of the American, G.M. built diesels, pulling away towards Budapest, on a passenger train. It thundered away nicely, giving off black exhaust, making interest for a nice picture.
We were lucky to see the turntable and the round-house in use, when a brightly painted class --- diesel electric loco was shunted from one section of the round-house across to the other. Diesel locos
tended to be painted in an `oaker` colour and whether in a gloss or flat finish, they looked as if they had only been given an undercoat. When in a run-down condition they looked very drab indeed.
We were also taken notice of, by the local station and train staff, who must have wondered who we were and what we were up to. I don't think they have train enthusiasts as we have here, outside their
work interest. We also considered that possibly, being quite, a poor country, they may have been more interested in our camera gear!
Time quickly passed and it was time to move on. We caught a train back towards Budapest, but had to change at a junction station called Kezenfold, where we would catch another train that would
take us into Budapest Keleti station, where we would catch our overnight train into Austria.
However as soon as we got back on the train we felt completely uncomfortable as the toilets were still dry and the inside of the coaches very grubby.
At Kezenfold there were two quite large yards each side of the station. They were quite busy with diesel and electric locos, which included the most up to date electric locos in Hungary. It was interesting
seeing so many foreign wagons and especially a good number of Russian ones. A set of hugh Russian `hopper` wagons stood on one siding and a `white` powdery substance was flowing out at one
corner. After a while another train pulled along-side and the vibration made the powder flow twice as hard and I wondered how much of the powder would be left after it's long journey!
There was a train of Russian `Petrol tank` wagons in the other yard and it was interesting seeing the Russian lettering on the sides.
We then caught the next train into Budapest Keleti station. This was quite a decorative building with some interesting features. We had a walk around that immediate area.
Outside the station front is an old electric loco, as a static display, along with an equally old fashioned signal, on a post. This part of the town didn't appear to have anything or buildings of interest, We
went back to the station and purchased something to drink and eat on our overnight journey, then found where our train left from. It was nice to see the `sparkling-clean` Austrian coaching stock. As it
was open to us we got on board and once settled I went to the wash-room and had a thoroughly good wash and shave and felt much better.
We met three English chaps in Dresden who said that if we went into Poland we would find it even worse. I found that hard to believe but also find it very sad. I had planned one day to venture further
into the East. but can't really see me doing that now. That poor country must really be in a terrible state.
TO AUSTRIA, VIENNA & INNSBRUCK
(Arrested for taking photo!)
Once our train got on it's way we went to the restaurant coach and enjoyed a good meal. As it was mainly `Hungarian` dishes I must admit to having forgiven them a bit, as the meal was excellent. It's
just a pity that we had to pay in Austrian money and not Hungarian, as it was quite expensive.
From Budapest we headed North-West via Tatabanya, Gyor and Hegyshalom (border station) to Vienna.
I wanted to look out at Hegyshalom as I remember it from the 1970`s TV series, Great Railway Journeys of the World. However I was disappointed, not only because it was dark, but a train drew in to
the opposite platform which hid it from view, and we departed before it. So I saw little except a few `Hungarian` locos and shunters in the yard opposite. However I noticed too that the snow was getting
more prominent and was wondering what we were going to find when we woke up in the morning.
We departed Budapest around 17.20 and arrived in Vienna at 21.00 for a change of train for Innsbruck. With only an hour or so we didn't manage to see anything of Vienna further than the station front.
I awoke around 6.30 just as light was breaking and looked out at my first sighting of Austrian scenery. We were in a deep cutting but the snow was heavy and deep and you could feel that outside was
very cold indeed. I snuggled back down into my seat and dropped off again.
We arrived in Innsbruck around 8am. However before that we had a nasty experience during the first hour (07.15) of daylight, on our way to Innsbruck. I had only been awake a few minutes when we
stopped at a station. Brian said that the loco on the opposite line was the one that brought us to Vienna and I thought a picture of it worthwhile! It was on the opposite side of me (where Brian was sitting)
but I dropped the window and took a picture and returned to me seat. After a moment a policeman came looking into the window (my side) and looked through me towards Brian. I even commented that
the policeman didn't seem to like the look of him, but dismissed it. Obviously he was looking for something/one. Suddenly he then came into our coach, saw Brian's camera on the window-sill and called him
off the train. I followed onto the platform and asked what was wrong. He asked who took a photograph (In German, he had no English). I said it was me, so he indicated to me to get into his car. I tried to
explain it was only a loco picture but he wasn't about to give any quarter and kept directing us into his car. I held back from entering his car as it was obvious that he wasn't a policeman, and simply a
security guard of some description and I wasn't sure where we would have been taken to. Thankfully at that moment another officer (in the same uniform) appeared from a door and I asked if he spoke
English, to which he replied "yes" (He was the superior officer). I explained what I had done and asked if there was any LAW against taking railway photographs. He said "no", but that the officer was
worried about security. I asked what security and he said they were taking something important off that train. I explained we were UK train drivers (Loc Fhurer) and that we weren't interested in their politics
and had only been in their country a matter of hours and that the heavy handedness of his officer had been over done. He seemed to agree and after checking our passports told us to go back to the train.
But that `young` officer was a dead cert for Hitler's Nazi youth movement and proved their kind are still there. No doubt he was no more than an over enthusiastic young security guard but his kind can
completely spoil someone's holiday to their country.
Brian will never forgive me for taking a picture, and him getting arrested!
TIROL IN THE SNOW (And Krocodiles!)
I wasn't all that impressed with Innsbruck itself, but our plans were to head southwards to a small village (Greis) up in the Tyrolean mountains. We only had 15 minutes to wait for the branch train. (An
electric unit). After the flattish scenery the climb up into the hills was beautiful, with high road bridges and deep valleys. It was typical Tyrolean country. The deep snow and frozen waters made it a picture.
We spent a couple of hours or so at Gries, having walked ahead of the station and up a small track slippery with snow and ice. The views from the top of the hill were quite spectacular. In the distance
and above the village was a high concrete road-way winding its way down the valley, with a nice background of mountains and snow.
Looking southwards back towards the station the railway descended heavily into the distance. The track then curved left and dropped into a long deep gorge. Both the scenery and the railway made an
excellent spot for photographs albeit, it was very cold and the snow quite deep, to be standing in, for a longish period.
We photographed a number of freight and passenger trains, some with German locos and others with the old Krocodile` locos either as the main traction or acting as `bankers`. We were lucky in spotting
a `green` Krocodile heading a German loco. Most of this class are now painted in a bright orange-red colour. The green was closer to their original `German` livery, although that was a slightly darker and
more glossy green than the `flat` green of this Austrian loco.
Later we caught a local train, down the line, to the next station (St. Jodok). The village lay below the station and the railway climbed even higher circling the village until it was twice as high above it, on the
opposite side of the mountain. This was a charming place to stay for the day. We found an hotel (Gesthof Lamm) in the village and after a wash and brush up we set off up the road to find another spot to
photograph trains coming down (and up) the valley.
Up till around noon the weather had been quite bright and with a watery sun, was quite comfortable and enjoyable, but standing out in the wild hillside became very uncomfortable as the skies darkened
and the lovely valley scene virtually disappeared in sleety snow, driven by a strong wind.
We saw many different types of locos and took what should have been some nice shots, but on processing the film I found that the weather had been just too bleak to do them any justice, though the ones
earlier and higher up the hillside at Greis, have all come off very well. We gave up after a time and walked back down the hillside as it became so bitter and bleak, it felt as if we were in deepest Siberia.
The hotel was very nice and the people running it spoke good English and had obviously had many train enthusiasts there before. Its a well known area for railway photography. The village too, was worth
a few photographs but the light was poor and I thought we would miss a chance. However in the morning, after breakfast, we had a little time to ourselves before catching our train back to Innsbruck and
in the lovely morning sunlight and with a heavy fall of fresh overnight-snow, it looked magnificent and we got a few pictures which have come off quite well.
However later that afternoon we still had a lot of daytime left so we decided to take a train up to the head of the line at the Brenner Pass, at the Italian Border. There wasn't a lot to see, but it was interesting
to watch Italian trains arriving and the changeover to Austrian locos, and vice versa. Brenner station is actually in Italy, so we had in fact entered, yet, another county, if only by a few hundred yards.
No-one asked for our passports, but we thought it better to ask if it was OK to take pictures.
The light was still poor and a heavy snow fall made picture taking difficult, but there was also a few brighter moments when we got some useful pictures. I like the style of Italian Locos, and of course they
remind me of my lovely summer holidays to Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii. However the ones we saw here were of their latest machines and they were a little different. I managed to talk to one driver and he
invited us into the cab. It was very pleasant and well laid out, but I considered the electronics to be a bit too much. They had a 6 inch screen VDU which told them everything about the loco and even
showed all the gauges etc. I am sure the driver would have little use for this while on the move. I could live without that much electronic/computerised hardware in my cab. But I enjoyed our chat with the
driver (who came from Bolzano) and his mate, which was a little difficult, as the driver only spoke a little English but good German and when we told him we were `Loc Furers` had no trouble getting on board.
At first they thought we wanted a cab ride (Which would have been nice) but we couldn't venture into Italy due to lack of time, and having no Italian money to buy anything. I don't expect the Italian/Austrian
customs would have thought much of it either.
We then returned to our Hotel and after another nice lunch had an early night for our morning departure. We also managed to phone home from the hotel which was nice as we had been unable to phone
while in Eastern Germany and Hungary. We did try while in Vienna, but couldn't get through.
From Innsbruck we were heading for Villach near the Italian/Yugoslavian borders. Up till now we had been in quite heavy snow and I had expected this to continue as we headed south. At Jenbach we saw
the narrow gauge Tillerbhan railway, which is a great summer attraction to British visitors. Most of the region through the Tirol from here is Skiing country and we saw many famous runs on the way, the
most expensive being at, Kitzbuhel (appx. 1300m), which is mainly for the well-off classes. The next one was at Badgastein (1083m).
The scenery is magnificent. We climbed high into the Tirol through hugh gorges to Scharzach im Pongau, where we changed trains and started to climb even higher. It was on this part of the journey where
I saw the thickest `ice` (on the mountainsides) than I have ever seen. It was icy-blue and clear, and some parts were many feet thick. At one point we saw a whole waterfall completely `frozen` in mid-air.
However as we dropped down the other side on the last run to Villach the snow suddenly thinned out and almost disappeared and the mountains and valleys looked as if they hadn't seen winter yet, though
the scenery was February-bleak, which made you miss the snow. This made it a bit of an anti-climax on reaching Villach. However it was also a lot warmer and the walk through the town searching for an
Hotel was quite pleasant.
The town itself is quite nice. The town centre is over the river, Drau, where there is a rather nice view southwards to the mountains. Eastwards is also pleasant but spoiled by a large iron foot bridge which
cuts the scene in half. The town centre is nicely laid out with a very wide thorough-fair with some nicely decorated buildings and a church (St.Jakob) with a high steeple, setting it off nicely.
Our hotel (Comfort) was quite nice too but we found our first meal rather plain and as they didn't have an English menu, we decided to eat elsewhere for the rest of our stay.
We had two full days in Villach and there were two lines of interest to visit. The first was to Rosebach on the Yugoslavian border. It was a pleasant run and Rosebach a very pleasant spot to spend a
couple of hours or so. We didn't have very long here and only managed to photograph a couple of trains, one being the Vienna to Ljubliana express.
We then made our way back to Villach West station and made a short visit to the Locomotive Depot where we saw quite a mixture of locos from the latest `disc-braked` electrics to extremely old machines
plus a few `Krocodiles`.
To make things official, we went to the office block and requested permission to look around the depot. Although we received a pleasant welcome, they wanted £5 each, which we thought was rather
excessive. However they stated that they were going home for the weekend and there would be no-one to show us around and said we could go as far as the turntable and no further. We thanked them
and went to view from the turn table whichwas busy with a number of electric locos and a couple of shunting engines.
As there were a few of the very old electric locos that I have only seen in photo's, just beyond the turntable, we ventured gingerly towards them and I managed to get a few shots using the telephoto lens.
Butit would have been nice tohave gone right up to them.
We also poked our noses inside the round-house shed where there were a number of Krocodile locos sheded. It was interesting to see them inside the sheds where some `fitters` were working on them.
However we didn't hang around inthere too long in case someone said anything. The experience of that `security` guard remained with us throughout our stay in Austria.
Having seen enough we walked back to West Station. It had turned quite mild with the sun in the clear sky and very comfortable for the time of year. We stopped at a garage on the way and bought a carton
of apple juice to top up theLitre bottle we carried with us so that we could have a drink wherever we went. This had become quite a `lifesaver` as we ventured many hours far away from any shops, as well as
being refreshed on our
overnight train journeys.
ARNOLDSTEIN & ITALIAN BORDER
We then caught another train, heading towards the Italian Border and got off at Arnoldstein and walked a couple of miles to a sight where we had a good advantage point to photograph trains plying between
the two countries.
As we had come to this region to see the `Krocodile` 1020 class of locomotives, which are the remaining ones of the original German version, which we went to see a few years ago, between Stuttgart and Ulm,
and which have all gone now,
weren't disappointed. very other freight train had one or two of these locos and some acted as `bankers` to other trains. We had some lovely sunny spells and while without snow the scenery wasn't very
exiting, the `orange` locomotives
stood out well against the darker backgrounds.
There was a nice panoramic view of the small town on one side and up towards the mountains, on the other. Just below us was a hotel called `Hotel Wanker`, which we were glad we weren't living at!! (I wonder
what that means in Austrian?)
Once the light started to fade we made our way back to the station only to find we had just missed a train and there was an hour and a half to the next one. It was rather boring as it was too soon to have a meal,
and a coffee at the station buffet had to suffice for a time. Because of the poor meal we had at the hotel the night before we decided to try somewhere else and stayed on this train as far as Klaganfurt, north east
of Villach. It was pitch black when we got there and when leaving the station found the Town was just as dark. I have never seen such a large town with so few lights. We walked quite a way and was about to
give up finding a town centre, when we came across a better light area, though still rather bleak.
However Klaganfurt is a large town with some interesting, if rather business-like, buildings and once we found a restaurant we found it very pleasant. However we were also surprised at the amount of drunk
people on the streets and especially, younger people. We also found this at Villach, which seemed to show that, all, was not well in this part of the country.
It seems the place we picked didn't get many visitors from our part of the world and we became a bit of a talking point. Two men came in to try and sell us something and everyone stared at us. However we had
an excellent meal and choseour restaurant well. The waitress had reasonable English, and had at least heard of Scotland.
At the `bar`, I noticed a man who `seemed` to be looking straight at me and smiling. I nodded back. However after a while we realised that he was in fact speaking to `no-one!`. He was one of those sad
unfortunate people who have thataffliction. He talked and talked as if someone was there and even sang a complete song. He was well out of reality. After a while a woman came up to him, helped him on with
his coat and they went off. An amusing, but sad incident.
We enjoyed our meal and visit to Klaganfurt in spite of the darkness and the drunkenness and wondered back to the station through the darkened streets. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a train and just
stayed on the platform watching
the people and other trains coming and going. An interesting point on Austrian railways is, that at every station when a train comes through, a member of the station staff, in full uniform, comes out of his/her
office and salutes the driver as he goes past, to which the driver acknowledges. A rather nice touch which I expect not only shows respect to the driver but is also checking on the safe passage of the trains.
After another long and busy day it was nice to return to the hotel and relax a bit. We tried watching TV again, but as mentioned, it soon gets boring listening to a language you can't make head or tail of and
boredom soon had me dropping off to sleep, which really wasn't all that hard to do, as I was quite worn out from the miles of walking we had done that day.
CHATAUX, SIBERIAN WEATHER & SKIING
With that day and night past us I wondered what we could follow this with for our last day in Villach (and Austria). On the way from Badgastein to Villach we saw a couple of lovely spots that would be nice
to visit and good spots to photograph trains. After breakfast we caught a train back up the Tyrol, to a tiny halt called Ober Falconstein. We had returned to the snow line and with a bright-ish morning, things
looked much better.
What we were looking for was a spot where we could include the mountains and a very attractive `gothic` castle, into the scene, with a train nicely framed in the picture. The station (Ober Falconstein) was built
right on the edge of the deep gorge and it was just a ten minute hike to the grand view with the castle sitting at the top of a hill, with the wide valley sweeping away into the distance. This was excellent for
including the railway, which traversed the gap between the two mountains on the left, on a large, wide, single span bridge, but was rather a side-on view. Ok for a shot or two.
After walking below the bridge, down a narrow snow and iced covered track, we then climbing back up to the bridge level, we found what we wanted. The railway had been diverted at the station throat and
the track doubled, cutting off a single line, through a couple of tunnels, into the mountainside opposite.
We walked up to as close to the `old` line as we could and found ourselves facing a tunnel. As we could see light immediately ahead, it looked safe to go through it to see what the view was like. At the opposite
mouth of the tunnel there was a short viaduct then the track bed ran into another tunnel, but the view from the viaduct, between the two tunnels put the gothic castle exactly where we wanted it in the scene,
with the new line running from north to south, high across the gap on the new concrete bridge. This made an excellent setting for a few train photographs.
Once we had milked that scene we returned to the station to move on to the next spot. It was much easier getting back as we simply had to walk through the short (un-used) tunnel and come out at the station.
The tunnel was in excellent condition and contained a tractor and piles of wood, so was still used by someone. The wind whistled through at quite a force and without the sun, was bitterly cold, with crystal clear
icicles hanging from the ceiling.
We then went on to Mallnitz OberVellach where car/bus/truck trains, take people through the 16 mile tunnel. This was also an interesting maneuver to watch and even at this time of year and in such terrible
conditions there were still many cars, buses and trucks taking advantage of this service. The people simply sit in their cars etc, for the 25 minute run to the next station beyond the stunnel.
However, our aim was for another particular scenic view, over the hills to the south of the station and village. It proved quite a walk as the road/track was deep in snow and icy. But after a couple of miles trek,
we found it. A deep gorge and valley with the single line coming out of the tunnel immediately below us and clinging to the edge of the opposite mountain, with the railway clinging to the edge of the
mountainside and dropping away into the distance for 3-4 miles, with a couple of viaducts completing the scene. While you had no warning of a train coming out of the tunnel immediately to our left, you could
see a locos headlight coming far into the distance, as it came out of the curve at the end of the ridge.
The light wasn't good but we took a number of pictures with the hope that they would be alright. After a while we moved to a lower setting but the actual scene wasn't really worth it, but by scrambling up the
embankment just out side the tunnel mouth and moving back, well away from the railway, there are two lovely spots for photography, one a long shot over the further viaduct and the second on the viaduct
immediately ahead of the tunnel. These should, have produced at least two very nice shots but poor light spoiled it.
After a while the weather started to close in once again and a bitter snow storm blew up and so we abandoned the sight. It snowed heavily, but was added to by the strong wind blowing the snow off the hillside
in drifts. We made our way back to the station and straight for the buffet where we had a welcome plate of soup, while we pondered on what to do next. It was still too early to return to Villach and as I enjoyed
seeing the skiing, earlier, at Badgastein, we made our way there on the next train.
The snow was really falling and visibility was almost nil. From the station you enter the 16 mile tunnel (which is the only way through these mountains at this point). As we emerged from the tunnel it was like
another world, there was a fresh covering of at least another foot of snow, since we passed through there two days before, and the roads were deep in snow. However the snow here was simply falling steady
without any wind to drive it. It made an eerie silence which defied the actual activity of this busy winter resort. The Skiing was still going full force and I took advantage of a few photographs of the people
enjoying themselves on the ski-run. Some were going to the highest point of the mountain on the Cable cars, while on the other side, others were going to the shorter summit, on ski-chairs. It all looked very
wintery and colourful with the various bright colours of ski-clothing.
Within a half hour or so the light started to drop and almost as a signal, skiers stopped skiing and the cable cars started returning empty and none going back up. Skiing had finished for the day.
We returned to Villach on the 16.20 train and arrived just as darkness fell but with a nice sunset in the distance. We took advantage of this and took a few long-exposure shots using the tripod and an 82B filter.
After returning to the hotel for a wash and brush-up we then went looking for a restaurant and found one just a short distance from our hotel. It was, infact, one of the Gesthof Lamm hotels, we stayed at in
St. Jodok. It looked very nice and had an English menu, but in spite of choosing something that looked good on the menu, it turned out to be no more than a plateful, of sliced, fried potatoes, with some
vegetables and tiny pieces of `chicken` which you rumbled around to find. A sort of `hot-pot`. But it was more potatoes than anything else! So we never really got the meal we wanted in Villach, though I am
sure there are, if we could read the menus properly.
As we had an early start in the morning we had an early night that passed all to quickly and it was breakfast time again and then time to head for the station for our final day in Austria and back to Munich for
our plane home.
Breakfasts in Austria are excellent, as in Germany as a whole. You get a pot of tea or coffee and `usually` a couple of newly baked morning rolls, which you can fill with sliced meats and cheese, or with jam.
They are extremely filling and there is always enough meat and cheese to fill two sandwiches.
FINAL DAY. SALZBERG, MUNICH & LONDON
We departed Villach at 08.14 and headed back through Badgastein and onto Salzburg where we had hoped to spend a couple of hours looking around the city before going on to Munich. However while the train
ran to time and the weather was clear enough on arrival, by the time we ventured out of the station to find the town centre and the castle, the weather drew in and you couldn't see much. We didn't find the town
centre or the castle but it was just as well as we couldn't have photographed anything. We simply spent an hour or so walking through the slushy streets, which was a surprise, as everywhere else we had been,
the pavements had always been cleared.
And so we found our way back to the station and awaited our train, having a welcome cup of coffee in the station buffet.
The train arrived on the dot and turned out to be a complete set of the latest Czechoslovakian coaches That we had seen at Rosebach), which were very nice indeed. On top of that, just minutes before departure
time, the weather cleared up and on leaving the station and crossing the river ahead, there was the castle in full, clear view, ahead of us. And, of course, My camera was packed away and so I didn't get my picture
of the castle.
However. with that we settled down for the couple of hours run to Munich. Not far into the run the snow started to lessen and by the time we reached Munich it wasn't much more than when we had been there
the week before. You certainly get a mixture of weather in Europe! The run is quite pleasant and you pass some pleasant little towns and villages. At one place there was supposed to be a large lake, but it was
completely iced over and snow covered and didn't separate much from the general scenery. As we got closer to Munich the scene flattened out again and was more like a hugh `plain`.
We only had about 20 minutes at the station when we caught the `Luftflug` train out to the Airport which is a good 10-12 miles. That was quickly over and we arrived at the airport with a good two hours before
our flight time. We simply spent that time looking around the airport shops and having a cup of coffee before going to the check-in desk and the half hour or so wait to boarding time.
The airport is brand new and of the latest design, if rather clinical, but it is colourful enough around the shopping area and the long `moving` people-mover is handy and the long passageway has different
coloured lighting along the way.
We had a Boing 757 of British Airways. We sat behind the engines which proved to be a noisy position throughout the flight. The take off went smoothly. It was interesting watching the ground draw away and
the scene expand and as the plane turned you could see the whole of Munich airport below and to one side, then it was into the thick cloud and then into the `open` sunlight of the vast sky.
While there was next to nothing to see but the clouds getting farther and farther below us, it was equally interesting to see Areas of ground through the few breaks in the clouds. With the bright sun on the
cloud surface, the `duller` land looked more like reflections in a pool. However once we were at height (34,000 feet) there was nothing to see but the bright sun and the `wooly` clouds. I did see a couple of other
planes zoom past at a couple of points. However we then faced the magnificent `plastic` airway food, and as I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast I actually ate the lot. But they really do want to do something
about this `horrible` food.
On such a short flight we were soon into descend once again and once we broke through the thick cloud, we were only a few miles short of landing and immediately below me I could recognise the `Pagoda` and
large Glasshouses of Kew Gardens, with an underground train running southwards, then all too quickly, were on the ground.
As we had all our luggage with us, as hand-luggage, we didn't have the usual delay of waiting for them and once through customs we were outside waiting for the Rail-Air link bus, to take us to Reading, for the
final train home. Over the whole week and through some pretty vicious weather all our trains ran to time. It was rather ironic that on arrival at Reading we were to hear the `inevitable announcement that out train
to Didcot was running 20 minutes late!!! WE haven't had a `winter` this year!!
On reflection, the holiday had gone extremely well with only a couple of irritants of any importance. I had no real idea of what to expect on such a `winter` holiday, and going through most of these countries, for
the first time. It was an experience worth having and will hold some memories for a long time. The pictures have processed as well as could be expected, not having done much `snow` pictures and apart from a
few suffering from slight, under and/or over- exposure, most are perfectly acceptable, with a few being just 'perfect`. Its nice to have such a collection of slides to remember this interesting and enjoyable trip.
Tour Photo Links on Flickr:
Vallach Grie & Jodock Saefelden Budpest Rosenbach Brenner Oberfalconstein Bagastein Mallanitz Dresden & Oberweisanthal Kitzbuel Arnoldstein
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