Continental Railway Journeys: Lammersdorf
Back to Lammersdorf.
In Continental Railway Journeys Austria, you heard how Bobby got the idea of coming to a less well know part of this wonderful country from English people in a Country Walking Magazine article. Amazingly, but due to his being an obsessive collector, as a result of that heatwave, staying indoors, sorting out junk, he discovered he had kept the article!
Not easy to read on screen, so he has taken some of the most poignant parts of the article for you to read here.
The extraordinary and undiscovered region of Carinthia. Danny Hopkins walks Austria’s hidden Lake District.
Sitting above the Slovenian/Italian border, this enticingly undiscovered region has some of Austria’s most charming scenery. I’ve spent a whole weekend scratching the surface of its beauty and I am coming back. Carinthia is extraordinary. (How you get there now out of date). My first walking venue is Lake Millstatt. Described as an “energy site” in the brochures, it is a vision in shimmering turquoise and as soon as I check into my hotel, my energies are focussed on one thing – getting into the beautiful, fresh, clear waters of the lake.
It’s about the size of Windermere, but it’s a heck of a lot warmer so swimming is a dream surrounded, as I am, by stunning mountain peaks. I can’t wait.
I take my first walk after dinner a couple of miles along the 18 mile lake shore path as the sun goes down. I can feel life’s tensions dribble out of me as the big Lake soothes the heat of the day. Morning breaks and I am ready for it. I drive up to Lammersdorfer Hutte on the slopes of Millstatter Alpe, (Bobby walked) for a day exploring the eye searing beauty of the Jutenkruez and Obermillstatt. At the hutte I am greeted by the owner and his wife. They live up here in the summer, cooking for guests and providing an absolutely essential watering hole. They also wear traditional Austrian costume. I try not to mention lederhosen and head off on the path to the peaks, whistling Edelweiss.
Up top the view is beyond description. I’ll have to invent some new adjectives to do it justice. Until then I’ll just describe the walking as tough but safe and the views as big… really big… hundreds and hundreds of miles big. I can see all the way to Italy and Slovenia in the south, to the Alps and Grossgloekner in the north west and to the Dolomites in the south east.
Of course, because I am in Austria the paths are extremely well marked and each summit has an interesting interpretation board attached (in English and German). They probably sweep the paths and polish the waymarks in the mornings as well.
They don’t clear the cows off them though. Big and beige with bells on, these bovine beauties are completely placid and completely fearless. They won’t get up for you if they are lying across the path. You have to walk round them. Vorsprung “Moo” Technik, as they say in Carinthia.
Back at the hutte I an serenaded by the proprietor, a gentle baritone with an accordion and collection of songs I’m sure the Von Trapps would have been familiar with. As I listen (and smile and clap) I scoff a plate of Kaiserscharm, a sort of pancake served with plum compote and sugar. It is huge and delicious and when combined with a rustic pile of sausage, ham, cheese and bread (with onion and gherkin – that’s the veggie bit) along with a glass of full-fat milk, this meal has the local undertakers rubbing their hands with glee.
I leave Millstatt, knowing I will return. It is, quite simply, a walking paradise, with enough to keep you busy for weeks even when the weather is poor which it isn’t very often. Carinthia is to the south east of the high Alps and is warmer and drier than the more central regions. As I nestle back on my flight home I look down on the Austrian Tyrol and feel smug I didn’t go there. The mountains may be bigger but you don’t get the same sense of pioneering adventure; the same realisation that you’re somewhere truly Austrian, local and unmolested. Carinthia is virgin territory as far as British walkers are concerned. It won’t be for long…
There followed practical details. All you, dear reader, need to know is the following…
…or ask me. We don’t mind sharing this lovely part of the world. Reading the article again, I am quite proud of the GAD vulnerable BFG who took the chance and followed a dream.
He also missed a very important fact…
Geoffrey Smith was a favourite Gardeners World presenter. Bobby loved his northern accent and his unbridled enthusiasm. The following video doesn’t have to be watched for long, unless you want to. It is included to show you his nature and because it was he who sowed the seed for Bobby to end up here. The desire to see alpine meadows in May.
A regular presenter, one week he went to Austria to see the alpine meadows. In particular he wanted to see gentians. He climbed up the mountain, or whatever the BBC chose to show you, and found his prize growing in a crevice. Bobby had never seen a gardener so excited. He recorded the programme on old time video and watched it many times. It may be amongst the dead videos in the shed (or not) and he has no video machine to find out. No matter. He can remember it vividly. Geoffrey died in 2009, aged 80. So that programme was in the early 80s, and he has never forgotten it.
The years passed, and Austria faded. As did his marriage. By 2007, he was in the warm and loving arms of Diddley. Reading his favourite magazine at the time. Country Walking. A passion then. The editor, Danny Hopkins, wrote an article one month about a part of Austria that was undiscovered to British holiday makers. A walking paradise.
Suddenly, he remembered Geoffrey Smith. Marriage was of a far more grown up relaxed variety. He asked Diddley what she would feel about him fulfilling a dream and going to see the alpine meadows in Austria in May. On his own. Her typically blunt answer was: “ you are a long time dead Bobby and not getting any younger. Go and do whatever makes you happy”. So he did. May 2007.
Carinthia. Kärnten in German. The southern most state in Austria. Bordering Slovenia and Italy. A land of lakes and mountains. Capital City Klagenfurt. An all season area with winter skiing and warm summer outdoor holidays. May, a low season period. A favourite for Austrians themselves, and Germany not so far away. The Dutch have a long tradition in this area. Otherwise that’s it. Virtually unheard of in Britain. No package holidays. He flew there three times with Ryanair but they have closed the route. So there are no direct flights from the UK. You have to go via Vienna. Or drive a long way. Or, do as he he now does and incorporate it in a train adventure through Europe. In five holidays there, he has never met another English person. A Canadian family once, and that’s it as far as native tongues are concerned. The locals assume he is Germanic until he speaks!
Even this hotel was a fluke. That first year, he had booked a gasthaus in the village. Much cheaper than down by the lake. Met at the airport by the landlady’s sister, who told him the gasthaus was closed due to her sister’s illness, but they had found somewhere for him to stay. Then called Hotel Weissner. It wasn’t open yet, but a young Dutch couple and their parents had bought it and he was welcome to stay. Had a lovely 9 days with them. Returning two years, later the youngsters had gone back to Amsterdam and their parents Gerda and Leo were now running the hotel.
In the early years he was overwhelmed by the mountains, the lake, the alpine meadows. Walking from dawn to dusk. Climbing mountains, cruising on the lake steamers. It was idyllic. Diddley would have hated the outward bound style of holiday and no pubs, so it was fine! His plan was to climb that mountain again when he was 70. Instead, he was ill. In his GAD state, he thought he would never see Austria again. Diddley got ill and we lost her. For months he pondered and then… brainwave. He would go by train and take me. A much longer adventure. And then found that Gerda had lost Leo and was selling the Hotel. Once again he thought that was that. Until he had an email from Tom van der Waal who had bought the hotel. He thought “why not”, and included ten days in the middle of a European train tour just completed.
Bobby: “At 73, my outward bound days are over but, just to prove a point, I did walk up the mountain for four hours for dinner in Lammersdorfer hutte described so well in Country Walking. Talking to Tom, I realised that this place has become a retreat. There is no pressure to do anything but relax between the train trips. In a foreign land, where many do not speak English at all, I feel as much at home as I do in South Holmwood. And it’s booked for May 2018. Same room.
And young Tom agreed to be interviewed by Bertie…”
Tom van der Waal.
Bertie: “Van der Waal! That’s a good Dutch name. Sounds like a centre forward for Ajax. A rugged centre half like Jaap Stam when he, like many top Dutch players, played in the Premier League. In his case, Manchester United. Is football your thing? Do you have a team?”
Tom: “I follow the club from where I come from. Vitesse Arnhem.”
Bertie: “Wow. Is that Stichting Betaald Voetbal Vitesse? First Dutch club to have a foreign owner, and a Russian at that?”
Tom: “And we won the KNVB cup this year. First cup for us ever. Dutch equivalent of the FA cup.”
Bertie: “Wow. Who did they beat?”
Bertie: “AZ. First trophy in 124 years. You will be in the Europa League.”
Bobby: “Get on with it, Bertie. This is supposed to be about Tom, not football.”
Bertie: “Well, Tom. You are not the first person to be interviewed by me. But, am I the first bear who has had the privilege to interview you?”
Bertie: “You grew up in Holland, close to the German border at Arnhem. A city famous in Britain for the tragic battle during the Second World War. Immortalised in the film A Bridge too Far. Long before your time.
So, when did the idea of hotel management enter your head?”
Tom: “It didn’t! I needed to earn some money while I was still at school. Dishwashing offered the best paid part time work. I worked at Dining 56. One of the better restaurants in Arnhem.”
Bertie: “Do you think this was the spark that started you thinking?”
Tom: “Oh definitely. Two years as a dishwasher led to helping with other restaurant jobs. I learned all the rules of table etiquette, but I was still at school. I needed to make a decision and, chose a four year course in hotel management at the University of Apledoorn. Shall I spell that?”
Bobby: “I will. It’s the name of one of the world’s most famous tulips.”
Bertie: “OK. Whose doing this bleeding interview (sarf London)? Me or you? Shut it!”
Tom: “Part of the course is to work in a foreign restaurant. After four years, I had to make a choice. Students go all over the place to do an apprenticeship. Including England. Some choose the Dutch Caribbean islands (St Maarten etc) for the language and the weather.”
Bobby: “Wow that’s famous for planes landing almost on the beach!”
Bertie: “SHUT UP. HE DIDN’T GO THERE. So where did you go?”
Tom: “The choice was really between tourist or business hotels and I chose business. I was then told that meant China. I went to Xiamen for six months and worked at the Wyndham Hotel. Then I went back to Holland. The problem was that working in China suited me, but I needed to graduate from my course. Part of this is writing a thesis.”
Bertie: “This is really impressive for a young man. How did you cope? Who did you turn to for advice?
Tom: “My father is astute financially. I kept in regular touch with him. Landing up at my third Chinese hotel. At Qhanzhou.”
Bertie: “Bloody hell! How old were you?”
Tom: “25. But then I met my girlfriend in a Western Bar.”
Bertie: (Phew! I was getting round to love life, but it’s a difficult subject, don’t you think?) “And that’s when things started to change? What’s her name? Where’s she come from?”
Bobby: “Sounds like Cilla on Blind Date!”
Tom: “Her name is Monique, and she is South African. In China, teaching English. She has stayed here, but can only get three month visas, whereas I can work here as an EU citizen.” (Brexiteers take note). “She is back in South Africa at the moment.” (But coming back to Lammersdorf any day now. And note, if they marry she can stay for good.)
Bertie: “Hang on. We haven’t even got here yet. But, basically, she made you think that China wasn’t forever?”
Tom: “That’s about it. But, in the meantime, Marriotts in Shanghai offered me a job as restaurant manager. All day dining for 300 rooms. Big American firm.
Bertie: “In London too. And still just 25.”
Tom: “I stayed for a year and a half, but gradually things unravelled. The work. The people. The pollution. By people, I mean so many. I started looking for other jobs in Asia. But then Monique said something really important. ‘Tom… You always had a dream, with your dad, of running your own business in Austria'”.
Bertie: “So the seed was sown. From hotel school to Asia and now Austria?
Tom: “I started sending my dad hotel opportunities. And eventually sent him Lammersdorf.”
Bertie: “Ironically being sold by Gerda. From Holland. My old friend from previous years.
Bertie: “Hotel Lammersdorf. Including MY room. Here is Simona. She and Stephan have a son Markus at nursery school. Together with Matej and Martin, they were Gerda’s all Slovakian staff that Tom kept on. Their lack of exposure to English means they are less than able in that respect, which makes breakfast “interesting”. We settled on “omelette”. one of Stephan’s specialities. Before we close, I think the readers would like to hear about your dog Jasper.”
Comes from… China. Shanghai. He was in a cage on the back of a truck, heading for the meat market. Chop suey or dog burger. A European lady bought him off the truck driver and put him on offer on the internet. Monique took him for a short while, but fell in love with him (as ladies do). By now, Tom was in Austria and Monique was going back to South Africa. So, he flew here on his own. Lufthansa to Munich. Dog class.
– – – – – –
Bobby: “And here we are. Hotel Lammersdorf has become my retreat. I’m so relieved that it is in safe, ambitious hands. When I flew here in the past it was a holiday. Now, the holiday is the train travel and the places en route. Here is sanctuary, away from the madding crowd. I think Diddley would be proud of me. I miss her terribly, but she would say…“Go for it Bobby. Fxxk the expense. You’re a long time dead.” And, once again, ten days have gone by and not one English spoken person here!
Why do some cornfields have cornflowers and some not? Because, in Austria, you buy your seed with or without cornflour seeds added. Good for the environment, the insects and your soul.
Lighting a candle for Diddley.
In Obermillstatt. The nearest church to Lammersdorf.