Last weekend (July 12-14), I had the great fortune to spend some of my saved US dollars from last year. I really wanted to go on an adventure away from Innsbruck - where I'm teaching music for six weeks for the UNO Innsbruck program (FABULOUS program and SUPERB time here!)
I needed it to be cheap so it had to be relatively close to Innsbruck. I decided that I could do a small train trip and stay two nights in a hotel. The trip ended up being right around $100 Euro and where was it? CHIUSA
Chiusa, or Klausen (German name) is an extremely picturesque Medieval village of a little over 5,000 people.
WHAT A GEM OF A PLACE!
W O W Z E R S !
I had googled the town three years ago when I taught for the Innsbruck program and wanted to visit small town Italy. I ended up visiting Bressanone (Brixen) & Bolzano (Bozen), Rovereto, and Padua (Padova) & Venice so this time, it fell naturally that I would go to Chiusa. I remembered that there was an abbey there I had wanted to see and as it turns out, it provided a fantastic hike above the village, stunning views, healthy turmoil, and peace.
So, a gorgeous train ride through the Brenner Pass (pictured from train ride left), an annoying stop in the filthy, trash-filled, urine-smelling Brenner station to buy a ticket using a machine with no one around to help, and a yummy marzipan-almond filled croissant later, I was stepping off a train to walk to the town center of Chiusa, about 5 minutes away.
Tucked away behind a tree-lined river, the beautiful village appeared all of a sudden and I was exclaiming out loud to myself "wow!"
Chiusa is in the heart of the Eisack Valley, a stopping place for travelers (Romans, Rhaetians, Bavarii, kings, knights, popes, nobles, artists, etc.) It was once the episcopatus or seat of the bishop before Bressanone became the see. The "Holy Mountain" where Sabiona (Saben) convent is was a Neolithic settlement, then a Roman base, a monastery, a bishop's seat, a bishop's fortress, a place of pilgrimage, and is now a working abbey since the 1600's (main buildings closed to the public) with several chapels (open to the public). It is still known as a city of artists.
The valley is also known for being the region of chestnuts and wine! In the autumn, chestnuts are eaten and wine enjoyed - freshly made from the plentiful vineyards. It is a time similar to Thanksgiving with its tradition and bounty. ISN'T THIS A GRAPE PICTURE!? heheheh :-)
The first day, I walked all around old town and marveled at the painted buildings, buildings built into the city wall, the gigantic flowers and gardens, and relaxed by the river. I explored every inch of town including St. Nicolas church, the Apostelkirsche, and the city park. I sat in the main square a while as well and chatted with some locals in a new language I like to call: Englitalgermish. Funny, I didn't study Italian, but I can understand way more than I ever imagined and I can read some as well. I suppose you can as well....it's not THAT unfamiliar. As for German, I vaguely recall taking a summer reading course, the exam of which was to translate a paragraph using our German / English dictionary. That may lend insight into how much I ultimately learned...
I ate the toppings off a slice and sipped the cola.
Then, I continued to nibble and sip for a long, loooooooooooooooooong time, in the excellent Italian tradition of you're-not-going-anywhere-so-we're-not-bringing-your-check-until-two-hours-have-passed.
It was so relaxing I almost fell asleep at the table.........sort of like this kitteh who lives at my hotel. The following night, at dinner, she promptly plopped herself down by my side and went to sleep while I ate my dinner, LOL! We're both gingers so obviously fast friends. It just proves to me that everyone in Italy is very relaxed.
The following day, I set out to hike up to the Saben convent, a Benedictine nunnery on the very top of a mountain. It was appropriately hot and miserable and of course I had lost my sunglasses and did not have a hat, BUT I set out anyway.:-) Hiking by myself? Of course and why not!? I have learned over the years that I just cannot do group hikes. They kill me. I always feel awful and end up embarrassed because I have to stop and breathe. This has always been the case. I can even remember in grade school getting out of breath from running laps around the track. Horrible memories of PE class and trying to breathe. I do not exactly have asthma.....rather, I have a "reactive airway" (whatever). I have my own rules about hiking by myself though, especially in foreign counties. Hmmm, it would seem that that is the only place I have done real hiking....
My personal rules are:
- TELL someone you are hiking and where you're headed. In this case, it was a nice young man by the name of Simon at the Walther von Vogelweide gasthof in Chiusa.
- Have a map (...Duh...)
- Have more water than you'll need and some food for energy
- If it's a mountain hike, check the weather (another Duh). Storms can come over the mtn rapidly and lightning is a danger. I learned this from my Obergurgl glacier hike three years ago. I saw a cloud and said "gee, that looks like a rain cloud" and it was. We left and it looked like we had a ton of time to get off the mountain, but NOPE, we ended up having to run and the lightning was ahead of the edge of the storm. Scary times.
- Have good shoes on
I set out through old town and walked about a half mile before realizing I'd taken the incorrect tiny path. Fantastic start. Le sigh. Backtracking. Ok, NOW I'm hiking :-)
The pathway actually began behind someone's private house, obviously.
It began with steps. I hate steps. I REALLY hate them. I can go three floors and be out of breath and have to stop. I did it anyway. Soon it became an incline of gravel-y paths zig-zagging up the mountain. It wasn't so bad. There were gorgeous pieces of art, tiny chapels, benches, and panoramas to die for. I stopped at many opportunities and got into the rhythm of walking up a couple of zig-zags and stopping to ponder life, love, hiking, temperature, the nature of adventures, bucket lists, aging, God, discerning calls, music, glacial flouring, spiders and why they're so damned annoying and scare the crap out of me.
When the path got too steep, I shared an expletive with the friendly Tyrolean forest creatures and then watched myself put one foot in front of the other and continue. This was becoming a test....not just to SAY I'd been on a hike, but to prove to myself that about nine weeks after surgery, I was indeed getting my legs back. It was also to show myself what I am still capable of at my age and weight and out-of-shape self.
I MADE IT TO THE TOP! WOOHOOOOOO! Rewarding!!!
I went around to the other side of the top where there was a road to the convent and one to Feldthurns and I sat there, enjoying the very cool breeze from the other side of the mountain!
Then, I took off toward Feldthurns (Vipiteno). I knew I wasn't going all the way there, but it was a nice half mile of views and then I turned around to go sit on the cool breeze bench :-)
I reached the convent, splashed my face with the fountain's icy cold water and explored two churches that were open to the public. One, the Chiesa di Convento, was not very large and the main portion of the sanctuary was behind a wrought iron gate. The other, the Chiesa di Nostra Signora, was up a set of steps, made of stone and had the remains of the first Bishop of the area from something like 600 (I think, need to check). It also has gigantic wall and ceiling paintings! I spent lots of time in there and then ate my lunch (croissant filled with apricot jam) on some picnic tables outside in the shade. I finally finished exploring the convent and then began the trek downward. I noticed that I was having trouble stopping and taking pictures....pretty much the same pictures....
CANNOT. STOP. TAKING. SAME. PICTURES.
Down was very hard on my poor left knee, but I made it. I was so hot by the time I got to the hotel that I took a freezing cold shower and just stood there under the water thinking: How can I make this colder? I rested a while before taking an evening walk and some flower pictures, having dinner, and a glass of wine!
What a fabulous day! Chiusa is a superb village and I cannot recommend it enough. If you have the opportunity to visit, stay at the Gasthof Walther von der Vogelweide. The entire staff was extremely helpful, fun, and they work their tails off trying to make everyone's stay a great one! They have lots of space, a restaurant and a terrific garden. The owner even has palmetto trees and oleander in her garden! LOTS of care goes into making sure those plants live well in an Alpine setting! If you'd like to see more pictures, here is a link to my Facebook album Chiusa - https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100352479485107.1073741828.2613080&type=1&l=1fa33fcee4 :-)