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August 3rd 2008: Beginning to get Real

Diana Ambache and I have known we'd be doing this trek for some months now, but the departure date (August 31st 2008) is getting nearer, and the whole project is getting more real.

In mapping out the stages, I find that the walk is 250 miles (longer than I thought), with about 7 miles of ascent overall. We've already raised about £12,000 in sponsorship so there's no turning back now!

We pay homage to Mozart at Salzburg (going by various trains), and set out on Tuesday September 2nd. Each day is about 10 miles, but some are much hillier than others. There are four main stages, each with a rest day at the end of it:
         1. Ebenau, Fuschl, Schafberg, Weissenbach, Rieder Hut, Rindbach
         2. Habernau, Steyring, Molln, Ternberg, Laussa, Maria Neustift, Waidhofen
         3. St Leonhard, Gresten, Keinberg, Puchenstuben, Julius-Stiener Hut, Lilienfeld
         4. Reisalpe, Unterberg, Hocheck, Heiligenkreuz, Perchtoldsdorf, Vienna

The way mainly follows Austrian long distance path number 4. If all goes according to plan, we'll be in a comfy hotel in central Vienna on September 28.

It won't, of course.


August 22nd 2008: Practice

photo of St Michael's Mount, Penzance, Cornwall St Michael's Mount might seem an unusual place to practice for this trip; but my cousin Simon lives and works here, and he and his wife Kerry are giving us a lovely evening before we set off for 4 days walking on the Cornish Coast Path round to St Ives, where my Auntie Wendy lives. The path goes round the land on the right of the picture, which is fairly flat here, but once we get to Lands End - and especially from Zennor - it is continually up and down, the nearest we can get to the Austrian hills we are about to meet.

It didn't rain here today - the first day for ages; but actually we want the full variety of weather that Cornwall can provide, to test out our kit as well as our knees and our walking poles. So far it seems fine, but my boots and pack are new, and need this 35 miles or so to get used to me.

I also wanted to find out how to put a photo into a blog on a strange computer, and it seems to be working.


August 27th 2008: Ready for the Real Thing!

Four days and 40 miles later, we arrive to spend a lovely evening with my Auntie in St Ives. Equipment all worked well, only one blister. Only problem was (unusual for Cornwall, this) it didn't rain enough, so we're not quite sure how waterproof we are.

But it seems that our general plan of about ten miles a day should work fine, if we don't fall over or do anything stupid. It was a fun four days, you have casual conversations with lots of people, it's a very different lifestyle and rhythm to our usual London one.

photo of Porthmeor cove, Zennor, Cornwall
It also turned out to be a bit of a 'Who do you think you are?' trip for me; we passed Porthmeor cove, just south of Zennor, where Parish records show that many generations of Polmears eked out a difficult existence since 1641 or earlier. (It was a bit of a depressing place, actually.) Then, north of Zennor, we watched a boatload of tourists right up next to the Carracks, some offshore rocks, watching a couple of seals in the swell. When I got home and checked, David and Henry Polmeor were drowned in a squall there in December 1833. This all sounds very Cornish and gloomy; I hope they had some good times among the bad. And the beach at St Ives, below, also called Porthmeor, is the best beach in the world.
photo of Porthmeor beach, St Ives, Cornwall Anyway, the walk itself wasn't depressing, and we leave on Saturday. So long as I can get to a computer, my next entry should be from Salzburg!


September 1st 2008: Getting Started

J and Di at the Mozart birthhouse, Salzburg OK, I know it's corny, but here we are outside the Mozart Birth House.

There IS something corny about Salzburg; yes, it's pretty, but it's like a Museum, and a not very well curated one at that. Most of the material in the birth house covers things he actually did in Vienna. Mozart is their cash cow, and they are milking him for all they are worth.

The other exhibition is better - this is the one in the house he lived for four years or so - and I did learn some things about his travels. He spent one third of his life travelling, and covered many thousands of kilometers. And his travels were so much more adventurous than ours; he once travelled through the mountains to Italy in the winter, saying that all they had at the inns was potatoes and broccoli. In our trip, the worst thing that's happened so far is that the Salzburg hotel wasn't where we thought it was - hardly the stuff of major drama!

Nevertheless, this is, as someone described it, an endeavour, and we begin it tomorrow morning.

This is Di - in the second Museum they read some of his letters written while travelling and he said what a lot of fun he was having; so that's a challenge for us, to have fun too. And he makes his letters so entertaining - I don't know if we'll be able to keep ours similarly fun and engaging. You'll see, as we stride out....


September 8th 2008: Section 1, Salzburg to Ebensee

J and Di in Ebensee
Wow! Golly Gosh! Cripes! and Yaroo! Perhaps I resort to this language because we're having a Boy's Own Adventure here. (And Girl's too, of course!). This is us at the Hotel Post, Ebensee after six days walking.

Lake
On a walk like this, what we do every day is walk. We stop for food, drinks, beds - but they are all breaks in this nomadic existence. But we're not slumming it - the food is good and the beds are comfy. We're "bourgeois nomads". And the country is just gorgeous, it uplifts the soul. This pic is Fuschl, and everything in the Salzkammergut is more beautiful than it should be. And if something dirty appears, a man comes along and cleans it up.

Schafberg mountain
And there are Ups and Downs - both physical and emotional. This mountain is Schafberg; a beautiful mountain, seen first from the bottom and then from our Hotel room at the top. All that a mountain should be - pine forests, upland pastures, and of course places for drinks.

But after that we tried to traverse the Hollengebirgemassif - horrible name for a horrible mountain! We walked and scrambled up one end for about five hours to reach the Hochlecken Hutte. I was so exhausted I could only drink gallons of orange soda - couldn't even manage a Schafberg mountain goulash soup, which those who know me will agree is very unusual. When we saw it was billed as another five hours to the next hut we bailed out, and descended 3,000 feet to go round the side. I've started a 'Stress Level' rating for each day, out of ten. It's a complex calculation of physical and emotional effort counting plus, and exhilaration and wonder counting minus. That day came to 9.5; had it been 10, I wouldn't be here writing this!

I took just one photo that day, of Di reaching the hut. It just looks perfectly ordinary. The best piece of music I've found of communicating the actual feelings we've been going through is the Strauss Alpine Symphony. We listened to it the other night on my iPod, and I find myself humming appropriate bits at different parts of the walk, depending on what's happening. We haven't had a storm yet - the weather is being very kind - but I've experienced confusion, excitement, pleasure, confidence, doubt, exhaustion and joy, and they are all in that piece. We've got the cheapo Naxos version, which is basically fine, though the cowbells are wrong.

Mozarthaus, St Gilgin Morning coffee, St Gilgin Not forgetting Mozart, we've been visiting him and his Mum at St Gilgin. I'll talk more about him next time; I'm trying to get him on the EtherealNet, but for now that's it. The next step is to Waidhoven an der Ybbs. Seven days, and I'll try to write again. Grüss Gott!


September 16th 2008: Section 2, Ebensee to Waidhoven

photo of Diana in the rain
We're having a day off in Waidhoven, it's raining and it's COLD. It rained all day yesterday too. We've got over the excitement of realising that we can do this thing, and are now in the actual doing of it. These images were added in London, as the local hotel reception PC wouldn't recognize my camera. (It is proving quite difficult to get to a computer in rural Austria.)

photo of Jeremy walking along a hilltop path
The big lakes have gone now, small ones only. (Still beautiful, though.) There are still mountains always to the South, but when we take a more northerly route, which we do when the clouds are low, they get smaller, and sometimes have rounded tops with cows on them. There is lots of walking through woods, some lovely with wooded glades, some a bit dull, like Forestry Commission.

photo of Diana sitting in front of a gasthof The Gasthofs are lovely - big houses with lots of flowers, balconies, etc - but sometimes they are hard to find, and we have had to take a taxi or bus down the road off the trail. Then next morning back to the trail. Same place of course - purists that we are - but it was hard one morning explaining to a non english-speaking driver why we didn't want him to drive us any further, but preferred to walk!

They are also puzzled about the sponsorship aspect. That word isn't in our Lonely Planet phrasebook, though we do have the German for 'I want to see a lawyer' should that be necessary. Also, I don't think they have so much sponsored events as we do.

Talking of sponsorship - the money for the Microscope has already been raised. The extra is for ancillary equipment such as a pupil measuring instrument. Diana's surgeon (who has incidentally contributed to the Fund) has said that on consulting with the nurses, they said that what they really wanted was a Bladder Scanner, so they could avoid catheterizing patients unnecessarily. Not as glamorous as looking in Pupils! But I imagine that you are, like me, happy for the money to go where the professionals want it. The only stipulation I would make is that the decision should be made by people on the front line, i.e. Doctors and Nurses, rather than by people sitting behind a desk.

photo of Diana sitting in front of a woodland hut Di here - I saw the word for sponsorship on a poster: Co-operationpartner! However, I've been thinking more about Mozart, partly as we listened to our version of the Concerto No 21 (K467), so I sing bits to myself as we walk. Also, he wrote about what a sore bum he got, travelling on coaches for hours on end. My bum isn't sore, but at the end of each day my feet are - I don't think I'm thumping my steps, but the sheer number of steps each day just is a lot for my soles to cope with. Once I've showered and given them a bit of a massage they're usually OK. And, as I struggle with very primitive German, I wonder if it's the language he spoke. Having taken the sun for granted to begin with, this cold is a bit of a shock to the system; however they still call it summer here.

Back to Jeremy, and back to our walk. We will succeed, as long as we don't fall ill, over, or something gives way. Always a possibility! Later this week we have to decide whether to take a low or high route, which will depend on the weather and our taste for adventure! Next planned rest day is Lilienfeld in about a week.


September 25th 2008: Section 3, Waidhoven to Lilienfeld

(I'm actually typing this from a very posh hotel near Mayerling; couldn't get Internet access in Lilienfeld. It seemed a big town to us, but a sign said the population is just over 3,000.)

photo of Waidhoven in the rain
We left Waidhoven in gloom, but not actually raining; on our rest day it rained all day. We arrived in Lilienfeld in a brief period of sunshine before the rain resumed - and again it rained all our day off. The weather is generally bad, but only one day of this section was in complete rain. Then we pick low paths, or walk along roads being splashed by cars. That's the worst option, but also an efficient one; we're a day ahead of schedule! And there's always a warm Gasthof at the end, even if it can take a while to find... a shower, a meal and some beers and we're ready for another day.

photo of distant mountains
We did go South towards the bigger mountains. Pastoral Austria is beautiful, but the cowpats and barking dogs can get a bit much, so we spent two lovely days going from Gresten to Gaming to Puchenstuben along high-ish paths, with great views to the bigger stuff. At one point, on a col, the entire path was covered in fallen trees! Luckily a German couple showed us a way round. In general we have met hardly anyone - perhaps only two or three mega-walkers like us.

photo of Gaming church organ loft But we never leave Mozart, and Di might do this next bit.....
Yes, here I am - we met some very helpful people in the Tourist Office in Gaming, once they'd sorted out our accommodation, the Chief Clerk said he had a tip for us: the organ in the Gaming Church had been bought from Ybbs, where Mozart had played in it! So here it is. We got into the Church, but the organ loft was locked, so I couldn't play it. But it was nice to think that he had. Jeremy said to the Chief Clerk that everywhere we'd seen the smiling face of Austria, though he was sure it also had its dark side. He replied, with a laugh "yes, we keep it well hidden!".

Another aspect of Austria is the German language - 'am bach' means on the stream, so I keep seeing place names like mine, including one Dambach, and another Schrambach. No I don't have any German ancestry. Now back to Jeremy...

photo of a waterfall
One day between Gaming and Puchenstuben, going by a stream, we came to a waterfall. Some waterfalls are a bit boring, but this one was great, because after we came across it, the path went right up it, and then crossed above it. We still have lovely surprises every day, though this may change the nearer we get to Vienna.

Which comes next. We've decided to walk right into the centre, suburbs don't count. Will we do it? Yes!


September 27th 2008: Section 4, Lilienfeld to Vienna

photo of Ramseau village
When we left Lilienfeld it wasn't actually raining, but the cloud was low so we took a low route and 'saved' a day. We ended up in lovely little Ramseau, and had the best Gasthof meal of the trip (they tend to be simple, hearty, but repetitive).

photo of countryside coming out of a mountain hut
The forecast for the next day was better, so we chanced things with a last upland path. Alas! Four miles along a ridge at 2,000 feet in rain and cloud, following a small (but thankfully never disappearing) path through pine woods is not a pleasant experience. Just to rub it in, the last mile went up another 1,000 feet, and tantalised us with a series of false summits. The hut at the top was, Heaven be Praised, open and warm, and on the way down the skies cleared for this photo.

photo of Jeremy in Vienna
After that we were in the WienerWald - lower country, more like the Chiltern Hills near London. On the last day (near Mayerling) we got up early, walked through woods, past the Motorway, through more woods, had our last Gasthof meal (best chocolate cake of the trip, and nice company - we got a round of applause when the other customers realised how far we'd come) - more woods, then vinyards, to Perchtoldsdorf, which turned out to be the Highgate Village of Vienna. It was still only 2pm, so we decided to go for the centre.

photo of Diana at the Schonbrunn Palace And we arrived at the Schonbrunn Palace at 5pm. (Di here now). Although already tired when we reached the outskirts, the magnet of reaching our goal was so strong that we decided to continue. Having agreed that getting to Schonbrunn was a good end point, we stepped out through the main roads round the edge of Vienna, and were pleased to get to the Tirolean Park and have a splendid view of the Palace. It was a great feeling to touch the building and realise we'd walked 250 miles, to the place where the six year old Mozart played to Maria Theresia, and sat on her lap and asked her to marry him.

We're feeling a bit of anti-climactic now, with the end of the walk, but this afternoon we're going to visit various places associated with Mozart around the city, and then tomorrow (Sunday) night we get on the train home, and back to London life, probably by Monday evening. After that Jeremy will do a final post on the trip and the fund. Thanks for reading this!


October 2nd 2008: Back in London

The sun came out for our final day in Vienna, before we returned to London by train. What did we get from the trip? I really enjoyed it, and recommend it to anyone who can make a month free. I'll do one final post with the news on the sponsorship money and the microscope and hospital equipment after the fund closes on November 1st.

Mozart's house in Vienna What I realised, going round the various Mozart locations in Salzburg and Vienna, is that we have very little on Mozart except his letters. The 'Figaro House' in Vienna makes good use of this by creating a very interesting commentary to flesh out the life he lived in the now bare rooms. For example, this picture shows what was probably the games room (hence the 18th Century chess board), and looks down the lane to the House of the Teutonic Knights where Mozart received the celebrated 'kick in the pants' from a functionary of his former employer, Archbishop Colloredo. The spaciousness of the apartment shows how well he was doing as an independent freelancer.

They had also calculated his income in his heyday, showing it to be compatible with that of a Nobleman, and I didn't know that the current theory of his getting into debt was from gambling, both legal and probably (not mentioned in his letters) illegal.

J at the Augarten Mozart lived his life to the full in so many ways, and one letter says that most mornings he would be up "at 5.30, or even 5, to go to the Augarten". And here it is. It's nothing special as a park, but it was great walking round the same spaces that he did. I didn't feel his spirit or anything, but seeing his surroundings helped to anchor his way of life in my mind.

Meanwhile Vienna, like Salzburg, makes as much money out of the man as possible. I wonder what he would think of the kitsch surrounding him? I tried to get him on the EtherealNet in Austria but without success - internet access is not so common in rural Austria, and there are still electric typewriters on people's desks there. But here in London - wait a minute, something's coming through... could it be the man himself?

I'll try the question - what do you think of all the commerce around your name? What? Can you have a Royalty? Well no, even the new 95-year proposals won't go back that far; but anyway, what good is money where you are? Ah, you've joined the Eurozone. And Benjamin Mozart tourist shop Britten is a better Poker player than you, because you can't mask your feelings... Look, I've only got 30 euros left from the trip, I'm sorry but there's nothing I can do. But while you're there I would just like to say - I know this sounds a bit pretentious, but - thank you for reaching parts of my being that other composers' music doesn't reach, thank you for somehow being able to express the richness and ambiguity of the human condition in sound. What? No I'm sorry, I really can't get any money up there. Certainly not until you get on PayPal...

I suppose we too are exploiting Mozart, using him as a hook for our fund-raising effort. We are aiming to raise £14,500 for a neurological teaching microscope and other ancillary hospital equipment, and already have more than 90% of that. If you feel able to help us give something back to the NHS, which helped us in our hour of need, that would be great. There is a donation page at www.justgiving.com/Mozart_and_the_Microscope, with some more details about the charity and the fund, which stays open until November 1st.


December 11th 2008: Latest News

The Fund has closed now, and it's been taking time to get the final total. But we've just heard from Barts and The London that it's £15,161.77!

Thanks to everyone who contributed, we really are grateful that you have enabled us to put something back into the wonderful NHS. The odd amount is the Gift Aid, which takes time to calculate and to come through; but I plan to finish this Blog only when the Microscope has been bought and photographed, which may take a while more yet.


October 30th 2009: The Microscope!

Viewing the Microscope at the Royal College of Surgeons Di and I have at last seen the microscope. It is splendid. The photo shows Di in the driving seat. We're in a teaching room at the Royal College of Surgeons, it's the lunch break, and the cadavers have been covered to spare us. The microscope is aimed at some backbone (you can see the image on the TV screen), but it could be used anywhere in the body during an operation.

It's not that the magnification is particularly high, but when you look through it, the quality of the image is startlingly good. Brilliant optics, incredible three-dimensional image, and rock steady support. Something to help the surgeon work on something where precision is everything - the brain, for example.

Viewing the Microscope at the Royal College of Surgeons
Di's surgeon Ian Sabin, who is also the neurosurgical tutor at the College, showed her how it worked. And they talked music too. Diana said she had considered supplying a CD of her playing Mozart for him to use during her operation, but had felt that it was too much of an imposition. Ian said he liked Mozart while working and it would have been a good excuse to get it played. In the old days whatever the surgeon wanted was put in the CD player, said Ian, but in this Brave New equal World the iPod shuffle ruled.

Viewing the Microscope at the Royal College of Surgeons
When we arrived at the Royal College of Surgeons, on the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields just behind Holborn Kingsway, there was a greeting party that included an official photographer and John Black, President of the RCS. (Here he is with us and Ian Sabin, and another good view of the microscope and the state-of-the-art teaching room.) We were very touched by all this attention. After all, we'd done this project to say thank you to the people who had helped us when we needed it, and here they were saying thank you to us.

Scanner demo at the Royal London Hospital
We have also seen the bladder scanner that the project enabled, at the Royal London Hospital. They set up a demonstration for us with it in operation, scanning a bladder and showing how full it is. Pretty basic stuff, but here too we received a lot of gratitude. This is the kind of machine that doesn't get on to the 'urgent' list of equipment, but can make a big difference to life on the ward (it was the nurses who had requested it). If a patient is unconscious they can't say how full their bladder is, and certain injuries may feed back the wrong information to the brain anyway. And, staff were keen to point out, the machine can spare people the discomfort and indignity of a catheter, when often it's not necessary.

Scanner demo at the Royal London Hospital
So there we are, this is my final post. There have been a lot of thanks here, and I want to add my own to all of you who contributed to the fund for these machines. We had a lot of fun doing all this. If you have reason to be grateful to the NHS and fancy a 250-mile walk or something similar, why not give it a try?

© Jeremy Polmear 2009

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