From Kanal to Canals salzburg, 12 September 2010

In the time that it’s taken for the hung Australian parliament to resolve who will form government, we’ve church-sat in Salzburg, picked plums and apples in Slovenia and got lost in Venice.

A few weeks back, our friend, Glynthea, handed us the keys to her apartment and set off for her London holiday. She also handed us the keys to her church. Glynthea is the pastor to the English-speaking Protestant church in Salzburg. Her congregation is a wonderful mixture of musicians from the Mozarteum (an opera singer accompanied by a professor of piano, and that’s just the prelude!), refugees and tourists. It has a particular ministry of hospitality to visitors, helped by a generous morning coffee. With Glynthea away, Geoff led the service, Chris preached and we put Anzac biscuits alongside the Austrian cakes for morning coffee.

So that’s where you find golden syrup!

Baking Anzac biscuits here required planning. Golden syrup and brown sugar are not found in Austrian supermarkets. So we sought out the English shop in the old town. Afterwards, we sat at a table in front of the shop and indulged in pancakes cooked by a local theological student. This was very nice until one of Salzburg’s famous thunderstorms broke and we scurried inside. If you look closely, there are plenty of threatening clouds in The Sound of Music. No, we didn't do the tour, but we did hone up on the video and enjoyed spotting key locations and researching the real story of the von Trapps.

In fact, we didn’t play tourist in Salzburg very much at all. We soaked up daily life and wallowed in having a home base to organise ourselves from. We did some planning, banking and shopping for the week we have ahead of us on the the Trans-Siberian train. It’s a bit like planning a camping trip. Just how many ways can we use boiling water from the samovar at the end of the carriage to make a meal?

Taking a photo of Salzburg’s fort is a good distraction when you are waiting for a bus in a thunderstorm

We did go to the Salzburg Festival, though. We were given two tickets to a concert in the grand salle of the Mozarteum of counter-tenor Philippe Jarossky singing French songs. His performance was was absolutely entrancing—three encores. You can find him on YouTube.

Another highlight was a day trip to the lakeside village of Seeham with Moira, a Scot who married a local man in the 1970s and has lived there ever since. We sat by Seeham’s lake on the warmest summer day we have met so far on this trip, great for gazing out over the mountains and watching children swimming.

Once Gylnthea was on her way home from her week of fine tea and fruit cake, we boarded a train to Slovenia. Why Slovenia, you ask? Well, Slovenia is south of Salzburg and we hadn’t been in that direction before. Just getting there was a treat. The rail line went up, over and through the Austrian Alps and then the Julian Alps. Wow! As the trains got smaller, our companions got more interesting. We met a Welsh writer of fiction on his way to an international literary festival in Ljubljana and a young Chinese violinist who had to be convinced that once the small diesel train got to the Italian border, she would need to get a local bus to continue her journey to Italy. (More about that later.) Finally, our train pulled into Kanal at a sliver of platform overlooked by forest.

The railway station at Kanal is still grand despite not having a station master anymore. And the forest!

We knew very little about Slovenia and suspect many of you don’t either so to put you in the picture, it is 60 per cent forest and the bit we visited near the Italian border is full of spectacular mountains and rivers. It has a population of only two million and has been independent only since 1991. The railway we travelled on still has wooden sleepers, wonderful early twentieth-century stations, stationmasters in green suits and red caps, and links terracotta-roofed villages dotted through the mountains.

Our cottage was in a little hamlet called Gorenja Vas, overlooking Kanal (population about 1,000). Kanal’s main claim to fame is its scenic bridge from which there is world cup diving into the emerald waters of the Soca River. A small tributary of this river flowed past our cottage and provided the trickle of a lullaby each night. That was at the beginning of our week's stay. By the end, after a few days of rain, the trickle was a torrent and the Soca turned from emerald green to chocolate brown.

The bridge of Kanal was originally built in in 1580. That’s its diving platform in the centre

We spent a good deal of time exploring the forest trails that began just up the road from our cottage. They was surprisingly quiet, bird-wise (no new birds for the list). It’s probably just as well that we learnt only at the end of our stay that Slovenian forests are known for their bears and lynxes. (We did wonder about those strange animal tracks ... ) The cosy cottage was great for a spot of proofreading, which had arrived by cyberspace from Canberra (Chris), sketching and reading (Geoff) and watching The Italian Job and other old DVDs.

Our ignorance of all things Slovenian was mitigated a little by a visit to a museum in Tolmin, where the man at the front desk promptly left his post and gave a personalised guided tour and plied us with homemade biscuits. That’s Slovenia for you, engaging, surprising and delightful.

Our cottage in Gorenja Vas is the green one. Its deck overlooks a stream and a plum tree we ate from

For something completely different, we made a day trip from Kanal to the the canals of Venice. This brought Geoff’s expertise as amateur travel agent to the fore as it involved joining an assortment of high-school students on their train to Nova Gorica on the Slovenian side of the border (fare €1.60 each), stepping into Italy to catch a local bus to Gorizia station (€1.05 each) and catching an Italian train via Monfalcone to Venice St Lucia station (€15 each). (We wondered how the Chinese violinist had got on at this unusual border crossing.) By midmorning, we were transported from the beautiful isolation of Kanal to canals teeming with tourists. Fortunately we took the ‘wrong’ vaporetto and, instead of the Grand Canal, found ourselves in the quiet of an outer island. We got off, wandered around the wonderfully deserted streets, caught our breath and filled our stomachs before tackling St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal. Yes, Venice is magical.

Ah, Venice!

Now, we are back in Salzburg, gathering our luggage for the Big Adventure. Next instalment—the Trans-Siberian.

Travel tip #5: If you don’t have room in your luggage for gifts, bake Anzac biscuits enroute.

Hello from the Slovenian–Italian border at Nova Gorica–Gorizia

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