Forum Holitorium

Month: August, 2017

My Salzkammergut Summer

Summer 2017 is drawing to a close. I have spent a fair share of this one in the northeasternmost reaches of the Salzkammergut, Austria’s lake district, getting to know places like Lake Traunsee. Gmunden is a pleasant small town located on its northern shore. During the monarchy, it was a popular resort area complete with an esplanade, casino, and paddle steamer; today it is known for its distinctive ceramics and Schloss Ort, the castle jutting out into the lake that is a popular venue for weddings. The stunning view of the mountains hasn’t changed since the fall of the monarchy, and you can still take a ride on the lake on the historic paddle steamer Gisela (built in Vienna in 1871).

Swans can also be spotted paddling around Lake Traunsee as well as many of the other lakes in the Salzkammergut. Another lake I have gotten to know this summer that is frequented by swans is the smaller and less touristy Lake Almsee. Ducks and other birds whose names I do not know enjoy the fresh clear water.

You can walk along a trail that follows the very green eastern shore of the lake.

Lake Almsee is at the southern end of the Alm Valley and can be reached via Grünau, home of the Konrad Lorenz Research Center, where research is conducted on the behavior of greylag geese. At the end of the road running through this valley lies a nature reserve and this view of the mountains that protect it to the south: the Totes Gebirge (dead mountain range).

It is hard to write about these pictures and come up with words besides beautiful, stunning, or enchanting – this landscape is truly incredible and speaks to me tremendously at this moment in my life. I should probably stop worrying about my limited vocabulary and just keep enjoying what is in front of me. As I took pictures, I thought of how futile it is to try to reduce the view into such a small image – I guess blogging is ultimately an exercise in futility.

During my Salzkammergut summer, I have spent time observing the behavior of cats, pied wagtails, deer, wasps, flies, and dogs. I have seen red currants ripen and be picked. Now is the time of blackberries and apples, and soon the time will come for these elderberries to be separated from the bush they grew on. Perhaps they will become elderberry syrup that is mixed with sparkling water to make a refreshing drink.

Yes, summer is coming to a close. The next time I visit the Salzkammergut, it will be another season. And like many a bird, I am now readying myself for a long migratory voyage to another lakeshore.

Enjoy everything beautiful, stunning, and enchanting in what remains of this summer!

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Dog Days

The dog days: how the ancient Greeks and Romans referred to the period of time when the star Sirius, thought to represent Orion’s dog, rose before the sun. It is mentioned in Homer’s The Iliad as the star of the harvest that boded ill and brought fever. The dies caniculares (Latin for dog days) are indeed upon us here in Austria. After a brief respite from this summer’s fourth official heat wave (or canicule, as the French would say, from the Latin canicula, “puppy”), the temperatures have gone up yet again. To beat the heat, I have been taking to the forest in St. Radegund.

Named after the sixth century saint, a poet and healer reported to have eaten nothing but legumes and green vegetables, St. Radegund is a small town at the foot of Mount Schöckl 15 km northeast of Graz. First settled in the sixth century, it became a popular spa town in the nineteenth century thanks to its radioactive springs.

Many Hungarians came to take the waters, some of whom donated a statue of St. Elizabeth of Hungary to show their gratitude for being healed. This statue graces one of the springs along the “Ungarische Runde“, or Hungarian Walk. On this bench you can take a break from your stroll and contemplate the Hungarian Madonna.

The well-shaded Hungarian Walk continues through the woods, passing by numerous springs and Kneipp cure stations. Sebastian Kneipp was a Bavarian priest who healed himself of tuberculosis by bathing several times a week in the cold waters of the Danube. He developed the Kneipp cure, a form of water therapy that involves immersing the body in cold water to stimulate circulation as well as encouraging a whole foods diet, herbal treatments, fresh air, and movement (preferably barefoot). He also had a penchant for hand spun linen and hemp clothing instead of wool.

Since my normal body temperature is quite low, I shudder at the mere thought of a cold shower, but it has been so hot in the past few weeks that I have found myself wading through the Kneipp pool alongside the trail and dousing myself with fresh cold mountain water to cool off. Yes, a Kneipp cure makes good sense as soon as the temperature rises above 90° F / 32° C. Another favorite strategy of mine for keeping cool: ingesting copious amounts of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries – all which can be found growing in the woods near St. Radegund. I think Father Kneipp would have probably approved.

The spring above is for the lazy (paresseux). I can only speculate why it is labelled in French although located in a German speaking area. Perhaps the Hungarian guests were all of a certain class whose education included learning French to be sophisticated? A heat wave is a good time to laze about and avoid activity as much as possible – perhaps on one of these wooden chairs.

It is incredible how much cooler the temperature is in the forest. How fortunate we are here in Austria, one of the few countries where the area of forested land is actually increasing. Nearly half of the country is covered with trees. Every second one cubic meter of wood grows, and more wood is produced than is harvested. As the climate becomes warmer, it is important to have places to take refuge where you can still enjoy being outside, breathing in fresh air, and drinking safe water.

Hope you have a nice spot where you can keep cool during the dog days!