Friday, September 20, 2013

What's a Waalweg?

Along the Meraner Waalweg
As you probably know, I like a nice steep mountain. I don't hike with ropes, hooks and harnesses, but if it got any steeper I'd need them. That said, there are occasions when a gently sloping path is called for: the day after a hike when I pulled a muscle, the day after a hike when I had too much of the reward waiting at the top of the mountain, the day after a hike when I got lost and ended up hiking eight hours. You get the picture: the Waalweg is for the day after. 

We were in South Tyrol at the weekend. We go there to hike--Egbert the Staplegun Repairer and I--four or five times a year because we live in Munich, just a three-hour drive away. While you probably know where Munich is, you might not know where South Tyrol is. Although it sounds "south," it's actually Northern Italy. It's South Tyrol because it used to belong to Austria, and it's the south part of Tyrol--which is still part of Austria. And it all once belonged to Bavaria. Needless to say, we all understand one another quite well. They speak German in South Tyrol.

So back to the gently sloping paths of South Tyrol: the Waalwege. Before the modern wars in Europe, the common method of irrigating the orchards and the vineyards that grace the lower parts of these beautiful mountains was a system of canals called Waalwege. These manmade streams curl down the mountains at a relaxing--sometimes babbling, sometimes creeping--pace.

The paths once served only for maintenance of the system, but now--or at least following WWII and the advent of more modern irrigation methods--they have become a popular place to take a Sunday stroll. And that's exactly what we did last Sunday, along with hundreds of other "hikers". This is not really hiking.

HIKING to me is grunting and sweating for at least four hours and feeling that your behind is a bit shapelier afterward. Yep, that's my definition of hiking. Please quote me.

I would call walking on a Waalweg a stroll or an amble or possibly a jaunt. Since I enjoy a good sweat on my "hike," I had to pick up the pace considerably, elbowing strollers out of my way coming and going. Think Porsche going 220 kmh on the Authobahn passing old VWs going 100 kmh. Think juggernaut, roller derby and banshi rolled into one. Kidding! I didn't hurt anyone, sweet people. Walkers on these paths are usually quite perceptive of faster walkers behind them. They move aside, which is good for them. I wouldn't have wanted to hurt anyone.

Here are a few more impressions of our Sunday stroll, near Merano, South Tyrol (Italy):

The other aspect of the Waalweg that sets it apart from a "hike" is the little restaurants along the way. There are mountain huts on longer, steeper hikes, but it's unlikely that you would stop there to have a beer or food on your way up a steep mountain. If you stop at one of these huts and eat, you'll probably end your hike there. We never stop until we reach the top, where we have our "reward". Yes, this does sound like candy for a child when he goes in the potty instead of in the middle of the living room.

On Sunday, we stopped at a Busch'nschank, which is actually an Austrian term for a business, usually a farm, that sells its own products (ham, cheese, wine, vegetables, etc.) on its premises. After strolling for five km, we stopped and had cheese and wine. This was not a reward, since we hadn't really done anything. We were just hungry. Still, these simple outdoor restaurants--for lack of a better term--are perfect for a Sunday outing.

You'll be tempted to pick an apple if you're "hiking" a Waalweg in early autumn. I don't think anyone would stop you, but the ones along the paths aren't very good. I think they're used for juicing. There are kiosks along the way where you can buy four good ones for one euro. There are also kiosks selling apple juice and Most, the very young precursor of wine.   

Have you been to South Tyrol? Did you know that the Dolomite mountains are only a few hours' drive from Venice or Milan? Have you read my article about this at Bootsnall Travel?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.