One of my plans for this year has been, "get out more". Quite easy, as New Year's resolutions go, along with "sleep in more" and "eat more chocolate", one would think, because how hard can it be to do more of a thing you love?
The answer, of course, is "very". Especially if one's schedule makes it hard to even phone one's mother, because she doesn't like to be called after ten in the evening. Even more so if it's a year where winter has decided to stay until the Spring equinox and then some.
But finally, yesterday, when faced with a choice between tending my ailing computer, and getting out more, I packed my sunglasses, map, windbreaker and towel (don't ask) and headed up into the hills -- by car, as I'm about as unfit as you can be and still manage to get from the computer to the fridge, and I did not want to risk driving a motorbike when shaky with exhaustion. (Occasionally I have attacks of non-stupidity.)
The weather was nice: cloudy, cool and windy, but dry. I parked the car behind a tiny yellow church at the edge of a hilltop village and started walking. It was very quiet, only the sound of the wind, some crows crowing and a dog barking somewhere. My eyes had difficulties adjusting to the three-dimensional view. I walked down into a valley and up again through dark firs, under which some persistent snow had managed to ignore the turn of the seasons so far. Fascinated by the snow I missed a turning and didn't end up on top of the rock with a view that I'd been aiming for, but instead at the foot of the slope crowned by the rock. The slope looked like nothing much, which should have been a warning sign, still, I managed to climb it, only falling into the brambles once.
The view from the rock was great and well worth it, though I admired it while stretched out flat on the stone. I do not trust my sense of balance, especially not when I'm wearing hiking boots.
I found a more gentle part of the slope for my way down, which was fortunate, because sliding downhill on your butt isn't much fun if the hillside is covered with rocks and brambles. The path led to a crossroad, where one of the crucifixes which litter the countryside stood. Some people, probably pilgrims, had gathered there. A priest in white and black and purple said a few words, then there was music: Some of the pilgrims played the trombone and the tuba, the rest sang hymns. It was no great musical performance, but nice nevertheless, on that windy early Spring day in the middle of nowhere.
I walked down to the next village and admired the way water was seeping and rushing out of the rock faces, running next to the street and sometimes on or across it, gathering into creeks big enough to turn a mill wheel after only a few hundred paces. The largest creek of all, with some ideas of being an real river, ran through the village. The main street was decorated with easter trees: still-bare bushes, or shapes constructed from fir branches, decorated with dozens or hundreds of easter eggs. Most were red or blue or yellow and made of plastic, but some were real eggshells and individually painted.
Along the main street it was tourist rush hour. The parking space in front of the inn overran into the street, children and middle-aged women were squeeing, and pensioners in knee-breeches, woolen stockings, walking shoes and outdoor jackets populated the sidewalks. From the inn came a smell of roast pork, but I wasn't hungry yet and I do not like crowds.
I walked out of the village on the main street, and a few hundred meters later the real circus began. I had half expected it, though not to that degree. The hills are karst formations, limestone riddled with holes and caves. Water disappears into the ground and resurfaces miles away. And after a winter with lots of snow, the caves and holes are so full of water that it runs over and shoots out of crevices, and valleys which have been dry for years suddenly have small rivers zigzagging though them. This place had the largest of the seasonal wells, and was the current attraction.
There were sixty or more cars parked along the main road and on the grass beside it and up a small lane leading up the valley, and oodles of people in rubber boots and garish jackets, carrying walking sticks. There were children yelling, teenagers showing that this was all beneath them, young couples with babies in strollers, a radio team, and a few bewildered city folks in nice shoes. One of the latter asked me for "the way to the geyser". I showed her on the map and explained. She said she had asked me because I had looked as if I knew what I was doing. Must have been the boots.
I passed the inn, which used to be a mill house once upon a time and still had a giant metal mill wheel, about three or four metres in diameter. It was turning slowly, and I wondered if something was still connected to it. Probably not. Going into the inn to ask was impossible, it was so crowded. So I followed the crowds up into the valley, admired the normal, all-year well of the creek, watched some people nearly falling in and then walked on. The valley had been shaped by a river, thousands of years ago, and had the characteristic U-shape, but most of it was dry and covered with yellow-brown grass, except where the only-this-month river from the upvalley wells ran. Or zigzagged. I must have crossed it ten or twelve times. But you could see that it was already drying out, the green, wet grass and the mud showed that it had been three times as large only a short time ago. I expected the wells to be already dry, and I was right. Pity. Should have gone two weeks earlier.
After the wells there were far less people, and after I had passed another cluster of cars I had the tracks to myself again. Over the hill and into the next valley, which boasted a somewhat larger village, more easter trees, some cows and calves, a barking dog and not much in the way of people out on the streets. I was slowly getting tired and wished for a non-crowded inn where I could get a bite to eat and a large glass of water or three. On the other hand, I was too tired to search the village for an inn, so I traipsed on. Along freshly-ploughed fields and just-turning-green meadows, through copses of bare beech trees or firs protecting the last snow. The silence was back, broken only by larks singing, and the wind rustling in the hedges. Occasionally I saw the yellow church on the next rise, or the one after the next, which helped a lot because the sun was behind clouds and my map didn't show every track.
I was back at my car at half past five and was very glad that I hadn't taken the motorbike, and very unhappy that I didn't find some forgotten chocolate bar in the glove box. As soon as I stopped moving, I started freezing, and I had a hard time getting the car down the serpentine streets to the highway.
Back home, I took a long hot shower and crawled into bed with two hot water bottles and two purring cats, slept for two hours, and spent the rest of the evening reading and petting the cats. And today my knees are giving me hell, the computer is still running erratically, but what the heck, it was fun. I need to do that again, before it gets too warm and the midges come out. However, next weekend is Easter... I guess I'll skip that one.