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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsSaunterings - Looking For Warm Weather - From Munich To Naples
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Saunterings - Looking For Warm Weather - From Munich To Naples Post by :joannent Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1003

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Saunterings - Looking For Warm Weather - From Munich To Naples

At all events, saith the best authority, "pray that your flight be not in winter;" and it might have added, don't go south if you desire warm weather. In January, 1869, I had a little experience of hunting after genial skies; and I will give you the benefit of it in some free running notes on my journey from Munich to Naples.

It was the middle of January, at eleven o'clock at night, that we left Munich, on a mixed railway train, choosing that time, and the slowest of slow trains, that we might make the famous Brenner Pass by daylight. It was no easy matter, at last, to pull up from the dear old city in which we had become so firmly planted, and to leave the German friends who made the place like home to us. One gets to love Germany and the Germans as he does no other country and people in Europe. There has been something so simple, honest, genuine, in our Munich life, that we look back to it with longing eyes from this land of fancy, of hand-organ music, and squalid splendor. I presume the streets are yet half the day hid in a mountain fog; but I know the superb military bands are still playing at noon in the old Marian Platz and in the Loggie by the Residenz; that at half-past six in the evening our friends are quietly stepping in to hear the opera at the Hof Theater, where everybody goes to hear the music, and nobody for display, and that they will be at home before half-past nine, and have dispatched the servant for the mugs of foaming beer; I know that they still hear every week the choice conservatoire orchestral concerts in the Odeon; and, alas that experience should force me to think of it! I have no doubt that they sip, every morning, coffee which is as much superior to that of Paris as that of Paris is to that of London; and that they eat the delicious rolls, in comparison with which those of Paris are tasteless. I wonder, in this land of wine,--and yet it must be so,--if the beer-gardens are still filled nightly; and if it could be that I should sit at a little table there, a comely lass would, before I could ask for what everybody is presumed to want, place before me a tall glass full of amber liquid, crowned with creamy foam. Are the handsome officers still sipping their coffee in the Cafe Maximilian; and, on sunny days, is the crowd of fashion still streaming down to the Isar, and the high, sightly walks and gardens beyond?

As I said, it was eleven o'clock of a clear and not very severe night; for Munich had had no snow on the ground since November. A deputation of our friends were at the station to see us off, and the farewells between the gentlemen were in the hearty fashion of the country. I know there is a prejudice with us against kissing between men; but it is only a question of taste: and the experience of anybody will tell him that the theory that this sort of salutation must necessarily be desirable between opposite sexes is a delusion. But I suppose it cannot be denied that kissing between men was invented in Germany before they wore full beards. Well, our goodbyes said, we climbed into our bare cars. There is no way of heating the German cars, except by tubes filled with hot water, which are placed under the feet, and are called foot-warmers. As we slowly moved out over the plain, we found it was cold; in an hour the foot-warmers, not hot to start with, were stone cold. You are going to sunny Italy, our friends had said: as soon as you pass the Brenner you will have sunshine and delightful weather. This thought consoled us, but did not warm our feet. The Germans, when they travel by rail, wrap themselves in furs and carry foot-sacks.

We creaked along, with many stoppings. At two o'clock we were at Rosenheim. Rosenheim is a windy place, with clear starlight, with a multitude of cars on a multiplicity of tracks, and a large, lighted refreshment-room, which has a glowing, jolly stove. We stay there an hour, toasting by the fire and drinking excellent coffee. Groups of Germans are seated at tables playing cards, smoking, and taking coffee. Other trains arrive; and huge men stalk in, from Vienna or Russia, you would say, enveloped in enormous fur overcoats, reaching to the heels, and with big fur boots coming above the knees, in which they move like elephants. Another start, and a cold ride with cooling foot-warmers, droning on to Kurfstein. It is five o'clock when we reach Kurfstein, which is also a restaurant, with a hot stove, and more Germans going on as if it were daytime; but by this time in the morning the coffee had got to be wretched.

After an hour's waiting, we dream on again, and, before we know it, come out of our cold doze into the cold dawn. Through the thick frost on the windows we see the faint outlines of mountains. Scraping away the incrustation, we find that we are in the Tyrol, high hills on all sides, no snow in the valley, a bright morning, and the snow-peaks are soon rosy in the sunrise. It is just as we expected,--little villages under the hills, and slender church spires with brick-red tops. At nine o'clock we are in Innsbruck, at the foot of the Brenner. No snow yet. It must be charming here in the summer.

During the night we have got out of Bavaria. The waiter at the restaurant wants us to pay him ninety kreuzers for our coffee, which is only six kreuzers a cup in Munich. Remembering that it takes one hundred kreuzers to make a gulden in Austria, I launch out a Bavarian gulden, and expect ten kreuzers in change. I have heard that sixty Bavarian kreuzers are equal to one hundred Austrian; but this waiter explains to me that my gulden is only good for ninety kreuzers. I, in my turn, explain to the waiter that it is better than the coffee; but we come to no understanding, and I give up, before I begin, trying to understand the Austrian currency. During the day I get my pockets full of coppers, which are very convenient to take in change, but appear to have a very slight purchasing, power in Austria even, and none at all elsewhere, and the only use for which I have found is to give to Italian beggars. One of these pieces satisfies a beggar when it drops into his hat; and then it detains him long enough in the examination of it, so that your carriage has time to get so far away that his renewed pursuit is usually unavailing.

The Brenner Pass repaid us for the pains we had taken to see it, especially as the sun shone and took the frost from our windows, and we encountered no snow on the track; and, indeed, the fall was not deep, except on the high peaks about us. Even if the engineering of the road were not so interesting, it was something to be again amidst mountains that can boast a height of ten thousand feet. After we passed the summit, and began the zigzag descent, we were on a sharp lookout for sunny Italy. I expected to lay aside my heavy overcoat, and sun myself at the first station among the vineyards. Instead of that, we bade good-by to bright sky, and plunged into a snowstorm, and, so greeted, drove down into the narrow gorges, whose steep slopes we could see were terraced to the top, and planted with vines. We could distinguish enough to know that, with the old Roman ruins, the churches and convent towers perched on the crags, and all, the scenery in summer must be finer than that of the Rhine, especially as the vineyards here are picturesque,--the vines being trained so as to hide and clothe the ground with verdure.

It was four o'clock when we reached Trent, and colder than on top of the Brenner. As the Council, owing to the dead state of its members for now three centuries, was not in session, we made no long tarry. We went into the magnificent large refreshment-room to get warm; but it was as cold as a New England barn. I asked the proprietor if we could not get at a fire; but he insisted that the room was warm, that it was heated with a furnace, and that he burned good stove-coal, and pointed to a register high up in the wall. Seeing that I looked incredulous, he insisted that I should test it. Accordingly, I climbed upon a table, and reached up my hand. A faint warmth came out; and I gave it up, and congratulated the landlord on his furnace. But the register had no effect on the great hall. You might as well try to heat the dome of St. Peter's with a lucifer-match. At dark, Allah be praised! we reached Ala, where we went through the humbug of an Italian custom-house, and had our first glimpse of Italy in the picturesque-looking idlers in red-tasseled caps, and the jabber of a strange tongue. The snow turned into a cold rain: the foot-warmers, we having reached the sunny lands, could no longer be afforded; and we shivered along till nine o'clock, dark and rainy, brought us to Verona. We emerged from the station to find a crowd of omnibuses, carriages, drivers, runners, and people anxious to help us, all vociferating in the highest key. Amidst the usual Italian clamor about nothing, we gained our hotel omnibus, and sat there for ten minutes watching the dispute over our luggage, and serenely listening to the angry vituperations of policemen and drivers. It sounded like a revolution, but it was only the ordinary Italian way of doing things; and we were at last rattling away over the broad pavements.

Of course, we stopped at a palace turned hotel, drove into a court with double flights of high stone and marble stairways, and were hurried up to the marble-mosaic landing by an active boy, and, almost before we could ask for rooms, were shown into a suite of magnificent apartments. I had a glimpse of a garden in the rear,--flowers and plants, and a balcony up which I suppose Romeo climbed to hold that immortal love-prattle with the lovesick Juliet. Boy began to light the candles. Asked in English the price of such fine rooms. Reply in Italian. Asked in German. Reply in Italian. Asked in French, with the same result. Other servants appeared, each with a piece of baggage. Other candles were lighted. Everybody talked in chorus. The landlady--a woman of elegant manners and great command of her native tongue--appeared with a candle, and joined in the melodious confusion. What is the price of these rooms? More jabber, more servants bearing lights. We seemed suddenly to have come into an illumination and a private lunatic asylum. The landlady and her troop grew more and more voluble and excited. Ah, then, if these rooms do not suit the signor and signoras, there are others; and we were whisked off to apartments yet grander, great suites with high, canopied beds, mirrors, and furniture that was luxurious a hundred years ago. The price? Again a torrent of Italian; servants pouring in, lights flashing, our baggage arriving, until, in the tumult, hopeless of any response to our inquiry for a servant who could speak anything but Italian, and when we had decided, in despair, to hire the entire establishment, a waiter appeared who was accomplished in all languages, the row subsided, and we were left alone in our glory, and soon in welcome sleep forgot our desperate search for a warm climate.

The next day it was rainy and not warm; but the sun came out occasionally, and we drove about to see some of the sights. The first Italian town which the stranger sees he is sure to remember, the outdoor life of the people is so different from that at the North. It is the fiction in Italy that it is always summer; and the people sit in the open market-place, shiver in the open doorways, crowd into corners where the sun comes, and try to keep up the beautiful pretense. The picturesque groups of idlers and traffickers were more interesting to us than the palaces with sculptured fronts and old Roman busts, or tombs of the Scaligers, and old gates. Perhaps I ought to except the wonderful and perfect Roman amphitheater, over every foot of which a handsome boy in rags followed us, looking over every wall that we looked over, peering into every hole that we peered into, thus showing his fellowship with us, and at every pause planting himself before us, and throwing a somerset, and then extending his greasy cap for coppers, as if he knew that the modern mind ought not to dwell too exclusively on hoary antiquity without some relief.

Anxious, as I have said, to find the sunny South, we left Verona that afternoon for Florence, by way of Padua and Bologna. The ride to Padua was through a plain, at this season dreary enough, were it not, here and there, for the abrupt little hills and the snowy Alps, which were always in sight, and towards sundown and between showers transcendently lovely in a purple and rosy light. But nothing now could be more desolate than the rows of unending mulberry-trees, pruned down to the stumps, through which we rode all the afternoon. I suppose they look better when the branches grow out with the tender leaves for the silk-worms, and when they are clothed with grapevines. Padua was only to us a name. There we turned south, lost mountains and the near hills, and had nothing but the mulberry flats and ditches of water, and chilly rain and mist. It grew unpleasant as we went south. At dark we were riding slowly, very slowly, for miles through a country overflowed with water, out of which trees and houses loomed up in a ghastly show. At all the stations soldiers were getting on board, shouting and singing discordantly choruses from the operas; for there was a rising at Padua, and one feared at Bologna the populace getting up insurrections against the enforcement of the grist-tax,--a tax which has made the government very unpopular, as it falls principally upon the poor.

Creeping along at such a slow rate, we reached Bologna too late for the Florence train, It was eight o'clock, and still raining. The next train went at two o'clock in the morning, and was the best one for us to take. We had supper in an inn near by, and a fair attempt at a fire in our parlor. I sat before it, and kept it as lively as possible, as the hours wore away, and tried to make believe that I was ruminating on the ancient greatness of Bologna and its famous university, some of whose chairs had been occupied by women, and upon the fact that it was on a little island in the Reno, just below here, that Octavius and Lepidus and Mark Antony formed the second Triumvirate, which put an end to what little liberty Rome had left; but in reality I was thinking of the draught on my back, and the comforts of a sunny clime. But the time came at length for starting; and in luxurious cars we finished the night very comfortably, and rode into Florence at eight in the morning to find, as we had hoped, on the other side of the Apennines, a sunny sky and balmy air.

As this is strictly a chapter of travel and weather, I may not stop to say how impressive and beautiful Florence seemed to us; how bewildering in art treasures, which one sees at a glance in the streets; or scarcely to hint how lovely were the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace, the roses, geraniums etc, in bloom, the birds singing, and all in a soft, dreamy air. The next day was not so genial; and we sped on, following our original intention of seeking the summer in winter. In order to avoid trouble with baggage and passports in Rome, we determined to book through for Naples, making the trip in about twenty hours. We started at nine o'clock in the evening, and I do not recall a more thoroughly uncomfortable journey. It grew colder as the night wore on, and we went farther south. Late in the morning we were landed at the station outside of Rome. There was a general appearance of ruin and desolation. The wind blew fiercely from the hills, and the snowflakes from the flying clouds added to the general chilliness. There was no chance to get even a cup of coffee, and we waited an hour in the cold car. If I had not been so half frozen, the consciousness that I was actually on the outskirts of the Eternal City, that I saw the Campagna and the aqueducts, that yonder were the Alban Hills, and that every foot of soil on which I looked was saturated with history, would have excited me. The sun came out here and there as we went south, and we caught some exquisite lights on the near and snowy hills; and there was something almost homelike in the miles and miles of olive orchards, that recalled the apple-trees, but for their shining silvered leaves. And yet nothing could be more desolate than the brown marshy ground, the brown hillocks, with now and then a shabby stone hut or a bit of ruin, and the flocks of sheep shivering near their corrals, and their shepherd, clad in sheepskin, as his ancestor was in the time of Romulus, leaning on his staff, with his back to the wind. Now and then a white town perched on a hillside, its houses piled above each other, relieved the eye; and I could imagine that it might be all the poets have sung of it, in the spring, though the Latin poets, I am convinced, have wonderfully imposed upon us.

To make my long story short, it happened to be colder next morning at Naples than it was in Germany. The sun shone; but the northeast wind, which the natives poetically call the Tramontane, was blowing, and the white smoke of Vesuvius rolled towards the sea. It would only last three days, it was very unusual, and all that. The next day it was colder, and the next colder yet. Snow fell, and blew about unmelted: I saw it in the streets of Pompeii.

The fountains were frozen, icicles hung from the locks of the marble statues in the Chiaia. And yet the oranges glowed like gold among their green leaves; the roses, the heliotrope, the geraniums, bloomed in all the gardens. It is the most contradictory climate. We lunched one day, sitting in our open carriage in a lemon grove, and near at hand the Lucrine Lake was half frozen over. We feasted our eyes on the brilliant light and color on the sea, and the lovely outlined mountains round the shore, and waited for a change of wind. The Neapolitans declare that they have not had such weather in twenty years. It is scarcely one's ideal of balmy Italy.

Before the weather changed, I began to feel in this great Naples, with its roaring population of over half a million, very much like the sailor I saw at the American consul's, who applied for help to be sent home, claiming to be an American. He was an oratorical bummer, and told his story with all the dignity and elevated language of an old Roman. He had been cast away in London. How cast away? Oh! it was all along of a boarding-house. And then he found himself shipped on an English vessel, and he had lost his discharge-papers; and "Listen, your honor," said he, calmly extending his right hand, "here I am cast away on this desolate island with nothing before me but wind and weather."

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