Travel Letters: Malnitz (1870)

DEAR MOTHER, — I think you will not find this town on any map at home. Indeed, it is not easy to find when one is very close to it, for it is hidden away among mountains of the biggest kind, and is the littlest sort of a town itself. Besides this Hôtel of the Chamois, where we are staying, and the church, which, like all the churches of this region, seems unreasonably large for the population, there is not another good-sized building in the village. The streets are sheep-paths, and there is not a vehicle in the town. But the scenery is gorgeous, and the simple ways of the people are very interesting. Yesterday, we walked over a high mountain pass from Bad Gastein. It is a rough and steep road, with a good deal of snow, etc. All along the road were little shrines, put up where men at dangerous parts of the year had lost their lives by avalanches or falls, with rude pictures of the accident, and an address to the Virgin, and a horrible religious painting or carving of some sort. The people are very religious and very hospitable. It is quite pretty, the way they bless you and kiss your hand when you go away, particularly if you have paid them well.

To be sure, their bread is dreadful, and their meat is cooked in fearful and wonderful ways ; but there is plenty of good milk and splendid beer everywhere, and eggs and trout abound ; you always walk enough to be hungry for any food. The beds are short, and the bedclothes shorter, but one gets along with a supplementary shawl and plenty of fatigue ; and the mountains, lakes, meadows and waterfalls, are glorious. We have had a splendid week. Monday and Tuesday we spent among the lakes of the Salzkammergut, the region about Ischl. There are a score of them, all beautiful, shut in by mountains, which you cross from one to another ; and there is always a Tyrolese girl, ready to take her boat and row you across to start on for another.

Wednesday, we took a carriage, and for two days drove through the valley of the Salza, till, far up among the hills, we came to the very beautiful watering place of the Austrians, Bad Gastein. It is lovely as a dream, — just a deep mountain gorge with a wild cataract plunging down through it, and splendid mountains towering above ; mineral baths, which are very pleasant. Yesterday, we walked across the mountains, partly in the rain, spending two hours, while it was pouring, far up in a chalet, where they were making Swiss cheese in the dirtiest and most picturesque hole you ever saw. This is the first untimely rain that we have had. This next week will be our finest mountain week.

The war goes on, but we only hear of it by occasionally seeing a week-old paper at some country inn. I hope it will not interfere with my getting to Paris and sailing on the 10th of September. That is my selfish view of it.

I shall not hear yet for three weeks, but then expect a batch of letters. I hope you are all well. Love to all. Affectionately your son,