May. 18th, 2015

We were here in 1988, when we met on a German course. However, I can hardly recognise it as the sleepy little town we stayed in back then.

Mayerhofen is at the end of the Ziller Valley and has a number of smaller valleys radiating from it, each one being dead ends with many ski lifts and runs. We drove to the end of one valley, to the town of Hintertux, where there was still quite a lot of activity on the slopes, if the number of folk using the lifts was anything to go by. We contemplated going up to the top of one section, but were not really properly dressed for it, so stayed grounded. There is a fairly big waterfall just behind the lift building, so we headed off to see it. The path went beyond the falls and we followed. However, as it just kept going up and up, Junko was finding the rough ground and big steps hard going, so we eventually turned back. Not, however, before we'd been treated to some pretty stunning views back down the valley. These side valleys are much narrower than the Ziller Valley and the mountains loom over them menacingly. Though a fabulous place to live in, I'd be a little concerned during the winter months. Though the sides are tree covered, I'd still worry about snow cascading on top of me.

We next returned to Mayerhofen with the intention of buying some food for the evening. On our way down the valley, we passed a Spar (we've seen lots of them since arriving) that would be open between 4-6pm and fully expected the big Spar in Mayerhofen to be open by the time we arrived. Surprisingly, that one was not open at all on a Sunday. So, we decided to go down memory lane and visit one of the local reservoirs.

In 1988 we'd visited the local power station which was part of a huge complex. Ziller Valley had often been flooded, so they planned on damming the rivers to control the flooding and generate electricity. To this end they built 3 large dams in the high valleys. Each one had combined generator-pumps and interconnecting tunnels through the mountains. With these, they can move water from one dam to the other if one threatens to over-top. A flowing spill-way may look stunning, but it means they no longer have control over the amount of water flowing downstream. On our previous visit, they told us of a storm in which they were frantically pumping water between all 3 reservoirs and only just managed to avoid over-topping them before the storm abated. Thinking about it, I don't think Schlegeis has a spill-way, at least not a visible one, so over-topping would be a real disaster.

Speicher Schlegeis is the largest of the 3 reservoirs and is but a stone's throw from the Italian border. Driving up the valley is an awesome experience. When the dam wall comes into view you are at river level, with this monstrous arch looming 50m above you. Even back in '88 I thought that, if ever the dam broke, the volume of water thundering down such a narrow valley would leave absolutely nothing in it's wake.

Before we could reach the dam there was the small problem of a red traffic light and a toll booth demanding Eu12. However, there was nobody there to take out money. Do we just drive on? At that moment, a car came down from the dam and the driver spoke to me. I'm afraid it rather broke my basic language skills, but I got the impression there were tunnels ahead and he'd waited where we were for 15 minutes and nobody came. On investigation, there was a button to press; so I pressed it and a sign lit up with a countdown; '7 Min'. At '0 min' the lights changed, so we drove up. True enough, there were a number of tunnels that were only one vehicle wide, hence the lights, but nobody asked us for money.

Again, the view down the valley was stunning, but more shocking was the level of the water. There was an ugly grey stripe between the water and the tree-line that must have been 50-100m wide. I don't know if that's a result of normal operation, but it certainly didn't look like that in '88.

On our way back to the apartment house, we turned onto a narrow country lane. This lane, however, became narrower and narrower until we found ourselves driving through a public park, scattering pedestrians and cyclists alike as we gently sailed past giving our regal waves. Clearly, we'd somehow got onto a cycle path, but I'm convinced it had not been so labelled when we first entered it. Fortunately, we managed to find a way back onto the road that did not entail reversing the whole way back.



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