New German Level Unlocked: Members Only

Unfortunately, there are no jackets involved. Not yet, at least.

One of the first curiosities that I learned about in Germany was the incredible variety of clubs. Far beyond the usual fitness centers and sport clubs, there are clubs for every hobby under the sun, from dogs to crafts to Tracht. That’s right, if you enjoy sporting your Dirndl or Lederhosen at every available opportunity, you can join  your local Trachtenverein or ‘Society for Traditional Costumes.’ And joining a whole pile of different clubs (regardless of your participation level), seems to be pretty standard practice.

I’ve never been much of a joiner, but there was one club that I have been eager to join for the last couple of years… the Alpenverein, or Alpine Association. BV has been a member since he was a kid, and ever since we started dating we have discussed getting me a membership. Those long-time readers will know that we’ve done a fair few hiking trips in our 4+ years together, but so far we hadn’t gotten me a membership. The yearly fee varies between €45 and €90* per year, depending on your section, and with his school schedule the last few years we weren’t sure we could make the price worthwhile for both of us.

On Wednesday though, he came home from work and presented me with an envelope. Inside was…

Plus bonus gift!

Plus bonus gift!

I. Am. So. Excited.

That tricky dude went and signed me up as a surprise. We had talked last week about making a more solid plan to get down to the mountains at least once a month this summer, which would definitely make membership for me worthwhile, so having this in hand means we are ready to go. Plus, I get a free night at our section’s Hütte. Score!

Needless to say I am already looking forward to summer. And since a picture of a membership card is not the most exciting thing in the world to look at, let’s all look forward to a whole lot more of this in the near future!

de-os-border

Hiking along the German-Austrian border in August.

*A membership in the Nürnberg section currently costs €66, but BV was able to add me on as a family member for only €38. Look out for discounts!

Cold Therapy: Italian Lakes

I don’t think this is a newsflash to anyone in the area around Germany but holy hell, is it hot. As a native Wisconsinite, I love the summer and am all about making the most of it, soaking up as much sun as is humanly possible while it lasts. Having said that, the last few days have been pushing 40 degrees Celsius/100 Farenheit, and in a country with no air-conditioning (or no effective AC), it is too damn hot to function.

So what to do instead?

If you can’t find a body of water to submerge yourself in, or your arm muscles are aching from fanning yourself with anything within reach, I thought I’d try to help with a bit of photographic therapy while I kick off Italian Month here on ze blog.

During our time in South Tyrol, BV and I stopped by a few different gorgeous, crystal-clear mountain lakes. Since there aren’t any of these nearby, I hope that looking at the pictures will at least give an illusion of cool. So let’s see how it goes!

Toblacher See

Just outside the town that we stayed in was the Toblacher See/Lago di Dobbiaco*. The day we arrived was a bit overcast, so pictures don’t quite reflect just how gorgeous this lake was. We ended up going there twice, as a lot of the restaurants in town weren’t open for the season yet, but the pizza restaurant on the lake was both open and delicious. Win win.

Yes, we are in the Misty Mountains.

Yes, we are in the Misty Mountains.

Although the restaurant was empty when I snapped the first photo, it did not stay that way. My favorite features were the iron and wood window decorations – which I fully intend on replicating, and the giant fluffy dog that you had to walk over to get from the main dining room to the bathroom hallway.

The Toblacher See also has a great walking path that goes all the way around the lake, taking about 40 minutes. There were signs along the way with information about the various animals and plant life at the lake, as well as activity stations. Our favorite one was a long jump that let you compare your jumping distance to some of the local critters. Turns out BV can jump about as far as a squirrel… and he might have taken that a little too personally!

There was also a small beach, but it was too cold for swimming. There were a few fisherman out and about, but overall the lake was relatively empty. However, I can imagine it being pretty hopping and full of families on a nice summer day. Take that as a pro or a con, depending on your idea of a good time! 🙂

Dürrensee

About a twenty-minute drive up the road into the Tre Cine National Park, was the Dürrensee, or Lago di Landro. The road along the lake was full of people on motorcycles, hikers, and campervans, almost all of which pulled in for a photo op. But… come on…

duerrensee1

Dürrensee, with a view of Monte Cristallo.

The water level was quite low so we went exploring on the far end of the lake in a very sandy, brushy area. It was still a bit chilly, but I definitely stuck my feet in that water… how could you not? (Hang on, I’m trying to remember what that cold felt like…)

duerrensee2

I was having a grand old time bushwhacking around with my camera, but then a snake crossed my path and I decided that it was perhaps time to head for a more populated area. Thankfully BV did not see the snake (and probably wouldn’t have cared if he did), and he continued on to take some more shots. Here he makes a blog appearance, and helps to show the scale of the scene.

duerrensee3Dürrensee sits at about 1400 meters, so those mountains behind it are… large. This lake got major points on the scenic scale. Of course, there was also a cafe right across the street so you could grab an espresso while you admired it. This is Italy, after all.

Misurinasee

On our drive back from the afternoon in Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Navi sent us on a different route. Instead of coming back past the Dürrensee again, we climbed up, up, up into the mountains and came across the last of our crystalline mountain lakes, the Misurinasee/Lago di Misurina. It was well worth the hair-raising drive up the mountain!

Misurinasee

Misurinasee

Let’s just all soak that in for a minute, shall we?

One whole side of the lake was lined with hotels and cafes, but most of them did not appear to be open yet. There were a few visitors, but significantly less than we saw at the Dürrensee. One group of teenagers across the lake were busy climbing one of the remaining patches of snow, and having a little snowball fight.

misurinasee1Can you spot them?

I loved this hotel, and how grand-looking it was, despite appearing nearly empty at the moment.

misurinasee3Fancy, fancy! And those views? No matter which side of the building you get, that’s a win-win.

There was also a small swimming beach on Misurinasee, but I can’t imagine that the water ever gets that warm at an altitude of about 1700 meters. If anyone braves it, please let me know! But in May I would only stick a hand in the water, which was plenty refreshing. Remembering… remembering…

 

So, fellow toasty Germany-dwellers… did that help or hurt? Let me know in the comments!

 

*Most things in South Tyol have both a German and Italian name. For the sake of my sanity, I’ll stick to the German name after the initial introduction.

Silly Questions, Mountain Answers

On more than one occasion, friends have incredulously questioned the fact that I enjoy hiking in the mountains. Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Friend: So you like this hiking thing, huh?

Me: Ummm…. yes? If I didn’t like it, I probably wouldn’t do it… it’s kind of a lot of work.

Friend: Yeah,  I wouldn’t do that.

This confuses me to no end. Perhaps I don’t look like the type of person that hauls themselves up and down large expanses of rock (see: This Guy), or perhaps they just don’t get why anyone would do that for fun. But I do, and I love it.

Ages and ages ago, I wrote this post about why I love the German mountains, and every word of it is still true.  After this weekend’s trip, I thought I’d share two more reasons why this question baffles me.

I give you: Sunday’s sunset…

hochries sunsetAnd if that doesn’t convince you, how about Monday’s sunrise…

hochries sunriseYes, that is a very poorly placed flagpole, at least from our room’s window.

Flagpole or not though, those views aren’t happening at sea level.

So. Does that clear it up for anyone?

 

*Ironically, this Wednesday post is brought to you because I’m home sick from a cold that came on after sweating my way up and down this mountain.

So. Worth. It.

Gone Hiking: The Watzmann Part 2

Last week I wrote about the first day of my birthday hiking trip in Berchtesgaden, which was a three-day trip to the Watzmannhaus and back down. I’ll continue the story today with too many pictures as per usual, so if you’re interested, click away…

If you recall, we fell asleep at our first stop, the Kürointhütte, after a 700-meter gain, and were feeling good with only 500 meters to climb the next day. 

We heard that the bad weather we fell asleep to would let up in morning, but return around noon, so we knew we wanted to get up and going early. That’s not a problem in the mountains, as I’ve mentioned before. The normal breakfast time at most mountain shelters seems to be about 6-8 or 9 am, so if you want to eat, you best get your butt up. Since we had already paid for breakfast in our half-board, we weren’t about to miss it. The Kürointhütte provided a really nice breakfast spread, with plenty of breads, meats, cheeses, sweet things, and a very yummy oatmeal with apples, raisins, and cinnamon. After filling up and enjoying a few cups of tea, it was time to say goodbye to our temporary home and set off. 

It was around 8:30, and the signs to the Watzmannhaus gave us an estimated time of about two and a half hours. We figured that would get us there early enough to miss any bad weather, which was very important as there was a small Klettersteig, (a climbing path with fixed ropes), in between the two shelters. Normally we steered away from routes involving these, but somehow we missed that detail in our research. BV is totally cool with it, but I’m not experienced enough for a difficult Klettersteig. One of the girls at the shelter had assured us that it wasn’t anything that you needed equipment (helmets, ropes, etc.) to do, and that we would be fine. So we decided to start, and see how it looked when we got there.

Before we got too far though, we had to stop and say hello to some of the friendly mountain critters…

I also have a picture of this very sweet horse trying to eat BV. This seems to be a recurring theme for him… last time it was a cow, this time it was a horse… I’d hate to know what might happen if we ever run across a bear. 

The first thirty or so minutes of this hike were pretty easy. We left the pasture and continued along a rocky path through some thick woods that climbed the hill on the left side of the path, and dropped to the valley below on the right.

As we hiked through the forest, we could see a wall in front of us and off to the right. We could also hear the distinctive “clack clack clack-ing” of hiking sticks, and tried to figure out where it was coming from. Finally the forest thinned in front of us, and we were faced with this…

The clacking got a bit louder, and in between rocks and trees we could see the bright jackets of people who had left the shelter a few minutes before us. Realization dawned on me and I believe my exact words were, 

“Oh fuck no. Absolutely not. No way.”
We found the Klettersteig! We stood for a few minutes and watched the people making their way up the path ahead. It didn’t look too steep, and although they were using their hands, they could still use their hiking sticks, and were obviously not secured with ropes, carabiners, etc. We decided to go ahead, and see how it went. The trail wound along the ridges on the side of the cliff, but it wasn’t horribly steep for the most part. You needed your hands for most of it, but there were ropes drilled into the rock for most of the difficult passages. BV insisted on staying behind me for security purposes, but his arm waving in the corner of my eye was really more distracting than helpful. 
I wouldn’t recommend this route to everyone, and there’s no chance I’d want to go down it, but going up wasn’t too bad. However, if you suffer from vertigo, I’d give it a pass, as that cliff drops off all the way to the valley below. The views were spectacular, but it was easy to get a little woozy. 
See the house up there? That’s where we’re going.

There are people down there… it got steep for a second.
The high peak of the Watzmann on the right, and the “kids.”
The highest point and the Watzmannhaus again.
We got through the Klettersteig unscathed, except for our pride which was wounded when a whole family lapped us. Seriously, these parents with four or five kids galloped past us like mountain goats. One of the kids was wearing what looked like water shoes, and flew up a huge pile of rocks right in front of us. Oh, to be young and have no fear of plummeting to your death…
With the Klettersteig safely behind us, we figured it was smooth sailing for the rest of the trip up to the house. The next part of the path took us through another cow pasture, but this one was cow-less. 

BV hunting for stones.
We took a break on a well-placed bench to enjoy the view and have a granola bar. Up the hill behind us we could see the hikers ahead going back and forth along a switchback path that climbed further up the mountainside. The path was extremely rocky, uneven, and steep in places, as it twisted and wound along. Again, it wasn’t horribly difficult going up, but we were already pretty tired from the Klettersteig, so it seemed worse than it was. We’d been hiking for around two hours and the house was still high on the hill ahead of us. As we turned our back on the valley, we could see the skies starting to get a little darker.

Getting closer to the peak (about 2700 meters)

In the photo above, you can see a clearing on the right side of the forested hill, where we were at the Kürointhütte, and the cow shed in the clearing below that, where we just were.

Finally, at about three hours and fifteen minutes after leaving the Kürointhütte, we arrived at the Watzmannhaus.

As I mentioned before, we knew we wanted to get there early before the weather moved in and we were successful in our quest. There were a few other hikers when we arrived, but it was only a stopover for most of them. We were officially done for the day though, so it was time to get our liquid reward…

Biere und Berg. And yes, that’s a Maß.


As you can see, when we got to the house, the blue sky was pretty much gone. Thank goodness we got there when we did, because we got to enjoy the view for a whole thirty minutes. The clouds moving in were pretty epic though… and we even had a dancing bird to entertain us. 

Our short-lived decent views…

At this point we realized that the good view was gone and the rain was coming, so we relocated into the house while we could still get a table. 
We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the large dining area fill up around us, eating, drinking, and reading. We took a short walk a little higher above the house later when it looked slightly lighter outside, but the house was in a cloud for the rest of the afternoon. It rained off and on, ruining quite a few hiker’s plans to reach the summit that day. Everyone who came in was drenched, and I was very happy that we had gotten there early, as we had both forgotten waterproof jackets. Very silly of us.
Our room was in an 8-person Matratzenlager (mattress dorm), and poor BV had the task of boosting me in and out of our top-bunk assigned places. Getting down in the morning was a bit tricky too… next time I’m checking to see if there’s a ladder before I agree to our spots!
The cloud was still there the following day, but the rain had stopped, so the trip down was fairly smooth. The first part was the worst, as it was that steep, rocky, path, and it was still a bit wet going down. We took that verrrrrry slowly, but the sky cleared up and we made good time down the rest of the mountain. The path alternated between rocky cowpaths and gravel roads, and we had a good rest stop at an Alm for a snack. Then it was back running downhill, to a bus, another bus, and finally back to the car… the birthday vacation was at an end.
Maybe next year a spa is a better idea…
Got any Klettersteig tips? Or any other hikes to recommend? Let me know in the comments! 

To the Mountains!

This Saturday morning has started much slower than originally planned, but we were plied with way too much wine at our favorite Greek place last night. Until 3a.m. Damn you delicious Greek place!

It’s okay though. It’s my birthday weekend and I’ll drink too much wine while receiving harassing text messages from my sister if I want too. 

But as soon as I throw some stuff in a bag and BV gets out of the shower, we’re off. The other day I mentioned that we’re heading to the mountains… far far away from silly things like cell phone reception, but I thought I’d give you all a little visual. I’ll be here for the next few days…

The Königsee, via Pinterest

The Watzmann Mountain, Via Berchtesgadener Land

Have I mentioned my love for the mountains lately? But even if you’re not going to a mountain, I hope you all have a lovely weekend as well!

Gone Hiking: The Allgäuer Alps

Summer has been a long time coming in Germany this year, which means that there haven’t been a lot of good weekends to head for the mountains. Add to that a trip to America, many other busy weekends, and the result is that the first real hiking trip of the year had to wait until July. This is going to get a bit long (but lots of pictures!) so click on….


Waiting until July for the first hike had a few disadvantages, mainly:

Number one: I was in no way physically prepared for a real hike. Last summer I worked out a lot as I had the fear of a bathing suit in my future. This year has been a bit too busy to get in any decent routine. This is not good, and something that I seriously need to change!

Number two: As we decided we wanted to go “serious” hiking, and not just a day trip (the original plan), we had a LOT of trouble finding a place to go. July isn’t holiday time in Bavaria yet, but it is holiday time for a few of the other German states. So of course, the mountains are a popular destination, and space is limited. We called the Hütte (shelter), that we planned on overnighting in, and they were completely full. So were the next twenty that we called. Lesson learned… next time don’t wait until Friday night to try to find a place for Saturday! Finally we found a house in the Allgäuer Alps that responded positively, the Kemptner Hütte. Although they didn’t have a place in the house (despite having room for 290), they had room in their “emergency room.” We wrote back saying that we’d take it, and set off.

Besides my visits to Neuschwanstein, I haven’t spent much time in the Allgäu. I have a few students who are from the area originally, and I’ve heard a lot of good things, so I was excited to see more. 

Turns out, the good things I heard were absolutely right. The Allgäu makes up the most south-west corner of Bavaria (and sneaks into Baden-Württemberg a little bit), which makes it the exact opposite of my other Bavarian love, Berchtesgaden in the south-east corner. It was absolutely gorgeous, thankfully erasing the memory of the giant traffic jams we sat in to get there. 

Our plan was to park our car in Oberstdorf, where we would hop a bus to take us to the starting point of our hike in Spielmannsau. But first we were in dire need of lunch. We followed some signs to the lovely restaurant Karatsbichl. There was a bit of a walk (pre-hike warm up) from the parking place to the restaurant. On the way we passed this little guy having his lunch too…

At the restaurant, I thought it would be a good idea to get some protein, so I ordered what I thought was a savory pancake with egg and ham. This is what I got…

I’m not sure if the photo can give you a true impression of how big that thing was, and this was not even half of it. It was enormous, thick, and so good. But it utterly defeated me, as I think I ate about a quarter to a third of it. Luckily, BV is basically a walking stomach despite his skinniness, and he finished it off. After he had already eaten a big plate of pasta with ham. I don’t know where it goes and this disturbs me greatly. 

As the drive and lunch took longer than we thought, we were pretty behind schedule at this point. As I said above, we had planned on taking the bus but he times were not very convenient at this point and we didn’t know where the station was, so we decided to just drive to Spielmannsau and see if we could find a place to park there.  

Guess what? Turns out you can’t drive there unless you live there.  

We drove about halfway there, but when our next turn on the navigation wanted to send us down a road we couldn’t drive on, we had to turn around. Luckily for us, the road was at an intersection that was full of Drindl und Lederhosen. Yep, it was fest time, which meant all kinds of cars were already parked along the roads. There was also a bus stop right there, so we were back to the bus plan. We had just enough time to park, grab our stuff, duck into the fest to watch children dancing in their costumes, grab an ice cream, and get to the bus. 

The short bus (sorry, van), pulled up, and we were off. Up up up we went, along a very narrow road to Spielmannsau. I wouldn’t call that a village so much as four hotels/guesthouses and an Alm crowded around a bus stop. An Alm is essentially a dairy in the mountains, and you often find them along hiking trails. They usually have small things to eat for Brotzeit. You’ll find bread, sausages, and naturally lots of cheeses and butter. Oh, and beer. But that’s a given in Germany, right? We didn’t stop on the way up since we had just eaten, but I was already looking forward to a beer at the bottom the next day!

The path to the Kemptner Hütte starts of innocuously enough. I posted a picture the other day, but here’s another one.

Alm resident

 
The first part takes you through this nice, flat, field of cows. All that butter at the Alm has to come from somewhere, right? But I knew the flatness was not to last… the Kemptner Hütte  is at 1846 meters, and a sign in Spielmannsau informed us that we were at just over 1000 meters. We had a long way to go.

At the end of the pasture, the path started to go up and split. Our path went to the right, and we started to climb, following a crystal-clear mountain river that rushed past us on the right. Across the river valley, we heard more cow bells and spotted flashes of brown and white as cows grazed on the hills. 

See the cows?

Last year when we hiked to the Blaueishütte, we had a pretty smooth path, minus the last 30 minutes of stairs. It was steep, but the path was a supply road, so it was very well-groomed. This path? Not so much. Supplies reach the Kemptner Hütte via cable car, and the cable car starts down at the back of the cow pasture. This path was rough, rocky, slippery, and oh-so-gorgeous. I’m all about the photo/catch your breath break. 

The trail took a little more than three hours to go up, landing us at the shelter a mere ten minutes before they stopped serving dinner. I’ll spare you details of how humid it was, how many times I thought I was going to die, and how many times I cursed not having hiking sticks. Instead, I’ll tell you about how we followed the river along the valley, before crossing a bridge and turning left into another valley. The path started to climb more steadily at that point, as we wound our way across the valley again and again. Going down occasionally was a nice relief, but since you just knew you were going to have to go back up again, it was a little rough. 

I lost count of how many times we crossed water, and towards the end of the valley we were walking through it almost steadily as it poured down the rocks onto us. It was mountain cold, and felt fantastic. We passed remaining drifts of snow that were made into caves as the water rushed through. Saturday was a bit hazy, so the pictures make it look darker than it actually was, but you can get the idea…

Snow caves
Snow on the right, our path on the left.
Can you spot BV digging for stones?

Pardon my sweatiness

This felt amazing beyond words.


At the end of the valley, the terrain evened out a bit, and we found ourselves in what shall henceforth be known as The Most Perfect Valley Ever. The entire route was green and full of flowers, but photos can’t even do this place justice. It was so covered in flora and fauna it was as if the mountains were exploding. After a few more minutes of hiking, we came around and got our first glimpse of the shelter. The last push was steep again, but it was all worth it at the top…

See the house?


We added our hiking shoes to the neat rows in the enormous Schuhraum, and ran up to the restaurant. The nice gentleman who was busily washing out beer mugs told us to grab a seat as we only had a few minutes left to order dinner; they would find us a spot to sleep later. No arguments with that, as the enormous egg ham thing was several thousand calories down the mountain. 

Inside was packed, so we ended up out on the deck. This gave us a great, albeit chilly spot to enjoy our pasta, beer, and schnapps, while we watched the mountains turn their tops to gold. 

At this point in the evening, it was time to die, so we made our way to our accommodations for the night. Remember when I said they only had space available in their emergency room? 

Welcome to the Notlager, or as I dubbed it, the MausHaus. Yep, we slept in a barn. But you know what? No problem. Well, no problem for me. Apparently BV was freezing all night, despite our sleep sacks and the two shelter-provided blankets. I heard nary a mouse peep, but I assume they were scared away by the truly impressive snoring from the grandpa on my right. We had to go up to the main house (up 10 very steep stairs), to get to the bathroom, but that was manageable. In my opinion, this was actually better because the entire house was chock-full of people. Whereas the MausHaus had room for about 40, but only 15 or so were there that night. I’m okay with some buffer room between myself and the snoring Opa. Oh, and his granddaughters, one of which was making a very strange whistling snoring noise. 

Sunday morning we were awakened by a helicopter at some ungodly hour. Or… between six and eight. That’s breakfast time in the mountains, which we totally missed because BV was dead. The chopper was brought in because someone was trying to reach a nearby summit and ran out of steam… good to know. 

By the time BV finally rose from the dead, we were the last people left in the MausHaus. This made us the laziest people on the mountain, but at least the bathroom line was much shorter. Not to mention, it was a piece of cake to find our shoes with the Schuhraum nearly empty. I was very sad to see that no one had forgotten their walking sticks, which thwarted my evil plan to steal some. Mostly kidding there… mostly. 

We spent some time walking around the house and a bit further up, as I thought it was a good idea to let the sun reach the valley and hopefully dry some places out before we started to head down. As I mentioned, the way up was very steep, rocky, and slippery, and I was pretty worried about how the trip down would go. But we needed to spend some time at the top anyway, as it was empty of people, and breathtakingly beautiful. Have you ever seen each blade of grass lit up like it has its own personal lighting director? Because I have. Welcome to paradise….

    
After a good wander and a granola bar breakfast, we decided to start our trip back. I was walking ahead of BV when I rounded a corner to see something brown and furry scurry off the path and up the hill ahead of me. 

Yep, Murmeltier, aka marmots. We stood and watched them for awhile, as there were quite a few young ones that were hanging out close to the path. They seemed fairly unfazed by our presence, and were pretty funny to watch. Plus then we got to quote this for awhile afterwards…

Love those guys. 

So we said goodbye to the shelter, and started the long walk back down….

All that white on the right? Flowers.

Sunday was really a perfect day. The way down was a bit slippery, but it was so gorgeous and sunny that it was totally worth it. Plus this time we got to be the people who weren’t sweating as much, as we passed all the hikers heading up the valley. 

The way down didn’t take as long as the trip up, but it still took just under three hours. We did take a few good breaks to dig mud out of our shoes and have a snack. But as anyone who has gone downhill for a long time knows, that works a totally different part of the leg as going up, so it’s still pretty exhausting. The sun was glorious but HOT, and at the bottom we had one thing on our mind. After crossing streams more times than I could count, and following the river back down the valley, we were getting in some water. Immediately. 

At the end of the cow pasture there were a few spots that were just perfect for that purpose so before you could say “sweaty socks,” they were off and feet were in the water.

It was ice cold and fantastic. I gave myself a rinse, and sat on a rock with my feet in a pool until I couldn’t feel my toes. In true mountain man fashion, BV stripped down (undies stayed on thankfully), and jumped in. This was all fun and games until we were joined by some visitors….

Backpacks are not cow snacks.


Two of these cows joined us for a drink, and yes, I do have an incredibly hilarious picture of BV in his skivvies standing next to them. However, I value my life so that’s not going on here. 

Once we felt properly refreshed and slightly cleaner, it was time for some real liquid refreshment…. We also figured it was a good idea to get going before the rest of the herd came and trapped us in the river. So we headed back through the pasture towards the Alm.

I went straight for the beer menu, but BV was intrigued by this…

Yep, that’s a milk menu. So I drank some beer, he had some milk, and we shared a plate of delicious homemade bread, cheese, and hams while we rested our aching legs. 

Afterwards it was quick short bus ride back to the car, and a long drive back home. 

Overall, it was a great trip, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it without being in halfway decent shape. It was pretty rough in a few parts, and my short-legged self needed some help, especially on the way down. If you go, definitely have a good pair of hiking shoes because sneakers won’t cut it. I’d also strongly suggest the walking sticks… I’m bringing them on the next trip for sure. But it was unbelievably beautiful, and I’m looking forward to exploring some more parts of the Allgäuer Alps on future trips!

More info on the Kemptner Hütte can be found (all in German): 

Kemptner Hütte Homepage   


*Most photos in this post are courtesy of BV, because his camera is better than my iPhone. 🙂

10 Reasons I Love the German Mountains

I first visited the Alps in 2001 as a 17-year old on a post-graduation France trip. It was my first time to see “real” mountains, and not from an airplane either. Initially our group had fought our teacher on the decision to do a 3-day extension to Chamonix at the end of our 17-day tour. We all wanted to go to Italy, but our teacher wouldn’t budge.

The kids last year hated Rome. It was hot and crowded.… we’re much better off going to the Alps,” she told us. We whined a lot, but it was to no avail.

We arrived in Chamonix after a hot and crowded few days in Paris. We were there for the end of the Tour de France, and so the city was packed and our un-airconditioned hotel provided no relief from the heat of the city in July. We were all country kids, we’d been traveling for two weeks, and this was so far out of our comfort zone it wasn’t even funny. But then…

Via

…and also this….

Via

I was sold. We took two cable cars and an elevator to visit the Aiguille du Midi, which gave us a view from 3842m. Far below us the brightly colored jackets of the mountain climbers stood out in the snow as they made their way up Mont Blanc. It was an amazing view, and I couldn’t believe that some of our group had opted out due to their fear of heights! 

On the way back down we took a break between cable cars and ran around the side of the mountain. There was snow in the shade of some of the huge boulders, and we went sledding in our jeans. We’d been traveling for over two weeks, it’s not like they were clean anyways. In the sun the grass was green and full of wildflowers. I wanted to change my name to Heidi, get some goats, and move on in.

Turns out, our Madame C. knew best. Just don’t tell her I said that. 

…………………………..

After France I had to lead a mountain-free existence for many years. It was sad, and sometimes I felt like Bilbo Baggins….

But then I came to Germany. 

One of my first trips in Germany was to Berchestgaden. And once again, I was hooked.

I love everything about the mountains in Germany. Here are 10 reasons why….

1) I love the rolling landscapes…

View from the Feldburg in the Black Forest

 

2) And the ummmm…. pointy-er landscapes…

View from the on the Zugspitze

3) I love getting to see the same views in summer and winter…

Both views from before heading up the Zugspitze

4) I love the picture-perfect mountain towns…

5) And the picture-perfect mountain town festivals…

All from Berchtesgaden

6) I love fields of sheep behind Alpine hotels….

In Ettal

7) And hiking through fields of cows wearing giant bells….

On the Feldburg. Shhhhh, don’t tell BV he’s on THE INTERNET.

8) I love whatever this is….

9) I love the view from the top…. oh, and the feeling of accomplishment from getting there on your own two feet….

View over the Blaueishütte, Berchtesgaden

10) And I love that you can get a beer at the top whether you took the hard way-hike or the tourist train (or bus, or cable car, or whatever).

At the Eagle’s Nest, Berchtesgaden. Shh, don’t tell my dad he’s on the internet either.
 …………………………….

Now I’m not saying that I’m looking into real estate or anything, because I’m not looking to “settle down” right now. But someday I would love to live in the mountains. I’m okay with being a city mouse for now, but in my opinion nothing would be better than waking up to this every morning…

Unless of course, it was if I was looking at that view from a house that looked like…

It’s a little close to the road for me, and a little big, but  you get the idea. Wooden shutters, geraniums, cows next door… I love it all.

And of course I’d have to go whole hog on the decor….

A little blurry, sorry.

But if you’re going to live in an Alpine-style house, you have to go all wood and floral and deer on the inside, don’t you? In retrospect I think this is all due to the fact that when I was a kid, I wanted to live David the Gnome’s house.

Via

And over a nice big fireplace, I want to hang these pictures. They are currently for sale at a nearby antiques shop, and I know this is REALLY WEIRD, but I love them. LOVE THEM.

Actually these pictures are what started this whole post off. Talk about a train of thought rerouting. Yeesh. On second thought, it might be time to leave Germany, because I’m clearly going insane.

Mountains? Beaches? Where do you want to go?

All The Small Things: Macro Mountain

I’m a big fan of macro photography. If you break into my house and steal my external hard drive, you will find tons of close-up pictures of flowers, leaves, tree bark, and anything else that strikes my fancy. My camera doesn’t always work with me on this though, so someday when I strike it rich in the German lotto, that’s one of my main criteria for the next camera. 

On the hike in Berchtesgaden, I was having a great time looking for small things to take pictures of. This served dual purposes in that not only did I get to take fun pictures, but I got to take a break. Score! If you read the previous post, you saw that the hike took place in less-than-ideal weather, but I actually loved that everything was wet because that gave me the opportunity to try to get some pictures that showed the conditions as well. As for how they turned out, you tell me.* As always, clicking on the pictures will bring up the photo viewer for larger versions that can be clicked though… enjoy!

These flowers were such a vibrant pink, but sadly that didn’t come through as well as I wanted it to.

Even though these flowers were dead, I kind of loved them.

Anyone know what these are? In person, they were a bit more purple than blue, but so pretty!

Cords wrapped around a tree for the cable car that carries supplies up to the Blaueishütte.

This would have been the weekend to go mushrooming in these woods, we saw so many of them! 

*Unless you think they suck. I prefer constructive criticism, danke!

Heather’s First Hütte

I’m going to bring us back into the present here for a bit. The past few weeks, I’ve been trying to play catch-up on everything I got up to over vacation, but I’m still nowhere near being in the present. BUT. I’m going to skip some stuff for the moment, and tell you about this weekend. 

To start with, my legs are killing me. Not really my whole leg, but the calf area is a sore, sore, sore bundle of pain at the moment. We might have overdone it just a bit…  but how?

As I’ve written before, I am a disaster in the exercise department. But I like hiking. When I was back home at my parent’s place, I used to go quite frequently in the Kettle Moraine. But with the exception of some small hills in our area, it’s pretty flat. Not to mention that was about four years ago. So really my experience with legit hiking in the mountains is pretty much nonexistent. Ex-Freund proposed going hiking a few times in Germany, but somehow it never really worked out. We did do some walks, but never anything longer than an hour, tops. Not really too strenuous. At all. In the slightest.

Last week I spent a few days in Freiburg, and also did a great hike around the Feldberg, the highest point in Baden-Württemberg. I’ll post about that later, but it was a really good day, despite the crappy weather. We did a hike of about 12 kilometers, and including a few side trips, and lunch in a Hütte, it took about 5 or 6 hours. It also had the side effect of giving the person I was with an oddly optimistic view of my capabilities. So when it was proposed that we try an overnight hike once more before the end of the season came, I was excited but had some slight fears. But the plan was made, so I was in. If you want to read about it and see the usual 82329 pictures that accompany my long posts, click on…

For this hike, we were trying to decide between two choices: one in the area around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and one in the Berchtesgaden area. Since I have absolutely no idea about any of this, and have only gotten onto the mountains in these areas via cable car, I deferred to the expertise of my hiking partner. With that, we settled on the Berchtesgaden choice, and luckily for us, this was their last open weekend of the season. 

Okay, side note regarding the hiking partner: I started dating someone. Hence all the extracurricular activities lately. That’s all I’ll say about that for the moment, but for the remainder of this post, I shall refer to him as HP. And I’ll try not to think ‘Harry Potter’ every time I type it. Should be fun. Anyway, back to the hike! 

Saturday morning we were off bright and early for the first train to Berchtesgaden. Bright and early meant a 5:39 departure from Nürnberg, which also meant we got to share our train with some party people. I’ll tell you, nothing says “guten Morgen” quite like watching a bunch of guys try to ‘plank’ in the luggage racks of a train, and listening to them making fart noises for about an hour. Seriously. Oddly though, it did give us a steady enough noise level that both myself and HP got to take a little nap on that train. Score

After train changes in Munich and Freilassing, we arrived in Berchtesgaden. We had about an hour before our bus was leaving, so we had a quick look around in hopes of finding some sunglasses (which I forgot), or Hausschuhe (which he forgot). We didn’t find either of those things, but we did find beer and Apfelstrudl for a little snack. I think that’s a fair trade. And happily, Berchtesgaden was as lovely as I remembered it, and we had the place to ourselves….

Then it was off to a bus for a 20-minute ride through the hills, alongside a crystal-clear river, and past cows and sheep grazing behind little Alpine houses. We hopped off the bus outside the village of Ramsau, where the trail up to the Blaueishütte, our destination, began. On the internet, the route says that the hike will take about 2.5 hours, but the signpost at the bottom said 3. No mention of distance, but honestly, that might be better. 

With that, we were off. And up. And up. And up. The weather forecast for Saturday said sunny, but where we were, it was nothing but clouds and mist. The first half of the hike was all through forest, so there wasn’t really much to see anyway. In an effort to catch my breath at regular intervals, I made a lot of photo stops, and was really trying to capture the steepness of the trail. I don’t know if I was successful, and I’ll let y’all be the judge of that. 

About 5 minutes in, looking back down…
…and then looking up.

Those people in the first picture? Yeah they totally passed us. Normally I hate that, but my focus was on breathing and not being competitive

A bit later, we did get out of the trees and had a view of the Hintersee, as well as the valley below. 

We reached the Land Rover at about 30 minutes into the hike, and decided that was a good time to stop, have a drink and a sandwich, and catch our breath. I was already cursing bringing anything with me in my backpack… why in the world would I need an extra pair of socks? And why was my small bottle of contact solution empty? That forced me to pack the big one and every damn ounce was unnecessary. Whew. 

Cursing.

After our snack, we continued on. Spoiler: it was still uphill. Funny how that works. 

Eventually we got to the half-way point. 

     
Again, not sure if this was encouraging or discouraging. But shortly after this, we got above the treelines for a bit and had a great view out over the valley. We also reached the Schärtenalm, where I was tooooold, that we could get a beer. LIES. Okay, okay, slight exaggeration. It wasn’t HP’s fault that they were already closed for the season.

Draining water down the mountain.
Pictures of pictures.

Loggers and hikers.

Since the Schärtenalm was closed, we had no choice but to continue on. As I said though, if you get there in the high season, you can score at least a beer, and maybe even something small to go with it. But not for us. Onwards and of course, upwards. 

Finally we reached this sign, which marked the last stage of the hike…
 

Forty minutes to go, and you can just see those two steps in the picture. But guess what? That last forty minutes? All steps. Ooooh yes. We’re going into all that mist, and we are going straight up. After about 30 seconds, I determined that I couldn‘t be distracted by my camera swinging around anymore, so I packed it away. Therefore the following pictures of the epic stairs are all courtesy of HP…

What the hell was I thinking when I agreed to this?

The mist was super cool though.
Our first sight of the peaks in the mist.

Wahoo!

I can’t even tell you how excited I was to finally reach the Hütte. So happy. So very, very, happy. 

That was, unequivocally, the best. beer. ever. Oh my God. Glorious.

The bus dropped us off somewhere around 600 or 700 meters, and the Blaueishütte is at 1680 meters. You can do the math and the conversions to feet yourselves if necessary, but let me tell you, it is a loooong way. We made it in right about 2.5 hours, so the internet estimate was pretty accurate, and that did include our snack break, as well as innumerable photo breaks (or Heather-get-her-breath-breaks, but whatever). So we felt pretty good about our time.

As I understand it, there is some variety as far as the Hütten go, and what amenities they have. If you’re planning a trip and want to stay in one, you can search here…

...and hopefully you’ll find something that works for you. The one that we stayed in had both a large room with just mattresses (for those looking for an authentic experience), and smaller rooms with bunk beds (for those not looking to sleep with some guys sweaty sock 8 inches from my face). Our room slept six, but there were only four of us in it, which was pretty okay with me. I was warned that there was no heat in the room at night, but I was quite comfortable with the provided comforter. 

 
They did have a shower at this place, but it was .50 cents for 30 seconds, and despite my excess of change in my wallet, I didn‘t really want to pump a bunch of change into a machine to get some semblance of a shower. So we went without for a day, and it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. I think for the night stay plus breakfast, we each paid about 25 Euros, but I‘m not positive about that.

After a beer, a rest, and a wash-up, we noticed that the sky was clearing up a bit and decided to go back out. Above the Blaueishütte are a few different peaks, plus the glacier that gives the house it’s name. At first we thought we had spoke too soon, as there was definite mist, but then…

The awkward post was due to trying to cover a red route marker on the rock.

     
It was absolutely gorgeous. I can’t even tell you. HP wanted to climb right up to the glacier, but that was too much for me. Instead we compromised and climbed a bit further up to some very large boulders where we had some more great views, and even spotted some wildlife. 

See that big boulder under the glacier? That’s where we went.

View from the boulder.
Aaaaand our house is gone.
Goats! Or something like goats, anyway. They were fun to watch.
Remains of old shelters.
Whew, it’s still there.
Great views of the valley.

We got back to the Hütte a bit before the sun really went down, mostly because I’m chicken shit and was afraid of busting my ass on the rocky path back down. HP was all for staying on a rock with the hardcore people to watch the sun set, but as I said, I’m a chicken. Plus we were on the wrong side of the mountain for that anyway, so really we would only have seen the light change. Instead, we went in to change, and then settled ourselves in the dining area for the evening. 

Supplies reach the house via a small cable car, so if you are looking for a 7-course meal, this is not your place. But if you like simple, hearty food and a cold beer, you’ll be just fine. I had fried eggs, roasted potatoes, and a vinegar-type salad, and it was delicious. Might have had something to do with all the work to get that far, but who cares. 

We stayed in the dining room until “quiet time” at 10pm, enjoyed the warmth of the Ofen, a few beers, some Schnäpse, and some games of cards. I believe the German word is Gemütlichkeit, and I have to say, it was lovely.

I have a ton more pictures from the next day and the way down, but I think this is enough for now. Those I‘ll save for another day…