Sunday Snapshots: Bardentreffen Alert!

Nürnberg, 2011

Nürnberg, 2011

Bardentreffen is one of the biggest events of the year in Nürnberg, but somehow I have only been there once, and that was in the first year I lived here. Whoops. It seems to go one of two ways, 1) either the weather is crap and you spend all day wet or 2) the weather is great and the city is more packed than a sardine can.

On the plus side there is a ridiculous amount of music, as performers set themselves up on every available open spot, and many of them are as good (or maybe better) than the officially advertised acts. Not to mention that there is food and drink available at every turn, so if you are a fan of drinking tasty things on the street and listening to kids play box drums, you are in luck! It’s from the 29th to 31st of July this year, and you’ve still got time to check it out.

Bardentreffen Official Website

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! 

Gone Hiking: The Watzmann Part 1

After our relaxing afternoon on the Königsee, we started our hike up to our accommodation for the night. We had decided to break up our hike into two parts, as I thought that going straight for the house at 1900 meters might not be the best idea. It was my birthday and I’d slack off if I wanted to. 

Our route started right at the Königsee, and took us up the hill to the Kürointhütte, at 1420 meters. On the internet, we had found that the path took about two hours. It was five o’clock at that point, so we figured we were in good shape. While walking to where we needed to start, we spotted a sign that said that it was actually three and a half hours to the Kürointhütte. Well, Scheiß. If that was true, we would maaaaaaaaybe be there by dark. But we already had places reserved at two houses for the next two days (and rumor has it that they will track you down if you don’t show), and so we figured we’d better get our asses moving. We started off by going up the hill next to what I think is a bobsled run next to the lake…

It doesn’t look like much from there, but after all the fish/beer/Käsespätzle of the previous days, it was rough. At the top of the run, we left the paved road and climbed straight up (or so it felt) on a smaller, rocky path. A few people were coming down as we were going up, and they were basically running. It was steep.

We huffed and puffed our way up the hill, while possibly causing rifts to form in some relationships on the way. How? I was dying, and so BV carried my backpack for me. He thought he was getting the stink eye from some of the guys who were on their way down. Whatever, down is so much easier than up. Sort of. 

After about 30-40 minutes we got a quick view of the lake where we had started…

This photo stop led to the following conversation… 
~Heather: “Hey BV, how far down would you say that is?”
~BV: “I don’t know, maybe 100… 150. Not so much.”
~H: “Seriously? 30 minutes and legs on fire and only 100 meters? I’m going to die before we get to the house. There’s no freakin’ way.”

 Maybe I was a little over-dramatic, it happens. It certainly wasn’t the first time I uttered those words over the course of the next two days, but when you’re looking at an 800-meter gain in a couple of hours (that’s about 2600 feet for those of you playing the Imperial game), it was a bit disheartening to think we’d only gone a fraction of the distance. I started to wonder why I hadn’t opted for a spa for my birthday, while we plunged ahead.
Somehow we actually passed another couple at some point on the road, which gave us some motivation. Like, “well we just passed them so now we have to stay ahead.” Competition is good. Sometimes. There wasn’t much to distract us during this part of the hike… it was mostly up, up, up, and oh yeah – UP. The path went straight through the forest so not a whole lot of scenery in the first hour and half. But here are a couple of reasonably nice pictures….
 

After the Giant Climb, we stopped for a granola bar and breathing break. At the top of the hill, we continued on a somewhat flatter gravel road, before the trail turned into a cow path along the top of the hill. Guarding the spot where the trail turned? A 6-foot tall tree stump with a wooden carving of eagles having sex on top. Why didn’t I take a picture? Because I’m a moron, and was so confused by what I was seeing that I wasn’t functioning. Also at that point we were being followed by a horde of rabid cowflies. Fun fact: in the absence of cows, the flies will eat you. They are a frequent menace in the mountains, and most of the remainder of the hike was spent vigorously swatting. Luckily the path was rocky at this point, but mostly flat so at least I had more energy to swing my button-down shirt around my head in an attempt to blow them away. It was semi-successful, but it was also dinner time and we were clearly the main course. We knew the Kürointhütte was close though, so we pressed on. Weather was also moving in, making us move a little faster…

Shortly afterwards, we arrived at the house. We clocked in at a cool two hours and fifteen minutes, and felt pretty good about it considering the sign at the bottom of the hill had said more than three hours were needed. Take that lying signs! (Note: this would not be the first time I called the signs liars.)

The Kürointhütte is listed on the Deutscher Alpenverein (German Alpine Club) search website, but it’s actually a private house. This means it’s a little bit more expensive, but also a bit more comfortable. There were a few buildings around, including a training facility for police or the army – I’m kind of fuzzy on that detail. The Hütte itself has two outbuildings, one with more restrooms and one for staff. There’s also a tiny chapel, and a larger building for student groups. 

Technically this picture is from the following morning, but since my camera is at my house and I am not, that’s what you get. 

As I said, the Hütte, is private and so a bit more expensive. That meant that we paid a bit over €40 for our room (which was private), with breakfast and dinner included. Dinner was a turkey ragout that I couldn’t even come close to finishing, with a side salad and a lemon ice dessert. Everything was very good, and we didn’t even mind moving inside when the storm covered the mountain in clouds. It was a very cozy atmosphere with people chatting about their hikes, and the girls that worked there gossiping away over their wine. 

Curiously, all the girls who worked there spoke great English… not necessarily what I expect in the mountains. One of them spoke no German, although I couldn’t quite pinpoint where she was from. It was really interesting to listen to them, but in my slightly weird/antisocial desire for people to not know I’m American sometimes (a lot), I didn’t inquire further as to what the story was there. Apparently the one who spoke no German came out and chatted with BV while I was hunting for a restroom, so I guess someone overheard us speaking English. Thwarted! 

Last call in the mountains is ten o’clock, so we finished our beers and headed up to our room. At first we thought we were in small rooms downstairs that slept 6-8 people, but we had a really sweet room upstairs. Bonus: there was another bathroom upstairs AND a free shower with HOT water. Again, not something that happens in the mountains. It was super cozy and lovely though, even if the cowbells from the pasture don’t sleep when you want to!

Part of our room

Upstairs at the Hütte
Part of the restaurant, set up for breakfast

With cowbells ringing in our ears, we drifted off to a hard-earned sleep, content in the knowledge that we only had 500 more meters to go in the morning….  

An Afternoon on the Königsee

Sunday and my birthday dawned bright and sunny in Berchtesgaden. We opted to drive down on Saturday and spend the night so as to get a nice and early start on Sunday. We stayed in Bad Reichenhall for the night, and had just the relaxing morning we wanted… much better than sitting in a traffic jam of holiday travelers on the Autobahn! First off, I got my birthday present, and I’ll tell you what it was, if you promise not to laugh. Although, we are on the internetz, so I can’t enforce this policy. Honor system kids….


Damn right, those are the pictures that spawned my whole “10 Reasons I Love the German Mountains” post. And let me tell you, I love them even more hanging on the wall in BV’s house. This is completely weird, and even BV was nervous if I’d be happy about them as a birthday present. Apparently his mom made a few other suggestions in an attempt to deter him, but he needn’t have been worried. Again, I know it’s weird, but I LOVE THEM. I’m looking at them right now on the wall, and couldn’t be happier.

After breakfast and presents, we packed our things and headed for the Königsee. I’ve been there once before, but it was very brief so I was eager to get back. We planned on taking the boat ride down the lake, where we’d have lunch and do a bit of sightseeing before hiking up to the Hütte where we had reserved places for the night. 

As it’s August, it was very busy at the Königsee, and so we had to do a bit of waiting. Waiting for the ticket line, waiting for the boat, and the same on the way back. It was all worth it though, to sink our feet into the blue-green waters of Germany’s “cleanest lake” on what was a very warm day.

 
We had time to enjoy an ice cream cone and cool our toes off before boarding our board for the 30-minute ride to St. Bartholomä, which has to be one of the most-photographed places in Germany. There are two options for the lake tour: the first takes you only to St. Bartholomä and back, and costs €13.50/person. The second goes to Salet at the end of the lake, where you can hike across to another smaller lake, and there is another small restaurant or to. That ride is a little bit more expensive at €16.50 and takes about an hour each way.

The ride is really gorgeous, with the mountains rising dramatically on all sides. People can rent rowboats, so you can watch people working much harder than you are to get down the lake. Only approved boats are allowed on the lake, which keeps it nice and clean. It’s all ice-cold all year round, and very deep. Some people were swimming very far out in the lake, but they’re much braver than I am.

Partway down the lake, the boat kills the engines and the guide starts talking about the famous echos you can hear there. This is due to a huge rock wall that rises almost straight out of the lake on the right-hand side. Then the guide pulls out a trumpet, and gives a demonstration, playing a couple of different things for a few seconds and then allowing the echo to come back. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a boat be so quiet… even the dogs were lying contentedly on the floor, and the babies that fussed the whole way were silent for a few minutes. It was really lovely. 

Shortly after that, we arrived at St. Bartholomä. Here’s the view on the way in…

After we jumped off the boat we were nice and toasty again, so we took a little walk to get our feet wet. There were all manner of people there, clad in all manner of clothing. On one side of the path were some old women in Dirndln, and on the other side were a bunch of guys in Speedos sunning themselves with their feet in the water. It was quite the cross-section, I have to say. I kept my clothes on, (you’re welcome), but here are some more shots…

The restaurant at St. Bartholomä is well-known for its fish, what with being on a lake and all. That was our destination for lunch, and it did not disappoint. BV ordered something from the “for small hunger” menu, and this is what showed up…

Ah yes, Germany. Only here would “for small hunger” equate to an entire smoked trout. I can’t do fish with the bones and all, but I did try a small piece and it was delicious. 

I opted for a filet of trout-salmon, and I’m still not too sure how that works, but this is what I got…

Do any of you see a difference between the size of the “for small hunger” meal and the normal meal? If so, please let me know. Mine was also very good, and we both had some iced coffee/iced chocolate for dessert. 

We ate in the beergarden, and got to do some solid people-watching. Lots of Dirndln, Lederhosen, as well as an elusive unicorn known as the Asian couples set. I first heard of that from my friend Katie who taught in Korea. If you don’t know what it is, go to Google and enjoy. Inside the restaurant though, there is also something interesting; the biggest fish ever caught in the lake. 

That’s a big-ass fish, gotta say. 

After lunch, we rejoined the line for our ride back up the lake to our car and hiking gear. 

This was definitely the relaxing part of the birthday weekend. The rest of it was slightly less relaxing, so stay tuned for the parts that darn near killed me….

Sunday Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

When I started talking to my friend Aaron about the possibility of visiting him in San Francisco, one of his first questions was, “would you want to do some wine tasting?”

My response to that?

“Yes. Oh God, yes. Please. Right now.”

And so it was. He told us to check out the internetz, and see what floated our boats. After a lot of surfing around what seems like a million different wineries in Napa Valley, we settled on three choices. 

To start off, BV, myself, Aaron, and his friend, picked up our insanely conveniently rented ZipCar for the day. Aaron is a frequent ZipCar shopper, and I must say… Germany could use this service. They’re growing so I’m hoping it makes it here. Even better if they have automatic cars as well! How else does one makes emergency IKEA runs? I don’t know. Either way, it’s all tied to your smart phone, and you can be driving in a matter of minutes. Done and done.

We took a quick photo stop across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then headed north to Santa Rosa for some breakfast. 

After we carbo-loaded with eggs, toast, pancakes, and a California-appropriate avocado level, we were off on our chosen route. We started north and headed south back towards SF…

Our first stop was at a castle. What can I say, we were coming from Europe and were homesick? Or something. 

The Castello di Amorosa dates back almost 20 years, which in California terms is pretty darn old, I’d say. It was a truly lovely place, and my initial reaction upon walking in was “ZOMG best wedding location ever!” Not that I’m looking, it was just very obvious to me. We bought our wine tasting, and found our way down to the cellar where they took place. In addition to providing some respite from the heat, I enjoyed the archways and old-world feel of the cellar. Our $18 tasting bought us five wines, and the four of us mixed and matched so we could all taste a variety. 

The staff was really lovely, and very knowledgeable about the wines. We overheard one of them saying to another group that their specialty were the reds, but I’m sorry to say that we weren’t impressed. I’ve been spoiled by BV, our trip to Italy, and the fantastic reds we had there. I was never really a red wine fan, and it’s safe to say that I’ve been converted! Having said that, the whites at Castello d.A. were quite good. BV thought that the Gewurztraminer was way too sweet, but I thought it was good. Maybe better as a dessert wine though.

After the Castello, we were off to our next stop – Robert Sinskey Vineyards. This was BV’s choice, as he wanted something in the “Bio” world, on our tour. He’s German… what can I say? 

Back patio at Robert Sinskey

At the R.S.V., we opted for the “Flight of Fancy” $25 tasting. (Side note: when did the word ‘flight’ become synonymous with tastings? I was confused and felt very naive. Gah.) This tasting bought us four of their wines, plus some food. This time it was a set menu, with one white and three reds. 

Everything was homemade, with ingredients from their garden that you could walk through outside. In addition to that, it was all delicious. You say homemade cheese? I say I’m there. Sorry lactose-intolerant folk, I really am. 

We all agreed that the wines here were even better than our previous stop, and the reds were definitely a step up. But the last stop would be the determiner….

Black Stallion Winery was our last destination, and it came highly recommended by Aaron, our tour guide/host/driver. He had visited a few weeks before, and done a $30 tasting that got you tastes of four red wines, all from bottles priced upwards of $75. An added bonus here was that the pours were at least a half of a glass, and therefore we could share one tasting with two people. Given that this was the last stop of the day, that was probably a good thing. 

Aaron had also told us that when he visited before, they had gotten small snacks and chocolate. However, that was not our experience. The wine was very good, but there were no sweets to go with it. We’ll live, but were only slightly disappointed. 

I’m sorry I didn’t get better pictures… it was the end of a wine-filled day. Not much more I can say.

I’m no expert, but overall, I’d say that all three of the vineyards we went to were good. The first was definitely the most touristy, but given the surroundings, that was to be expected. My favorite was Robert Sinskey, but maybe I was swayed by the delicious food.

We chose these three, but the truth is, there’s no need to plan a trip in Napa Valley. Just drive a few minutes and you’ll see a sign for a vineyard somewhere. Our choices were great, and I’d recommend a stop if you see them, but in Napa I don’t think you can go that badly wrong. 

More information….

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. 🙂

Brunch in San Francisco

One of the most-discussed things in the expat community is food. What you can get, what you can’t get, and what you’re going to have for your first meal whenever you head home. Technically brunch was our second meal upon arrival in San Francisco, but since my stomach didn’t know what country it was in when we got there, I only had five bites on our midnight burrito run. Those five bites were delicious, and I’m already regretting not having been able to eat more of it. Damn you stomach and airplanes and jet lag!

Saturday was our first official day in the States, and we headed out for a leisurely brunch. My friend Aaron was our gracious host in SF, and he promised to take us to one of the best places in town. Off we went on the train, passing about a thousand other options on the way. I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to arrive at Zazie to see at least 50 people waiting outside! It’s such a popular place that reservations are pretty much out the window.

I didn’t get a good crowd shot, but you can see a guy awkwardly standing there waiting, as well as a girl waiting to get her name on the sign-in sheet. In the doorway, the manager in the white belt is checking names off of the sign-in sheet. This is how it works: when you arrive you add your name and headcount to the sheet and then you wait. You wait, and you wait, and you wait. We were a group of three, and two was the magic number for the day. He must have called out the names of two dozen couples who had signed in and then left before their turn. Sucks to be them if they just ran around the corner to get a coffee! 

We must have waited at least an hour, but at least the people watching was good. Finally it was our turn, and we were escorted to a table right in that front window. I was parched at that point from our long stand out front, and was oh-so-happy to see a magically refilling pitcher of free water on the table. Welcome to America! Woo! Water! 

But more importantly…

Hello, Bloody Mary, my old friend. I’ve missed you so. Aaron claimed that they had a Bloody Mary at this place that came with tiny sliders on sticks in it, but I didn’t see this magical unicorn. 

The menu was pretty awesome, full of classic breakfast items with crazy twists. (Or at least crazy to someone who’s been in Germany eating nothing but sausages for the last thousand years.) I finally settled on their gingerbread pancakes, with lemon curd and bosc pears.

And because my stomach had finally joined me in California, I got home fries too. Word to the wise… ask how big things are first. You could choose 1-3 pancakes, and I went with two. One would have been more than enough because as you can see, they were huge, and THICK. Lesson learned. Yet another one of those times when you want to eat something so badly and just can’t do it. They were delicious though. Since Nürnberg is famous for its gingerbread, I feel like this would go over well here.*

BV opted for the french toast with an orange cinnamon butter, and it was also fantastic.

My only complaint is not about this restaurant… it’s a general complaint in all American restaurants. We weren’t even finished eating when the check arrived, so then we felt a bit hurried. But the line outside was still there, and we even witnessed two girls sneaking in and stealing a table. They were kicked back out to the curb pretty quickly, but it’s clear that Zazie is in some major demand. I don’t know about the rest of the time (and Aaron hadn’t been there for anything besides brunch), but the menu looks good so I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been there! 

If you go….

941 Cole Street
Oh, just a side note: 
If anyone has been trying to leave comments lately and had problems, please drop me a line via email. I was forced to put the captchas back on due to a ridiculous amount of spam comments that wouldn’t stop. If anyone has some advice on how to curb those, please fill me in! 

*Hear that local restaurants? Hop to it!

Another Sunday in the Fränkische Schweiz

The temperature has been climbing up the thermometer for the last week, and can we all give a big “it’s about damn time” on that one? After our very chilly visit to the Fränkische Schweiz on Easter Sunday, I was excited to head back this last weekend with sunnier skies above.

Our destination this time was the town of Gößweinstein, which I had never heard of beyond seeing its name on the map. Thus far, all the places I’ve been in the F.S. (shortening from here on out… it’s just too damn long to type) have been lovely though, with green hills, castles, and (most importantly?) tasty restaurants in the Gasthöfe, so I figured we’d be good to go.  As we drove, BV’s mom showed me a picture in her guidebook that showed a little castle perched on the hill… that’s what we were shooting for.

On the way there we drove through the green hills, past the famous rock formations, and even spotted a horse or two. We stopped for lunch at a Gasthof that was packed to the gills, mostly due to the first round of confirmations that had taken place that morning in the church next door. We watched through the window as people wandered around the church, taking family pictures outside, and looked on inside as the girl at the table next door got her enormous celebratory banana split. Which should really be any kid’s reward for sitting through a morning of church.*

After lunch we continued on to Gößweinstein and imagine my surprise as we passed a pile of restaurants, small shops that were open (what?? It’s Sunday!), an enormous basilica, and finally, that little castle on the hill. We parked the car, started to wander around, and it became clear that this was a premier F.S. tourist destination. Tons of signs pointed the way to various restaurants, hotels, bakeries, shops, the castle (of course), a Franciscan monastery, and even a mini-golf course. Turns out, I was the only one who hadn’t heard of this town. Convertibles and motorcycles purred up and down the street, and everyone had abandoned their jackets to soak up the long-awaited vitamin D. To the photos!

Sun??? Is that you??
Spring??? Is that you??
Castle from below.
Front entrance to the castle.
Now, that’s a door.
There’s also a stone exhibit. And store. With a mammoth outside.
Hey! It’s not freezing!
Basilika Gößweinstein
And from the back.
Coffee and cake? Nein, I want a swan!
Why visit the Easter fountains when you can buy a postcard?

Um, it’s Spring? Isn’t it?
The only semi-success at getting the castle and basilica in one.

The castle is privately owned, and unfortunately for us it was closed that day due to some sort of unforeseen circumstances. Normally you can visit on Sunday, and it’s only a few Euros to see the inside. We did peek into the basilica for a few minutes, but since the afternoon Mass was going on we didn’t get to really look around. The interior was an unusual sea foam green and white combination, which was really lovely and light. Even though we didn’t get a good look, I got to do some nun-spotting, as there were a few sisters seated in the back of the church.

We also found a small trail that led up from behind our parking area to a nice overlook of the city and the surrounding country. It was still a bit brown, but in a few weeks it should be even lovelier. Considering the ease of the Fränkische Schweiz as a daytrip from Nürnberg, I’m very much looking forward to watching it get greener over the next few weeks! 

Any tips for day trips from where you are?   

*My opinion only, don’t shoot me. 

A Preferred Saturday

This week has been a little crazy. The four-day weekend for Easter last week kind of threw everything off, and I have a ton of catching-up to do now. I’m on my own this weekend (which is a very infrequent occasion these days), and hopefully I‘ll be able to get through my giant “to-do” list by tomorrow evening. This list includes, but is not limited to….

– Cleaning everything. Seriously, everything. We had workmen over to take a look at my bathroom last week, and I was fairly embarrassed by how messy it was.
– Washing everything I own. My washing machine was broken for almost two weeks, and now I have an avalanche of dirty clothing.
– Oh, and if it’s not dirty, it might be ripped. Remember when I said all my stuff was dying? Yeah… just found a hole in my go-to jeans. So I need to go through and throw out some stuff.
– Take bottles to the recycling containers. My kitchen windowsill makes me look like a wino. Oh, who am I kidding.
– Grocery shopping.
– Exercising. I had intended on doing 10-day, 20-day, and 30-day follow-up posts to the 30-day challenge, but that clearly didn’t happen this week. I’m going to shoot for a halfway point post and a final post. No promises though.
– Lesson plans, as per usual.

All these things kind of suck though, and since I’m in procrastination mode, I thought I’d pop in and tell you what I would much rather be doing on this gray, allegedly “Spring” day….

Many, many moons ago, I wrote about an afternoon at an adorable café here in Nürnberg. I’ve been back once or twice since then, but a few weeks ago I finally got BV in the door with me. We had actually tried to go there once in January, but they were closed for vacation. Go figure. But this time they were open, there was a free table, and we were in. 

This café is proof-positive that a huge menu does not mean anything. They don’t have a ton of options, but what they do have is fantastic. Their small standard menu consists of a few breakfast choices, baguettes, galettes, and crêpes. In addition to the everyday options, they have a daily menu that is almost as big…

We started with a .5-liter of house rosé, figuring that we were due for a break from the mass quantities of Italian red wine we’ve been drinking lately. This was an excellent choice, and at least once BV has suggested going back strictly to drink some wine. We tried to go for dinner last week Saturday, but when we called to reserve a table we found out that they’re only open for dinner on Thursday and Friday nights. Good to know! 

For the main course, BV opted for a galette filled with feta and grilled vegetables off of the normal menu. I was sure I would go with the Camembert/apple/walnut galette I had the last time, but my curiosity was piqued by something I saw on the daily menu…

My galette was filled with sheeps-cheese, sweet potatoes (a rare find here), and oranges. Sounds weird, right? Tastes… fantastic. If it’s on the menu again the next time, I will be a very happy camper. 

Also, German restaurants take note: that mass of green on the left? Yeah, that’s what a SALAD looks like. A side salad should not mean one piece of lettuce, two slices of cucumber, and a slice or two of tomato. Work on that, bitte.

We also went for a dessert, but it wasn’t on the plates long enough to photograph. I was sorely tempted by the promise of Crème brûlée, but I’m still holding on to the memory of the one we had in Italy. Instead we both went for sweet crêpes with banana and honey. Oh, so good. 

So again, if you’re in Nürnberg and want to take a trip to the South of France (I don’t know about you all, but I’m ready to take a trip anywhere that isn’t GRAY), go and check out….

Café d’Azur
Burgstraße 11
90403 Nürnberg
 

The Sunniest Place in Germany…

Happy March to all! If you recall, last Monday we woke up to find that Nürnberg was sitting under a nice, thick, heavy snowy blanket. This week though, we had the first sunny weekend, and the first sunny Monday in… months. Add that to the fact that it’s about 6:00 in the evening, and it’s still light out, and all of a sudden the world is a much better place. 

Sunday afternoon park view.

I don’t know about you all but I spent the weekend humming “Here Comes the Sun” in my head about a million times. Thank God. I was one more gray and rainy weekend from losing it. Yesterday I actually managed to get some work done on the balcony to get ready for new flowers, and today I did the shopping, cleaned, did some laundry, and wrote lesson plans. Turns out the sun is incredibly helpful in getting me to do anything besides lay on the couch and watch ‘The Real Housewives of Whatever City I Can Stream.’ Amazing! 

But that’s not what I want to talk about. The sun making it’s long-awaited return to Germany got me thinking about the place that is rumored to be the sunniest and warmest place in Germany… Freiburg im Breisgau. BV and I got the chance to visit for an afternoon back in October, and the weather that day did not disappoint….

View over the old city and the tower of the Münster

Tucked down in the south-western corner of Germany, Freiburg (there are a few of them, but this is the best-known), is a really lovely little city. It’s a big university town, and it’s known as the bicycle capital in  Germany, so you‘ll want to keep out of the bike lanes. It’s close to the French border, but we came to check out the Schwarzwald (Black Forest), which is also right nearby.

The first thing we did in town was hike up a hill to get a great city view. We had a list of destinations from a friend of BV’s who is a Freiburg native, and she had recommended both the viewpoint and the cafe at the top for a glass of regional wine. Unfortunately the cafe was closed, so it was dry walk up and down the hill, but we did get a look at the vineyards below…

I think the orange guy is lost

  
After making our way down the hill into the old city, we swung by the Freiburg Münster (cathedral), and took a walk around the square with a sausage stop.

Courtesy BV

 
Cathedral architecture is always like a treasure hunt to me. You never quite know what you’re going to find on these things, and this cathedral did not disappoint. Take a closer look at that last photo if you don’t know what I’m talking about. I couldn’t get a better angle on it, but it is exactly what you think it is. 

Münsterplatz: Courtesy BV

Via

After the church and the square we hit up the friendly neighborhood sausage stand for some Rote Wurst, the Freiburg sausage specialty. I wasn’t forward-thinking enough to get a picture, but luckily this blog covers all of the German sausages. I’m hungry right now and regretting searching for that picture. That means that the Rote Wurst was delicious, and I would love to get my hands on one right now. 

We really only had the afternoon in Freiburg, so I’d love to get back there some time and check out some more of the city. We did have a good wander around, so here are some more random photos…

Martinstor
Münster  door
People just hanging out in the streets
These were all over the sidewalks. All different, all cool.

For some reason, that picture really wants to be upside-down. Sigh. Blogger.

Bikes: Courtesy BV

For dinner we planned on going to a student-y sort of restaurant that BV’s friend had recommended, but before that we decided to stop at the Alte Wache to try some of the local wines. It was a gorgeous day to sit (all the sunny tables were sadly taken), drink some wine, and do some people watching on the square. 

 

One other thing that was unusual in Freiburg were the small water channels or, Freiburg Bächle in the streets. Somehow neither of us got a picture with them, but they are definitely something you need to be aware of if you’re in town. If any of you are as clumsy as I am, water running all over the streets is something to pay attention to. 

Via

I’ve also been told that if you are visiting the city and fall into one of these Bächle, it means that you will fall in love with a Freiburger. The jury is still out on that one, so if anyone can confirm the story, please let me know!

How about you… been to Freiburg? Any recommendations for the next trip?