Eight to Twenty-Two. Somehow.

It’s been roughly a thousand and one years since my last life lately post way back at the end of the 7th week of being home. Having a computer that takes several hours to start (on a good day) has meant that a lot of days I just ran out of patience trying to get the damn thing to start. It’s also meant that my goal of a post per week this year has… not been very successful thus far.

However, I’m happy to report that I’m typing this post on my brand-new, shiny, glorious laptop! When you push the ‘on’ button, it starts! A miracle! My old one was bought way back in 2012, and has been literally falling apart for the last several years, so this is a very exciting day.

While being inside and typing away isn’t perhaps the best use of a Sunday, it’s currently about 32C (or 90F) here in Franconia and hiding inside with the shutters down during the day is about the best way to get through it. I’m a big summer fan, but as with every summer, I find myself wishing for water access!

But what’s been going on since my last update on life around here in the beginning of May? Both a lot, and a lot of nothing… which I think has been a theme of 2020.

I mentioned at the end of the last update that they were starting to open up more things here in Bayern, and that has remained the case. Around town, things got greener and greener. My usual walking route got absurdly busy for a few weeks as one of the local farms had this stunning field of big purple poppies, and drew far more visitors than I’ve ever seen out there before!

According to a sign next to the field, the farm was partnering with a local bakery chain so I guess in the future we can look forward to more poppy-seed rolls and the like. They advertised the field a fair bit in local media as well, so between that and the ‘gram, it was a hopping place. At home, tiny kitten continued to rule our garden, sometimes with her friend in hot pursuit.

We both had a week of holidays as usual in May, but decided to stay at home. Hotels and the like were allowed to reopen either that week, or in the next week or two (hard to keep track of all the changes), but since we didn’t know what travel would look like, we stayed put. We were fairly productive though, doing a lot of cleaning, reorganizing, and garden work. We also slowly started to venture out a bit, but cautiously so. We met up with friends (woo! other humans!) one weekend in the Franconian Switzerland and (while keeping distance) took a nice day hike where we got this great view of the Walberla. On the way back home, we spontaneously decided to stop at a Biergarten for dinner and as you can see, I was incredibly happy about both tap beer and a meal that I didn’t have to cook! The excitement was real.

These are from another day and another trip out to a local place. So far, every time we’ve dined out or even just gone for a beer, we’ve had to leave contact details, etc. I hear some places are starting to slack on that, but now that numbers have started to go up again, we’ll see if they crack down, or start to close more things down again. We shall see.

Rolling into June, BV’s balcony garden was popping so he built that big brown box in the background of the lavender photo to expand his planting. Tiny kitten was stalking and supervising throughout the process, of course.

The Villagers moved to Amberg at the end of last year, but since BV hadn’t had a chance to see their new place yet, we headed out there for a mini-weekend trip. I spent every Thursday last year in Amberg, but hardly got to see anything besides the stretch from the train station to the company and it was nice to 1) see other humans (again!) and 2) have a change of scenery! We walked up to the Mariahilfberg with its old monastery and also lots of old trees for the kids to run around…

Amberg is very cute. That stone building is part of the old city wall, which still runs around most (maybe all?) of the city center. There are lots of really old houses that date from the middle ages and it is really very charming to wander around.

Starting to feel more comfortable going out, we planned a full weekend away in July. However, I do want to note that though we have gone out a bit, anytime we saw friends or traveled, or had extended contact with anyone, we always took two full weeks before doing anything else. BV is still going into the office only once or twice a week, and I’m still home 100% of the time, so we’re still being extremely cautious. Disclaimer!

Anyway, in July we took a weekend trip down to the Allgäu to spend a few nights at a potential destination for our wedding, whenever that might happen. Apart from some truly horrible guests the first night, we really liked the place. Presumably, our guests would be much better behaved. Maybe.

Since we were in the area, we decided to spend our Saturday revisiting one of my favorite shelter tours we’ve ever done, and hike up to the Kemptner Hütte.

I’m very pleased to report that the hike was exactly as gorgeous as I remembered it, seven years later.

Before we left on Sunday, we stretched our aching legs just a bit and hiked about an hour up to an Alm. After weeks of relatively little activity, we were both in a bit of pain, but considering we had a few hours of train rides ahead of us, we had to move a bit first. Plus, cows.

The rest of July was pretty dull. It either rained or was ungodly hot (see, now), which meant that the garden and the supermarket was about as far as I went.

One Saturday did involve a trip over to the Gardener’s for his birthday, entirely too much cake, and some time under these very impressive blooms. But other than that, we’ve been home. Work got oddly busy, despite the impending holidays, and I’ve had my hands full for the last few weeks.

It’s been a lot of watching the pears slowly ripen, trying to keep the plants watered, Marry supervising both of us working from home, and the occasional daylight hedgehog sighting. We hadn’t seen one in the garden yet this year and I’m feeling entirely better now that he turned up.

One other recent highlight, was that we had our appointment at the local registry office to file all the paperwork in order to get married. So now, we wait. I’ll maybe do a more thorough post on that whole process in the future, but let’s see what the outcome is first, shall we?

Back in March, I don’t think any of us envisioned still being at home now in August, but here we are. I doubt I’ll be doing anything in person until maybe October or November, but given the trends the last few days, it’s really a case of wait and see. A good portion of Germany is on holiday this month, with another good portion about to start school. So we wait. And we see.

19/52

The Other Side of the Story

Shout out to Cynthia over at Adventurings for reminding me of this incident after her comment on my 2019 wrap up post!

In that post I mentioned that when my old friend Angie came to visit, we took a day trip from Garmisch-Partenkirchen over to Neuschwanstein. What I didn’t mention was the less-photogenic part of the day.

It was a beautiful summer morning when we set out over the Bavarian countryside, seemingly defying the weather report which had called for showers that day. Everything looked great as we got closer to the castles, but after we parked the car, picked up our tickets, and killed some time walking around the Alpsee, I started to notice something. Something dark.

Eh, a couple of clouds. It was windy, it would probably blow over.

We headed up the hill to the Hohenschwangau castle first, and bopped around the gardens snapping more pictures as we waited. Hmmm, what’s that?

The knights say, “Yeah, it’s still moving away. You’re fine.”

Our tour time arrived, so we piled into the castle with the rest of our group. Plus or minus 30 minutes later, we spilled back out to find a bit of precipitation coming down. Nothing too bad, and we all had prepared with our raincoats, which is more than I could say for some of the other visitors.

Note that they don’t all have umbrellas.

If you haven’t been to Neuschwanstein or Hohenschwangau before, they really have it down to a science there. If you buy a ticket to both castles, you must pick it up at least one hour before your first entrance time, and you have at least two hours between each castle tour. That should give you plenty of time to walk (uphill, naturally) between them, or catch the bus or horse carriage. We planned to walk, but were getting hungry so decided to make a quick stop at one of the bratwurst stands.

No sooner had we gotten there, but the heavens opened up. We sheltered our sausages as we ducked from under the stand’s awning to one of several free umbrella tables. Where it rained. And thundered. And rained even harder. I mean, pouring rain. Gushing rain. Rivers cascading off the ends of the awning rain. Girls dressed for Instagram, not for weather, sprinting through the rivers running down the hill in front of us to huddle as close to the souvenir shops and under their overhangs as they could get.

The three of us were pressed to the table, all but clinging to the center pole, our backs getting soaked as I tried to protect my non-waterproof camera bag. The terrace of the restaurant next to us, which was covered by an awning, was quickly abandoned as it wasn’t strong enough to hold all the water. Waiters hustled people inside as other waiters poked brooms up to get the standing water off before they tried rolling it back up. It was Biblical.

I thanked my lucky stars that BV and I had both opted to wear our hiking shoes that day but our jeans were absolutely soaked through. Poor Angie only had sneakers, which were quickly reduced to athletic sponges. The leggings would eventually dry, the shoes… less so.*

After 15 minutes or so it started to lighten a bit. We had to make a decision though. Do we attempt to walk up the hill in the deluge, or join one of the lines for the bus or a carriage? All options led to getting wetter, but our reservation time was getting closer. Angie finally made the decision, so it was to the bus!

Shockingly when we got to the ticket desk, there was nearly no line. Why is that? Ummm… no roof. We thought we were in decent shape. The rain lightened up shortly after we got our tickets and mostly stopped, thank goodness, but there was no bus. We waited a solid 30 minutes before one finally arrived, by which time the line was getting a bit aggro, and had expanded significantly behind us. Or at least, they should have mostly been behind us. Turns out, they can’t drive down a mountain road with hairpin turns when it rains like that.

One steamy, funky-smelling bus ride later, we were up the hill.

My new favorite game at this point became, “spot the unprepared instagrammer,” most of whom were descending from the castle with summery dresses and hair that probably had looked very photogenic at an earlier point in the day. Now it was a little more, ‘had a few cocktails and jumped in the hotel pool mid-photoshoot.’

The smart people up the castle waited in the line area under their umbrellas, while the masses packed into the area under the gate to wait for their tour number to get called.

It was nearly as fresh smelling as the bus, despite being outside. Still not sure how that worked.

We shuffled through our tour alongside a large group of either Spanish or Italian (can’t recall at the moment) seniors, most of whom were much more interested in loudly chatting with each other rather than listening to the audio guides, or the actual humans who were responsible for hustling us through the rooms. Delightful! I know when I was there years ago, they did have people giving the tours rather than the audio guides, but no idea if that ever happens now.** I definitely prefer a human to an audio guide, but c’est la vie.

Tour finished, we were herded towards the gift shop (natürlich), the restrooms, and the balcony overlooking Hohenschwangau and the Alpsee. And thank goodness, the view had most definitely improved! Compare this to the nearly the same (just from lower down) view above…

Not bad!

Thankfully, that seemed to be it for the rain. We made our way out of the castle, coaxed Angie out onto Marienbrücke so she could get those money shot pictures of the castle from above, and watched the Instagrammers who had arrived post-storm glory in their dry and breezy dresses as they threw elbows to get a spot on the bridge. Less Biblical, but entertaining nonetheless.

Moral of the story: even if you’re focused on getting that perfect shot, maybe at least have your friend/IG boyfriend/handler throw an umbrella or some sponsored rain gear in your tote? I did mean to go back and check the location tags for that day on IG and see how many wet photos had been posted, but I forgot in the next few days. I don’t really want to scroll that far now, but for anyone who does it was June 20th, 2019. Huh, just realized that was my 8-year Germaniversary. We ate sausages, we walked up hills, we got drenched… could be worse!

 

 

8/52

*The shoes did dry in the end. She took them off for the drive home, then we put them in the sun on the balcony back at our flat, and then on the heated towel rack when the sun went down.

**They still do the tour in English with guides at Hohenschwangau.

Sunday Snapshots: Uphill

Allgäu, Bavaria 2013

We’ve been trapped inside most of this weekend due to some much-needed rain in the area. While the break from the heat is nice, it is a wee bit sticky outside. It doesn’t quite compare to the dripping humidity that we experienced on this hike a few years ago, but I do wish there was some water around to stick my feet in. The bathtub isn’t quite the same as an Alpine stream.

Green, Greener, Greenest

If I ever had to associate a color with Germany, there’s no doubt that it would be green.* Talking about the weather is not the most exciting thing in the world, but this has to have been one of the most gorgeous springs that I’ve ever seen. Add to that the fact that I’ve been able to get out and play outside since February, and that makes for one happy Heather.

The trees have pretty much exploded in the last week, and several of my normal train routes are much like riding through green tunnels at this point. I’m a big fan of sitting back, enjoying the ride, and trying to spot deer, rabbits, cats, etc., along the way. The fields slide past the window in big blocks of light green, dark green, and the occasional wide patch of yellow. I tried to capture a bit of it today, please excuse the iPhone on a train quality…

green1Just when you think things can’t get any greener, it rains for a minute and the fields almost start to glow in the sunlight. It is astoundingly, gorgeously green, and it makes my absurd train riding sooooooo much better.

When we got home tonight, there were piles of ominous dark clouds approaching town. Just as we got into the house the thunder started, and we had a pretty impressive cloudburst.

green2 I grabbed this shot out our bedroom window before the cat noticed that we had opened the it. Poor girl is a needy mess on Wednesday nights when we get back here.

The cloudburst passed quickly leaving a double rainbow in its wake. BV was first to grab the new camera, and ran out to the balcony to document it.

green3 green4Does this not look like something that should be shooting out of a unicorn’s butt? Love it.

So let me apologize again for yet another “spring is awesome” post but come on…

Last month in Grainbach

Last month in Grainbach

It’s hard to argue with all this pretty. Green fields like that make me want to roll around like a horse when you take off its saddle. Sometimes it’s hard to remember I’m an adult. Then again, adulthood is a fluid concept, at least in my book.

In summation: If you’re stuck somewhere blah, might I recommend a visit to ze Deutschland? Who could resist a view like this?

Last year in the Allgäu

Last year in the Allgäu

Just consider this an advertisement for the German tourist board.

And German tourist board? If you’re reading this, feel free to send cash.

Fellow Germany dwellers, is green the right color? And apologies if it doesn’t look this good where you are… Bayern for the win!

*Or possibly amber like the beer, but for the sake of argument, let’s go with green.

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. 🙂