Sunday Snapshots: Epic Tree Location

Salzburg, 2014

Salzburg, 2014

Back in the day, my sister, dad, grandpa, and I were often dispatched on cookie baking weekend to go pick out our Christmas tree for the year. Some years we went to a tree farm and cut one down, but more often it was a gas station or home improvement store that was selling trees. Needless to say, this tree lot next to the Salzburg Cathedral crushes even the nicest tree display, strictly based on location.



Sunday Snapshots: Game Time


Salzburg, 2010

Salzburg is a city that completely enchanted me on my first visit. Since then, I’ve been back quite a few times but it has lost none of its magic for me. Something about the fortress rising above the church towers, the soft whites and pastels of the buildings, and the hills rising all around it just makes me absurdly happy every time. I’ve managed to get there almost once a year since my first visit, so here’s hoping I can squeeze it in again this year!

Now for the real question: in a town that can sometimes almost always be crawling with tourists (note the souvenir stand in the background), are these guys locals or just passing through? The hat to me says tourist, but the fact that they brought their own chessboard (as opposed to playing with the giant set a few steps away), says local. Thoughts??

2014 Recapped

Pro tip: if you’re looking to start a diet in the new year, I highly recommend living in a town where even the Shell gas station is closed on New Year’s Day, thus preventing you from buying delicious, delicious, salty chips to sate your slight hangover.

If you haven’t guessed from the previous statement, I did not draft this post in advance before happily driving off to Italy for the holiday. Sadly any thumbs that were pressed did not help my letter to arrive in time, and so here I sit, ready to look back at the last year.


January was pretty quiet, except for one weekend spent in Prague visiting my sister who was on her TEFL course. We had a great time hanging out with her and revisiting some of my favorite haunts. It was a great weekend away, apart from the last couple of hours.

Holly and I in Praha

Holly and I in Praha


Holly visited us for a week after she finished up with her TEFL course. While she was here, we visited Bamberg, and went down to Munich to meet up with one of her friends. Holly also helped us pick out a cat at the Nürnberg Tierheim, and thus Marry die Katze joined our family. I got to spend an afternoon with a childhood friend, who stopped in Nürnberg for some lunch on her Euro trip. We hadn’t seen each other (minus on the Facebox, of course), since our epic high school French trip of 2001, and it was great to catch up a bit.


Spring came fairly early this year, with crocuses pushing up through the grass in March, and even late in February. We took a few drives to the Franconian Switzerland, and I got acquainted with some of the walking paths around our little village.


The weather continued to be lovely, so we started on our garden. We also took the first hike of the year, and took BV’s little brother along to experience his first mountain shelter stay. He learned that a Maß tastes better at the top, and that I rarely lose at Egyptian Rat Screw. I had a fairly disastrous interview, but at least I got my first interview for a German job out of the way. My sister left the US to start her own English-teaching adventure in South Korea. She has a blog, which you can find here. Maybe if she gets some more hits, she’ll update the damn thing once in a while. (Hint, hint, hint, Holly.)


We spent some more time wandering through the Franconian Switzerland, and enjoyed testing out our new camera. BV decided that a study break was much needed for his birthday, so we hopped the border to spend a weekend in Strasbourg. It was my first time back to France since the high school trip, and the macaroons alone made it worth the while!


Fest season was in full swing in June, and we visited our local Kirchweih, plus the famous Erlangen Berg, and a beer fest in Nürnberg. The US played Germany in the World Cup, and we cheered on both sides in one of my favorite beer gardens in the city. Germany of course won, and BV got a nice bottle of whisky out of the deal.


I lost more classes in July, but the plus side is that I don’t have to wake up at 5:30 on Thursdays anymore. Silver linings, and all. The rest of the month was too busy to be working more anyway. My parents ended their week-long cruise up the Danube from Budapest here in Nürnberg, and stayed in Germany with us for a week. We showed them many castles on many hills, and spent time in Würzburg, Cologne, and Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. We took a trip down to the Weltenburger Kloster for a little hiking on a hot day, and back to the Franconian Switzerland for more hot climbs uphill. After far too many trips to the OBI, we finally decided to build a bookshelf in the office, which Marry die Katze claimed as her personal playground. My friend E was back in Germany for a hot minute, so we got caught up and even staged a castle garden photoshoot to work on my portfolio.


Another fairly busy month, starting with a visit to the Oberpfalz and our village friends. As per usual, it was a house full of friends, family, critters, and interesting talks. It’s good to know that there are people who are fully prepared with an action plan for the zombie apocalypse. We did a little hiking, and rented kayaks for a trip down a river to beat the heat. A random Tuesday was spent in Munich, visiting the German National Museum and the Residenz with a friend. My 31st birthday meant a weekend escape to Salzburg (out of phone service), and a little hiking on the Untersberg.


WEBMU finally came to Nürnberg with a side trip to Bamberg, and I enjoyed spending a couple of days with some fellow expats. BV and I celebrated our second anniversary, and we stopped by the Altstadtfest, to see what the old farmers were getting up to this year. I started teaching a new conversation course for our local VHS, and now get to spend Tuesday evenings with a chatty bunch of folks. The third round of Residence Permit Rodeo began, and I had no idea what was coming.


A college friend of mine flew to Munich with his girlfriend, so BV and I took the train down to meet them and hang out at Oktoberfest for the day. They came up to Nürnberg a few days later, and we got to show them around our area. We showed them the city, and more castles on hills in the Franconian Switzerland, before they headed off to Prague to continue their European tour. We tried to go somewhere new for our last hike of the year, but last-minute plans meant that everything was already full or closed. Instead of something new, we revisited the Hochries, where we were earlier in the year. The golden autumn lasted just long enough for us to get up and down the mountain. I finally picked up some new classes from another school, and my Thursday afternoons are now in Bad Windsheim, train strikes or not.


BV and I hopped a train down to Munich yet again, this time to see a Richard Avedon exhibit in its last weeks. The exhibit was wonderful, and we spent the rest of the day walking through the city enjoying the golden light and warm temperatures. A friend of mine met us for dinner, happily we caught her in Munich right before she was planning on moving back to Erlangen!  The rest of the month was pretty quiet, and ended with us hosting our third Thanksgiving for a very full house of friends.


Another year, another busy last month. This was the first month I was officially insured in Germany, so bring on the injuries! Originally we had planned to visit the Christmas market in Dresden with BV’s mom. She changed her mind though, and now we’ll probably get up there sometime next spring or summer. Cancelling that trip gave us a free weekend though, which was much needed. Another weekend was spent back in the Oberpfalz with the villagers, making Christmas cookies with the kids, and enjoying some home cooking from Costa Rica. The weekend before Christmas, we drove down to Salzburg for the night, to visit their Christmas market, and soak up some more of the delicious Salzburg-ness of the city. Happily we didn’t have to do any more traveling for our holiday celebrations; BV’s mom came to us on Christmas Eve for some rouladen and spinach dumplings. The first Christmas Day was spent with his dad, brother, and a very delicious goose. That was it for this year’s activities, and we laid low until last night. Much like last year, we started NYE at the world’s largest Feuerzangenbowle, but this year we were smart enough to skip the extra shot, and didn’t go back there after dinner. Dinner was Greek again this year, and we left just too late to catch the last train. We wandered around Fürth, drank another beer at one of the last open bars, and finally taxied ourselves back home just about 5am.

Talking at dinner last night, we decided that the year wasn’t particularly good or particularly bad, but leaned more positive. There are a lot of things that I’d like to do in 2015, and I’m hoping that we laid some groundwork for more travel plans last night. Someone in Berlin owes me a week in Italy, that’s for sure. 2015 will bring thesis time for BV’s Master program, so I’m sure there will be a fair amount of stress to come this year, but I’m optimistic that we can find a good balance.

Here’s hoping that 2015 finds everyone reading this happy, and healthy. May I offer a virtual cheers/prost, to the year ahead. A big thanks to all of you for following along!

Gone Hiking: Untersberg, Austria

Like last year, I opted to spend my birthday in the mountains hiking. You may remember that last year we went down to Berchtesgaden, for a semi-ambitious three-day hike to and from the Watzmann house. This year we didn’t have as much time, so we decided to do a day on the Untersberg. Ever since my first visit to Salzburg, I’ve wanted to go hiking on this gorgeous mountain just south of the city. We booked ourselves into a small guesthouse just below the mountain, and set off for a drive that took longer than planned. Welcome to August on the Autobahn, kids.


View from the hotel parking lot.

Information wasn’t tremendously plentiful online, and we set off with the plan to more or less wing it. There are several peaks on the mountain, the first of which can be reached by hike or by the cable car that leaves from the village of Grödig at the foot of the mountain. Since we only had one day and the hike up to the Geiereck peak was four hours on foot (with a gain of about 1400 meters), we opted to take the 10-minute cable car ride, and hike up at the top. Our loose plan was to hike from Geiereck to the Salzburg Hochthron (about 45 minutes), then hike across the German border to the Berchtesgaden Hochthron (maybe 2.5-3 hours?), and return, coming down the mountain back to Grödig.

In retrospect, this was perhaps overly ambitious. If everything went as planned, that would’ve involved a minimum of 7 hours hiking in a summer when we’ve been about as active as your average sloth. Luckily we got to chatting with the lovely owner of our guesthouse at breakfast, and she put the kibosh on our plans. She eyed up my flip flops (hey! I was only wearing them to the dining room and back) while telling us that the hike down was possible, but it may not be a good idea unless we were fairly experienced hikers. There were some parts where you need to hold yourself, but she wasn’t sure if ropes or any other equipment was necessary. BV is an extremely experienced hiker, but unless I have a good idea of what I’m in for, I’d rather play it safe. He also wasn’t comfortable trying it unless he had some of his gear with him, so we modified the plan to include taking the cable car up and down. That also modified the plan, as we had purchased the 24-hour Salzburg card the day before, and thus needed to ascend and descend the mountain before our 24 hours were up.

A New Plan was formed over a second cup of coffee: cable car up, hike around, hike back, cable car down, and maybe plan a little bit more for the next trip. To the pictures!

The photos above are both from previous trips… Unfortunately this time the car was packed and there was zero chance of getting a good shot. Trust me when I say it’s a great view though. I also particularly enjoy the King’s beard on the side of the ground station.

Directly above the mountain cable car station is the Geiereck peak at 1805 meters. There is also a mountain shelter there, but I believe it’s only a restaurant and not an overnight shelter. Obviously this was the most crowded point on the mountain, but it’s still beautiful.

The first time I came up this mountain it was completely enshrouded in cloud. But on this trip we got the perfect mix day. I mean…. c’mon….

untersberg5Looking ahead here, the highest point you can see is our next destination, the Salzburg Hochthron. All signs pointed to a 45-minute walk to get there, so we joined the others and set off. There were all manner of people attempting it, and it’s fairly easy. We made it in about 30 minutes, and while I will say that I was very happy to be wearing hiking shoes, there were Asian tourists in skirts with slip-on sneakers tripping up and down the stairs. Oh, and a nun.

I mostly had a problem with the stairs on some of the up/down parts. They were wooden stairs, but like many in the mountains, the wood at the front of the step is rounded (think a split log, curved side up). I get the premise, the rounded and raised top keeps stones from falling as easily, but I usually have to go down with my foot sideways, because I don’t feel comfortable balancing on the curved top when there isn’t anything to hold onto. BV trips right down them, but he has giant feet and anchors himself much better. Next time we go I have to try and get a picture of these damn stairs, because they suck. But at that time, I was more concerned about not falling in front of the children and random tourists. An older lady in front of us did fall a bit, but it was going up rather than going down. Step carefully, even in the tourist zones.

When we arrived at the Salzburg Hochthon (1853 meters), we didn’t take much of a break. Since we were now short on time, we wanted to see how far we could get. Just a quick break for photos, and then onward and downward.


Spot the nun…

At this point, we figured we only had about 2.5 hours left before we had to catch our cable car down. We resolved to hike about an hour or so forward, then turn back and grab something to eat before the descent. There were a few different paths, so we chose the one we thought went to the Berchtesgaden Hochthron, with the thought that maybe we could at least see it, as we were definitely not going to get there that day.


BV found a nice-looking and meadow-filled detour for us to take when it was time for a snack and my birthday present. At this point we had left the majority of people behind, but it was still busier than a lot of the trails we’ve done so far and we thought it was best to get out of the narrow path for a break. Going into the meadow we were totally on our own, except for one girl down at the bottom of a dip, who appeared to be sketching mountain flowers.

As for the gift, feast your eyes upon this magnificence…

untersberg39Damn right that’s a deer purse. It’s amazing, and I love it so hard.

We had a little more time, so we pressed on, and were rewarded with a pretty sick view before the trail dipped down into the saddle. Some parts here were getting tricky, and we thought it best to stop there. It’s always better to stop before you have to go down and climb back up again. But before we go, pictures!

Our hike to the start of the saddle had taken us a bit more than an hour, but of course the trip back was only about 30 minutes. We took a shortcut, bypassing the Salzburg Hochthron and instead following a (way steeper than it looked) ski trail that intersected with the main path. The good part about being early to the cable car meant we had time for lunch instead of just a beer and a snack. We grabbed the last available table at the shelter, flagged down one of the incredibly busy waiters, and ordered ourselves beers and some Käsespätzle. It was delicious, but rather than taking pictures of that (boring), I give you….

I do have a love for the slightly stereotypical and sometimes cheesy Bavarian-style decor, but that toilet lid really takes it to a whole new level.

Since I can’t close this post with a picture of toilet lid (I have some standards. Not many, but some.), I’ll leave you instead with some mountain flora and fauna. Because flowers are always a good idea.

untersberg18Mmmmm. That’s more like it.

And Untersberg? Don’t you worry… we will regroup, maybe plan slightly better, and we shall be back. Rumor has it that you’re magical, and we didn’t see nearly enough.


Have you been to the Untersberg?