Monday 24 December 2007

Skiing on the Zugspitze at Garmisch

I went skiing earlier this week on the Zugspitze ski field in the Bavarian Alps. It was a beautiful sunny day, no clouds, unlimited visibility, warm, no queues and good snow. Despite no fresh powder, the small amount of powder was nice, and it was nice not to be skiing on ice!

In terms of finding out details about how to ski at Garmisch I found details to be lacking a bit on various websites, so here is my attempt to explain some of it from my experience.

The Zupspitze is the highest mountain in Germany and the snow (according to the guy in the snow rental shop) is the best up there, as opposed to the numerous other ski areas around. I hired skis, boots and poles from a place on the corner of Alpspitzstra├če and Sankt-Martin-Stra├če called Thomas Ski Schule or something like that. I don't know if it's the cheapest but the the gear was good enough (€28). I was also wanting to hire goggles but they unfortunately don't hire them so I bought some instead (my other ones are a bit old anyway). They also didn't hire helmets for adults, but this wasn't a biggie for this field (imho) unless you're wanting to hit the terain park.

In order to get to the ski field I took the Zupspitzbahn (cost ~€38 including access to all lifts on mountain) which is a cogwheel train that goes up to the ski field (the Zugspitzplatz area), from it's station next door to the main train station. There is essentially nothing at this station expect for a ticket office and the train (of course). I took the first train (8.15am) and about an hour later arrived at the ski field which was practically empty. I actually took a taxi to the station it left from because I didn't want to walk with skis, boots, poles etc 1km to the station (cost ~€9). I got there early and found no queue at all. It was very easy to buy a ticket and the guy in the counter spoke great English (like most people in Germany). I then put my skis on the side of the train and went inside to the nicely heated interior with my poles and boots. At this point I hadn't put my ski boots on, but many others had. The trip was very scenic with snow everywhere.

Once off the train, I went to the outside area and put on my ski boots and put my other shoes in my day pack. I think there was an area with lockers but my bag was so light I ended up skiing with it on. The ski area starts from this area (I recommend heading left and down for intermedia and above skiiers/boarders, to the right is essentially the beginners area although it can be a good place to start for others too) and there are a couple of restaurants here with reasonably high prices; it would be worth taking a little bit of stuff up with you. A super small tube of sunblock also set me back €9.20 so it would be worth taking that with you too if it looks like it will be a sunny day. In terms of the runs, they're well marked, and fairly self explanatory in terms of how to get back to this main area (although it might take a t-bar and a chairlift to do so). Incidentally there was only the one charlist and every else was a t-bar.

The vast majority of people on the field were skiiers, not snowboarders which was something different. The field is nice and wide and a great place to practice turns, but not much in the way of things to jump off or walls to back up (that I saw anyway). I did lots and lots of runs. It is actually quite a fast field, whereby there were a number of times when you need to go at a decent speed in order to make it up the next hill, but this didn't pose a problem at all for me.

In terms of getting back down I decided to take the cable car down from the summit to the Eibsee. Whilst I had heard this was faster, in my case it definitely wasn't. The other option is to simply go back on the Zugspitzbahn (which I would recommend). I changed back to my walkign shoes at this point, but many didn't. In terms of the way I went, there is a cable car up to the summit from the main Zupspitzeplatz area which left about every 15mins (and I'd just missed one). Once finally on (standing room only) this only took a few minutes to get to the summit, where there was about a 10min wait for another cablecar down to the Eibsee (NB: you need your ticket, from the journey up the mountain, here to get through the turnstiles). This was also standing room only and took 5-10mins and went down a long way rather quickly (quite exciting). At the bottom there was a short walk (~2min) along a path covered in snow (which was just ok in my shoes) up to the train station where there was a 35min wait until the Zugspitzbahn arrived, which I then boarded (NB: you need your ticket, from the journey up the mountain, here to get through the turnstiles) and eventually (~30mins later) arrived back where I started at the Zugspitzbahn main station.

So that was my day. Great fun and good snow!

and coming up...

Tomorrow we leave Garmisch. We're now so familiar with the German train system and so delighted with it's efficiency that we're quite happy to turn up the Hauptbanhof 15 minutes before our train is due instead of our usual hour.

From here we head to Munchen, where we will be met by Georg and escorted to Moosburg where we will spend christmas eve with family friends. It will be excellent to experience something like christmas with locals and we're both thoroughly looking forward to it, although have no idea what to expect!

Until next time, Seasons Greetings all.

of Fairy Tale Castles, Narnia and unknowingly crossing borders

I believe it is time I gave up on my ideal of blogging the entirety of this holiday. It simply isn't going to happen. At least today I've beaten the computer into submission and actually convinced it to change the keyboard to english. Phew!

Thus, today I'm simply going to write about what we did and saw yesterday, or at least in part given that we jammed in over 270km yesterday!

9am-ish we picked up a rental car, which we were a little suprised to discover, once we got to it a block from the office, that it was still completely covered in ice which we had to scrape down before we could even consider going anywhere. At 72 euro for the day, I'd have thought Avis could have actually prepared it for us. Perhap I expect too much. Ah well, you've been warned. There is my protest, online for the world to read. :-)

From there we headed north towards Munchen and Augsburg and within about 5 minutes of driving we were greeted with the incredible, icy beautfy of snow encrusted trees, fences, houses and blanketed hillsides. It is so amazing to be confronted with something completely outside of my usual experience. So often when we travel we are seeing things that are a variation on the familiar. This however was something completely new and splendid for me. I was completely in awe of it all. Absolutely amazing. I'm not even sure that we really got photos, although expect we managed to gather our jaws up and contain amazement for long enough to get a couple of shots towards the end of the day. Truely, I felt like I had walked through the back of the wardrobe and emerged in Narnia.

20km or so along the road, we turned off to Oberammergau (sp?) where we had a bit of look around. I saw a cool carved frog prince in the middle of the street that I photographed, then a little further on we found a strange ice scupture of, hmm, what on eart was it. Half of a pipe standing on its end? Something like that! Anyway, when we returned back past the frog, I idiotically declared to Simon 'Oh! That's carved from ice too!' Duh! Silly girl! I had thought it carved from stone when I photographed it. :)

From Oberammergau we headed further up the road, turning in to the final part of the Romantic road towards Schwangau and Neuschwanstein castle. Wow! How completely surreal! You're driving along this road surrounded by the most amazing winter wonderland, gazing at the many mountains that surround you on all sides, and then all of sudden notice this vainglorious edifice on the hillside! What an incredible indulgence - never completed and lived in by Ludwig for only 170 days! Astounding! We eventually found the road up to it, but were the only car amongst hundreds of walkers and several horse and carts. I felt somehow we weren't meant to be there given the lack of other cars or even tyre tracks. However there were no signs, and when we did get to the top there were a few cars in the carpark. We marvelled at just how far people were trapsing up a hideous hill in freezing conditions to visit the castle. True to our usual form, we declined to go in (this is a habit we should perhaps consider getting over at some point, but personally I find the natural beauty of a place to be what I find the most inspiring and calming part of travel). We did however take several photos. The panaromic view over the valley from that height was quite incredible, but impossible to photograph. I've snapshotted it in my memory instead. :)

From there we crawled our way down the hill and back out the main road, past Fussen then headed for Reutte in Austria. And crossed the border. With no fanfare or acknowledgement other than the street markings changing to a slightly different format.

We tried and failed to find somewhere for lunch in Reutte then proceeded towards Innsbruck, however obviously missed the one crucial sign as we discovered ourselves heading towards somewhere entirely opposite to Innsbruck, requiring Simon to perform one of his favoured u-turns. :)

Eventually we found the correct road, and then pulled in to the grounds of the Erhard (???) castle ruins where we found a most unassuming little pub/cafe to have lunch at. As we walked in and found a table, the occupants of the only other table in use each greeted us! So nice! We had a very hearty meal!

From there we continued on towards Innsbruck but decided we would continue on the shorter route, directly back to Garmisch. At some point, we have no idea when, we crossed back into Germany. Still very odd.

The mountains were truely incredible. I took several photos of what we thought was the Zugspitze (where Simon skiied the other day) while in Austria, only to turn a few more corners and discover the Zugspitze in all it's glory, leaving me to dismiss the other mountain as 'some puny other mountain'. In such abundance are they!

I am left with the most incredible images of white, crisp, magical countryside. Never did I think I could enjoy winter so very much.

Saturday 22 December 2007

Whirlwind catchup (and Merry Christmas everyone!)

Oh my goodness, I cannot believe that we are almost 2 weeks in to our holiday! It´s going insanely quickly and already I feel like I am forgetting things and unfortunately I have not been keeping a diary of things at all!

We have had absolutely splendid weather, with only a very light drizzle the night we arrived in Frankfurt and then a tiny bit of rain on the following afternoon when we arrived in Wurzburg. Since then it has been quite beautiful. Yes, cold, but beautiful clear skies throughout.

So, since ROBT where I last blogged from, we have had 3 nights in Nurnburg, 2 in Regensburg and have now had 2 nights in Garmisch, with plans to hire a car tomorrow and go for a drive up to Neuchwanstein castle and probably back via Austria, just because we can. :)

I wasn´t overly enamoured by Nurnburg. The Christmas markets there were certainly the largest we have seen, but also felt quite commercial and it was also about the only place we´ve been where it seemed that there were more foreigners than Germans. Most of Nurnburg was destroyed during the 2nd world war, however much of it has been restored using the original stones. Beautiful buildings, but I personally didn't get the same atmosphere from Nurnburg than our other destinations in Bavaria.

We did however find a splendid Italian restaurant - which confused the hell out of language skills - speakings bits of German, Italian AND english. Oh my goodness! Fabulous atmosphere, divine food, and then we went back the following night. :)

Regensburg I fell in love with during the taxi ride from the Hauptbahnhof to our hotel. Oh my word, another place where words simply cannot do sufficient justice in describing it. I will try at a later date when I also have the advantage of adding some photos to aid my story. Our Hotel alone was quite delightful, with a 4 poster bed and antique furniture everywhere.

Beautiful Bridge in Regensburg

Ok, I´m rushing this far too much to do anything even a semblance of justice, so shall leave it at that for now and endeavour to restrospectively update at later dates.

Merry Christmas to you all - I don´t expect to be writing again until after that!

Wednesday 12 December 2007

The most beautiful place in the world

Ok, so perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, but its certainly right up there. :-)

We're in Rothenburg ob der Tauber at the moment, and truely, it is quite magical. (Forgive me the odd typo - the keyboard is German and I don't have access to the control panel to change the input).

It is certainly a little on the cold side and I am glad for all of the merino wool we stocked up on, but it's quite a delicious, crisp cold, rather than the damp, icky cold we get a home over winter.

I honestly do not know how to do this place justice using mere words. Our hotel alone is like stepping back in time, and is just so magical. Its all dressed up in its christmas clothes, but so tastefully done. The window displays in all the shops along the street are fabulous, with fresh pine sprigs all around them, candles, Father Christmas' of all shapes and sizes, and mistletoe - which I'd previously only ever seen on TV or in photos!

The bakeries are a feast for the eyes - all with their own various renditions of the Schneeballen (once you've had one you're unlikely to require another!). The delicatessans (or perhaps they have a different name) are fair bulging (pun slightly intended) with all manner of sausages and salamis and a variety of other things that I don't have a hope of identifying - but may just buy anyway so we can find out!

We've been quite suprised, but equally delighted with the sight of people in restaurants with their dogs on the floor beside them - and I don't mean little Paris Hilton style dogs either, I mean alsatians, and others of similar size! Quite different!

Our host here at the Goldener Hirsch is quite a delight all of his own! Simon thinks he's a bit like Basil Fawlty - and I don't disagree! He's quite wonderful and has an unexpectably effusive sense of humour.

Ah so much to see and take in! I'm in my own private heaven surrounded by so much medieval history, buildings, monuments, roads, and on and on. Ooh, and with impeccable timing, a horse and carriage just rolled past the window. Hehe. Bliss. I could stay here forever. Or at least enjoy dreaming about it forever.

Friday 7 December 2007

The Day Before

Right, my inbox is empty, my to do list is all but ticked off (only 1 item left and it's only a priority 3 so it can stay unticked at this point). All that remains is to drop the cats off to their grandparents, wash all my clothes (damn), tidy the house (bugger), change the sheets (or not if I can't be bothered), grab my passport (argh! nearly forgot!), and jump on the plane. In 30 hours and 29 minutes. Yes, and counting.

Hopefully we'll get to internet cafes regularly enough to keep updates here, we'll see how we get on. Probably no photos until we get back though, at which point I can assure you there'll be plenty.
Watch this space!