Plan B

Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
Trip End Oct 18, 2006

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Flag of Germany  ,
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

September 27-28

I said good-bye to Austria when my train crossed over into Germany on the way to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The rain, although light, followed me the whole way - about an hour's trip, maybe two but certainly not more. It was only a short walk to my hotel from the train station, so the rain didn't bother me too much. When I arrived, I learned that my room was not yet ready, so I stowed my bags at the desk, grabbed my umbrella and went to go look around in the rain. I decided to not even take my camera. "What's the use with this weather?"
My sole intention in coming here was to see the Zugspitze, Germany's highest Alpine peak. However, as I walked from the hotel toward the main streets of Partenkirchen, there was no way to even tell I was surrounded by soaring mountain peaks. I couldn't see more than 300 or 400 meters in front of me, much less what might lay past the outskirts of town.
The next evening I was scheduled to meet the people I would be staying with in München and I wanted make it to Füssen in the morning to visit the famous castle Neuschwanstein, so I just resigned myself to the fact that I would have to come back some other time to see what this part of the world was really like.
Garmisch and Partenkirchen are actually two towns next to each other which, these days, are almost always referred to together in a hyphenated fashion. Kinda like Minneapolis/St. Paul, but on a slightly different scale. So, I was heading toward the Partenkirchen side, which had some really quaint little streets with traditional half-timber buildings set at the foothills of the unseen mountains. I scoped-out a restaurant to return to that night and then spied a sidewalk sale at a traditional German clothier.
A plan began to formulate. In just a couple of days I would be with my friends Sean and Amanda in Munich for Oktoberfest. What better way to fit in than to wear what the locals wear. The two of them would certainly be surprised and I'm sure they'd get a kick out of it. I tried on a pair of Lederhosen, but the leather shorts and suspenders combos are surprisingly expensive; even when on sale. Instead, I found a pair of the traditional knee length shorts made of corduroy, some long Strumpf (socks) and a Hemd (shirt) in a traditional, festival style (see pic.). The shirt even had a couple of little embroidered beer mugs on the breast pockets. I tried on the outfit and took a look in the mirror. "They're gonna howl."
I'd pretty much exhausted my options in Partenkirchen by this point, so I headed back toward the hotel and found an internet point to finish off a travelogue. Technical setbacks kept me there way longer than I'd planned, but finally I got everything uploaded. When I went back to the hotel to check-in, I got a nice surprise.
The very reasonable rate that I had secured online for this, one of the best hotels in town I later learned, got even better when I was informed that I was being upgraded to a Jr. Suite. I had no idea why and I wasn't arguing. The room was massive compared to most of the joints I'd been staying at. There was a separate bedroom and sitting area with a dining table and love seat next to the mini-bar and beyond that, French doors that opened out onto a courtyard. I think it spoiled me into booking better accommodations the rest of the way, but I had been pretty frugal to this point, so why not?
As I walked to dinner that night I came upon a stoplight and the "Don't Walk" sign was illuminated. Now, Garmisch is the kind of place where people will always wait to cross the street because that's what the sign says to do. No matter that no cars have driven by in the past fifteen minutes, nor that one can plainly see, for three or four miles in either direction, that there are no cars on the horizon. The chances of being run down by a speeding motorist were exactly zero. But the sign said "Don't Walk" or "Gehen Sie nicht" or whatever, so they didn't. I think they were ready to brand me a heretic and take me to the Inquisitors when I stepped to the edge and, after a quick glance, proceeded on my way across the intersection. Luckily, by rule, they couldn't follow to haul me in. I was two blocks away by the time the light changed.
That night I had one of the best traditional German-cuisine dinners of my life. I started with Lebersknödlesuppe, followed by Schweinshaxe mit Sauerkraut und Spätzle. If you don't know what any of that stuff is, then you probably don't want to know, but to me it was pure heaven. It was made even better by the accompaniment of a deep amber Paulaner Oktoberfest bier (or two). I had really enjoyed the food in Austria and this meal turned out to be a great start for Germany as well.
It occurred to me that when this trip ended I should look back and try to rank my top meals, but this one surely qualified for top 10 consideration. And at a ridiculous 17-euro, all-in, it was probably the best value of the bunch too. I think I'll have to change the subtitle of this travelogue to, "1,001 Ways to EAT Your Way Across Europe."
The next morning I literally leapt out of bed when I opened my eyes and saw the sun shining brightly through the French doors. I could hardly believe it. I dressed quickly and stepped outside, still in bare feet. It was perfect; crisp morning air and hardly a cloud in the sky - the antithesis of the day before. The mountains encircled me and they were spectacular, rugged and snow peaked as I'd seen in countless photos and as I'd imagined them the day before when hidden from view.
I immediately formulated a new plan. I didn't have to be in Munich until that evening and I could always try to visit Füssen later. Maybe Sean and Amanda would even want to spend one day trekking out there to see the castle and we could all go together. So that gave me all day to explore the mountains here in this glorious sunshine. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, I stowed my gear with the desk like I had done the previous day except this time I made sure to keep my camera with me. I got directions to a hiking trail that would lead me to the Wankbahn (the ski lift-like cable cars that ascend the peak opposite the Zugspitze).
It was a pretty walk with great views of mountainside churches tucked into the forest and the towns unfolding below as I climbed higher. The birds were singing and the smell of the pine trees all around was life affirming. If you've spent any amount of time in the woods while growing-up, you know what I mean.
The cable ride took me up to 1780 meters and some of the most breathtaking scenery I've encountered since I trekked through the Andes. There's something about mountains that is awe inspiring in a way nothing else in nature can really compare to (for me). It's the size, I think. They're so majestic. Particularly so with the Alps. Actually, the ride took longer than I thought it would. At the halfway point there was a relay station and I almost got out of the car before realizing I wasn't at the top yet.
When I did get off the tram, I immediately noticed how low the clouds were hanging (or I guess how high up we were). Seemingly just over the hill in front of me there was a bank of them, so I set off chasing clouds. As I went, I passed this cute little old couple sitting on a bench reading (see pic.). Not a bad place to enjoy your morning newspaper, I thought. They were atop the crown of a hill with nothing around but the light clouds welling up behind them.
There were families coming and going along the pathways and lots of serious Alpine walkers with the ski poles and the whole bit. I sat on a bench for a bit under a little wooden A-frame shelter and just took in the view of the Zugspitze which was on the opposite side of the valley from me with Garmisch-Partenkirchen between us. The peak I was gazing at soars to over 2,900 meters and is rivaled on every side by bergs nearly that tall. As I sat there I was reassured of the Creator's existence. There's just no way beauty of this magnitude happens by accident. I also started to think about some of the changes I could see taking place within me.
Before, a situation like the rain-out in Innsbruck and the first day here in Garmisch would have engendered a real bitch-fest, even if only in muttering forms under my breath and to myself. "Why does this have to happen to ME?" But I hadn't felt any of that. I just made another plan and moved on. After all, I could always come back to any of these places someday if I want to, right? It may sound pedantic to others, I don't know, but it felt like growth to me.
Anyway, I took up the hike again and as I rounded a bend I caught the clouds I had been chasing. I walked through the dense fog a little ways and decided to head back around to the other side of the hill from where I had come. I preferred the sunshine. Very curious how a matter of a couple hundred yards made the difference between dark and light. Curious, but not coincidental I don't think.
I made my way up to the hilltop restaurant that had fabulous 360° views and ordered some wieners with kraut and a Löwenbrau (yeah, that stuff still exists over there and it's really good too). By now the place was starting to get crowded  with a mixture of families, middle age tour groups and a surprising number of apparent students, some of whom it looked like had actually hiked up to this point. The Wankbahn had been a good fifteen minute ride easy, up a serious incline the whole way. Wonder how long it would take to walk it?
I headed back to town and walked toward the station where the train departs for the Zugspitze. Unfortunately, I missed the last one for the day by about ten minutes. Oh well, a reason to come back here come day. I kicked around in Garmisch a little longer admiring the half timber architecture and beautiful mountains framing the background until it was time to collect my gear from the hotel and make for the train to Munich.
What had started as a washout visit had turned into one of the most beautiful serene and reflective days of the entire trip. Which just goes to show you, the storms in our lives always pass and the sun shines that much more brightly afterwards because of them.
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