Germany Austria May 2018: A wonderful last day at Hellabrun zoo and Nymphenburg palace

All good things must come to an end. “But why mama, why?” asked the unhappy kid. “So that we can earn money for the next trip,” I unhelpfully answered. We were on the last day of our holiday and the very thought was depressing the two of us. But I was determined not to let it mar our last day.

The biggest worry for the day was where to go. The contenders were Nymphenburg palace (highest on my list), Munich zoo and Primark for shopping (highest priority for the kid). The hubby flatly refused one more palace, so we set off for the zoo.

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Hellabrun zoo is a long train ride from  Munich central station, so we left as soon as we could, especially because the penguin feeding time was 11 am and I was desperate to see that (it was past 10 am when we left!) We hurriedly walked/ ran to the zoo and then to the penguin enclosure which was at the far end of the zoo, without bothering to look at any of the animals on the way. “Relax Beejal, the penguins aren’t being flown out of Munich after their feeding,” admonished the hubby, but I was charged up.

Fortunately, we made it in time (the keeper was a bit delayed, thank God for the lack of the brilliant German efficiency here), and we could see loads of Emperor, Rockefeller and Humboldt penguins, waddling about on the ice.

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The tall commanding Emperor

I love penguins. They are my favorite birds. I love seeing these ataxic birds jump into the water and swim so gracefully. When the keeper picked up a penguin and cuddled him, I was so jealous and would have happily traded places.

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It was a wonderful experience, like watching ‘Happy feet’ live. We spent the bulk of our day here, and came back once again. Somehow after the penguins, I lost my steam and my interest slowly waned. The hubby was very irritated by my mad rush to the penguins and complained about how we’d not enjoyed the zoo because I was obsessed with seeing the penguins eat fish. “Hmmpphh,” I said, “the other animals aren’t being flown out of the zoo because I didn’t see them.”

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A snowy owl (looked so like Hedwig)

Of course, we patiently roamed about the entire zoo. There was a reasonable cloud cover and we had a good time. We saw a seal show that was in German and we couldn’t understand, but there’s no mistaking the love the trainers and the animals share.

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Awwwww!

Naturally, we were fascinated by the big cats, especially a growling tiger prowling about.

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A pair of lions was fast asleep as we walked by and admired the beautiful cats, when one suddenly woke up and looked us in the eye.

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The zoo had fairly large enclosures for the animals to move about in, but they could be a still larger. Though I do visit zoos, I feel that animals don’t deserve this kind of captivity. We wouldn’t like a world in which we were in some enclosure and a “higher” species was gawking at us.

On a happier note, there was a huge enclosure for the primates with swings and branches for them to enjoy, which they did whole-heartedly.

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Some primates are happy enough on land.

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A tropical rainforest enclosure intrigued us a lot. The atmosphere was hot and humid, and we were very much at home. We enjoyed listening to the chirping of the birds around us.

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By afternoon, I was in a rush to exit quickly as I wanted to see Nymphenburg palace before it closed. So, we rushed through the aquarium, shopped for soft toys and had lunch in a biergarten by the flamingos.

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Brew with a view

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We headed back to the hotel together post-lunch, as our Munich day ticket mandates our travelling together. By this time, stormy rain clouds had gathered and the sky was an ominous gray. The hubby refused to head out so I convinced the kid to come with me to Nymphenburg palace even though she was tired by all the morning walking.

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Much needed dessert on the last day of a great trip

A short tram ride took us to the gates of the summer palace of the Wittelsbach rulers. In the good-old-days, it took 2 hours from Munich by carriage, making it the perfect summer getaway for a ruler. It was raining heavily till then, but amazingly, the rain stopped just before we clambered out and walked the short distance along a canal to the long flat palace with buildings all around it and swans and geese curled up in corners at the sides.

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The stunning Nymphenburg palace on a stormy afternoon

Even as we approached, the sun burst through the dark clouds, momentarily brightening up the landscape.

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Buildings and gardens have been added on to the main palace over the years

It was truly breathtaking. The large green grounds with pretty flowers surrounding large water bodies reflecting the simple buildings made me admire the architect who had designed a home so well harmonized with nature. But this was just the prelude to the show. The magic of Nymphenburg unfolds as you see more of it.

We walked into the palace, put away our bags into lockers and set about seeing the palace interiors first as they would close in half an hour. We weren’t too keen on seeing too much of it as we’d already seen the opulent Residenz but that didn’t stop us from gawking at the beautifully designed stone hall with frescoes on the walls and ceilings featuring nymphs (naturally) and the flower goddess Diana.

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I would happily have lain down on the floor to admire this ceiling 

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My photography skills are too poor to capture this beauty. This hall has got to be seen, and we were happy to feast our eyes on it a second time before leaving. But now, we wanted to walk through a few of the rooms, and most importantly, the gallery of beauties.

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The Gallery of Beauties, with my own little beauty

So, the king made his queen a palace for bearing his heir, and then put up specially commissioned paintings of beautiful women chosen by him, in clothes and embellishments chosen by him. How sadistic can a man be!

 

We wandered through pretty rooms with glamorous chandeliers, liking this palace far more than the Residenz, for its compactness and relative simplicity. It felt like a palace one could live in.

DSC_4919Sure I’d love a canopied bed with a chandelier like that. But that’s not why I’d love to live in Nymphenburg. I fell in love with it for the palace grounds.

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The lawns and canals in the front of Nymphenburg palace, from the terrace of the palace

By the time we got our backpacks and set out to see the extensive park grounds of 200 acres at the back of the palace, the sun was out blazing away and no one could have identified this as the scene of a thunder storm an hour back.

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Geese were more at home here than tourists here as we gazed out at unending fields of green punctuated by canals and lakes. The large expanse in front of us was dotted by statues of Greek Gods and the kid, enlightened by “Percy Jackson”, had a blast running amongst them and naming them.

The amazing Nymphenburg park was increased in size over 200 years, and is now a huge forest-like space that would take an entire day to explore.

Screenshot (1)Sadly, we had barely a few hours and were already tired after a full day of walking at the zoo. Yet, we set off to explore at least one half of the park, intending to walk to the largest lake of the park, the Badenburg lake and then to see the waterfall cascades at the very end of the park. We certainly had taken no scale into account while chalking up this ambitious plan, nor the overpowering evening sun.

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Water bodies are the basis of the park, they fill every nook and corner of it. Small canals crossed by Venetian bridges, long canals you can take a gondola ride on and huge lakes that you can’t see the end of, all fill the park and add to its tremendous allure.

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A Venetian gondola in Germany, with a singing gondolier

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Geese with their goslings swam merrily along

Ever the explorer, the kid chose a path through the forest, instead of walking at the edge of the canal. Beautifully shaded, totally empty, surrounded by trees and the calls of birds, this was the most pleasant of all the walks we took.

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Rambling along, we were a tad concerned about finding the right path to the lake, when we came upon a fork in the road. Since we were on a small path unmarked on the map, we had to choose. Inspired by Frost, we chose the road less travelled and plodded on, to reach a clearing in the woods and a charming bridge over a little canal that opened out onto Badenburg lake.

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Thrilled, we pushed ahead and were delighted to see a few people milling about the periphery of a beautiful lake, with sunbeams dancing off the surface and charming geese for company.

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The monopteros at one edge of the Badenburg lake, that I couldn’t figure out any way to reach

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We sat there for a quite a while, stretching out our tired legs and enjoying our refreshed minds. It was so quiet that there was no need to intrude on the peace by conversation or shutter sound, we took a few pictures for memory and then, just sat quietly together.

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Reluctantly, we left this wonderful place of solace and walked on. By now, the kid was very tired and we couldn’t reach the end of the park. So we decided to cut across the forest and walk back along the central canal on the opposite side, coming upon a statue of Pan and his faithful satyr.

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The God of the wild would love this resting place for sure. As we crossed the central canal, we glanced at the reflection of the palace in the narrow canal and simultaneously went “Oooohhhh!”

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The only thing stopping us staring at this view was the hot sun and our own exhaustion. Truly, Nymphenburg deserves an entire day. We crossed over the canal to the other side to see the Pagodenburg lake, where the setting sun was casting its rays.

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We walked back to the palace halls, thrilled by the evening’s adventure and very glad that we’d stepped out in the storm.

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As we exited the palace and came out to the front lawns, we were struck by how different it looked without the dreary clouds and amazed by how the day had changed. It was as though Munich was giving us a fitting farewell.

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I noticed things I hadn’t seen before like the flowers and the cherubic statues.

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The swans reclaimed their places in the canals, no longer hiding their beaks under their wings, but proudly floating about.

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Tired, but very very happy, the two of us caught the tram back to our hotel and packed for the flight back the next day. We had had a terrific 14 days in Germany and Austria. Every day and every place we visited, we had loved. The hubby’s role in turning down the original plan of Italy must be applauded, as his terrific driving.

While I must credit the hubby the most, there are those who are very important too. The kid was a great companion on this trip, interested in the history of the places, willing to step out and walk and walk, and play lots of Uno. My sister was very accommodating as she didn’t insist on my going to her place to visit her and my adorable niece (my only regret). And I can’t sign off without profusely thanking Yogesh Shenoy for planning my trip to the hilt and being the greatest support system. Nor can I forget the lovely Bavaria and Austria that made my trip so special. I hope to be back someday.

Auf wiedersehen Germany and Austria.

Germany May 2018: Munich Day 2: Cars, palaces and gardens; a day well spent

“3 days in Munich? What will you do there,” asked a friend. As it turned out, 3 days were barely enough. The vibrant city with oodles of old world charm has plenty to offer within the city itself, apart from day trips, all of which we had already visited. Munich turned out to be a city that we fell head over heels in love with. The old town had already enamored us the previous day (Germany May 2018: Munich, the charming Bavarian capital), this day, we chose to visit the BMW welt, Munich Residenz and English Garden.

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The BMW headquarters represents the cylinder head of the four-cylinder car engine

After buying a Munich inner city pass that would allow us to use the train and bus network, we set off to the Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) welt and were surprised to see a bunch of high school kids get off at the stop. I was amazed by their interests till I entered the welt and realised that they were there to play racing games on the free Xbox consoles. The kid didn’t get a chance to play till we were about to leave. We had a blast looking around at all the beemers on display and choosing the ones we would buy if we could. The kid, unsurprisingly chose a concept car.

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From here, we headed to the Munich Residenz, the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian royalty. We got off the U-bahn stop and turned into the palace gardens just behind the Residenz.

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Sadly, it was too hot to tour the gardens, so we turned to look at the Residenz.

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“Imposing building,” I thought, as I tried to push open the doors. “No, no, you can’t enter,” cried a man, “the entrance is all the way around.” ‘All the way around’ turned out to be a long way around. We walked into many courtyards, but couldn’t gain entry through any of those.

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We had to walk back almost half the way to Marienplatz, to a square called Max-Joseph-Platz square and then get in. The walk in the sun was very pleasing to the eyes, with architecture like this to feast the eyes on.

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We stashed away our backpacks and entered the first HUGE room, the Antiquarium (the room of Antiquities), built to house dozens of sculptures. By far the most beautiful of all the rooms, it was filled with just the right amount of art and sculpture.

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We walked from one end to the other and back, staring at the ceiling as much as at the walls, and stood at one end and saw how different it looked with a change of position.

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This grandest room of this grand palace was stunning and captured our attention for the longest time. However it turned into the benchmark that everything else didn’t quite live up to. 

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The paintings on the walls and ceilings were stunning

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Munich residenz is a huge palace, where bits and pieces have been added on by different rulers. It actually looks deceptively small from the outside. There were lots of museum personnel who politely showed you the way and very enthusiastically opened doors and gushed about the rooms ahead. It was clear that the palace employees loved their jobs and were very proud of their city. I found this very very impressive. As we walked through, a gentleman reminded us to go back to see the shell grotto, which was well worth the walk back.

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From here, we entered a huge gallery with fancy chandeliers and gilt portrait frames with paintings of the entire Wittelsbach clan. Apparently these had all been removed just before the bombing of WWII and hidden in bunkers. 

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The Ancestral Gallery

There were many others that hadn’t been salvaged, hence there were many rooms with empty portrait frames. The palace was filled with rooms of gold and gilt. Some rooms had color themes like deep red, cream, blue or even green.

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The wallpaper matched the furniture and sometimes, it was more garish than elegant, but grand it certainly was. However, after a while, we got tired of all the sparkle and were happy to see a relatively simple (and very pretty) chapel.

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Some things were very beautiful indeed like the intricate tapestries on the walls.

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And beautiful artwork on the ceilings.

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And intriguing paintings on the walls of subjects that would have been perfect for the surface anatomy class of college.

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And a desk that the kid said she’d love to use as a book reading table.

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After some time, we got terribly bored. We hadn’t taken the audio guide, so all the rooms looked the same after a while.

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Never ending opulent rooms

So, we left the minute we saw a shortcut to the exit. We didn’t even see the treasury or the theatre, both of which are supposed to be very beautiful. We swiftly caught a train to our hotel, hogged on a delicious meal and rested the entire afternoon.

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We were too hungry to click a picture before starting

The much-needed rest perked us up and we set off to the Odeonplatz once again, now to the English Garden. I’ve always loved large open green areas in cities and visit them on every trip, so naturally, the English Garden could be no exception. But I hadn’t bargained for this wonderful oasis. We just walked through the gardens behind the Residenz, crossed a busy road where cyclists crossed us at supersonic speeds and entered the green patch, where the world seemed to shut itself out. It was as though we were in a different Munich.

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Huge tree cover, many walking paths, benches all around and large open green spaces intersected by small streams characterised this wonderland. There was no street noise, it seemed more like a forest. We walked down a path and came upon a small rivulet.

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Swans and ducks swam in this little water body and the kid desperately wanted to take a little gosling home. Ducks walked about us fearlessly, well accustomed to human presence.

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There were large green spaces packed with people walking, jogging, playing with their kids or dogs, cycling or just enjoying the sun. It was amazing. It was only 6pm in the evening and everyone was free from work to relax. This is a good quality of life indeed. I can’t imagine going to a public garden at 6pm on a working day in Mumbai!

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We walked on, enjoying our leisurely stroll as suddenly came upon yet another stream rolling over some rocks.

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Part of a city? Unbelievable. We fell in love with this oasis. I only missed packing a picnic basket. The kid missed renting a bicycle and cycling about. “Next time,” I promised her.

 I was keen on finding the bit of the river where a one foot high wave is created and surfers plunge into the freezing waters for their bit of fun. This huge garden is unfortunately not very well-marked so it’s not easy to navigate, but we saw a surfer and asked him the directions. A lot more walking led us to a narrow width of water where we could see surfers in the water. Excited, we followed the path upstream.

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It was great fun to watch. There was a small stream 10 feet wide with waves at one place. On both sides of the stream in 2 very orderly rows, stood a line of surfers. They alternately jumped into the surf and rode the waves til they fell in and got swept away by the current.

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Surfing in the center of the city! That’s Munich. We looked about for the stream that was the source of the water but couldn’t locate it. It came out from under a bridge, on the other side of which was the city. It was amazing. On one side were cars and motorcycles and huge buildings and on three other a stream with surfers and a huge green garden.

We stood there for long and then finally moved on. We walked deeper into the garden where there were large lawns. I could see the Monopteros, a small Greek style pavilion high on the slope and headed there.

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The hubby and I struggled up the slope while the kid found a nice staircase and merrily climbed up. While standing at the pavilion, the whole garden sprawled out in front of us with the old town in the background.

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We sat there, recovering our breath and enjoying the view before heading back down.

 

Now we were tired and hungry, so we walked the short distance to the Chinese tower beer garden, to enjoy the perfect German meal.

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The kid read the menu and promptly refused, saying she wanted to get back to the Turkish eatery we’d eaten at the previous day, so we tried figuring out how to get back to Marienplatz without walking backwards, when we suddenly;y came upon a large road with a bus stop. The road goes through the center of the garden, and wisely, we walked no further and saw no more of the garden, but headed back in a bus.

We spent the evening at the old town, wishing time would stand still and the holiday get prolonged, but these things don’t happen. Yet, we had had a wonderful day at Munich and slept well, dreaming of tree covered paths and bridges over streams in the midst of a bustling city.

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Germany May 2018: Munich, the charming Bavarian capital

We had reached the end of our trip, the last 3 days in Munich before we flew out of Europe, by a regional train from Salzburg. The Bayern pass we took enabled us to travel by the extensive rail, underground, bus and tram network of Munich very comfortably. After checking into Hotel Europhaiser hof, a brilliant find by Yogesh again (thanks!), right by central Munich station, we hurriedly grabbed a bite at the station itself, and rushed to Dachau concentration camp. Why did we choose to cloud a beautiful holiday with a visit to a place where humanity died? Where we would relive the Nazi days? Where we would end up sad and melancholy? Mainly to show our child how the madness of one can spread and destroy mankind.

 

Dachau was the first concentration camp to be built, and the model for those to follow. As Hitler grew in power, so did the camp and the unspeakable horrors unleashed on its inmates. This was where most new ideas for torture spread to other camps.

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The entire memorial site is stark, an agonising reminder of a time that should never have been allowed to happen. We walked in through the gate to see the huge empty area where the ground was and then the barracks beyond. This was the most chilling of all the places in the memorial site.

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Walking through these grounds, reading about the state of the prisoners, a documentary about the camp itself and the barracks themselves were the most depressing experience anyone could have. I was amazed that the kid was holding up, but impressed by how Germany took no effort to conceal its terrible past. Instead, it kept it alive in the memories of generations to come, to understand how history must never repeat itself. But today, for me, the sun seemed to go out of the trip.

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Extremely disheartened as we were, we decided to go straight to the center of Munich old town, Marienplatz. While on the train, some 9-10 year old school kids climbed on and sat down around us. Our daughter, who was still very disturbed, had asked to play games on the phone and was engrossed in it. The little boy beside her got so curious that soon he was peeping over her shoulder at the screen.

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You can depend on children to lighten up your mood and brighten up your day! We got off at the Marienplatz stop. Mary’s square has always been the center of Munich (München), when monks settled here and started a market right here. Now, it’s the most crowded and attractive of the many attractive squares that make up Munich, with the beautiful new and old town halls, restaurants and cafes and a very lively atmosphere.

 

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The Gothic Neues Rathaus or New Town Hall

We stood amongst the crowds to see the Glockenspiel, where figurines twirl to depict a medieval tournament and a dance. Famous as it is, I wasn’t particularly impressed by it. I personally found the rest of Munich far more enchanting.

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Münchner Kindl (Monk Child) statue at the top of the clock tower. The Monk Child is the symbol of the city

We followed the downloaded Rick Steves audio tour to guide us around, and frequently and enjoyably got lost. We might have missed a few sights (and churches, much to my chagrin), but fell in love with Munich. My friend Olivia told me that I should have taken a Munich walking tour, but we didn’t have time over the next 2 days and missed a chance to relive the history of this amazing city.

As I read aloud about the new town Hall and its Gothic architecture, my husband heard he magic word “elevator”. I’d told him that we would climb the bell tower of St Peter’s church, but the mention of the word “tower” made him clutch his shoulder and promptly refuse to accompany me. So as soon as he heard elevator, he was thrilled and without further ado, we were riding the elevator to the top of the new town hall.

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The old town hall and St Peter’s church from the clock tower terrace

A narrow enclosed balcony ran all around the top of the tower and we posed against every quarter we could see.

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The crowded Marienplatz with its turquoise colored fish fountain

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Frauenkirche, the tallest church of Munich. No building in the old town can be taller than this church tower

As we waited for the elevator, we noticed the trademark graffiti and couldn’t stop grinning.

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Back in the square, we enjoyed looking around and admiring the statues around and this weird fish fountain with turquoise waters that we’d seen from above.

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Our next stop was the oldest church of Munich, St Peter’s church, built by the monks who settled here and built a monastery right here. The village grew around it. We entered to see a very beautiful church with a marvellously painted ceiling. As a service was on, we didn’t sit too long or look about the church.

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Graves were dug up when the city expanded and the tomb stones were plastered onto the walls of the church

By now, our stomachs were growling, so we headed to the Viktualienmarkt, the central marketplace with a large biergarten, rows of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, cheeses, oils and spices, restaurants and cafes. I love market places and this was no exception, especially when we came upon cherries the size of plums.

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The kid and I were thrilled to find a Turkish eatery, with delicious hummus and falafel. No photographs could be taken as the hunger was overpowering! Tummies full and system recharged, we were set to conquer Munich old town more. Now that we’d ventured off theRick Steves route I struggled to reorient myself and then just gave up. We just roamed around the streets and admired the buildings.

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And weird fountains that you can have a beer in.

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Cattle Market Fountain, a memory of the old cattle market

And a church that were built for the predominant purpose of showing off the skill of the Asam brothers who constructed it.

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The wide streets that led off from the Marienplatz were all cobble-stoned and pedestrian only and studded with big brands, a veritable shoppers paradise.

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The buildings were small and ornately decorated. They were a delight to my  camera and the hubby and kid reached way ahead while I went trigger crazy.

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A beautifully painted building houses a popular restaurant

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What a lovely street with flowers in the center and ancient architecture to house pretty clothes!

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Rambling along as evening fell, we reached a square that we realised later was Odeonplatz. We were simply walking towards a very attractive yellow steeple and came upon a this huge square with a bright yellow church the  Theatinerkirche, built when the king had an heir after a decade of marriage.

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We entered this beautiful peaceful white church that I would have loved to spend an hour in, but were shooed out at top speed by the caretaker as it was closing time. Such a pity!

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Disappointed, we turned our attention to the large Romanesque Feldherrnhalle, built to honor Bavarian commanders and misused by Hitler to honor his own. All those who passed by had to give the Nazi salute. A route actually circumvented the square during the Nazi era, for those who wanted to avoid saluting, that earned the name Dodger’s alley and is now marked by bronzed stones.

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A long dinner at MacDonalds saw us reach the Marienplatz by dark. Gently lit up, the square was filled with musicians, playing at all corners. A violinist tugged at our heart, a band made us wanted to stomp with them. A little ahead a lady with an opera singer’s voice was raising her pitch higher and higher. I held onto my glasses fearing their shattering. Soft lights lit up the buildings of the square.

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The old town hall seemed to gleam at night.

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From around the corner of the new town hall, the onion-domed brick towers of the tallest church of Munich, the Frauenkirche dominated the skyline. These two towers had survived the massive bombing Munich underwent in World War II.

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As the sky darkened, the clock tower of the new town hall grew brighter and brighter.

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We headed back home, tired but happy. We had loved our first day in Munich, the big city with the small town charm, a city where Nazism started and spread from, yet one that has neither hidden nor suppressed that fact, a city that stayed true to its old world roots while moving forward. We still had two more days to enjoy this vibrant city and were determined to make the most of it.

 

Germany Austria May 2018: The mirror lakes Konigssee and Obersee

Our original German road trip was to cover the Romantic Road, the German Alpine road and end in Berchtesgaden, at the border of Germany and Austria. When the Grossglockner high alpine road and Salzburg entered our plans, we had to tweak our route a bit. Finally, we drove down the Romantic Road (Germany Austria May 2018-The unromantic Romantic Road with the very romantic towns), down south to Mittenwald and into Austria, before reentering Germany to drop off our car and hence avoid huge surcharges. As a bonus, we got to visit Berchtesgaden that had gotten cruelly pushed off the itinerary.

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Our trusted car Volkswagen Golf from Sixt rentals

Alright, we really went there because I was desperate to see the stunning mirror lake Obersee, that the hubby had heard rave reviews about from a friend (lucky for me, as I didn’t have to persuade him to go here!) We did have to drop the car off at Freilassing, across the border from Salzburg, and then we took a regional train to Berchtesgaden. Unfortunately, we were used to the extreme convenience of the car and hadn’t realised the difficulty of public transport, which is really what spoiled the day for us.

Getting to Lake Konigssee involved a train and bus change and long waits for both, which translated to 3 hours to reach the much desired lake. Once at the beautiful lake (the most beautiful of all those we visited), worried by the pace of Berchtesgaden and the long wait-times everywhere, we didn’t bother to grab lunch, but hopped onto the first boat we saw.

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This turned out to be a bad move because the boat took a good hour one-way, which meant that we stayed hungry for very long. But we were not to know that. At that moment, we were very happy to get onto anything that was waiting for us instead of the other way round.

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The pier with the wooden boats

Despite the heat and the sun, and the hunger, the stunning lake with brilliantly green and turquoise coloured water, surrounded by towering cliffs was enough to lift everyone’s mood.

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Rows of boat houses lined the lake, that reflected the deep green of the trees

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A duck accompanied us for a short part of our journey

Lake Konigssee is a glacial lake at one end of the Berchtesgaden national park. It’s different from most lakes of the region as it’s surrounded by tall fjord like mountains that seem to rise almost vertically from the lake. The lake itself is narrow and long and there is little wind as it’s all so tightly locked in. This makes for beautiful reflections of the surroundings onto the water.

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Only electric boats are allowed in these waters. The entire perimeter of the lake is the national park and mountains so there is no walking track or habitation around the lake. There are only 2 stops on the lake, from where people can hike into the park. Naturally, one would expect complete peace. Instead, we had a boat full of yakking tourists and this “peace-loving” man!

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As we went deeper into the lake, there was nothing to be seen but the mountains and the waters. Soon the snow-covered peaks came into view, forming one distant edge of the lakes.

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It was too stunning to describe, too stunning to capture on camera. But sadly the peace was broken by the boatman starting a commentary in German. It must have been amusing, because everyone who could understand it was laughing away, but for me, it was an intrusion into my mental space. So I drowned out the noises and concentrated on the locales around me instead.

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What a place to unwind

At some point of the way to the first stop, we were completely surrounded by mountains. Here, the boatman took us closer to one side and stilled the motor. He clambered out onto the steps we’d used to get onto the ship. The kid was petrified looking at him. He then picked up a flugelhorn (trumpet) and played a few notes. The same notes echoed back. Perfectly. He continued playing, a tougher set of notes progressively and the echo would mirror it perfectly. It was like listening to a beautiful song where one verse was loud and the next soft. It was the most amazing part of the day. When he finished, I’m sure that no one wanted him to stop. It was so magical that I didn’t even record it, I just sat transfixed. That lilting melody is still playing in my head as I write today. These few minutes were worth the entire day trip.

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That wonderful fuzzy feeling stayed with all of us for a very long time there onSuddenly there came a gasp from all the people in the front. The onion domed red-roofed church of St Bartholomew came into view. 

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The famous pilgrimage church is where the bulk of the passengers got off. We didn’t disembark as we wanted to reach the last stop before the predicted rain, but we ended up missing an important lunch stop.

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Looking back to the church as we moved ahead

The boat moved deeper towards the end. The mountains were less green here, steeper, taller and the sky bluer. A waterfall could be seen at one side. This area was wider but the water stiller, brilliantly mirroring the mountains and skies. Since the boatman was no longer talking, it was very enjoyable and we loved this portion of the ride.

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Soon, we reached Salet, the last stop. The waters were crystal clear, a few children were feeding fish and the boats were anchored to the pier.

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We saw lots of families with small kids and dogs walking to lake Obersee, a 20 minute walk from the boat dock. I was surprised by the huge numbers of people in this tiny place. People were resting on the grass or sitting on rocks. There was a general cheer in the atmosphere. I think the weather that we found hot, sunny and unbearable was pleasant and wonderful to the locals and they were having a blast.

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We crossed over this little stream, hoping the lake was worth the “trek”, not realising that hunger and thirst contributed in a huge way to our exhaustion. And then, we just stopped in our tracks as we came upon Lake Obersee.

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The still lake completely mirrored the surroundings. The famous wooden chalet on the lake made me wish I could break in and stay here. It was totally shaded and very very pretty.

But very tragically, Instagram had made this quiet abode of nature a selfie paradise. This tiny, really tough-to-reach lake was packed with tourists, yakking away. The line to get onto the little wooden path to the chalet was crazily long. Disgusted, we walked a little further, on the trek towards the waterfall, till we were adequately far away from the madding crowd. Here we stood in a few minutes of silence, trying to enjoy the atmosphere.

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A pair of ducks swam by as we stood there alone. The kid clambered onto a rock jutting out from the water and enjoyed the calm. However, even this moment of peace was short-lived. Some people saw her perched on the rock and rushed here, making us rush off. We walked on towards the waterfall, but it was a long way off and we were too hungry to walk on further, so we turned back.

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We walked back to the ferry pier with ice creams to help us along. But the German eis had spoiled us and the Magnum bars we got here just didn’t live up to the brilliant eis we’d had elsewhere. Back on the ferry, the kid was very disappointed to see a muzzled dog. What with the horse-carriages and the muzzled dogs, our animal rights activist was on a roll.

I wanted to get off at the stop of the church but the kid was very hungry so we simply continued back. As the boat pushed away from the pier, the reflection of the onion domed church in the water glittered in the lake.

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The journey back seemed faster and very different. Dark clouds rolled in and I was surprised to see waves in the waters. The lake seemed to mirror the darker skies.

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We were so hungry by the time we reached the shore that we hurriedly downed our food without bothering to take pictures. A light rain fell, bringing much needed respite from the sun and made the long wait for the bus (es) back more bearable.

Undoubtedly, Lake Koniggsee and Obersee were the most beautiful lakes we saw on this trip. It was sad that local transport was so challenging here, which really spoilt our day. I’m sure we would have been better off driving here and dropping the car off on our way back, or staying in Berchtesgaden, which certainly looked like a small charming town.

Yet, I can’t complain. I got to see the lake that I badly had wanted to, and this image will stay imprinted on my mind forever.

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Germany Austria May 2018: Fairytale Hallstatt from above and Hallstatt salt mines

After an exhilarating drive on the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, we retired early in preparation for another day of “heavy sightseeing”, for we were to leave Zell am see and drive to Salzburg via Hallstatt, the beautiful lakeside town. Thanks to some poor planning, we couldn’t stay the night in Hallstatt, which turned out to be a really bad move, because a day trip just doesn’t cover the place well enough.

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We left Zell am see on a very cloudy morning after a hearty breakfast. The drive through Austria was scenic as could be, with lush green meadows and beautiful mountains around us and with clouds as our constant companions.

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The train tracks and a small river ran parallel to us as we drove. I could imagine my friends Neha and Yogesh enjoying the same scenery in their train to Salzburg.

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Our spirits were high, we sang along as we drove through the lovely countryside. For a while, we drove on the autobahn, the best bit for the hubby, wherein we came upon the famous Hohenwerfen castle, picturized in the Bond film “Where eagles dare.”

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It was a beautiful castle, perched high up, but sadly we didn’t have time for it.

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Our drive on the highway was for a short while only, and soon we turned off onto smaller (read: more picturesque) roads. A while later, Google Maps took us off the main road on to a very small and narrow road amidst the forests.

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It was very narrow and I was worried about how we’d manage if another car came from the opposite side, but no one came. The road seemed to exist for us alone. Deeper into the forest we drove, surrounded by the tall conifers. A small stream bubbled besides us and every now and then, we crossed over small wooden bridges over it. A few scattered wooden houses dotted the area, pretty as could be.

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“What a fabulous place to stay!” I exclaimed, picturing myself resting on a hammock with a book. “It’s scary mum, there’s no one around,” said the kid. She was correct. There were areas with just one house and nothing else for the next 5 kilometers. “The solitude would still be worth it,” I thought. Just before we joined the main road, we passed by a series of houses so beautiful that the hubby and I would happily have given up our jobs and migrated there.

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As we drove into Austria’s famed lake district, the Salzkammergut with 76 Alpine lakes, tall mountains, hiking trails and tiny villages, the views got better and better. We drove up and down small hills with trees all around.

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The entire Salzkammergut is stunning as we discovered over the next 3 days. But today was set aside for the “Pearl of the Salzkammergut”, Hallstatt. This tiny village is probably the most photographed place in all of Austria. It’s an old settlement, more than 1000 years old, thanks to the salt found deep in the mountains around it. “Salt? In a land-locked country? Where did the sea reach there?” asked the smart hubby. “For that, we have to visit the salt mines,” I answered.

Hallstatt is hemmed in by the tall Dachstein mountains and the area has enough to offer for at least 3 days worth of sightseeing. Since we had 8 hours, we had to pick and choose. We saw just the town of Hallstatt and the salt mines, whilst my brother-in-law chose to take the cable car up the Dachstein mountains to see the aerial view of Hallstatt.

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar: View from the five fingers lookout at Dachstein (2108m), see the tiny town of Hallstat projecting into the lake

He also visited the ice caves that we didn’t see as we’d already seen the stunning karst caves of Slovenia (Postojna Caves, Slovenia), but he really enjoyed the trip and it will be on my radar for the future.

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar: Dachstein ice caves

As we approached the town, we first caught a glimmer of Lake Hallstatt through the trees. The lake is huge (as seen in the aerial picture) and we drove parallel to it for quite a distance before reaching the town.

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The main town area is pedestrian only (thankfully) and there are 3 huge parking lots for vehicles. We parked in one near the salt mines, after driving through the tunnel that runs through the Hallstatt mountain.

As soon as we walked outside the parking lot, the magic of Hallstatt seemed to descend. It was a cool and cloudy day, very very pleasant indeed. Beautiful flowers and trees filled the roadside and we didn’t know where to look.

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Beautiful gastehaus (guesthouses) lined the roads. Typically made of dark wood with coloured window shutters and flowers at their window sills, I couldn’t stop taking pictures till the hubby gently nudged me and said, “Leave some camera space for the actual town.”

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We crossed over a tiny stream, wondering where it came from, wishing we had time to follow it upstream.

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We saw that it bubbled away into the lake.

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“Gasp, ooh, ahh!” was our state in Hallstatt from the time we got out of the parking lot, to the time we returned. Hallstatt was such a fairytale town that it just belonged within the pages of an Enid Blyton storybook. But first, we had to figure out how salt was mined in Hallstatt.

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The salt mines are at an elevation from the town so they can be reached by a steep walk through the forest or a quick funicular. No prizes for guessing what we did.

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The funicular was so well designed that we didn’t realise how steep the slope was. And I am so glad that we didn’t walk up or down till the mines as it would have been a crazy long walk, and there was lots more walking up ahead!

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The best part about the mines was the view from the top. Looking down to the newer part of Hallstatt, near the mines and the parking lots and trying to identify our car kept us totally busy.

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The most amazing view was once we got off at the top and looked out from where we stood. It was so beautiful that we couldn’t tear ourselves away and missed most of the people who were on the funicular with us.

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The actual mines were located at a 20 minute walk from the funicular, but we first walked over to the viewing platform “World Heritage View” for the stunning views over the Hallstatt-Dachstein region by crossing over the pretty panorama bridge.

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It led us to Rudolfstrum, a restaurant housed in a defense tower built in ancient times to protect the mines, with the Hallstatt skywalk jutting out below it.

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The steel platform projects out from the cliff 360 meters above sea level, to provide a vantage viewing point over Hallstatt town, the lake and the mountains.

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Unfortunately, it was packed with tourists (as was all of Hallstatt) of a community that believes in clicking 100 selfies at every viewpoint without much concern for others. After waiting patiently in a line with no order and movement, I gave up and walked along the edges of the platform for the same stunning view.

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The sunlight seemed to filter through the clouds on to the small town of Obertraun directly opposite Hallstatt, the access point for the cable car to the Dachstein ice caves and the five fingers look out.

2018-05-04 14.24.06The best view however, was that of the main town of Hallstatt from high above.DSC_3432

 

While I stood there mesmerized, the hubby urged me on, knowing that the entire salt mines tour would take another 3 hours to complete and we needed to reach Salzburg before night. Reluctantly, I left the pretty view for the 20 minute steady uphill climb to the entrance to the mines.

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The long walk to the actual mines, as seen from the panorama bridge

To make the long walk more interesting, there were several boards along the way about the history of the mines and even the body of a mummy preserved in salt. We were mean enough to leave the kid in that scary room and run off, but she’s become smarter now and was expecting it.

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Gorgeous reflection of the panorama bridge and Rudolfstrum

All along were posters of the “miner man” pointing out the way. Finally the hubby grew tired of the man.

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When we reached the entrance to the caves, we had to deposit our belongings and wear very unflattering miner’s clothes to make us feel like miners and to protect us on the slides and then we reached the entrance to the mines.

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Right from the bright sunlight, we entered a dark and narrow tunnel, wide enough for maximum 2 people side by side, with the tracks of the mining wagons below us. The tunnels grew narrower and shorter as we went in deeper and we could only walk in a single file.

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As it grew narrower and darker, the kid grew more and more frightened and wanted to leave. But the only way was onwards, deeper into the mountains. There was no turning back. She was so scared that we had to put on the torch-light, but fortunately, the area widened a little ahead and she could relax and look around.

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We could see the old salt pipelines that carried the brine and the salt. Salt was considered white gold and it’s discovery led to the rise of Hallstatt as an important town. In fact the era 800 to 400 BC is referred to as the Hallstatt period. But that’s not what we were interested in. We were interested in sliding down the long wooden slides that miners used to enter the mines.

DSC_3474It’s really very simple, you sit on a small wooden area and put both your legs on the side, then gravity does the rest. Naturally everyone was apprehensive at the start. There were steps to climb down and I was thinking about taking them when a couple of brave people took the plunge and then, so did the hubby with the kid. He just grabbed her, plonked her in front of him and kicked off, despite her protests. And from the bottom came a very happy squeal, “Mummy it’s awesome!” So, I got on too and reached the bottom, flying down, screaming at the top of my lungs.DSC_3463

 

Now that people understood that no one was going to die, the “selfie community” picked up their guts and dashed down the slides, mobiles in hand. We moved on to see some salt crystals and the history of salt mining in Hallstatt.

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We reached a large area where they beamed a movie which explained how salt reached this town hundreds of miles away from any ocean or sea. Apparently, way back in the prehistoric age, when the continents were forming and the earth plates moving about, some portion of the sea got trapped below the mountain and then rose with the mountain shelf.  

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So apparently, salt was mined here as long back as 7000 years ago. Surprising! They showed us several videos about how they discovered the timeline of the mining and lots of ghastly stories about the loads of people who died, when we came upon the best part of the mines, the 64 meter long wooden slide. The hubby and kid, now seasoned, quickly hopped on and slid away.

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This surely looks steep and scary

There was nothing for it. I got on and slid down, so fast, that I started falling off and dumbly, put out my hand to correct my position (despite clear instructions from the guide NOT to do so) and got a wonderful friction burn.

 

Off the slide, we found ourselves at the edge of a small lake. A lake in the centre of the mountain, with salt at the bottom of it!

 

 

DSC_3477They even put up a show with brilliantly coloured images projected over the lake showing the discovery of salt and the start of the mining. DSC_3478

 

 

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This show and another where they projected the life and times of a typical miner family were the only two entertaining shows. The rest bored me terribly and I was itching to be out in the daylight in the pretty lanes of Hallstatt, instead of listening to this guy drone on.

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Yet, they took us deeper and deeper inside and showed us the discovery of the world’s oldest staircase, dated to 13th century BC, that is now kept in a museum at Vienna. It’s been perfectly preserved by the salt.

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Finally, the tour ended. I was worried about climbing up lots of stairs as we had descended quite a bit, but luckily, they bundled us onto a miner’s train and took us up and out through narrow tunnels.

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Happy to be back out, we walked down a lot faster than on the way up, passing by these pretty rivulets.

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Riding the funicular down, I couldn’t help but take another picture of the beautiful town of Hallstatt from up above.

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The walk to the car was scenic, but I had to steal a quick look at the lake at the place with the most beautiful view of Hallstatt.

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“Wow,” is all I could think. I couldn’t even speak aloud at this moment because I was too spellbound and dumbstruck. But this view is only a teaser of things to come, both when you walk through Hallstatt and when you read the blog.

 

 

 

 

Germany Austria 2018: Zell am see, a sleepy Austrian lake town

This day we were to drive from Germany into Austria. We had already spent a wonderful morning hiking the Leutasch gorge (Germany Austria 2018: The dizzying spirit gorge of Leutaschklamm) and were now safely on our way, surprised though by the lack of any border or passport control between the two countries. This was something I saw time and again on our trip.

The drive from Mittenwald to Zell am see was the most beautiful drives of our trip. Tall mountains, covered with green conifers or capped by snow were our constant companions. Small towns filled the valleys and extended till the base of the mountains.

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There were places on the drive that had very steep slopes. But at one point there was a board that read, “Drive slow, steep gradient ahead.” And naturally, our undaunted Schumi took the curve and the slope at a “not slow at all” rate, and then came to a grinding halt as there was a huge traffic jam ahead. That’s when we realised that the board meant a 16 degree downhill gradient.

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What was even more amazing was that the long line of vehicles in the jam waited patiently behind each other, no honking, no overtaking, no getting on to the opposite side of the road (so unlike India). Once we were on level land, everyone just sped off. Soon we merged onto the highway and the fun began. Despite the speed limit of 100 kmph, the heavy vehicles were at 100 and all cars were overtaking them, so we did the same. So much for speed limits.

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It was a little scary too, as roads kept merging onto the high-speed highway and cars joined our road at great speeds. The hubby had a blast driving, and I had a blast taking pictures.

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Castles along the way

Shortly, we turned off the main 4 lane highway onto a smaller 2 lane one and then a single carriageway road.

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This portion of the road wound through small towns and green meadows and was as charming as could be. Austria is simply designed for road trips. Every turn made us happier.

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The sun was out in all its glory by now and the grey clouds of the morning were gone. There were places where we were totally surrounded by the mountains.

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In the small towns along the way, spring had surely arrived and flowers filled the front yards and window sills of all the houses.

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As we got approached our destination, the Alps loomed up again, surrounding us. It was mesmerising.

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The first view of the lake as we drove by was gorgeous. We never saw this pretty shade of water again though.

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Zell am see is an alpine lake town built along 2 ends of lake Zell. Pleasant weather exists year round, and the proximity to Kitzsteinhorn with year-round skiing, the Grossglockner high alpine road, along with plenty of cable cars, hiking treks and summer luges make this a very popular destination. Perhaps this and my best friend Archana’s strong recommendations hyped up Zell am see for me.

We drove into the pedestrian only town center where our hotel was located (great find by Yogesh again, thanks!) and really struggled with the narrow entry to the hotel and getting to the parking lot. But the room and the views were totally worth it.

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There was a hall with cupboards and a small storage space for suitcases, with a large bedroom and bathroom. It was very spacious and well decorated. Huge windows dominated the rooms, looking out towards the lake, the old town and the church.

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Hungry as we were, we rushed to find lunch. Zell am see is very popular in the Middle East, so there are plenty of Turkish/ Lebanese restaurants and the kid was desperate to find hummus and pita bread, which we got 5 minutes from our hotel.

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After a very satisfying lunch, we had a good afternoon rest and set off in the evening to see the much acclaimed town of Zell am see. A small map in hand, we walked out to see the old town and church that were just behind us.

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St Hippolyte’s church, built in the 11th century

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There was a large square with some important looking buildings but surprisingly it was totally deserted. The cafes were empty and everything seemed shut. We thought it might be because of the late hour, but found the same the next day.

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District Council Office in the main town square

There were a series of fancy shops and souvenir stores around our hotel, but all of these were closed too. The shop windows were very alluring however.

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Maybe it was good that they were shut. I had lots of free time in this town and would most definitely have shopped. From here, we walked till the tiny but cute railway station with lots of empty restaurants and cafes and this board.

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“Damn, they have Maggi here, I needn’t have carried it,” I thought. We had so much Maggi on the trip that I haven’t been able to eat any even three months after getting back. From here, we walked back towards the main town along the lakeside and the railway tracks. The train runs through the town of Zell, providing great scenery and connectivity, but was quite a fright to me at the thought of crossing the tracks. It was a little disconcerting at first, soon it became quite exciting for the kid and me to hop back  and forth.

We made our way down to the lake itself to see a swan and some ducks preening themselves in the water.

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A swan, as lazy as Zell am see

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The lake itself was very beautiful, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, with a large walking track around it. It was very cool by now and the hubby and I were enjoying our time together when we saw the kid tottering at the edge of the water, calling out to the swan.

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No wonder this was what followed!

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This was the only time in Zell am see that we saw any other people. Whether it was because all the cable cars in the vicinity and the cruises on the lake were closed for maintenance, or because we had landed up at a time when Zell am see was in between the end of skiing season and the start of the summer season, Zell am see was a ghost town. That’s probably why we just didn’t enjoy it. There was nothing to do here. Yet, in retrospect, it gave us the much-needed chill time on our otherwise packed trip.

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Relaxing on the benches

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View from the bench

We walked along the promenade, admiring the distant mountain peaks, up to the Grand hotel, the grandest hotel of Zell am see. Beautiful carvings surrounded the windows and the kid promptly asked me why we weren’t staying here. 

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“You need this car to stay at this hotel,” I told her!

We walked amidst the hotel gardens, admiring the spring flowers.

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We walked on almost past this side of town, where lots of boats were anchored in the lake and birds flocked about.

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The kid’s great pals, the ducks, waddled along us, fearless of any humans, till she started running after them. Then they squawked and flew off.

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We crossed a park that the kid would have loved if she were younger and she was saddened to realise that all the playthings were too small for her now. So she contented herself with skipping along the little walking track right at the edge of the lake.

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We turned back at this point and crossed over the tracks towards the residential part of the town, where all the apartments were, and where we could see the mountains behind the town, where skiing was the big attraction.

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The houses were very pretty indeed, but the lack of people was disconcerting.

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Walking back towards the main center, we stopped by the only open stores in the area, all owned by migrants from Syria to pick up groceries. It was like walking into a small shop in Dubai. Hungry by now, we stopped for cake at a fancy coffee shop, but sadly chose a chocolate cake with apricot jam that destroyed the taste for us. Deeply disappointed, we peered into more shop windows to salve our souls.

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What a beautiful model of Zell am see at Christmas

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My favorite part of Zell am see, the shop windows. I loved this grumpy elf and beaver

Admired some more flora.

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Saw a few pretty buildings.

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We retired early that day, for want of better things to do, and because the Grossglockner drive was up the next day. We spent our evening looking at webcam images of the road and fell asleep hoping for clear skies.

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View from our room after sunset

All in all, we found Zell am see to be quite a dud. Maybe we were there at the wrong time. My brother-in-law visited in mid May and pretty much loved the place.

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Our last morning at Zell am see saw a very different lake. Gray clouds had moved in, a mist rose from the lake and the gorgeous mountains were totally obscured. The lake was much stiller this morning and the surroundings reflected off it beautifully. Somehow, I preferred this more than the bright clear days.

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Sadly, Zell am see didn’t live up to my expectations. Yet, I am very glad I went there becasue it was the base for our Grossglockner high alpine drive, that turned out to be THE best drive of the trip. We were joined on the drive by two good friends, Neha Sisodiya and Yogesh Shenoy, whose presence made the day even so much better for us. But that’s a new story, for a brand new day. So, stay tuned.

 

 

 

Germany Austria 2018: The dizzying spirit gorge of Leutaschklamm

This was the day we left Mittenwald (in Germany) for Zell am see (in Austria). En route, I had planned a walk through the Leutaschklamm, a gorge that was carved by the erosion of the Limestone Alps by the Leutascher Ache river, and had an entertaining spirit and goblins story to spruce it up.

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We knew this gorge was just on the way out of Mittenwald, so we set off in the car with Leutasch gorge keyed into Google maps. The signpost for the gorge and Maps took us on a narrow steep road ascending the mountain. The road continued steeply higher and higher and got narrower and narrower. I was surprised as none of the blogs mentioned such a steep road. Bang in the middle of the road, Maps showed “destination reached”. Surprised, we drove on, thinking the parking must be ahead. Suddenly, the front panel of the car showed “Welcome to Austria”. Huge alarm bells went off in my head. We weren’t supposed to drive into Austria before the gorge and not without a toll sticker. It was compulsory in Austria to have a small red toll sticker (vignette) to drive on any of the highways. If you didn’t have the sticker, the police could fine you up to 200 Euro. Scary price to pay for a 9 euro sticker.

 

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So we promptly took a U-turn and stared at the sign for Leutasch, wondering how to reach there. I desperately searched on Google trying to find a route, but it either routed us  back the same way, or into Austria (the other route into Leutasch was from Austria). I was almost frantic now. Suddenly, I googled Leutaschklamm, the German term for Leutasch gorge and it showed a route very near where we were. We drove a kilometre ahead, hunting for boards, when I saw a tiny sign labelled Leutasch. “Just double park, I’ll check this out,” I said, while Google was trying to take us into a residential colony instead. I walked backwards to the sign board, crossing over a beautiful turquoise coloured stream coming from between the tall mountains we’d driven up. “This is it,” I thought excitedly.

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At the sign, I could only see a narrow path running parallel to the stream with a large board that read Leutaschklamm and Wasserfall. Thrilled at the discovery, I hurried back to the car to deal with the “bigger problem”, that of where to park.

I saw a parking space nearby on the road itself, but there was no meter so I was confused. Just then, an old German lady walked by. I desperately asked her where to park. She didn’t know a word of English, I didn’t know a word of German. Oh! I should have listened to Yogesh when he told me repeatedly to learn basic German. With gestures, we tried to communicate. I gestured to the car and the parking spot and kept saying, “Park, park.” She just grabbed my arm and marched me across the road to the sign board. I was too stunned to react or pull away. She spurted a stream of words in German and kept holding up four fingers. She was shooting German off at such a rate that I couldn’t cope even if I’d known any German. Suddenly, I realised what she was saying. This was one of those free parking zones where you could use a parking disc up to 4 hours. I thanked her with the only German I knew, Danke and she hugged me tight and went off!

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I told the hubby the happy news and we parked, when suddenly the kid grabbed my arm and whispered softly, “Mum don’t do this again, I was very scared that she was going to kidnap you.” As I controlled my laughter, I asked her what she did about the fear. “Oh I told Dad,” was the prompt reply, “But he said not to worry. Anyone who kidnaps mum will return her immediately!”

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The loving husband

We walked down the narrow road by the side of the gurgling stream. I told the hubby that I wasn’t sure where we’d land up but this looked like a nice walk. On one side was the pretty stream, on the other, the tall mountain whose side we’d driven up before turning back.

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On the other side of the stream were the prettiest houses one could imagine, small wooden chalet-like homes with gardens with beautiful flowers. They all had lovely wood carvings outside them. “What a place to live!” exclaimed the hubby.

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Small bridges crossed over the stream at regular intervals. Ducks quacked lazily in the teal blue waters. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. It was as if this place was only for us. A little ahead, the stream moved away and a large meadow  took its place. The bright green grass with little yellow and white wild flowers with the snow-capped mountains in the background made the grass-hating-me want to rush into the meadow and lay down in it.

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So totally a scene from the movie “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.” We ambled along, enjoying the atmosphere and it took a good 20 min to reach the start of the gorge from the main road. There was still no signboard, only a small hut selling snacks and drinks and a manned stile marking the entrance to the Wasserfallsteig (or waterfall), a small route that goes through the gorge up to a waterfall.

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The narrow entrance into the gorge

This is the only paid part of the route. We must have walked three minutes beyond the stile and the whole atmosphere changed. We left behind the bright sun and the distant snow-covered mountains and entered a new land.

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The view behind us just before we entered the gorge itself

Large cliffs loomed up vertically beside us. We were walking on a very narrow wooden path fixed to the cliff with a small railing to hold on to. Just below gushed the river that continued as the peaceful stream we had walked along.

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As we walked in deeper, the cliffs grew closer, the light lesser, the water wilder. Here, it was a wild, gushing, foaming mass of water, beautiful but wild. It crashed in the gorge, the foam rising up to wet us gently. It was a lovely sight, beautiful enough to distract me from the fear of walking on a pathway supported by screws drilled into the mountain.

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As we moved in deeper, a roaring sound could be heard. The spray of water was getting more powerful now. Our wooden pathway ended in a platform just in front of a roaring huge waterfall, drenching us and making us squeal with delight. 

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The only pictures taken here were from the hubby’s waterproof phone!

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Notice the bridge high above the waterfall

We had a blast in the gorge and left only because we got so wet. Once out, we met an adorable dog Flint, with a black patch covering half of his white face and played merrily with him. Then we surveyed the various routes available to hike the gorge from an elevation.

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The Leutascher Geisterklamm is a free walking trail, with impressive views from high up on metal walkways built above the gorge, a project costing 1.4 million euros. There are 2 trails here, a smaller blue trail and a very long red trail that heads into Austria.

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No prizes for guessing which one we took. We asked the man at the café how to start the blue trail and he advised us to go to the right, climb up till the elevated walkways, cross the panorama bridge and come down through the forest (anticlockwise in the above map).

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We had already walked within the gorge along the green trail. Now we wanted to see it from above and cross the Panorama bridge over the river

The smarter kid noticed that all the people were taking the route in a clockwise fashion and that we were the only ones on this route, but I persisted with it because it looked shorter on the map.

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The trek started out innocuously enough, in a deeply forested area, and  we walked along quite peacefully for 5 minutes. And then began a series of steep switchbacks, going higher and higher, very rapidly.

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In retrospect, we realised that we hadn’t accounted for the map being a 2-dimensional structure, and we saw the map with the height elevation later on during the hike. The short appearing curves were the steep switchbacks actually.

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We huffed and puffed our way up. The climb was never-ending. There were no railings or steps to make it easier, only a few benches for exhausted people to sit on and some entertaining stories about goblins and spirits and how the mountains, continents and the gorge were formed.

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I struggled up the steep path

The infinitely smarter kid kept insisting that we should head back down and take the route that the rest of the world was on. But it seemed to be even tougher to climb back down those steep slopes than up, so we persisted.

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The hubby and kid climbed up the shorter steeper rough sections in the middle

To make it more fun for her (and because he likes living dangerously at times) the hubby made her scramble up rough paths to the next level instead of walking up the gravel one. By now we were so high up that the snow-covered mountains in the distance appeared to be at our level, but I was too exhausted to even click photographs.

But now the path had started levelling out. We could hear the sound of water so we understood that we were nearing the gorge. Suddenly, the kid perked up and cheerfully moved ahead, like a different person. The hubby ran to keep up with her. The clumsy, out-of-breath-me simply plodded on, unable to run, when she ran back, face all flushed, shouting excitedly, “Come fast mum, it’s amazing.”

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We were at the top of a metal staircase that ended in a bridge to the opposite side. It was truly a wondrous sight. I climbed down cautiously and stared in amazement, while my nimble mountain goat swiftly clambered down and rushed over the bridge to the opposite side. 

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The insanely high suspended panorama bridge over the Leutascher Ache river

“Don’t panic,” I told myself, “Breathe, you will get across.” I am petrified of heights. The wire mesh grate below our feet didn’t help matters. But this trip was about facing my fears and this fear I had to.

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Terrified moi gripping onto the railings

“Come on, cross the panorama bridge, it’s awesome,” hollered the hubby as he merrily hopped on to the bridge. My knuckles white as I gripped the railings, I slowly and cautiously walked towards the bridge that crossed from one cliff-face to the other.

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“Face your fears. You are not scared. You are not going to fall. This structure is not going to crash,” I kept saying this to myself as I tottered over the panorama bridge. “Look down,” urged the hubby. Face-your-fears urged me as I looked down and promptly felt everything sway.

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The view below our feet, picture courtesy the hubby

I rushed back to my side of the cliff and started walking on the metal walkways ahead, trying not to look down at all, just straight ahead.

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Standing on the metal walkway screwed into the cliff

I grew a bit bolder as I walked along and could actually take pictures of the bridge that was now at the same level as me.

 

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Meanwhile the fearless duo on the bridge had a blast clicking the river and the waterfall below.

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The walkway I was standing on was drilled into the limestone cliffs 75 meters above the level of the waters, but it seemed even higher when I was on it.

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What a marvel of engineering! The bridges and the large walkways had to be dropped here by helicopter, but I am still amazed by how they drilled those metal walkways into the cliff. This path extends further into Austria for another kilometer. I would have continued on it when the hubby and kid who’d already crossed over yelled out a happy “Bye” and disappeared out of sight. I gathered my wits and almost ran across the bridge out of fear of being left alone, pausing once to take this picture.

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I did it! I faced my fears! I looked down and crossed the bridge all by myself!

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Once we were all on more stable land, we continued on the longer route through the forest that I was sure would be less steep. The kid, however, wanted a crane to rescue her! As we walked on, we met Flint again.

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Now that we knew we’d reach down soon, we moved on faster. The route was through very dense forest area and a little scary too as there was no one to be seen here.

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Every now and then, some board about the spirits would pop up, else the well-worn path was the only indicator that we were on the right path. Shortly, we came upon these two poles, marking the boundary between Austrian territory (yellow and red) and German land (blue and white).

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Suddenly we came out of the covered area into bright sunshine and saw a stunning view indeed and a restaurant. “Finally we have come upon civilisation ,” I thought.

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The sunlight (and civilisation) didn’t last for long though. We promptly entered another deeply forested area with a gentle but very rocky path, that I struggled walking over despite my hiking shoes.

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Finally, we got off the trail and were back out of the gorge area. It had been a wonderful albeit scary walk and I felt very proud of myself. I walked happily back to the car, a new spring in my step.

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We drove towards Austria, my obsession with the toll sticker reaching a peak. I was desperate for a gas station before we entered Austria. “Relax, we’ll get it at the border,” said the hubby. “There’s no border,” I said, googling gas stations desperately now. But there was no need. Less than 100 meters ahead was a gas station with a big board advertising the vignette. Vignette obtained, we drove on and found ourselves in Austria (no border) and said a temporary Auf Wiedersehen to Germany.

Germany Austria May 2018: Zugspitze, the top of Germany

I love love love snow and snow-capped mountains. I simply adore gorgeous views from high up in the sky, even though I’m scared of getting there. But somehow, time after time, year after year, my desire to get a picture prefect view from a mountain top is thwarted, by clouds and rain. “This is because you are the cloud goddess,” said the kid. Hmmmpphhh.

This year, I had 2 mountains lined up on my trip, in the quest for the perfect views of the Alps, Zugspitze in Germany and Kitzsteinhorn in Austria. We’d allotted a full day from Mittenwald for the Zugspitze (tallest mountain of Germany, right at Germany Austria border), so the hubby was very keen on going that very day even though the webcam pictures showed only 10 meters visibility. Hence, we waited till almost noon to set off, in the hope that the clouds would clear out.

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Waiting for the regional train to cross

It was a fairly long and very scenic drive to Zugspitze over quite a few curves and hills. After all, we were getting even closer to the Alps. I was thoroughly enjoying the lovely breeze and the approaching snow and cloud capped mountains and was happily in dreamworld when the hubby suddenly said that driving was so stressful. “What?” I spluttered, shaken out of my reverie. “It’s so stressful,” he repeated, “All the cars come towards you at such great speeds and the turn offs are very sharp.” Now the drive was much less enchanting.

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We (finally, whew) reached the base of the mountain where the brand new cable car till the top had just been constructed and opened 1 month ago. A mammoth piece of engineering (isn’t that what the Germans are famous for), this cable car that ascends to 3000m above sea level is a single cable car with only three poles, the two ends and one about one-fourth of the way up.

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It was very cold and chilly at the base where icy winds were blowing down to us.  We hurriedly covered up in loads of layers. I looked up at the cables and saw the thick clouds surrounding it and felt a stab of disappointment.

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Even the webcam pictures at the ticket window showed a complete white-out, so I suggested going to the lake Eibsee, the lake at the base of the Zugspitze mountain, instead and waiting it out further, much against the wishes of the other two.

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It was spectacularly beautiful, very quiet and peaceful. There were very few people here. Ducks swam about, quacking away merrily.

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The kid merrily quacked back to the ducks and tried running after them till I told her that I wouldn’t jump into the freezing cold waters to save her if she fell in. Then she behaved herself. We walked about for a while, thoroughly enjoying the solitude.

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The lake itself had a myriad different colors, with my most beloved shades of blue and green.

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I would have walked around the entire lake, but the hubby and kid were now desperate to get to the mountain. So we got back to the cable car and stared at the webcam. Still a white out. “Let’s just drop it,” I said, “we go to Kitzsteinhorn instead.” Tremendous disappointment filled the kid’s eyes, though she said nothing. I got the point and we went up the cable car to the top of Germany, if nothing, to play in the snow.

However, I wasn’t in the best of moods. The dull gray weather on the one day it needed to be cloudless and sunny had gotten to me. It didn’t help that I’m petrified of heights and cable cars. My sister will remember my terror at the Hongkong Ocean Park cable car. This one (fortunately) was a cake walk though.

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While we ascended, we got a gorgeous aerial view of the beautiful lake Eibsee that we’d walked around.

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As the lone supporting pillar came up, I braced myself for the usual swing and lurch that happens at all pillars, it was minimal on this one. And it was the only one, I thought happily. From this elevation,  the stunning patches of green surrounding the islands on the lake were very well seen.

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From the pillar, the car ascended swiftly, hugging the side of the mountain. The first traces of snow started coming up, making tourists and skiers rush to the windows.

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The numbers of skiers was astonishing, and the numbers of little kids skiing even more so. They looked so cute in their gear, clinging onto their parents’ legs. Soon, we climbed through the clouds that I’d seen from below.

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Suddenly we could see nothing around us. It was all white. With difficulty, we could see a little of the cliff face we were ascending along but even that was barely seen. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.

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Above this point, we could see nothing. We were enveloped by the fog. In a way, this was beneficial so that I couldn’t see how high up we were getting. The huge car was so stable that it didn’t swing at all and so we swiftly reached the summit in the most comfortable cable car ride of my life and climbed out to see……… nothing. Visibility was minimal. That wasnt the only disappointment. The terrace where normally one could easily cross over to the Austrian side was closed because of repair work. Here on the German side, there were only cranes, boxes, girders and clouds.

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The “views” from the top of Germany

Oh and a spattering of snow on the boxes and barricades that the hubby and the kid promptly threw on each other and had a blast with, while I was busy feeling totally let down and cheated. This was worse than anything I could expect. We walked over to where we could see the golden cross on top of the Zugspitze (the actual highest point that can only be accessed by climbing up the rock face) and we could just about barely make it out.

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The webcam that takes pictures against the cross didn’t work either, adding to my ire. Not like there was anything to photograph. Normally at this terrace, one can have a panoramic view of the entire Alps on the German and Austrian sides. That’s what I had come for, and didn’t get.

Once the hubby and kid were done monkeying around, we took a cable car down to the glacier level, where the ski pistes are and where it’s possible to play in the snow. Once again, it was totally foggy around us and none of the famed views were to be seen. The hubby and the kid, with no expectations, squealed in delight at the sight of snow, but I still felt grumpy.

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The two of them promptly rushed off in the snow and started pelting each other with snowballs. Within ten minutes of playing, the fog rolled in even more. Now the visibility dropped even further. It became bitterly cold. The skiers came back up to this level as they couldn’t see anything. We grabbed onto each other so as not to lose one another.

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I think the hubby was scared of falling off the side so he got off the snow and we rushed into the restaurant to warm up. Delicious fries with mayo and ketchup, pizza and mugs of hot chocolate in a warm restaurant with snow around can cheer up anyone.

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No vision at all with all that fog

By the time we were done eating, snow was gently falling, and we were thrilled to bits, especially the kid. She’d keep staring at the snow flakes and trying to decipher the patterns.  This was the most exciting moment for us. Slowly, the fog lifted a little and we stepped out, suddenly being able to see about 200 meters ahead. We saw a tiny hill with a church on it from where people were sledding down on plastic sledges.

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 The kid and hubby proceeded to pelt each other and then we climbed up to a small look out. I was the one with the waterproof hiking shoes and yet was the most unsteady of the three. From there, we could just about make out the ski pistes.

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And see the restaurant and biergarten where we’d had lunch and shelter.

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Inspired by the happy shrieks of those sledding, we acquired a sledge for ourselves. The kid and I took turns sledding down. Initially we just went up half the hill, but we got braver as time went by. It was tough to climb up with the sledge, but great fun to come tearing down at full speed and then finally brake with your feet. Of course, the kid came down braking all the way. The hubby didn’t even try it. He said that he couldn’t afford to injure himself any more. His loss, our gain.

 

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I came screaming down the slope the first time!

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Poor man had to be content with just observation

We were just tiring of the sledding when suddenly, things got a lot clearer. The clouds moved away slowly and we could start seeing the snow-covered mountains.

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Excitedly we ran to where we could see them. The visibility kept improving and we were thrilled.

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The skiers set off in a big rush and we could see the ski lifts as well.

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We could see the lookout so clearly suddenly!

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We could actually see the mounds of snow we’d played in.

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And part of the Zugspitzplatt glacier bowl.

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There was even a maypole!

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“Happy now?” hubby asked me, “Are you satisfied? Did you get your views?” “Uh huh,” I nodded, barely able to speak. More than satisfied, was actually how I felt, and grateful was I to both of them for insisting on coming despite the poor visibility. 

 It was getting late and  the cable car closed in half an hour. So we quickly returned the sledge and caught the cable car back up to the terrace at the top of Germany. Here, we had wonderful sweeping views of the glacier.

 

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And of the hill we’d sledded on, the restaurant we ate at and the ski slopes.

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The clouds looked like fluffy bits of cotton on the snow studded mountains.

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We could even see the famed golden cross clearly.

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We got into the long cable car to go all the way down and found ourselves descending through a sea of clouds.

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There were truly happy faces that day!

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It had been a long and chaotic day, made worse by my stubbornness and high expectations. The hubby and the kid had a blast and taught me something very important, that we must make the best of what we have. Every day can’t be perfect, so its up to us to make it so.

 

P.S. Please forgive the truckloads of pictures. They are for Ritu Khare specifically. I hope you like them Ritu.

 

Germany Austria May 2018: The religious town of Oberammergau

The tiny Alpine Bavarian villages of Oberammergau and Mittenwald were the main reason for my agreeing to change the Europe plan from Tuscany to Germany. Deciding between the two was tough, but I chose to stay at Mittenwald as there was more to do in and around Mittenwald and it seemed cuter. However, we did visit Oberammergau on the way from Hopfen am see to Mittenwald, driving through stunning Alpine scenery.

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We left the mountains behind as we drove along the Romantic Road for a part of the journey as it overlaps with the Deutsche Alpenstrasse (German Alpine Road), a 450 km drive along the foothills of the Alps, a road we were going to take before we added Austria to our itinerary.

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An equally scenic drive through the hills took us to Oberammergau within two hours, which gave us enough time to explore this amazing town nestled at the base of the Alps.

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We wanted to park outside the town as we still hadn’t figured out the parking, but we ended up driving straight into it and had to park at a parking lot with parking meters. Not knowing what to do, all of us tried different things. The hubby started searching the net, the kid tried reading instructions on the meter (in German) and I looked for human help. Just then, a couple came up to their car, asked if we were parking, dumped their ticket in our hands and drove off. We were shell-shocked. We suspicious Indians were convinced that they were trying to make us pay for their parking. Just then, a lady walked by. Luckily she knew English and explained that you prepay for the hours that you assume you will be there for. So the couple who gave us their ticket gave us the extra time left. So much for doubting others.

With 1.5 hours parking time available to see Oberammergau (hubby was thrilled by this time limitation), we promptly set off. As always, I wanted to find the TI (tourist information), as always, hubby wanted to aimlessly wander through. We finally grabbed a map and started walking about.

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Cinderella’s story painted on an ice-cream shop

It was a fine day, cloudy but without rain, and the town was charming as could be. The main street was full of beautifully painted houses that caught my attention the most (and my camera).

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The houses in this region are traditionally painted by a hand painting fresco technique that involves painting on freshly applied wet plaster. As the painters work quickly in fresh air (luft in german), the term lüftlmalerei got associated with this technique. This pattern became famous in the mid 1700s, wherein the paintings used to display the wealth of the owner.

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The paintings were so beautifully drawn that they looked more like 3 dimensional art forms. I thought they were plaster initially and later realised that they were painted on so fabulously.

The main street had lots of souvenir shops that certainly tempted us to walk in and sample their wares.

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Oberammergau is also the site of a play that only runs once in 10 years. The passion play was started as a bribe to God to spare the town from plague, the great killer of the 17th century. The people vowed to perform a play on the life and death of Christ every 10 years if they survived. So they did, and so the play is performed till today. In 2020, for 5 months, Oberammergau will be one of the most sought after cities in Germany. The play is still a savior for the town.

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A lot of the painted buildings feature images from the play. Most depict religious beliefs or Christ at the cross. There are some on the other hand that have nothing to do with religion. For example windows are painted around to create a 3D effect of baroque architecture.

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Whatever the work, the effect created was so stunning that I felt that I was walking through an open air art museum. Pictures cannot do Oberammergau justice, they can’t capture the atmosphere of the town at all.

Oberammergau is also known for its wood carvings and has plenty of shops with wooden souvenirs. Decorative wooden articles are placed outside the stores as well.

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Every street, every turn had something charming and photogenic.

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Random decorations, painted houses and gorgeous flowers at every junction

The kid must have loved this little town for she happily posed for pictures. She was even happier when she came upon a little cat stretched out over a wooden ledge.

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Since I’d lost my Rick Steves guidebook and hadn’t stopped at a TI, I didn’t know what exactly to see in the picturesque town, so the main street, Pilatus house (where woodcarvers displayed their art) and the frescoed “Red riding hood” house and “Hansel and Gretel” house were on my agenda, mainly the fairytale houses. So we were walking farther and farther away from our car, hunting for them, when we passed by a pretty church.

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By now, we weren’t sure whether we were in the right direction. The hubby never asks for directions, so I walked into a beautiful souvenir shop and asked for help.

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It was a very charming shop with wonderful women at the counter, who told me to walk ahead. I was too shy to take pictures of their shop without buying anything, and to this day, I regret doing neither of those. We plodded on in the heat when the kid squealed out, “Yarns, I want these yarns. I’m going to knit with my grandmother.”

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“Hmmmpphhh, no shopping for crap,” I said sternly, knowing I’d be saddled with yarns that never got knitted. Now the clouds had moved off and the sun was blazing down. Naturally we were uncomfortable in our warm jackets. We walked on, getting quite frustrated at not finding the fairytale houses despite walking for so long. So we turned back, hoping to find the TI and figure out the route. Walking back faster now, as our limited time was ticking away, I still lagged behind and took loads of pictures.

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Charming hotel with wooden balconies

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Water fountain with old-fashioned lantern lamps

I saw something pretty from afar and naturally took a detour to see what it was. It was an open square with lots of flowers with a huge statue of Christ on the cross.

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Just behind it was a gorgeously painted house, the Pilatus house, that was sadly closed as it was a Monday.

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Just ahead was the TI, where I got a more workable map, a loo and the all important knowledge that we could drive to the fairytale houses as they were anyways on the road out of town. This turned out to be very useful information indeed as our “free” parking was soon to end.

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Reluctantly (for me), we left this pretty little town to drive to Mittenwald. Of course the town was too photogenic to put away the camera, especially when one sees a statue like this.

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The hubby lived up to his promise to stop the car at the end of the town to see the much desired “Red riding hood” house, that I felt was well worth the walk, had we walked till there.

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What a cute Red riding hood! Just as she should be drawn. What was sad was the fact that these were actual people’s houses, so we were invading terribly on their privacy. No wonder their curtains were drawn shut and they had “Keep Out” signs on their locked gates. That didn’t stop me from going trigger crazy when I saw more fairytale houses.

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“Musicians of Bremen” house

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“Three little pigs” house

What skill the Lüftlmaler (the Lüftl painters) possessed! They could create art like this.

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And this.

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And my favorite, the “Hansel and Gretl” house.

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It was a wonderful short trip to an outstanding town. Oberammergau deserves a night stay for sure, maybe during the Passion Play when the entire town plays a role in the play. But for now, we were content with this “free parking” duration trip. True Gujjus!

 

 

 

Germany Austria May 2018: The serene lakeside town of Hopfen am see

We had 2 nights at the end of the Romantic Road to see the king’s castles and town of Füssen (Germany Austria May 2018: The castle at the end of the Romantic Road). We’d booked an apartment in Füssen itself, but my best friend Archana’s stunning lakeside pictures of Austria tempted me to find a lake to stay on. That’s how I found Hopfen am see, 5km from Füssen and booked a hotel right at the waterfront and had the most beautiful and serene stay of our trip.

We were glad to reach the end of the Romantic Road drive as the hubby had injured his shoulder badly and needed rest. So naturally the glimmer of the lake as it came into view was more reassuring than alluring.

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Had I been younger, I would have kicked off my shoes and dived right in. Sadly, age and prudence have taken away the fun side of me. 

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The town of Hopfen am see climbs down the hills to the lake’s edge

We drove by the pretty houses on the hills to reach a road just parallel to the lake, amazed by the numbers of people and cars. “Maybe because it’s a warm and sunny day,” I reasoned.

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We had chosen to stay at the waterfront hotel Geiger. A small family owned hotel, this was a brilliant find, mainly for the location and the food.

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We’d taken a lake facing room, which was simply decorated, but outstanding for the balcony that looked straight out to the lake with the Bavarian Alps just behind.

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Panorama from the balcony

We could have sat and stared out of the balcony for ages, but the lake and the mountains called out to us and we set of on an evening stroll. It was very sunny but a pleasant breeze was blowing from the lake. Hotels and apartments lined the road, all facing the lake, pretty wooden chalet type hotels. The mountains were right behind the lake, looming tall with snow all over them.

 

Kids were playing with their parents. Mothers were pushing strollers, fathers were throwing balls to their kids, couples were holding hands and walking. It was Saturday, family day out. And I was lucky to be here with mine.

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I was thrilled to see boats of different types on the lake, but we were too late to go boating ourselves, everything had started winding up.

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So we just walked on and noticed that spring had certainly arrived in Hopfen am see!

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And love was in the air!

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The kid merrily hopped about on platforms on the lake and gardens alike, surrounded by her favorite dandelions.

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The sun was setting now and we turned to see it light up the entire town. No wonder Hopfen am see is called the Riviera of the Allgau.

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We walked back to our hotel, when I suddenly remembered that we needed to stock up on milk and fruits. Thus began the hunt for a supermarket, that led us all the way past the town to the Hopfen camping grounds. The supermarket was closed, but we got a great walk about the camp grounds.

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The path wound up very close to the water’s edge and we stood there for long, enjoying the view.

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The beautiful lakefront from the campsite

A place like this is essential on a trip, where life seems to slow down and you can forget all your cares and feel a great sense of calm.

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What a wonderful place to shoot into the sun.

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We returned to our hotel to retire early as we had an early start to the next day to visit Neuschwanstein castle. We were up earlier than the alarm because of the sunlight pouring in through the window. I rushed out to see a totally still lake with a gorgeous reflection of the mountains. 

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The morning rays just shone off the mountain tops. A cool breeze ruffled my hair as I stood in the balcony. How I wished that I’d booked a later time for the Neuschwanstein castle and gone instead for a walk along the lake now. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll go tomorrow morning instead, when there is no rush at all.” As we drove past the lake to see the castles, all the surroundings just reflected off the still waters.

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We came back in the early evening, when the kid and the hubby rested in the room and I set off on a solo walk around the lake. Coldplay was my companion on this outstanding walk. I walked right at the water’s edge for as long as possible then followed the path to wherever it led. As I crossed the last house to be seen for a long time, the path ran parallel to the lake where it was lined by reeds.

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Ducks swam near the edge, quacking gently. There was complete silence. The only people there were a few cyclists that crossed intermittently. Otherwise I was alone. I crossed a little bridge over a small stream and pondered over the path ahead. 

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I felt like a buoy in the water, bobbing up and down, letting the waves wash over it, but not drowning by them. I felt the world shut itself out and leave me alone. There was just me and nature.

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Ok, and Coldplay too. I was keen on walking the entire perimeter but it seemed a huge way around and I was already tired. so, I headed back, this time, climbing up among the apartments for an elevated view.

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What a gorgeous place to stay in! All these apartments faced the lake and had outstanding lawns with flowers and armchairs and a view to match.

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The gardens were filled with spring flowers and tulips grew here and there. Hopfen am see had totally stolen my heart.

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After walking for more than 2 hours, I finally reached back to the hotel, flushed with joy. I came back with a dancing heart and a lot of springs to my steps. I felt refreshed, calmed, pacified, but most of all repaired. This was what I’d needed. The best 2 hours of the trip.

The next morning was our last one at Hopfen am see. I woke up early to walk along the lake one last time and to capture the mirror reflections I’d loved the previous day. I stepped out into the balcony with my coffee and my heart sank. This day was a totally cloudy day, completely overcast. Strong winds were blowing and there were ripples all over the surface of the lake. I was shocked. Even as I watched, it started raining.

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There was no point heading out now. It was as though the weather was mirroring how I felt leaving this lovely town. I simply packed up and waited for the others to awaken.

But Hopfen am see was determined to give us a beautiful farewell. By the time we checked out, the weatherman blew off the black clouds and sent on bright white ones instead. As we got into the car, the sun was out, the sky a brilliant shade of blue and the lake, calm once more, mirroring the deep blue of the sky. The fluffy white clouds clung to the middle of the mountains and the snow on the mountain peaks gleamed in all their glory.

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Bye lake Hopfensee, thanks for the healing.

 

P.S. A lot of these pictures have been shot by the kid, on the slr and the cellphone. Very impressive indeed!