Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Zugspitze - April 11

Wedensday, April 11, 2007

The Zugspitze

[Photos from this day are with the Zugspitze Photo Set, the Eibsee Lake Photos, and the on the Road Photos.]

This is our last day in Germany. Another glorious and clear day, we decide that we want to take the Cog Train up Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. It is only about a 15 minute drive from Garmisch, through enchanting Bavarian mountain villages, to Lake Eibsee, where we will get the train to the top. Most of the chalet-style houses have some kind of painted mural on them. One is more charming than the next.

Eric and I think that we could spend a long time in one of these villages, with just a bicycle and a dog, exploring the myriad paths and roads that wind through the mountains. Dogs are (of course) welcome everywhere, and we could take the train into the city (Munich) if necessary. It appears to be an ideal world, in many ways.

When we arrive at Lake Eibsee we are, at first, unsure about how we get up the mountain. There is a train, as well as a cable lift. All of the skiers seem to be heading for the cable lift, and that is the way John wants to go because he thinks that the ride will be more “thrilling”. Eric and I are a bit panicked about going 10,000 feet into the sky so we decide to go up on the train, and then decide how we will get down.

At the station, while waiting for the train, we meet a young American man with his 2 sons, ages 9 and 10 (or thereabouts). He is friendly and anxious to talk to us. He has the look of someone who has been somewhat traumatized (John says “the look of a scared rabbit”). He is stationed somewhere in Germany, says that this is his reward for having been in Iraq for a year, and that he is now seeing the world “the poor man’s way”. He must return to “the desert” every other year, and has 5 more years to go. He tells us of the hardship all of this has been for his family, and that knowing what he knows now, he would never do it again. I don’t press him for details, but sense how necessary it was for him to tell us what he did, and how necessary it was for us to hear him. I hope that I never forget this young man or the brief conversation that we had as we waited for the train to the Zugspitze.

The train chugs up the mountain through several tunnels. The high forests looks magical – a loam-y kind of soil with light filtering through the trees. I wonder what kind of wild life lives up here.

A clear, warm day has brought the skiers out (or maybe it’s like this all the time?). Obviously, Germans like to ski. People of all ages are decked out in goggles and skis, heading to the top. The train was crowded. Eric and I get a seat, but John stands. There is a bedraggled man just before John that I watch as we ascend the mountain. Every so often he takes a sip from a bottle. I wonder what he’s doing, going to the top of a mountain. The way he holds his head, he appears to me to be in some kind of deep psychic pain – battling demons. I wonder at how some of us, but not all, are especially sensitive and susceptible to this kind of personal suffering.

Maybe I’m off in my assessments and observations, but thus were my musings as the train climbed to the highest place on earth that I have ever been. I can feel the pressure change in my head. (Demons to some, pressure to others?) It feels like a headache, so I breathe deeply and try to relax. John keeps raising his fingers to tell me how many thousand feet we are above sea level. He has a special watch that gives all these sorts of statistics … 5,ooo feet – 6 – 7 …

The train stops at the Schneeferner glacier – a bowl shaped ski area about 3000 meters high. The initial view is bright and breathtaking. We are higher than the Alps and look down on them. The sun reflecting on the snow is bright, so bright that my eyes hurt even with my sunglasses on. I suspect that one could burn their corneas and get snow blindness very quickly up here. It is also surprisingly warm. We had dressed expecting to be in snow and possibly wind, but on this day there is little wind and all sun. I see people sunbathing.

We watch the skiers for awhile. They all know what they are doing – I don’t notice any novices. We are the only ones slip sliding around.

From here we take a cable car to the VERY top of Zugspitze. There is something mystical about being up here on top of a mountain. I had always looked at mountains from a lower vantage; it’s a little different to be looking down on things. There is Rock up here, and snow. Crystal clear air. Some birds. Like looking from a plane window, but so much more tactile (I am PART of it and breathe its air), I look over at the beauty of the earth – the villages and lakes and rivers. It is a bit dizzying. We could see all the way to Italy.

We walk around all of the observation area and then decide to take the cable car down. When we try to use our tickets to get to the entrance for the cable car, they don’t work. “You’re in Austria!” a man explains. The observation area spans the border between Austria and Germany, and we had wondered to the Austrian side.

Eibsee Lake

So we trek back to Germany for the cable car down to Eibsee Lake. I notice the pattern that tree-line makes on the side of the mountain. Like a wave, it reaches up the mountain, then recedes, then reaches again.

Apfelstrudel and the search for a hotel

We spent some time around the blue, blue glacial waters of Lake Eibsee, before heading back into Garmisch on our way to Munich. We have lunch at our favorite Garmisch restaurant, the Konditorei-Thron. The apfelstrudel, which we split 3 ways, was, bar none, the very best apple strudel that I have ever had anywhere. Maybe the very best dessert I have ever had. It was not sugary-sweet-dough-y; rather this was APPLES(!), dressed and enhanced like I had never tasted them before. Crisp and clean. I realize that I may never again know an apfelstrudel like this one.

We made our way back through Munich and to the airport with no problem (well, just one wrong turn that we easily corrected) … but this is where our luck changed …

I had every day of our trip planned ahead – where we would stay and how we would get there – except the last day. I figured that we would go to the airport, get a room, turn our rental car in, and the next morning we would take a shuttle bus to the airport and fly away.

The moral of the story is – never assume that things are the way you think they are, especially in another country.

There were no obvious hotels around the airport. The hotel right in side the airport was so many euros, I didn’t even bother to convert to what it would be in US dollars. So we go to the rental car place – John is anxious to unload the car – hoping that they could recommend a reasonable hotel nearby. They suggest that we keep the car until the next day – except for an expensive Danish place across the street, all the hotels are far away.

For the next 2 hours from Freissling to Erding we search for a hotel that is not hopelessly expensive. They all are (and without breakfast, they are quick to add.) The one that we found that was sort of ok did not have extra beds, so we would have to get a 2nd room for Eric.

It’s a good thing we still remembered that apfelstrudel we had for lunch, because we were quickly becoming tired, exasperated, and grumpy.

Finally we decided to go back to the expensive place next to the rental car place, because if we could turn the car in today, we would save some money, and the hotels in the surrounding villages were no bargain.

The NL hotel was nice. I love the Scandinavian furniture and design. They brought an extra bed to the room. There were wonderful green apples at the desk. I didn’t let John tell me how much it cost.

I met a little girl, maybe 11 years old, who was traveling with her father. She said she used be from Virginia, but now they lived in the country that was below Russia and on the other side of Turkey. They had missed their flight and were stranded for the night. She was anxious to talk and I enjoyed her friendship.

John tried to take the car back, since we were now just across the street, but again nien, if we wanted a way to the airport we would have to return the car in the morning.

With that, and some expensive soup, we went to bed listening to CNN Euronews. The last thing I heard was the reporter saying, “and you won’t hear that on Fox news!”

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