Monday, January 7, 2013

2012 Year in Review: Top of the World (IV of V)

Unfortunately, summer had to end. Soon, gone were the days of sun and warmth, of green leaves and t-shirts, and picnics out on the lawn. In their stead arrived beautiful trees of red and gold, crisp air, and- …snow?! WTF. Go home, Mother Nature, you’re drunk!

Before telling you about that, though, I should admit that there was a tiny bit of chilly weather before the snow came. It was my absolute favorite time of the year: pumpkin everything season!! Many people refer to this as “Fall”, I’m told; or “Autumn”. But let’s be honest… the reason for the season is that tasty orange gourd that we’ve found OH so many uses for. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin burgers, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bratwurst, pumpkin spaghetti, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin beer, pumpkin wine… but why stop with food?! You can also carve ‘em, chuck ‘em, float em, paint ‘em, make sculptures out of them… really, what can’t you do with pumpkins? So versatile! And, appropriately, celebrated.

Every year a nearby town hosts a pumpkin festival in the palace gardens. (You know, a palace that you can take tours of – not one that someone actually lives in anymore!) Every year there is a theme: last year it was dinosaurs, this year it was Switzerland. The theme determines what they make out of pumpkins. Last year - dinosaurs; this year - the Matterhorn, Three Musketeers, and a giant Swiss flag. They also have activities for all ages, but the best part (in my opinion) is the food and live music. I vlogged a little bit there, too; but here are some photos!

Pumpkin Cake; Pumpkin Soup w/ Pumpkin Maultaschen (ravioli); Pumpkin Streudel 
Carving GIANT Pumpkins!
Now, about the snow… It arrived only a few days before hubby and I were supposed to leave for our anniversary trip in late October. Normally when you see an early snow, you get something that lightly covers the ground and melts off by noon, or some wispy flurries throughout the day… but not this snow. We woke up to a few inches of thick, heavy snow and it was still coming down in big, fluffy flakes; snowman snow. It was unexpected, certainly, but beautiful! How wonderful, I thought, to actually get to see the mountains all covered in snow! Of course I did not think about there being travel implications... or having to drag a heavy suitcase through four inches of the stuff. 

I can only assume that this kind of weather was a surprise to the Germans this early in the season, too, because every single train we had arranged to take was either cancelled or delayed. What should have been a 4-ish hour journey down to the adorable little town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, nestled at the foot of the Alps in Bavaria, turned into more like… 7 or 8 hours of the Amazing ****ing Race. It took no less than four trains, two taxis, one bus, a nice German man who called the train people and shared the information with us unexpectedly, and a considerable amount of time running around and/or waiting in the cold. But we made it!

The city is actually two separate, but very smooshed together, towns: Garmisch and Partenkirchen. In fact, I hear they don’t get along very well (there’s still some dispute about whether it should’ve been Partenkirchen-Garmisch and such nonsense). However, they came together when Germany wanted to make the bid for the 1940 Winter Olympics. Neither town was big enough to host, but together they could pull it off! But how did they overcome their differences and hatred of one another, you ask? Well, it was either that or get thrown in Dachau. That Hitler! Such a charmer… But moving past that little tidbit, this place has lots to offer. For instance… the site of the 1940 Winter Olympics!

Portion of the Stadium
Ski Slopes - though the original from 1940 was made of wood
Our first excursion, however, was out to the nearby (and very famous) Neuschwanstein Castle! (Also known as “the Disney castle”, as it inspired Walt Disney for Sleeping Beauty’s castle and the movie Bambi.) I have wanted to go here since we moved to Germany. It is like the castle of all castles! Which is incredible considering it was never even finished – only about 14 rooms were completed. It was a little disappointing because the bridge where you can take fabulous, fabulous photos of the entire castle was closed (unless you were one of the crazy Russians who hopped the fence); but it was truly a winter wonderland!

As much of Neuschwanstein as I could get in one shot.
View from the castle.
Castle guards (obviously)
On the way there we also stopped by the Wieskirche – a Christian pilgrimage site that houses a small statue of Jesus that supposedly wept once. The church was amazingly beautiful and ornate. The statue was quite far away, though, so it was hard to see. (Thank goodness for the zoom feature!) A bonus was that there was a little café near the church that served hot drinks and was well-known for their fresh made donuts. Ironically, though, these “holy” donuts had no holes at all!

Another day we took a trip to the ancient and still active Ettal Monastery that still brews its own beer. They’re particularly fond of their dopplebock brew, which is almost the equivalent of a loaf of bread in a glass! In fact, they’re so fond of it that they once asked the Pope for permission to drink it during Lent. The Pope had them send some over for him to try, to determine if it was ok. Of course, it had to travel all the way to Rome and these were the days before refrigeration... So by the time it reached the Pope, he took one sip and decided that if anyone wanted to drink that nasty crap (might be paraphrasing a bit, here) then they were more than welcome to! “Ew, yuck, yuck!” I believe were his exact words. Well played, monks. Well played…

After the monastery, we walked over to the cheese farm that’s on the grounds for lunch. Monks are smart… because this place basically pays them in cheese to exist on their property. Beer and cheese? Happy monks! Clever monks.

And speaking of beer… hubby and I got our brewmeister certification later that evening!! Ok, it may not have been very authentic as we still have not actually brewed any beer of our own… but we took a tour of the Griesbrau brewery in Murnau, learned a lot (particularly about Bavarian purity laws), and passed a test! That counts, right? We also got to try “beer liquor” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – liquor made out of beer. Sounds gross, tastes delicious.

This guy was our tour guide. He. was. awesome. And hilarious. Every time he mentioned a tidbit of information that was going to be on our test, he would stamp his foot and point a finger in the air. By the time we’d finished a couple of beers, he would do this repeatedly until we all laughed. Hilarious.

The highlight of the trip, of course, was our anniversary. On this day, we decided to go to the highest point in all of Germany: the Zugspitze. Before I show you photos from this trek, though, let me just say… Whoever says “I feel like I’m on top of the world!” has clearly never actually been anywhere near the top of the world. Because we weren’t even close to the very top yet and it was COLD – like painfully cold. If Jack Frost and Old Man Winter could somehow have a threesome with the Ice Queen and all three of them produced a baby… colder than that baby! And windy, to boot. In short? People who use that phrase don’t realize the nipple-numbing experience it is to really be “on top of the world”; otherwise they probably wouldn’t use it.

In fairness though, before your fingers start to fall off… it truly is amazing. It is incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring and just… well, I’m glad I took so many pictures! I’m also glad that there was a biergarten and little café serving warm drinks to thaw you out. Not only can I say that I’ve been to the highest peak in Germany, but I can also tout that I’ve eaten at the world’s highest beirgarten! (Much different from my first biergarten experience.)

Zugspitze from a distance.
The way to the top.
On top of the world.
World's Highest Biergarten.
The way down? *Gulp!*
One of our final adventures in the area was to Partnach Gorge. The day was sunny, almost warm even, and the snow was melting off. We decided to head to the gorge and make a “photo date” out of it. So we grabbed our cameras, threw on our hiking boots, and set out to see the natural wonder of the area. Only after we’d arrived did I wish we’d come once at the beginning of the trip – when it was cold and iced over – and returned at the end, so that we could see it in both states of its beauty. The going was definitely a bit wet, but well worth it!

At the end of the trek we’d worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped at the little restaurant that’s just at the entrance to the trail. The perfect end to a perfect day, and a wonderful vacation: a giant cup of delicious hot cocoa.

(Because if I ended it with our journey home, I might have to admit that buying a 6-pack of the Ettal Monastery’s brew was a poor decision. At least, that’s what my shoulders thought after 5 hours of having to haul it around… Ah, well!)

<< 2012 Year in Review, Part III                                               2012 Year in Review, Part V >>


  1. "I'm Alex and these are all of my amazing European adventures! AND FOOD AND BEER THAT IS AMAZING." Harumph.

    Pictures are gorgeous, per usual. Sad that I will never get Chris to go up that high...ever.

    1. Haha. I do love a rather privileged... DELICIOUS... life.

      Never say never! We took a train up to the first landing, so if it's heights that bother him - it's possible to at least get him close! :)

  2. Ahhhhh....wonderful! Beautiful pics and informative, witty writing. Bravo, Alex! And love, too....