around the world – part 26.8 (no place like home)

One of the nicest things about travelling is that eventually it comes to an end.  Don’t get me wrong – I lived an itinerant childhood and I do very much like to travel, but there is nothing quite like the sense of relief and comfort I receive when I step through the front door.  The littlest one is too young to really know where I go off to, but he certainly asks momma where I am, and I know that he feels my absence – that is when I feel most guilty about my work.   The oldest is still just young enough that he won’t mind a snuggle after dinner, reading (hopefully) ‘Treasure Island’.

However, by this time tomorrow I shall be home, surrounded by family, in a warm house a warm bed and a reminder by SWMBO that the next morning, I have the fierce creatures all to myself while she catches up on some much needed rest. 

It is the least I can do.

on the music box

rilo-kiley.jpgHeavy Rotation:  Rilo Kiley, “Under The Blacklight*

Shuffled Lots:   Mobile, “See Right Through Me”

Rediscovered:  Colourbox, “Just give ’em enough whiskey”.   This just dates me… situates my musical references in the era of Reagan.

Long Song:  Yo La Tengo, “The Story of Yo La Tengo” from “I am not afraid of  you and I will beat your ass“.    Which also probably makes this album title one of the best ever.

around the world – part 26.7 (zugspitze)

January 26 2008:

A couple of days ago I lamented the fact that I had not taken the opportunity to visit the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.  This weekend I have (partially) rectified that error.  By happy circumstance, I and some colleagues decided to vacate Greding and head south for fresh air, namely to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the site of the 1936 winter Olympics.   What I didn’t know was that the highest peak in Germany, the zugspitze at 2962m ASL, is located not far from Garmisch.

Whilst my friends attempted to inveigle me into trying my hand at down-hill skiing, I decided not to (the thought of forking over a substantial amount of money simply to spend the day falling on my ass didn’t entice me), but rather I was determined not to pass up an opportunity to stand on the spitze, so instead I accompanied them up to the high glacier ski area.  Because of the lack of snow at lower elevations, the best skiing appears to be had above 5000 feet – around here that means my skiing friends headed up the zugspitze to the bowl on top.   

To get there we travelled by car the short distance from Garmisch to Eibsee and then bought our aerial tramway/zugspitzebahn tickets and queued for the gondola.  For euro 34.50 ($50 CAD) your ticket gives you a round trip on either the gondola or the tunnel train, or combination of both, plus all day access to the ski lifts and t-bars.   The gondola rises directly from eibsee to a station just below the zugspitze peak (less than 30m below).  img_0029_edited.jpgThe station was recently rebuilt to include a hugely overpriced but scenic restaurant, a quite detailed interpretive centre – which elaborates on the history of human activity on the spitze (tunnelling – cable cars – skiing etc)  – and a substantial weather station. 

The view from the peak is simply stunning.  Being the highest peak in Germany it is of course considerably higher than surrounding German mountains, and seems to be at somewhat higher than those nearby in Austria.   It was quite windy and thus cold but well worth it. img_0032.jpg

To get to the ski area you transfer inside the station to another gondola which descends into the glacier bowl about 350m to the ski centre.  This is also where you may take the zugspitzebahn cogwheel train through a longish tunnel back down to eibsee, grainau and on into garmisch.

I spent about two hours on the terrace people watching and enjoying the fairly warm sunshine in the lee of the buildings.  My observations reveal the following:  Ugly people* are not allowed to ski.  There appears to be no actual plan to exclude ugly folks from the ski hill, but clearly the conditions which surround the culture of skiing pretty much excludes the less beautiful from participating.  Skiers (and snowboarders for that matter) are pretty much young, and if they aren’t young they are reasonably wealthy – enough to be able to afford ski vacations in the first place.  

To get there (from Munich Airport):

1. By car.  Depart the airport following signs for Munchen and join the A92.  At kreuz neufahrn, follow signs for A9 towards Munchen and follow until the A9 ends at the Mittler-ring.  Be aware that the off ramp to the Mittler ring does not give you much distance to join the through traffic, so get over to the left sharpish. img_0096.jpgFollow the Mittler-ring and signs for garmisch west and then south towards the beginning of the A95.  Follow the A95 for about 90km towards garmisch and then follow the local road up into town.  You may consider staying at the Atlas Posthotel, Marienplatz 12, Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

When in Garmisch, you may also wish to eat good local cuisine.  The Restaurant Wildshutz has a very good chef and interesting menu including venison and my recommendation, the Ziebelfleisch in dark beer sauce.

*warning – for the easily offended – ugly people are actually allowed on the skill hill, but only in limited quantities.

around the world – part 26.6 (interlaken to greding)

January 24 2008:

I must admit that I do love driving.  I can thank a lifelong friend for infecting me with the driving bug, something to do with an ill spent youth driving around Ottawa for no apparent reason.  I consider myself to be a fairly good driver, although I will admit I have never spent any time on a closed course track and thus cannot claim to be an expert.  There are only a few drives I will remember for quite a while and today’s was one of them. 

I left Interlaken at around 0700hrs in near dark as the Swiss valleys are deep enough that sunlight at this time of year does not touch the valley floors until well after nine AM.  My navigation system continued to warn me of ‘snow on the road ahead’, perhaps unaware that the driver was Canadian and thus the warning produced no element of fear.   Almost immediately upon departing Interlaken the route climbed from Brienzwiler up through the spiral tunnel to the Brunigpass (1008m) and then down alongside the Lungerer See and on into Luzern.  Despite every attempt of Mercedes to deter me from my route, I never did encounter any snow on the road at all – in fact snow was conspicuous by its absence.

img_0005.jpgBy 0800 I had encountered the Luzern rush hour – too many automobiles on a constricted tunnelled highway equals ‘stau’.  Once beyond Luzern I left the autobahn to wind my way up a secondary road past Zug and over a mountain pass and down the other side into a lovely valley.  At the crest the valley below presented a lovely vista as the sun burned off low lying moisture creating a faint haze over green hills and pastures.  Green, because the alpine region seems to have been experiencing unseasonably warm weather, with very little evidence of snow below 3000 feet. 

In a previous post I mentioned the large number of tunnels I encountered on my way down.  I recall thinking at the time that there ought to be pull outs either just before or just after exiting certain tunnels since the reason they were built in the first place was to transit some awfully large yet picturesque mountains.   I did think to keep my camera up front on the return trip and thus was able to capture a few cool tunnel entrances.   img_0012_edited.jpgI think the longest tunnel I passed through was the 6.7km long Pfander Tunnel at Bregenz Austria, rather than any tunnel in Switzerland.  I have heard it said, and I did look as carefully as I could (at 80kmh) in an attempt to confirm,  that the Swiss Army has each tunnel prepared with emplaced charges to collapse tunnels in case of invasion. 

While I didn’t note any prepared defences, I did see elements of the Swiss Army on the motorway as I headed towards Austria.  A couple of G-Wagon jeeps on my way to Interlaken and today on the way back I screamed past one of their eagle2.jpgEagle II Light Armoured Vehicles.   Apparently the Swiss continue to believe and demonstrate ‘armed neutrality’.  Regrettably I was unable to grab my camera quickly enough to snap a photo, and I am not sure that it would have been welcomed if I had done.  Had to go to Janes to get a good shot of one.

Have I mentioned just how beautiful the Swiss Alps are?   As I rounded a corner heading north towards the Austrian border I encountered a simply stunning vista – out came the camera again.  Please don’t ask how I was able to both drive and take pictures – all I can say is thank goodness for digital cameras because a lot of foreshortened dashboard pics were thankfully discarded.  img_0017.jpgThis is the view seen from near Haag (Rheintal) on the A13 heading north.

Once I entered Germany, as it was a lovely sunny day, it was easy enough to reach appropriate autobahn speeds and the two thirds distance through Baden Wurtemburg and Bavaria actually took less time to transit than departing Switzerland.  296km in about 1hour 50 minutes due in part to largely empty roads and very good weather.

around the world – part 26.5 (why didn’t I?)

January 23 2008:

img_0022_edited.jpgWith about 10 hours to go before departing for greding tomorrow morning I have somewhat belatedly realised that I should have gone up to the jungfraujoch on the train.  It is the saddle between the peaks ‘monch’ and ‘jungfrau’ and has an observatory, hotel, restaurant and ice caves all accessible from the train stop.  I do have a lovely picture of the jungfrau taken from my hotel – but what are the odds I’ll ever be back in this neck of the woods again.  Chock it up to life’s regrets.

How to get there from Interlaken:

1. Take the train (highly recommended); or

2. Walk – not recommended without at least several days provisions and gear and some considerable skill in mountain climbing.