Day Four (December 26)


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Europe » Germany » Bavaria » Berchtesgaden
May 6th 2006
Published: May 6th 2006
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Tyler and Gen Tyler and Gen Tyler and Gen

The aftermath of another huge German breakfast. We ate EVERYTHING Sissy brought out to us. They were probably glad to see us go.
We were showered and ready for breakfast by 8:30. Sissy made us another great feast. We gulped down three pots of hot chocolate knowing it was going to be another cold day. It was snowing rather steadily but not enough to concern us. We get a great deal of snow up in Northeast PA so we are used to it. I was just a little worried about how my supposed non-snow tires would perform. Sissy made a big deal about us signing her guestbook so Gail made a big deal about having Sissy and Klaus pose in their Bavarian finery. We paid our bill for the two nights, 300€ total, or 25€ per person per night. Well worth it in my opinion. We bid our goodbyes to Sissy and Klaus with assurances of e-mailing them some of our photos and with the promise of returning very soon.

Once more I drove the VW into Berchtesgaden. The first stop I wanted to make was the Tengelmann grocery store situated below the main part of town. We were shocked to find it still closed for Christmas. They have a big two story garage but we were the only car in the lot.
Next door neighborNext door neighborNext door neighbor

The roofs of these homes must be an amazing feat of engineering. By mid-Winter there has to be tons and tons of snow on them.
Gail was very impressed with the special parking section for Ladies only. That would never go over in the Politically Correct World of the U.S. We drove back up the hill to the pedestrian zone and its shops. We found everything closed here too. The only store that was open was the toy store where I bought a little beer truck for a co-worker and where Gail and her Mother got a few more postcards. As we wandered around the pedestrian only zone hoping to find something, anything, open just so we could kill time before the Salt Mine opened at noon, we kept seeing small groups of male adults and children dressed in light grey loden jackets with green pants and green hats. The females wore dark dresses with red aprons and fancy hats. We decided to follow one group. I was hoping there was some kind of special ceremony celebrating Boxing Day or something. They led us right into the town hall/tourist bureau. The locals disappeared into an auditorium. Gail asked the people at the tourist information desk what was happening but all they would say was that the local farmers were “getting together”. Having seen the Odessa
Sissy And KlausSissy And KlausSissy And Klaus

I can't say enough about our hosts. In a country full of friendly, helpful people these two really went out of their way to make our visit special. There is just so much to see and explore in this corner of Bavaria. One day we have to come back and stay for at least a week.
File one too many times I was not about to walk into a secret gathering of old Germans.

Going back out on the street we did find one tourist oriented store open. It was a shop full of wooden crafts and souvenirs. We found a couple things we might have considered purchasing but when we learned that they didn’t take our credit cards, we moved on. We killed some time “shopping” in a gas station. We were looking for soap. Klaus and Sissy’s place as charming as it was, did not have little bars of soap for the guests and since most of the places I had booked on this tour were similar little guesthouses, getting a bar or two seemed like a good idea. We didn’t find any however, but we bought more chocolate and soda.

There was no line at the Salzbergwerk salt mine, mainly because they opened an hour earlier than they had told me in their e-mail. Everyone enjoyed donning their miner’s coveralls and jacket before boarding the little train that took us a half mile into the mountain. There was no sense of claustrophobia at all. This was my fifth visit and I
Heading to the "Secret Gathering"Heading to the "Secret Gathering"Heading to the "Secret Gathering"

We had no idea what all the villagers were up to when they dressed-up in their traditional garb then headed toward the town hall.
can almost repeat the tour verbatim now. The big wooden slides leading down into the pits are still a blast and I think my tour group thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The guide gives the tour in German and sends the non-German speakers over to big cut-out miner pictures with the flag of their country on it. Standing next to your life-size miner doll a recording tells you what is going on in your language. We were the only American/British tourists, but there were Italians and Russians too. All this salt exists under the mountain because eons ago the ocean covered this area. Earthquakes and tectonic plate shifts pushed up the mountains and left the salt inside. In order to mine, deep holes are drilled straight down from the horizontal shaft. Water is pumped in and the water dissolves the salt and silt which sinks to the bottom of the pit. The pits are gradually enlarged into huge chambers. The salty brine is then pumped out of the mine and over to Bad Reichenhall 18 miles away.

Leaving the Salt Mine it was my intention to drive to our next hotel in Oberammergau by taking the Alpine Road (B21 to B178) through Lofer, Austria and past Kitzbuhl and a nearby stable with Lippizaner Stallions, but when we got as far East as Ramsau, the snow flurries suddenly became a rather hearty snowfall. I wasn’t sure whether we really had snow tires or just new radials on our van. At one point that road narrows to one lane to go through a short tunnel. Traffic going uphill has to stop and allow uncoming traffic to pass through the tunnel. There was nobody coming as I started up toward the tunnel, but these Germans drive fast. A guy came flying down the hill in the driving snow. I moved far to the right to give him room. The van was wider than I realized and I clipped a roadsign. The sideview mirror which was already cracked and scratched when we picked-up the car was now dangling by a couple wires. Further up the road I kind of jury-rigged it back into place.

I didn’t want to get stuck in one of the mountain passes with darkness coming in only a few hours. I wimped-out and decided to head back up to Bad Reichenhall to the Autobahn. Traffic was a bit slow in
Riding the slide deeper into the salt mineRiding the slide deeper into the salt mineRiding the slide deeper into the salt mine

Thanks to her fat father Cassie enjoyed one of the fastest rides ever taken down the long wooden slide inside the Salzbergwerk.
spots due to the snow but even on the seemingly dull highway we saw plenty of interesting things: People riding horses, people walking their dogs miles away from any buildings, little hills equipped with tow ropes and people skiing, a horse drawn sleigh and a horse drawn carriage, people cross-country skiing and families sledding. And everywhere on the highway going in both directions were cars from the Netherlands with ski racks. We stopped at another gas station for a potty break. I got a bratwurst and roll for lunch. I also found a nice warm pair of soccer goalie gloves for only 4€. Everyone else ate chocolate and soda.

Getting bored with the traffic on the highway, I used Helga the GPS girl to route us toward the town of Bad Tölz. One of my customers used to live there and told me how beautiful it was. I also remembered reading that after WWII some of the fleeing Nazis hid stolen gold in the lake. It’s probably just a legend, but it piqued my interest. Getting to Bad Tölz meant driving on miles of secondary highways. A slow milk truck slowed us for the first half hour. When I
Salzbergwerk ChapelSalzbergwerk ChapelSalzbergwerk Chapel

The little chapel inside the mine was built with some of the translucent rocks from deep inside this mountain.
finally saw a place to pass, the snow was coming down like crazy and beginning to stick. Luckily the crew was asleep as I held my breath and put the pedal to the metal. By the time we reached the suburbs of Bad Tölz it was just after 4:00 and getting dark. With everyone asleep I made an executive decision and decided not to stop. From what I could see of Bad Tölz from the highway, it didn’t look nearly as “charming” as many of the other towns we had seen so far on the trip. (Now that I’m home and after visiting the town’s website, I’ve decided to add Bad Tölz to my “next time” list.)

Just outside of Bad Tölz traffic came to a complete stop. In the distance I could see the winding road descending just a bit as the road left the open fields and came to a forest. As we inched along I could feel my tires slipping a bit on ice. I hadn’t noticed that the snow had ended and now freezing rain was coming down. This deluxe VW van was equipped with a nifty little sensor on the dashboard that flashed when your
Seconds before the crash...Seconds before the crash...Seconds before the crash...

Here we are heading toward the one lane tunnel taking us out of Berchtesgaden. A few seconds later I scraped against the orange and white striped warning light on the right shoulder. We were able to pop the mirror right back on. No harm, no foul.
wheels were losing grip with the road. When we got to the forest area that I had seen in the distance, the descent became much steeper. Cars were taking turns going one at a time down the hill. That way no one risked smashing into each other. How civilized and smart. Back in the States it would’ve been every man for himself. We got down the slope without incident. Soon we passed under the A95 Autobahn. With the last rays of daylight disappearing I thought it made sense to get back on the better maintained road and skip the scenic route. Helga agreed blabbering on about making a “links” turn in 200,… 100,… 50 meters.

On the Autobahn the road was totally ice and snow-free. As I headed South toward the Alps, the icy drizzle turned back into a light snowfall. In about 15 minutes I found the exit that took me up a meandering, endlessly climbing road up toward Ettal. The snow was getting much heavier and was covering the highway. Of course as good as I think I am in snow, some German knucklehead thought I was going too slow. He rode my butt all the way
On the AutobahnOn the AutobahnOn the Autobahn

Even on the super highway across Bavaria we saw lots of interesting sites. This church built on a rock bluff looked fascinating but there was no nearby exit. To the right, in the field, you can see a horse-drawn sleigh.
up the slippery slope and then blasted my doors off when he had clear road ahead of him. Two days after Christmas and everything still looked very Christmassy. Tasteful white lights on most of the farmhouses and orange-tinted floodlights on every church or castle we passed. The GPS did an amazing job taking us through the streets of Oberammergau, down a narrow alley, across a bubbling brook and then up a somewhat icy hill to the Friedenshöhe Hotel.

Herr Schmid was waiting for us outside the hotel as we pulled into the parking lot. He walked us into the reception area and then took his place behind the desk. After filling out the registration forms, he began telling us about the award-winning restaurant in the hotel then asked if we wanted reservations. I wouldn’t normally agree to booking a reservation without seeing the menu, and prices, first, but with the snow coming down pretty heavily and with our bad luck finding places open thus far on the trip, we all agreed to eat at the hotel. Herr Schmid issued us special passes giving us discounts and free entry to many local attractions. Then he asked if we might be interested
Moving roadblockMoving roadblockMoving roadblock

We got stuck behind this milk truck when we left the Autobahn.
in taking a sleigh ride from Oberammergau to nearby Linderhof Castle. Gail and I were pretty familiar with this hunting lodge castle of Mad King Ludwig having visited a couple times before. Herr Schmid said his friend would charge us 75€ for the entire group and the ride would last almost 3 hours. We kind of smiled and promised to think about it. Since the next day, 27 December, was Gail’s birthday, she decided for us. She asked Herr Schmid to call his friend and set up a ride. He booked us for the next morning.

Herr Schmid then showed us our rooms. They were in a separate building from the main hotel, but we were duly impressed. Tyler and Gen had a downstairs room, while Cassie and Grandma Phoebe took one upstairs room and Gail and I grabbed the other. The rooms were typical Bavarian décor. Light colored wood walls with lace curtains. The two single beds were topped with fluffy feather comforters. We had a little TV and a full bathroom (no soap, however). We cranked-up the radiators before heading back down to the restaurant.

The restaurant was very cozy and warm on that wintry night.
Dinner at the Friedenshohe in OberammergauDinner at the Friedenshohe in OberammergauDinner at the Friedenshohe in Oberammergau

Once again a big smile from Cassie because she is eating.
We had a big table reserved for the six of us. We sat across from a huge green-tiled stove. The Germans and Austrians have these big wood or coal-burning tile stoves in their homes and businesses. The tiles are specially designed to project as much heat as possible. They aren’t as romantic as a fireplace but they are much more practical and just as beautiful in their unique way.

No need to tell you what I ordered as a drink. This night I got a half liter of Hacker Schorr Weiss (6.20€), Gail had a smaller Hacker Schorr Hell (2.90€), her Mom had a glass of Riesling (4.10€), and the kids had Cokes (2.30€ each). Gail’s main course was Cordon Bleu vom Schwein (9.80€), her Mom had Salad with turkey meat (8.80€), Gen had the Putenrahmschnitzel or Turkey cutlet in cream sauce (9.80€), while Cassie, Tyler and I enjoyed our Schweineschitzel in Rahm (8.80€). The waitresses left us a big bowl of mixed vegetables and a bottomless bowl of Spätzle. An absolutely perfect meal. We were stuffed and no one even brought up the topic of dessert. During our meal Herr Schmid had come by to check on us and to tell us that he would lead us to his sleigh driver friend’s house at 9:00 the next morning. After we paid our bill we went back to the reception area and used the free computer in the lobby. Meanwhile Tyler tried to recharge his laptop using a power strip he brought along. As soon as he hooked it to the converter then plugged it in, out went the lights. We had to call on Herr Schmid once again to replace the blown fuse. Cassie, Grandma, Gail and I sat in our room writing postcards and watching Jim Carrey in a German-dubbed version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The radiators we had opened-up didn’t exactly pump out waves of heat, but under my comforter I was comfortable. I fell asleep before 10:00.


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