Aside: Driving through the Alps has to be one of the highlights of my travels to date. The scale of them really beggars belief. You'll be taking in the different layers of rock and the tree line, slowly craning your neck as you approach their base, when houses and chalets perched on the mountainside -- like ornaments on a cuckoo clock -- bring their enormity back to you.
I've only ever seen the moon appear so beautifully that high on the horizon, and never in such sharp relief. Sometimes you wish you could create a photograph from your mind.
The day wasn't all about the Alps, however. It would see us start in Austria, travel through Germany on the way to Innsbruck, back to Austria, and then finish in Germany after driving over the Alps, at Mittenwald and Garmisch.
What an adventure! And nothing typifies it more than our spontaneous decision to stop in Rattenberg on the way to Innsbruck.
Our next stop was Innsbruck, which looks very Olympic as you take in its ski jump from the autobahn. While the feeling dissipates as you make your way to the Zentrum -- too many 'modern' buildings -- the Old City more than makes up for it.
Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Dunkel -- before heading to the Mercure Hotel Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Once there, we enjoyed a swim, and a buffet that included suckling pig; a special request from an important guest, we were told.
Gasthof Fraundorfer was slightly ajar, so we decided to try our luck. It was mostly dark inside, but a back corner was well lit, so we began to shed our layers in a booth near the door. Suddenly the formidable matron had her head out of the kitchen, "Do you SEE any dishes over there?"
After a bit of shopping -- Tea finally picked up her first (of many, I'm sure) Christmas pyramid! -- we hit the road. Our first stop was Ettal, where, defying reason, it was even foggier. This did make our approach to their beautiful abbey all the better, though; we were almost on top of it before it loomed out of the mist, well above us.
Oberammergau. Another lovely stop. We ate lunch at another warm and welcoming guesthouse, where the extent of Stephen's continuing plight had us all in stitches: the problem? Getting ice with his soft drinks. Most places simply said they had none. On this occasion, when he asked (without much hope, it has to be said), the reply was, "Of course we have ice!"
As the weather wasn't the best for sightseeing, we decided to press on to our hotel for the evening in Pfronten: Haus Achtal. This was certainly another gem of the trip: the couple who run it were so friendly and welcoming; it was like we were staying in their home -- with a decor right out of the 70s that I instantly fell in love with. I'd swear I played in that TV room as a kid, and the common area where meals are served is embraced by this lovely big (living!) tree; words fail me.
And then to stand outside the following morning, with cows mooing in the distance, their bells clunking... Is that Julie Andrews on the next hill? But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Neuschwanstein Castle was clearly visible, up on its perch. Deciding to conserve our strength, we took a horse-drawn carriage as far as we could, and before long stood at its mammoth ramparts. As impressive as all those shots were, however, make sure you also get a glimpse of the castle from Marienbrücke, or Mary's Bridge. We all wondered what it must look like, blanketed with snow.
Landsberg am Lech for lunch. No one was surprised to see a menu of pork and dumplings at Gasthof zum Mohren, and Nancy's attempt to deviate was met with, "... You can go to McDonald's for pomme frites." I include that, not to put folks off -- because it really wasn't (quite) as rude as it sounds -- but to make sure they're in the right frame of mind when they visit southern Germany and Austria (and the Czech Republic, as I understand it) -- vegetarians beware!
And, finally, as a counterpoint, we were standing outside a little café, getting ready to leave Landsberg am Lech, when a local approached. After a bit of friendly banter, he made reference to us being Canadian, to which we all fumbled over each other, asking variations on, "What? How did you know?"
"Oh, there was [weighing, weighing] the slightest scent of maple syrup about you."
The Picasa album for the trip is now complete. Check out all 170 pictures!