One of the things that I love about traveling is that it turns your brain on. Anyone who has ever traveled anywhere and I am including any destination other than sitting in your own living room knows that travel can be exhausting because of all kinds of reasons but most of all it is the “needing to figure out things” that is the exhausting part. Depending on where you are, this “figure our factor” can range from fun to downright terrifying (I’m hoping to never experience the terrifying end). So far, Oberammergau seems to be a very fun mixture of figuring things out and having fun being somewhere new and different. Today was a great example.
We set off on an afternoon outing today. The plan was to be out and about for three hours or so, just to stretch our legs and see something new. There are an overwhelming amount of hiking options in this area and today a hike up Laber Mountain and then a gondola ride down seemed like the perfect, easy enough, afternoon activity; leave the apartment at 1:00 and be back around 5:00 at the latest to make dinner and play our new favorite game of cards, Liverpool Rummy. A little foreshadowing, we limped into a Mexican Food restaurant at 9:30 and there was no card game.
I learned four important lessons today: bring small bills and/or change when hiking in the Bavarian Alps, German cows wear cowbells and do not speak English, celebrate your success as soon as you can, listening to your husband (although not for his reasons) can be a good thing and check gondola/restaurant hours if eating and not hiking down the mountain are important to you.
As we headed off to our chosen trail for the afternoon, I was excited. We had borrowed a map from the hotel reception and chatted with a very friendly man working on the exterior of the hotel. He had suggested a trail and told us that you hike up the mountain and take the gondola back down to the bottom of the mountain. No hiking down the mountain! I liked that part, but the very best part of the conversation was something my father-in-law had mentioned, the beautiful and delicious fact that when hiking in this area, you are never far from refreshments! The very nice man told us about the Kaiserschmarrn or Austrian Pancakes, that one must indulge in at the restaurant at the top before the gondola ride back down the mountain. It was getting better and better, oh, and there was another little hut on the trail for drinks or snacks too before you got to the top. Could hiking get any better?
Let me pause here and explain a few things. I am an eater. I love good food and I like snacks. I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern because they travel and eat. I want to try everything (especially Kaiserschmarrn). My husband is a hiker and he believes that when one is “out on the trail” one is fueled by the beauty of nature and maybe an apple. I have learned to pack a few bars because as much as I love a vista, it does not fix my hanger issues and apples make my stomach hurt. As we headed out, I slipped a 50 Euro bill into my pocket (my father-in-law’s words in my head, “Snacks on the trail!” along with my own Germany travel research, “Cash is king!”) thinking I would be prepared to buy snacks. The thought of refreshments (food and maybe even Bier!) buoyed me up the beautiful mountain trail and I do mean breathtakingly beautiful, like I must be on another planet, beautiful. We stopped to explore a tree house and my husband and daughter snacked on apples (don’t need one of those, I happily exclaimed to myself, real snacks ahead!).
Just as promised by the friendly dude at the hotel, we found the first little refreshment stop and it was everything I could have ever wished for out on a beautiful trail…except it was closed. But hold on a minute, there were bottles of Bier and juice and soda in a really neat water trough and a metal box where you could pay on the honor system. Absolutely ingenious on the German’s part, but there was a big problem on my end. My 50 Euro bill was not going to work (unless I wanted a very expensive drink) and my husband had just enough change for the kids to share a soda. I was still okay though. I had that Kaiserschmarrn to look forward to at the top of the mountain and maybe by then I would deserve a few more carbs in the form of a Bier.
Lesson #1 When hiking in Germany carry small bills and change.
The kids enjoyed their soda and on we hiked, our daughter choosing the longer route around Soila Lake. The lake was beautiful. There was no water in the lake, only grass, a dark green lake of grass surrounded by majestic mountains and proud trees. The kids noticed tiny frogs hopping around on the ground, and I do mean tiny. My husband spotted a cross on a rocky promontory above us and suggested we hike there. It looked dangerous, I said no way and he said well, we have to go that way anyway. Lessons number 2 and 3 were waiting right around the corner at this point. Those cow bells that had startled me on the alpine slide (Rule Number 5) the day before were still at it. I had been looking behind me every time I heard the sound because in California, the sound of a cow bell usually means that there is a mountain biker hurtling down the hill towards you and you should be ready to jump out of the way. The sound of cow bells was very close now and just around a corner we met a happy and curious and not at all afraid of us herd of German cows.
I grew up around cattle in Colorado and I am not afraid of cows. These cows did not act the way cows do in Colorado (or California for that matter). My usual cattle protocol of saying “shoo” had no effect. These cows were on the trail and they were not moving off of the trail for four, two-legged foreigners. They just looked at us docilely, except for a teenager-ish looking bovine who had an angry glint in its eye and looked like it might want to try out the pointy things attached to its head (German cows have horns). I have also had experience with angry cattle in my younger years and I know that you don’t bother cows with calves and bulls that are obviously frustrated. These German cows were confusing to me. Besides the teen-ager, there was no indication of hostility, but they were not moving and they were very large. So, my fearless leader husband says we’re just going to have to bushwhack. Inwardly, I was laughing because I can’t count the times he’s told me that you aren’t really hiking until you get a mile away from the trail head and off of the trail. So, at least we were definitely hiking.
Tip #2 When hiking in Germany ask a local hiker how to get cows off of the trail (I haven’t done that yet.)
We bushwhacked up a few steep hills and back onto the trail and around the corner there were more cows on the trail and even better, right in the middle of the gate that we needed to pass through. We could bushwhack around one of the cows but the cow standing right in the middle of the gate was definitely an obstacle. Now, we are all crowded together on the side of a steep hill in front of the cow trying to figure out how to get through the gate and my husband says, “I’ll just toss a rock at its feet.” The kids, “Don’t hurt it!” The husband, “I just want to scare it.” Me, I am saying nothing because I am learning that saying nothing is usually a better option for me, but I am thinking and reviewing my cattle protocol and cattle memories in my head. I realized that all the cows that had ever chased me or threatened to chase me had not spent a lot of time deciding to do so. So, I decided those cows would have chased us a long time ago if they were going to. I squeezed past my husband, stuck my hand out and approached the cow, patted its nose and slipped through the gate. I was more nervous about getting through the gate (since the fences are electric) than I was scared of the cow. This was all to a chorus of the panicked voices of my family. This memory is the highlight of my trip so far. I was the hero, fearless in a terrifying situation. I coached each one past the cow and through the gate and relished their praise and recounting of the story of my bravery as we hiked on. It lasted for three minutes.
Lesson #3 Celebrate your successes as quickly as possible!
It was not three minutes after the cow debacle that the trail turned sharply and there we were at Ettaler Manndl, the rocky promontory that my husband had seen when we at the lake. All cows were forgotten as backpacks were shed and up the rocks the three of them scampered. Ugh. I went from hero to forgotten in a few seconds, but I did realize something as I watched the father/six year old climbing combo ascending the cliff in front of us. The reason for the chains that I had thought were a bit unnecessary yesterday became crystal clear, one could wear a climbing harness and clip in so as not to fall to one’s death. Well, the ascent didn’t seem so dangerous as I slowly plodded up the cliff behind my family. Yes, it was steep but there were all kinds of foot and handholds, it was easy climbing even for me. I could see the kids up ahead of my husband, my daughter leading and I paid little attention. They are always in front of me. It is better for me to concentrate on my own climbing, but when I heard my husband lecturing my daughter about the four wheel drive climbing rule (three limbs secure at all times) my danger meter perked up a bit. He very, very rarely tells the kids to be careful and when he does it usually means that I do not want to be part of the project. I was still a bit high on my cow success so I congratulated him in my head for telling them to be careful and kept my sadly plodding pace up the rocks. The kids had turned some kind of corner and I could no longer see them when my husband turned around and yelled down to me that he wants to concentrate on the kids and it’s a little bit of a sketchy climb and he doesn’t want to worry about me too. Hmmmm. I was at this point actually fairly relaxed about scaling the rocks but the climbing took both physical and mental effort so his comment interested me and not for his reasons. I was fairly certain that I could hold on to those rocks and scale the mountain to the top, but if he was worried, than watching my children do the same was going to be torture for me, not fun, not something I wanted to sign up for. I would be tantrum-ing by the time it was over and they would think I was ruining their fun right after they thought I was awesome for conquering the German cows. So, I agreed. It was simple. I just told that dear husband of mine to go ahead and concentrate on the kids and I would climb down. And that is what I did. It was easy and there were some really nice folks to chat with at the bottom of the rocks that were waiting for climbers too. I chatted and eventually (45 minutes or so later) my family climbed down and as we hiked on down the path my husband looked at me and said, “That was terrifying. I had to just let go as a parent and let the kids take care of themselves. There was nothing I could do. It’s going to be easier to send them off to college.” The kids were electrified by what they had accomplished and I was relieved that I did not have to witness their death-defying act (seriously if you want to do the climb, harnesses/ropes might be a good idea or at least make it more fun) and to still be a hero for saving them from the cows (my husband said the cows were a little scarier).
Lesson #4 Good Advice can be good for different reasons
We had had a great hike and a lot of excitement by this time and our three hour tour had turned into five plus at this point, but everyone was happy; cake, Bier and gondola were just around the wildflower and vista strewn corner. We had been hiking for hours and miles but the kids were sprinting and jumping down the trail because the END! was very near and they had conquered so much.
The restaurant serving the Kaiserschmarrn was closed. The Gondolas were tucked in for the night. Nary a soul was to be found at the summit.
Lesson # 4 Check gondola/restaurant hours if eating and not hiking down the mountain are important to you.
We hiked down the mountain and let me tell you, German hiking signage often expresses hiking distance in time and the approximations are accurate. The sign pointing to Oberammergau at the summit of Laber indicated 2 std (hours) and it was right on, it was 2 hours of hiking down a steep trail. My daughter stumbled numerous times (because her legs were tired), we lost our son (he got tired of us and walked ahead) and I retold my daughter her favorite stories to pass the time (and keep my mind off of our lost child). It was almost dark when we limped into town (we found our son closer to town, he’s almost 15 and smart and manly, so don’t worry) and headed to the little Mexican food restaurant down the street from our apartment for that gosh darn Bier (amazing!) and dinner (very good). My legs are sore today but my heart is full from a very good adventure and some new insights into hiking in Germany, being a hero, and listening to my husband.
http://www.ammergauer-alpen.de/ Cable car hours
http://www.laber-bergbahn.de/ Restaurant hours
http://www.elpuente-oberammergau.de/ El Puente Restaurant –delicious food after an exciting afternoon