hiking

Two Weeks in Germany with A+A

My parents visited for two weeks at the beginning of May.  It was their second visit to Germany; the first was for their honeymoon in 1979. At that time they stayed in Heidelberg with friends who took them sightseeing in the Alps, to Munich, and across the villages of Bavaria.

Afterwards my grandparents charted my parent’s travels, (as well as their own) on a road map of Germany.  The map was dusted off and given to us to record our journeys when we moved, and Derek and I unpacked it to see where they had been.

Their route had missed the Franconian cities of  Würzburg, Nuremberg, and Bamberg — We were excited to show them some ‘new’ sights in the region of Bavaria where we have been living. We also planned a 4-day getaway to the Rheingau and Mittelrhein (also known as the “Romantic Rhine” ) to take in the wine, scenery and half-timber villages.

Here is a selection of photos from their visit!

 

Würzburg 

My parents first visit to Germany was in the month of November (’79), so they were enthusiastic about a return trip in the Spring. Soon after their arrival they were charmed by Würzburg for all of the reasons we enjoy it.  The trees and flowers had bloomed and the biergartens and outdoor cafés  were newly open for the season.  Everyone seemed to be outdoors and the city was at its loveliest.

We showed them the sights of the city: the Residenz (a renaissance palace built by the Würzburg prince-bishops) and Festung Marienberg (the medieval defensive fortress of the city).  We biked along the Main River and stopped at the villages of Veitshöchheim and Sommerhausen.   We ate plenty of Wurst and traditional Franconian food and drank Würzburg wine and introduced my dad to a few of the local beers!

Below:  The Würzburg Residenz and garden;  and the wall of Festung Marienberg

wu1
wu2
wu4
wu6

 

 


Nuremberg

Their trip spanned May 1, which is a national holiday in Germany and a day-off of work for Derek.  We all took an hour train to spend the day in Nuremberg which continues to be one of my favorite cities. Nuremberg is a unique city for visitors; the Gothic architecture of the Altstadt is quite impressive and different from other German cities, and a world-away from the cities of the American midwest.

A day in Nuremberg wouldn’t be complete (for us) without some rain. The damp, moody skies set an appropriate tone for this city.  We visited St Lorenz Cathedral (a must-see) and walked along the covered city wall of the Kaiserberg, the 11th C fortress. And we drank Nuremberg beer and ate the city’s specialty sausage, Drei im Weckla “Three in a Bun”.

Below:  Nuremberg Altstadt and Albrecht Durer Square

0501a
0501c2
0501b

 

Lunch in Mainz

The next morning we packed the car and left for the Rheingau, a Riesling wine region near the city of Mainz.  It was a hazy, bright Saturday so we stopped for lunch and walked through the market where people were out buying produce and sampling the fresh wines of the season.  Mainz had been beckoning us for some time and our quick stop encouraged us to return.  The city has a museum dedicated to the Gutenberg press, the typesetting technology that created the first printed book (the Bible) and the city became a place where the mass-production of books was possible.

Below:  Mainz Cathedral and Market square

mainz
mainz2


4-Days on the Rhine River

Our destination was Hattenheim, a quiet wine village on the Rhine. We rented a cottage that was once a horse stable belonging to the Hessian state winery.  Our host told us how she had restored the property as a guesthouse. The space was perfect for the four of us– cozy and comfortable and an ideal base for day trips to villages along the River.

The lure of the Rheingau is that it is the center of Riesling wine region.  We stayed in an area where winemaking has been present for at least a thousand years.  We wandered to the village’s wine garden where you can bring a picnic and order glasses of fresh local wine and sit by the river.

The Riesling wines that we knew of before our visit were sweet, sparkling dessert wines. We tasted an excellent trocken (dry) white Riesling from a small vineyard in Hattenheim called Irene Söngen.   Rieslings really come to life paired with the season’s harvests– fresh strawberries and asparagus.

———

We hiked a short stretch of the long-distance hiking trail, the Rheinsteig, from St Goarhausen to the overlook of the famed Loreley Rock.   The Rhine is a commercial route used by barges to transport goods arriving from the North Sea. The legend of the rock is that the bend in the river was so narrow and sharp that many ships sank under the watch of the mythical mermaid, Loreley.

The next day we rented bikes and peddled along the river from Bingen to Bacharach. The Mittelrhein “Middle Rhine” is a protected world heritage site and is a popular area for river boats and tourists. There are 40 castles and fortresses perched above the river amidst steep vineyards.  The castles were built by competing knights, princes, and bishops as toll-stops for merchant ships — Iron chains blocked the river and guaranteed payment for passage. We stopped at Burg Stahleck, which is now a youth hostel — and Burg Rheinstein, a privately owned museum and hotel.

Below:   Ferrying across the River to Bingen; The river bend at Bacharach; Derek at Burg Stahleck, Burg Rheinstein; The cottage in Hattenheim.
rhine7
rhine6
rhine2
rhine3
rhine4

 

Bamberg

The next weekend we daytripped to another historic city, Bamberg. Derek and I spent an afternoon in Bamberg over Easter of last year (we wrote about it here).   We enjoyed this round more; the city was warmer and busier than it was last year in early April!

In the region of Franconia, May is peak season for Spargel  “white asparagus” (The green type of asparagus is appropriately named Grün-Spargel).   Spargel has a short harvest, and Germans appear to savor it.  This vegetable ‘delicacy’ has not seen daylight, which is the reason it remains white.

At this time of year the announcement of Spargel appears on the signboards of Franconian restaurants ‘Wir haben Spargel!’ and is served with a cream sauce, or pureed into a creamy soup.  We were discussing how it is grown when we saw a field of covered Spargel mounds!

Disclaimer: I am going to venture out onto a limb. My personal thoughts are that Spargel is not bad, but is far from delightful. Its soft cooked texture requires barely any chewing.

Below:  Bamberg’s Rathaus, Spargel for sale in the market, Spargel mounds.

0510b
0510a
spargel

 

 

Mother’s Day!

My parents last day in Germany was Mother’s Day.   We spent the day in Würzburg, and had an al fresco brunch at Caféhaus Michel in Würzburg.   We walked through the gardens at the Residenz and Fortress, had a special dinner,  and toasted to a great trip on the Alte Mainbrücke with a glass of Würzburger Bacchus.  Prost!

0511d
0511c
0511a
wu8

 

 

Links

Video: Germany’s Romantic Rhine and Rothenburg Rick Steve’s Europe

Understanding German Wines  Tim Glaser, Master Sommelier

Germans Go Crazy for White Asparagus DW.de

 

 

Hike in the Alps with Molly and Alex

Molly and Alex were our first visitors of the year and stayed with us for nine days at the end of March!  We knew that they would be great companions for an all-day hike in the mountains so we began planning a short getaway to the Alps.

The morning after they arrived we packed-up the car and headed south for what was expected to be a spring-like weekend in the Montafon valley of Austria. It was Molly and Alex’s first visit to the Alps, and our first to the Vorarlberg.

This corner of Austria shares a border with Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein and is a popular area for skiing and winter activities. We stayed in Bartholomäberg, a mountainside village that overlooks the small city of Schruns in the valley. The hills of Bartholomaeberg are grassy pastureland that are home to residences and several small farms. Higher there are wooded hiking trails with rocky terrain near the top.  It had several options for Winterwandern ‘winter hiking’ (snowshoe trails and groomed winter hiking paths) which made it the perfect base for the next few days.

 

farm2
accom

We were there during the last week of March, a quiet time to visit.  Some of the Alpine Huttes and Gastofs that serve as hiking destinations were closed for a week of ‘spring break’ before re-opening for the summer tourism season.   We were in search of a traditional Austrian house to stay in and found a cozy two-bedroom apartment in the lower level of a country home. The family operates a small farm with cows and small animals. They gave us a genuine welcome and shared that we were their first visitors from the USA!  It was an extra treat when Sabine baked us the most amazing loaf of spelt bread on our last night.

 

Hiking Day 1: Wannaköpfle

The next morning we packed lunches and set off early for a day-long hike. We began from the town center of Bartholomaeberg (1087 m) and reached the peak at Wannaköpfle (2031m) a few hours later.   The valley was clear of snow so we decided on a snowshoe trail that would take us through the most scenic hiking areas.

There was snow sooner than we expected!! We alternated taking the lead to forge a path for our not-so-waterproof hiking boots.  The snow was losing it’s density from the morning thaw and the unpredictable depth created a number of humorous challenges and surprises!   The winter trails stopped with the peak in sight, so we finished our climb through unchartered snowbanks.

We were the first ‘spring’ hikers to Wannaköpfle!

Really, our “hike” was a lot of climbing through snow drifts and the tripping, falling, and laughing that goes with it — or Molly helping me rescue my foot from a deep snow well.  (Snow shoes should have been essential at this point!)   Thanks to the thaw we were able to walk on gravel part of the way which was a nice break for our damp feet.

hike0b
hike
alpfarm2
hike4

 

 

(Below) Halfway there— Time for a rest and a snack.

snackbreak2
hike7
hike10

Wannaköpfle (2031m)

Our destination! We found some mossy rocks where the snow had melted and made it our seat for lunch and munched while we took in the surroundings.

It was one of the mildest days of the month, and though we were surrounded by snow, the midday sun made the mountain perch a warm oasis. It was sunny, breezy, and nearly 60°F. We snapped photos and watched paragliders float over the valley.  It was a memorable moment for all of us — the views were completely worth the climb!


lunch1b
lunch2

 

Hiking (+ Beers) Day 2 

The next day, we all slept in. With sore legs and sopping wet boots, we opted for an easier ascent by taking the St. Gallenkirch Valiserabahn (a ski gondola) to another scenic Winterwandern path.  We were now on the other side of the valley in a ski area.  The path turned out to be less than 1km of hiking so we decided to spend the afternoon drinking beer at the Alpine Huttes!

We met a lively German man who took our group photo and recalled his trip to California as a young man in the 1970’s.  When he was there he bought a Mercury convertible to drive along the coast.  He laughed at his impulse because he had no idea how he would ship his new car back to Germany, but it all worked out and the week prior he had been cruising from his home near Lake Constance through the Alps!  🙂

wanderweg2b
apreski2
apreski

 

 

NachtRodeln 

Afterwards we rented Rodel, the traditional wooden Austrian toboggan. One winter attraction of the Montafon is a place that offers NachtRodeln a few evenings during the week, where you buy an inexpensive chairlift pass and ride to the top of  a 5km toboggan run.   We rented our Rodel on site where the tradition is to drink a shot of Schnapps before you set out.  You can watch a few clips of the action in Molly’s video below!

sleds

 

 

Relaxing in Bartholomaeberg

Our accommodations were in a serene, quiet part of Bartholomaeberg. The village is referred to as the sun balcony of Montafon because of its southern exposure. The location had nice panorama views of the valley and we could have happily camped out there for the rest of the week!  For Derek and I, it was our last visit to the Alps for the foreseeable future which made it all the more special.  We were happy that we were able to share this memorable time with family.

After our trip to the Alps, we spent the next few days in Würzburg with Molly and Alex. They are a ton of fun and we loved having them as visitors!!

 

relaxin
(Above) Photos by the wonderfully talented– Molly and Alex

Lienz + Austrian Dolomites

On New Years Day, we packed up and drove to Austria for 4-days in the Alps.  Our proximity to the mountains is something we have enjoyed during our stay in Germany, it is our ideal weekend getaway. This time we were headed to a more distant part of Austria, the East Tirol.

We stayed near Lienz, a city that is nestled in a valley on the Austrian side of the Dolomites– not far from the border of Italy.  We stayed in a  frühstück pension (B&B) in the tiny village of Islesberg on the north side of the valley. Below is a view from our window, which overlooked the city of Lienz.

ski2

Winter in Würzburg has absolutely been the mildest we have encountered. Temperatures have lingered around 1ºC (34ºF)  —- While at the same time our home in Saint Paul was  -18°C (-4ºF — brrr)!  Our friends in the Midwest may be rolling their eyes in disbelief, but by early January we were beginning to miss the familiar signs of winter.

As we passed Munich, we were enthused by the sight of fresh snowfall that continued through the Austrian ski village of Kitzbühel though Lienz was still 80 miles away on the opposite side of the mountain range.   To access the East Tirol we passed through a 3-mile mountain tunnel and unfortunately left the snow in the rearview mirror.

Even without snow, the Mölltaler valley surrounding Lienz was incredible—although we pondered where to ski.  The next morning we drove to Heiligenblut, which is in the neighboring mountain range. It faces Grossglockner (3,798 m), the tallest peak in Austria.

grossglock2

Two years ago when we first skied in Austria we learned that the Alpine pistes are underrated by most North American comparisons.  Although the same ranking system is used, (beginner, intermediate, expert) many of the easy runs could satisfy a seasoned skier.  Derek is an experienced snowboarder and I began skiing in my 20s. I previously found the beginner Alpine pistes to be challenging, but not impossible.

The Alps have many more enticing runs for an experienced skier.  On trips together Derek has always willingly skied within my range of ability (thanks! 🙂 ) which I am grateful for because he typically enjoys a challenge.  This time, we saw that there was a panoramic restaurant at the summit, which for me was a nice alternative—  I spent the morning reading with Kaffee and Apfelstrudel near a sunny window while he hit the slopes.

I enjoyed Heiligenblut!  The village was remote and tiny, but there were a handful of restaurants and gift shops to keep a non-skier busy for an afternoon.  I observed that Austrians along with their German neighbors seem to take their dogs with them everywhere —- on the train, shopping, to the hair salon— We’ve even sat next to a dog at the bar. But this was the first time I had seen one on a ski hill!

ski3

 

Lienz

Lienz is called die Sonnenstadt,  ‘the sun city’ of Austria, and serves as a hub for the surrounding valley. There are train connections to Lienz and buses to ski resorts in the area.  We didn’t find many activities there, but it was a nice place to spend a morning and pick up ski rentals.

lienz
lienz2

 

Hiking in Hohe Tauern

The valley was almost bare after two days near 40ºF which made hiking an easy choice for the next afternoon. A large area adjacent to Lienz is Hohe Tauern National Park and we were happy to see a hiking trail right behind our B&B in Iselsberg that offered an elevated view of the Lienzer Dolomiten.  The most unique aspect of the area around Lienz was its sense of remoteness. We were over two hours from Austria’s largest cities, and it felt much more isolated and rural than other places we have visited in Germany and Austria.

hike2
mattrei

 

Skiing Kals-Matrei

The forecasts predicted a day of steady snow a short distance from where we were staying, so we set out for another day of skiing.  Lifts connect the runs between the two villages of Kals and Matrei;  so while Derek snowboarded, I checked out the village.  Matrei was a little more gloomy than I anticipated, but the village had moments of charm– it is completely surrounded by mountains.  As I walked through its quiet streets there was a comforting smell of wood smoke in the air, and I appreciated its rugged presence within the mountains. I quickly remembered that it was Sunday, which meant that nearly everything was closed, I finally found an open bakery and was happy to warm up.

Derek was more enthusiastic about the ski conditions!   It was snowing higher in the mountains where he was and he found challenging runs and fresh powder.  Kals-Matrei is not an international tourist destination nor does it have the Après-ski scene that some Austrian villages are famous for. Overall, Derek was impressed with Kals-Matrei and found some of the best skiing he has had in a long time. We read this article from the Guardian during planning, which shares more about the resort.

 

iselsberg

Where we stayed

Austrian ski villages can be pricey during the snowy months—   It is not hard to spend thousands of dollars for a week of lodging.   We’ve had to search, but have been lucky to find reasonable accommodations in Austria during ski season using sites like hostelworld and booking.com.  Both led us to home-style B&Bs in very small neighboring villages, and have since been two of our favorite places we have ever stayed!

Two years ago, we stayed here in a village that borders Sankt Anton am Arlberg. Getting to the ski hills without a car was no problem— the surrounding villages were connected to the resorts via shuttles.  This time, in Iselsberg we stayed here.  A car was definitely necessary in the areas around Lienz.

This portion of the Alps is higher and rockier than the Bavarian Alps, and more rural and open than the Arlberg. We are headed to the Montafon in late March, and are looking forward to another comparison!

iselsberg2

 

Links

East Tirol – Austria’s secret ski destination The Guardian UK

A Perfect Ski Day at Heiligenblut YouTube

24 Hours in East Tirol Blog Tirol

Soelden’s Snowy Spectre: James Bond Films in East Tirol  Daily Mail

Epiphany and the Sternsinger The German-Way

Wanderlust: Kreuzberg Monastery, Biergarten (and a 13-mile wander)

At the beginning of September there is a multi-day pilgrimage from Würzburg when the faithful walk over 100 km to the region’s holy place, Kreuzberg monastery. The journey is along Marienweg, a trail that connects nearly 50 religious places throughout Franconia.  Aside from news of the yearly pilgrimage, we received recommendations from the web and friends that it was time to make our way to the biergarten at Kloster Kreuzburg.

The Monastery sits at the top of a hill and overlooks the surrounding valley of german moors. The monastic brewery was founded in 1731.  Today the beer is brewed offsite but the biergarten and traditional food pulls a hearty crowd on a Saturday afternoon. As beer was the main attraction, we looked for accommodations (overnight guests can actually rent a room at the monastery!).   Unintentionally, Our hotel was sort of in the middle of the woods: 6km from the nearby village of Bischofsheim an der Rhön… and 9km from the monastery.

It turned out the area was good for hiking! We decided to partake in the german tradition of wander, and set out on a weekend pilgrimage of our own: a 6-mile hike to the monastery on the Hochrhöner trail. The area, known as the Rhön, was filled with grazing livestock and is known for cross-country skiing in the winter.  And we got close to our first live german Schnecke! A snail.

Hiking the scenic loop through the valley lasted all day which gave us plenty of time to record our journey to and from Kreuzburg!

moors2
moors
moors3

 

Our oasis! We ordered half-liters of beer and the traditional fare. For me- lentil noodle soup and for Derek- schweinebraten with potato dumpling and red cabbage.

kreuzberg2

 

On our return trip we added the Zubringer Hochrhöner loop through the village of Bischofsheim a.d. Rhön to cover some new ground, and we stopped there to warm up. I would guess that hiking often begins near here, in Haselbach, a 2km walk up through quiet woods to the monastery.

dportrait
bischofsheim

 

By this time the weather had turned steadily more foggy and then to a persistent drizzle. Our buzz from the biergarten was long-gone and our spirits were beginning to dampen. The ground was completely wet. and muddy. and cold.  We walked, and we walked. It was about three hours before we arrived at our starting point, near Schwedenwall (a trench used by the Swedes during the 30 years war). We were content with a hot shower and spent the rest of the rainy night vegged-out, eating pretzels and cheese crackers, and watching old german movies without subtitles on tv.

hessrhondhessrhon

The next morning we awoke refreshed and to clear skies. Our day-long hike through the drizzly moors (with a stop at the biergarten) was clarifying and just what we needed.

bavariahotel

And also, we parked next to this vintage baby-blue VW in the parking lot of our hotel!