Isn’t funny how a very long hiking experience the day before will make an 11-mile section seem short in comparison. That’s what our hike through the Ammer Gorge felt like. The going was relatively easy and an hour or so into the day, we came out of some forest and stopped at a hunters cabin to take a break and fill our water bottles.
As had been the case throughout the hike, finding water was not a problem and the opportunity that presented itself this time was spring fed water flowing out of a wooden fountain. It was delightfully cold and refreshing, and we drank our fill as we gathered ourselves for the push up the Ammer River and its arduous riverside trail.
Readers may recall from mine and Joanna’s trek along this portion of trail in 1984 the difficulty encountered on this undulating trail filled with ravine and creek crossings covered by wooden bridges. The round slippery logs that made up each bridge posed a challenging crossing, one best handled cautiously. At least on this trek we were only carrying roughly 25 pounds apiece instead of the 40-50 Joanna and I had handled, but it was still an exhausting stretch of trail.
We eventually made our way out of the Gorge and emerged into farmland just outside the city of Rottenbuch. We made our way up a path to an archway in part of a wall that used to surround the city and into the center of this small town. Coming upon a nice looking Gasthaus that seemed worth checking out we went inside to inquire about rooms. We were a pretty bedraggled looking lot, with muddy boots and pant legs from the wet path along the Gorge. Approaching the desk, we asked the proprietor if he had any rooms available.
He proceeded to pull out the registration book and made an elaborate show of checking the pages for bookings. He finally responded that he did, but looking a bit disdainfully at us indicated that we would first need to go outside and clean our selves up. We apologized, went outside and shed our boots, then returned to look at the rooms, which were quite acceptable. Bringing our bags up to the rooms, we went back downstairs, cleaned up our boots outside and after having acquired some beers from the market next door, spent the next few hours relaxing in our rooms before dinner.
We walked around the town later settling on a place to eat and during dinner, joked about our reluctant innkeeper because as near as we could tell, we were the only guests in the place, concluding that he reminded us a bit of John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. Upon returning to the inn we decided to have some desert, as it was a specialty of their café.
We sat down at a booth and ordered a round of ice cream based treats from the proprietor, who upon returning with our items began to engage us in a conversation that would last the rest of the evening as we learned about his family and his business. I recall that he was either a widower or divorced, a single parent raising a daughter who loved horses. Thus much of his time, attention, and discretionary income were devoted to helping her pursue her passion. We concluded the evening with a far different view of our reluctant innkeeper, tempered by the type of interaction often encountered on the road, one that forces you to set aside your preconceptions and embrace a different understanding of the lives around you.
We set out the next morning for our shortest and last hiking day of the trek, as we would not complete the final 20 miles or so of the trail due to time constraints, instead opting to take a bus to Fussen. Our destination for the day was the small town of Wies, the home of the famous Wieskirche, an ornate example of the rococo style, designed in the late 1740s by Dominikus Zimmermann.
Hiking was easy with just 6 miles to go and we arrived before noon, giving us time to tour the church and grab yet another hearty lunch before taking the bus to Fussen.
We arrived at our hotel in the afternoon and walked around Fussen, a charming small town nestled at the base of the German Alps, a busy destination for the many folks who tour nearby Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, the two homes associated with King Ludwig. We had a very nice dinner at the hotel and rose early the next morning for our day trip to the two castles.
As mentioned in prior postings, this was a repeat visit to Neuschwanstein for Joanna and I, but it would be our first time at Hohenschwangau. With a commanding view of the valley below, it is a beautiful location overall, with alpine foothills behind it and a broad open plain below.
We would spend the entire day touring both castles and returning to Fussen, Ric and I would locate, and spend some time at, a nearby Internet café getting caught up on news from home. A celebratory dinner that night in town left us with very pleasant memories of the town and the days it took us to get there.
We caught a train the next day for our return to Munich and checked into the Hotel Monaco. Late in the afternoon we walked down the Schwanthalerstrasse reaching the Oktoberfest grounds a block or two before the Augustiner Zur Schwalbe we’d had dinner at earlier in the trip. We stopped in at the Augustiner Tent for a round before heading back outside with the intent to walk the grounds and maybe get a bite or two to eat. Unfortunately, and this has happened before, it starting raining which cut our outdoor time off and we made way to the Spaten Tent where we would spend the rest of the evening.
The key to finding a table to sit at during fest is to circle the tent until you find a sliver of a seat at one and grabbing that space. Over time, maybe 10 minutes, maybe 30 the table may shift in population and you can begin to claim more space. Or, if the folks sitting there look friendly, you can ask if you can join their party, which is what we were able to accomplish this time around.
Our table mates were New Zealanders currently living in England and they made for delightful companions as we proceeded to consume impressive quantities of Spaten Fest Beer, eat some chicken, a radish plate or two, and eventually, do what all must do at fest which is to begin dancing, eventually climbing up onto the bench seats. In all of my visits to fest, with all of the table dancing I’ve done, I’ve yet to see someone take a tumble. I’m sure it happens; just not as frequently as one would imagine given all of the alcohol that is consumed.
At the end of the evening we made our way back to the Monaco and settled in for the evening. Joanna felt great and stayed up a few more hours reading, displaying few signs, if any, of the evening of consumption we’d experienced. We all arose a bit slowly the next morning, except for Joanna who would get struck down by one of those nightmarish hangovers that incapacitates for the day, one potentially attributable as much to a week of constant movement and effort as it was to the consumption of alcohol.
I slowly recovered from my relatively mild hangover throughout the day and spent most of the time taking care of the final bits of souvenir shopping needing to be done. By dinner time Joanna was still not in any shape to leave the room so Irene, Ric, and I adjourned for dinner in the historic center, a good meal, nothing special, a solid plate of the hearty food we’d become accustomed to in our week in Bavaria.
Joanna was feeling better by bedtime, able to hold down some of the simple food I’d brought back to the room and we arose the next morning for our return to the States. The four of us took the S-Bahn out to the airport and bid farewell to each other. Joanna and I still had some marks to spend and took a very long time shopping so as not to waste any of the currency we had left. Unfortunately, we miscalculated the amount of time left before our flight and when we made our way to the gates, discovered a gigantic line at passport control, one that crept along at a speed guaranteed to make us late.
About the time we were really starting to panic, an agent came up to the line and advised us that we could move a couple of gates down the hall and the line would not be as long, which indeed was the case. Feeling better, we queued up for the screening station and made our way through cleanly, walked up a set of stairs to a carriage way that would take us down to our gate, a little bit of distance down the terminal.
Imagine our surprise upon arriving at the gate to discover that we would have to go through screening again. We were really starting to cut it close by this time, but figured we’d have a smooth pass through as we’d cleared the earlier station. Such was not the case, as Joanna had overlooked a titanium Spork in her carry on which sent the second set of station agents into full frenzied search mode. They tore apart her bag, the seconds ticking away as we stood by helplessly, wondering if we were going to miss our flight.
Finally, the agents satisfied themselves that we were not a danger (this was just a year after 9-11 and we can all remember the paranoia that was prevalent at the time) and released us. We quickly reassembled Joanna’s bag and ran up the stairs to the boarding gate, at exactly noon, the scheduled departure time for our flight. Fortunately, they’d held the flight a bit and we raced to our seats as the many passengers on board gave us that look we all give to those who can’t quite seem to get on board on time.
Our day was not done yet though, with a stop in Washington DC at Dulles International to change planes and clear customs. As we were waiting in line for passport control I realized I still had an uneaten apple and not sure if it would cause us grief, quickly ate it. What seemed like a handy solution turned out otherwise when we discovered there weren’t any trash receptacles around to dispose of the core.
We cleared passport control, but approaching customs with the damn apple core made us less than inclined to try to shade the truth in our responses to any questions posed us. And sure enough, one of them was “Have you spent any time on a farm or traveling through farmland?” Well, yes we had now that you mention it. Thus ensued an extraordinarily long wait while the helpful customs agents took custody of our boots to clean them, to make sure that we didn’t bring any material bearing Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, back into the country.
So we found ourselves again, with a 90-minute layover in DC now drawing to a close, wondering if we would make our flight to Los Angeles. With a few minutes to spare we were given back the boots, which had just experienced the cleaning of their lifetime. We would make the flight and arrive home, exhausted but happy, glad to see Jessica and relieved that in the end, some bit of good fortune followed us on our homeward journey.
Kunst Café Am Tor: http://www.kunstcafe-rottenbuch.de/index.html
Alstadthotel zum Hechten: http://www.hotel-hechten.com/
Castle Neuschwanstein: http://www.neuschwanstein.de/index.htm