January 30, 2017

Away we go: Bavaria, Germany (Pt. 7)

On day 9 of our trip to Germany, we were back on track with our itinerary and headed to Lake Königssee on an early morning train. It was raining when we headed out and that set the mood for the entire day - a bit empty, mysterious and enchanting all at the same time.

Lake Königssee is located a few miles south of a town called Berchtesgaden and the Austrian city of Salzburg. It is considered to be Germany's deepest and cleanest lake. The literal translation of Königssee is "king's lake."

To get there, we took the regional train (Bayern ticket) from Munich Central Station to Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof. Right outside the Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof there are several buses that run hourly to Lake Königssee. The bus had left just minutes before we arrived at Berchtesgaden and so Yangkyu and I decided to take a quick taxi ride over instead. 

We went to Lake Königssee on a Monday and most of the stores were closed and with the weather being a bit gloomy with light showers, it was pretty much deserted aside from a handful of other tourists who were also there.

At Lake Königssee, you can take a quiet electric powered boat ride over to St. Bartholomä, a famous pilgrimage church. During the warmer months, the boat ride continues on for another 30 minutes for a second stop at Salet where you can do a 15 minute walk to a smaller lake, Obersee, but the option of making that trip was not available when we were there in December (At Lake Königssee you can also take the Jennerbahn Cable Car and take in the amazing views. This too was closed when we were there).

After arriving at Lake Königssee, the first thing we did was purchase tickets for our boat ride and we had about 50 minutes to kill before our boat was to depart. We walked around a bit and found a small cozy cafe/restaurant that was open. We decided go in for a sandwich and some goulash soup and warm up before getting on our boat.  

Unfortunately, there was only one waiter and one cook working and we did not realize how long it would take for them to take our order and prepare our food. This was another one of those moments where, to me, someone who is so used to always being on the go and getting ultra fast service, I was a little baffled to see the waiter take his time when we were sitting there waiting to be served. It took 20 minutes for him to take our order and another 25 minutes for our food to come out. We literally had to gulp our food down in 5 minutes, pay and head over to the dock to get on our boat. We saw that other people at the restaurant were getting slightly irritated as they had bought tickets for that same boat and were waiting for their food as well. 

What made me feel so bad was, that goulash soup was so incredibly good - the best we had tasted. And I felt bad eating it the way we did - just gulping it down - and leaving some of it behind when someone in the kitchen was literally preparing every dish as the orders came in. I wondered how many times they experienced ill informed (perhaps impatient?) tourists expecting to be served quickly without appreciating the cafe/restaurant taking their time to make their dishes. 

I do have to admit though, most of the waiting time we were annoyed (sometimes a bit furiously annoyed) - waiting 20 minutes seemed a bit too harsh while the couple right after us got served almost as soon as they sat down. But they had come right when the waiter was done bringing all the dishes that came out to their respective tables and switched focus to take orders, ours first. I guess they have better timing than us. Still, when we were leaving, we felt bad to just hurry off. I didn't want them to think we didn't appreciate the time they took to make our food, and so we apologized and thanked them before going on our way.

There were a sizable number of people taking the boat to St. Bartholomä. While the front of the boat remained empty, the back of the boat was packed with eager (camera click happy) tourists. The boatman who gave explanations during the ride didn't speak English and so he conversed in German. I think there were moments when he expected a reaction (by way of body language) and when he didn't get any he lightly joked with a couple of only German speakers on the boat. I wondered so curiously to what he said because I think it might've been a corny joke and I kinda love corny jokes.

During the middle of the boat ride, it is a tradition to stop and play a flugelhorn or trumpet to demonstration the echo. It was a lovely exchange that I took a video of, if you are interested in hearing. 

Once at St. Bartholomä, we were met with far greater number of tourists who were waiting in line to head back. Everyone in our group got off (you have the option of not getting off and heading back straightaway) and quickly dispersed to explore. And soon it was just me and Yangkyu and we felt like we were the only people there on an empty deserted shore.

St. Bartholomä felt eerie, gloomy, sad, beautiful, enchanting all rolled up in one. The weather played a big role in making the mood subdued (if you see pictures during spring or summer, it has a completely different vibe). I got lost with my camera and Yangkyu and I spoke little while there. It was drizzling, everything was damp - it felt slightly miserable but right. I think I felt every contradicting emotion. Beautiful yet dark, full but empty, happy but sad.

St. Bartholomä church was originally built in the 12th century, but it was remodeled in the 16th century using a domed style, influenced by Ottoman architecture. There are trails you can walk and also an inn where you can have a meal. 

We spent about an hour on St. Bartholomä just walking, thinking, reflecting. By the time we returned to the dock to catch the return boat we realized that most of the people who we had come with had already returned and it was just one other family that was left. For some reason, it added to the miserable, slightly anxious mood... like we were falling behind or that we had missed out on something important. Like we were supposed to be back but weren't. 

It was dark by the time we got on the bus back to Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof. In the dark, I saw rolling hills and homes that were dimly lit and lots of little places that looked like a bed and breakfast. It was the first time I felt this, but I wished I lived in one of those homes. I wished to be away from the place I called home and wanted to be in one of those dimly lit rooms. 

Day 9 was a strange day but it was a day that felt extremely healing. The train ride to Berchtesgaden and back to Munich, I thought about Piri, mostly our last days together. I relived the painful night when he suddenly left us. And I cried. I cried hard. Do you know that feeling where you feel like you can't get back up until you hit rock bottom? Until you feel your saddest? Strangely I felt the saddest on this day. When we got back to our hotel room, after a warm shower I felt so light like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders and I slept the most peaceful sleep. Perhaps a gift from Piri. 

The following day we took our final full day trip to Nuremburg where we were met with slight travel issues but still got to take in some of the history and sights and their famous Christmas market. I hope you'll come back for that story.

// Away We Go: Bavaria, Germany Pt. 6 (Munich Christmas Market & Krampus Run)

January 23, 2017

Away we go: Bavaria, Germany (Pt. 6)

On day 8 of our trip to Germany, we slept in and rested our sore legs and arms. We were originally supposed to get up early for another day trip, but with Yangkyu not feeling so well we decided that staying in Munich and re-discovering the Christmas Market would be the better bet. 

Around late morning we headed out and with the help of our hotel concierge, we located a pharmacy that was open on Sunday (almost everything closes on Sundays), which wasn't too far from our hotel  (we stayed at the Le Meridien) and the Christmas Market in Marienplatz. 

After Yangkyu got what he needed to stop feeling so under the weather, we decided to walk a bit and go last minute shopping for souvenirs and gifts. We also literally ate our way through the Christmas Market.

If you recall from my previous posts, I was battling stomach aches every day, but when I woke up on day 8, I woke up with the most voracious appetite and not a single feeling like I was going to get stomach pains from eating either. And so we started with a little coffee and pastry and then roasted chestnuts (the lady gave us a few extra) and a bunch of other things I do not know the names of. Everything was so good

To be completely honest, the first night at the Munich Christmas Market, I had the hardest time ordering food. I didn't know how to read the menu and with crowds of people, it was hard for me to ask what was what without feeling rushed or that I was holding other people up (maybe introvert problems -- or maybe just Jane problems). And so I would point at something on display and that was literally what I got. In my mind, I thought they would either make the same sandwich since the one I pointed to was rock hard and cold or warm up the one I was pointing to. Nope. I ended up getting the rock hard sandwich that was probably out in the cold for hours. 

The difference with being able to eat our way through on this day was that there wasn't nearly as big of a crowd at the Christmas Market during the afternoon than when we were there at night. And so we took our time, looking, asking and deciding what to eat. We most certainly made up for all those times we missed out wanting to eat something but couldn't (because GI tract issues or what not). I think by far the salmon sandwich was our favorite - they cooked it over firewood. Mmmmm. 

I also didn't take my camera out on this day because I wanted to rest my shoulders, but I began to slightly regret it as seeing the Munich Christmas Market during the daytime was pretty on its own (yes, with the lights it's even prettier at night, but something about seeing it in the daylight has its own appeals as well).

We also happened upon the most delightful tradition (although the costumes were scary and ghoulish!) - The Krampus Run

We were fortunate enough to have run into The Krampus Run in the section of the Christmas Market that wasn't yet closed off with ropes and where people dressed as Krampus teased the crowd and spanked them with their brooms. Yangkyu and I both got spanked and hit and I got my ear muffs playfully stolen. 

The Krampus Run is a centuries old Alpine folkloric tradition. Krampus usually accompanies Saint Nicholas and whereas St. Nicholas rewards children who have been good, Krampus rattles his chains and puts fear into the naughty and unruly ones.

Most of the young kids had loads of fun and sometimes even Krampus spanked the parents instead of the children, but we did see one little girl who was so scared that she cried and hid in her mother's embrace. The Krampus felt so bad that he tried to act cute and playful but it certainly didn't work with his scary mask. Aww. I took a little video of the Krampus Run if you'd like to see. 

After all our shopping was done (one of the last things I bought was a felt hat, which I'm sure only grandpas wear but I loved it so much I bought it for myself) we walked around a bit more, exploring all the little alleyways. We realized that we didn't get a chance to check out the Christmas Market at the nearby English Garden, which we regretted slightly, but re-discovering the one in Marienplatz ended up being a delight. It was just too sprawling to only experience once.

At the very end, we came across a little lion statue in front of a restaurant, and because we used to call Piri a little lion, we posed for a picture, which probably sent a lot of tourists wondering why we would pose with such a silly backdrop. Crazy dog people.

Looking back on this day, I miss Munich terribly. I miss the sights, sounds, the people and their warm smiles and greetings, the food (!!) and just the feeling of being in an unfamiliar yet fascinating place. I look back and am glad that we chose Munich as our travel destination.  

The following day we were back on track with our itinerary and took a day trip out to Lake Königssee. It was a dark grey dreary, and mostly empty day in terms of tourists, which added to the mystique of the entire place, but it was one of the most memorable moments of our trip. I hope you'll come back for that story. 

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