A View from the Top

I mentioned in my last post that we missed out on the chance to go to Zugspitze – and I should clarify – we missed out going on Saturday.  But Sunday brought a bright fresh new day, with only a thin layer of clouds way high up in the sky and the closest thing to a bright sky we’d seen in a week.  So we pulled out the sunglasses, said good morning to Liesel and headed towards the town of Ehrwald, in Austria.  Now Zugspitze is the highest peak in the Bavarian/Tirolean Alps (Bavaria being the German province that contains the alps, and Tirol being the Austrian province containing the alps, given that they run along the countries border).  You can take cable cars up to the summit, over 2900 m, from either side.  However, the Tirolian Cable Cars (or Gondolas, if you’d like) were €15 cheaper per person, and take only 10 minutes instead of 40.  So this seemed like the better choice.

Ehrwald is a 40 minute drive from where we are staying, and every moment of that drive is beautiful.  Winding through small villages nestled into the valleys between peaks is the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.  I didn’t research the peak toothoroughly  before going, only enough to know it was cheaper from Austria and very beautiful and on many many “must-see” lists.  When we arrived and went to buy our tickets, it was mostly just us (the tourists) and a couple dozen Austrian/German locals there with their skiis and snowboards.  Apparently you take the cable cars to the top, where there is a valley to ski in (known as the Tirolier Zugspitze Arena).  So while we were there to take photos, everyone else was ready for a day out on the slopes.  (You can see the slopes for the skiiers/snowboarders in the top picture below – it was a HUGE valley).

With the bright sky and the white snow in all directions we were all there with our sunglasses or ski goggles, ready for a beautiful day.  The 5 minute wait down at the bottom had me listening to Avril Lavigne while the gondola  slowly filled.  Standing room only (which is trippy when you are going up a cable in 10 minutes to a height of almost 10,000 feet).  The cars were much larger than I had imagined, capable of holding up to 100 people, though there wasn’t that many in the car we were in.  Most of the system is automatic, so when the car beeped, an employee came in, inserted a key, pressed the green button, and away we went.  I was so disappointed to be standing in the middle of the car, with all the locals in the “good seats” near the windows.  Everything around me was so stunning and I was anxious to start photographing it all, but was stuck in the middle, holding on to a rope dangling from the ceiling.  My eyes were wide open and head spinning from side to side trying to take it all in.  When we reached the top, we exited and the skiiers headed down to the slopes, while we were directed towards a museum.  Complete with history of building the station on top of the mountain and a few facts about coldest day and highest winds, I couldn’t focus on any of it because there were windows and the view was just too outstanding.  I quickly abandoned Ray and climbed the three stories to the outer deck on the Austrian side.  That’s the thing about the station at Zugspitze – it is shared by both countries.  Back before the EU was formed, there was a border station at the top, where you could come up from Germany, go through and have your passport stamped, as you entered into Austria.  Now there is just a blue house in memory of that part of history, and signs showing which side is which.  Really, it doesn’t matter.  In this place, we are but citizens of the world.

I decided on a strategy – I would made a loop with one lens (my 18-200mm) and then again with my wide angle (10-24mm) and then eventually find Ray.  It was really impossible for me to soak in the view adequately with my camera, but I was determined to try.  The Austrian side was nice and quiet.  There was a large terrace and signs pointing towards each peak, giving them names and heights, and then arrows pointing to major cities, such as “Rome, 690km this way.”  The -5 degrees Celcius wasn’t a real bother and the wind was low, which was nice (though the highest wind recorded here was 355 km/hr – so basically a super hurricane on top of the mountain.  Bad day to visit!)  When I wandered over to the Bavarian side, I ran into ALL the tourists.  While the Austrian side was hauling mostly locals, the cable cars arriving from Garmisch-Partenkirchen were jammed packed with what I must assume was a few 60 person busses of Chinese tourists.  They were all REALLY excited about the snow, and snapping photos in every direction, lying in piles of snow that had accumulated and taking photos with every iPhone, tablet, point and shoot and SLR you could imagine (this is not a stereotype, this is what I actually observed).  In my ignorance, this begs the question, do they not have snow in China?  Because I was pretty sure they did…

In a tourist destination of this kind, it’s expected to share the space, so I moved along slowly, waiting my turn to shoot from every angle.  I eventually crossed paths with Ray so I could take a few photos of us together, and of course did some good deeds by taking photos for other tourists, so they could have the couple/family shots that are often missing when traveling.  Not one of these couples/families spoke English, but holding your hand out and making a clicking motion is the international sign for “can I take this for you.”  Also, the d7000 hanging around my neck seems to give me some credibility, while it is very intimidating to those trying to return the favour for us (though we did get one good picture of us together!)

There is a thing about tourist attractions – trying to separate those that are worth it from those that are just tourist gimmicks.  And I have come to accept the fact that some tourist destinations are that for a reason – amazing places draw people in.  So the cable car to Zugspitze may be expensive (about €35 each from Tirol), but the view was worth every penny.  It was even worth wadding in tourists.  The world is full of things that are just WORTH IT.  And of course, after all the work, I did end up with my “money” shot – this one I think will go up on the wall at home.

We spent around 1.5 hours wandering around the top before time came for us to move on with our day. We headed back for the return trip down, and shared the huge cable car with only 4 other people.  I spent the whole 10 minutes quickly pacing from front to back snapping all the photos I missed on the ride up, and I’m pretty sure I saw the car operator chuckle a little by the 50 or 60th shutter movement.  When we arrived at the bottom we were serenaded by Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” – which, in Austrian Alps indeed felt Ironic.  By the time we exited the building they were playing Nickelback – leading me to conclude that Austrians love Canadian music.  We wanted to collect my magnet from the gift shop (I have many new ones for the fridge!) but they were closed for lunch – another European tradition.  So we decided to take the opportunity to do the same.  We drove 10 minutes down the road to Lermoos and found a sweet little cafe.  Being that we were in Austria, I ordered the local dish – Wienerschnitzel!!  Ray had himself some Pork Belly, that he is STILL salivating over.  We also had our very first Schwartzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake).  I was happy to finally find it (I expected to easier to come across, but apparently Bavaria’s love affair is not with this torte, but the apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce – also amazing).  We then drove back for my magnet (any excuse for Ray and Liesel to spend some quality time), and the finally headed back to home base.

We arrived back around 2:00pm and didn’t have plans for the rest of the day, so we wandered the streets, looked in the shops and checked out the castles (from the main street that is – not hiking in the cold).  I took a few shots of Hohenschwangau, as Neuschwanstein was hidden in the clouds again.  We also watched the ducks in Lake Alpsee, which apparently is a lovely place to swim…in the summer.  By 3, we retired to our room, and curled up with books!!!  I also took awondrous  afternoon nap.  It was amazing to have some quality quiet and downtime after all the busyness of our trip.  We hope that we will return somewhat relaxed (not all relaxed – we are pretty busy here in Germany), as we only have 2 days to recover, prep and return to that reality we call WORK.  Ray managed to finish reading 2 entire books (he is a crazy speed reader) and I am almost half way through a special novel, written by a friend of mine (that you will all be seeing on bookshelves some day, I’m sure).

After our relaxing evening we sauntered downstairs to the restaurant in our hotel.  It’s a cozy little place that feels a little like home (in fact, the whole hotel does).  Ray was adventurous and ordered the Red Deer Goulash – his very first time eating deer!  I had kartoffelpuffer – potato pancakes that you eat with applesauce (and I would SWEAR is was my favourite silky smooth dutch applesauce….MMMMM).  It hit the spot.  So needless to say, a wonderful, beautiful, amazing, awe-inspiring and relaxing day.

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