Wednesday, November 12, 2014

24 Hours in the Alps

The cradle of beerdom, Weihenstephan, poses just to my left
For almost two weeks I was back in Freising during a break between races. After having requalified for Executive Platinum status with American Airlines for 2015 it was time to burn a few miles and go for a freebie flight to Europe. Well, nowadays things are only "almost" free since taxes and fees are still being tacked on to tickets bought with miles. Still, it's not too bad of a deal to fly to Munich and back for less than $250 (in Business going, in Economy coming back b/c of availability, not for a lack of miles).
This—pretty much—was the extent of Halloween scariness in Freising
This trip was planned on fairly short notice, and it coincided with Sabine's move from her old apartment to newer, much more modern digs. So, I knew ahead of time that we'd be spending the majority of our time moving almost 20 years of belongings and mementos from Mittlerer Graben 47 to Frühlingsstrasse 67. There was some time for a few bike rides, and on those Indian Summer days we took advantage of the nice weather. Unfortunately, November fog and drizzle were a major part of the mix, so this was not a succession of warm afternoons in biergartens. But I knew that ahead of time.
Paternoster: The endless elevator that you step into ...
... or out of. Just don't get caught!
Good advice: Don't transport LADDERS!!!
The highlight of the trip came this past weekend when we left Freising on Saturday afternoon and drove a little more than two hours to Innsbruck, just across the border between Germany and Austria. For a few Hilton points and a measly $40 co-pay we stayed on the top floor of what must be the highest building in this quaint city. The views are simply spectacular, and the breakfast is quite Hiltonesque in the European way. After checking in on Saturday night we walked the 300 meters to the historic old town and found ourselves a small restaurant right next door to what must be Innsbruck's best known attraction, the Goldenes Dacherl, a small roof tiled with gold leaves. We chose the restaurant because of the interesting menu of local dishes that featured goat, venison, and rabbit. We drew the line at the filly steak—some things are just off-limits, I think. But Sabine's goat kidneys (really!) were amazing, and my cold platter of assorted meats and cheeses of various origins was equally delicious. A fine evening indeed.
Goat kidneys—honestly, they are delicious!
Goat-based specialties that look less, ahem, culinary.
Panoramic view from our room in the Hilton Innsbruck
After a lazy and late Sunday breakfast we were off back across the border, taking the scenic route via a major 4-mile 16% climb (no bikes allowed!) out of the Inn valley and toward Garmish Partenkirchen on the other side of the Karwendel.A few weeks back, Sabine had spent a full day hiking in these parts, and she wanted to show me the beauty of the Voralpen, the area where the gentle hills start turning skyward to become the glacier-encrusted giants just a few miles south. Next to the serene and inviting Walchensee, the Herzogstandbahn gives a quick lift to the top of the mountains, a place that King Ludwig II had chosen for a hunting retreat. I like the guy: Good choice of location, and manly 'stache!

Flying the gondola from the Walchensee
King Ludwig II
The resemblance is uncanny—if I didn't know better, I'd say direct lineage.
I love trams and skilifts. Like an elevator (oh no, not like the photographically captured Paternoster earlier in this post!), they take you safely and effortlessly from down below to up on top, quietly, almost serenely. The ride lasted only about 7 minutes, but the vistas from the enclosed gondola were magnificent, and what came afterward was even better. Once past the restaurant/hut/panoramic eatery/former Ludwigian hunting cabin we started to walk up gentle serpentines to the top of the Herzogstand, at something like 1,700 meters or so (barely 5,600 feet) high enough to give you a fabulous panoramic view of the landscape stretching north toward Munich as well as the bad-ass mountains in the south. Make sure to click on the panoramic shots to get the full effect.

Three panoramic shots from the top of the Herzogstand—we couldn't have asked for a better day
Hanging out for a while on this wind-swept peaklet it became clear to me why Germans are such tough cookies—I mean, look at how they ride crappy bikes at insane speeds or how they double Alpine-pole up the hillsides. I tell you, they drag their barely hatched brood up these mountains without mercy! There were all those little munchkins, packed into mud-proof pink or furry outfits, and they trudged along, with nary a wail! Let's be glad that we're not at war with Germany, because if they made jihadists out of these kids we'd better pack up and run! Despite their obvious buffness, they seem to be normal kids, after all: Just look at the first snowmen of the year.
Maybe the gay colors motivate the kids to trudge along?
It's winter (almost)!
After "conquering" the summit we still had enough time to have a cup or two of Glühwein and a pea soup on the spectacular viewing deck of the guest-house (38 euro per person a night, including breakfast, in a double room or together with 15 others—all the same price). The wind was chilly, but we cuddled into a protected corner, hands cupping the mulled wine and enjoying the setting sun before heading for the down-hill flight and the drive home.
Not a bad view, eh? Just damn cold and windy!
"Haferl" (two cups) worth of Glühwein. We had several.
The weekend getaway was just what we needed, and on Monday we continued the move. Tuesday (yes, just yesterday), Sabine had to start work again, and today I am putting the finishing touches on this entry while sitting in Heathrow, waiting for my flight to the US. Another stay in Europe has come to its close, and the cyclocross race in Ft. Worth this weekend is approaching quickly. After that, I'll be home for a good 10 days before heading off for Massachusetts on what can only be called a post-Thanksgiving whim. Well, I might as well enjoy the free flights as long as I can, right?
Good night, Alps!


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