Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Linderhof Palace

I was sitting at the pool on Saturday, recapping my vacation, when I made the mistake of saying "Now I'm exhausted! I should just call in sick this week!"

Be careful what words you throw out there in the universe.

Within hours I had a raging sore throat. By morning I was sick as can be. So I spent two days dragging my snuffly self around piteously, downing store-brand decongestants and hot tea.

Now I'm better. Sorta. Either that, or I have bronchitis.

So I haven't added any more vacation photos to my blog. I also haven't done any prep for the dinner party I'm throwing this weekend. And I haven't gone on a school shopping supply run, either. Though, to be fair, I was hoping to avoid the school shopping spree. I don't relish spending an entire paycheck on imported notebooks and pencils when I know they can be had for 10-for-a-dollar at Target. Sigh. Cough. Hack. Wheeze.

Okay, but I'm determined to show my folks some pictures of Linderhof Palace, just because it was so darn beautiful. It was green and flowery and fountainy and dear gawd if King Ludwig didn't have the worst taste in decorating. He was one seriously odd little man. He had a whole cave constructed on a hill above his palace, just so he could go inside and have an orchestra play Wagner songs for him while he floated in a little seashell-shaped boat. The poor guy seriously could've used a Wii or something.

He also bought a whole tea house from somewhere (France, maybe?) and had it moved to his back yard. That's somewhere in the pictures, below.

After touring the palace, we went to a nearby town called Oberammergau to shop a little and wander a little.

But the best part of the day?

Well, in my opinion, the best part of our tour came hours after it ended, when I was in the hotel laundry room folding clothes. A lady from the tour approached and said "Your kids must be used to traveling. They were so well behaved on the tour today!" To which I responded "Thanks. They're upstairs brawling in the hotel room as we speak."

Still, it was nice to get a compliment about my kids from a stranger.

Enjoy the photos.

The Tea House:

The cave:


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Germany, Part Three

Where were we? Oh, yes, the Zugspitze.

At 2962 meters above sea level, the Zugspitze is the highest peak in the Bavarian Alps - the highest point in all of Germany. I'm told you can hike to the top in a day and a half (presumably NOT while carrying a three-year-old). It takes even longer than that to ride up in a cable car - or, at least, it feels like an eternity.

See that itty bitty mountain in the back of this photo, way up there? That's where we're headed.

It's really, really high up in the air, so I was nervous about the ride. But it's not that bad, actually. The last half of the trip is spent precariously close to the rock face as the gondola strains to make it up. As long as you don't look back, you'll be fine. If you do happen to glance back, you'll see this:

So I made it to the top just fine, thank you very much. From up there, you can look back and see where you came from. See that tiny village behind Ainsley, just to the right of the lake? That's where the cable car started.

Here you can see the same view, with a cable car grinding its way slowly up to the top.

The cable car doesn't take you quite all the way to the top. There's still a short jaunt up a ladder and across a small hill to get to the cross that marks the very tippity-top of the mountain. And since everyone else was going up there, Shay wanted to go, too. He convinced his dad to go while the rest of us watched from behind the fence.

Shay went first up the ladder.

And then he disappeared around the bend.

His dad had no choice but to follow.

At this point, I was taking the pictures from my perch near the gondola. So I don't know what Bart saw when he got to that corner. But he told me later that when he looked around that bend, he realized they had no business out there without proper gear. Apparently the other side was basically a narrow ledge and a steep drop. But what to do? Shay was already far ahead, so Bart kept going.

They made it there - and back - without incident,

after which the whole family posed for a picture - same view, safer location.

The views from up there were amazing.

After we finished oohing and ahhing, we hopped on a shorter cable car ride and went down a bit to the glacier. We ate lunch outside - it didn't feel all that cold, really. And then the boys went sledding. Kyra tried to go sledding, but she ended up stuck at the bottom of the glacier. Bart and Shay had to go rescue her when she couldn't figure out how to climb back up.

We didn't take the Cable Car of Death back down the mountain. Instead, we opted for the slow-but-steady cogwheel train.

And that was our day on the Zugspitze! We all survived, so it was a good day. Actually, I think it might have been my favorite day in Germany.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Germany Part Two

So what else did we do in Germany?

Well, one night we went on a horse and buggy ride around Garmisch. Kyra - fearless Kyra! - wouldn't pet the horses. She was worried that they would bite her. The boys thought the ride was okay, but compared to their long-ago elephant ride in Thailand, it wasn't impressive. It turns out that when you're riding an elephant and it poops, the poop is much, much, much bigger than horse-and-buggy poop. Score one for elephant rides.

Both girls were exhausted, so neither of them lasted the entire ride.

But I liked it. So there's that.

We also went to the princess castle, otherwise known as Neuschwanstein. This would've been better done as a tour, because it would've taken less time to get there by tour bus. By taxi, train and bus, it took about 2 1/2 hours to get there, and by the time we arrived, all of the tours of the inside were sold out. Plus which, we only had a couple of hours to explore before the last bus out of there - didn't want to miss that! Shay took most of the photos - of this and everything, really, throughout our vacation.

Another day was spent riding the gondola up to the AlpspiX. It was a cold, cloudy, windy day, and I spent most of it reciting my mantra ("Do NOT let the kids know you are scared of heights! Do NOT let the kids know you are scared of heights! Do NOT...").

The kids pretty quickly learned that I'm scared of heights.

First of all, the gondola ride was long and high and scary. Especially at the part when we reached the top of a ridge and got flung off the other side. I may have screeched in terror just a little. And then there was the AlpspiX itself. Built one year ago, the AlpspiX is basically two long steel sidewalks that cross in the shape of an X as they jut off the mountaintop over a 3200 foot void. If you look down, you can see through the bottom. If you look down, you cannot go another step toward the edge. If you look down, you might think you are going to throw up right into the void.

If you don't look down, or if you're not a coward like me, you can walk all the way to the end, which is glass. I'm told the view from the edge of this beast is quite impressive. I wouldn't know: I only made it a few short steps before turning back.

But I blame the wind! It was gusty, and my children were running back and forth on the thing, shouting with glee. I watched the gusts of wind knock them around, and my mommy brain could actually see them being lifted up by a gust and tossed over the side. It was all I could do not to plan funerals for my whole family as I clung to the rail, repeating over and over "Do NOT let the kids know you are scared of heights!"

I was pleased when they got too cold up there.

We rode another gondola down to another part of the mountain and then hiked 30 minutes or so to a third gondola, which we rode down to safety and hot chocolate. We then spent a good portion of the evening laughing at mommy's silly little phobia.

But it was scary. And afterwards, I had my doubts that I'd ever be able to tackle the gondola up to the top of the Zugspitze.

But that's a story for another post.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Germany Part One - the Partnach Gorge

We stayed in the town of Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps, south of Munich. And hey, fellow FS bloggers, here's a tip: the military maintains a hotel in Garmisch, and we are authorized to use it while on government orders. Which means if you have travel orders stating that you're on home leave or R&R, you can get in. It's a nice facility - nothing fancy, but also not too expensive, which is important for families like ours, with too many kids to fit in just one hotel room.

(Caveat: they told us to reserve trips and massages and such things after we arrived. BAD idea, as everything was booked when we got there. We only got into one tour the entire ten days we were there, and there wasn't a single day in which we could enroll the kids in their Kids Club and go out together. Disappointing. Had I known, I would've reserved everything just as soon as we had our reservations.)

But the good part: Here's the view from our hotel room as the sun was setting. That's the Zugspitze up there - the highest peak in all of Germany.

Garmisch is a cute little town, looking just exactly like you picture Germany ought to look. Every time a cab driver picked us up wearing a funny hat and suspenders, I had to stifle a giggle. People were friendly, and many of them spoke decent English. The town was green, green, green - especially after a year in Jordan, the fourth poorest country in the world in terms of water.

Of course, it's only green because it rains so damn much, and rain it did. We don't own rain coats, and so we found ourselves frequently damp those first few days.

The first day we were there, it rained pretty hard. The hotel staff recommended that we go to the Partnach Gorge, because, as they said, you'd get wet there even on a clear day.

When we arrived at the entrance to the gorge, it was pretty much pouring. But we'd just paid two separate cab drivers a whopping $50 to get us there, so there was no turning back. We bought some trash bag type rain coats from a kiosk just outside the ticket counter (Shay was not thrilled to be wearing a trash bag), and off we went.

A couple of the kids were, to put it mildly, terrified. The river was a chocolate milk brown, frothy and furious. The walls of the gorge were actual waterwalls - just streams of water pouring sideways. I'm not sure if it's this dramatic on a clear day, but it was really crazy.

The path above the gorge was narrow and slick, with just a wire rope blocking you from slipping off. Occasionally, the path cut though pitch-black tunnels, inside of which the roar of the water was deafening. (well, it would've been deafening, if I weren't already... oh, never mind.)

We managed to convince the kids to go all the way to the end and back. By the time we got back to the beginning of the gorge, the rain had mostly stopped and we were rewarded with a view of the ski jumping slope and the surrounding mountains.

And that's day one! After that we had to bus back to the hotel and run every last stitch of clothing - including our shoes - through the dryer. But it was so, so worth it. The pictures don't really do the place justice: the noise of the water was overwhelming, and the air was so clean and damp that you could taste it - "...and not in a Beijing way," as Shay pointed out.

Stay tuned for more fascinating vacation pictures, coming your way soon.
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