09.09.2016 - 11.09.2016 25 °C
The time to leave Stavanger came all too soon, and on Thursday morning we commenced our final long road trip with Joe the Peugeot. We made it all the way down south, which looked like it shouldn't be the quickest way but Joe (and Pat) assured us that it was.
We stopped to stretch our legs in Lillesand, a place with Port Fairy-type vibes and once the home of Coralee's great-grandfather. While the roadworks and the pedestrian-only streets proved a challenge to Joe's navigational skills, we eventually made it to the main street and from there it was easy to find a good coffee shop with good cakes. Problem - all the cakes looked delicious. Solution - one of each. The birds would have been happy to help eat the crumbs, if there had been any.
From Lillesand we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and then we got to what was possibly the best place of our entire Norwegian experience. The timber house on a farm was the cosiest place imaginable - complete with a moose running through the field, an eclectic collection of CDs and a chess board to keep the boys entertained. Bliss.
Friday morning was the time for farewells - goodbye Joe, goodbye Norway. Although for a little while there it looked like we wouldn't actually be leaving Norway on schedule... We arrived at the airport at the recommended time, printed off our boarding passes using the self check in kiosks and the printed off two bag tags. Two. Because at that point the machine decided to freeze. Which meant that only half of us could take our suitcases on the plane. The next hour and a half was spent trying to find someone from Norwegian Air to help, lining up in each of the three queues (bag drop, check in AND ticket office) trying to work out which queue was the right queue. Off course, the longest queue was the one we needed. Unfortunately, a whole lot of machines had obviously decided to malfunction at the same time as a whole lot of hunters decided to check in their guns, which meant we waited and waited and waited and waited. Simon got talking to the two ladies in front of us in the queue who had also experienced machine problems. When they reached the desk, it was revealed that they had been unable to check in because they were not, in fact, flying with Norwegian Air. Fail. We also got roped into helping a woman who spoke none of the computer's language options complete the check-in process - but try explaining carry on luggage vs hold luggage using only gestures...
Anyway - we made it to the front of the line, got our luggage tagged and sped through security and arrived at the gate with about one minute to spare before boarding commenced. Phew!
On board, Simon had a lovely time chatting to his neighbour - a Norwegian doctor who had spent a year on exchange in Sydney - while Belinda and I had a lovely time watching episodes of Bobbie Bear, an ABC production that featured a small purple teddy bear reading the Tassie Times newspaper and driving a tractor.
We arrived in Munich, and were pleased to find that our luggage had arrived as well, and were then even more pleased to find cheap food and helpful information centre staff. Fed and watered, we mastered the train system and got ourselves to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, known for hosting the 1936 winter Olympics (it would've hosted again in 1940 except for the fact that Germany started a war which obviously didn't go down so well with the Olympic Committee). We had a delightful afternoon wandering about the place, which seemed to have more than its fair share of shoe shops. We found a pleasant spot for pretzels and beer, and learned that the quickest way to upset a waitress is by suggesting that you will share a pretzel with somebody else. We met a raucous bunch of Germans at the next table and they gave us a crash course in German etiquette before we moved on to dinner down the road. The restaurant was packed, but we were able to have a meal as long as we were happy to share a table with other diners. Sure! We shared briefly with a family from Shanghai, who were then replaced with two German lads who gave us yet more insight into German life and culture. Certainly a lot more outgoing than the Scandinavians we had encountered!
Unfortunately we didn't get much sleep that night, on account of there being a gentleman who spent several hours shouting, singing and talking to himself in rather close proximity to our hotel room windows. No idea what he was saying - but it got to the point that we were no longer angry at being disturbed, but impressed at his vocal stamina and ability to sustain a monologue for so long. Ah well. He went home (or passed out?) eventually. And then it was time for breakfast, and then for Zugspitzing!
We set off in the train, headed for the highest mountain in Germany. When we reached the almost-top, there were awesome views across the mountains, and even more impressive, there were free sleds and a small patch of unmelted ice for sledding on! Definitely didn't get as much speed as when we used the plastic bag with Gus, but it was much easier to steer and stop this time. After several races it was found that Simon was the most proficient at sledding - while Pat was the best at cutting people off.
We had lunch and then cable carred our way to the top, for views that appeared and disappeared depending on what mood the clouds were in. We popped over to Austria to check out their views too - as you do. At 3000-odd metres above sea level, we all noticed that climbing just one flight of stairs seemed much harder than it should have. The hardest part, though, was finding the cable car down and making sure it took us back to Germany and not Austria. We waited about 15 minutes (the German idea of 'a long wait') and caught the cable car all the way down the mountain. The car was fairly solidly packed, and at the point where there was a sudden drop the whole lot of us made the same noise which just goes to show that the sound you make when you lose your stomach is universal.
Safely on solid ground, we had an our to explore the Partenkirchen side of town. The place was full of decorated houses, with lavish pillars painted around doorways and extravagant frames painted around windows.
We made it back to our hotel for our meeting at 6pm, and sat in the foyer waiting. We were briefly defeated by the vending machine as we waited, but as soon as someone came to look at it there were no problems at all. We waited some more and then decided that we should probably ask someone - after all, 15 minutes was a long wait in Germany.
When we did ask at the desk, we were told that we were late for the 6pm meeting, as the meeting was in another hotel five minutes down the road. Which would have been helpful information just a little bit earlier. So we hoofed it to the next hotel, met up with the walk representative, gathered our route maps and paraphernalia and met an English couple doing the same walk.
We stocked up on supplies at Aldi (because Germany) and then found somewhere for dinner. Which coincidentally happened to be the same place as our friends from the beergarden the day before! The service was friendly, but oh so slow... We had to wait over an hour and ask four times before we received the bill. I have never been so close to walking out without paying. But it was a nice night, and there was people watching to keep us entertained so it was all good.
Thankfully our yelling-singing-talking man didn't make a reappearance that night - instead it was the phones from the nearby taxi rank that woke us early in the morning.
We tucked into breakfast and then began our walking adventure - by catching a bus. It took us to the edge of town, to the ski stadium, conveniently located right next to the toboggan run. Well it would have been a shame not to, right? So we waited for the toboggan run to open and then proceeded to find out how fast we could go, and work out where the camera was so that we could pull appropriately silly faces as we sped around the track. By the time we were finishing our rides, families with small children started to arrive so we congratulated ourselves on getting in early so that we'd had the place to ourselves. Smug.
And THEN the walk began. Once we worked out which way we were headed. Even with photos, "follow the road" can be slightly ambiguous. But we worked it out.
Our route took us through the unexpectedly beautiful Partnach Gorge, where we encountered our beergarden friends once more. How nice to be on the other side of the world and still find familiar faces!
We passed through the gorge and headed up, up, up. Past the walkers with their walking poles, past the frog, past the inquisitive cows with their bells, past the woman in high heels, up, up, up. It was quite hot and humid for people who had just been in Iceland and Norway, and I wasn't enjoying the hills at all. But then the upness stopped, and the views over the forest were there, and then the downness began and everything was right in the world again. So we walked down down down (with just little ups in between) through the forest, and didn't have to negotiate as much pedestrian traffic for this stretch. We came to a restaurant that sold icecreams (and discovered that Bum-bum is essentially the German equivalent of Bubble-o-Bill) and caught up with the English couple, who'd had an hour head start on us since they didn't start their walk with a toboggan ride.
From here, the sky darkened and thunder started to roll around the hills, making for moody lighting for photos and also making inspiration for me to hurry up and get where we were going. The rain was gentle and cooling, but didn't do much to ease the humidity. We made it to Klais with time to buy train tickets, have a beer and get major food envy over some amazing looking dessert thing served at the next table.
The train arrived, we boarded, and got off at the next stop - Mittenwald. Instead of thunder, we now had the sound of an oom-pah band gently wafting all over town. We dined outdoors with mountains behind us after strolling around and appreciating all the murals of Mittenwald. German adventures were officially off to a good start.