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Death Wish Dervla

A satnav with attitude

Bringing in the goats

It was a slow start thanks to a migraine, but fortunately it cleared up soon enough that we didn’t miss one of Mittenwald’s highlights of the year – the ringing in of the goats. This is a festival that marks the return of the goats from their Summer pastures in the upper Isar Valley. The locals and goat herders don their traditional costumes, and tourists swarm in to the town. It’s like a villege fete, with a difference.

Scheduled to start at 11am, the goats didn’t present themselves until almost noon. There aren’t that many of them but if you like the character of goats you won’t be disappointed by the procession. It was followed by a prize giving ceremony in the market square but by this time I was desperate for the loo and the public toilets in the Tourist Information office had closed so that the staff could attend, so I walked very quickly back to the apartment, whilst Rich stocked up on groceries.

After lunch, we set out on foot to explore the northern and eastern parts of the town. There are lovely footpaths along both sides of the River Isar, and the houses are extremely picturesque – this is definitely the most affluent part of Mittenwald. We walked as far as the road bridge over the river, and then back in to the town centre to catch the tail end of the goat festivities. Some of the goat herders were a bit worse for wear, so not surprisingly a few goats tried to escape whilst they thought they had their chance. Watching four burly men try to catch a goat made for a surreal scene. We enjoyed a drink whilst listening to the band play what Rich’s gran would describe as oompah loompah music, before heading back to enjoy the sunset from the balcony.

Barefoot walking

Having got fed up of waiting in for the property manager to drop off the tourist cards we’d been promised yesterday, we headed out to find the Kranzberg Sesselbahn chair lift. Unlike the ones in Oberammergau, these are single chair lifts. The operator must have assumed that I knew what to do as he shoved me into one without any instruction. Rich, sitting behind, said that it was worth paying the 11 euro fare just to watch me freaking out in front. Whilst he couldn’t hear me (the being deaf thing), he could see me mouthing the words “where the f*** is the safety bar?!” which it took me a long few seconds to realise was above my head. Even with it pulled down, I was too terrifed to move a muscle, let alone relax and enjoy the ride. Still, after managing to dismount with my pride intact, I could look back and admire the scenery.

We’d decided the follow the ‘Barefoot Trail’. As Rich has nerve damage in his feet and can’t feel much as a result, meaning that he wouldn’t know if he’d caused himself an injury, he compromised and wore his socks. Initially it felt very strange to be walking without footwear, and you definitely use your hip and knee muscles that much more. It was hard work, especially on the gravel, but the pine cones were a revelation – soft and velvety rather than sharp and prickly as you’d expect. Not suprisingly, everyone’s favourite section was the mud pool, which some kids, big and small, waded through again and again. Mud squidging between your toes is indeed a lovely feeling. Rich took the sock sensible option, and walked across the foot bridge.

Back at the beginning of the trail we found a bench with stunning views for our lunch stop, and then headed off for part 2 of our walk – down to Lake Wildensee, and then back up to Grobalm and Mittenwald. Unfortunately we’d not packed our swimming kit as it would have made a perfect bathing spot, but the walk was wonderful – quiet with good footpaths all the way.

In need of some cooling refreshment, we found a cafe and wine shop in the town centre, and then followed side roads back to the shade of the apartment for afternoon naps, and cake.

Hellow Mittenwald

Leaving Oberammergau was made a little easier by the torrential rain, and the very kind offer of a lift to the bus station by Andrea, the owner of the apartment. We wiled away the 75 minutes before the next bus to Garmisch by reading, and making frequent trips to the service station for the loo. Fortunately by the third trip they waved me through, rather than expecting me to buy anything.

With our guest cards the bus ticket to Garmisch was free, and the journey incredibly scenic – we’re in the foothills of the Alps proper here. At Garmisch we bought train tickets for Mittenwald, and then nipped next door to the Burger King for lunch, something which we only seem to do when traveling with bags – quick and easy access to food I guess, and no complaints about  luggage taking up seats.

The train trip was as scenic as the bus ride, and before we knew it we were enjoying a coffee in a little cafe outside the station. We stopped off at the tourist information office on the way to our Airbnb apartment for the next 8 nights, to stock up on leaflets and maps. The apartment is on the outskirts of Mittenwald, in the eaves of a very pretty apartment block. Whilst the adjacent road was busier than we’d expected, and the eaves themselves were lower than we thought they’d be, even for me as a short person, the apartment was light and airy with plenty of space for two. I just had to learn to duck sooner – not easy when my sense of proprioception is awry.

After unpacking we headed a handy 5 mins down the road to the Penny supermarket, a chain which we’d last visited in Romania a few years ago. The prices are steeper here in Germany, but still much cheaper than in the UK. By the time we got back to the apartment the road had quietened down, and we were able to enjoy a pre-dinner drink on the balcony, watching the trains sweep into town. Whilst not as peaceful as Oberammergau, it definitely has an appeal of its own, and more facilities if sleepy little towns are not your thing. I knew I’d feel more affection for the place after a good night’s sleep. The perils of traveling as an introvert!

Evening view

The Magic Restaurant

Fortunately I was already up before the workmen started digging up the road at 8am. They certainly don’t start work that early in the UK, which explains a lot. Now well and truly in walking holiday mode, we left the apartment before 10am so as to try and avoid the worst of the afternoon heat. We were forecast 24 degrees C later that day – about my air temperature limit as a POTS person.

We wanted to take a quick look at the Passion Theatre for which Oberammergau is famous, but thought it resembled a mausoleum. Neither of us are believers, but we were surprised at how austere it looked – for some reason we’d expected more grandeur.

Not wanting to linger, we headed out of town on a farm track, and walked along the valley to Unterammergau. Despite being surrounded by lovely views, we barely saw another soul on the path. Just outside of Unterammergau we turned back towards the east and followed a track which I’d read about as being particularly scenic – the Altherrenweg.

We stopped at the small but perfectly formed Berggasthaus Romanshöhe for an ice cold drink, before heading back in towards Oberammergau, and our last visit to the wellenberg outdoor swimming pools. We only stayed for about an hour, long enough for me to cool down in the natural spring water pool, today at a balmy temperature of 15 degrees C. With our guest cards we saved a healthy 6 euros, and found the pools much quieter than they were on the weekend.

Back to the shade of the apartment, before heading out at 7pm to a restaurant we’d spotted on our first evening here, just over the wooded hill, on the outskirts of Oberammergau. We hadn’t registered that it was called Magic Restaurant Zauberstub’n, but within minutes the host was performing magic tricks for us and other diners. Turns out that he used to be a professional magician, and that he bought the restaraunt after retiring.

I was eager to try a traditional Bavarian dish – pork knuckle, whilst Rich enjoyed a pork schnitzel. We both thoroughly enjoyed, even if it meant having to listen to the too loud conversation coming from the diners sitting directly behind, all of whom were attending a course at the NATO base in town. I now know far more about their jobs, and the course, than I probably should. Someone somewhere needs to brush up on implementing their contract confidentiality clauses, or provide their staff with an in-house canteen.

Bavarian pork knuckle. Only for the brave, or very hungry.
Bavarian pork knuckle. Only for the brave, or very hungry.

What with the wine and magic tricks we were exhausted by 9pm, so headed home via the wood footpath, to enjoy our last sleep in Oberammergau, before heading off to stop number two tomorrow.

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The Alpine Coaster

After a two course breakfast of yoghurt with fruit, followed by frankfurters and streaky bacon, we made our way to the Sesselbahn chairlift, via the River Ammer footpath. Even on a lovely warm day, we had the chairlift to ourselves, about which I was secretly relieved as I’d never been in one before and like to avoid too many public humiliations! Fortunately it moved reasonably slowly, allowing us to take in the view as we moved onwards and upwards, although I stumbled when trying to get off whilst still moving, and then Rich with his poor balance, fell off on to me. We make a great pair!

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We walked on past the kolbensattel-hutte, and from there followed a wonderfully scenic trail to Pürschling-Haus, at 1566 metres. Sadly the higher we’d climbed, the more we found ourselves walking in mist, so we didn’t quite get the views we were hoping for, but this certainly didn’t detract from the experience. We enjoyed a large glass of Fanta each in the restaurant at the top, before retracing our steps, ready for our descent Oberammergau style!

The Alpine Coaster is basically what it says on the tin – a 2.5km long roller coaster, down the side of the mountain. It has 73 curves, 9 jumps, and relies on the driver using the brake. With Rich driving, and me sitting in front to try and take some pics, I seemed to spend most of my time screaming “slow down!” before remembering that Rich is deaf, and resorting to flapping my hands up and down like a crazy bird, literally. Rich quipped that having me in front, added extra ballast, making it easier to pick up speed!

Once we’d retrieved our bags from the ‘rucksack station’ – they get sent on ahead via the chairlift, so you better hope that your bags handles hold out, we made our way slowly back along the river, perusing the windows of several wooden scultpure shops along the way, the adrenaline rush now having well and truly subsided. A fabulous day out, for kids big and little!

Stocking up at Tengelmann

Oh migraine, how you test me. After an uncomfortable night I was a little worried about telling Rich that I wasn’t up for a walk today, what with us being on a walking holiday n’all, but when he eventually rose at 10am, the first thing he did was suggest that we have an easy day. Great minds and all that. By noon the pain had started to dissipate, so after a light lunch we walked in to town to admire the alpine frescoes for which Obermmergau is famous.

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At the Tourist Information office we discovered that the walking test centre we’d read about is actually 14 miles away, so we’d not be testing any of their equipment on this trip. Instead we then headed to the Tengelmann supermarket to stock up on groceries. It’s much posher than the nearby Lidl, but still cheaper than our Sainsbury’s, and blissfully quiet. We bought what looked like chicken skewers for dinner, but to be honest we’d have eaten them even if they’d turned out to be horse.

After discovering a sign that said that Obermmergau is twinned with Mora – a Swedish town that we drove through and stayed near last Summer, we walked back to the apartment along the river footpath, taking a short cut past the school. German towns are so much more walker friendly than those in the UK, with an abaundance of footpaths. Navigating on foot back home often feels like an obstacle course. Here, walking is seen as the natural thing to do, and they make it easy.

Laber Mountain

Oh how we miss the cool mountain air in the evenings. With the balcony door and windows open, and thick snuggly duvets, we both slept very well once the crickets quietened down. We breakfasted on yoghurt, pear and frankfurters (!) whilst sitting on the rear verandah, and sheltering from the morning sun. All we could hear were the church bells in the distance. Oberammergau really is a wonderfully sleepy little place.

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To start off our trip we’d decided to take the cable car up to the top of the local mountain – Laber, and walk down via Soilasee, a lake which often completely dries up during the Summer. We’d chosen the apartment partly because it’s sited on the outskirts of the town, but also because it’s right next to a footpath to the Laberberg, and the outdoor swimming pool complex.

The footpath
The footpath

In true German style, 3 minutes after paying for our tickets we were stood in the cable car. It swings around a little, and so is not for those afraid of heights, or with vertigo, but it felt far less scary than other cable cars we’ve been on, and unlike in Slovakia many moons ago, didn’t involve having to pay the ticket inspector a bribe in order to get back down again.

The cable car stops half way up the mountain and there’s a big sign stating “This is a planned stop!”, presumably because they’ve had freaked out passengers using the emergency phone in the past. There’s a restaurant on the top, but we wanted just to see the viewpoints before joining track 1. It’s an understandably popular route, much like the Tarn Hows of the Ammergauer Alps, but no hardship to stand aside and let faster groups go by. Part way down we met a very friendly man from Stuttgart who explained that there are two types of German – those who like outdoor sports, and those who like eating chocolate! He kept asking his wife when they’d get to the coffee and cake part, as apparently that’s how she bribes him to get outside. Like lots of Germans (and Europeans in general), they come to the mountains at weekends, and have holiday homes here.

We stopped for lunch next to the Grobe-Laine river where extensive engineering works are underway to stop flash floods and landslides, before making our way back to the cable car station and down the footpath to the Wellenberg – a magnificent swimming pool complex. We’d already started feeling the effects of the heat as the thermometer hit 27 degrees C again today, and we both have medical quirks that mean that our bodies don’t regulate core body temperature very well, but we knew that the complex had unheated pools in which to cool down. I found the 23 degrees C pool too warm so left Rich to float around and  headed for the natural swimming pool and its gloriously cold waters. I wondered why there was only one other person using it – it seems that water at 13 degrees C is too cold for most. Maybe I’ve missed my calling – cold open water swimming. Once suitably cool we headed back to the shade of the apartment.

Oberammergau

The trouble with having to get up at 4am, is that you don’t sleep at all, for worrying about having to get up at 4am. The taxi arrived at 5, and by 6.30am we were through security at Heathrow, after having negotiated the increasingly people free check-in system where boarding passes are ejected so fast from terminals that they fly across the room, and there’s no one around to tell you where to go. Not the most user-friendly system by any means. Early morning is definitely the time to travel to beat the crowds and queues though.

Our Lufthansa flight to Munich was slightly delayed, but the pilot made up the time during the flight, and before long we were trying to figure out which train ticket to buy at the airport train station. We had to change at Munich’s central station, and then again at Murnau, but for 28 Euros between the two of us we certainly weren’t going to complain about the price. The equivalent wouldn’t get you very far at all in the UK. In contrast, Germany’s trains smelled much less of pee, were almost always on time, were well air conditioned, and the tickets tell you which platform you should be on – none of this faffing around waiting for announcements, and being left in the lurch if you can’t hear them.

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On reaching Oberammergau, our base for the next 5 nights, I supervised the bags whilst Rich nipped into the Lidl next door to buy enough supplies to get us through to Monday – supermarkets in Bavaria don’t open on Sunday. Whilst he was gone, a little old lady came and sat next to me in the bus stop, and with my very limited German, and her limited English, we had a very pleasant conversation. Eventually we were able to establish that I wasn’t American, and that she was on the way to visit her children in the next village.

When Rich returned, I tried calling the taxi number written on a big sign outside the railway station, but no one answered, so I phoned the owner of our apartment, intending to ask if she’d mind calling us a taxi, but instead she insisted on coming to collect us. We’d booked one of two apartments at Ferienwohnungen Gerhard Fischer, and fell in love with it immediately. With three little balconies, a double bedroom, sofa bed, good sized kitchen and living area, the website photos don’t do it justice. On a very hot day (31 degrees C), it was lovely, cool and quiet – all we could hear were crickets.

Rich cooked a very tasty dinner of chicken skewers and salad, and we ate on the front verandah with a view to die for. Eating outside during the summer definitely seems to be the done thing here, and we could hear glasses and cutlery clinking from neighbouring gardens. Before it got too dark, we then followed the footpath than runs directly in to the woods from the house, round to the main road, and caught a glimpse of some of the murals for which Oberammergau is famous. It’s an extremely picturesque town, with a very welcoming vibe, and already we felt very relaxed. Goodness knows why we’d not thought of coming to Southern Germany before!

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View from verandah

Falls of Dochart

To make the most of our final day in the Trossachs, we all drove to the South shore of Loch Earn, before heading to the village of Killin. Rich and I drove in our wetsuits to save having to bare all at the lochside, as the road runs directly alongside. Big sis and brother-in-law looked in awe (or more likely disbelief!) as we went swimming in the rain. The water temperature was definitely cooler than Loch Voil’s, but not uncomfortably so, and is to be expected given that Loch Earn is that much bigger and more exposed. As a wild swimming spot though, unfortunately some inconsiderate campers had left all their rubbish on the beach, and made one area a very obvious toilet spot, rendering it a no go area for other visitors. Read the guidance on wild camping in Scotland people! Leave nothing but footprints, innit.

Next stop – the village of Killin, on the west tip of Loch Tay, a very long loch which thanks to prevailing winds, even has its own tide. We parked in the small car park closest to the bridge and Falls of Dochert, had a quick look at the very lovely waterfalls, whilst dodging traffic on what is quite a narrow bridge, before piling in to ‘The Old Smiddy’ for lunch as a thank you pressie from big sis and brother-in-law. The former blacksmiths is cosy, picturesque and very amenable. I couldn’t not order Cullen Skink –  a traditional Scottish haddock soup, and it was delicious. I even got to enjoy a rare gluten free pud – fruit meringue.

To work off our lunch, Rich and I then walked almost three miles along the former railway line, around the lake shore, and through riverside meadows – a wonderful way to end the week. After having avoided the Trossachs for so long, I’d learned my lesson, and will definitely return.

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