Death Wish Dervla

A satnav with attitude

Germany’s second highest cable car

Although we’d set off early to avoid the queues, there were already some coach parties ahead of us at the base station come 9.15am, despite the weather warning for strong winds. Germans are wrongly stereotyped as being aloof and sometimes unfriendly, but one of the mountain guides traveling up took an interest in us and we had a lovely conversation about the landscapes of Germany and Wales.

After a cursory glance at the giant telescope museum, we started following the Passami Panoramic path around the corrie. Rich had to turn back halfway as the wind kept threatening to knock him off his feet, but found a bench to watch me continue the circuit to the viewpoint. At the top, you literally cross the border between Germany and Austria, and the views are breathtaking.

The walk through the tunnel to the viewpoint over the Damkar Valley was equally as interesting, but with it being very dark Rich could go no further than the viewing window. With his balance issues he’s very conscious that he sometimes holds people walking behind up, and that rushing will inevitably lead to him falling over.

Before heading down, we each enjoyed a plate of chips in the restaurant – typical German fare don’t you know. Well it is when you’re hungry. I then nipped into town to try and find a souvenir for the trip that Rich wouldn’t describe as ‘tat’, and ended up ordering two hand made cushion covers. I love collecting fabrics from our travels, with the goal being to make nice things out of them when I’m too old and knackered to travel far.

After a final trip to the Karwendelbad to use the whirly pool, we headed over to our favourite ever supermarket for one last drool. It was a lovely surprise to meet the mountain guide we’d talked to in the cable car earlier that morning at the meat counter. He inisted on introducing us to his daughter as “the couple I was telling you about”, so we’d obviously made an impression somehow. Turns out that his daughter had just returned from a study trip to Manchester and spent a few days walking in North Wales. Tis a small world.


When you come across men with big guns whilst walking…

I barely slept last night for worrying about today’s walk. Rich was adamant that we walk to the suspension bridge between Mittenwald and Scharnitz, via a trail described as ‘difficult’. Before you poo poo this, I have to remind you that Rich has no cochlears, or those working bits of the inner ear that normally help us balance. He stays upright by constantly monitoring the horizon, having an amazing core strength, and often only through sheer will. Coupled with partial paralysis of different parts of his legs and feet, that he walks so much, and on often challenging terrain, makes him an exceptionally tough cookie. Anyway, back to the story.

The Leitersteig trail starts near the Karwendelbahn, and starts by following the Mittenwalder Hutte track. That it’s little more than a goat track explains why it doesn’t appear in the tourist guides – they’d get fed up of rescuing people! We’re both very quietly determined people however, and very capable in the mountains, and made slow but steady progress. On routes like this I simply stay close to Rich and point out obstacles that he needs to pay particular attention to, helping him up and over things where necessary. It still came as a suprise to round one corner though and come face to face with a man dressed in army fatigues holding a very large gun! I’m not sure who was the most suprised, and all I could think to say was “oh, hello”, as you do. After overcoming the initial shock I then realised that there were several of them, supposedly hiding on the hillside, and presumably in training. When Rich appeared a few seconds later and found me standing next to the soldiers and their guns, his face was a picture. All the while the soldiers stayed quiet, so I’m guessing they were as unnerved buy our presence as we were by theirs, especially when I then had to help Rich over a gully to continue. You could almost hear them thinking ‘should he be doing that?!’ We know what Rich is capable of though, and I knew there’d be absolutely no way he’d turn back with them watching!


My heart stayed in my mouth for the rest of the walk, especially during the short via ferrata sections, but after stopping for lunch we set off to make the final push to the suspension bridge over the Suzleklamm Gorge, only for me to then drop my camera. There was absolutely no way I was prepared to lose my hard won pics, so I scrambled down the ravine to retrieve it, much to Rich’s horror. He said afterwards that he’d thought about taking a pic of me after I’d passed the camera up to him so that I could haul myself up, but decided against it on the grounds that if I’d slipped and fallen to my death at that very moment, it wouldn’t have looked good. Lesson learned – use the wrist strap in future! After all this, the suspension bridge made a welcome sight, so after taking the compulsory ‘standing on a scary bridge’ photos we took the easy route back down into Mittenwald, via the Rainspazierweg, and then the river footpath to the apartment, where tea and biscuits was very much appreciated.

The Leutascher Geisterklamm Gorge

You’ll find this amazing spectacle on the west side of Mittenwald, well worth the 3 euro entry fee to experience the waterfall walk. Both the falls and gorge are spectacular, and the precarious walkways make you feel like quite the adventurer. You even get to feed the fish in one of the river pools, making them the fattest fresh water fish we’d ever seen! To lose the crowds we then followed the ‘Goblin Walk’, and found a shaded bench for a picnic lunch.

The walk back to the apartment called for a stop at our new favourite supermarket – Rewe, where we just had to buy a pack of currywurst flavour crisps. The verdict – delicious! Much tastier than actual frankfurters in curry sauce.

To wind up the day, we then headed over to the local swimming pool a mere five minute walk away – Karwendel Bad, having discovered that it had an outdoor whirlpool. We got in free with our guest cards, yet another reason to always scope out tourist cards if you’re staying in the same place in Germany for more than a day.

Long time no write

Hello folks, sorry about the leave of absence. Fortunately I’ve now completed the Masters degree (in violence against women and children), and sort of have a life again, so there’ll be plenty of time for reporting on our travels. That is until I start the PhD! Turns out brain cells don’t die off when you reach middle-aged-dom, or at least not as quickly as we’re led to believe.

Since I last wrote we’ve been to the Belgian Ardennes in Winter, the Scottish Isle of North Uist in the Spring, and possibly our favourite happy place – Swedish Lapland in the Autumn. As you can probably tell, we like to visit places that tend to be cool rather than warm, or to go at times of the year when they get slightly warm at most. Thanks to our medical quirks, we both melt in the heat.

The good news is that Dervla is still going strong, and especially likes navigating gravel roads in Sweden. The more pot holes the better.

Swimming in Lake Lautersee

It’s amazing how different the chairlift experience is when you actually know what you’re doing! Having got the jitters out of the way on the first trip, I was able to relax for the whole ride up to St. Anton, rather than sitting there rigidly to try and avoid falling off.

View from the chairlift

After a quick loo stop at the hut, a mere 40 minutes walking uphill saw us to the Kranzberghaus hut at 1391m, and a panoramic view over the Austrian Alps. We saw only one other person at the top, although more appeared as we descended to Lake Ferchesee. It was still very quiet given the weather though.

After admiring the turqouise magnificence of the lake, we ccontinued on to Lake Lautersee, which has the highest official bathing beach in Germany. As wild swimmers we begrudged having to pay 2.5 Euros for a loo and changing room, so joined the locals at the opposite side of the lake, where there was plenty of room to find a picnic space, and tree to strip off behind. As with Iceland and Scandinavia, there’s less fuss made about nudity here, and people of all shapes and sizes wear whatever the hell they want to enjoy the great outdoors. There’s also far less ogling, so going swimming is more of the fun experience that it’s supposed to be.

The water was beautifully clear and definitely warmer than the spring fed pool in Oberammergau, but still made for a wonderful cool down after the walk. After drying off and enjoying a picnic lunch, we continued on the footpath to the chairlift station, and from there on to the apartment. Unfortunately it had been a bit too much sun for my wibbly head, and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the bed whilst the migraine did its thing, but by dinner time I was pain free, and able to enjoy the slightly cooler evening.

Me swimming in Lautersee

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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