Our pandemic dog rescue story… part four

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I have mentioned before that I think Austria is an extremely beautiful country. We haven’t spent enough time there, which is a shame, because it’s a small country that has huge things to offer. I love the scenery there. There are enormous mountains, babbling brooks, Dirndl clad ladies and men in Lederhosen, and lots of great food. I like Austrian food more than German food. Yes, there is a difference.

It seems like Austrian food has a little dash of Italian to it… and it also seems like there’s more variety to it. It’s not just Schnitzel, sausages, Spatzle, potatoes and cabbage. And yes, I know I’m inviting criticism from my few German readers for writing this. But I also know that some of them are reading because they want to know what things look like from an American point of view. Well, I am American, and this is my point of view, even if it’s not entirely accurate. You know what they say about perspectives. I know Germany has a variety of different specialties throughout the land, but for some reason, Austrian food just seems slightly different to me. Not that we had much of a chance to eat it during this whirlwind trip.

I was expecting Bill to stop for lunch. He never did. I don’t know how he hasn’t learned in almost eighteen years of marriage that it’s good to take a break. On the other hand, there weren’t that many appealing stops on the way down to the Slovenian border. We did stop at one place so I could pee. It was pouring down rain, though. I also remember having to pay a toll of 12,50 euros before we could go through Katschburg Pass. Bill was freaking out because the toll was done by machine and it wouldn’t accept his Bar (cash). I told him he should just take his time. People would have to wait. It’s not like they don’t make us wait when they have business to attend to.

Anyway, as we approached the border, we ended up on a narrow mountain road behind some guy who didn’t seem to know which was was up. There were many wrong turn signals, a few weaves and bobs in the road, and slow speeds. The drive over the mountain was very beautiful. The leaves are turning, so the colors were dramatic against the stormy skies. There’s a bunker museum on the mountain road. We saw a lot of signs and had we not had Arran and it hadn’t been raining, it would have made for an interesting stop for Bill. It was built during the Cold War to make sure no one from former Yugoslavia would cross into Austria and raise a ruckus. Again… I would love to visit Kransjka Gora again, so maybe someday we’ll get a chance to visit.

Here are some photos from our drive down from Salzburg.

We rented an “apartment” for our night in Slovenia. I didn’t realize it was really more of a hotel apartment. We told the proprietor that we’d be there at 2:00pm, since they told us they needed an hour to get to Kranjska Gora. We actually arrived earlier than 2:00, but for some reason, it didn’t occur to me to message them through Booking.com. We just waited for a car. Well… first, Bill went to a tiny grocery store near the apartment and picked up a few essentials. Kranjska Gora is very close to both the Italian and Austrian borders. It must have been interesting to live there when Slovenia was still part of a closed society.

After we picked up a few items, we went back to the suite hotel and met the young lady who showed us our digs for the night. For about 86 euros, we got a little place with a bed, a sitting room, basic kitchen facilities, and a bathroom with a tiny shower. It was very clean and had what we needed, but it wasn’t quite as nice as our place in Salzburg. The floors were tile, which makes for easy cleaning, but chilly quarters. Still, it was just fine for a night and the price was right. Checking out was equally a breeze. All we had to do was dump the trash and leave the keys on the kitchen table. That was perfect for our purposes. The place we stayed was called G&F apartments on Booking.com, but it was in the Hotel Klass building, which is very close to the town center. I prepaid for the room and we had to pay four euros for the tourist tax. There wasn’t a pet fee and Arran was definitely not the only dog there.

Our original plan was to get Noizy at about 8:00pm, as that was when Meg was supposed to arrive with him and two other dogs who got new homes. Another American couple, based at Ramstein, I believe, were coming down to pick up a dog for themselves and transport another to a German family in Bavaria (I think). That other couple turned out to be a godsend. More on that in the next part.

Our pandemic dog rescue story… part three

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When we take trips, I usually take a lot of photos, even from the car. Before a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of Kransjka Gora, and had no idea of what we were in for. I did remember how beautiful Lake Bled was and had been wanting to visit Slovenia again. But Bill and I are getting older and it’s hard to drive for seven or eight hours straight, so that means it’s best if we can break up the trip. And, as most Americans know, there’s only so much leave a person can take. When Bill worked for his first company, the pay wasn’t as good, but they were very generous about letting him take time off. His current employer pays very well, but it’s not as easy to go away for longer trips. Not that we’re complaining. Six years ago, when we first came to Germany, I still owed $40,000 on my student loans. I managed to pay them off two years ago, nine years ahead of time!

While I usually like to take a lot of photos on our trips, I was more preoccupied this time. I didn’t think to take any pictures until we stopped for lunch at a KFC. German KFC is not like American KFC. And American KFC is not like the Kentucky Fried Chicken of my youth, which used to be a lot better than it is now. We decided to stop for chicken, even though it’s not as quick and convenient as other fast food is. I was kind of astonished by the rest stop where we pulled off. It had an amazing assortment of choices, especially for Germany. There was a McDonald’s, a Burger King, a KFC and a Subway!

And right next to the Subway was an enormous “adult” book store, complete with blow up dolls outside the entrance! I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the erotic book store. I wish I had. In the United States, the adult book stores aren’t quite as prominent as they are in Germany, although I do remember repeatedly passing Club Risque in North Carolina many times as I drove back and forth from Virginia to South Carolina to and from graduate school.

I guess the erotic book stores are intended for the lonely truckers who traverse Germany from all over Europe, especially the East. I notice that they are well catered to in this country. Many rest stops have showers, as well as pay toilets that are clean. Where I come in the States, the rest stops are a little bit nicer than the free ones in Europe, which are really bare bones. But they don’t usually have restaurants (except in the Northeast). In Europe, the rest stops that aren’t just a place to pee have restaurants, fully stocked convenience stores, gas stations, and yes, something for the truckers who need a little distraction from the road.

Lunch was pretty filling. We ate it in the car, mainly due to having Arran with us and because of COVID-19. I watched people going in and out of the restaurant, ignoring the request to exit from the opposite side of the entrance. I also noticed in the ladies room, that someone had dumped pasta all over the bathroom floor. I couldn’t tell if it was cooked or not. It was an odd sight.

Once we got lunch sorted, we got back on A3 and headed south. I had forgotten how long the drive to Austria by way of Salzburg is. It seems to take forever to cross the border because you have to keep going east. I always enjoy driving over borders, but on this first day of our trip, we were about 90% in Germany before we arrived in Salzburg. We made another quick stop at an excellent rest stop not far from the border so Bill could buy an Austrian vignette (toll sticker). They are required for the Autobahn and you can buy them for ten days at just under 10 euros.

That’s another interesting thing about Europe. Many countries over here either have systems where you either pay for a vignette to use the motorways or you pay tolls. In Switzerland, you buy a sticker for the year and it costs about $40 (40 Swiss Francs or 30 Euros). In other countries, they are for shorter time periods and cost less. Many of the countries that have vignettes also have tolls for when you go through a long mountain pass. Germany is the only country I’ve seen so far where the Autobahn is free. But we don’t know for how much longer it will be free. Of course, you still have to pay 70 cents to use the bathroom at the fancy rest stops. That’s why it’s not at all unusual to see people peeing on trees here. They’re pretty brazen about it, too.

The proprietors at the Haslachmühle B&B had requested that we check in by 6:00pm. We arrived there at about 5:30pm, having driven through Salzburg’s traffic and passed by a guy driving a carriage pulled by two white horses. The horses spooked Arran, who barked and startled us both. I wish I’d had my camera, though. Those horses were a lovely sight.

So… about that B&B. It’s a winner. Getting to it is a little bit tricky, since it’s located on a very narrow “goat trail” type of road. But it’s a very charming place, with six unique rooms and a small free parking lot for guests. The lady in charge, along with her very sweet female dachshund “Luezy” (pronounced as if you were rhyming it with “noisy”), met us as we pulled up. She was quick to check us in and show us to the beautiful room I rented for the night. We stayed in the Room City View, which was just awesome. It had a big bed, a huge balcony that offered a view of the city, and a gorgeous masonry heater. I especially loved how the walls had built in bookshelves loaded with books (in German, of course). It was really unique and lovely. I was sorry we could only stay one night.

We were tired from the drive and still full from lunch, so we had no need for dinner. However, the B&B has a fridge where guests can get wine, beer, or soft drinks, as well as snacks. You just write down what you took and pay on checkout. Our room came with two bottles of water (looked like they came from a Penguin), mini Ritter Sports on the pillows, and three apples. Adding in some crackers and wine, we were pretty much set for the night. I enjoyed watching the sun set over the mountain. We also watched some network TV, which we rarely have the chance to do.

If we had needed food, we could have ordered from Lieferando.at or, if we were feeling determined, driven into town. There aren’t any restaurants near the B&B that I could see.

Breakfast in the morning included the usual buffet spread, with cheeses, cold cuts, fruits, juices, and breads. The proprietor made us coffee and scrambled eggs. While we were eating, Arran started pitching a fit. We hadn’t brought him into the breakfast room. I was very pleased to see that the proprietor didn’t mind Arran’s howling and even said we could bring him into the breakfast room, which we ended up doing. Another couple also had a dog with them and Arran behaved like a perfect gentleman.

After a leisurely breakfast, we loaded up the car and checked out. I would definitely go back to Die Haslachmühle B&B, next time without any canines. However, I am happy to report that they are very welcome there, even if children aren’t (according to Booking.com, anyway). We weren’t even charged extra for Arran. I was expecting a pet fee, so that was a really nice surprise. Below are some more photos from our stop in Salzburg. It really is a beautiful city. I would love to go back and do another tour of it when we don’t have business to attend to.

By late morning, we were heading south to Slovenia, which isn’t that far from Salzburg. I think it was about a three hour drive. I managed to get a few pictures of castles from the side of the Autobahn… again impressive sights. We really should come down and actually visit sometime. We had a chance to tour Salzburg when we did our very first Space A hop from the USA back in 2012, but that was just a day trip that we took from Munich. We had a great time, but it wasn’t long enough. Time to look into visiting again. We’ve been to Salzburg three times and still haven’t done the Sound of Music tour. 😉

More on the drive to Slovenia in the next post.

Our pandemic dog rescue story… part two

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A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I were deciding the best way to go about picking up Noizy. Our older dog, Arran, is sweet, but he gets very jealous. Every day, there were new reports of the worsening COVID-19 situation. Also, the woman who interviewed Bill and me before we were approved to adopt Jonny had warned us that it would be best if Arran could enter the house before the new dog. Otherwise, it would be like a wife coming home to “another woman”, so to speak. That lady had also been very careful to tell us about the proper way to secure rescue dogs when they first come home. We’d heard the same advice seven years ago, when we adopted Arran. Using a collar and harness and connecting them together is the best practice… or carrying them inside the house while they’re in a box.

We have a great Tierpension who has taken excellent care of Arran and Zane, but they have limited pick up hours. If we put Arran in the pension, there was a risk the new dog would be home before he would. Also, I didn’t fancy the idea of being stuck at the border somewhere. Been there done that in post Soviet Armenia. Bringing Arran was also a little concerning, since I knew he might fight with the new dog and we have a 2020 Volvo. So, at first, I was thinking maybe I’d stay home with Arran and Bill would run down to Slovenia and get Noizy by himself. But then I reconsidered it and decided all three of us would journey to Slovenia.

With that decided, we set about planning the trip. I quickly determined that Salzburg would be a good halfway point between home and Slovenia. In fact, Salzburg was a midway stop we made in 2016, when we went to Lake Bled for vacation. We stopped on the way back to Germany that time. On the way down, we stopped in Gosau, near Hallstatt, a must see Austrian town that is really only necessary to see one time. However, the inn where we stayed in Gosau was probably one of my favorites ever!

I quickly found a really nice, pet friendly, bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Salzburg. The place I found, Die Haslachmühle, is a renovated mill house that dates from 1688. I booked us in their largest room, mainly because I didn’t want Arran to cause a fuss. It was 152 euros, but it had a huge balcony and a gorgeous masonry heater in the middle of the room. The B&B is not kid friendly. In fact, I don’t think they’re allowed. But parking is free.

One night in Salzburg booked, I found us an apartment in Kranjska Gora, which was where we planned to pick up Noizy. This border town is just a few miles from Italy and Austria, and boasts rugged mountain views. It’s obviously a ski area for Slovenia. Meg has been there a few times and highly recommended it. Having now been there, I can understand why. We’ll definitely have to go back!

Then, thinking we’d have an extra night, I booked us an apartment in Chiemsee, which is an area in Germany near Lake Chiemsee, a large freshwater lake near the Austrian border. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

The very next day, while Bill was on a business trip in Stuttgart, I went to the mailbox and there was a letter from Rheinland-Pfalz. It was a summons to be a witness in court. Naturally, as we are in Germany, the documents were all in German. I had to slowly translate everything… and basically, the document read that Bill was to be a witness for the pet rescue, which was suing the pet taxi driver whose negligence caused Jonny’s death.

The court date was for October 5th– today– which meant that we would not be able to stay a third night on our trip. Bill tried to get the case postponed. He called the court and got the magistrate, who didn’t speak English at all (he didn’t know she was the magistrate at the time). Bill also emailed the rescue, who said they would arrange for an interpreter and let Bill know if that couldn’t be done. He never heard from the court or the rescue, so he figured he was bound to show up. In the paperwork, it mentioned fines of up to 1000 euros for not showing up and/or a special “escort” from the police. Bill was more than happy to testify, since he’s been haunted by that accident since March.

I cancelled the third night and we awaited Friday, October 2, when we’d make our way down to Slovenia to meet Noizy. I dreaded the long drive. Neither Bill nor I enjoy long road trips anymore. It’s probably a good seven or eight hours’ drive to Kranjska Gora from Wiesbaden. But Bill was determined to fulfill his civic duty.

With that settled, I started looking for stuff to buy for our new pooch. We wanted to make sure he was properly outfitted for the drive. But then it occurred to me that I couldn’t judge his size very well from the photos and videos Meg sent us. Many of them were taken when he was still a puppy. I have adorable videos of him as a tiny baby, some of him as an adolescent, and not too many of him fully grown. Having wrongly guessed sizes on dogs before, I decided it would be better to wait until he got home to us. Meg promised he’d have a collar and harness, at the very least.

Friday morning, we set off on our journey to Salzburg.

Ten things I learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond…

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I always do these “ten things I learned” posts to remind me that travel is a good teacher and to sum up why the trip was worth taking. This particular trip was very special because it was the first one Bill and I have done since the pandemic started. I was a bit nervous about taking the plunge, and to be honest, I am a little worried that maybe we might get sick. On the other hand, we had a great time and saw a lot of cool stuff. So, here goes with my top ten list of things we learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond.

10. People in Sud Tyrol are much more likely to speak German than Italian, even though Sud Tyrol is in Italy.

It’s true. Everywhere we went in Parcines– as well as in Merano and Bolzano and the little towns around them– people were speaking German first. I knew that it was a German speaking area because I had visited Bolzano before, but I didn’t realize that German really is what you’re likely to hear among the locals.

9. Agriculture is huge in Sud Tyrol.

Everywhere we looked, there were acres and acres of apples, pears, quinces, and grapes. I think there were a lot more apples than grapes, actually.

8. It is possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Okay, so I kinda knew that… I was just sorry that it was proven to me on more than one occasion.

7. I probably shouldn’t do half board options in most places.

Half board options are very popular in some resort hotels. They’re not a good choice for me, though, because I’m a bit picky about a lot of things. And some things make me throw up. If you’re not a picky eater and you’re budget conscious, they’re a better bet.

6. Right now, Europeans are a bit leery of Americans… even more so than usual!

Actually, it seemed like Germans were leery. We did get a few side eyes during our trip because Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe. But if you live here, you can travel as if you were an EU citizen, as long as you can prove you’re a resident. Still, people will look sideways at you if they hear an American accent.

5. But after a few days, they’ll relax…

4. The Parcines waterfall is not very accessible right now.

I wish we’d had the chance to visit the waterfall. It’s obviously a tourist draw. Too bad the landowner felt the need to block off the area around the waterfall. I wonder if she did it because of people being bad guests and leaving trash and COVID-19 was just a convenient reason to fence it off. I don’t know…

3. COVID-19 rules are different in different countries.

Seriously– we had to wear gloves in Austria, but no mask. We wore a mask at the buffet in our Italian hotel, but no gloves. And in Switzerland, we weren’t required to wear a mask OR gloves, even when we went to the grocery store.

2. I really need to visit the Reschensee area.

I was on the right track back in 2009, when I was looking at booking a hotel there. It’s a beautiful area, and I’d love to get a closer/better picture of the partially submerged church tower.

1. Austria is AWESOME.

I knew it was awesome from previous trips, but it had been four years since our last Austrian visit. We definitely need to visit there more frequently. I think, overall, our time in Austria was my favorite. It has stunning views, excellent food, laid back people, and many natural wonders, along with beautiful accommodations. I hope we’ll have another opportunity to see more of it. I also have a new appreciation for Switzerland. We need to see more there, too.

Sud Tyrol and beyond… part four

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Chasing a waterfall in Mittenwald, gazing at the Eibsee, and views from Germany’s highest mountain!

Saturday was a full day for us. It was definitely fuller than what I’ve been used to lately. We walked several miles in warm weather and the pedometer on my iPhone was giving me bursts of celebratory praise in the form of virtual fireworks. Still, even with all of the walking we did on Saturday, we missed the majestic waterfall at Leutaschklamm, which is most easily accessed from Mittenwald, Germany. So, on Sunday morning, we decided to visit the German side of the gorge.

We were a little bit confused about this part of the walk. When we read up on visiting the gorge, people mentioned a three euro fee to “see the waterfall”. I was under the impression that it was on the gorge trail itself. It’s not. If you go to the German side of the gorge with your car, you have to park at a lot in the town, walk down a pleasant country road alongside the rushing brook, and then you will encounter the German entrance to the gorge trail. However, you won’t find the waterfall on that trail, which looked pretty steep and obviously leads to the panorama bridge. I shared pictures of the bridge in part three of this series– one post previously.

Instead, you have to go to the nearby snack bar– which you can’t miss– pay three euros, go through a turnstile, don a mask, and then walk through a misty crevice on a wooden planked trail. Your three euros also gets you access to the toilet, which is pretty handy. I didn’t take a picture of it, but the sign on the men’s room reads that that toilet is for men only. The ladies room is for both men and women. I guess the men’s room only has a urinal. Unlike the gorge trail, the waterfall path is narrow and it’s impossible to “socially distance”, hence the mask requirement. If you don’t have one, you can buy one at the snack bar.

I took video of our walk to the waterfall. At the end of the video, there are a few clips from Saturday’s walk on the Austrian side. Here it is!

It was worth the three euros!

I also got a lot of nice pictures of this excursion. The walk took about twenty minutes or so, and only because we stopped to enjoy the waterfall and the cool mist it created. I would say this experience was easily one of the highlights of our trip! I’m so glad we didn’t miss it.

It was late morning by the time we were finished seeing the waterfall. Once again, I was glad we arrived early. Parking spots were filling up fast, and just as they were on Saturday, people were lurking for a place to park. We noticed that the lot on the Austrian side was completely full when we passed it on the way to Mittenwald. And as Bill was trying to vacate our spot, two dumbass guys parked their car directly behind us temporarily so they could get a Parkschein (parking ticket). They were completely oblivious to the fact that they were blocking us, too. But even once they noticed Bill’s annoyed face, they still didn’t move, and they almost caused an accident. Unfortunately, they weren’t the only dumbasses we ran into on this trip. But, in fairness, I’m sure some drivers thought Bill was a dumbass, too.

After the thrill of the waterfall, we decided to visit Eibsee, which is a huge, beautiful lake at the base of the Zugspitze. First, we’d have lunch in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which we hadn’t visited since 2009. It was a bit of a ghost town, probably due to COVID-19. I noticed a favorite Konditorei that we visited a few times back in the day was closed. I was sad to see it. Last time we were there, we parked next to a car that had been keyed… looked like maybe the owner’s ex girlfriend was a bit of a psycho. S/he had scrawled “Fucking bastard” on the side of the car, or something like that. I remember feeling sorry for the guy, having to drive around with that on his car. He might have been a bastard, but it was still not a great look. Plus, the thought of the sound the key must have made on the metal set my teeth on edge. That was at least twelve years ago and I could see that the Konditorei, which had served such delightful pastries, coffee drinks, and beer was closed up tightly. What a pity. Edited to add: my German friend says the person who ran the Konditorei when we visited had a bad reputation. Maybe he was the owner of the “Fucking bastard” car. He disappeared sometime in 2009 (same year we left) and a much better tenant took over. She closed the business last fall.

We had lunch at an Italian restaurant called Pizzeria Renzo, although I would have loved to have stopped in at El Greco, which was a favorite Greek spot we used to visit back in the day. We thought El Greco had closed, but as we passed it on the way back to the car, it was obviously open. I guess they took down their outside menu because of COVID-19. A lot of restaurants are offering abbreviated menus right now, since a lot of them are printing them on single sheets of disposable paper instead of handing out thick books of pre-COVID days.

After lunch, we made our way to the Eibsee in Grainau. We knew it would be crowded. I wasn’t expecting it to be the way it was. I thought the lake would be like a lot of the other lakes I’ve seen in Germany… kind of low key. Well– the Eibsee, which is right next to the huge tourist attraction of the Zugspitze and either the Seilbahn (cable car) or cog wheel train to the summit– is not an easygoing place. Lots of people were taking advantage of the lake– swimming, sailing, paddle boating, hiking, and picnicking. I had really just wanted to get a few photos, so that’s what we focused on… then, kind of on the fly, we decided to take the cable car to the top of the Zugspitze, where we enjoyed a beer and got even more photos.

These pictures of the Eibsee are kind of misleading. I managed to get some that don’t show a lot of people. The place was very crowded, and we would have been hard pressed to find a spot if we’d wanted to go swimming or boating. I didn’t have a bathing suit with me, anyway. I was glad to get the pictures, though, and now that I’ve seen the Eibsee, I don’t have to visit again. Since we were already there, we decided to see the Zugspitze, too. Bill was last up there in the 1980s, when there was no Seilbahn. The cog wheel train still runs and you have a choice as to which method you want to use to get to the top of the mountain. Since face masks were required for either method, we chose the Seilbahn, which is super efficient and only takes ten minutes. The basic cost for either method of getting to the top of the Zugspitze was 59 euros per person, although they had other tickets for families or those who wanted to visit other attractions.

We could have spent a lot more time exploring here if we’d wanted to… They have lots of exhibits as well as other activities that we didn’t try. It’s obviously a popular attraction for children, too. But it was a very full day for us, so we were ready to go back to the hotel. Getting out of the parking lot was obnoxious– we encountered a trifecta of dumbasses. As Bill was backing out of his space, an oblivious young fellow with water toys almost collided with the hood. Then, another dumbass with his buddies and perhaps a girlfriend, decided to aggressively angle for Bill’s spot. He came very close to hitting our 2020 Volvo. I sure as hell am not looking for another legal issue this year, although it would not have been our fault if he’d hit us. Bill just sat there and stared the kid down until he let us leave.

Finally, the last dumbass of the day was an old guy on a moped. He suddenly got a wild hair up his ass and cut Bill off as he carelessly pulled into traffic without even looking for oncoming cars. It was a very near miss. The guy could have met his maker if Bill weren’t such a good driver.

On the way back into Leutasch, I spotted a little fest going on. We stopped and listened to some Austrian folk music, bought a small piece of art and some locally produced gin, and checked out a camel who was brought in for camel rides. They also had pony rides.

A short video with the folk music. I wasn’t trying to capture people on film, so it’s not a great video. But the music is delightful!

And finally, our last dinner at the fabulous Hotel Kristall to cap off this gargantuan post about our Sunday. I really enjoyed Austria and it was far too long since our last visit. We need to come back again and explore more of this underrated country with its warm hospitality and breathtaking views!

I would say that Sunday, August 9th, was the best day I’d had in a long time. It was worth the cost of the entire trip. But there were more thrills to come in Italy. More on that in the next post!

Sud Tyrol and beyond… part two

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Our first stop– Leutasch, Austria!

When I was planning our trip, I knew we were going to visit Italy. Bill and I both love Italy, and it had been way too long since our last visit over Labor Day weekend in September 2018. I remembered visiting Bolzano on a day trip I took on our last business trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, back in 2009. I thought it was a nice city. So I started looking for places around there to go… and my German friend suggested Merano, which isn’t too far from Bolzano. But I wanted somewhere outside of the city– somewhere that was likely to be cooler and prettier. When we finally settled on Parcines, I looked for places to stop on the way there and back.

Bill and I went to Lermoos, Austria in September 2015, when we did our much heralded “Beer and Fucking Tour” (Fucking is a place in Austria, as is Fuckersberg– we visited both on that trip, as well as two beer spas). I knew I liked that part of Austria, but I wanted to go somewhere different. I ended up choosing Hotel Kristall in Leutasch, mainly because I got pretty fatigued trying to look through all of the hotel choices. What I didn’t know is that Leutasch is very close to Seefeld, Austria, which is another place we visited back in December 2015. I’m glad I didn’t realize it until after I booked because I would have probably chosen another place. That would have been a shame, because Leutasch turned out to be a great choice for us.

I didn’t know it when I booked, but Leutasch is home to a very beautiful and supposedly haunted gorge. There’s a very secure path that allows visitors to see the gorge and even walk into Germany if they have the stamina. Leutasch is literally just over the border in Austria, but it definitely feels different there. The gorge is a great activity for kids and there’s no admission charged. All you have to do is pay five euros for parking if you visit from the Austrian side. If you visit from Mittenwald, on the German side, you park in a public area and can pay three euros to see the waterfall (well worth the money and the short walk), or you can skip the waterfall and walk up the steep path that takes you to the Austrian gorge walk and the panorama bridge. All along the path are fun activities for children, although the signs are in German. The gorge turned out to be the highlight of our time in Leutasch.

But– I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to write about our journey to Austria, which started on Friday, August 7th. We dropped off Arran at the Birkenhof Tierpension, and headed south, which took us through our familiar former stomping grounds near Stuttgart. It was just as full of traffic as ever, although we did notice that some of the road work we thought would never be finished was finally done. We stopped at a truck stop near Kirchheim Unter Teck. It had a KFC, which we thought we’d like better than McDonald’s or Burger King (seriously, these are pretty much your options in Germany, unless you want schnitzel). That particular truck stop also had a regular German restaurant, though, so we decided to eat there instead of dining with “the Colonel”.

The waitress seemed surprisingly calm about masking. She wasn’t wearing a mask and actually asked us to remove ours so she could understand our orders. Then, while we were waiting, we filled out the contract tracing forms now required in Germany. It was nice to be in Baden-Württemberg again. It still feels kind of like home, even though it’s not ours anymore.

After lunch, we got back on the road. I happened to be experiencing the last death throes of August’s visit from Aunt Flow, which made the journey somewhat less comfortable than it could have been. But we were in beautiful Austria before we knew it. And boy is it BEAUTIFUL there! The scenery is just insane. I kept craning my body to take pictures of the magnificent Alps, limestone colored streams, and green meadows.

It was about 4:00pm when we reached our hotel. I was in dire need of a shower, thanks to Aunt Flow’s death throes and the heat of the afternoon. I was feeling rather cranky and irritable as Bill parked the car in the free lot outside of the hotel’s entrance. But then, as we approached, I noticed two awesome things. First, there was a table outside with a bottle of housemade Schnapps and shot glasses and hand disinfectant. And second, no one was wearing face masks except for the people running the hotel.

Austria has so far had very few COVID-19 cases, particularly in the Tyrol region, so the rules there are pretty relaxed. I know a lot of people will disagree that anyone should be without a face mask right now, but personally I thought it was great. We checked in, and were assigned room 36, which is a junior suite.

Our rate, which I prepaid, came with half board. We got breakfast and dinner included. I actually liked the food at Hotel Kristall. They did have interesting rules for the buffet, though. No masks were required, but everyone had to don disposable rubber gloves. After we checked in, I took a shower, and by then it was about time for dinner.

I noticed the people sitting next to us giving us curious side-eyed looks. I’m sure they realized we’re Americans and most Americans aren’t currently welcome to travel to Europe at the moment. However, if you’re American and live in Europe, it’s okay… A lot of people figured we were Dutch, since Dutch people will often speak English in countries where they can’t speak Dutch.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the food at Hotel Kristall, although being American in Europe when Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe was a little stressful. But the service at the family run Hotel Kristall was friendly, professional, and welcoming. And I genuinely felt like the people working there enjoyed their jobs. That made for a very pleasant stay.

Our sojourn in Sud Tyrol and beyond… part one

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Bill and I are finally back after our ten day road trip vacation, which took us from Wiesbaden to Leutasch, Austria, to Parcines, Italy, and finally, to St. Gallen (Rorschach), Switzerland. For the most part, we had a wonderful trip. Yes, there were a few minor annoyances, but on the whole, it was a fantastic journey outside of Germany for the first time (for me, at least) since February. It was great to get away, if not because we needed a change of scenery, then because it was very interesting to see how different countries are doing in this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic situation. Each country/region has a different way of operating right now and, at this point, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland have all done a great job of getting things back under control.

My digital camera can do fun tricks sometimes.

Although there are still a lot of places I would like to see before I die, and we had been to the Tyrol/Sud Tyrol areas before, it was nice to take a trip there, stay in different areas, and do different things. We even did a few things we never got the chance to do on previous trips. For instance, Bill and I used to visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen fairly regularly when we lived in Germany the first time together (2007-09), but those trips were always work related for Bill. So I never got to go to the top of the Zugspitze before last weekend, and I had never before seen the beautiful (and terribly crowded) Eibsee. Ditto for Lake Konstanz (Bodensee). We used to live somewhat close to Switzerland, so we didn’t visit there much– we would just travel through to get to Italy. Until this past weekend, I thought Switzerland was beautiful, but dull. I have since changed my opinion about Switzerland.

And yes, I know traveling right now might be seen as frivolous, tacky, cruel, risky, irresponsible, or whatever other adjective the worried and jealous can come up with. I don’t feel guilty at all for going away, though. There were many times in the past when we wanted to travel but couldn’t, mainly due to not having the time or money. Now, we have the time and the money, and there are people whose livelihoods depend on travelers. We have the good fortune to live in a place where government and public health leadership and disease transmission prevention tactics have been strong and cooperative. So we are going to embrace our good luck and enjoy traveling while we can. Because there will surely be a day when we can’t anymore.

It’s good to be home, if only because I was running out of clean underwear and I have really missed Arran. I also always enjoy writing about our trips, and it’s easier to write about them on my big desktop instead of my laptop. I hope you will enjoy reading along as I relieve our ten days of vacation bliss.

So… on with my blow by blow of our trip through the Tyrol and Sud Tyrol regions.

And the winners are…

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Well… we ended up scrapping the idea to go to the Piemonte this year. I never heard back from Marla, although since it was a Facebook message I sent to Bella Baita’s Facebook page, I can hardly blame her. If you’re not friends with someone, it’s easy to miss Facebook messages. I guess I could have contacted her through her Web site, but I kept thinking about Bolzano and how I’d like to visit that area, too. So finally, I just decided to scrap the idea of visiting the Piemonte again, at least for the time being. We needed to go ahead and book, since our trip begins in a week. There are so many places we haven’t yet been to and want to see, and where we booked our “anchor” town would determine the “sides” of the trip, on the ways down to Italy and back up to Germany. (Edited to add: Today– Sunday, August 2, Marla responded and said Bella Baita is temporarily closed due to the many rules related to COVID-19. But when the pandemic is less of a threat and there are fewer rules, she and Fabrizio will be ready for guests again.)

We spent a couple of hours looking for places last night. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. There are so many hotels! And it’s hard to choose what is most important. I’m definitely lured by nice amenities and don’t mind paying a premium for comfort, but not at the expense of being in a crowded, impersonal, overpriced place. I saw a bunch of places that looked really nice, but I suspected were slickly marketed. I saw other places that were reasonably priced, but didn’t have much character and weren’t particularly comfortable looking.

I finally decided to book a place in Parcines (Partschins), Italy, which is not far from Merano. My German friend had recommended Merano, but it appeared to be more of a city. I didn’t know it when I booked, but Parcines has a waterfall. It also has a very nice looking Alpine hotel, family run, with lots of mountains around it. There are also castles nearby… I think we’ll find enough to do in four nights. Our hotel comes with half board, which is sort of hit or miss. I like to try different restaurants, but it looks like this resort is kind of in an isolated area. Hopefully, the food will be as good as the hype.

Once I was finished booking our “anchor” town, we decided where we would spend the rest of our time. I had been looking at hotels near the Eibsee, in Germany, which is an absolutely gorgeous lake near the Zugspitz. But I didn’t find any hotels that were appealing to me, and we have been to that part of Germany more than a few times. I would not be averse to stopping there for a break or something on the way to the town we ultimately chose– beautiful Leutasch— which isn’t too far from Innsbruck. I had also looked at Seefeld in Tyrol, but we’ve also been there before. It’s a beautiful place, but touristy and resort oriented. Leutasch may be the same way, and in fact, it’s in the same area as Seefeld is, but at least we’ve never been there. The featured photo was taken during our last trip to Seefeld, in which I took a picture of the stunning mountains. It was winter at the time and colder than a witch’s tit. It will look different when we visit next week.

And then, I must admit I was getting pretty tired… the hotels were all blending together. I asked Bill which way he wanted to go home. Was he wanting another journey through Austria? Or was Switzerland more appealing. He said he wanted to go through Switzerland, which would add an hour to the journey back. However, we have two nights to get from Italy to Wiesbaden, so we will be stopping in St. Gallen, near the town of Rorschach, which is on Lake Constance/Bodensee. Yes, I know, we could stay in Germany or Austria and pay less to see the lake, but we wanted to go to Switzerland. So that’s where we’re going, and we’re going to stay in a hotel that reminds me a little of a 60s era hospital.

Yes, Rorschach is also the name of the Zurich born Swiss psychiatrist, Herman Rorschach, who came up with the famous ink blot tests. But Herman Rorschach grew up in Schaffhausen, which is a town in extreme northern Switzerland, right by the German border. We’ve passed it more than once when we used to live near Stuttgart and were able to come and go from Switzerland easily.

I’m not sure how we will get back from Switzerland. Rorschach is close enough to the Austrian border that we could just cross back over and go up that way, rather than driving through Switzerland. A lot of people think Switzerland is extremely beautiful, and it is… but it’s also very expensive and, in some ways, kind of dull. I still like to visit when I can, though, because even though it’s kind of dull, it’s also kind of different. It has four official languages and isn’t part of the European Union… and I discovered that I have a little bit of Swiss heritage, too. Just a little bit.

The other region in Germany is Bavaria, but I know from research that I had relatively recent relatives (within a couple hundred years) who came from the Rhine, as well as a couple from Karlsruhe. Maybe we can visit Grisons someday.

Apparently, someone from my ancestry was from the Canton of Grisons, which is the largest and easternmost canton in Switzerland. That may be why my first DNA test indicated Italian ancestry. Actually, it was probably Swiss– from Italian speaking Switzerland. But it’s just a tiny pinch– enough to make me slightly more interesting, I guess. I have a pretty boring DNA makeup. It’s about three-quarters British and Irish. The next largest part is German, then Scandinavian, which Ancestry.com further narrows down to Norwegian. That makes sense, since parts of Scotland were once part of Norway. And then, I have a tiny dash of Native American ancestry. So, based solely on genetics, I could totally be European, even though I’m definitely American.

Anyway… this isn’t interesting to most people, except that it’s obvious the people who went into making me were pretty clannish. They all fucked among themselves. It wasn’t until recently that family members started branching out and adding some spice to the mix. My sister, for instance, married a man who is half Jamaican, half Chinese. He looks like Tiger Woods. And they have a son. I’m surprised there aren’t more genetic diseases in our family, besides depression and alcoholism.

Well, I’m glad to have all of this stuff decided. Hopefully, it will go off without a hitch, especially since coronavirus is still a problem. I look forward to posting a lot of pictures from our upcoming road trip. It’s been much too long since the last one of any length.

Planning a proper vacation in the midst of a pandemic…

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Love my tongue twister title today… Jeez! I’m on a roll!

Bill wants to take some leave. Both of us need a break from Germany. Since COVID-19 appears to be on the rise again, winter is coming (and probably more cases and lockdowns), and we’re hoping to have a new dog in a few weeks, we figured now is the best time to get away for awhile. And although Italy was among the hardest COVID-19 hit nations a few months ago, it’s supposedly got things a bit more under control.

Bill and I both love Italy. We also love Austria, and we haven’t been to Austria in ages. Our last couple of trips to Italy involved driving through Switzerland.

I was looking at booking a place near Bolzano or maybe Meran. But the places I was finding seemed like a lot of slickly marketed, overpriced spots for young people looking to hook up. I suddenly remembered an absolutely wonderful bed and breakfast Bill and I visited in May 2008, when we were in Germany the first time. We found it because we wanted to go to Turin. I think Bill wanted to see the Shroud of Turin or something… I don’t remember what exactly prompted him to want to go to Turin.

A little shrine near Bella Baita in 2008.

Anyway, I started looking at places to stay and I found an ad for a place called Bella Baita, which is not in Turin, but on a mountainside near Pinasca and Pinerolo. It’s run by an American woman named Marla and her Italian husband, Fabrizio, both of whom are chefs. The price was right. In 2008, they charged 50 euros a night. I couldn’t help but notice that at that time on TripAdvisor, they didn’t have a single rating of less than five stars. Today, Bella Baita still gets mostly five star ratings (if not five, then four), and is still inexpensive at about 60 euros a night.

Marla had also written a blog post about the then new food superstore, Eataly, which opened its flagship location in Turin. Eataly is now a bonafide chain and there are at least 40 locations around the world, including six in the United States. Bill visited the one in New York City in 2014, when he was there for a job interview. I have only been to the first one, opened in 2007 in Turin. It’s a really fabulous place.

The Dom in Pinerolo, circa 2008…

I was intrigued, so we booked four nights there. We ended up having an unforgettable experience. I have never stayed in another place like it. It was like visiting old friends… and the area is absolutely beautiful and uncrowded. We took a cooking class, went to the market in Pinerolo, and Bill learned how to prepare rabbit, although we haven’t ever had that at home. We also prepared a beautiful fruit tart.

I remember having an incredible dinner in Pinerolo at a brand new restaurant called Perbacco, which I see is still running today. We found it while looking for lunch. They weren’t open for lunch, but grandma came out with a business card and strongly encouraged us to come in for dinner. I remember it being excellent, and the sommelier (who was also probably the owner) asking us why we’d be visiting Pinerolo when we could be in Rome, Florence, or Venice. And we told him that in those places, we would be among too many Americans. We then proceeded to have the most wonderful dinner coupled with lovely wine, and music from a video channel starring Duffy.

At another place, where we had lunch, Bill earned the dismayed groans from a bunch of Italian men because he ordered prosciutto with cantaloupe for himself while I had nothing. They ended up bringing me a plate so I could share, even though I don’t like cantaloupe much. Italian men love women.

I remember Marla telling me that we were staying in the “John Malkovich” room. Turns out the actor’s wife is from that area and he stayed there while visiting her family. Back in 2008, there was also a restaurant within Marla’s and Fabrizio’s house. It was called The Ant and The Giant (translated from Italian). It was an Italian couple– tiny wife with large husband. Marla said she didn’t think they’d stay in business long because they weren’t drawing much interest from the locals. Bill and I ate there, and I distinctly remember the “giant” expertly deboning a branzino (sea bass) fish for me at the table.

Last night, as we were trying to figure out where to go in Italy, I asked Bill if maybe he’d like another trip to Bella Baita. There’s a lot to do in the area. It’s not far from where the ski events for the 2006 Winter Olympics were held. It’s also not far from France, where we visited a lovely town called Briançon, which has the distinction of being the highest city in France.

This was taken from a paddle boat cruise on Lake Thun. It was so pretty, but so expensive!

I sent Marla a message to see if things are operating down there where she is. If they are, we’ll probably design a road trip not unlike the one we did in May 2008. We drove from Stuttgart to a tiny Italian commune very close to Lake Como and the Swiss border called Pellio Intelvi. Pellio Intelvi, according to Wikipedia, no longer exists as of 2017. It’s now a “frazione” of Alta Valle Intelvi. We spent three nights there, about twelve miles on a mountain above Lake Como, then drove to the Piemonte region of Italy to Bella Baita, where we spent four nights. Then, on the way back to Stuttgart, we spent two nights in Lake Thun, Switzerland. Lake Thun is very beautiful, but it was my least favorite part of the trip. The Swiss didn’t impress us with the same style and warmth the Italians did… plus, it’s a hell of a lot more expensive there.

This time, I’m thinking maybe we’ll drive from Switzerland, spend a night or two, then head to the Piemonte for at least three nights, then drive east to Bolzano or somewhere near there. Then, on the way back to Wiesbaden, maybe we’ll stop in Austria for a night or two. I think we have ten nights to play with for this trip. We’ll see what happens. I want to throw some money the Italians’ way, though. They could use the business, and we could definitely use the change of scenery. I also want to take a lot of pictures. In 2008, I didn’t take nearly enough!

Wish us luck!

The day we got trapped in Italy…

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Not long ago, someone in one of the local Facebook groups asked for a travel itinerary that would involve having three meals in three different countries.  Since Germany is surrounded by other European countries and those of us living near Stuttgart are within a couple of hours of France and Switzerland, it’s actually not that hard to have three meals in three countries.  You don’t even have to spend the night in a hotel to accomplish this.

Anyway, when I was reading all of the suggestions, I was reminded of a crazy experience Bill and I had the last time we lived in Germany.  It was June 2009 and Bill’s awesome mother, Parker, had flown here from San Antonio to visit us.  Bill’s mom had last visited Europe during Bill’s first Germany tour in the late 1980s.  That was way before I was in the picture; I was still in high school at the time. Bill was a young lieutenant with limited funds living in Ansbach.  So they didn’t get to go to any countries outside of Germany (still known as West Germany in those days).

I came up with the bright idea for the three of us to rent a timeshare condo in Oberstaufen, Germany, which is right on the border with Austria.  I figured we’d have the chance to show Parker some of Austria and maybe even Switzerland.  At the time I came up with this plan, I had no idea that I would get a wild hair up my ass that would get us trapped in Italy.

We checked into the MONDI-Holiday hotel in Oberstaufen, had a nice dinner, and spent the night in the little condo, which slept four people.  The next morning, we got up and enjoyed a nice breakfast in Germany, then set off for Austria, which was literally just a couple of miles away.  As we were gassing up the car, I said, “Hey!  We aren’t far from Liechtenstein.  Why don’t we go there?”

Bill and Parker were game, so we drove to Liechtenstein and walked around.  Parker got her passport stamped and we smelled lots of stinky cheeses in a local shop.  We went into a gift shop so I could buy a coffee mug and a magnet.  There, we got stuck behind an annoying group of Americans who were holding the shop proprietor’s attention hostage.  The head of the family, wearing a t-shirt from Brigham Young University, was telling the shop keeper a very detailed story about his experiences as a Mormon missionary in Switzerland.  While the proprietor was being very polite and listening intently, they seriously went on for several minutes, oblivious that there were people wanting to check out.  Finally, we put the stuff back and went to a different store.

A beautiful cathedral in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

After we were finished with our shopping and looking around, I said, “Well, this was cool.  Let’s go have lunch in Switzerland!”

A stop at a Swiss rastplatz…  Little did I know what was ahead of us. 

Once again, Bill and Parker were game to visit another country.  We headed into Switzerland and finally stopped in the city of Chur.  Chur was pretty charming.  We enjoyed walking around and I took a few pictures.  I soon heard people speaking Italian, reminding me that we could show Parker Italy, too.  After a lovely lunch in a Swiss/Italian restaurant called Obelisco, I made an ill-advised suggestion when I said, “Why don’t we go to Italy?”

A beautiful Swiss/Italian meal… (An interesting aside– I just looked up this building where the restaurant is and it shares its building with an integrative medical practice.)

So off we went to Italy, which wasn’t quite as close as I thought it would be.  I think we reached the border at about 3:00pm or so.  But we had sunny skies and perfect weather.  I felt pretty sure we could joyride a bit and drive back to Germany, no problem.

As we headed south on the autostrada, Bill asked “Milan or Lake Como”?  We had been to both areas and I thought Lake Como would be prettier and less crazy.  So that’s where we went.  By the way, driving in Italy is almost always crazy, especially when you’re driving on a narrow road around a lake.  In retrospect, had we gone to Milan, we probably wouldn’t have gotten trapped.

Bill’s mom marveled at how beautiful Lake Como is and we spent the afternoon laughing and telling stories.  Finally, it got to be dinner time.  Bill continued driving until we got to Bergamo, where we found a parking spot and went looking for something to eat, ultimately landing in a restaurant that was open somewhat early for dinner.  I remember Bill eating his very first oyster in that restaurant.  They had served the oysters as amuses.  I had been telling him for years that eating oysters is like eating a little bit of the ocean.  I grew up near the ocean, so I’m a fan.  Bill did not grow up near the ocean and needed a little breaking in.  I am pleased to report that he enjoyed the oyster and would eat it again.  I remember I had some kind of seafood meal that sat rather heavily in my stomach.  While we were in the restaurant, there was a whole lot of rain.  We were oblivious to just how much.

It was about nine o’clock when we headed back to our car, ready to make the journey back to Germany.  The GPS had us getting in at about 1:00am or so.  That was way past our bedtimes, but what the hell?

We started the drive back, but every time Bill tried to get on the autostrada, he was turned away by the Italian police or a barrier.  The GPS kept recalculating, but with each recalculation, we found a closed road.  It was incredibly frustrating, especially as we noticed the GPS adding more and more time to our journey.  It turned out we couldn’t get on the autostrada because the roads leading to them were flooded from the rainstorm that had occurred while we were eating dinner in Bergamo.  In a matter of a couple of hours, the rain had made most of the ancient Italian roads out of the area impassable.

At one point, we ended up on a winding road up the Alps.  Bill stopped to get gas and that dinner that was sitting in my stomach suddenly decided it needed to be ejected.  I remember leaning over a railing and throwing up all over someone’s flowers as I heard a bunch of rowdy Italians partying nearby.  We were all dangerously drowsy.  I never sleep in cars, but I fell asleep a couple of times to the point of snoring.  I give Bill credit for not passing out on us.

We continued up the steep Alpine road until we finally reached an unguarded border with Switzerland.  Yea!  We were finally getting out of Italy!  Alas!  It, too, was closed!  There was a low barrier that we could have easily gone around had we wanted to risk it.  I could tell that Bill was seriously contemplating violating the barrier.  He was frustrated and exhausted.  It was about 1:00 in the morning and even though it was June, there was snow on the ground.  I knew Bill just wanted to go to bed and he momentarily wondered if the border was closed for no good reason.  We probably should have just found a hotel, but we were in rural Italy in the middle of the night and there weren’t a whole lot of them to be found.

After a few minutes of profuse swearing like a sailor at the Swiss border, Bill wisely got back into the driver’s seat and we headed back down the mountain.  Finally, we ended up on a road that, after a couple of hours, took us to Italy’s border with St. Moritz.  I think we may have been the only people on the road and the border guard was none too pleased to have to come out to us in the middle of the night.  Spotting the German plates on our Toyota RAV 4, he angrily demanded our passports.  He snatched them from Bill, grumpily checked them over, and snarled, “Arrivederci!” in a decidedly sarcastic tone of voice.

Sighing with relief that we were finally on our way, Bill quickly got us on a Swiss highway heading north and we eventually rolled into the parking lot at our German hotel at about 7:00am.  We were incredibly tired, but we had breakfast.  Then we all went to bed and slept until 3:00pm, which was when housekeeping demanded that we let them clean the unit.  On the way back to Stuttgart the next day, we stopped in France for lunch.

I insisted on having a French lunch in Marckolsheim on the way to Stuttgart.  Fortunately, we didn’t get trapped in France.

Bill’s mom is planning another visit for next month.  She has already told us not to worry about showing her any European countries other than Germany.  But we still talk about how she got to see Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, and France in a matter of a couple of days.  And I won’t be surprised if we sneak across the border once or twice, just for the fun of it.