Garmisch and the Bavarian Alps

Patty's parents, Kim & Romaine Romney, have friends named Wilf and Mika.  Wilf is a former professor at UCI who taught linguistics and German and his wife Mika is from the Ukraine but was educated in Western Europe.  Wilf now runs a business where escrow documents are prepared in the Ukraine for escrows in the US, transferring the files back and forth by e-mail (-- an off shoring business where the people off shore do not have to learn heavy Indian accents).  Anyway, they love Bavaria and recently bought an apartment in a six unit building in the town of Garmisch, which is about an hour south of Munich.  Garmisch was the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics and is nestled in the northern Alps.  Anyway, they offered Kim & Romaine use of the place and they gladly accepted.  Either we invited ourselves along or they invited us, I cannot remember, but we decided to go as soon as the summer airfares moderated, but before the winter set in.  Lisa, Patty's sister from Salt Lake City, made the fifth to make sure we left no seat in the rental car empty.

We had dinner with Wilf and Mika in August, before a concert at the Pacific Amphitheater (we had bought tickets at a silent auction and they invited Kim and Romaine and we invited ourselves along again), and they spent a long time helping us plan our visit.  They are both amazing people; generous, knowledgeable and truly citizens of the world.  The plan that developed is to rent a car when we get to Munich (an Opel station wagon I found on the Avis web site) and make our base the apartment in Garmisch.  From there we can go south to the Tyrolean Alps in Northern Italy, south and east to Austria, and west to Switzerland.  The Berner Oberland, our favorite place in Switzerland, is about a 6 hour drive, so we have booked a hotel in Grindelwald, just under the North Face of the Eiger, for one night.  Kim and Romaine have never been to Switzerland, so we thought it was worth the trip.

We are flying out of LAX on Monday, September 17th, on a Lufthansa flight that goes direct to Munich.  Lisa is connecting in Atlanta and getting to Munich a couple of hours before us.

September 17, 2007  LAX  Unfortunately, Lisa had to cancel her portion of the trip to baby her bad back, which has rebelled against her and is making standing, sitting, laying down and moving uncomfortable to excruciatingly painful.  We tried to talk her into going and just avoiding those activities, but she deferred.

The rest of us left Irvine about 11:30 a.m. for our 4:05 p.m. flight and arrived at long term parking Lot C at 12:30 p.m.  We caught the shuttle in the parking lot, told the driver we were going to the Bradley Terminal, and he drove us to the front of the parking lot where you get the bus to the airport.  After changing buses, we uneventfully got to the Bradley Terminal for our Lufthansa flight.  We had checked in from home on-line, and the instructions said to go to any counter to get a boarding pass.  Kim thought he would see if he could get his boarding passes at the first class check-in; and by pretending to speak only pidgin Japanese or something, he was able to sweet talk the gate agent out of his and Romaine's boarding passes.  Since Patty and I did not speak pidgin Japanese, we had to go and stand in the regular line.  Since they were trying to check in a flight to Frankfurt that was leaving before ours, we ended up standing in line for two hours, while Kim and Romaine went upstairs and sat at the Daily Grill.  They occasionally sent down scraps from their plates for us, and felt so bad when we finally got there, they paid for lunch.  while standing in the queue, Patty and I got to know some Polish immigrants really well.

There was no line at security, and other than having to watch some poor woman pathetically beg for just a swallow of water from her confiscated water bottle in broken Hungarian, we got to the gate.  I stopped at the men's room, but was careful not to tap my foot.   We waited at the gate for a while and the plane loaded without incident.  Our seats were about the middle of the plane (where you walk through business class and are cruelly shown the comforts awaiting those who paid the price of small cars for their lavish seats).  It was my first time on an AirBus 340-600; a large jumbo-jet but configured with two rows of seats on each side, and true purgatory, a middle section of four, for each row.  We had booked early and each couple had a pair of seats on the left side of the plane, with Kim and Romaine just ahead of Patty and I.  After shoving an overdressed but under worked-out woman out of my way, I was able to get my backpack into the overhead before she got to her seat, giving myself an extra 40 or so square inches in my seating area (a fairly large percentage by-the-way).  While the entertainment system truly sucked, being the worst I have seen for an international flight since Lindberg, the service made up for it and they started passing out the free booze early and I was able to pour myself several glasses of good scotch before the stewardess figured out who had her bottle.  The plane has the restrooms downstairs in what would otherwise be the baggage level, but we were close and it made it easy to get up and wander around, even when the carts were in the aisle.  

After a decent dinner, wine and other beverages, the 17" screens, all three of them in our cabin of a 150 people, folded out of the overhead over the lucky slobs sitting in the middle of the row of four, and showed us one showing of Mr. Bean's European Vacation, and a couple of animated Disney flicks.  My headset kept cutting out, but luckily one does not have to hear dialogue to enjoy any of those movies, and watching Mr. Bean spill his coffee on open laptops on the French TVG was just as funny with no sound.  After lights out, we wedged ourselves into a sloping position and with our neck pillows on, got alternating parts of our bodies to sleep. 

September 18, 2007  Garmisch  The flight was just over 10 hours, and after a good run of at least one REM sleep cycle, the lights came on and coffee, orange juice and an egg-like substance was served.  Our flight landed in Munich at about noon, and we got our bags and walked through the airport to find the rental car.  Unlike customs and immigration in the good ole USA, the Germans actually treat you like people, smile and are friendly, and have it worked out so there are no lines.  After getting my brand new passport stamped with its first stamp, customs was actually a hall with two guys standing at the side of the corridor, watching to see if they needed to check anyone.  Not interesting them, we all walked right past and out to the plaza.

The Munich airport is really beautiful, open and modern.  We found the Avis counter and were offered a Volkswagen "Touran," kind of a cross between a station wagon and a van.  It is perfect for us.  It has a stick shift, six speed, and a diesel engine, and in this land of $8 per gallon gasoline,  both were welcome.  A steady rain was falling, and Patty and I took our usual roles as driver and navigator.  We drove south through Munich, passing the distinctive BMW world headquarters (four cylinders) and found the autobahn to Garmisch without any wrong turns and only occasional driving on medians and over smaller cars.

Garmisch is at the end of the autobahn and is in a steep sided valley with ski runs coming down both sides and a glacial river running down the middle of the valley.  We found the house, found a parking space, and got all of the keys to work.  It is in a beautiful setting with a fantastic view over the river up to the ski slopes on the other side of the valley.

After getting our bags into the house, we drove to the local grocery store (a Trader Joe's kind of place), and got stocked up on food, coffee, wine and other necessities.  They had a good idea with the shopping carts, which it took us a little while to figure out.  You put a coin (a one Euro or similar) into the handle of the cart, which unlocks it from the rack.  After you put your groceries in the car, you take the cart back, put it in the rack, and it releases the coin back to you.  I think Costco should adopt that system.  We drove back to the house and I fixed some pasta primavera with fresh vegetables, chicken and egg noodles.  The only way I could stay awake was to keep moving.  The place is a building with six apartments, each entered off of an interior corridor.  The apartment was previously owned by an old lady and it was sold completely furnished to the Voges, so it has a certain "old lady" feel to it.  It is kind of like staying at a maiden aunt's place while she is on vacation.  The apartment only has one bedroom and a bath, but there is also a room in the basement that is completely furnished with a fold out couch/bed, table, chairs and a sink.  Patty and I get the basement room, which is much like a nice hotel room with the bathroom down the hall.  We will have to go upstairs to shower, but have lots of room and privacy to ourselves.

We managed to stay up until dark at 7:00 p.m.  I had to call AT&T because between April and now my Blacberry cell phone somehow lost its international coverage and was not getting e-mail.  I knew the drill as I had to call them to get it turned on for Patty's device in June (while she was in France).  I hate that phone company.

September 19, 2007  Garmisch  After a fitful night's sleep, with our bodies trying to figure out why we were trying to sleep in the middle of the day, we got up to some sun, clouds, but no more rain.  After coffee and breakfast, we drove into town, found the bakery with a wireless internet connection, found the pedestrian-only shopping street nearby, and finally a place to park the car.  We walked around, looking in shops, buying postcards and stamps, and then went to the internet cafe, ordered lattes and downloaded documents that needed review and uploaded this web page.  We walked around some more, went to the tourist information office to ask some questions, and found a restaurant overlooking a garden/concert venue, and had a very nice lunch there.  Kim and I tried a local delicacy, local sausages and sauerkraut, (much better than the guinea pig we both tried in Cusco, Peru).  There is a beautiful park, with a concert stage, with some benches and a lot of lawn seating.

After that, we wandered back to the car and drove around the valley, checking out the ski lifts, hiking and biking trails and the lake above town. In the winter, the gondolas take people from town up to the ski lifts.  In summer, they are crowded with hikers and sightseers.   A little south of town, a large gondola takes people up to the very top of the Zugspitz, the highest mountain in Germany at almost 9,000 feet.  The top is also the Austrian border, and another lift goes down into Austria.  Due to the unsettled weather, we did not do that today, but may do it another day we are in Garmisch for the day.

After driving and walking around most of the day, we came back to the house and took a nap.  We made sandwiches for dinner and watched "The Gods Must Be Crazy," one of the half dozen movies in the film library.  It is now 11:00 p.m., and we are getting ready for bed after catching up on work e-mail.  Hopefully we will sleep a little better tonight.  Tomorrow we are off for a short drive to see King Ludwig I's Neuschwanstein castle, the top Bravarian tourist attraction and reputed to be the inspiration for the castle at Disneyland.  Patty, Jessie and I saw it when we were here around 5 years ago, and it is well worth the trip.

I also read today that Munich's Oktoberfest was first conceived as King Ludwig I's wedding celebration and became so popular that it is still drawing 5 million people to Munich every October, although I hear that celebrating his wedding is not the foremost reason they come any more.

September 20, 2007  Neuschwanstein   This morning we got up and had breakfast at the house, watching the sun light up the peaks thrusting into a cloudless sky.  After breakfast, we got ourselves into the car and drove south over a low pass into Austria on our way to Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II's fairy-tail castle.  As we followed the river up a gentle canyon, the temperature bell on the car rang, telling us that we were approaching freezing so we could watch for ice on the road.  Did I mention that is has been pretty cool?

Just before we topped out of the canyon, we crossed the border into Austria, a pretty non-event anymore with the European Union making borders pretty much obsolete, with no checkpoints, or even anything left of border controls.  We dropped down into a beautiful valley,  with a golf course on the valley floor and ski lifts going into the mountains.  Austria is pretty much one big ski resort.  The lifts are not grouped, but every few miles along the road, there will be a chair lift or gondola going up from a parking lot into the mountain ski terrain.  The road wandered along the high valley in a westerly direction, through various villages, each competing to be more picturesque than the last.  After a few miles we turned back north, and dropped back into Germany down a canyon that led to Fussen, the town just outside of Neuschwanstein.  Near the top of the canyon, we were stopped for construction work just below an old castle ruin that was in the midst of reconstruction.  These passes used to be a great opportunity to "tax" the travelers and traders who had to use the passes to move from one area to another. 

After about an hour on the road, we got to the the castle grounds.  Think "Disneyland."  While the royal family no longer get to be kings and queens and tax the populous to build outrageously ornate castles, they still own the castles and now make their money from the tourists.  Neuschwanstein is up a steep hill from the family's hunting lodge, and young Ludwig II, then king of Bavaria, decided to build a dream fairy tale castle on his favorite view point above the hunting lodge (the lodge is the yellow building in the picture, to the right of the lake).  The castle was built over the course of 20 years from approximately 1865 to 1885.  Ludwig only lived in the castle for less than six months, when at the age of 43, died of an assisted suicide days after being declared mentally unfit to run the kingdom.  It appears that the people may have gotten a little tired of this and his other excesses.  Within 20 days of his death, the family was charging tourists for tours of the castle and they have not missed a beat since.

We arrived about 10:30 a.m. and after parking in a lot with a smiling attendant on a bicycle taking our 4.5 Euros, we walked back to the ticket booth and bought tickets to the next English language tour, which was at 11:55 a.m.  The lake picture is taken from a window in the castle, and the parking and ticket booth are in the village complex near the lake.  The options are (1) a 40 minute walk up the hill, (2) a bus, or, for the romantically inclined and better heeled, (3) a carriage ride behind a couple of pretty studly looking horses.  These dudes look like they could pull locomotives.  We opted for the carriage ride.  The horses take you about 90% of the way up the hill, and then it is a steep hundred meters to the castle gate, where the crowds wait in the courtyard for tours that leave about every 5 minutes.  Each tour has about 30 people, and you go in through ticket activated turnstiles, under gates showing the digital number of each tour, and into the castle where the tour guide meets you for a half hour tour.  The first task is to climb up four flights on a spiral staircase, and then walk past the servants' quarters, which are themselves luxurious.  The public rooms, throne room and living areas probably kept every artist and woodcarver in the region busy for years.  "Understated" was definitely not in style.  The castle even has a stucco indoor grotto.  The views from each leaded glass window are stunning of the lakes, mountains, waterfalls and the panoramic valley where the peasants labored to grow grain, which could be taxed to pay the woodcarvers.

We took another carriage down to the village (actually shops, restaurants and hotels all owned by the former royal family) and had sausages, German potato salad and drinks in an outdoor "beirgarten."  We then got back in the car and took the northern loop back through the Bavarian foothills for our return trip to Garmisch, making a big circle.

After a nap, Patty and I drove the 5 minutes back into downtown Garmisch where we mailed postcards at the post office and I sat on the bench in front of the Bakery/Cyber cafe and uploaded the web site off of their unsecured wireless connection.  I was just about done when a big German guy who was sweeping the sidewalk and wearing an apron came up to me and in a loud voice started talking to me in German and motioning up the sidewalk in the direction of the bakery door.  I thought I was busted for stealing the internet connection, but when I told him that I, "nine spreaken de Dueach," he pointed to a bicycle parked in the middle of the sidewalk and I figured out he thought it was mine and parked inappropriately.  I shook my head and said it was not mine, and he was satisfied and went away.

We then went to another grocery store, one a bit better stocked than the last one, and got some more milk, wine, cookies and other necessities for the pantry.  We went home and fixed dinner and went to bed.  None of us are sleeping at all that well yet, and we will probably be adjusted to the time change about when it is time to go home.

September 21, 2007  Zugspitze   Today, we elected to scrub the trip to the Dolomites and stay here in the Garmisch valley.  This is really a spectacular area, and while the Dolomites are stunning, they are not so different from here and the area of Switzerland to justify 4 or 5 hours in the car.  We are all still adjusting to the time change, so staying closer to home sounded better.

We got going about 10:00 a.m., and drove the 20 minutes to the base of the cable car that goes up to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain at about 10,000 feet.  There are two ways to get there; the first is via a cog wheel railway that starts in Garmisch, goes up the valley past the cable car base, and then literally into the mountain and out the other side of the peak, where you can ride another cable car to the actual peak; the second is the big cable car we took.  Actually, there is a third way -- hike the sucker, but we elected not to consider that one.

The trip is not cheap at 47 Euros each (and the Euro just broke the record against the dollar this week so it takes $1.40 to buy one of the dear things, compared to US$.87 to one Euro when we were in this area five years ago -- Thank You George Bush).  Eighteen people crowded into the Gondola car and we went for a 10 minute, ear popping ride 6,000 feet up in 10 minutes.  At the top, the temperature was about 2 degrees Centigrade, or in the mid-thirties Fahrenheit,  but because it was sunny with absolutely no wind, it was virtually shirtsleeve weather.  The station at the top is about 5 stories, with a hotel, restaurants, other ski lifts, and massive observation decks spanning both Germany and Austria at the top.  Another lift goes down into the Austrian valley that we drove through yesterday.  The other side of the peak is a massive bowl festooned with ski lifts.  The storm that was here when we arrived on Tuesday gave everything a new coat of powder white snow.

We wandered out on the observation decks looking at the mountains and valleys parading out in all directions.  The information boards said that the visibility was 200 kilometers, and it looked it.  You could see Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany as you turned around and walked around on the decks.  The facility was probably a little higher than the actual peak, which was conveniently just outside a restaurant window so we could watch people climb the last few feet to the summit up a snow slope, iron rungs drilled into the stone, and an iron ladder bolted to the rock face.   The picture shows the view from the inside of the restaurant.

While watching the people climb up to the summit, while having a beer in the restaurant, Patty and I decided that we had to do that as well.  I looked at my sandal soles, which were worn decidedly slick, and decided that I would have to be very careful with my footwork.  I also, noting that I had finished half of a large beer, decided that if we were going to do it, we had better do it before I finished my beer.

We had to wander all over trying to find the way to the base of the climb and finally found a staircase from the deck, with a "Closed" sign on the gate, which was not locked, that led down to the base of the climb.  At the end of the staircase was another gate and sign saying "End of Safe Area."  We stepped down onto the snow and into the unsafe area.  It really was, because if you slipped and got going, there would be no stopping until you were firmly planted in the glacier several hundred meters below.

There was a cable to hang onto, but the footing was treacherous as it was covered with slick packed snow.  After getting across the snow saddle, the way up was on iron rungs set into the rock, and then up a ladder bolted into the rock.  Normally the exposed stone would have made good footing, but it was worn slick by a hundred thousand previous boots.  Hanging onto the cable, Patty and I made it to the top and summited the highest mountain in Germany.  The climb was actually harder than it looked and both Patty and I had jelly legs by the time we got back to the restaurant.

We finished our beers and cokes and got some grilled sausages on rolls for lunch and took the cable car back down.  On the way back to the house we stopped at the store and got some more groceries including some fresh salmon steaks for dinner.  Dropping the folks off, we went out and got some more shopping done, buying me some extra socks, getting another plug adapter so we could plug in voltage converters, and getting a few other things.  We found a great gelato shop, and a bike rental, which leads to tomorrow.

September 22, 2007  Bike Ride   Patty and I had the best night's sleep yet, meaning we only woke up for a couple of hours between 2:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., but managed to sleep otherwise.  After some morning post card shopping and walking around Partenchenkarchin, Garmisch's sister city here in the valley, Patty and I dropped the folks off at the house and went back to the bike rental.  We got a couple of decent "touring" bikes, meaning fairly upright, with fenders and lights and wide, but not knobby tires.  We followed a beautiful bike path down along the river that only had other bikes and an occasional hay tractor and a few hikers and roller bladers.   We intended to do a 30 km ride, but missed our turn around town and probably rode about 40 km.

About half of the ride was on a paved path and half was on packed pea gravel that was almost as good as the paved path.  The path wandered by the river, though hay fields, through the forest, and over streams that came down from the mountains.  The stream water was perfectly clear but the river is the typical grey/green of glacial melt.

Every 5 km or so, we came to a town and all of them had pizza places or beer gardens where the tired bikers could stop to refuel as necessary.  While there were certainly a fair number of hardbodys on the trail whizzing past, there were lots of people our age and older, often much older, kids, dogs (who seemed to know to avoid bikes-not necessarily a natural dog trait) and even walkers.  Outside of being down hill both ways with a tailwind, the ride was about as close to perfect as you could find.

We stopped at one town past where we had intended and ate in a little park outside of the town church.  By the time we returned the bikes, we both felt like we had done a good day's ride.  The whole ride was about 3 and a half hours and reminded me of the best days on Cycle Oregon when we were going through beautiful country.  The temperature was about 70 degrees, the wind was light, and the country stunning.  I highly recommend the ride, but use a mountain bike.  The "tourist" bike's fairly upright position made it hard to change your stance or climb out of the saddle.  It was fine for the first hour, but a more technical bike would have been more comfortable for a longer ride.

Tonight we are going out to dinner at a place Wilf recommended as I am a little tired to cook.  The place is called Drei Mohren, in the old town part of Partenkirchen.  It was wonderful and had great traditional Bravarian meals such as pig's knuckle and sauerkraut (and trout for the less adventurous).  We will try to get this uploaded tonight, while sitting on the bench outside of the Cyber Cafe.

September 23, 2007  Grindelwald, Switzerland   We left the house this morning by 9:00 a.m., with our overnight bags and headed south again over the pass into Austria.  Just over the border, we bought a half tank of diesel fuel, on the tip that the fuel was cheaper in Austria than either Germany or Switzerland.  After fueling up, we continued on past Fussen, where we turned to go to Neuschwanstein, and continued north back into Germany.  Since Garmisch is at the top of a canyon, it is easier to go over the pass and then back into Germany than to go all the way down the canyon to then turn west.  After Fussen, the new divided highway was not completed, so we and the million or so other tourists taking a drive in the beautiful Bavarian countryside all had to share a two lane road.  If Microsoft made a driving game rather then Flight Simulator, this is the road you would drive on.  It winds perfectly through green fields, charming villages, and past grazing cows that are so perfect they look painted on the scenery. 

We finally made it to less crowded roads leading west, where we crossed back over into Austria just north of Bregenz, a town on a lake called the Bodensee, a very large lake that is on the border of Switzerland and Austria.  The lake is big enough that the marina that we stopped at for lunch had 30 foot plus sailboats at docks in the marina.  It was a beautiful fall Sunday, and the lake was spotted as far as the eye could see with sailboats out for an end of the season sail.  Lunch was on an old tourist steam boat that had been beached on a spit of land in the middle of the marina.

After lunch, we got back into the car and crossed the Swiss border.  None of the freeways cross the border and you have to get off and go on surface streets through the suburbs to connect to the Swiss freeway from the Austrian freeway.  The border guard did not even want to see our passports.  I think he looked at us and made an executive decision that we were not particularly dangerous.  A few minutes later we made a wrong turn that put us back over the river and into a smaller, out of the way border checkpoint, where the one Austrian and one Swiss guard gave us permission to turn around without looking at our passports or papers.  They were standing in the middle of the road chatting and I think we interrupted them.

We made it down to Zurich on a nice divided road, but in Zurich the freeway ended and we had to snake our way on surface streets about 20 km before we got out the other side of Zurich and to where the freeway started again.  Someone needs to suggest a freeway around the city.  The north of Switzerland is beautiful, with lakes and hills, but the spectacular mountains start about an hour south of Zurich.  The road wound around lakes, up steep mountainsides, through picture perfect Swiss villages and through and occasional several mile tunnel.  The road was very crowded with weekend trippers going home the other way and had a few very brave touring cyclists braving the narrow, steep and crowded roads.  Luckily, since we were heading into the high mountains, most of the traffic was going the other way.

About 3:00 p.m., we got to the first lake that makes up the two lakes that meet at Interlaken, the gateway to the Jungfrau region.  When we were here before, we took the right hand fork up the canyon and stayed in the little town of Gimmelwald.  This time, since Gimmelwald is only accessible by cable gondola and walking, we had reserved rooms in Grindelwald, up the left hand fork of the road, where we could drive to the hotel.  The road climbs up a steep canyon with the peaks soaring 9,000 feet out of the valley.  The steepness of these valleys is really unlike most mountains because the Alps are such new mountains and are not worn down like the mountains in the Americas.

We found our hotel in Grindelwald, and it is a three story hotel with spectacular view across the valley.  Kim and Romaine's room had a spectacular view of a hanging glacier across the valley and we sat on their balcony drinking beer and coke until it was time for dinner.  We then walked down the road for a block and had a great (but, in tune with Switzerland, expensive) dinner at an Italian restaurant.  The hotel appears to have about 4 of 30 rooms occupied, and there were only one other couple in the restaurant.  We are in the shoulder season, after summer, and too early for skiing, so after the weekend, the town is pretty empty.

September 24, 2007  Jungfrau, Switzerland  The Jungfrau range runs south of us here, slicing into the sky at over 12,000 feet.  Grindelwald is about 3,000 feet, so the mountains tower over us.  At the west end of the ridge is the Jungfrau (or, "young girl") mountain which is the tallest of the peaks.  At the east end lies the Eiger (or "Ogre").  The north face of the Eiger was (and still is) one of the most difficult climbs in Europe.  The face, which rises almost vertically for 4,000 feet, faces north and therefore gets almost no sun, leaving the face coated with ice and snow all year.  It is like an El Capitan in Yosemite coated in ice and perpetually in the shade.  The face has taken a life for almost every successful ascent.  It was not climbed until 1938 and then by four Germans, after a number of days on the face.  Making matters even more ironic, the face looms over Grindelwald and there is a hotel called Kleine Scheidegg  which is almost at the base of the face.  The hotel dates back to the early 20th century and the guests could sit out on an open air deck (now gone) with binoculars and telescopes and watch the climbers struggle and die.  At times it turned very macabre, with one body frozen and dangling off of the face for over a year until the local mountain guides finally mounted an effort and cut it down.

Further adding to the bizarre nature of the face, a cog wheel train was constructed in side the mountain starting in 1896 and finished a decade or so later, that took tourists in the comfort of a train car the the summit of the ridge above the Eiger face.  Also, when constructing the tunnel, the crews tunneled out onto the face to dump debris down to the face, and the "windows" in the face still exist.  It is from the windows, half way up the face, that many rescues have been initiated.  I voraciously read as a kid every mountain climbing book that I could get my hands on and read many accounts of the Eiger climbs, rescues and tragedies.  So for me, the North Face of the Eiger holds a very special place.  It is special that we can see it out the window of our hotel here.

The trains still run every day, and the station up on the ridge at almost 12,000 feet has been expanded, modernized and is a multi-story shopping, eating and play attraction, with everything from high end dining and a gallery of ice carvings dug into the glacier to dog sled rides on the glaciers south of the ridge.  The admission does not come cheap, and the combined ticket up to Kleine Scheidegg on a plateau at about 7,000 feet costs about $160.00 per person.  Outrageously expensive, but worth every penny.  We took Cam and Jess with us here about 4 years ago when we were in Switzerland, and were happy to come back.

Patty found a hike from the top of a ski gondola to the hotel and train station at Kleine Scheidegg, so after breakfast at the hotel, we put Kim & Romaine on the train and we took the gondola up to the start of the 3 mile, 1 hour hike.  It is pretty spectacular as the trail runs on a ridge that runs perpendicular to the Jungfrau ridge and so you look at and hike toward the mountains and glaciers and, of course, the North Face of the Eiger.  After enjoying the views from the top of the gondola, we walked the trail in about an hour and found Kim coming up the trail to meet us not far from Kleine Scheidegg.  From there, we came down and jumped on the cog wheel train with Romaine for the 9.5 km, 5,000 vertical foot climb in the train almost all in the tunnel in the mountain.

The first stop is at the "windows" where you can look out at the face and down the slope to the town many thousand feet below.  The train then does a 180 degree turn and comes out the other side of the ridge, where there are windows that look out on the 12 mile glacier that runs off of the back of the Jungfrau ridge.  The train then goes on and stops in train station carved into the stone just under the ridge between the Jungfrau and another peak called the Monch (the "Monk" positioned between the Ogre and the Maiden).  The station perched on the ridge is modern glass and steel construction and has elevators, observation platforms, restaurants, shops, a post office, all perched on this wild ridge at 12,000 feet.  While the temperature outside was hovering around 0 degrees Centigrade (32 degrees Fahrenheit) it was fairly still and with the sun shining off of the snow, quite comfortable.

We ate at the cafeteria and then Romaine, who announced that this was tougher than Machu Picchu, sat on a couch in an observation area/coffee shop, while Kim, Patty and I went out onto the ridge, toured the ice caves and looked at the carvings, and wandered around.  We then went and got Romaine so she could go up the five story elevator to the very top of the station where you could see off both sides of the ridge.  As we were up there, we could see the clouds building and by the time we were back in town, a light rain was falling and the peaks were obscured.

After that, we caught the next train down to Kleine Scheidegg and changed to the Grindelwald train.  After getting back to Grindelwald, we searched and found a pharmacy to restock on cold medicine to treat the beast we all seem to have caught.   Back to the hotel, a little rest, a search for a recommended restaurant that turned out to be closed, we ended up across the street from where we ate last night at a little Pizza place called "Oncl Tom's Hutte" (Uncle Tom's Cabin).  It is run by a cheerful Aussie and she had great pizza.  After dinner it was back to the hotel (at which we decided to spend an extra night to spread out the long drive) and to bed.

September 25, 2007  Grindelwald to Garmisch  We woke the next morning to more clouds and rain.  We have been very lucky with the weather in that every day we had a plan to do something, the weather has cooperated.  If we were one day later to Grindelwald our trip up the mountain would have been wet, cold and with no views.

After breakfast at the hotel, navigator supreme Patty had determined a new route to by-pass Zurich and avoid its traffic.  The new route took us right past Lichtenstein.  It is a country of only 66 square miles, or about 6 by 10 miles with 3 freeway off-ramps of its very own and a perfect location for lunch.  We drove into the largest town in the country (not a big deal in a country of only 35,000 people) and found a hotel for lunch.  It took credit cards and uses the Swiss Franc as its currency.  They had English menus and the waitress knew halting English.  After soup and sandwiches, we took a few pictures, and headed back across half the country (three miles) to the border crossing and the freeway.

All told today, we crossed 6 international borders today and were in 4 separate countries.  Kind of hard to do in the Americas.  And, no one was even interested in seeing our passports, let alone stamping them.  (The Austria/Swiss border is the only one with even a functioning border control with guards.)  We went into and out of Austria twice, as our most direct route to Garmisch dips south over the Austrian border and then back north into Germany to get around a mountain.

We were back in Garmisch by 4:30 p.m.  The little Volkswagen diesel gets great mileage; something like 500 miles roundtrip on the trip down to Grindelwald, on about 10 gallons of diesel fuel.  Since it is priced in Euros and sold by the liter, and the speedometer reads in kilometers, there is too much math to figure out the specifics, but other than getting lost occasionally in the six forward speeds, it has been a great little car for us; ugly, but great.

September 26, 2007  Garmisch to LAX   We plan to leave the house at 6:30 a.m. or so to make our 11:00 a.m. flight out of Munich.   We will then chase the sun, arriving in L.A. only three hours after we leave.  Unfortunately, our bodies do not get the luxury of moving ahead like the hours on the clock, and it will be a long flight in a small seat.  We are finally just about adjusted to the sleeping schedule on this side of the Greenwich Meridian, and we will mess it all up again.  A trip around the other side of the world should be at least three weeks to take advantage of the massive time change.