It seems the last year zipped past before me. It was extremely eventful to say the least, but it went by too quickly. Christmas came along, and I hadn’t even baked enough plum cake! And before we knew it, we were off on a Christmas trip to the South of Germany that K had planned for us- and it would soon be the end of the year. But a beautiful way to end the year, it was!
We flew to Munich, rented a car and drove around exploring a few dorfs between Munich and Salzburg until Christmas came. Travelling to me means inspiration, and while I am overcome with inspiration every time I go to a new place and discover so many wonderful new ways of living, people, things, it is quickly in the grind of everyday life back at home. This time, I wanted to make a note. I’ll try not to ramble, but want to share the beautiful journey, so here’s writing about the highlight stories that stuck with me.
This is where we travelled. We spent varied amounts of time at each place, depending on how big or small it was and how much it piqued our curiosity- and oh, of course- precious daylight!
As we drove into Bad Tölz on our first night in Bavaria, we noticed an Indische-Italienische Spezalitaten restaurant named “Indien König” in a Bavarian typeface, complete with a Bavarian emblem for a logo, standing seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Something about the fact that we had finally landed into our holiday after a busy week and a tiring flight made us crave the familiar comfort of a curry and some naan. We decided to try this place that seemed like a real-life 100-foot journey, despite our fears of being let down. And ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to inform you that our craving was satiated! It seems Bavaria might have better Indian food than Berlin, after all!
We finally landed in the cutest possible bed and breakfast, decorated quaintly with vintage-finds and welcomed by a warm, hospitable couple. Unfortunately I have no pictures, but our breakfast spread was a feast with luxuries of the homemade along with wholesome, healthy foods that looked right off a Bio Laden in uptown Berlin but was actually a really heartfelt, cozy spread put together by our graceful hosts.
We hit the road, ready to be awed. And how we were! Beautiful yellow-green winter pastures until the eye could see, lined with glorious peaks enveloped by blue skies and laced with haloes of mist looming from the indecisive cold, feeding the magic further.
I've been told by some of my adventure-loving friends of being moved on a primal level by some of their travels into raw nature. I can't say I've experienced the same, but at least a sense of incredible joy at awe-inspiring beauty that the man-made cannot parallel. But entering Partnachklamm was going to change that. A gorge in the heart of the Garmisch-Partnach area, what seemed like an unassuming little hike path quickly turned into an intense atmosphere, turning us into ants carefully climbing through a crack in a wall, while the full force of the waterfall gushing through the gorge thundered through my heart. I felt a sense of insignificance in front of this grand gesture of nature. I was even a bit scared at first. I'm sure we all know at the back of our minds, but it's something else to come face-to-face to the living truth that Mother Nature can plant but a feathery slap on our dainty faces and we'd be long gone. Water pattered through the rocks above onto us all the way as we walked through the pathway, sometimes through dark cave-like tunnels. In the midst of it all, a big chunk of ice would melt off the cliff top and fall into the torrent below us with a huge thud. As we walked further into it, we were greeted by the opening of the gorge revealing upon us a grand view of the waterfall in broad sunlight, no longer flinching and in all its fierce glory.
By this point, I was so high on the experience from Partnachklamm that I was skipping about like a drunk along Echelsbacher Brücke that basically looked like a bottom-less bridge. The trail down was unfortunately closed for winter, but here’s a view looking over where we could have been.
A serene church nestled in a picturesque, pristine countryside landscape- it had us captivated at first sight. A short walk behind the church, and we were witness to a calming sunset, set against a canvas of rolling green pastures, flanked by ponies grazing against the brisk evening breeze and happy dogs playing without a care in the wide open spaces.
We arrived after sunset at Hohenschwangau and soon enough landed up at the curious “Waldweinachtsmarkt” (Forest Christmas Market). It was a really fun little setup along the wooded tip bordering the stream Pöllat, on which the Hohenswangau Castle reflected majestically. Tourists and locals alike cozied up with Glühwein as music played into the web of trees, now funkily lit up.
Morning came and suddenly The Grand Budapest Hotel came alive to me! I was starting to connect some long-lost dots. The stag motifs everywhere, the iconic castles, the strange little elevator-like trains to the top of the mountains. Dispersed pieces of whimsical inspiration fell into line. This was it! I felt alive and lucky to be actually living in this dream of a world I’d so far only concocted in my mind, thanks to the persuasive genius of Wes Anderson.
Visiting the Neuschwanstein has been on my list ever since coming to Germany- finally here it was! Perched on the mountain with an impressive towering demeanour that I suppose King Ludwig II of Bavaria desired of it. The only thing I missed- some snow and the wonderful lookout from Marienbrücke that was closed for repair at this time. And more snow! Hopefully another time. The castle tour was awe-inspiring and the design of the interiors tickled the imagination with its diverse influences and references. The more lived-in Hohenschwangau Castle was just as equally tantalising and entertaining with the stories of the star-studded bedroom ceiling, a 200 year-old bread still on display and many other tidbits that will not fail to make the imagination fly.
A spontaneous detour to Kempten was made in a quest to catch more of the Glühwein fever at the Christmas markets. Hosted on the beautifully lit Rathaus square, this was a great retreat after a day of driving around.
A little stop-over here for lunch and we were taken by the amazing hospitality of the people! I found another lovely host and I’m excited to write about her! But more on that later. We strolled through the streets of Immenstadt, and quickly observed a wonderful pattern: All the businesses had beautiful, elaborate wrought iron signages for their stores. None of the commonplace vinyl, fiber glass or plastic. Hardcore metal- ornate, full of detail, imagination and lots more! It could have been a trip of its own to stay back here in Immenstadt to document all the beautiful signages. Here are a couple, let’s hope there’s a next time coming up for more!
We arrived at Oberstdorf late at night at a time when it seemed like we were driving into nothingness. We woke up at our bed and breakfast in the morning to a gorgeous surprise! Our B&B stood almost alone on one of the pastures I’ve been chiming about this whole time! We marched to Breitachklamm with more excitement than ever after what we saw in Partnachklamm. As exciting as we’d expected it to be- maybe even better! This gorge wasn’t as narrow, but it graced us with the most stunning views at every turn and bend! At some point we reached a checkpoint that led us up a bridge and then off, into the distance, I saw a land full of snow! My heart was singing! We had to go! The signs said it was the route to the “Waldhaus”. Thoughts of a beautiful glass-covered cafe in the middle of this snowed-in terrain came to my mind. I imagined it would be a rewarding destination to our morning hike. Sipping hot chocolate, resting our tired but happy feet and looking out to all the snow- I couldn’t have ended this better, I thought. So we walked. We walked a long while, until we were alone by ourselves, just us and nature- and most of it covered in snow, since this region always remains at 4 degrees. It was one of the most peaceful yet exhilarating walks in nature I’ve ever had. I could do it everyday. We walked and walked a long while, but the Waldhaus wasn’t in sight. After about 1.5 hours later, we decided we had to drop our eager but lonely pursuit of this magical Waldhaus and head back to continue on our journey down South. So turned around, we did. I don't know if it is the Grand Budapest effect, but the Waldhaus is still nagging at me. Maybe I will address it one day…stay tuned.
Back to that Indisches-Italienisches connect. You’d wonder what it’s got to do with Salzburg, but bear with me while I explain. At least culinarily, I have come to believe Indians and Italians share a certain stubbornness with tradition and an undying obsession with elaborateness, like a sweet grandma-grandpa couple that just won’t give up. My suspicions were confirmed yet again in Salzburg when we went to a “Indisches-Italienisches” restaurant with a rather casual, natural claim to it. I tell you, we’re like twin cultures.
Okay, enough with the deductions. Salzburg! The grand finale to our trip was the Christkindlmarkt set in the beautiful Cathedral square. After seeing about 10 markets this year already, I can quite simply say this was by far the most beautiful market of them all! Charmingly put together in the Cathedral square and selling only the prettiest traditional Christmas tree ornaments, we were simply smitten by how much love it seemed to hold! Even the food stalls were so tastefully arranged, with delicious Austrian goodies that I just couldn't have enough of.
A short drive from Salzburg, we ventured to Wolfgang See. A beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, the landscape appeared whimsically spotty with the shadier sides covered in gradients of snow waiting for their turn to melt in the now-elusive gaze of the sun. With Christmas eve closing in, the streets of the neighbouring hamlet Gilgen were empty and Christmas Markt completely closed. But we had to plenty to muse about as we walked through, admiring the charming stall fronts and utterly cozy and inviting seating for the would-be glühweiners.
Back in Salzburg, we went to one last Christmas market- the Hellbrun Christmas Market. A pretty little market set in front of the Palace, perfect for a relaxed evening walk and complete with a very enjoyable petting zoo! It was the perfect way to end our Salzburg rendezvous.
And finally. #3. It’s year 3 for me, for us, in Berlin! The past year balanced out : it was as glorious as it was rough. There is so much to be grateful for, so much serendipity to be in awe of, and as for the tricky times, I should’ve remembered my mother’s words to me when I used to quiz her about tough times as a child, “Tough times are here to make life interesting”. Now, I smile thinking about it. Not to mention, after being able to see 11 Christmas markets in the year, I’d say it was a darn good year!
Last year, on this occasion, I’d written a little note about things I’ve felt about Berlin over the first year here. Other than being generally excited and appalled that I am already finished with 2 years here, I haven’t had the time to make these notes this time, although I would've liked to. No big resolutions or revelations but I got to say, the magic continues! There's one thing that comes to mind, though. I met someone at the end of the year who seemed to perfectly sum up what I’d be mulling over nearly the entire year:
“You can get a lot more done in Berlin without a job than with one” (I leave it open to interpretation, hehe).
A great new year to you all! May it be the most thrilling ride that can be!