Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To the mountains of Bavaria we go!

This was the second time this year I had the opportunity to visit my Aunt Erika (she's really my dad's mom's sister's daughter) in her lovely home nestled between the alpine mountains of Bavaria and a stone's throw from the largest lake in Germany, the Chiemsee. Last I visited was in February--with the snow and icy temperatures. This trip would definitely have a different feel! Luckily her small town, Bernau am Chiemsee, is served by a regional train so it's fairly easy to get to. I left Rotterdam at 07h47 and after three transfers and one train break-down (and another subsequent transfer) I was finally at Munich Central Station at 17h25, an hour later than expected. When I jumped off the train, the humid heat struck me immediately--very different from Holland's chilly, wet, and drowsy summer weather. I was worried Erika and I would miss each other, but she was waiting right at the end of my train's platform [sigh of relief!]. We had a quick glass of dry German white wine and then hopped on the next train back to Bernau, another hour southeast of Munich, towards Salzburg. Views from the train were spectacular--beautiful rolling hills, intimidating mountains, plenty of cows, and lush countryside. I love Bavaria!

Eating dinner at the Badhaus in Bernau with a view of the Chiemsee

Our first evening we walked down to the lake and enjoyed the largest portion of salad with prawns I've ever seen in Europe. There just happened to be a Western-themed carnival going on in the parking lot, so we ate dinner to a German band singing "Achy Breaky Heart" -- delightful. Once we finished, we thought to take a look at the music, thinking people would be line-dancing and looking silly. Turned out, it was actually a well-endowed stripper, with a classy flame tattoo snaking across her chest down to her hoo-ha, dancing on a very intoxicated young man who seemed to be enjoying himself. We were both so taken-aback by the situation, we couldn't help but stare at the stage like the rest of the audience, who, by the way, was a mix of teens and twenty-somethings and seemingly their parents and grandparents. At one point, the stripper (completely nude!) grabbed two waxing strips, slapped them on his already-fairly-bare chest, and then with an eins - zwei - drie ripped them off! Horrific. The entire way home my Aunt was exclaiming, "Dis is in Bernau! Ach du lieber gott!"

In Rosenheim, eating raw herring, potatoes, and apple coleslaw
The next morning, Friday, we had a delicious breakfast of fresh meats, cheeses, jam, and dark Bavarian bread. We headed to Rosenheim, a larger city in the area. It's a very nice city with a wonderful pedestrian shopping district, multi-colored row buildings, and plenty of outdoor cafés and restaurants.  We shopped around for a while and when we got hungry, sat down at a nice restaurant with a lovely shaded terrace. I had the raw herring with potatoes and an apple coleslaw--delish! That evening I was introduced to hot and trendy Italian-imported-but-made-German mixed beverage, the Spritz. Actually, a few nights prior, Elliot was telling me about his adventures in Italy and how he and Gadi tried a somewhat bitter, bright orange drink that was mixed with Prosecco--sure enough, it made it's way to Germany as well! It's made with Aperol, an aperitif similar to Campari, and dry sparkling wine (sekt in Germany), garnished with a slice of orange. Very refreshing for 80º weather and hefty humidity!

Enjoying Aperol Sekt in Rosenheim
A very German dinner, with a lovely view of the garden
On Saturday, the morning clouds gave way to another gorgeous day. Erika and I decided to head to the mountains. Several summers back when I visited Erika, we did a similar trek--but that took 8 hours round trip. [She had said, 'Zee dat cross on ze top of za mountain, behind ze other mountain?' Kinda. 'Dat is where we are going.' Uhhhhh, ok!] This time, we hiked up about an hour to a very-Bavarian hotel/restaurant, had a beverage, and then kept going for another 30 minutes or so. After that, I was pooped (not used to this new elevation--of higher than -1 meter!!). Nevertheless, it felt great to be in nature (hiking up a mountain!), which is very different from life in Rotterdam. You can see the stars here, and it gets so dark at night! 

ALL: on our hike up the mountains
Sunday was the hottest day yet, topped at about 32ºC (89ºF). We drove into Prien am Chiemsee, a cute little town just a few minutes from Bernau and situated right on the lake. We ran into an enormous antique market and perused the hoards of old trinkets--tools, toys, photos, typewriters, lace, and pots and pans from bygone days. After the market we had some excellent fish soup and a view of the lake and, of course, ended the meal with a strudel--yum! 

Apfelstrudel and more apples
That evening, Erika fished out an old camera from the cellar for me; a 1960 Voigtländer Vitomatic IIa with an Ultron lens. For the time, this was a very high-end 35mm camera and the first of its kind with the revolutionary view-finder and point-and-shoot technology. Erika tried to translate the German manual, but the technical terms were too difficult to maneuver. Luckily, I found an English version online--which made much more sense! It will be a mission to learn how to use this thing, but it'll definitely be worth it!

My new toy, a gift from Erika
Very early the next morning, Elliot arrived in Bernau after 16 hours of traveling from Cinque Terre--five train transfers and five late trains...and a little food poisoning. After a much-needed nap, Erika was kind enough to drive us to Achau, a charming town with a grand castle and a gondola to the top of the mountain, about 1600m up (5250'). The castle was closed, but gondola ride was great. We hiked around the top of the mountain, enjoyed the views and the misting clouds, took some pictures with the Vitomatic, and then headed back down the mountain. In the evening, we lapped up a Spritz with our weißwurst, a Bavarian sausage specialty served with sweet mustard.

ALL: Taking the gondola from Achau up to the mountain tops
Tuesday was our last full day in Bernau--Elliot's only full day. We had another hearty breakfast and set out for the islands of the Chiemsee, called the Fraueninsel and the Herreninsel. We walked to the lake and caught the ferry to our first stop, the Hereninsel--or 'men's island.' In 1873, King Ludwig II of Bavaria started building a weekend home here [read: ginormous palace] modeled after Versailles, but it was never fully completed because he ran out of money. We went on the 30-minute tour after walking around the beautiful garden grounds in front of the palace. The inside of the palace was astoundingly gaudy--gold-embroidered drapes, velvet wallpaper, tortoise shell cabinets, and leaded crystal chandeliers weighing nearly 500kg--and mirrors, mirrors, and more mirrors. [Here is a photo of the famous "Hall of Mirrors" room from the inside.] The interesting thing about this palace is that the King dedicated nearly every room, ok the whole palace, to King Louis XIV of France. Every room had paintings depicting scenes from French battles, Louis as the leader; portraits and stone busts of Louis were in every room, and suns were everywhere (Louis was called 'the sun King'). Ludwig called himself 'the moon King', too, and had a 'night light' at the foot of his bed in the shape of a blue moon. Clearly, this guy was obsessed with Louis (and himself). I had a hunch he was gay, but the docent never mentioned anything. Erika later told us he was, in fact, "with men." 

King Ludwig's unfinished palace on the Hereninsel, an island in the Chiemsee
After a snack and some wait-time for the ferry, we sailed over to the other, smaller, island called the Fraueninsel, or 'women's island.' This island is about 30 acres and there's a lovely walking path around the whole thing that takes about 20 minutes. Unlike the Hereninsel, about 200 people live on this island and is best known for its abbey (a nunnery) that was founded in the late 800s. It's a very peaceful island, with gorgeous houses and gardens all around.

ABOVE: views of the abbey and walking around the small island of the Fraueninsel
Elliot and I were lucky to catch the very last ferry back to Bernau and we made one last stop before heading back to Erika's--we really wanted to swim in the lake! We were by far the oldest kids on the pier that jutted out into the lake, but that diving board was looking too good! I haven't swum in a lake in years, and it felt oh-so good after a long, hot day of site-seeing.

That evening, Erika made us another specialty--schnitzel! This laborious dish actually has Austrian origins, and it's delicious! We ate outside on Erika's patio, overlooking the lush garden, and enjoyed another Spritz.

What a wonderful trip to Bavaria. Thank you, Erika, for all the delicious meals, good stories, German lessons, and endless laughs over Aperol Sekt! 

Vielen Dank Tante Erika! 


  1. It's probably only a matter of time before we start seeing spritzes at Vapiano!

  2. Beautiful photos. It's so idyllic! Love the old camera.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...