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Death On The Mountain

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Where to even begin? I've seriously fallen behind in my travel-blogs, not to mention in my food and exercise tracking - but I think I'm still doing ok. It's so hard to tell.

It's been harder than I imagined it would be to blog every day. We're packing so much activity in to so few daylight hours that by the time I get to the hotel at night and download/edit my pictures it's past midnight and time to call it a night or else the next day's activities will suffer from lack of sleep and in this case - lack of muscle repair because of all of the walking and climbing that we're doing.

We just checked in to our hotel in Rothenburg ob der Tauber after a long and winding drive up the Romantic Road from Munich this morning. I have come down with a terrible chest cold, so the past couple of mornings have been really rough getting out of bed. Once I have a shower and get myself around, I seem to be ok, but the cold really sets in over night and my body has just ACHED for the past 2 days. Advil seems to be helping, and I bought some Ricola cough drops - haha - how appropriate :) But let me tell you, even though we were in the Alps yesterday, I sure as heck didn't feel like yodeling. Perhaps lucky for me tonight, it is POURING rain here, so we have holed ourselves up early in our room. The Scientist is reading a paper and I'm blogging.

So to catch you up since the last blog, we left Berlin early on Friday morning and took a taxi to the airport to fly to Munich. We flew a small regional airline called GermanWings and we got to fly in the "Bearbus", which is an Airbus that's painted like a Berliner Bear - hehe!

We were supposed to travel to Munich on Thursday, but The Scientist had a German test on Thursday morning, so we had to delay by a day. Not to worry, since it allowed to to get my run in, in the Tiergarten, in the snow. Such a great experience. I was so proud of myself that I stuck to my word. And now my first official powder run of the season has officially happened - in Berlin! These pics aren't the greatest because they were taken on my cell phone, but you get the idea. I ran around the zoo to the Berlin Victory Column, and then thought I was running towards the Brandenburg Gate, but turns out when I came home and mapped it that I turned off a street early. Oh well! It wasn't my best run by any means - I found out that running in the snow is HARD WORK, and most of the route was stop and go where I usually run the whole thing without stopping. I'd say I probably ran a total of 1.5 miles out of a 3.74 mile trip, but I'll take it! At least I did it! And don't I look proud after?

So we arrived in Munich on Friday and after checking into our awesome hotel, headed out into the city to try to get in a visit to Residenz before it closed. Residenz is where the Wittelsbach dynasty lived in the city. They all of course had their country homes, but most all of the royal family lived in this "palace" in Munich at one point in time. And every time someone new moved in - they added a wing to the building. It is HUGE. And gorgeous. They actually let me take pictures inside this one, so here are just a few to show you what an impressive sight it is.

"The Party Room"

"Family Photos"

"The Good Silver Service"...yes, that means that there were a few "other" silver services as well

"The Other, Other Party Room"

"The Chapel" - inside the house

And it goes on, and on, and on. Whew! We even saw Mad King Ludwig's crown jewels:

Hey Mom...I know what I want for Christmas!

There was actually this really creepy vault as well that housed the largest collection of Holy Relics I have ever seen in one place. For those of you who don't know about relics, they're basically really flashy, jeweled pieces that hold bones or other bits of dead people...well, Holy dead people that is. And in a couple of the cases in this room where whole dead babies - said to have been the children killed by King Herod in Biblical times. Ew. Here's a particularly interesting piece - look closely - those are skulls:

After seeing what we could of Residenz (I was really disappointed that we purchased a full tour ticket and didn't get a chance to see the Cuvillies Theater - an original Rococo tiered-box theater that was literally taken down and stored during the war and then reconstructed in it's original form later), we walked to the world famous Hofbrauhaus for some dinner and a brew. Little did we know we'd be back again the following night with the "Beer Challenge Tour", so we opted for the full litre "maß steins" and some good Bavarian grub:

Saturday we did not one - but 2 walking tours of the city - a Free 4 Hour City Tour and The Munich Beer Challenge Tour, AND also fit a visit to the Deutches Museum (the largest science and technology museum in the world) in between. By the time we crawled into bed just after midnight, we were beyond pooped...and only just a little intoxicated... I'll save details of the tours for a later blog that I want to post with the walking tour I did in Berlin as well. So much beautiful architecture and SO much history!

Sunday was another tour - this time to Dachau. Out of respect for what happened there, I didn't take many pictures that day. I did purchase the museum book and plan to read more about the history of the people who were sent there throughout its lifetime as a Concentration Camp. It was a chilling and emotional day. I believe that everyone, at some point in their lifetime, needs to visit a Concentration Camp to truly know the capabilities of human beings. We are capable of so much evil...and yet at the same time, we are capable of so much good. The stories of prisoners helping other prisoners, guards showing mercy at times and other tales of perseverance through the torture are incredible. Dachau is a "clean camp" - primarily because after the liberation of the prisoners, the barracks were used as refugee camps by people without homes to go to after the war. Since then, all of them were taken down and only two representational barracks were rebuilt as part of the museum. There are original buildings on site, most of which are terrifying, but they are all empty. Unlike Auschwitz, which was a "Death Camp", there were no mass murders at Dachau. MANY people certainly died and were killed there, but for the most part, people were not sent to Dachau to die, they were sent there to work. So while Auschwitz has displays of suitcases, and human hair - removed from the prisoners sent there to die - Dachau has nothing. I think the emptiness was just as chilling. Here are just a couple pictures of the main building and memorials - that now houses the museum.

The Main Gate - through which all prisoners were brought

The tree lined road that lead to all of the barracks. You can see the 2 that were rebuilt, but this road would have been lined with them as far back as you can see. The picture is taken from 'Roll Call Square' where the prisoners would have to report twice a day and stand at attention for up to 4 hours at a time without moving until they were dismissed. If they moved, or looked a guard in the eye - they could be shot.

Unfortunately, this memorial is overly optimistic and not at all true. "Never Again" might be a nice thought, but the truth of the matter is that genocide is still happening today and has happened many times since the Holocaust. But I do believe that humanity has the power to stop it if we try hard enough.

After such an important and sombre history lesson on Sunday, Monday needed a little brighter agenda. We took the second of a few day trips outside of the city of Munich and drove into the mountains towards the fairytale castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein where King Ludwig II (Mad King Ludwig) grew up, lived and died. After getting lost a couple of times (Germany LOVES their roundabouts in their roads!) we finally made it to the castles along with the rain and fog. Determined to not let the weather ruin our day, we parked the car, purchased our tour tickets and headed out for the first castle in the mountains. An estimated 20 minute walk to the top only took us 10, so I was feeling pretty good about myself with time to spare at the top.

Hohenschwangau from the base of the mountain

Entering the gates at the top

The town below

After our tour of the castle (again, no pictures inside, but quite honestly my favorite of the 2 castles, even though Neuschwanstein is the favoured of the 2 from the outside) we headed back down the hill and stopped for a bit at Alpensee, the lake where Ludwig was found mysteriously drowned with his doctor only shortly after said doctor had declared him mentally insane. Both were found floating in shallow water...

The mist coming across the lake was beautiful, but I feared that it meant we wouldn't be able to see the other castle for all the fog.

From here we started our uphill accent to the fairytale castle upon which Walt Disney based his designs for the Cinderella Castle at the center of Disney World - Neuschwanstein. Ludwig started building this castle shortly after he became King at the age of 18. He fretted over the details for 17 years before his death. It was never finished. When he died, work ceased on the castle and the interior remains as it was at the time.

The guidebook says that it takes an "athletic person" about 30 minutes to ascend to the top of the mountain. The tour office gives you a full hour between tours to get to the top since for most people, it takes that long. Feeling energetic, we started hoofing up the hill and quite quickly I realized just how far I have come in 8 months. The Scientist was struggling behind me, hamstrings burning from the climb. I was definitely sweating and breathing hard, but then again, so were the horses pulling buggies of people too lazy, or unable to do the hill themselves. In a mere 15 minutes, we were at the top - exactly 1/2 the time it supposedly takes for an athletic person to climb it. I was so proud. According to Frommer's, I'm an athlete! And here's the view that awaited us:

Peeking through the mist, but still visible, the castle is breathtaking...and not just because you climbed a hill to get there! The panoramic views over the land below stretch for miles. We actually met a couple from our walking tour the day before at the top and we all took each others' pictures. Here's us with the view in the background:

We cued up for our tour and headed inside. The tour started on the second floor of the castle so we carefully climbed 4 flights of spiral stairs leading to the living quarters of Mad King Ludwig. It was then, as we all began to corral in a large room with marble columns and strained to get a peak out the windows to the magnificent landscape below, that I heard it...a large thump followed by what sounded almost like a wounded animal. People started running. I knew someone was hurt - I thought maybe a woman had gotten her hand caught in the door being closed. A man ran into the large room from the hallway outside and called "Is there a doctor here?! - Anyone? A doctor!" - the crowd looked around. No doctors in the house. Now the panic level started to rise. Quite clearly, someone on our tour had collapsed outside in the hall. Another minute passed. The man came back again. "Does anyone know CPR?" I do - I've been certified twice, although my certificates aren't up to date. I ran forward and said I could help...and then I saw him. A very, very large man - maybe 6'4" or taller, hundreds of pounds - lying on the floor - ghostly pale and shirt ripped open while two men were already administering what CPR they knew how to do. I started shaking. The man pumping his chest was going too fast - I called out to him to slow down as they ushered me back out of the hallway and into the room. The ambulance had been called, they didn't need my help. The men continued to work as the door was closed behind me and the guide resumed the tour. I couldn't concentrate. The image of the man, lying on the floor, death written all over his face, is burned into my memory. As we entered the chapel of the castle, I heard the ambulance approaching. And then just as fast, I heard it going away. I don't know what happened to the man, but I do know that even though I am usually not one for praying, I prayed at that moment. And I prayed hard. Please let him be ok. Please let him live. We were in the chapel, in a castle, on the top of a mountain. If we weren't a little closer to God at that moment, I don't know when we would be. I have thought about that man every day since then. I hope that he is ok. I hope that he is alive to celebrate Christmas with his family. I hope and pray that his trip to Germany is not the last trip that he will ever make. Since he was on the English tour, I am assuming he was a tourist like myself. I can only imagine how terrifying it would be to have a major emergency like that happen in a foreign country. I prayed for our own health and safety at that moment and for the health and safety of other travelers everywhere. By now we were in the bedroom...or was it the dressing was too hard to concentrate.

By the time the tour was over, I had finally stopped shaking. We snapped a couple of pictures looking over the valley below before heading back down the hill.

You can see Hohenschwangau in the distance

On the way down the hill I started to cry. It could have been me. 8 months ago, I was killing myself with food. 8 months ago I was having trouble breathing, and couldn't take 2 flights of stairs without being winded for 5 minutes after. I kept seeing the man on the floor - he was young. Too young to die. Maybe early 50s, maybe younger. But so, so big. It could have been me. Thank God I have turned my life around. Maybe now I have a fighting chance. Maybe now, that doesn't have to be me. Now, I am living. Now I can climb mountains. Now I can run miles. Thank God for that.

The Scientist listened to me quietly while I talked to him about what I was feeling. We reached a trail marking the hike to Marienbrüke - the bridge in the mountains that gives you a panoramic view of the castle. Here's a picture of it from the castle:

It was another 40 minute uphill hike and a couple coming down the hill said that the trail was blocked off 5 minutes from the bridge. But at that moment, we both wanted to do it, so we took off up the hill again to see what we could find. I am so happy we did. We were the only people on the trail at all so it felt like we had the whole world to ourselves. We built a totem to our journey:

And got a beautiful view of the mountains:

And after a particularly arduous stretch with a very steep incline, we did hit that roadblock with a scary German sign that said "No Trespassing"...

Fortunately, for us, I felt like being a bit of a rule breaker and quickly ducked under the fence. I wasn't hiking up this far to turn around and go home. Risking being kicked out of the country for good (I don't know - is that what they do to foreign rule-breakers? Or do they just yell at you in German?) we found the bridge leading out over a long ravine:

I was shaking so badly at this point because we were somewhere we weren't supposed to be, and the thrill of the climb, and the muscle fatigue, and the sheer height of the bridge, and the man on the floor...

But it all came down to this:

Quite honestly, one of the most stunning vistas I have ever seen (until Tuesday's trip into the Alps which I will talk about in another blog). The pictures don't do it justice. I have never seen anything like it in my life. It was worth every sore muscle, every drop of sweat, every wet foot it took to get up there. I did it.

Exhausted and weather worn, we headed back down the hill for the last time that day. We climbed in the car, headed for Füssen for some dinner and then home to bed where I slept like a log. A few wonderful days, very well spent indeed.

Since getting on the computer has been difficult at best, I have stopped tracking, which I'm not happy about. I know it hasn't given me license to eat willy-nilly, but in some cases that has been happening. I've certainly been drinking more than I expected to. Bavaria is full of nothing but beer, potato dumplings and pork. I am growing very tired of the food - trying to get anything that's remotely healthy here has been very tasking, and when you order a salad, people look at you funny. But unless you do order a salad, vegetables are non-existent with the exception of cabbage, which is not agreeing at all with my stomach as of late. Water is also impossible to find. No one drinks it here - I swear. You can try to order it in a restaurant, but sometimes they don't understand and bring expensive bottled water instead. I've taken to gulping down 4 glasses of water every morning before I leave the hotel room and then taking my water bottle with 2 glasses with me. Worst case scenario, I don't drink anything else all day and then cram in another 2-4 glasses at night before bed. I've only had one day where I haven't gotten in 8 so far, but with the added beer, I should be drinking more.

I think food to exercise ratio is good. I'm probably up on the scale at this point since the food is just so heavy, but we'll see. I've been burning about 1000 calories a day, so hopefully that should count against my higher than usual calorie intake. I knew this was going to be challenging. Only a few more days left to this challenge before I get home and back into my routine and my running.

If you've made it this far, you're a trouper! Thanks for reading Sparkies. It means so much to me to know that you're all here and working hard. It makes me want to work hard too - even on vacation! It doesn't take a wake-up call on a mountain to know that what we're all doing here is so so very important.

Until next time! Tschüss!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Profound. Thank you for sharing!

    2705 days ago
  • RIGBY31
    First, somehow you fell of my blog radar and I just now spent 45 minutes reading ALLL your beautiful words and gawking at the awesome pics. *Turning your life around* realization hit home to me... smack dab between the eyes and brain. Definite purposeful chain reaction: your trip, your tour, the sick man, your sharing the scene and your personal reaction, and me FINALLY getting it during this tricky time of year. I CANNOT wait to hear how much you have lost when you return (and I know you have... all that walking, good for you!).
    2712 days ago
    What an awesome blog, wow, I hope you are feeling better soon, the pics are awesome and you are on a wonderful adventure, not only physically ....or should I say Literally, but also on an emotional and spiritual journey and I pray you find the blessings waiting for you that are there as you seek and find them.....Enjoy your travels both literally and emotionally...I wish you all the best!

    So glad you have turned your life around...keep going!

    2714 days ago
    Thank you for making time to post these fabulous blogs while travelling. It is amazing and so are you.

    2715 days ago
    I love it! You're seeing the BEST of Germany! I love Rothenberg ob der Tauber even if it is a little too touristy these days :) Hope you enjoy the rest of your time there! If you're still in Muncich go to the Frauenkirche and St. Peters (or maybe it's St. Pauls). There is a climb up the stairs to the top and you can see the whole city. it's BEAUTIFUL!!!
    2719 days ago
    How beautiful! My mom is German and I visited Germany as a child. I miss many things. I'm looking forward to visiting as an adult.

    Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences. emoticon
    2719 days ago
    Thanks for sharing all the details of your travels! I love the stories, and the pictures are amazing.
    2719 days ago
    I think I've read this three times or more, pouring over the pictures, etc., and just realized that I didn't leave a comment! (Or I don't think I did?) I love this travel blog!!! Great pictures, stories, it's all great, sounds like a great time. I love the pictures, especially the ones with you in them, and that beer is as big as your head!! LOL!!!
    2719 days ago
  • WYND10
    Wow...your pictures continue to be fantastic. And it sounds like even with the challenges of food you're doing fantastic. You look great in all your pictures!! I was at the HB!! I was hit on by a very old German man who was quite enthralled with my "bigness". Yeah. I am so happy you're having a good time. Woot!
    2719 days ago
    Thank you for sharing your travel with us, amazing photos and accounts of your trip. Germany is beautiful, breathtaking and sordid in some ways. This holiday for you is a realization how far you have come, it is a journey ! Yes, hopefully the gentleman survived with your prayers. You are doing excellent with the circumstances while travelling.
    2719 days ago
  • -POOKIE-
    There are so many things in this blog... I have to address your tears at realisation of your changing your life in the face of what you saw. Its brought me to tears also thinking of the very same fact, and how over a few days I have been ruining my hard work with stupid greed.

    I should be more aware of how I have saved my life and I haven't works this damn hard to allow christmas to hurt me.

    Brighter note...beautiful photos again, and again! You are experiencing so much, its stunning.
    2719 days ago
  • 41SUSAN14
    Wow. And WOW again!
    2719 days ago
    You are like a native now- hiking and walking all day long.
    Great insight into that poor man's collapse and how much your health has improved in the ast year.
    You're doing just fine.
    Enjoying your blogs immensely.

    2719 days ago
  • UNICORN212
    I was born in Munich to a military Dad and German Mom, and have seen both those castles. Your blog brings back memories.

    If it is any consolation, many Germans speak English and they have good hospitals, so hopefully the gentleman in your tour received care quickly enough. Maybe it was just the altitude.

    Thank you for the documentation of your vacation!
    2719 days ago
    Thank you so much for sharing so much about your amazing vacation! You have taken some wonderful photos!

    - Karen
    2719 days ago
  • SFISHER333
    Thanks for sharing, especially the pics. I was in Germany about 15 years ago - near Frankfurt where my brother-in-law was stationed - and had a fantastic time. We did some castle tours, but it was right around Christmas and Germany pretty much shuts down for Christmas! I would love to go back some day.

    2720 days ago
    I love your vacation blogs and photo's! You look fabulous darling ...

    2720 days ago
    Girl, I wouldn't let you write all that without devouring every single word! I'm just amazed at all the tours, all the walking and hiking, all the sightseeing you're doing! It sounds incredibly fun but also exhausting! So glad you're enjoying yourself. :D
    2720 days ago
    I'm really enjoying your vacation. Thanks so much for sharing. The castles are beautiful. I love historical building and everything that goes with them. Having that poor man collapse was a horrible experience. I teach CPR and first aid but I have only experienced one person who collapsed and then died. You feel so helpless. So glad that you are feeling fit and surviving the gruelling schedule. Just reading about it is exhausting me!
    2720 days ago
    Oh sweetie, I'm so sorry you had to see that. I know it was terrifying for you. My prayers are with that mans family.
    The pics you took are beautiful and I know you enjoyed yourself despite the trauma. My aunt went there last year and like you she said it's impossible to get water. I think you are doing great.
    2720 days ago
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