July 2, 2009

Reutte, Austria: Ehrenberg Castle Ruins Hike

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Jul 2, 2009 - Reutte, Austria

Ehrenberg Castle Ruins Hike

After breakfast at our quiet valley "Gasthof" (Pension Garni Waldrast) we ventured off on a hike up the trails behind the guest house that lead up to the Ehrenberg castle ruins. With Clif bars and water bottles stuffed into our camera bags we followed a stream up a parking lot in the valley that serves as the launching point for hikes up to the hills that hold the Ehrenberg castle ruins; passing some distracting tourist facilities and small museum - we skipped that and started up. The Ehrenberg castle ruins include several distinct fortifications with an interesting history. Our first destination was the closer and lower castle ruin on the "little hill" 1st built in the 13th century (~1296 AD). After 40 minutes of moderate hiking we were there. Walking among the ruins was neat, but taking in the views of the neighboring alps - in all directions - was awesome.
Ehrenberg Castle
Ehrenberg Castle Ruins - view from below

Pension Garni Waldrast
From what I read about the area, not a lot of Americans vacation in the Reutte area. Who do we run into? - a family from California, then a couple from New York and 2 more from Ohio. 

Nowhere else did we run into so many Americans - C'est la vie!

Ehrenberg Castle Ruins

From Ehrenberg castle ruins - a view of Reutte, Austria valley
From Ehrenberg castle ruins - a view of Reutte, Austria valley

Wild flowers and Austrian Alps (at Ehrenberg Castle)
Wild flowers and Austrian Alps

Ehrenberg Castle - looking down on lower ruins
Ehrenberg Castle - looking down on lower ruins
After taking in the lower Ehrenberg ruins, we felt adventurous enough to make the longer hike up to the Schloßkopf ruins looming over us (the original inhabitants of the castle built another one on higher ground when they lost the 1st in battle - then used the higher vantage point to take out the enemy and their original fortress).

This hike burned a few more calories than the hike up to Ehrenberg. We had to hike halfway back down before turning up and up and up to the higher set of ruins.

We were rewarded with more beautiful views. From Schloßkopf ruins, looking down on our guest house, the town of Reutte in the valley and other set of ruins was breathtaking. Alps covered with steep green pastures speckled with huts teased us across the valley. Others with ice filled ridges loomed in the distance.

From Schloßkopf ruins: View of Reutte, Austria
From Schloßkopf ruins: View of Reutte, Austria
As we wrapped up our exploration of the mountain top castle fortress ruins, storm clouds in the distance were no longer distant. The rain came. Fortunately some of the old castle's fortress withstood the test of time and we were able to seek refuge in a long tunnel with a couple from Canada. After nearly 30 minutes the rain turned into a misty drizzle. With cameras tucked away, we made a run for it. It was warm and the light rain felt good. Luckily the rain dissipated as we hiked down the side of the mountain.
Schloßkopf castle ruins
Schloßkopf castle ruins

After freshening up at the guest house, we hopped in the Mercedes A150 rental picked up bananas at the local market for some tired legs, explored more or Reutte, and used the GPS to venture toward Füssen, Germany for some turbo-sightseeing and dinner.

July 1, 2009

Travel Log: Trek across southern Germany (Baden-Württemberg to Bavaria to Reutte, Austria)

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July 1st. Time to check out of Pfeffer & Salz, say good bye to Gengenbach and the Black Forest. With luggage repacked, maps in hand, the GPS on hand, cliff bars and H2O to-go, we hit the road after filling up at the Frühstück buffet. Today's destination: Reutte, Austria.

First stop, Gengenbach!

Yes, we didn't even get out of town. I can't recall what pulled us into the heart of the village one more time, but it was buzzing with activity mid-morning on Wednesday. Turns out it was market day. In front of the courthouse, right where we found the band a few days ago, was a mobile marketplace. T & I have grown fond of local markets we stumble upon during our travels - they provide an insight into local life.

I parked the Mercedes A150, figured out the parking meter and we checked it out. This one did not disappoint. There was a little bit of everything, no more, no less. The meat van was there, the cheese wagon, several vendors selling locally grown berries & veggies. I picked up a small bottle of some local liquor (haven't tried it yet!) and some homemade Spätzle - those are my souvenirs. :) T grabbed some cherries, we both captured more photos of the cute little town... then we hit the road.

Free from the train tracks, we plotted a path that would [hopefully] take us through some scenic areas of the Black Forest and Bavaria. We first head south, through Hausach, past the Black Forest Museum (looked worthwhile from the parking lot; noted possibility for a future visit) and into the town of Triberg. Triberg is known for cuckoo clocks and has a waterfall which T wanted to see. We saw several signs for the waterfall, but couldn't find it. After cruising through town (twice), catching a glimpse of some huge cuckoo clocks, we bailed on that plan and headed east to Rottweil.

While weaving over secondary roads, through farm land and little villages, we made an impromptu stop at a berry stand in an area that was more-or-less suburbia of a small city - whose name escapes me, but the raspberries were delicious.

Geographic note: Most of our stops, including Gengenbach are located in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which has a lot of really nice areas. It doesn't seem to get the air time that Bavaria does, maybe it's because doesn't sound as cool.

The GPS lead us to the center of medieval Rottweil - oldest town in the area, and it looked like a good place for a quick lunch. I found a good parking spot, figured out another meter, fed it with an hour or so worth of euros and we ventured off to find some feed for ourselves. Around the 1st bend we found a wide road running up hill that comprised the real heart of the old part of town.

We hit the WC behind the TI (Tourist Information office, most towns have them - and there is usually a public WC nearby, good to know!).
We sat outside at a little cafe and enjoyed apple strudel a la mode and some over priced bottled mineral water for lunch! (what's with Europe and the bottled water? I thought the USA was O.C.D. w/ bottled water. Doesn't the tap water come from the mountain fed rivers too? This area is so much more eco-friendly than the USA, but not with the water bottles.) A lot of the buildings were decorated with elaborate murals and/or painted trim work. We saw this in several places. From a distance, the trim work appears to be ornate molding, but upon closer inspection, it's just paint. T was lured into a few shops while I snapped some more photos. (BTW, the rottweiler dog is named after the town. The town is over 2,000 years old, so I guess it was here before the dog).
Seeing storm clouds in the distance, knowing we still had a lot of ground to cover and figuring our time was about up on the meter, we head back down the hill and around the bend to the car ... only to find a parking ticket! The meter maid beat us by 10 minutes. Fortunately it was only €5. Unfortunately, the ticket was entirely in German (go figure). Deciphering this would have to wait until I had Internet access.

With this unexpected souvenir, we resumed our journey. First due south, then east. As we approached the town of Tuttlingen through the rain and traffic to our left we spotted elephants on the side of the road (yes - ELEPHANTS!). Apparently the circus was in town. This was definitely not on the agenda. We kept moving.

After a much needed quick pit stop at the Netto discount grocery store in Krauchenwies (and good place to pick up German chocolate!) and a few wrong turns through some very local neighborhoods (GPS isn't much good when a construction crew closes the road) we made a bee-line into Bavaria and hit the autobahn. That little A150 Mercedes was able to top out at 180 km/hr (112 mph).

We exit the Autobahn a few miles from the Austrian border and there on the right what do we see? Camels. (yes - CAMELS!). Apparently there is a camel farm where you can ride the camels up in the alps. Interesting idea. We pulled over to capture some photos (otherwise nobody would believe us!). In the distance I was noticing some big hills... the Austrian Alps - our destination - was in sight. We kept moving.

Today's drive was a lot of fun. We saw some rural and what I think/hope is traditional Germany countryside. Small towns, old towns, farm land, woodland, all very pretty. This last stretch was gorgeous. The road to Austria took us through a tunnel to get to the other side of one of the mountains. Here the misty rain we've been skirting for hours blew away and we were welcome to Austria with an arching vibrant rainbow. It's one of prettiest sights I've seen. Of course I pulled over so we could snap some photos. It's moments like I invested in a new Canon 40D SLR camera.

Twenty minutes later we were pulling into Reutte, Austria - and looking for a simple local spot to grab dinner. It was 8pm (dusk). We found the center of town easy enough, but no restaurants. Just hotels; we didn't really want to eat at a hotel. Just as we were about to surrender to one, we spotted a "pizzeria" in the neighboring village of Breitenwang. Without saying a word, we both took a U-turn to Cafe Alina (not as fancy as it appears on the web site). We had the non-smoking atrium room all to ourselves. We plowed through a German salat, pizzas and couple pints of Heferweisen then rushed in the waining moments of daylight to "Pension Garni Waldrast".

Our hostess, (Johanna?) checked us into room 5. The pension (or inn) was small, down-to-earth (~10 rooms), very quiet and just off the beaten path. With the last breaths of dusk hanging over the alps, we could see not 1, but 2 castle ruins high up on the hill tops immediately behind the inn. And that would be tomorrow's destination!

[View from our room]

Post trip update: Unable to figure out how to pay the parking ticket online, I scanned it and my friend/colleague Falco graciously took care of it. Apparently I am now in debt a round of Boston's own Sam Adam's on his next trip to NC.

Note: Click photos in blog entries for a enlarged view.

Travel Log: more Black Forest - more Gengenbach, Germany (June 2009)

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Tuesday June 30th was our last full day in the Black Forest region, needless to say we covered a lot of ground. After a long day in Strasbourg, France we slept in. The day started with a 10am call from Julia at Pfeffer & Salz to see if we were going to make it down for breakfast. Tee was embarrassed, while I was glad we were able to get some breakfast (more of the traditional cereal, yogurt, rolls, sliced pork products and cheese - the breakfast offering was the same everywhere we stayed).

After filling up, we headed out. Tee went into the village to check out all the shops, we agreed on 1:30 meeting point in town, I jumped on the 11:45 train to Offenburg to pick up a rental car. I arrived at 11:54. 
I had the address of the rental car company (SIXT), recalled it being a couple blocks west of the train station; fortunately there was a map of the town in the station, but I couldn't find the street. Not good. I made a game time decision to grab a taxi. I was growing concerned when 2 taxi drivers weren't sure where the location was either! Once they realized I was heading to a SIXT office, we were set. Good call on the taxi, the ride was 15 minutes. I would have never found it on foot.

Hopping in my new A150 Mercedes was liberating. I love train travel in Europe, but for the 1st time I was no longer bound to the tracks. I took advantage of this new found freedom. Having a GPS unit on board was vital to our success. Being ahead of schedule for a change, I decided to try to check out a castle I saw from the train. Not knowing the name or address of it, the GPS wasn't much help, but I could see it up in the hills from the distance. How hard could it be? I quickly found myself off the main road heading up the hills on a road that was devolving from pavement to gravel, from gravel to dirt. Nothing like putting the A150 to the test right out of the gate! I ended up zig-zagging through a vineyard overlooking the village of Ortenberg. I got close, but never reached the castle. The impromptu vineyard maze was fun. I eventually made it out - without doubling back.

With not a minute to spare, Tee & I reconnected precisely at 1:30 and found a very German lunch in a little courtyard adorned with a statue of children battling a witch (more sliced pork products and hefeweizen - we were getting very good at ordering hefeweizen).

Stocked up on a few supplies at a little local market (we enjoy checking out local markets on travels - gives us a momentary feel what it is like to live like a local). Headed back to hotel to switch gears - time for an authentic Black Forest hike or "wandering" as they seem to say in Germany.

The trail head was pathetically close to Pfeffer & Salz, but we took the A150 there because we could. We covered 7km in Naturpark Schwarzwald. The trail meandered through deep dark forest (the Black Forest gets it's name from this darkness), orchids, a deer farm, a little village named Santis Claus and lots of wild berries. We ate more than our share of raspberries (my favorite berry). The 1st section of the trail was, quite unexpectedly, riddled with random German art. Photos will have to explain. We crossed paths with several "walking clubs" and a couple mountain bikers. Did not see much wildlife, but Tee spotted some tiny toads (half inch), lots of colorful little flowers and a harmless snake.

Naturpark Schwarzwald - weird art in the black forest
We worked up an appetite, refreshed at the hotel, buzzed back down into the Gengenbach historic center and dined on beef filet, veggies, Pommes frites and Spätzle at Pfeffermühle as dusk turned to dark. This was arguably our best meal of the trip. The steak was awesome and we became fans of Spätzle - a German noodle, different than the Italian variety, but just as good. Maybe better. It didn't need sauce. Turned out Julia's parents, the Armbrusters, own this restaurant. BTW, Pommes frites = shoestring french fries; these were standard fare with every upscale dinner in Germany/Austria/Switzerland.

hefeweizen at PfeffermühleAfter another long day and wishing we had more time in Gengenbach and the Black Forest, we crashed hard. Our adventure continues the next day with a trek across southern Germany and into the Austrian Alps. Little did we know what we were in for...

hiking in Naturpark Schwarzwald (the Black Forest)