Germany

At the surreal summit of Zugspitze

Saw a momentary speck of sun in town

Even the technical equipment looked other-worldly under the ice and snow on Zugspitze

Neuschwanstein is stunning in its setting way above the landscape

We are now deep into Alpine Bavaria, where we’ve holed up at a charming hotel in the resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I know what you’re thinking: That’s just too darn many syllables for a pretty mountain town! Well, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were two separate towns for centuries until Hitler forced them together to play host to the 1936 Winter Olympics.

Today, some people casually call the whole thing “Garmisch,” but apparently the Partenkircheners feel slighted by that, so that’s not OK. It is, however, acceptable to call it simply, “Ga-Pa.”

We spent our first day in Ga-Pa easing Jim out of isolation, as his COVID symptoms rapidly started to fade away. Despite the continued AWFUL weather, we had a lunch outside at a nice Bavarian restaurant where they had blankets to fight off the damp wet cold.

The next day we set out to encounter the reason people really come to Ga-Pa: the adjacent mountain Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. We weren’t sure it made any sense to go there, since the weather was still horrible and everything was completely clouded over. But the hotel receptionist reported that the summit of Zugspitze was actually above the clouds that morning. So while we wouldn’t get amazing expansive views, it might still be interesting. So we chanced it.

We bought tickets to ascend Zugspitze by the incredibly sleek Swiss-designed cable car that was completed just before COVID. Most of the rapid 10-minute ride we were looking at nothing but fog as expected. Then suddenly the car swooshed above the clouds, and everyone gasped as the rugged, snow-covered face of Zugspitze suddenly appeared before us. The car was climbing so steeply, and the mountain face was so dramatic we were astounded.

Once we reached the summit, we found ourselves in a total winter wonderland. This stunning landscape felt especially other-worldly because it was so cut off from the rest of the world hidden under fog nearly 10,000 feet below. What a cool adventure!

And now that we were back in the business of seeing sights after Jim’s recovery, we added another quintessential Bavarian landmark to our roster as we headed north again. An hour from Ga-Pa we toured Neuschwanstein, the dramatic 19th-century castle built by mad King Ludwig II. It’s probably the first image that pops up if you google “Germany,” and it was a fun stop. The sun even peeked out a bit to reveal the beautiful fall colors below the castle.

Jim’s first dining foray after days of isolation

Can’t get enough of this Bavarian look

The amazing winter landscape at the summit of Zugspitze

looking down as another sleek cable car whisks passengers above the clouds

A monument at the highest peak in Germany

The sun briefly reveals the stunning lake, village, and another castle below Neuschwanstein

Above the valley at Neuschwanstein

Enjoying a moment without rain at Neuschwanstein

Jim managed to snap this picture of our town, Rottach-Egern, during a very brief, miraculous moment when the sun peeked out from the grayness

Like the spa at our hotel, this pretty river walk reminded us of Japan

These flower-draped Bavarian buildings are ubiquitous and irresistible

When we were organizing this trip a few months back, the plan was to recover from Oktoberfest by getting away to a lovely spot on a Bavarian lake for a few days. Sven recommended Tegernsee, a lake that we wouldn’t have even know about because it did not make it into our Lonely Planet guidebook. Good to have Bavarian friends when you are planning a trip here.

We checked out the lake and found two hotels that interested us. We went back and forth between the two because one seemed to have a better location, but the other had a really stunning Japanese-style spa, something you don’t see everyday in Germany. We decided to go with the place with the Japanese spa.

When we told Sven where we were staying and why, he suddenly recalled that his brother Ralph was the architect who designed the spa. Small world!

So here we are in our lovely hotel with a lovely spa to recover from Oktoberfest, not realizing how much recovery we actually needed. Turns out, a massive gathering of partying Bavarians is also a pretty good breeding ground for COVID. Jim was feeling sick the day we arrived, and by the next morning took a COVID test and got a positive result (as did one of the other members of our Oktoberfest contingent.)

So we spent our holiday by the lake with Jim isolated in our room, feeling like absolute hell. He spent a couple really rough days with cold symptoms that were just really, really bad.

Oh, and did I mention that the weather here was unseasonably awful? Cold, wind, rain. On the first day, the sun peeked out for a short time, and then Jim got sick and the weather was just awful for the duration.

I tested negative and never had any symptoms, so I made the best of a crappy situation — keeping a bit of distance from Jim, making a visit to the nice spa, battling the wind and rain to do a bit of sightseeing. This stop was not exactly what we intended, but yes, we are on our way to recovering from Oktoberfest!

Here we are on a little hike in the crappy weather before Jim started feeling terrible

Strolling lakeside during the brief period of sunshine

On that first day Jim also got this nice picture of the town of Tegernsee, and its most prominent building, the brewery. Trust me when I say that the period of blue sky was very brief.

Sightseeing on my own, this how our town looked in the rain and wind and gloom

These cute Bavarian outfits made me think maybe we should have had kids after all

Sightseeing lonely on my own, I had lunch at the brewery in Tegernsee. It was a fun scene, and I drowned my sorrow in these really delicious sausages, sauerkraut, and the local brew.

Catching the ferry back to Rottach-Eggern after my lunch

Jim and Mary Beth clink to the first beer of the night

Jim and Mary Beth as the night gets under way

Getting dressed for the big night

Tim and Elliott joined us from Detroit

It’s the largest folk festival on earth. For 2-1/2 weeks, hundreds of thousands of people descend on the Theresienwiese fairgrounds in central Munich each day to celebrate in a uniquely Bavarian way — by crowding into massive tents, downing hearty Bavarian food, singing, toasting, and drinking oceans of local beer.

As we approached the fairgrounds I was stunned by the sight of people streaming in from every direction. We were glad we’d spent the morning shopping for lederhosen and the proper accoutrements, since the vast majority of people were donning traditional Bavarian dress. You really could feel excitement in the air as the crowds gravitated toward the action.

Anyone can enter the fairgrounds at no cost. While tens of thousands of people have tables reserved in one of the many enormous tents, others will wander the grounds, buy food and beer from the outside vendors, ride the rides, and celebrate outside.

Getting the right table at the right tent is a big deal. Each of the tents is sponsored by a Munich brewery. Fortunately, Sven’s brother Ralph lives in Munich and knows the right people, so we had a table in the Augustiner tent, one that is prized by locals. Our tent, reconstructed each year from huge wooden beams and canvas, seated 6,000 people.

This is a party where people really have fun. Over the course of an Oktoberfest, the patrons go through 7.7 million liters of beer. As the evening progresses, the music and the singing get crazier. Someone here and there goes way overboard. I wouldn’t want to do this every day (or maybe even every year), but it was a genuine blast!

Sven and I look neat and well kempt early in the evening

Our tent

In case you are wondering how the beer gets delivered. These women do not mess around pushing their way through the chaos. If you are in their way they just shove you aside.

Elliott, Sven, Ralph, and Tim

We are all grateful to Ralph, who secured our spots in the right tent

Jim, Mark, Barbara, and Tim as the night goes on

Does Sven think Mary Beth and Elliott are having TOO much fun?

Elliott, Sven, and Tim as we explore the grounds after the party

Our whole group — Elliott, Jim, Ralph, Tim, Mark, Mary Beth, Sven, Barbara

Oops, almost forgot…we did get to peek around wonderful Munich a bit, too. Here I am in front of the amazing Rathouse in Marienplatz.