Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reaping My Reward!

Those of you who have been faithful readers of this blog will remember that I studied for over a year and a half to pass the dreadful Italian Driver Exam.  I truly believe that it was the hardest one thing I have ever had to finish in my life as I struggled to learn the level of Italian language used in the test and I finally managed to understand the tricky logical questions in the 40 question test.  (You can only miss 4)

Photo shot from autostrada
This weekend I received part of my reward for passing the test by driving up to visit Germany and Austria and enjoy the towns of Berchtesgaden and Salzburg. The weatherman did his best to produce weather quite unlike spring, but we did our best to remain positive throughout the weekend.  

The first day we drove from Padova to Villach, Austria, leaving right from where my wife is employed.  We passed hundreds of small farms and many small towns of northern Italy, and soon we saw  the start of the Alps where the autostrada cuts through a pass surrounded by craggy snow covered peaks of  Austria.  This part of the drive is very picturesque no matter what time of year it is.  

Reaching Villach we used the navigator to find our bed and breakfast located under the big castle, Burg Landscron.  (We use booking.com to find reasonably priced places of which  Orbitz has no knowledge.)  Our first Austrian dinner was nothing special, but was a good beginning to Austrian/German cuisine.  We also took a short drive on the north side of the lake, Ossiacher See, but it was difficult to get to the lake because all the property has been bought up, fenced off and made into residences.  This is typical of many lakes in Austria and Germany.  I felt like I was back in California!

While waiting for dinner I could hear the chef pounding out my schnitzel attesting to the fact that it would not be out of the box but the real thing.  Schnitzel is a tasty item that you should not miss if you visit Germany.  

The second day we drove about 3 hours on the A10 to Berchtesgaden. The weather began to worsen on the other side of a longest tunnel, several kilometers long.  One thing outstanding between Italy and Austria are the tunnels dug through the Alps.  You can really appreciate the engineering skills in these modern structures.  Between the tunnels there are only a few towns, but there are many beautiful scenes of farm houses perched on the side of the mountains.   

To use Austrian Autobahns you must buy a permit that you place on your front windshield which costs 8.80 euros and covers 10 days .  There was also a surprising additional 11.50 euro charge on a part of the autobahn about halfway to Berchtesgaden. .

Every time we exited one of the numerous tunnels the rain became more intense but finally we dropped down into the valley where we could see Berchtesgaden perched on the side of the mountain.  For some reason, after reading several accounts written by WWII  soldiers who were in Berchtesgaden at the end of the war, I thought the town was situated on a much flatter landscape.  Now I understand how a large number of inebriated US soldiers were killed in automobile accidents on the hillside.  (They had “liberated” all the German vehicles in the town and also “liberated” the huge collections of wines and barrels of beer found in the homes of the highest Nazi officials, including Hitler.)  There was a lot of celebrating the end of the war, and nothing else to do.  Later the commanders decided that army life should return and the men were assigned physical training and tasks to keep them out of trouble.  

Parking near the large church we began walking through the town, enjoying the murals on the front of buildings, and viewing the shop windows.   The town had lost its little village atmosphere being much larger, but its picturesque quality is remained.   A beer wagon pulled by two horses and loaded with beer barrels (probably empty props) passed us and we later found it being used as a tourist prop parked near a popular beer garden.  This beer garden with a large seating area was overflowing with local folks, many in lederhosen and peasant dresses enjoying a break in the weather while drinking a liter of beer in their grey pottery steins.  
History of the town in a typical mural

After our walk we settled on the indoor seating of a restaurant called Bier Brian passing up the impending rain storm looming over the lake.  The clouds were so low that we could not see the surrounding mountain peaks.  Luckily later, the sun pushed the clouds away for a short time and we could see amazing views of craggy snow covered peaks.  Truly this place is amazing.  It is no wonder the Hitler chose this place for his mountain retreat.   We did not go to Eagle’s Nest due to the bad weather….
Cold slices of dumpling in beer vinegar

The town is near a lake called Konigsee, (King’s Sea) and it can only be reached on the lower end of the lake.   There is no road around the lake.  A summer boat offers a ride to the other end, and I saw that the “family card” cost was 43.00 euros.  I guess you have to really want to see what is at the other end!  Instead, we tried a small highly recommended restaurant located across a wooden bridge.  Of all the places where we ate during the three days, this was my number one choice. 
Pathway to good food!
 The menu had a lot of choices and the atmosphere inside was unique.  Old skis, firearms, farm implements and stuffed birds were found throughout the dining areas.  There were two large windows to the kitchen and we made friends with the 5 men knocking out plates of great food.   We found out that if you call in early, you can order cheese fondue.

In Salzburg we took the tram up to Hohensalzburg, a fortress built on a high hill overlooking the city.  Near the tram is a plaza where they were holding a Spring celebration with a beer fest.  Stalls were open where they were selling food, souvenirs and crafts.  An eye catcher was the pretzel booth, where they offered pretzels covered with many different flavorings.  There were even pizza flavored pretzels as well as chocolate.  I made a short video to show all the types of pretzels available.  click twice slowly to see the video. sorry the video seems to not be compatible with ipad.

Suddenly we heard a drum coming from a white beer tent and out marched residents dressed in army costumes from the past.  Women were dressed in Bavarian  peasant dresses.   click twice to see the video below. Not compatible with ipad, sorry.....

Led by a grey haired old fellow with a silver moustache he commanded them where to line up.  They then went through a sort of order arms complete with flag waving and lance/flag movements.  They weren’t very practiced which made it more real.   With each movement the old commandant ordered the drum to play a rhythm.  At the end he shook hands with a person in a long caped coat who appeared to be a representative of the Salzburg mayor.   Then he ordered everyone to break and go in and have a cold stein of beer.  Not one to disobey I followed the crowd and soon discovered the old guy  selling beer in his quaint costume.   

Venison Gulash (German spelling) and spaetzle

Some other foods we tried during our stay were these.

Gulash, pictured here.
Potato Salad
Cabbage Salad
Asparagus Soup
Garlic Soup (personal favorite)
personal favorite, garlic soup 

We managed to stay clear of these deadly German creations to die for!  And that was very hard to accomplish.

The weatherman did his best to make the day white, such fun to drive in snow!  Cars came through Berchtesgaden showing 8 inches of snow on top, and I began to regret choosing Germany in April.  We did drive through a snowstorm to get to the autostrada and as we reached higher elevations it became worse.  Luckily it was not sticking on the ground.  By the time we were back down to Villach the sun appeared and made us break out the sunglasses.  

We have plans for another drive back to Austria and visit Vienna, but only when it won’t be snowing.

One last look at the view from the fortress above Mozart's Birthplace, Salzburg.

City of the Sound of Music 

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