Tuesday, February 26, 2013

(Not Completely) Unlimited Skiing Amusement

Over the weekend we went to Oberstdorf, at the very southern tip of Germany and the northern tip of the Alps. The tourist board, in one of the German-translated-into English descriptions of such things that cause me to wake up laughing at 3 a.m., promised "unlimited skiing amusement," wrapping up its case by concluding, "You’ve just got to admit that the attributes of this ski area are almost unbelievable!" Now, obviously it goes without saying that one would have to be a complete &^%$ to actually complain about a ski weekend in the Alps, but in the spirit of ironic blogging, I must report that we did not have unlimited skiing amusement.

Our first omen, which came Friday morning about 40 minutes before our first train, was when I banged my head on our stairs after leaning down to put something in the recycling bin under them (remind me to be the ugly American and not recycle). After twenty minutes discussing whether the bleeding gash on my head warranted cancellation (was there a doctor in Oberstdorf available at 5:30 on Friday afternoon?; did I need stitches now?; would stitches work if I waited until Monday?), we fearlessly struck out for the train station, with time to spare to buy a 6 Euro bottle of antibacterial spray.

The first two trains were pleasant enough, and perhaps we should have realized that the third was too pleasantly empty for one going to a ski resort during the German holidays on a Friday afternoon. But surely we were on the right train. We had the visual evidence to prove it (dramatization: photo taken on return trip):

About 20 minutes after our train was supposed to arrive in Oberstdorf, neither of us was forced to cry uncle in our game of who-can-prove-that-he-or-she-isn't-Type A-by-not-expressing-worry -- the train simply stopped. We soon learned from the very kind conductor that the train had split in Immenstadt and obviously we were in the wrong half. (Ah, so that digital display in every car with the city name means something?). We were way West in Wangen, or, as you can clearly see here in the lower right corner, back in Baden-Württemberg, not in Bavaria (Bayern), the state Oberstdorf is in.


It then wasn't clear which was worse: our excruciating "German" conversation with the innkeeper in Oberstdorf, trying to explain that we'd be late, or waiting an hour and then taking the same train back to Immenstadt just to wait for another connection. Jeanine seemed a little frustrated that we were going to lose three and a half hours and not have a nice dinner in our resort town. But I pointed out that the train station has a Foodys, which I prefer when in Immenstadt. The gyrosteller was excellent.

Our hotel in Oberstdorf was a classic pension with a view of the mountains. The "rich and extended breakfast," as promised by Google translate from the innkeeper's e-mail, was just that. But it was a bit disconcerting that the innkeeper's skin was bright orange (apparently tanning is big in the Alps), and Jim, the pillows were the apotheosis of German bedding. Please, would someone tell me what I'm supposed to do with the combination of a folded-over brick and a mini down pillow?

The skiing? Well, here it is in a nutshell: the beauty to terrain ratio was completely skewed. I mean, look at these photos:


But what they don't show is that the mountain (we skied the Fellhorn area) doesn't have very many trails and is seriously poorly designed. We skied down to Austria on one side (no passport required), and then took a gondola up. Very cool, and the best runs of the day. But seriously, only one run for all the terrain covered by a gondola? There is also only one piste (to be honest, that word still annoys me; just say "run" already damn it!) all the way down to the base, so the last run of the day was an icy, crowded mess. Actually, the crowds were by far the worst part, like downtown Mumbai in the snow. It would be a nice mountain on a Tuesday powder day, but on this occasion, the Germans we met confirmed it was brutally overcrowded (the Herr taking our picture: "Vee are giving up and having ein beer"). But hey, I guess we should have done as the Germans do. When the skiing gets crowded, and the temperature hits 20, it's time to sunbathe at the summit:

Things picked up back in the Guest Haus after I explained to the innkeeper's wife (also orange) that I wished to pay for the beer that I had liberated from the breakfast room fridge the night before (look, I was medicating the gash, and I figured since health care is free in Germany ...). She didn't understand me, of course, so instead of me paying her, she produced another beer on the house, which we proudly drank walking downtown in the manner of American undergraduates. [For the record, the frei beer was an Allegäuer Brauhaus Urtyp Export, much better than the medicinal Zötler Gold.]

Jeanine has a way of knowing when we need an especially good meal (I mean, crowded skiing in the Alps takes a lot out of you), and somehow she managed to find the Copper Onion of Oberstdorf.

This is becoming an exceedingly long entry, so I'll just say in brief that I found my own little slice of heaven on Sunday: the langlaufen trails one block from our hotel that culminated in the Erdlinger Arena (a World Cup venue) sandwiched at the base of several Alps. It was one of the prettiest spots we’ve ever seen, and no picture online does it justice (Jeanine's camera dies after about 4 pictures). The only thing missing was Erdlinger on tap at the arena, but luckily we found some amazing Käsespätzle on the edge of the trails and watched in astonishment as the locals downed beers and cake in between Nordic sessions.

On the first train back, the nice German women we were sitting next to seemed to say that the prison we were passing was the one in which Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, but a later Google proved this to be incorrect. Not sure if they were having fun with their new American friends or really didn't know. Said train also ran late and forced us to miss a connection ... which resulted in a bookending Turkish dinner in the Plochingen station. I've got to admit that the attributes of the doner with flatbrot were almost unbelievable!

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