Back in January I decided to go gluten-free for a month, just to see what all the hype was about. Much to my chagrin cutting out bread, pasta, and beer had a dramatically positive effect on my digestive system, health, and overall energy level. (DAMMIT!) While I’m not a strict, Celiac-level gluten-dodger, I’ve definitely altered my diet to avoid the major culprits. Because I feel so much better, this culinary change has been surprisingly easy. Things I used to love, like dark oatmeal stouts, crusty baguettes, and flaky fruit pastries, don’t even sound all that appetizing anymore. Well, that is until….
Hello Bavaria! Yes, I’ll have another tall glass of dunkl as I gaze at the gorgeous view of a castle from this quaint beer garden! Of course I want to munch on a soft, chewy Bavarian pretzel during our stroll through Old Town! Apple strudel while overlooking the Alps? Are you kidding me? Absolutely! As we drove into southern Germany to visit our friends in Burghausen, I had little idea how quickly and easily I could throw all self-control out the window. Refusing to eat bread and drink beer in southern Germany? Come on, now. That would just be a slap in the face of the local culture, right? Despite the periodic rumbling in my tummy which resulted from this lapse of dietary willpower, our time in Germany was fun, beautiful and very delicious.
Due to a lack of hotel rooms and apartment rental options during the week we were there, our family wound up staying at the local youth hostel. It had been over a decade since Brian and I had been in one, so I was expecting to be bunking with a dozen other people and encountering at least a few drunk college grads. Instead Jugendherberge Burghausen gave us a private room and our fellow guests were primarily other families and well-behaved teens attending a church camp. We did share a dormitory-style bathroom, which Alison found quite amusing. The first time we went into it she looked at all the stalls and asked, “Is this place a gas station too?” She and I ran into one particular woman several times in bathroom. This kind, grandmotherly-looking lady would always smile at Alison, tousle her hair, and gush a friendly stream of German words at us. Alison started calling her our “bathroom buddy.”
When we weren’t at the hostel, we had our very own full-time tour guides in our friends, the Kastenbergers. They showed us around their historic town of Burghausen, home of the longest fortified castle in the world. We walked across the Salzach River to Austria for a hilltop view. At the border crossing on the bridge the kids had lots of fun jumping back and forth between the countries. “I’m in Germany! I’m in Austria! I’m in Germany! I’m in Austria!”
Tom took Brian on a climb up to the peak of Mt. Houchstaufen via a klettersteig route. The mountain topped out at 1700 meters and required 4 hours of climbing and hiking to reach the top. Clouds rolled in on their way up and obscured the view, but Brian still managed to get some great photos. Like many peaks in the Alps, Houchstaufen had a summit hut serving beer and lunch to tired climbers, so the two of them had a nice break before heading back down the mountain.
Both of our families went on a tour of Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden, a massive salt mine deep within the Bavarian Alps. There we donned blue jump suits, climbed aboard a little train, and spent a couple fun hours underground exploring this 800-year-old work site. Surprisingly, the tour included slides, light shows, and a boat ride over the Mirror Lake. Who knew a salt mine could be so fun?!
One of the highlights of our time in Bavaria was our voyage through Lake Königssee in Berchtesgaden National Park. After making our way along a touristy pedestrian walk, we boarded an electric boat which took us on a peaceful ride away from the crowds and down through this long, narrow lake. Carved by a glacier millions of years ago, Königssee resembles the fjords we saw in Norway with steep rock walls lining its shores. Our first stop brought us to the historic pilgrimage church of St. Bartholoma, which just happens to be situated right next to a great restaurant and beer garden (of course).
After lunch and, of course, a beer we boarded the electric vessel again to reach the second stop on our journey. A short boat ride and a 20-minute hike through meadows and forests took us to the north shore of Lake Obersee. It was awe-inspiring.
We hiked around the lake to reach its south shore and what did we find? A beer garden, of course! Brian and Ali took a quick dip in the chilly waters as the rest of us sat in the sunshine enjoying a snack…and yes, I had another beer! Gluten be damned!
Southern Germany is a beautiful place and it was made even better by seeing it with a wonderful family we are so glad to call our friends. Thank you so much to the Kastenbergers! But good riddance to tempting Bavarian beer and pretzels! I won’t miss you one little bit! Okay…that’s a lie.