Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ski Trip to the Bavarian Alps

This past weekend Jon and I attended the annual squadron ski trip to Garmisch, Germany. It was a true winter wonderland, Bavarian style, and we enjoyed two fantastic days of skiing on the tallest mountain in Germany - the Zugspitze.

We had a breath-taking view of the Alps from the mountain-top and although it had been five years since I had last skied, I picked it up in no time after a few runs.

The first day of skiing, we were accompanied by our friends, Jose and Ray. Jon was adventuresome as ever on skies, and we had a lot of fun taking videos of each other skiing down the mountain (see side bar to right for video clips).

The second day of skiing, Jon and I wanted to be the first on the mountain-top and we were able to enjoy a beautiful sunrise. For our mid-day break, we took the gondola to the tip-top of the mountain that provides an endless view of snow-peaked mountains in the distance. It was absolutely breath-taking. This area also serves as a border crossing with Austria, and half of the facility is located on the Austrian side. So, it was only fitting to have a morning beer in Germany and lunch in Austria.

After our second day, we went to a Bavarian restaurant in downtown Garmisch for dinner where Jon and his friend, Jason, enjoyed a 3-liter beer.

The dinner was complete with Bavarian sausages, pork, sauerkraut and even authentic dancing. It was the perfect ending for our fantastic weekend!

Jon and me posing in front of the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort where we stayed for the weekend. It was an awesome hotel with several restaurants, a huge fireplace in the lobby and a pool and enormous hot tub outside. We enjoyed simply hanging around the hot tub and hotel most nights and relaxing after our full days of skiing.

On our way back to Wiesbaden on our final day, we decided to take a detour to visit the most toured spot in Germany - King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein castle.
Built from 1869 - 1886, it is the epitome of a fairy-tale castle, and is actually the building that inspired Walt Disney for the model of the castle today at Disney World.
The view out the window of the throne room was incredible with the snow-covered Alps in the distance.
After touring the castle, we took a hike around the hillside to a bridge that provided a fantastic viewpoint of the entire castle. Another Germany tourist destination must to knock off our list.
Skiing, hot-tubbing, castle touring - it's just another weekend in the lives of the Captain and Frau Clough. This weekend? We're back on the road again (well, train this time) tomorrow morning to Munich to meet up with Jon's cousins, Jim and April Vaughan who will be there for a trade show. So, details soon of another Hofbrau House adventure. Have a fantastic weekend!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

ALTENAHR -rrrrgh!

The most romantic village on the Ahr(rrrgh), River, Altenahr(rrrrgh), was one random flip in the Lonely Planet book away from our most recent weekend road trip. The Ahr(rrrgh) is smaller than its siblings, the Rhine and Moselle, sometimes no wider than 10 meters.

The sleepy town of Ahrtenal is nestled between the craggy peaks giving way to rolling hills and steep vineyards. Unlike the more popular Moselle and Rhine rivers, it is red wine that is produced in this region which makes the Ahr Valley unique. The quality is high, but the yield small, so very few wines ever make it beyond the valley.

To fully appreciate the landscape that surrounds Ahrtenal, we hiked one of the many steep trails that begin at the town's center.

We climbed to the black cross to have a breathtaking view of the town, river and castle ruins in the distance.

We continued our ascent until we felt we were truly on top of the world (or at least as high as we could get).

On the opposite side of town, we climbed to the Burg Are, whose weather beaten tower stands guard over the valley.

We enjoyed two days of hiking, running and simply relaxing in this beautiful village where we were we truly were the only two tourists in the whole town.

On our drive back to Wiesbaden, we stopped in the larger Ahr River town of Ahrweiler for a few hours. This is a very unique town in that it is one of Germany's few walled towns that can only be entered in one of the four gates.

In the center of the town, is a beautiful bright yellow church decorated with floral frescoes from the 14th century and luminous stained glass windows.

Our trip to the Ahr Vally was a wonderful weekend getaway and a great opportunity to discover another jewel of Germany unknown to most tourists.

This weekend, we will be having quite a different experience as we will be going to a very well-traveled part of Germany - the Bavarian Alps - for a ski adventure at an American resort. Updates of our adventures will come next week. Aufwiedersehen!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Kölsch in Köln

Although I'm not a big beer drinker (unlike my dear husband), I've tried to enjoy the endless varieties available throughout this country and have have decided that my favorite beer here is Kölsch. This is a local beer speciality, brewed in Cologne (or Köln). It is a clear beer with a bright straw yellow hue, and it has a prominent, but not extreme, hoppiness. It is less bitter than the standard German lager beer, Pils. Here's some other interesting facts about my new fave beer; it is usually served in long, thin, cylindrical 0.2 liter glasses. This glass is known as a Stange (pole), but is often derisively called a Reagenzglas (test tube), or Fingerhut (thimble).

Why the sudden interest in this beer? This past Saturday, Jon and I visited Cologne with some friends and while there, we ate lunch at a brewery and of course had Kölsch beer and delicious schnitzels and sausages. It was a superb lunch and although they sell this beer everywhere, it was really cool to be able to have it in the city where it is brewed. Also, this beer can only be brewed in a brewery that has a direct line of sight of the Cologne cathedral. So, you couldn't set up a brewery just anywhere in the city.

We also visited the world famous Cologne cathedral. I have visited a lot of churches during my time in Europe and this really did blow them all away with the sheer size of it. It is enormous and each wall is lined with absolutely gorgeous stained glass windows. The church was begun in 1248 and took 300 years to finish. Beyond it's size, the church is significant due to the treasury filled with relics of the three magi.

It was a fantastic trip and the rest of this week has consisted of getting back in the routine of life (yes, very boring). But, we hope to take another trip this weekend to write about and the following week is our ski trip to the Bavarian Alps. Fun times ahead.

Have a fantastic week!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ringing in 2008 with Explosions in the Sky

Happy New Year, friends and family! Jon and I returned from our two-week trip to Texas last Thursday and had a wonderful time hanging in BCS and the ranch. It was certainly wonderful to be home, see clear blue skies, and eat tons of Tex-Mex. After a weekend spent recovering from jet lag, we geared up for the New Year's celebration in Wiesbaden. We invited a few friends from Jon's work and our church for a pre-party at our place before meandering to the casino where the big extravaganza would take place at midnight.

In Germany, there are no rules for setting off fireworks within city limits, so you can imagine how crazy it can get with people setting off their own explosions every 10 feet downtown. Needless to say, you have to be careful about where you step and always be looking out for any stray bottle caps that may plummet your head. When we left for the casino, we were carrying a backpack of fireworks and champagne, and we were just one of the many that had this same idea. People were downing champagne and setting off fireworks constantly so that it really did almost resemble the sound of a war zone with the whistling of some fireworks and constant explosions and smoke in the sky.
We had a good time shooting off all our ours before midnight and then at midnight the entire sky was filled with beautiful colors. We didn't know which ones were the amateur fireworks and which ones were the city's, because they all looked so professional. Finally, at 12:15 the music came on (an orchestra from a German composer of course) and then the big boys were set off above the casino. It was absolutely beautiful! The Germans definitely take their celebrations and fireworks seriously. It was one of the most festive New Year's I'd ever experienced!
On New Year's day, Jon and I slept until the afternoon after staying up until 5:00 a.m. that morning, and then made a pot full of black eyed peas for good luck for the coming year. We had fun reflecting on the good things that 2007 brought us and are excited about what this year has in store for us as well; skiiing in the Alps, a trip to India and the Middle East, a trip to the States to see Jon's family, Jon's deployment and a summer for me in the States. We love you all very much and wish you all a very happy and healthy new year!