Alsace, Oktoberfest, and the Alps

by Britta on 27 September 2009

in European Adventure,Travel



A friend of mine who is on a Europe trip of her own came through Paris last week. She spent several days with me here, doing some of those touristy things I hadn’t done yet, like the boat tour on the Seine, the top of the Eiffel Tower, visiting the famous people buried at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. We traveled east together after that, heading toward Germany, with a stop in Colmar, in the Alsace region.

Alsace has been the ping-pong ball in the match between France and Germany for centuries. Every generation, someone told us, it seems they are a different nationality. So they’ve given up trying to be either French or German, and consider themselves Alsatian. They have their own style of cuisine, their own dialect, their own history. We spent our first afternoon exploring Colmar’s neighboring towns, medieval walled cities with gates and portcullises still intact (and restored), and tasting a variety of Reisling, Pinot Gris and Gerwurtztraminer wines. Though the weather was cloudy while we were there, the 300+ days of sun the region gets during the year is the reason it can produce such sweet wines (or so they said).

Our guesthouse was also on the wine path. When we arrived, the proprietors were loading batches of grapes onto a conveyor belt, which dropped them into a press. The next morning the courtyard was littered with pulp and stems, and the juice was pumped into casks to ferment. Some of the wine would be ready by Christmas time, they told us.

In an Oktoberfest Tent

Inside a Tent at Oktoberfest

We left wine country for beer land the next day. We arrived in Munich after dark, and wandered the darkened streets looking for the hostel we had booked. Eventually we found it—when we recognized the proprietor’s name on the button next to the gate. We thought we had missed the sign, but it turned out he didn’t have any signs posted for us to miss. He came out wringing his hands, saying there was a problem with our reservation. Apparently he had double-booked our room, but he had arranged another place for us to stay. It’s even better, he assured us. More private, closer to the city center. Rooms are hard to come by during Oktoberfest, so we went along with his plan, praying it would turn out OK. He drove us to the home of a friend of his, who was already in bed but had made up her living room for us to sleep in.

It turned out he was right—it was better, although not for the reasons he gave us. Our new hostess turned out to be a kind, hospitable woman, a Turkish-German who ran the lingerie shop next to the apartment. She made us breakfast and coffee, and gave us lingerie as a gift. She told us all about her daughter, who had been to the U.S., and about her family in Turkey and how different that country is from Germany. We exchanged email addresses and took pictures, and kissed and hugged when the time came for us to leave.

At Oktoberfest (don't ask)

At Oktoberfest (don't ask)

Oktoberfest, like the rest of our time in Munich, was fun. I’d like to say how much fun it was, but unfortunately, I don’t remember the whole night. We took a brewery and beer tasting tour beforehand, and it it ended at Oktoberfest, so our guide, Franz, was there to get us started on that most sacred of festivals for beer drinkers. One of our group was a beer lover and home brewer from Colorado, and when our first round came, he sighed as he hoisted it and said, “I made it. Finally.”

While it wasn’t quite a pilgrimage for me, I can certainly appreciate a stein of good beer, and apparently I appreciated a few of them during the course of the evening. It’s served in liters, and the alcohol content is a bit higher than normal, so I guess it didn’t take long for me to really start enjoying myself. According to my friend, I was carrying on conversations in English, French and Spanish, although I only remember English-speakers on our tour, so I’m really not sure who I was talking to…

But, I survived. And the next day wasn’t so bad, either, despite the winding roads we drove through the mountains, or the maps I had to study to find our route. Maybe when the beer is better, the hangover is, too! Of course, fairy tale castles helped, as did catching sight of the highest peak in the German Alps, and driving through those quintessential Bavarian scenes, with cowbells clanking, flowers spilling over the boxes on latticed porches and balconies, and the sun shining above the craggy peaks overhead.

In the Bavarian Alps

In the Bavarian Alps

The next day we hiked. We made it to Berchtesgadener Land National Park, near Salzburg and the Austrian border. In fact, when we stood on top of Mt. Jenner (we cheated and took a cable car almost to the top), we looked down into both Germany and Austria. And yes, we sang. We even saw a pair of nuns hiking down the trail, complete with trekking poles and daypacks. The hills were indeed alive that day.

We took a boat across Lake Konigssee, and though the commentary was in German, we fully understood the part when the captain shut down the engine and pulled out his trumpet. He played a few notes, then paused to let the echo come back around. We hiked out to a waterfall and met other hikers who had stayed at the huts that are dotted around the park. Many were older, and I’ll admit, we were both impressed by their stamina. We did not, however, join them for a skinny-dip in the lake at the end of the hike.

We drove the Autobahn back to Munich, where I still had to run for my train back to Paris, despite the good time we made on the highway. I made it, though I’ll admit I felt a little ambivalent about it. Going back to Paris and to my “normal” life, whatever that is for me at the moment, felt a little like going back to work after a long weekend. Even if I liked my job, I’d still like my time off better. Similarly, I like Paris, but I like traveling better. I thought that maybe if I found a musical to sing about Paris I’d feel better, but somehow Les Mis doesn’t quite do it. I’m pretty sure I won’t see any hiking nuns in Paris!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joslyn Stinson September 27, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Britta, you are inspiring me! I loved this entry and I am so jealous of your experience!

Pat Perry October 4, 2009 at 7:31 pm

The photo of you in the Alps is AMAZING!!! WOW – loved the blog, keep them coming!

Raini Miller October 15, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Wow! Sounds familiar but with a different perspective…like an accent! Great job all all around my friend in Paris.

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