i hope you had a wonderful christmas and are still enjoying the holiday season! as i mentioned in my last post, we zipped away for five days to enjoy christmas in berchtesgaden, germany which is nestled literally between bavarian alps on every side and has a lovely and historical downtown. i’ve wanted to visit this town for years… really only a couple train rides from our little budejovice. berchtesgaden is only about fifteen kilometers from salzburg (really, just over the austrian border). you can take a regional bus from salzburg to get to berchtesgaden in fifty minutes, which is what we decided to do on the way there – it was so fun to zip through salzburg’s center and point out all the places we’ve been a handful of years ago. (awhhh, that’s the park where we ate our “to-go” strudels!)
we arrived in berchtesgaden on the first day at exactly 3pm. on the day before christmas eve (or in germany, der heilige abend). if you have spent enough time in berchtesgaden, you’ll know exactly what this means.
BANG. BANGBANGBANG. BANG! BANG BANG.
i was scared nearly half to death (as was ferdie) of the horrible shooting noises that seemed so close to exactly where we stood and carried on for the next fifteen minutes. they echoed so terribly across the valley, figuratively shooting my nerves. during check-in a few minutes later, the receptionist mentioned not to worry – it’s just a berchtesgaden christmas tradition where they attempt to SHOOT WINTER AWAY.
this continued again the next day (i hid in the sauna), and fireworks at christmas eve AT MIDNIGHT. you guys? do you even want santa to come? y’all are going to scare him away.
aside from that, our stay in berchtesgaden was perfectly lovely! i adored our little attic room at hotel bavaria (the pink house on the left, above), furnished tastefully and traditionally, but with accents of bavarian kitsch here and there. alex, as a tall person, did not enjoy bumping his head twenty times. you live and you learn – no more attics.
the advent market in the town center is perfectly lovely, and we literally “went to town” the first night on all the good snacks. raclette? why, yes! kasnocken? don’t mind if i do! a waldbeerenpunsch? but of course! it’s fun to let loose in a christmas market and taste everything that appeals to you… every so often.
christmas eve was a very foggy affair – we could hardly see the mountains around us at all until day three, but it was a good time to explore the town and eat delicious soups at bier adam.
on christmas day, the fog finally dissipated and we knew it was the day to go to königsee! königsee (king lake) lies only two kilometers south of berchtesgaden and hooboy, she’s a beaut of a lake. not only is it the cleanest lake in all of germany, it’s also the deepest, with the second highest peak in the bavarian alps (watzmann) towering above.
it should be mentioned that many people associated berchtesgaden with hitler’s favorite vacation spot and his eagle’s nest (kehlsteinhaus), located on the very tippy-top of a peak visible from the königsee. for some reason, people who have never even been to this area sometimes have negative feelings about it, but who wouldn’t want to vacation here in beautiful obersalzburg?
we took a lake cruise (mountain lake cruises in the winter are the best) from königsee to st. bartholomä, and the first mate of the boat demonstrated the marvelous echo of this lake surrounded by mountains by playing a trumpet. st. batholomä could barely be considered a village – more of an outpost on the lake with a quaint onion-domed pilgrimage church, a pub, a fantastic restaurant, and so many trails around the area. it was an absolute dream to be there on this beautiful christmas day in the sunshine, baffling people by our off-leash miniature dachshund. i couldn’t believe what kind of pure christmas magic had befallen us.
after our walk, we dined on smoked trout caught in the lake and decided to go all out with an order of kaiserschmarnn (austrian pancakes served with apple compote) as well. i was initially a bit surprised so many austrian dishes made it to the area, but the culture in obersalzburg is clearly closely entwined.
when it was finally time to go and the sun had finally hid behind the mountains, the boat hadn’t even pulled out of the dock at st. bartholomä before i had the thought “i will never forget this place. and today.”
that (christmas) night, we managed to find a restaurant that was open (surprisingly, it wasn’t much of a struggle!) and had more fish (i was on a three-fish-a-day diet in berchtesgaden, apparently), delicious bavarian beer, and wandered the completely empty streets of the town later at night. not a soul was about – it was truly incredible and a bit eerie; reminded me of our prague christmas five years ago.
on our last day, we took a hike in the hills above berchtesgaden on some of the paths that offer spectacular views of the city and mountains, had our last mugs of glühwein for the year, took a bottle of the locally brewed grassl schnapps to take home, and tasted some traditional austrian-style cakes at the renowned cafe forstner.
i’ve realized over the years that a christmas holiday has just got to include plenty of rest and relaxation – reading (above, with mince pie), naps, watching ‘a christmas story’… sometimes there is this feeling that you have got to go out and see and do it all when in a new place. but not at christmas. finally i’ve learned to budget time in to just “be”.
where would you like to spend christmas? at home or on a trip? i want to wish you all a very happy and healthy new year! we’ll be celebrating as usual here in budejovice – low key, with games, drinks, and dogs. stay tuned for the annual re-cap post coming quite soon!