11 January 2016 – Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Partnach Gorge and the Arlberg Pass…..
Our plan for the day was an explore of the Olympic town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, before a hike through the famous Partnach Gorge and its frozen waterfalls. In the afternoon we were heading back to Austria, via one of Europe’s most scenic rail trips, the Arlberg Pass.
It was the first morning in quite a while that we didn’t have to set an alarm and we all slept until about 7.45am. We wandered down to breakfast, to find that the hotel only had about 3 rooms occupied (and we were 2 of those) due to the lack of snow, so had the whole restaurant to ourselves. Again the kids were presented with freshly made hot chocolates, which kept them happy. There was a good selection of cold meats, cheeses and really nice breads, muesli and freshly cooked eggs to orde. All around it was a lovely breakfast experience.
We were only staying in Garmisch-Partenkirchen overnight, so after breakfast we quickly repacked the barely touched bags and left them in the hotel, before heading off for our morning activity and the main reason we had stopped in Garmisch, a hike through Partnach Gorge.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a German ski resort in Bavaria, formed when 2 towns united in 1935 to host the 1936 Winter Olympics. It’s a popular destination for winter sports as well as alpine hiking. The town lies near the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, with a 2,962m summit accessed by cogwheel train and cable car. If we were staying longer we would have loved to pay Zugspitze a visit, but it wasn’t to be. As the two towns were merged, there are 2 ‘old towns’ and 2 different city areas. Garmisch is considered the more fashionable section, filled with expensive ski shops, while Partenkirchen’s cobblestone streets retain a traditional Bavarian feel.
We had a short walk from the hotel to the bus stop, where we admired the ski shops with expensive ski gear and no snow! The locals were a little miffed that it was January and there was a decided lack of snow.
We caught the bus through the town up to the ski jump stadium. It looked like a lovely town and we hoped to have a short explore on the way back from our gorge hike. The ski jump stadium was open so we could look around the base. We planned to visit Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck, but this was a bonus jump to have a look around. The jump was enormous, it’s so hard to see how big they are from the photos. There was not much snow on the ski runs and it looks like they had been trying to manufacture some with the snow blowers, for the recent competition.
Unfortunately the ski jump stadium is as close to the gorge as you can get via public transport. It was then a 2.3km walk up to the gorge from the bus stop. Luckily, it was a pretty scenic walk. We went past streams with beautiful aqua blue water and past several chair lifts. This area was meant to be covered in snow at this time of year! It looked like a pretty place to ski, but was absolutely deserted this day.
The Partnach Gorge is a deep gorge that has been incised by a mountain stream, the Partnach. The gorge is 702 metres long and, in places, over 80 metres deep. Over Winter the waterfalls freeze and the gorge is often full of frozen ice sculptures. In the warmer months there are lots of scenic hikes you can do either side of the gorge. Due to time constraints, and small children, we just planned to do the main gorge walk and hoped to see lots of ice and snow. Before we were even at the gorge we figured the chance of ice was low, but there was the odd bit of snow around, so we might get lucky.
Once we arrived at the gorge and it was just starting to rain. With all the waterfalls, the gorge was pretty wet anyway so it wasn’t a huge issue. We had both kids in ergos for the gorge walk as the majority of the walk was over slippery rocks, with only a single guard rail, and a long way down to rocks and the fast flowing stream below. Much of the walk was also in pitch black, through tunnels. Most of the tunnels had guide ropes for when it was icy. We did use a torch for sections as it was difficult going at times with kids on our backs and camera gear. Just to make it more fun, large sections of the roof were at 1.75 meteres and below. All of the adults in the group had to duck quite often, and it was usually very dark when you had to do so.
Despite the fact that the gorge was supposed to be completely iced over at this time of year, there was not a lot of ice to be seen, but the bits we found were lovely. There were even a few small sections of frozen waterfall. The stream through the gorge was running quite fast and was again the lovely bright blue colour. It was being filled with lots of melting snow dripping down into it.
It was continuing to rain harder as we made our way through the gorge. Through the tunnels it was relatively protected (although there was still water dripping on our heads) but out of the tunnels we would get quite wet. It was far from ideal conditions to take photos in. The tunnels and gorge were extremely dark and lots of shots involved leaning over the railings with a kid firmly attached to my back. We didn’t have time (or the space) to set up the tripod so I just had to do my best with a few hand-held long(ish) exposures. It also wasn’t raining that heavily when we first went into the gorge but by the end, all of us and the camera were getting quite wet as I hadn’t put it in its rain/snow bag. Nonetheless, it was definitely worth the effort and you can at least get an idea from the photos of how pretty it was.
As you couldn’t see where you were going most of the time, we had no idea how much further we had to go, until we popped out at the end of the gorge walk. There were some lovely walks further along the river and up the mountain, and a reasonable amount of snow. However, it was now pouring with rain, and quite misty. We took a couple of photos and decided we’d better head back as we were all starting to get quite wet.
The trip back through the gorge (another 700m) we tried to do quickly as everyone was getting wet and cold. We passed quite a few people heading into the gorge, so the rather inclement weather hadn’t stopped all the tourists. We didn’t stop for photos on the way back as we were trying to keep the kids and cameras dry, so we made it back out fairly quickly, and without falling over or hitting our heads on the roof.
Once out of the gorge the rain hadn’t really let up, so we opted for an express walk back down to the bus stop. It wasn’t particularly cold that morning, so we hadn’t put mittens on the kids. Now that they had been on our backs and not moving for around 2 hours they were starting to get cold and miserable. Soren was particularly (and understandably) grumpy. Once we reached the bus shelter, we had a 10 minute wait for the bus, so we attempted to warm up the kids ice-block hands and distract them with gummi bears.
The afternoon plan was to catch the train to Innsbruck, but we didn’t have reserved seats so could go on any train in theory. We had originally planned to head out of Garmisch at 12pm and do some stops in Alpine towns along the way. The gorge walk had taken longer than we anticipated so we decided to change our plans and have lunch in Garmisch and a quick wander of the Old Town before taking the 2pm train instead.
It was still pouring rain, so the bus ride back into town was not as scenic as the ride out, earlier in the day. Our plan to have a quick look through Marienplatz and few photos in the Old Town was also not looking good. Since we were all wet and cold, we hopped off the bus and tried to find somewhere nice to eat not far from either the hotel or the train station. We luck out and find a German restaurant almost directly opposite the train station that is really nice, and also warm and dry.
We arrived just on 12pm and the place was empty, so we weren’t sure if it was a bad sign, but it was definitely getting busier before we finished. It turned out to be a really nice lunch, a good way to finish our time in Germany. I have the kase-spetzel (fried onions and spetzel with cheese sauce, yes I figured out what that dish is called) it was really good. The kids have 2 fried camembert with toast, butter and cranberry sauce that they thoroughly enjoyed. Alan and Anto both went for the cordon bleu. Mikl had roast pork with potato dumpling, gravy and white cabbage. Boys had beer, because, well it was a meal. The kids and I had hot chocolates, which were definitely required to warm us up.
We were all a little disappointed that we didn’t get many photos of Garmisch-Partenkirchen as the only time we had that we weren’t on the bus or in the gorge, it was pouring. It certainly seemed like a lovely place with beautiful painted buildings and a nice looking old town. It’s definitely on my list of places to try and re-visit, maybe next time there will even be snow!
Given it was still very wet, we thought we should get on the 2pm train and not wait until the one after, as we were unlikely to see much in such awful weather. I headed across the road to the train station with kids and all the day packs while boys went back to the hotel to grab suitcases. About 30 seconds after they left Astrid needed to go to the toilet (after going 5 mins prior at lunch) and I didn’t have any change (or any cash at all) for the paid toilets. A serious problem in Europe. I messaged Anto in the hope that he could run back and give me some change but he didn’t see it, so she had to jiggle for 20 minutes. Another one of those fun things about traveling with kids.
We were on the train just before 2pm. Soren still hadn’t slept and was getting very tired. He and Astrid were immediately cheered up by the fact that the train had a kinderwagen (kids carriage) so of course we sat there to keep them happy, and to allow other adults to give us a wide-berth.
The rail journey from Garmisch-Partenkirchen through to Innsbruck (in Austria) goes through the Arlberg Pass and is supposed to be one of the most scenic European rail trips. We had been lucky with our weather so far on the trip, but it was decidedly rainy today and we weren’t going to get to see much. It was alternating between rain and snow outside, and most of the time the views were pretty limited, and the photos even more so. We did go through a big snow storm, which was best enjoyed from inside the train! The kids didn’t care one bit. They avoided resting, were on a train, in a kids area, and got to watch snow outside the window!
Our original plan was to stop in Mittenwald (Germany) and/or Seefeld in Tirol (Austria). Both are lovely little alpine towns. Due to the very inclement weather and our general tiredness we decide to go straight through and look at both towns from the train. Both looked like places we would like to return to one day. Both actually had snow as they were are at reasonable altitudes.
Seefeld in Tirol is at almost 12oom in the Arlberg mountain range. As you exit the town you head through the Pass and there are sheer drops down into the valley of several hundred metres. It was actively snowing as we headed through the pass, so I ended up with exactly zero photos, but even with the poor visibility the views were pretty spectacular. Between Langen and St Anton the train runs through the Arlberg tunnel (a 10.25km tunnel) and there is also a 14km road tunnel through the same mountain. It was certainly an interesting rail trip and worth doing if you are in the area.
With all the excitement the kids didn’t rest on the train (again). As we were coming into Innsbruck there was a decided lack of snow as we dropped quite a lot of altitude from when we left Seefeld. The train got in at 3.30pm and we picked up our Innsbruck cards while at the train station. We decided to get cabs to our accommodation as it’s wet and we don’t want to drag bags in the rain. Despite needing 2 cabs for all of us and the bags, it was still a cheap ride and a good decision in the weather. The cabs take us up a very narrow alley way at high-speed which was amusing. We later found that all the cars seem to do the same thing, which is less fun when we are walking beside the same road!
When we arrived, our Airbnb apartment was ready for us, but is again on the 4th floor (a loft apartment), so lots of stairs. It is well and truly made up for by the amazing views. The apartment is huge and beautiful, we all wish we were staying longer than 3 nights.
After a quick unpack, Anto and Mikl and I head down to supermarket to pick up supplies (yay for having a kitchen again) and most importantly alcohol and washing detergent…… yay for having washing again, after 9 days. The first of about 20 loads of washing was put on we headed out to dinner. It was dark and rainy so we’d canned any exploring for the day, especially as the kids were well and truly over it!
Soren still hadn’t slept and was decidedly grumpy so we offered for him to stay with Anto and have a toasted sandwich and a bath and go to bed. He kept saying he wanted to stay in the apartment, but then wanted to go out for dinner, but wouldn’t put his coat on. In the end the rest of us left him and Anto behind and he magically decided about 5 minutes later he did want to put his coat on and go out after all. Of course he then fell asleep in the ergo on the walk down the hill and into Old Town.
We had decided to try the Goldenes Daschl restaurant after reading some good reviews. It was not too busy when we got there at 5.30pm. They gave the kids a kids menu that turned into a memory game which they loved. The boys of course had beer, lots of it, it is Austria….. and I had gluhwein.
There were a number of interesting food options. I had gemusegrostel which was like cottage potatoes with other vegies and fresh sprouts and 2 fried quail eggs. Soren was keen and ate a fair bit of it. Alan had lamb stew with vegies. Anto had fowl goulash with spetzel, and declared it the opposite of foul. Mikl had a plate of meat – which had octodogs (sausage), pork a couple of ways, bacon, poatato dumpling, and sauerkraut. Then we all shared an apple strudel and cheese strudel for dessert. The kids got a special treat of kids icecream – kinderbrecht. All the food was delicious.
By the time we finished dinner it had stopped raining. We walked back up the big hill with tired kids. They did score a bath in the lovely apartment bathroom and only managed to muck around for about half an hour going to sleep. We all hoped for snow overnight (which was forecast).
Statistics for Monday the 11th of January 2016 – in Garmisch-Partenkirchen it was a minimum of 2 degrees and a maximum of 4 degrees. Innsbruck in Austria was a similar 1 to 4 degrees. No wonder there so little snow! The total walking for the day was just over 15km, and most of it was carrying both the kids and/or the luggage.