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Trip Start Oct 18, 2012
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Where I stayed

Flag of Germany  , Baden-Württemberg,
Sunday, January 13, 2013

Howdy folks,

The last few days have been very exhausting and for good reason! On Friday I got up at 4am and Steffie drove me into Heidelberg so that I could catch the 5am express train to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). I haven't caught the Deutsche Bahn here yet so I wasn't sure how the whole system operated. I booked my ticket online and chose the simplest route with only one connection change; so I paid more than the normal trains. Given that I had never caught the train in Germany before and because I would be half asleep, I couldn't be bothered trying to change trains at 6am in the morning just to save 10 Euros.

There were only 2 others in the carriage which wasn't surprising given the early start and after a nap, I arrived in Freiburg 2 hours later. Freiburg is the biggest city in southern Baden-Württemberg and I had an hour to kill until the next train arrived. In all honesty, I would have had just enough time to switch trains and avoid a long delay, but I really needed a coffee. As with most train stations, there was a McDonalds on site although the McCrossaint I had. I still think that a sausage and egg McMuffin beats a ham and cheese McCrossaint any day. One of the other wonders of Germany is that just about every toilet, even in McDonalds, has someone sitting outside collecting 50c or 70c per person to use it. I guess everyone has to make a living.

As the sun was rising, I followed some other snowboarders onto the regional train and it didn't take long for the flat, green pastures to change into mountains and valleys with snow covered trees. Just before 9am, I arrived in the Hochschwarzwald in a crossroads town called Bärental (Bear Valley). The ski bus was waiting for us and 10 minutes later, I was on the ski hill. This mountain is called Feldberg and is the highest mountain in the Black Forest at 1493m. It is funny because that is just 30m higher than the town of Banff and all the mountains in Banff National Park are higher still. I guess elevation would be a main reason why the Canadian Rockies get so much snow.

It had only been 8 months since the last time I was snowboarding and after sorting out a snowboard rental and buying a ski pass it was time to see what snowboarding in Germany was all about! Unlike Sunshine where the Upper Village is quite a bit higher than the carpark, most of the runs terminate at or near the village so each time you want to take a lift you have to scan your card (albeit handsfree) and go throught the turnstyle. There was only one main chairlift that seated 6 and everyone was held back by a gate. Once the gate opened you slid down onto a mini 3m moving walkway like you see in the airport which got you in position to catch the lift. Just like in Lake Louise, the lifts have foot rests for the skiers which makes life difficult for snowboarders!

The main run was medium length and it only took 2 runs to get back some confidence. It is surprising how quickly you can pick something like that up after it took so long to learn the first time around! I had to make a few breaks as the muscles were a little sore, but I managed to last the whole day out on the hill. Midway through the afternoon I had to swap the old Rossignol board over to a nicer Burton one because the crappy old bindings were halfbroken. The newer Burton board was quite a bit faster and a tad longer so it took a while to get used to that again! Burton is one of the premium brands and although I will never own one it was a pleasure to use it.

I caught the 5pm bus back into town and met a young, Aussie guy called Ben who was in Europe for a few weeks with his parents on vacation. Steffie met us at the train station after driving down after work and gave him a lift up to his hotel whcih was around the corner from ours. After an exhausting day I was happy to take a shower and lie down before going out for dinner. We were recommmended the Hotel Adler for dinner and the food was good although it cost us 50 Euros!

The accommodation we stayed at is called Pension Kastner and was more like a bed and breakfast than a hotel. In the morning we had a nice buffet breakfast with these cute, little, ceramic coffee kettles that were good for two cups. In the corner we heard the familiar sounds of a cuckoo clock which is a local export although those one was just a plain, green box instead of the usual decorations.

Being Saturday, there was no available parking as we drove up to the ski hill and we ended up parking on the main road and having to walk 15 minutes up to the village. That doesn't sound like much, but when you do it in snowboard boots, carrying a board and in full snow gear then it gets pretty warm. Steffie was keen to do a snow hike and headed off to the House of Nature to get a map. Meanwhile I got my first real glimpse of the traffic. There were twice as many people there as the previous day and the line up to the lift was unbelievable! It was going to be a long day...

I decided to head over to the other ski hill which is over the road on the other mountain. To get there I took a chair up, but when I got to the top the low clouds made any sort of navigating impossible! I cut a shallow line straight across the mountain making sure noone came racing through the fog and eventually ended up in the valley where the visibility was much better. There is a snowbridge that allows skiers to ski over the road to the lifts on the other side which was a novelty.

Unfortunately all of the lifts on the other mountain were T-Bars (drag lines) except one at the end of the valley. Unlike a chairlift, a T-Bar is a line which you get dragged up on your skiis by a bar you shove between your legs. This is all well and good if you are a skier and can face forwards with both feet in the bindings, but if you are standing sideways on a snowboard with one foot free then it becomes a struggle to stay in a straight line. Unsurprisingly the first one I lined up for (20 minutes!), I fell off as soon as it started going up. I took a few T-Bars the day before, but the newer Burton board didn't have a non-slip foot pad so it made it impossible!

Frustrated I walked over to the next T-Bar and nervously lined up to take that one up higher. Thankfully I made it to the top (somehow!) and was able to head over to the chairlift. This mountain had longer runs through the trees, but it also meant that there was some congestion around the lifts and a few bottlenecks as well. After a few runs, I checked the time and had to head back to the village to meet Steffie. Surprisingly, it didn't take long to head back over although I had to catch another T-Bar. Steffie didn't show up at 1:30pm so I had some lunch and at 2pm left to do another run while I was waiting. When I finally made it back down she was waiting outside the Cafe.

It became apparent that she had an adventure of her own! She had inquired about the hike and was told her hiking boots were good enough to head up the mountain on the 9km loop to the summit of Feldberg. Unfortunately for her the low clouds and poor visibility made navigation impossible and the hike took twice as long after she got a bit lost. It was lucky that she made it down in one piece albeit frustrated, tired and sore, but alive. It was really poor form that the people said she could go alone espeically when the weather was against her. In the mountains any accident is easily possible.

She warmed up while I went on a final run and bade adieu to the snowboard. We were both pretty tired, so we ended up driving back to hotel and relaxed in the room with a few glasses of wine for rest of the evening. Steffie introduced me to a TV show called Schlag den Raab (Beat the Raab). Basically the host of the show Stefan Raab is challenged to a series of different tests such as snowmachine slalom, morse code or ice soccer with bowling shoes. If in the end he is successful then he gets to take away a big cash prize. Stefan Raab is very competitive and is always trying to undermine the challenger and is amazingly good.

Sunday was going to be a lazy day for us and the weather wasn't helping. The low visibility kind of killed any plans we had, so after breakfast we packed everything back into the car and drove to the nearby town of Titisee which is on a lake and quite a bit bigger than Bärental. We parked the car by the lake and went for a walk along the lakefront. The lakeshore was only partially frozen and there were still ducks in the water. Titisee is quite popular in summer and there are plenty of cafes, shops and hotels about. One of the main exports from town is the Cuckoo Clock (Kuckucksuhr) and in one particular shop there was a wall full of them ranging from 120 Euros all the way up to 4,000 Euros! There were plenty of other modern style or exposed mechanical style clocks in glass casings which cost up to 30,000 Euros! Obviously if you buy one of these styles you wouldn't want it breaking anytime soon!

Think of the Black Forest and aside from Cuckoo Clocks you might think of Black Forest ham or Black Forest Cake. One other thing is the Bollenhut which is a ladies hat decorated in red or black pompoms worn with the traditional country dress. Apparently the red pompoms indicated a woman was unmarried and black pompoms were hands off! These days its just a tourist gimic. We did want to have a proper Black Forest Cake before we left so we stopped in at the Cafe Becker and shared a huge slice of the cream sponge cake covered in cherry liquor goodness. Combined with a hot chocolate it was a sugar hit that could almost kill!

It was time to drive back so we jumped in the car and wound our way down the twisted road back out to Freiburg. Back on the Autobahn, it didn't take us long to travel the 230kms back home. We stopped off at Kim and Mona's house for the afternoon as it was their daughter Lea's birthday. After a good feed, we were ready to head for home. We brought back some black forest ham, schwarzwurst (blood sausage) and mettwurst for the parents and that was it!

Time to get ready for another week of fun before my Visa interview on Friday!
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