Germany and Austria: Learning to Kill Two Biers with One Stein

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To commemorate our two month anniversary as world travelers, we finally finished this post. Buses and trains are great, but it’s difficult to visit small towns using public transportation alone.  So, we splurged a little and got a car.  Three hundred bucks bought us a Nissan Micra (for the week, at least).  Definitely pricey, but you only quit your jobs and travel the world once, right?

We did the typical Romantic Road route of Wurzburg to Fussen.  The term was invented by travel agents in 1950 to describe the traditional, stereotypical German/Bavarian sights along the route.  Apparently, there was some kind of conflict in the country five years earlier and tourism (along with the rest of the country) needed rebuilding.

This is a popular route for tourists, but we mostly avoided the hordes—except in Dinkelsbühl.  We made it just in time for the Kinderzeche Festival, one of the biggest festivals in Bavaria. We had no idea this was going on.

The Swedes were all up in Germany’s shit during the Thirty Years’ War, and the Swedish army besieged the town of Dinkelsbühl for kicks.  The city councilors would not surrender, and the decision was made to pillage the town.  The children allegedly went to Colonel Von Sperreuth (the leader of the Swedish forces) and pled for mercy.  The Colonel was just informed of the death of his young son, and he decided not to destroy the city for the childrens’ sake.  Good call sending the kids. Eventually, the Lakrisal-loving Swedes took off. The Kinderzeche Festival celebrates this event each year.  Just look at these thrilled faces.

After Bavaria, we spent a three nights in the Tyrol Alps—one in Fussen and two in Berwang.  On the drive through the mountains, we found a lake that was so clear, you could see straight to the bottom.  Giardia be damned, Kim waded in to take a sip.  We ended up drinking about a half liter.  On our hike to Neuschwanstein Castle, we found a stream where we drank up again.  We just stuck our bottle right in the stream. Ice cold and crystal clear.  Take that, Evian.

Two of our nights were spent in the thriving city of Berwang, Austria (Population— 400). We arrived in time to catch the tail end of a Wednesday-night band concert. Lederhosen and all. Not unlike the Big Red Marching Machine, the musicians took a shot after each solo.  Not a bad policy, but I can tell you some of the marches sound a little rough by the end.

After the concert, we checked in at Gästehaus Zugspitzblick.  Well, when I say “checked in”, I mean knocked on the front door for about 10 minutes before going to the Café Mirabell next door to ask for help.  It turns out Mirabell ran the hotel?  Well, she took our money at least.  We were the only guests.  She seemed to pick up that our German was poor nonexistent, but she was not deterred.  Every time we saw her, she would recite these long monologues usually beginning with “So…” while we stared blankly.  Our usual response was usually “Ja! Ja!” or “zwei bier, bitte!”  This photo was taken about 200 yards from our front door.

We said goodbye to our Micra in Munich after 1500 kilometers driven, a dozen or so strudels eaten, and many liters of bier drank.

Highlights from Austria and Bavaria from To Uncertainty and Beyond on Vimeo.

We had five uneventful days in Salzburg before heading to Vienna. Like many cities, their metro is on the honor system. Suckers.

So, I came up with a three-step plan.

  1. Buy two 48-hour passes (but do not validate)
  2. Ride the Metro for 72-hours
  3. Sell the unused passes on the street
  4. Laugh all the way to the bank!

It was perfect. Brilliant, really. If they ever checked, we would feign ignorance on the validation. We’re tourists! We don’t know how you fancy, Austrian-types do things.  We purchased the tickets, didn’t validate, rode the Metro about 15 to 20 times, and even found buyers for our passes.  Success!

Now we had to get one last ride in to the train station. This time without our unvalidated-ticket insurance. I wasn’t worried, but I kept an eye out for ticket checkers. We hopped on the U3 like any other time. Only five short stops, and we would be on our way to Slovakia with an extra 10 euros in our pockets. As we rode, I decided the spot checks were a myth. We rode for three days and never saw anyone get checked. We were home free.

And we would have been too. If only we left one minute later, waited for the next train, or even boarded a different car. But, we didn’t.

We were one stop away from success when four plain-clothes transit cops whipped out badges simultaneously. I couldn’t help smiling a little even as they escorted us and four other free-riders off the train. We told them about the two-day ticket. We must have left it at the hostel!

They were unsympathetic.

The fine was 140 euros (70€ each), but they were charging us with one violation only.  I claimed we didn’t have any money.   I offered them the 10€ note in my pocket (from the street sale), but alas, they already saw the 50€ and 10€ bills peaking out of Kim’s wallet.  The worst part?  We had to buy tickets to get back on…to go one stop.

That’s how it goes.  As The Stranger said to The Dude, “Sometimes you eat the bear, and well…sometimes he eats you.”

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