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Endless green

Wildschonau Valley, Austria

overcast 15 °C

The tenth of July rolled around and it was time for us to join Busabout for our first leg- to the Wildshonau Valley in Austria. Only six people got off the bus at this small stop, but after seeing the scenery I'm sure everyone else regretted it. I can't even describe how lovely that place is. The name Wildschonau comes from the local term for 'wild beauty', and that's probably the most apt depiction. Long ago, folklore told that the deep valleys and ravines of the area were carved by a dragon's tail. The Apsley Ski Lodge was our accommodation for two nights and genuinely felt like home- they greeted us with warm Milo and Vegemite toasties (a blessing after heavy German food).

Arriving early on the first day, Hodge and I decided to see what all the fuss was about with the Austrians' hiking obsession. I get it now. Wow. Running springs with crystal water, mist so thick you could butter it on bread, and an abundance of the biggest cows I've ever seen in my life. These cows must follow their grass with a protein shake every day, they were taller than me. A special addition was one very cute and friendly goat, who we quickly made the acquaintance of.

I'll let the photos do the talking for the first hike we took, but will share the story behind it. The lodge owner recommended the walk to us and told me it could probably be done in 'flip-flops'. I chucked on my jeans and expected to smash this thing and be back in time for a lunch hour beer. Three hours later we were essentially climbing vertical to the peak of this hike, which is 2000m above ground. The view was spectacular, as were my bruises from stacking it twice on the way down. No better way to make friends then slide butt-first down the soaking wet Austrian countryside. The lodge owner laughed at my indignation upon returning back to our room, telling me that most Austrians would think it an anthill.

But really, we stopped in Wildschonau with a great little bunch of people and you definitely get a feel for the small-town hospitality and love of nature that the region boasts of. Our second night, the chef cooked us a home-style barbecue and I could have.. Actually did have.. Five servings of it.

Much love,
Georgia

Posted by gpontour 09:31 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Dachau

Munich, Germany

rain 16 °C

Visiting a concentration camp has been on my agenda for years. I have always loved history , especially that of the 20th century, and felt a great sense of responsibility to make myself turn textbooks into tangibility. What I learnt from visiting KZ Dachau is that no amount of reading, voyeurism or compassion could ever really prepare you for stepping foot into a place that has known so much suffering. I suppose it's harder to swallow because it can't be pushed away as senseless, arbitrary cruelty - Dachau worked as a slick killing machine. Ideology was its fuel and political devotion its fire. Knowing this, you sort of expect Dachau to be hidden away like a snake, waiting coiled and full of poison. But the camp isn't about legacy or bitterness at all. I don't really know what to say its point is. It has no future vision or mission statement. It is sad. It is grey. It is there. It is there because it has to be, because we have to remember. Dachau is not about remorse, or celebration, or even hope. It stands purely to remind us that humans are capable of undertaking horrendous tasks in the spirit of all those things.

Taking the bus into Dachau, it's disconcerting to see how charming the actual town is. We took the bus that followed the same route that prisoners were forced along. Street names that were once synonymous with the clanking of chains have been filled with biergartens, patisseries, even schools.
It made me wonder what the townsfolk imagined was going on behind the elm trees that frame Dachau all those decades ago, if the idea that inhumane acts were occurring underneath the guise of a labour camp had even occurred to these people until they saw photos of the Final Solution corpses piled head-high.

I'm sure people have read accounts of conditions and circumstances in Nazi KZ camps, and I don't want to turn this into a history lesson. Nothing can actually compare until you give these atrocities a face. That is what happened that day at Dachau. The statistics and facts I confidently held were obliterated as ignorant tokens by the stare of children's eyes in photos, the cold shine of metal bars across the windows, the dusty residue that the gas chambers leave on your fingertips. I think my mind shut off after a while and I had to escape. There is a limit to which the human mind will comprehend pain before closing itself for protection. What is hard about Dachau, about all genocide, is that you can't be protected from what drives these events. You can't build armour against an idea.

I'll leave this entry with two images that will cling to my visceral senses about that day.

One is a quote from one of my favourite novels, "If this is a Man" by Primo Levi-

“Even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last — the power to refuse our consent.”

The second is a tribute built by the Jewish community on the grounds of Dachau. It is a simple construction, merely a large bronze ramp sloping ever upward. It represents the struggle of minorities. The question is whether there is a high point after the endless march.

Posted by gpontour 12:33 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Munchen

Munich, Germany

overcast 17 °C

Munich is nicknamed Toytown because of its rich Bavarian context- the architecture is a a barrage of medieval spires and statues, softened by fairytale greens and pinks. The people are somewhat the same, very formal and close-lipped but also very homey and idealistic.
We woke up each day in Munich to another strange paradox, bell towers chiming and doves fluttering on our balcony, but the slow grind of cranes and trams groaning underneath. It's a place that seems to be struggling under the weight of its deep history, especially that of the Second World War, and is attempting to compromise it's very delicate culture with the modern demands of being a major city. It can feel a bit hollow because of this, but if you scratch the surface you can still picture how elegant Munich must have been when Southern Germany was a world unto itself.

When you wander around Marienplatz, the old city centre, this clash is obvious. Cobblestone alleys and gothic towers are home to Internet cafes, more bakeries than you could hope to visit, and global retail stores. Nonetheless, sitting in the gardens of The Residence, where the Bavarian royalty held court, you can visualise dukes traipsing around the gardens and setting off for the opera.

We had the privilege of seeing modern German pride in full flight on the night of the World Cup semi-final. We tentatively wandered over to the Augustiner Keller Brewhouse, which has been there since the 1300s, expecting it to be completely packed, but were waved over to some seats near the big screen. After trying to traverse the huge language barrier, and having no idea what we ordered, the waiter thumped down two steins of beer (1L each) and literally half a roast chicken for each of us. I watched half-impressed half-horrified as the locals next to us demolished their equal servings in about five minutes. I managed to finish my stein about three hours later and I'm sure the wait staff thought I was from Mars. German beer will knock you off your feet. As the game progressed, the faces around us passed from relieved, to hopeful, to shocked, to grown men losing their figurative pretzels and sobbing with joy. Hodge and I nervously mouthed along with their German chants, only later learning that 'oh wie das Schon ' means 'oh how beautiful this is'. They were really lovely to let us in on their moment of victory when we probably couldn't appreciate how special it was and didn't laugh when I wandered into the keg-room thinking it was the bathroom.

I'll upload a separate post for Dachau, purely because it was an enormous experience on its own.

Munchen was a really relaxing start to our trip, a few days of R&R in Austria should prepare us for our Italian whirlwind.

Danke Schon (still no better at German),

Georgia.

Posted by gpontour 01:59 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

The Fun Sports Stuff

Munich, Germany

all seasons in one day 21 °C
View 2014 European Busabout Adventure on Hodgeontour's travel map.

Today was the German holiday which they call the Guten Tag of the Hodge, which will be roughly translated by future historians as "Good Day of the Hodge". This historic day shall recognised and celebrated in Deutschland as the day that Hodge was allowed to pick the itinerary. Furthermore, rumour has it that the Deutschmark will return under the guise Hodgemark.

Anyway, in other news... As the previously elaborate (yet greatly inferior) blogpost indicated, we woke up considerably refreshed after 15hours sleep. We awoke early and were among the first the the buffet breakfast. As a backpacker trying to implement a budget, this is a goldmine. After bacon, eggs,bread, fruit, sausages, prosciutto, croissants and copious amounts of coffee and orange juice, I felt content, with a burning desire to ascend to even greater food-devouring heights tomorrow. In a clear demonstration of how different we are, Georgia was more inclined to declare that she may never eat again. Rookie.

As Georgia set off planning tomorrow's day of "Dachau this, concentration camp that", I realised that it was my moment to shine and plan what would be the greatest part of the trip to date (yes I know our trip has only consisted of one non-transit day...).

First stop, Marienplatz, the old Munich city. We ventured here yesterday, however; we had both decided that our sweaty, overheated, weary selves were not even remotely photogenic. We took some pictures of the old, yet eccentric architectures we walked from our hotel to Marienplatz (approx. 4 train stations away). They'll be uploaded ASAP!

Next was the awesome part. With every intention of going on a fully guided tour of Allianz stadium, we arrived early to buy tickets for the only English speaking tour of the day. Apparently due to high demand they had put on extra tours but we would be able to join an English one for 4 hours or a German one for 3. Shattered. Instead, we were able to go to the Bayern Munich Museum which was awesome! The location of the stadium was fascinating in itself. Several kilometres out of the main cities and a train station-stadium walk about 20times as long as Jolimont-MCG. Somehow they manage to sellout every single home game of the season before it even begins. Epic.

Next up was the Olympia Arena made especially for the 1972 Munich Olympics. The design in itself is a bit of an eyesore, but the epic proportions and close proximity of pool, tennis courts, football stadium and multipurpose arena was amazing.

Anyway, seeing as I've contributed so much today, I'll leave the tedious task of uploading photos to my travel companion. Ciao.

Posted by Hodgeontour 08:47 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Finally here

Melbourne, Australia - Munich, Germany

sunny 22 °C

Guten tag!
Our enormous transit went off without any hitches. We managed to sleep through most of our Melbourne - Bangkok leg, even after refusing Xanex from our friendly seat neighbour about twenty times. Thanks to Milly, we got to enjoy some pre-flight time in the gold class lounge (ungraciously shoving our faces with champagne) and we were then moved to an exit row on the plane. Yay!

We cleared customs at Bangkok to do some wandering seeing as we had a big stop-over. Whilst seeing the cityscape was worthwhile we hurried back to the airport pretty quickly after gauging the political climate there- the recent coup has really shifted the city's culture and there was military presence at every corner. Tourists are quite obviously unwelcome there at the moment so we enjoyed some gourmet Thai Burger King back at the airport instead (NB; if you can, always avoid Bangkok airport for stop-overs. Minimal public utilities and not many ways to kill time).

Our legs with Oman Air were seriously impressive, plane food was probably the best I've had and the hospitality is lovely. It was fascinating watching the change in demographics from both legs- to Muscat was very Middle Eastern, with traditional food and Arabic script everywhere. On the way to Munich, the airline changes status quo and gears up for mostly Europeans travelling with them. I really want to go back and see Oman properly, the people seem very kind and the natural sights looked amazing.

Upon arrival in Munich (July 6th 7am) , we had a while before we could check in to our hotel so we rewarded ourselves with a well-earned morning beer (perfectly acceptable here) and prepared to try and catch a train to our hotel. A random German local gave us her train ticket because she didn't need it so we rode for free. With the help of a German girl, who ironically spent six months last year in Greenvale, Victoria, we easily found our stop and even navigated to our hotel without google maps, a taxi or public transport. We were pretty impressed with ourselves!

Our room wasn't ready so we did some sightseeing but barely took anything in with our jet lag. The lady who runs our hotel let us check-in early because we looked like we had just survived the Hunger Games. The plan was to nap and go out for dinner locally but our nap turned into a 15 hour sleep. It's 6am here on the 7th of July and we are about to go take advantage of our cheap hotel buffet breakfast. Photos to come, with the condition that nobody laughs at the afro this heat has inflicted on my hair.

Much love!

Georgia.

Posted by gpontour 20:30 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

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