Where to Stay in San Francisco on a Budget

Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.

The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former owner’s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Website: www.adelaidehostel.com

Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fisherman’s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of the building’s military history.  The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out.  A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostel’s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Website: www.sfhostels.org/fishermans-wharf

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Don’t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostel’s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
Website: san-francisco-hostel.com

All of the above-mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.

Back to 1885 at the Sacramento Hostel

blog-20120902-img1If you want to overnight in a restored Victorian mansion dating to 1885, the Sacramento Hostel is the place. The hostel has worked hard to give visitors a comfortable experience while maintaining the elegance and beauty of this historic building.

The family room we stayed in was very spacious. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking utensils and the facilities were well maintained. My daughter enjoyed exploring the stairs and quickly discovered a foosball table and travel library in the basement. The small breakfast that was offered in the morning was a good way to start the morning. The staff members are very helpful in recommending local places to visit and an activity board listing local attractions and schedules is displayed in the main hallway.

The building itself has a long history and was once nearly destroyed to make room for a modern skyscraper. Fortunately, the building was preserved, actually moved several times over its history, to become a unique experience for today’s travelers. Look for a pamphlet on the building’s full story that is located in one of the Victorian style living parlors.

Parking is available on the street, or in a gated area for a small fee. The hostel is located in the heart of downtown and is a good location for exploring Sutter’s Fort and the Railroad Museum.

Learn More:
http://norcalhostels.org/sac/

The Point Reyes Hostel is Great for Families

After a long day of exploring the beaches, forests, and grasslands of Point Reyes National Seashore, where does a family stay?

In the heart of this 70,000-acre parkland, is the Point Reyes Hostel. The main hostel is located in a converted ranch house, but recently there is a new addition, the “green building.” The green building was constructed to LEED Silver standards so it maximizes water savings, is energy efficient and constructed with materials that support human and environmental health.

I found the new facilities to be clean, roomy and most of all quiet. Our family room had two bunk beds and a larger twin bed on the lower level, but what everyone liked most was the window, which could be opened to allow copious amounts of fresh coastal air inside. The communal kitchen was well stocked with cooking items and the shared bath facilities were well maintained.

Adjacent to the kitchen area is a sizable balcony for sitting outside and having a meal. If you sit outside the entertainment can include a covey of quail running below, or even a deer munching some grass nearby.

Depending on the time of year you can expect sun or rain, but there is always some amount of overcast that rolls in from the ocean. The seashore is located about an hour north of San Francisco, California.

To learn more about the Point Reyes Hostel visit:
http://norcalhostels.org/reyes/

A Family Overnight at the Marin Headlands Hostel

If your family is visiting San Francisco, California, consider overnighting on a decommissioned military base.

The base is now part of an immense national recreation area known as the Marin Headlands where visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, and beachcombing. After a long day, when it is time to bed down, the Marin Headlands Hostel is a good choice for families. The hostel has taken great care to restore these historic military buildings, which date to 1907.

Families who stay here get a treat, the opportunity to stay in a solidly built two-story building that served as Officer’s quarters. Inside the house an impressive staircase greets visitors and a cozy living room is stocked with books and games. A broad porch welcomes parents who wish to sit, rest, and watch sunsets or catch glimpses of deer grazing in a field. As part of the hosteling experience be prepared to bring your own food and make use of the common kitchen.

The hostel is a good value for the money, especially considering the high cost of accommodation in the bay area. I would suggest earplugs to guard against any possible late night noise.

What I found most memorable during my stay was hearing an owl hooting in the stillness of the night in this immense and open green space of the Marin Headlands, and knowing that just a few miles away, live several million people.

A Visit to Kalvarienberg Shrine

Sometimes when you travel a place just catches your eye – you want to see more of it. A small church named Kalvarienberg that overlooks Arzl and the city of Innsbruck, Austria, caught my eye fifteen years ago. It was a tiny, white building perched atop a small hill. For some reason this hill just beckoned to me – I had to visit. During that first trip more than fourteen years earlier, I never got to see it up close, even after visiting Innsbruck multiple times the opportunity slipped away….until recently.

A Visit to KalvarienbergThe church is about a forty-five minutes walk from the Youth Hostel in Innsbruck. Wear some comfortable walking shoes as the ascent is greater than it first appears. Part of the enjoyment of the walk is you get to explore the small town of Arzl, which is quiet and relaxing.

Arriving at the base of the hill where the church stands you will pass several shrines along the worn footpath. The area is covered with green grass and sheep are grazing in a fenced area on one side of the hill. Reaching the top allows for fantastic views of the city and mountains beyond. The church is old, has a white exterior and is smaller than I expected, but uniquely designed for the small hill; it does not detract from the natural beauty of the area, rather the hill is beautified by this structure.

A Visit to KalvarienbergArtifacts from Roman times and even stone age peoples have been found on this hill. It was easy to see why this is a great location to defend and to see who might be coming down or up the river. But, today this hill offered peaceful personal reflection and a platform for drinking in intoxicating views of the majestic Inn Valley. Bring a snack and some water for the hike, or even a small picnic to enjoy at the top.

I returned from the hill and back to my starting point, I looked back. The church quietly stood on the hill as it had before my visit.

Enjoying Breakfast on a Tirolean Farm

When traveling in Europe ask the locals about farms that serve meals. It is a great way to eat fresh food, discover someplace new and experience the countryside.

During a trip to Tirol, Austria, we found a farm that served breakfast. There are many such farms in the Alps but this particular one was in the village of Mühlau, a district of Innsbruck, Austria. Breakfast is offered to the public on select Saturday mornings, and the locals suggested we arrive – earlier the better – as it was a very popular location.

We managed to catch a ride that morning. As the car drove quickly through the narrow streets of Mühlau not many people were out. Many of the houses had yards and bright and bountiful looking gardens. Several farms were in the area, but they integrated well with the houses and with other buildings in the town. A large green space weaved its way into the town and it was hard to tell where the town ended and the farms and green space began.

We arrived outside a small green yard with a sturdy looking house and several large wooden barns. Attached to the house was a newer section made of wood and glass. We entered through a heavy wooden door that swung inward, the inside building was made of a light colored wood with windows near the ceiling which allowed in an abundance of natural light. The room was clean and basic in design. A crucifix hung on one wall. Inside the room were nine or ten long tables, each with accompanying wooden benches at the sides. At these tables were maybe 80 people eating with a plate of food. The breakfast assortment included traditional items: homemade fresh bread, freshly made jam, slices of thin meat, speck, yogurt, cheese, fresh milk, some fruit, hard boiled eggs and cups of coffee.

A small line of folks was standing in front of a serving table that included baskets and serving plates. The line was held up because a basket of some critical food item was out. At that moment a woman emerged from a recessed back room, scurried over and refilled the basket of bread. Then another person, this time a child, ran over with clean mugs to refill the inventory, then another child walked over with a plate of cheeses. Then an older woman came out, this was the Mom; she straightened a few things, looked around and instructed the kids to work on some other items.

The atmosphere in the dining hall was relaxed and the people eating were content. Almost everyone there was locals.

A small sign with the letters ‘wc’ (water closet) hung on a large, carved wooden door. Opening the door you walked through a storage area that included a variety of farm implements and boxes of dried food, there was an inside door that opened into the family’s house! There was a hand-scrawled sign on the wall, that looked like a child hurriedly wrote it, with the letters ‘wc’ and an arrow. The arrow pointed to a small guest bathroom. I could hear a TV in one room and people talking from another room. It was an odd feeling just walking into someone’s house.

I was surprised that so many guests visited this house, yet the facilities remained very clean; it was also surprising that the family allowed strangers into where they lived.

Everyone visiting the small, local farm was courteous and treated the place and each other with respect. It was a refreshing experience.

When we finished our breakfast we found the farm Mom and paid for our meals. The cost was €7.50 (about $10) person. She invited us to look around outside.

The big barn was inhabited by 4 large brown cows and nearby we heard chickens, but they were cooped up because of all the visitors. We looked for horses, but a sign said they were up on the mountain. The kids who were visiting the farm enjoyed petting some bunnies and guinea pigs.

It was great being in the city and enjoying some good fresh and locally produced food.

Finding An Abundance of Shrines in Tirol

Religious shrines are abundant in the mountains, cultivated valleys, and forests of Tirol, Austria. The observant visitor will see them everywhere: at the edge of roads, on city streets, in the woods, at restaurants, in businesses, outside of cafes, and even on remote hiking trails.

An Abundance of Shrines in TirolMany of the smaller shrines are carved from wood, are raised off the ground, and sit at eye level. They can even be displayed on a tree. Inside these shrines, protected from direct wind and rain, can be paintings or photos of revered figures: the Madonna, Jesus, Saints or even loved ones.

Some shrines are large and placed in prominent places like sidewalks; while others are small and in out-of-the-way places. One of the smallest shrines I saw rested about 4 meters (12 feet) up a cliff, directly overhead, on a hiking trail. I would not have seen it if I had not stopped for a drink of water and happened to glance up.

An Abundance of Shrines in Tirol - Several Near a Walking PathOther shrines are made of stone or cement; they can be the size of a small car or that of a small bus. These shrines generally have a gate or a fence outside while inside are paintings or statues. Frequently I saw flowers, candles, and photos of people resting just inside such shrines.

In family-owned cafes or in people’s houses a small shrine might be found, but usually, the most common symbol to be seen is a large, ornately carved wooden Crucifix hanging in a corner or along the wall.

If you travel to the top of a mountain a large cross will be located at the highest point. A walk through a thick forest can even reveal a small shrine.

An Abundance of Shrines in Tirol - In the ForestEvery town has a church. These Alpine churches are often graced by the well-known tall rectangular spires that symbolize the Alps. Larger towns might have a basilica and in some cases cathedrals.

Tirol is sometimes referred to as the “Holy Land Tirol” by residents.

The great majority of Tirol’s populace are Roman Catholic.

See the Sights and Save Money in Innsbruck

Visitors to Innsbruck, Austria, can keep some cash in their wallet by using the Innsbruck Card.

The Innsbruck Card is like a ‘golden ticket’ for the holder and provides free entrance to the beautiful sights and historic museums in the Innsbruck area; a ride up and down on one of 7 lifts and free transportation on public transit lines. The card is valid for either, 24, 48, or 72 hours, depending on what you purchase.

innsbruck card - image source - www.innsbruck.infoThe price (at the time of this writing) per adult is €29 for 24 hours; €34 for 48 hours; and €39 for 72 hours. The kid’s price is half the adult amount. This might sound a lot of money, but museum entrance and bus transit fees start adding up and can wreck a budget.

I found the card to be a great investment. The card allowed me to see some amazing stuff, it easily paid for itself in a day and personally saved me $80 in entrance fees over three days!

If you have the time and budget I would recommend the 72-hour card; it provides the most flexibility to accommodate weather, crowds, and Monday. Museums are generally open 6 days a week, but Monday is the day that museums in Innsbruck are closed, so plan around this day accordingly.

The Sightseer BusThe city has an exceptional transit system, but you should consider using the Sightseer Bus with your Innsbruck Card. This big red bus makes stops at all the major museums and runs every fifteen to twenty minutes, it is a very fast and direct way to get around, and of course, free with your Innsbruck card.

The Innsbruck card can be purchased at the ‘Tourist Information’ center downtown which is located at the border of Altstadt and the Maria-Theresien-Straβe (street). The desk staff is multi-lingual and very informative. I suggest you go early in the day to avoid the tour-bus crowds.

Maximize your experience by knowing the places you want to visit before you buy the card. When you purchase the card you will be asked about the 24-48-72 timeframe and an important question, “What Tourist Officetime do you want the card to start?” Be careful, do NOT say “now” and then leave to enjoy a coffee. When you purchase the card a chip embedded in the card is activated. At the end of the 24, 48 or 72 hour time period the card will be invalid. I made good use of the card for 72 hours but was four minutes late arriving at one museum. I attempted to use the card when it was 72 hours and 4 minutes old, but only found it was no longer active.

All cards come with a brochure that lists all of the museums and sights, includes a map and shows the route of the Sightseer Bus.

Riding Innsbruck’s Hungerburgbahn

Years ago during a visit to Innsbruck, Austria, I had the pleasure of riding a quaint and antiquated one-hundred-year-old funicular railway, called the Hungerburgbahn. A funicular railway is designed to climb steep slopes. The old Hungerburgbahn (shown in a photo from the early 1900’s) squeaked, clicked and creaked up the mountain making the ride an adventure in itself. The route was a simple straight track that traversed over a bridge Hungerburgbahn - source Wikipediaspanning the Inn river, then up the mountainside, past the Alpenzoo and beyond to the Hungerburg cable car station. The track was less than one kilometer in length but riding it was like stepping back in time. Sadly, this funicular railway was closed in 2005. It was replaced in 2007 with a modern, safer and more expedient railway.

The new Hungerburgbahn is stepping forward in time. A futuristic building with rounded and sweeping architecture identifies the Congress station to riders. This underground station is close to Altstadt (Old Town) Innsbruck, the center of shopping and tourism. At the station, quiet escalators move passengers below ground to a small waiting area where a polished and modern tram car glides quietly to the boarding area. The doors whisper open and people board. The doors close with computerized efficiency and the tram hums away down a dark tunnel. With a sudden flash the tram bursts into the daylight, making a quick stop at the L̦wenhaus station then crosses an architecturally stylish bridge over the River Inn Рtreating riders to a postcard view. The train disappears into another Hungerburgbahn - Newtunnel and begins a steep ascent up the mountain. Individual pods on the tram change their angle, keeping the riders comfortably level, but this action is so silent, so normal that people do not observe that any change in the angle has occurred. Now the tram re-emerges into the light, the Alpenzoo station is just ahead. To the passengers, the sights and buildings of Innsbruck begin to appear in miniature as the tram climbs higher. A stop is made at the Alpenzoo and then just beyond is the terminus of our ride at the Hungerburg station. From this station, passengers can explore the countryside or catch a gondola to explore the top of the mountain. The Hungerburgbahn travels less than 2 kilometers and climbs 288 meters in elevation in just a few minutes.

Visitors to Innsbruck will appreciate the close to the downtown station and the fast travel time up the mountain – especially if you are traveling with kids or the weather is a concern.

Reference: Wikipedia.

Tips for the American Traveler Dining Out in Tirol

Whether you are visiting family members, on a tour, or independently exploring Tirol in Austria, you will ultimately find yourself eating at a restaurant or cafe. Here are four tips to help you have a more enjoyable meal.

Water:
In the U.S. a glass of drinking water (tap water) is always served in a restaurant and is complimentary with the meal. It is OK to have just water, and not any order social drinks, with a meal. Mineral water can appear on a menu, but is sometimes considered extravagant.

In Austria and much of Europe, a glass of (tap) water is not a complimentary item. Asking for just tap water, and not ordering social drinks, is considered rude and cheap.

Water can be ordered but what you will receive will be mineral water. The waiter will ask, “Do you want Stilles Wasser or Prickelndes Wasser?” Prickelnd means with bubbles, the water is carbonated; Stilles Wasser means no bubbles, just mineral water. The waiter will then bring a small bottle of mineral water to you.

If you want regular tap water, you can ask for it, but request it AFTER the other drinks have been ordered or when your meal is delivered to the table. Requesting water in this way will save any locals at your table any social discomfort or embarrassment.

Tax:
The prices listed on menus have the tax included. A dinner that is advertised at €15.00 will cost you €15.00. Tipping will be extra.

What to Tip:
In the U.S. a waiter often earns a base pay (sometimes under minimum wage) and makes up the difference in pay through tips. In the EU, a waiter, as an employee is already covered by a handsome benefits package and has state-run health care. So, tipping in Austria has different rules than it does in the U.S.

I checked with natives of Innsbruck to ask how they tip. Their general rule is: if you order drinks, tip up to the next Euro. If you order food, tip several Euros. So when drinks cost €6.20 you might pay €7 which includes the tip; if dinner costs €25.40 you might pay €28.00 which also includes the tip. Be careful of touristy restaurants (a place that talks to you in good English and gives you a menu in American English) because they sometimes play to the American custom of tipping at 15% – 20% and will even print this request in the English worded menu. In the end, wherever you eat, if you receive excellent service tip what you wish.

Paying the Bill:
In America, a bill is placed on your table near the end of your meal. In Austria, you must ask for the bill. This custom does allow you to stay at the table and talk sometimes for hours. When you are ready to pay, identify yourself to the waiter and ask for the bill. In smaller restaurants, the owner will approach with a small change purse and a copy of the bill. The owner will show you the bill and say the total amount. You reply with the amount you will pay, (following the tipping rule). Any change will be returned.

Tips for an American Grocery Shopping in Tirol

Grocery shopping in Austria is one of the best ways to learn the German language and discover this great culture. First-time shoppers from America will see many similarities in the grocery stores, but there are some differences. Here are some tips to better enjoy grocery shopping.

Bring a Bag
In the U.S., bags are often included as a ‘courtesy’ item when you shop. In Austria, the stores expect you to come prepared with your bags. The locals generally use cloth mesh or fabric bags that are lightweight. If you do not have a bag the store will be happy to sell you one, for a small fee. Most of the paper bags I saw for purchase were 20 cents. If you are traveling and don’t have a bag you can use a daypack. The store does not mind what you use for bagging as long as you quickly make room for the next customer.

Weigh Those Veggies
At most U.S. stores you take the fruits and vegetables to checkout and the checker (from memory) enters a code into the register while the items are weighed. In Austria, you might need to approach a scale, weigh the food, and type in an item code. A sticker emerges from the scale and you attach it to the item or bag. Some pre-packed veggies are already weighed and marked. Be observant, don’t just grab some veggies and rush to the checkout, take a second to look to see if it needs to be weighed or it is already marked.

Bag Your Groceries…Quickly
In the U.S. the checkout person will scan/weigh the food and send it down a small chute where the food queues up and, if we’re lucky, a store employee bags the groceries. In Austria, you or another person in your group needs to be ready to bag the food immediately after it has been rung up. There is generally little space for food to queue and in some cases no area at all – as in a drop-off. If you are slow with this process and food backs up, you might earn a wrathful look from the checkout person or others in line. Best to be ready to bag.

Rent a Shopping CartRent a Shopping Cart
I have seen in a few places in the U.S. where grocery carts are rented using a quarter or a dollar coin as a deposit, but it really has not caught on in the States. However, in Austria, and much of Europe, use of coins are commonplace. When you approach a grocery store you will see the shopping carts are locked together. Have a 50 cent coin or a 1 Euro coin in your pocket. Insert it into a coin area on the cart’s handle and unchain the cart. At the end of shopping, return the cart, re-chain it, and your deposit money is returned.

Tax is Included
In Austria, the food is taxed, but the tax is included in the final price. If something costs you 1 Euro, you do not have to pay additional. As a traveler I find this helpful with budgeting my daily expenses; I do not have to consider an additional 7% -10% on top of the final price. I found this to be the case with many food items in restaurants as well, taxes were included in the price.

BioKnow About Bio
Some food will have the letters B-I-O written on the packaging or signage. This food is generally more expensive than conventionally grown food. This is Bio (pronounced, be-oh), and the closest thing in the U.S. we have to this is the ‘organic’ label. Bio is part of a healthy foods movement and like the organic label has made tremendous strides to improve food quality, but (this my observation) it is possible the label often gets used when possibly it does not meet required standards – or people refer to something a Bio when it is not. I did buy some food (vegetables and walnuts) that were Bio but found it originated from overseas at a location I would question. I asked some locals about the Biolabeling, they were comfortable with buying bioproducts “because it was safe.” When other locals were asked about a recent Bio food scare in Germany involving tainted sprouts, where several people contracted food poisoning and some even died, the response was, that it was a terrible accident, and to be safe, “shop from the local farmer first, then buy Bio, then look at conventional foods.”

Farmers Markets
Farmers markets are alive and well, but you might need to look for them. Innsbruck has a downtown farmers market and on Saturday such markets can be found on certain corners. The corner market near me in Innsbruck is small, with just a few farmers selling items, but they have the standards: fresh greens, fresh bread, some meat products, and honey. Some items are high in price, but the in-season veggies and bread are more reasonable.

Visit at Off Times
If you are uncomfortable speaking German try to visit stores at down times when they are not packed with customers. The staff is more open to helping you find things and are more willing to speak. You might have several conversations in broken English/German with the store staff but it is always good fun.

Check the Hours
In the U.S. there is usually some store in town that is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. In Austria, the stores have more standard hours (like 9 am to 6 pm) and might be closed on Sunday. Plan ahead and take note of when your local store is open to make sure you have the food items you need.

A Day Hike Near Mittenwald, Bavaria

I received an invitation from the locals to go on another day trip. This trip was near the Bavarian town of Mittenwald, just over the German border from Austria. Mittenwald is about a 40 minutes car ride from Innsbruck through some breathtaking country. The kids were going today so the hike would be on the easy side. Our ultimate destination was the inland lake called the Lautersee with a possible side hike to a second inland lake called, Ferchensee.

Overlooking MittenwaldWe drove into Mittenwald and parked on a street just out of town. We walked on steep roads and quiet trails until we perceived ourselves to be deep in the woods, but the little side paths that meandered off here and there revealed the town was only just a short distance away. A lot of people, mostly retirees and were out hiking and enjoying the gorgeous setting. The weather that day was just that – gorgeous; not too hot, not too cold, with a radiant sun and low humidity.

We arrived at the Lautersee and walked around the edge. This inland lake was of good size and required thirty-minutes, at an honest pace, to walk its circumference. The water was glassy, clear and it’s depths accented with gradient shades of blue. Tall green trees surrounded the lake creating a textured, natural and living wall. If this was not bewitching enough the entire scene was even more entrancing from the enormous Lauterseesawtoothed mountains that towered aloft.

Several buildings dotted the edge of the lake, but we were headed to a man-made family beach area. This area included slides and an elevated merry-go-round that swung the kids over the water. The area adjacent to the beach was grassy and allowed people to sun. The kids loved playing and the adults swam in the cool waters of the lake. A small cafe sold coffee, beer and fries while a restaurant next door sold more hearty fare.

To many visitors, this setting was heaven; I agree the setting was glorious, but my Family Beach Areaversion of heaven involves more hiking so I took the opportunity to venture to the adjacent lake known as the Ferchensee. In fact, I took several such walks that day.


During one of these walks I noticed an old and sturdy wooden barn stacked with freshly dried green hay. Outside the barn was a large flat-bed trailer being pulled not by a tractor, but an old World War II American Jeep. The jeep appeared to be well-loved and was in fantastic condition. A large white star still emblazoned the hood. After a few minutes a shirtless farmer rounded the side of the barn and jumped in the drivers seat, started it up and whirred off, bouncing all the way, to a patch at the base of a hill he was harvesting.

Farm Using a WWII JeepThe hike to the Ferchensee was very restorative; everything was green, lots of little springs gurgled along the trail, there was an abundance of vegetation, and a variety of toads and insects moved before me on the trail. The abundance of animals suggested the environment here was healthy and vibrant. At one point a small snake, who had been sunning itself on the trail slithered into the grass. Several people came up and studied it with a keen interest then continued on with there hike. Signs in the area thanked people for visiting and reminded them that the farmers and people who lived there (the folks who hung the signs) obtained their livelihood from this land and to respect that fact.

The Ferchensee was exceptionally pretty. A couple of rustic buildings dotted the edge of this gentle looking blue and clear body of water. The perimeter of the lake appeared to be larger than its cousin. The ground around the lake gently sloped and was carpeted with grass. Forests lay at the far end. Most of the people, just a few dozen of them, were laying on the hypotenuse side of this triangular shaped lake in a large green field sunning themselves and having picnics.

FerchenseeThe hike returning to the Lautersee was equally as stunning as the first; this time I had the pleasure of looking upon the tall and jagged sawtoothed mountains that guarded the nearby town of Mittenwald.

Arriving at the family beach area I again felt uncomfortable, it was too crowded.

Then my wife reminded me of the obvious – out of scores of people, of all ages, from various countries, speaking multiple languages that …no one was being rude. Out of that entire day neither of us witnessed any rudeness. She was right. Everyone was courteous, and would say (in German – even those from other countries visiting the area) “please” and “thank you”, or “excuse me” when they accidentally bumped someone or walked by their space. There was zero if any trash laying around, the visitors policed their own items; and when finished with food cartons or rental chairs returned them to the office; there were no loud people – no one was playing a radio or talking offensively. If people wanted to listen to music they used an iPod or similar so others would not be disturbed. Of all of the people at that beach, no one talked arrogantly, nor looked like a gang member, nor did I feel out belongings would be ransacked if we turned our backs or went for a swim. People were calm, sensible, level-headed and courteous. The kids were also well behaved! I was, frankly speaking, stunned. I was stunned from the display of exemplary human behavior, but also that I had not been more observant with my own perceptions.

For the remainder of the day I enjoyed this tiny spot and observed with a fresh mind as though I had woken from a slumber – I saw it anew. As a traveler, that is my ultimate goal, to not be so comfortable with a situation or place that I only see what I want to see; but instead to see things with open eyes, and the sense of awe that makes traveling, well… fun.