Returning to camp

Leaving BAF on helo.

It was another sleepless and cold night in the tent.  My earplugs were unable to drown out the flight line noise nor could they muffle the reverberations of the guy snoring next to me.  Despite being groggy I was still motivated enough to shave and eat some breakfast at the DFAC.  My only worry was the cumulus clouds forming in the sky.  It was a bit foggy and I was hoping they wouldn’t cancel my flight as a result.  I was so energized after having a fabulous R&R time in Germany with my wife, but I felt this new found energy level quickly dissipating after having to spend Christmas in Kuwait due to lost luggage and then frustrated at dealing with the incompetence and BAF-nesia

Villages near BAF.

endemic at Bagram.  Even competent people who are stationed at Bagram are reluctant to tell you they are stationed there because they experience the same thing and it’s like a badge of shame to admit you are BAF-fite.  The officers confront you because you didn’t salute them (Note:  most installations have a do not salute policy) or the reflective belt police are on the prowl looking for violators.  Other BAF-fites complain because one out of 10 television channels isn’t working or they need a larger variety of

Village seen from the air.

fast-food restaurants to pacify their tastes.  I even read an article about how a Senior NCO requested chocolate from state side donors because they didn’t have enough chocolate stocked at the PX.

I quickly packed up my gear and made my way to the Rotary Wing Passenger Terminal.  I was still trying to find this elusive Army SSG who held my fate in his hands on whether I was departing or not.  Inside the waiting area, they had 2 clocks posted on the wall.  One was in local time and the other was in Zulu time.  I had to chuckle because the Zulu time was incorrect and off by 3 hours.

Mountainous roads nearing my camp.

My helicopter ride showed up an hour early and I was more than ready to leave BAF.  While we were flying I tried to take pictures of the villages and the housing encampments below.  But due to the fog and limited visibility, the pictures didn’t come out that well.

We landed at my camp and my AF ETT leader was waiting on me.  Although I was dog tired, it was great to be back at camp.

BAF-nesia

It was a very smooth flight from Kuwait to Afghanistan.  Boeing can be proud of their achievement and the Air Force made a great investment with purchasing the C-17.  Due to the extra leg room, this was actually more comfortable than flying coach on a commercial airliner.  Of course we didn’t have the movies, music, and weren’t served hot meals, but it was still comfy.

We landed at Bagram Air Field and hiked across the flight line towing our personnel gear.  The air terminal checked us in and we were directed to the R&R tents for the night.  I asked the female contractor if there was any particular tent we should stay in.  She said, “Just pick one they are all the same”.  I knew this wasn’t true because they have tents designated for VIPs and are separated by gender.  It was now 3:30 am and due to the difference in time zones, my body wasn’t sure whether to sleep or stay awake.  I opted to sleep and set up my cot accordingly.  Just as I closed my eyes and lay down to sleep, the tent filled up with new arrivals.  They turned on the bright lights and made a lot of noise with all of their gear.  I was already struggling to tune out the fighter jets and cargo planes constantly taking off.  Since I couldn’t sleep, I went next door to the MWR center and waited until 5:30 am to have some breakfast.

After some good chow and hot coffee, I returned to my tent.  By my calculations, I had been awake over 24 hours and my body was begging me to get some sleep.  So I put in my combat ear plugs and pulled my blanket over my head and zonked off for about 7 hours of much needed rest.

Feeling re-energized, I visited the MWR center, watched some football and caught up with some email on the space available computer terminals. My next stop was the air passenger terminal.  I wanted to ensure my departure time for my helo ride tomorrow.  The female clerk informed me they only handle fixed wing and not rotary wing.  I asked where the rotary wing building was located and she said to walk down to the PX and it was directly across from there.  I walked down to the PX and across from it were a wall and a fenced in area.  I was certain this was not the location.  This is when I started inquiring on the street for directions.

This is when BAF-nesia started to set in.  BAF-nesia is my new term for the BAF-fites at Bagram.  You won’t find this disease or disorder in any medical journal.  It’s a new BAF-ism I have coined.  BAF-nesia is only found at Bagram.  It is caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain and is better known by the expressions of “duhhhh or dumb a@@ syndrome.  Personnel stationed at BAF are so compartmentalized, that if you ask them a question outside their immediate work area, their usual response is “duhh…I don’t know.”  So my first question I would ask is “Are you stationed here and then follow up with inquiring the location of the rotary wing terminal.  The first person I asked responded, yes and then asked me what a rotary wing was and still didn’t know the location.  The next airman I asked said he has only been there for 4 months and tried to direct me back to the air passenger terminal.  The third person I asked wasn’t sure they even had helicopters at BAF.  The next person was the most helpful and said it was a mile down the road, but not exactly sure of the location.  By now the sun was setting and it was getting dark.  I was determined to find this evasive rotary wing passenger terminal.  I finally found another individual who wasn’t stationed at BAF and was able to provide me precise instructions where to go.

I approached the counter that had a big sign above it labeled Rotary Wing Passenger Terminal.  I inquired about my flight.  The Army soldier responded they don’t handle those aircraft and there was only one individual who could help me and he wasn’t there.  In addition, they didn’t have a phone number to contact this person either.  I kept asking more questions and I was referred to a back office and they basically repeated the same information.  However, an Army SGT queried the computer and found my name.  He provided me the departure time and the name of the aircraft.  I was feeling much better about then.  Just as I left their office I realized the departure time was in Zulu time and I couldn’t remember the conversion.  So I went back to the customer service counter and inquired about Zulu time.  I was given looks like I just inquired about Einstein’s theory or something complex.  Nobody was certain what the formula was and one person said just to add about 2 hours to the Zulu time for conversion to local time.  I knew this to be incorrect, but I couldn’t remember if it was 4 or 5 hours.    Keep in mind; this is the customer service section at the passenger terminal.  Can you say BAF-nesia!!

I was hungry now and returned to the PX.  I had my heart set on a hot pepperoni pizza with extra cheese.  As I approached the counter, there was one customer in front of me and then I noticed a small sign “Out of cheese”.  So much for that idea, what is a pizza without cheese?  So now my palate switched tastes and was focused on chomping on a Big Whopper at Burger King.  There were no customers standing in line and I was afraid they were closed.  But as I approached the window, I read the paper taped in the window “Out of sandwiches, only French fries and onion rings.”  This just wasn’t my day.

I walked back to my tent and visited the DFAC for my dinner meal.  Later on I researched Zulu time and noted you have to add 4 ½ hours to Zulu time for the conversion.  My tent was completely filled with personnel and it was going to be a long night.

Leaving Kuwait

C-17 Globemaster cockpit.

It was a rough night trying to sleep in the tent.  Around 3 am, the tent filled up with new tent mates.  They turned on the bright fluorescent lights and made a racket trying to unpack their gear.  It was about 5 am until they finished taking their showers, got a bite to eat and then settled in for some shut-eye.  I tossed and turned and got about 2 hours of sleep.  All I could think about was getting on the next plane and flying out of here.

The next morning I went over to the warehouse to retrieve my IBA vest and helmet.  Previously we turned in these items and they were tagged and assigned a location.  The clerk promptly took me to the location where my vest was stored.  My name was typed on an inventory sheet and attached to a large tri-wall container.  We started pulling out the vests and he could not locate mine.  My vest is an older model and is easily distinguishable from the new pullover ones.  I was escorted to another location and repeated the same process to no avail.  Then the clerk took me to the back of the warehouse and all of the vests with helmets attached were lined up neatly and placed in alphabetical sequence.  Naturally we went to the T section and still could not locate my vest.  Then we tried the R section thinking they might have filed it under my first name.  Still no vest could be found.  Now I was starting to worry.  The clerk assured me we would find my vest.  So I helped him sort through several hundred vests with the hope it was misplaced or misfiled.  Neither of us could locate my vest.

I explained to the clerk that I needed my vest so I could fly out today.  This is when he became accusatory and shifted the blame to me.  He accused me of putting my vest and helmet in the wrong container.  Now my emotions turned from worry to anger.  I followed their precise instructions, labeled my vest and placed it in the right container.  The container number then was annotated on my retrieval form.  The tri-wall had my name typed on the outside package list but my vest was not there.  I was in no mood to argue.  I gave him and the other clerks who gathered around an ultimatum.  I would return in a few hours and either they find my vest or provide me another one.  It was now 2:30 pm and my next roll call was at 4:30 pm.

I returned to my tent to unpack my duffel bag and then repack it.  There was a peculiar smell emitting from my bag and it smelled like mildew.  I removed some of my stored items and discovered some of my uniforms and other items were completely soaked.  So not only was my duffel bag lost for a few days, it must have sat in the rain or snow.  I looked at my watch and precious time was ticking away.  I would have to wash my clothes, dry them and still make the formation.  But first, I would have to walk to the PX and buy some laundry detergent.

According to the timer on the washing machine, it would take 57 minutes to wash my clothes.  It’s now 3:10 pm.  If I timed it right, I could still get my uniforms dry in time for the formation.  At 4:07 pm I put the clothes in the dryer.  At 4:16 pm a voice announced on the loudspeaker to immediately report to formation.  My uniforms were still wet, so I would have to show up in civilian clothes and hope they would accept my rationale.

The Army Sgt providing the briefing recognized me and couldn’t believe I was still here.  He had no problem with my attire.  He gave us the briefing and we had 2 hours before reporting back for the accountability roll call.  I returned to the laundry room, gathered my dry clothing and went back to my tent to change.  My next stop was the warehouse to retrieve my vest and helmet.

It’s a rather long walk to the warehouse, but I was determined to leave there with a vest and a helmet one way or another.  As soon as I stepped through the door, one of the workers exclaimed, “We found your vest and helmet” and they had it up front waiting for me.  I inquired where they found it, but they were unable to give me a straight answer.  I didn’t care, because at least now I had my gear.  I returned to my tent, packed my gear, checked out of billeting and sat at the terminal waiting for the next roll call.

At 6:30 pm, roll call was conducted and in another 3 hours our plane would take off.  At 8:30 pm, we were loaded on a bus and driven to Ali Asaleem terminal.  On the tarmac a C-17 Globemaster was being loaded with cargo.  This was our ride out of here.

The cargo filled the entire aircraft and we would have to sit on the side in the jump seats.  These jump seats are a great improvement over the web strapping of a C-130.  Each seat is somewhat cushioned and folds down.  There is sufficient leg room and you don’t have to worry so much about interfering with the person next to you.

Inside C-17 with cargo.

We had a small 40 minute delay because of how the cargo was palletized.  A sharp young AF SSgt wasn’t satisfied with the configuration, even though the computer generated a printout showing the center balance was sufficient.  If the center balance is off, it could cause the plane to crash or drag on landing and take-off.  You could tell by his demeanor he took pride in his aircraft.  As a result, the pallets were shifted forward several feet and all of our personal baggage that was on a pallet was moved by hand to the center of the aircraft.

Finally, I felt the wheels leave the ground and we were airborne.  It would be 3 ½ -4 hours until we would land in Afghanistan.  I used my night headlamp attachment to continue reading Mortenson’s “Stones into Schools”.

Last day in Munich

16th century Gothic church near our hotel.

Liisa and I woke up early and had a good breakfast at the hotel.  The snow was really pelting down and accumulating on the roads.  We were afraid to drive anywhere and lose our parking spot, so we made a decision to tour the local area.

We started with a large Gothic church, St Paul’s, that was a block away from our hotel.  If memory serves me right,

Interior of St Paul's Church.

it was built in the 16th century.  Unlike many of the churches we toured, this one did not have the bright frescoes painted on the ceiling.  Instead, this church was distinguished

Brass figurine of Saint Chaddaus.

by the massive concrete pillars, marble floors and spire roof construction.  It also had brass figurines of the various saints mounted on pedestals.  I wonder what it’s like to attend a church service here or in any of the churches we toured.  Knowing that your ancestors might have worshipped here in these grand old structures is a reflection of the past and continues with its religious purpose into the future.   For these architectural beauties to survive war and the eroding effect of the natural elements is amazing.

After the church exhibit, Liisa and I ventured across the street to what appeared to be another Christmas Market.  At the entrance, an ice carver was chipping away at solid blocks of

Christmas market with St Paul's church in the background.

ice.   He was raising money for the poor children of Tibet by exhibiting his talent and ice sculptures.

The market was filled with people and vendors hawking their wares.  We were amused by the uniqueness of the wood carved wind chimes for sale.  One of them was a dragon-like character mounted on the top of the cylindrical post

Ice sculpture at entrance of Christmas Market.

fastened to the wind chimes.  Various parts of its body would move when you touched it.  But I just couldn’t see having that at my home in Tampa.

Wooden wind chimes.

Other vendors were selling clothing, jewelry, hot wine, and a variety of food.  Liisa and I opted to sample some Middle-Eastern food.  We were growing tired of the Bavarian menu and wanted something different.  The lamb was very good and tasted quite similar to the meat in the Middle East.  The lamb in the U.S. does not taste near as good as lamb prepared in the Middle East.

We also found merchant selling large blocks of cheese.  The cheese he was selling was very expensive.  We had hoped to visit a cheese factory during our vacation, but it never happened.  We were so occupied with the other sites, this one slipped through the cracks.  I could have easily spent 2 weeks in Munich exploring all of the

Vendor selling blocks of cheese.

historical sites.  Trying to see it all in 3 days was too hard.

Overall it has been a fabulous vacation and needed relief from the combat zone.  It was great seeing my wife and sharing this walk back into history tour and just spending quality time with her.  We also enjoyed being host for my Mother-in-Law along with sharing part of our journey with our friends from Tampa.  But tomorrow, I will pack my bags and say goodbye to my wife again as I must return to Afghanistan to finish out my last 4 ½ months of deployment.  I am hoping to be back with my team for Christmas.

Crown Jewels – Part Two

Entrance gate to city town center.

In the morning we were treated to a European-style breakfast.  We had the option of making sandwiches with sliced meats, cheeses and a large variety of fresh bread or the chef would prepare eggs cooked to our request.  The meal also had a variety of fresh fruit, home-made preserves, sausages, and vegetables.  Of

Ice skating rink in Munich.

course it would be incomplete without some dark German coffee.  German coffee is very strong but delicious tasting.  I prefer to dilute mine with the fresh cream that is supplied when you order their coffee.

After breakfast, we took our Tampa friends to the Munich Airport.  Their vacation had come to an end and they were more

Liisa with the frozen gargoyle fountain.

than ready to return to a warmer climate.  Liisa and I still had plans to see more of the historical sites in Munich.  We went back to our hotel and found a free parking spot along the street.  On Sunday they don’t charge for parking.  Then we bought another tram car pass and boarded the tram headed for the city center.  For a 9 Euro ticket we had unlimited stops until the next morning until 6 am and the ticket was good for 5 people.

Children and adults were ice skating at an outside rink and the over-sized bear mascots were providing assistance to anyone who needed help staying upright.  We passed under one of the several entrance gates that lead to the old town center.   We stopped at

View inside Frauenkirche.

frozen fountain for a picture.  The gargoyle normally spews water from its mouth, but today the water was frozen and it almost looks like the statue is throwing up … lol.

Stained glass windows inside Frauenkirche.

The first church we went into was the renowned Frauenkirche, known by its two twin clock towers.  The church was originally built between 1726 and 1743.  The interior was massive in size.  The stained glass windows towered about 50 feet into the air.  In the front of the church,

Gigantic pipe organ inside Frauenkirche.

they suspended a large crucifix with a life-sized representation of Christ nailed to it.  In the back of the church was the largest pipe organ I ever saw in my life.  The church is so large, I can’t do it proper justice with my point and shoot camera.  It’s something you just have to experience.

Our next stop was the St Cajetan’s church.  This 16th century Theatine Church is truly a magnificent piece of art work and place of worship.  Like other churches in the city, they have been restored, reformed and additions were constantly being adding that changed the outer and inner appearance of the holy sanctuaries throughout the 16th-18th centuries.  The

Cherub detail.

stucco reliefs are so delicate and the sculptures of the Saints are so life-like.  Look at the intricate detail surrounding an enlarged photo of the cherub and the dome.  Everything in the church to include the altars, tympanum, nave and side chapels are symbolic and intensely expressive.  There are a total of 46 pillars supporting the structure.

Outside the Residenz.

These ornate pillars symbolize the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem that took 46 years to build.  Parts of the church were destroyed during World War II and were not restored.

The last stop of the day was one of Munich’s crown jewels called the Residenz (Residence).  But this time, the structure really did

Gold glitters everywhere inside Residenz.

contain the crown jewels.  This monstrosity of a building is where the various Bavarian Dukes resided and maintained apartments for distinguished visitors, guests, etc.  Liisa

Painted ceilings inside Residenz.

and I didn’t realize how large the structure was until after 2 ½ hours of walking the various floors, steps, etc, our legs had become tired and we couldn’t find the exit.  Admittedly, it’s so large that after awhile we grew tired of seeing decorative rooms adorned with gold, tapestries, marble, and lavish furniture.  The ceilings are works of art and each room has a different theme or collection of paintings painted on the roof.  I could write several pages of what we saw, but instead, I will let the photographs tell the story.

Crown Jewels – Part One

It was a bitter sweet moment leaving Garmisch and driving to Munich.  We all had such a great time exploring the Bavarian Alps and touring numerous churches, museums, castles, etc.  Leaving here was an indicator that my vacation time was winding down.  But at the same time, I was excited about exploring the crown jewels of Munich.

Before leaving, we stopped at the Kaserne Artillery Post Office and mailed some surprise presents to my family in Pennsylvania.  The roads were still a bit snow covered, but once we merged with the Autobahn, they were clear and we could increase our speed.  Our first stop in Munich was Marienplatz.  We were hoping to see the animated figurines perform at 1100 hrs.  It was my day for parking karma, because just as we caught a glimpse of the Town Hall structure (Rathaus), someone pulled out of a parking spot next to the street.

Much of Marienplatz is restricted to pedestrian traffic.  This massive plaza center was filled with vendors selling Christmas ornaments, jewelry,

Our friend Elaine March holds up a beer at Hofbrauhaus.

clothing, food, toys, and Christmas trees and was crowded with thousands of people and tourists.  As luck may have it, by the time we walked to the Rathaus, the 43 bells were chiming and in the center of the clock tower, the 32 Glockenspiel life-sized figurines appeared on a carousel wheel.  The characters tell two stories from the 16th century including knights jousting and the epidemic plague.    Notice in the picture the two tall towers in the backdrop of the Rathaus.  These towers belong to the infamous Frauenkirche church and these 2 icons make up part of the crown jewels of Munich.  If you haven’t figured it out, the crown jewels of Munich are represented by the centuries old churches, museums, and royal

Hofbrauhaus beer hall.

residences that survived World War II.  The interior of these monolithic buildings are also awe-inspiring.

Our next stop was the infamous Hofbrauhaus beer hall.  It is known for its gigantic mugs of quality made beer, but the building housing this landmark holds equal significance.  Its existence dates back to 1589 when it was the

Leonardo da Vinci's, Madonna of Carnation c. 1470's.

royal brewery.  The current beer hall was erected in 1607 and destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt.  This beer hall is also the location where Hitler and the Nazi Party used to hold their meetings and festivities.  The beer hall can hold up to 1300 drinking customers.  While we were there, we listened to the band play “Oompah” songs and heard some of the locals crooning out their favorite drinking songs.  Some of the wooden tables date back to 1897 and several are reserved for local customers.  In addition, they have a stein vault to secure the local’s favorite drinking stein.

After a great meal and some even tastier beer, we drove off to find the Alte Pinakothek Museum.  The car GPS is worth every penny we paid for it and within minutes after driving through some side streets and tricky intersections, we parked near the museum.  Parking is at a premium in Munich, but the further you get away from the city center,

Peter Paul Reubens The Lion Hunt c. 1621.

the more abundant parking becomes.

The Alte Pinakothek Museum is one of the oldest museums in the world and contains a vast collection of old master paintings.  These paintings date from 13th -18th century.  This museum holds masterpieces painted by world greats including Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Francois Boucher, and Spanish artist Murillo.  In addition it also houses the world’s largest collection painted by the prolific Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. It’s a very large museum and we

Downtown Munich lit up with Christmas lights.

spent several hours viewing paintings and with the aid of an audio device, we listened to the history and meaning of the paintings.  It was like taking a walk back into medieval and renaissance history.  I was also riddled and puzzled at times by the allegorical paintings in trying to decipher the metaphor the artist was trying to depict.   Liisa

Christmas tree at Marienplatz at night.

and I visited one room that displayed the raw materials the artists used to create the colorful hues in their paintings.  Unfortunately it was all labeled in German, but we could recognize some of the more common items.

By the time we left the museum, the sun was setting and we hadn’t checked in our hotel yet.  We were staying at the Hahn Hotel.  This is a family run hotel and located just outside the city center.  It’s a great place to stay and the hospitality displayed the employees and managers are unsurpassed.  They went out of their way to be of assistance and even encouraged us to use their dining room to enjoy our bottle of wine.   They also gave us personal instructions how to use the tram and subway system.

After a local Bavarian meal, we returned to Marienplatz via tram.  It was all lit up.  Some of the structures had Christmas lights illuminating their outline.  An ice skating rink was open and people were skating to the sounds of popular American tunes.  In the middle of Marienplatz, the town hall was lit up along with a giant Christmas tree.  The vendors were still hawking their wares too.  After a cup of hot wine, we perused through some of the shops before returning back to the hotel and calling it a night.

Zugspitze Mountain

Looking up at Zugspitze Mountain.

Towering at 2,967 meters (over 9700 feet) above sea level, Zugspitze Mountain is Germany’s highest peak.  According to the weather forecast, it would be a sunny and clear day.  This was the prime opportunity we had been waiting for.  The temperature outside at the cabin was -10.5 degrees Celsius or about 13 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was cold and I knew at the higher elevation it would be even colder.  We purchased our tickets at the main Edelweiss Lodge.  There are several options available to a tourist to visit the summit of Zugspitze to include riding a train, cable car, or for the hardy enthusiasts hiking to the top.  We quickly ruled out the 8 hour hiking option and felt this would be more suited for the summer

Eibsee Lake from back of train.

than in the winter.  The locals recommended taking the train up and then descending in the cable car.  The ticket we purchased cost $110 for two and was good for all day.  It entitled us to unlimited trips up and down and any combination, i.e. train, cable car until 1645 hours when the last cable car leaves.

We parked our car at the

Dog at top of Zugspitze.

train station.  Just below the parking lot was the cable car entrance.  It seemed quite crowded with ardent skiers crowding into the gondola car.  Every 10 minutes a cable car was departing with 2 dozen people ascending to the top.  From ground level the mountain looked ominous and at the very top, wispy clouds could be seen swirling around the pinnacle.  We opted to take the advice of the locals and rode the train.  The train is cog wheel powered meaning a large cog wheel follows the spaced grooves in the track and as the cog turns, the teeth grips these slots and propels the train forward.

It took about 40 minutes of chugging along to reach the summit.  It wasn’t quite the summit because we had to

Skiing down Zugspitze.

ride another cable car to reach the peak.  The view from the train was spectacular.  We were fortunate to find seats rather than stand.  I was even luckier and sat on the right-hand side of the train in the back and was able to view the mountains and lake from behind and to my side.  It was so cold; the windows were still freezing from the inside.  I kept

We made it to the top and it's freezing!

scraping them off with my credit card so I could take pictures and enjoy the scenery.

We got off the train and waited in line for the short cable car ride to the top.  The wind was biting cold, but this didn’t deter the skiers who were racing down the face of the mountain.  While we waited for the cable car we were greeted by a friendly dog.  She had beautiful blue eyes and seemed to be posing for my camera.   Unlike the United States, dogs are welcomed in Germany and allowed into public buildings, restaurants, and just about anywhere.  Being a dog lover, this was a welcoming sight.

Liisa has a small fear of heights but she

Austrian mountains seen in the distance.

boarded the cable car with me and hung on to me tight.  I’m unsure if she ever looked out the gondola windows, but I took it all in and tried to take photographs of the skiers and the surrounding natural landscape.  You could see other mountains in the distance too.  But Zugspitze is the grand-daddy of them all and before long our view

Border line dividing Austria and Germany.

was blocked by a low flying cloud.  The temperature outside was a bone-chilling -19 degrees Celsius.  Our Tampa friends were freezing and despite the multi-layers of clothing, the wind was chilling our exposed skin.  The Zugspitze not only serves as an infamous tourist attraction, they also have an active meteorological weather station that has been in existence for 100 years.

We stayed for awhile and enjoyed a hot gluhwein in attempt to increase our internal temperature.  Truth be told, this hot wine really hits the spot and the cold weather is just an excuse to indulge.  Our friends were hoping the clouds would clear up, so they could see the peaks of other mountains in the

Eibsee Lake seen from gondola.

distance.  The cross in the picture marks the highest peak of Zugspitze.  I was shocked to see footprints in the snow leading to a metal chain ladder that scales the final peak to the cross.  Liisa didn’t want me to go there.  I guess the thousand foot drop off scared her.  Even if I wanted too, it was closed off to the public.

View from the bottom of Zugspitze after gondola ride.

After 2 hours at the summit, Liisa and I started our descent in the gondola car.  This time we wouldn’t stop until we reached the base of the mountain.  The 10 minute decline was breathtaking.  As soon as we dropped below the cloud level, it was crystal clear.  We could see the mountains in Austria and Germany.  In fact, the border line is evident and

Zugspitze as the sun sets.

splits the Zugspitze Mountain.  While touring through the facility and small museums, we accidentally walked over to the Austrian side.

We drove back to the cabin and later returned to pick up our friends.  The sun was setting and the mountain took on a menacing appearance.  It was already cold, but the temperature was noticeably dropping.  Our friends took the last train and we returned to the Edelweiss resort cabin to pack our suitcases.  Tomorrow we would drive to Munich and explore the city’s Crown Jewels.   Only a few more days and this winter wonderland vacation will be over and I will return to Afghanistan.  I try not to think about it too much and enjoy the time I have here.

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