locals during Oktoberfest

Think Germany, think beer; Think beer, think Oktoberfest. The young Germans still hold true to the sanctity of tradition and come dressed in their finest leather pants for a beer swilling, song filled good time; the older generation is a sight to behold with their wicked, cut and curled mustaches. (www.oktoberfest.de) 2008 Oktoberfest starts September 20th, so get your friends together and rent an apartment early (www.vbro.com or www.homeaway.com ), to avoid the overpriced and overcrowded hostels. Or worse, end up drunk with no place to rest your hungover head.

Visit the house that gave Hitler vertigo for some astounding views of Berchtesgaden National Park from the Eagles Nest (Kehlsteinhaus). If the weathers right, forgo the bus ride down and hoof it across the mountainside. Skip across the border at night and crash in the Mozart filled Austrian city of Salzburg, and yes, the hills just might come alive with the Sound of Music.

Trudge uphill with the mobs of camera toting, Hawaiian shirt clad tourists to see one of Germany’s most pristine castles, the Neuschwanstein (www.hohenschwangau.de). Here’s a tip: hike five minutes past Marien Bridge for a better view and complete solitude. Stay at Lando’s L.A House hostel a few kilometers away in Fussen for a cozy old house, great price and a happy host who seems to be able to say “Thank You” in forty languages. (www.housela.de)

view from the Eagle’s nest

Rent a bike (5-10 euros/day) at any of the small Alpine villages and spend the days pedaling around crystalline lakes, through cow pastures and stopping for Gluwein (hot spiced, red wine) to keep warm when the clouds move in. And you still have kilometers to go to get home.

Hit up the Couchsurfing project to find locals who will let you crash on their couches or at least agree to meet you at one of the many Bavarian Beer Gardens and show you their favorite local spots (www.couchsurfing.com). The Bavarian are uncommonly warm and friendly in their homeland, and love showing it off.

Head into the deep south of the Bavarian Alps, to Oberstdorf, which is a tiny (primarily German) tourist spot. Excellent hiking, views from sharp cliffs and plenty of hillside cafes for coffees and Germknodel (a plum filled dumpling covered in vanilla sauce). At first glance the nightlife seems lacking, but begin with a traditional dinner and a liter of steam brewed beer at the Dampf Bier Brauerei, then head to the basement of the Oberstdorf Hotel for the Hor (?) Bar, filled with local students and weekday ping-pong.

Pack your Hiking boots and trudge through ankle deep autumn leaves on any one of the hundreds of kilometers of trails. Be sure to find your way to the butcher, bakery and cheese shops early in the morning for a spectacular European picnic.

With that American dollar falling, take advantage of the best deal in Bavaria; the Bavaria Ticket. It allows up to five people to travel together on the regional trains all day for only 27 euro. Single, 19 euro. Local tip: if you get to the train station early, there might be people around trying to get a group together. (www.Diebahn.de )

With or without that someone special, don’t miss the Romantic Road (www.romantischestrasse.de). Fight global warming and use your thumb, plenty of others travelers already rented plenty of cars for everyone, and Bavaria is one of the worlds safer places to learn how to properly hitch hike. If all else fails, buy a hop on, hop off, ticket on the Romantic Road Europabus (www.deutsche-touring.com) and focus on napping between castle filled cities.

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About Rob Paetz: “I love to travel and take pictures; both of which are extremely expensive interests, but somehow I manage to constantly be going somewhere.” Check out his photo gallery here.