Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eurotrip: Hohenschwangau

In my previous post, I mentioned that there would be lots of romanticism ahead. I'm happy to say that today delivered! But let me back up a bit. A few years ago, Joe learned that one of my favorite things in the world is doing jigsaw puzzles. Next thing I knew, I was presented with a puzzle of a gorgeous looking castle. I worked tirelessly at the puzzle, and in the process got to know the details of the castle. Unfortunately I never got to finish it, thanks to the lack of a proper table and a crazy puppy named Sam. But on the bright side, I made up my mind to visit the castle in person one day.

I think we all know where this is going, right? Today I went to the castle! And I found the aforementioned puzzle! Look closely because this is as pretty as the castle will appear in the following pictures.

The castle is called Schloss Neuschwanstein, and is the brain child of Mad King Ludwig II. It is located about three miles outside Fussen, Germany and is one of the pinnacle points of the Romantic Road. It also happens to be the inspiration for Disney's Magic Kingdom castle. I was most excited to see the outside and take pictures similar to my puzzle. Unfortunately, the weather was a big foggy and the views looked more like this.
Doh. Not to be discouraged, Angie and I went for a little hike around the castle before our schedule tour time. We found the waterfall and a backwards looking view of the bridge. I could definitely see why Ludwig wanted to build his dream castle in this spot.

By the time we walked back to the castle, the fog had somewhat cleared! The pictures definitely do not do it justice, especially since so much of the beauty lies in the surrounding scenery. Even with the fog, the castle exceeded my expectations. It is just crazy to believe that someone actually built this! (And that the purpose was residency, not attraction at a theme park.)

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, so this is the last picture I snapped before we toured the interior. I so wish I had been able to take photos because the interior was filled with some of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen. From a ceiling made to look like the heavens, to murals inspired by Richard Wagner's operas, to a fake grotto... I just have no words except that I want to be a princess! I was totally blown away, especially since I had no expectations for the inside at all.
Sadly, King Ludwig only lived in the castle for six months before he had a "mysterious death" which may have been accident, murder or suicide. The theories are all over the place. The castle was never finished, and many theories point to the fact that Ludwig was going bankrupt funding it. Ironically, it has helped make Bavaria one of the richest places in the world thanks to the tourism to see the castle!

Angie and I decided to visit the Schloss Hohenschwangau in the same vicinity. This was Ludwig's parent's summer home and was a big factor in Ludwig's inspiration for Neuschwanstein. I didn't have any expectations for the castle, and honestly we went only because we were already there and figured "why not." We got lucky because I liked the interior even more than Neuschwanstein! Again, there were no pictures allowed, but I snapped a few from outside.



I love the way the castles were built right out of the rock, as if extensions of the mountains.

The views from the castle were ridiculous. Did I mention I want to be a princess?!

I owe this wonderful adventure to King Ludwig and his romantic, creative, eccentric castle-building ways.

At the end of our day, we of course had to drink a beer in his honor!

After today, I leave Bavaria and most of my historical European tour behind. It's time to catch the night train to Zagreb, Croatia! I expect to dream of castles and my prince tonight.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Eurotrip: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

I'm not sure where I first learned about Rothenburg ob de Tauber, but I'm pretty sure my buddy Rick Steves had something to do with it. We tend to think alike, me and Mr. Steves. So when he claimed that one could try to find a more quintessential German town that overdosed on cuteness, but that person would fail, I knew I had to visit this town. Rick - you were right! This place just ate us up with cuteness!

We spent most of the day traveling across Germany to reach Rothenburg, and I admit that I was a bit nervous about what we would find. Angie trusted me (perhaps skeptically) that we would like this city, so the pressure was on. Upon arriving, we went to our guesthouse and were instantly embraced by the owner, who called himself "Chef" and mapped out a little route for us. We were able to make some calls (yay working internet!) before heading off to dinner at a potato restaurant. Indeed, every dish had a potato component and it was delicious. As we walked into town, we were instantly overcome with cuteness. I didn't know a walled city could be so adorable, but it is!

After dinner, we headed to the town square for the infamous "Night Watchman" tour. Rick recommended this, as well as Chef, as well as countless people on TripAdvisor. We figured it would be a cheesy and fun way to spend our evening. It only took a few seconds of him talking that we realized we were in for a treat. The night watchman told us the history of Rothenburg as we walked around the inner city. He was hilarious and informative, and I am so thankful we did this tour. I'm not quite as thankful for the blurry picture below, but it's the best I have.

Anyway, the night watchman told us how Rothenburg was once one of the most prosperous towns in Germany, and had staved off attacks for nearly 500 years before the Catholic Army took over the city. He then explained how the city was pour, and overcome by diseases and plagues, until the late 19th Century when tourism picked up. He also told us how Rothenburg was saved from Allied destruction during WWII because a US general had grown up with a picture of the city that his mother had purchased during a visit, and he gave the Nazis the opportunity to vacate instead of blowing it up. While the Nazi general was away, a commander risked his life and surrendered to the Allies, therefore saving the city from destruction. However, 40% of the city had been destroyed by Allied bombs days earlier. In order to rebuild the city, people or organizations could "buy" meters of reconstruction. Due to the worldwide love for the city, Rothenburg was rebuilt and is back to being a tourist magnet.

Another funny story was about this little tavern on "Hell" street, marked by the little golden devil in the front. He said that back in old times, this street was called Hell because there was little light. Nowadays, he tells people to "Go to Hell" when they need a good place to relax.

The Night Watchman tour is definitely one of my favorite touristy things yet! Rick had mentioned that Rothenburg is overrun with tourists by day, so if given the opportunity one should stay at night. I'm so glad we followed his advice so we could experience the Night Watchman.

In the morning, Angie and I spent a few hours exploring the city with daylight. We started off exploring the city walls, admiring the views of the city and the stones in honor of those who had donated to the city's reconstruction. Notice the MGM stone!

The bridge below, located outside the city walls, was where the Nazi major surrendered to the Allied general.

We learned all about the city gates during the tour, so it was fun to revisit them in daylight. One of my favorite aspects of the gate doors is the "man door" in which men came back into the city past curfew, after paying a giant fine to the guards. The doors were so tiny because if they opened the larger gates, the city was susceptible to enemy attack.

Let us in!!!

We spent more time exploring the city and found more city walls. Like I said, this town's cuteness just ate us up!

Lastly, we needed to try the famous town snack - schneeballen. Our best guest is that these little balls are made with pie crust, rolled into balls and dipped in chocolate, sugar, or something else delicious. They were good indeed, although I think eating just one was plenty to satisfy my life's schneeballen cravings.

The city map says Rothenburg ob der Tauber is "Romantic but Real." We liked to say it was on cute crack. I am so glad we detoured over to Rothenburg! While we won't visit much of Germany's romantic road, I think we will see the highlights with this city and with our next adventure. Stay tuned!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Eurotrip: Midpoint Check-In

Angie and I are officially mid-way through our Europtrip 2013! To recap, we have been to the following places:

  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Malmo, Sweden
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Potsdam, Germany
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Auschwitz, Poland
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Melk + Krems, Austria
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • Hallstatt, Austria

Still to go are places in Germany, Croatia, Montenegro, and Italy before heading back to Barcelona. I feel really good about all that we have accomplished, and I have not yet come to loathe my giant backpack!


I thought I would take a moment to share some of my thoughts about a monthlong European adventure.

  1. The Eurail pass was the best decision ever. I can't imagine how stressed we would be if we had to figure out the cheapest/best train options to get to different cities. We also would not have made so many day trips, many of which were kind of impromptu. Lastly, by getting the first-class saver pass, we get to enjoy the benefits of first class passengers, including: nicer train cars, free snacks on some trains, the use of the train lounges (free snacks, coffee, drinks, beer, wine, wifi!!), and the curious looks of businessmen wondering what these two greasy, rugged, dirty American students are doing in their car.
  2. While winging it might work for some, having a general plan has been helpful. The times I am most stressed are thinking about what the second part of our trip (the unplanned part) would look like. I tried to do as much research as possible before hand, but I got stuck in the unfamiliar country of Croatia and it's been like a monkey on my back in terms of booking things. Now that we managed to figure out a basic plan for part two of our adventure, I feel much better. And because it's general, and not set in stone, we can still wing it when we want to.
  3. The backpack is the way to go. Angie jokes that I am leaving an Erin trail behind because I try to get rid of something in each city. Whether it's an umbrella, clothing, or an endless supply of NuGo bars, I try to lighten my load each time I pack. Additionally, when your train is late and you have to run through the station, not having to drag a suitcase helps you catch your next train.
  4. My travel partner is awesome. I fear sometimes that we might be sharing the same brain. Sometimes it is because she will say exactly what I'm thinking, jump into a song with me, or complete my sentence. Other times it's because at times, neither of us have full brain capacity so if you put our brains together it nearly makes up one semi-competent person. Additionally, we each have different strengths and we work well together. She can read the train schedule like a pro, I can choose good hotels and read maps. When I'm not thinking, she thinks for both of us. And vice versa.
  5. I sent my laptop back with Joe and am only using my Ipad to blog, research, etc... I am a huge fan of travel apps and use them at least once a day. Booking.com, DB Navigator, XE Currency Convertor, and TripIt have made this journey so much easier. I'm also pretty in love with my Logitech keyboard. (Ironically, Angie & I both won our Ipads during a case challenge, and I had thought hard about selling it. So glad I didn't!)
  6. We are obsessed with my pedometer. On non-travel days, the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) goal is to walk a minimum of 10 miles per day.
  7. Even though blogging takes a bit of time, I am already thankful that I've documented what we have been doing. Judging by the lack of comments, I think only Taline, Laura and Kevin actually read it... but that's okay. I know I will be thankful to have it to look back on once I enter the real world again.

I'm sure there are more thoughts, but I think I will stop for now and spend some time gazing out the window at the German countryside.


Eurotrip: Hallstatt

I discovered Hallstatt in the most unlikely of places: while not paying attention during Geopolitics and instead reading a travel article on relatively undiscovered gorgeous European places. Thanks Geopolitics! I sent the link to Angie and she agreed that we needed to go. Luckily it was a relatively easy journey from Salzburg that would serve as a nice day trip.

The trains took about two hours, and were far and away my favorite trains yet. The scenery was incredible and the giant picture windows provided perfect views. Side note - I have taken to listening to audiobooks and podcasts while traveling so I can focus on the scenery. That is when I'm not updating this blog, of course.

The train ride was filled with scenes like this! Angie and I exchanged countless "Do you see this!?" comments. Sadly, I wasn't able to capture the multiple tiny horses we saw, but I think this picture is a good representation of the Austrian beauty.

To get to Hallstatt, you get off the train, walk to the dock, and take a ferry to the city. This afforded us the opportunity to see the town from the water. Little did we know we would soon find ourselves at the little yellow house at the top of the mountain.

Look I'm on a boat!

Upon getting to the town, we stopped for lunch and for of course had to sample the local beer. So far, so good!

Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it gave its name to a distinct period of Iron Age culture after Celtic remains were discovered in the salt mines above the town. Many of the finds date back to the ninth century BC, making Hallstatt the oldest salt mine in the world.

Angie and I really wanted to hike to the Salzachtal, where the salt mines are located. We certainly tried to, and we weren't even scared by our guidebook warnings of stairs, steepness, and rigor.

We were, however, scared by signs that warned of potential death if we kept hiking. Sadly, we choose a route that did not warn us of death, and headed back towards the other side of town. We did get to pass this pretty waterfall, so all was not lost.

Maybe we were a bit underdressed? Just kidding, this was all the snow we found and we were actually really happy to be wearing clothes suitable for hiking.

Upon reaching the other side of town, we took the funicular up the side of the mountain to the salt mines. We didn't really know what to expect, but figured we might as well see what made this place famous. And, well, I think salt might be one of my favorite things ever and the opportunity to see it in mass was appealing! The views on the way up were worth the price of the whole adventure!

Upon entering the salt mine museum, we were outfitted with these gorgeous outfits that made us feel a bit like prisoners. The highlight of our outfit was the velvet underside that made our future sliding possible. Pretty hot, right?

The actual salt mines are located about 300 meters into the mountain, which meant we had a long tunnel to walk through to get to the action. I had no idea what to expect of this adventure, and I will admit that I started getting a bit claustrophobic while working our way through the tunnels. Luckily the overall goofiness of the tour took my mind off of the potential of the mountain caving in on me.

I actually did learn a lot about salt mining during this tour, so in addition to providing us an hour of nonstop laughing, we received some education too. Then our guide surprised us at the end of the tour, saying we couldn't walk out of the mountain and instead got to take a miner's train. We hopped on and were whisked out the tunnel and a pretty fast clip. It was surprisingly fun and probably doubled our giddiness levels. Upon exiting we were greeted with more incredible views. This is probably a time to check out Angie's blog because my pictures are terrible. Even though it was overcast in Hallstatt, it was still one of the most beautiful places I have seen on this adventure.