Germany/Austria 2019: Day 14

1,906. That’s the number of pictures I took while I was in Germany and Austria. It was a great vacation, but I’m very glad to be home now. The sun was shining in Munich this morning and it was a great day to fly. I woke up to the sound of planes taking off and even squeezed in a visit to the observation deck before I had to get to my own flight.

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This morning’s wake-up view!
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What I love about airports… you can (literally) go anywhere in the world!

Bag drop and passport control in Munich was very slow, but soon I was flying the skies to Dublin. I know it’s not quite like being in US soil, but the sight of all the American flags at the Dublin airport always makes me feel like I’m almost home. Fun fact: my plane home from Dublin is the same plane I flew home on four years ago (I recognized the name, “St. Aoife”).

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Dublin Airport
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My ride home from Dublin – St. Aoife

Since there’s not much to say about a boring day of flying, here are some fun observations from my two weeks in Germany and Austria.

Food Being the picky eater that I am, what I would eat for two weeks was high on my list of concerns before I left. But my worrying was for naught, since you can get schnitzel and pork roast pretty much everywhere in Bavaria. In varying forms, I had pork for most of my main meals accompanied either by potato dumplings or french fries. And apple strudel was on the menu almost everywhere with either vanilla sauce or vanilla ice cream or both. Hotel breakfast was a big spread at all of my hotels, consisting of cold cuts, eggs (scrambled, hard boiled, or soft boiled), various granola cereals, yogurt, and huge assortments of bread and pastries. 

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Pork Schnitzel
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Breakfast spread

One of my favorite things to do while on vacation is to visit a local grocery store. If you know me, you know I have a sweet tooth, so stocking up on European candy was a must before coming home. Edeka grocery stores are all over Bavaria, and they had plenty of yummy candies – Milka, Kinder, Ritter Sport, etc. I even found some treats that were different from home: Oreo Joy Fills (like pretzel nuggets, except they are Oreo shells filled with cream) and different flavors of Coke products. At the Dublin airport I even found Raspberry Coke Zero!

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Edeka, Garmisch
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Edeka, Garmisch

Driving I was nervous about driving in a non-English speaking country, but it wasn’t too difficult. I programmed the car and GPS to English, and the GPS was my best friend. Road signs are large and are pretty clear with route numbers and towns. Between the signs and the GPS, it wasn’t too hard to navigate. Speed limits are in km/hr and; in open areas, the speed limit is generally 100 km/hr (about 62 MPH) and slows to 50 km/hr in towns. Gas is ridiculously expensive, as it is everywhere in Europe. I paid €1,45 per liter yesterday, which is almost $6.20 per gallon. Austria was slightly cheaper but still way more expensive than US prices.

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My ride for the past two weeks
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German road sign

Driving into Austria requires a “vignette” sticker on your car (basically like a toll sticker) if you plan to drive on the autobahn. You can buy them at most gas stations once you get close to the border. Mine was a 10 day sticker and cost €9,20. Actually crossing the border is like driving between states in the US. Aside from different highway signs, everything is pretty much the same.

Sleeping I was spoiled by my Hilton hotel in Munich because it came with all the creature comforts we are used to in the US. Namely, it had air conditioning (though it wasn’t exactly powerful or overly cool like I prefer). It wasn’t until I got back to the Munich airport yesterday that I had a/c again. I hate being hot when I sleep, so it was not too fun for me. The beds all have a fitted sheet (or sheets; most were two twin beds pushed and locked together to make a king) and then a folded twin-size comforter laying on top for each person. The hotels were all immaculate and hospitality is definitely a thing of pride in Germany.  

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Hotel Edelweiss, Berchtesgaden

Overall, I loved this vacation – the mix of history, culture, nature, scenery, and food. I didn’t love the rain or the cold (it didn’t even get out of the 50s a couple of days!), but even with the clouds the scenery was breathtaking. If you ever get the chance to visit Bavaria, go for it!

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Scenic Bavaria (Ramsau, Germany)
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Germany/Austria 2019: Day 13

I spent the day today alternately torn between wanting to go home (I’m ready!) and wanting to enjoy more of Germany. The wanting to go home part had a stronger pull today, especially after getting back to the Munich airport tonight.

So how did I spend my last day in Germany? I undertook the complicated task of repacking my suitcase this morning. I know I’ve said it before, but I cannot for the life of me account for what happens to my suitcase when I travel. I always have the idea that I will wear clothes and then move them to the other side of my suitcase in some organized manner. It never happens. I have socks strewn all over and mixed in with everything else. A sweatshirt with bird droppings (yes, that happened) mixed with clean clothes. I know… it’s a mystery to me too.

After the repacking adventure, I went to see the Eibsee (lake) in Grainau, which was on my to do list. It ended up being a waste of €5 for parking because I only spent about 20 minutes there. Enough time to see the lake, but also enough to realize my ankle is really bothering me after yesterday’s hike and I couldn’t do a whole lot of walking today. 

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Eibsee

So off I went to Schloss Linderhof, the third of King Ludwig II’s Bavarian palaces. This one was much smaller than his others, but also the one where he spent the most time and the only one that was completed before his death. I was rushed into a guided English tour to see the interior. The woman gave me a tour time 5 minutes after I arrived. “You shouldn’t take so much time,” she said as I was putting away my change. The rooms inside are opulent and filled with gold and porcelain. The outdoor gardens are in an English style, with fountains and manicured flower beds.I’m sure my pictures would have been better if they weren’t in the middle of some kind of reconstruction work in the gardens behind the palace (the crane ruins the picture a bit).

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Schloss Linderhof

I made a quick detour to Oberammergau again to pick up some more souvenirs/gifts, and then I made it to my last stop: The Andechs Monastery. This monastery is set on a hill and you have to walk up to see the church at the top. It has a beautiful interior, with lots of paintings and gold. I also climbed the church bell tower, which leads up a set of very narrow stairs and ladders to a platform near the top where you can look out over the town of Andechs. However, the bigger draw to Andechs is that it is a working brewery with monks still brewing beer after six centuries. Of course I passed on the beer, but enjoyed an apple strudel with vanilla sauce (much better than with ice cream in my opinion) and an Andechser lemon soda.

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Andechs Monastery church
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Overlooking Andechs from the church bell tower
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“Lunch” on the Andechs Monastery terrace

I am staying in a hotel at the Munich airport tonight. I’m not usually an airport hotel person, but my flight home is early enough tomorrow that it made the most sense this time. The Munich airport is actually pretty cool to see. I didn’t get to look around at all when I arrived or when I picked up the rental car, but there are two terminals connected by a shopping/dining space and a glass-covered outdoor area, complete with a biergarten. At the top of Terminal 2 is an observation deck that overlooks the tarmac and both runways. I walked over to check out the view for a few minutes after eating some snacks for dinner in the executive lounge. From my room, I have a view of one of the runways and can watch planes coming and going all night from my bed. 🙂

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How many airports do you know with a biergarten?
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Munich Airport Observation Deck

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 12

Today I rode a cable car, hiked down a mountain, saw a massive gorge, visited the tiny village, walked around a Bavarian town, and attended a choral concert. Here are the highlights:

Eckbauerbahn: The cable car at Eckbauer (the Eckbauerbahn) goes up to its summit at over 4,000 feet above sea level. I took the cable car up so that I could hike back down and eventually through the Partnachklamm. The cable car is new within the last year (replacing the older cars) and you ride up in little pods that can seat maybe 6 people. You have a great view of the surrounding mountains, including the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain). The top of the mountain is the start of many trails fanning out in every direction. The trail I took zigzagged all the way down to the top of Partnach Gorge, where you can either walk down through the gorge or follow a trail around it.

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Eckbauerbahn
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The trail down to Partnachklamm

Germany 2019 1643Partnachklamm: The Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge) is over 2,000 feet long and in places it reaches 260 feet deep. The water is a beautiful clear blue and ice cold. You follow a trail that is carved into the side of the rocky faces, in places walking through tunnels in the near dark. There was no shortage of people today on a semi-sunny summer Sunday, but it was still a beautiful walk. From the bottom of the gorge, it is still another 20-30 minutes to reach the parking area. Altogether, the cable car and hike took me about 3 hours.

 

Wamberg: You can actually hike to this village from the top of the Eckbauer also, which was my original plan, but I realized yesterday that you can also drive to it, so I opted to hike through the gorge and then drive to Wamberg. The church in Wamberg boasts being Germany’s highest church (in elevation) at over 3,000 feet above sea level. The road up is single lane and windy, but the views from the village are incredible. Sadly, the church is undergoing restoration and was not open.

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Wamberg

Mittenwald: Mittenwald is another quaint Bavarian village with tons of painted houses and buildings. Since it was Sunday, a lot of the businesses were closed, but fortunately not the Eis Cafe (ice cream cafe). German ice cream is pretty much gelato and it’s possible I like it even more than the gelato in Italy. A single scoop in a cone or cup is usually around €1,30 so it makes for a pretty cheap treat!

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Mittenwald
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Mittenwald

Dinner and concert: Before heading back to Garmisch, I crossed over the border into Austria one final time and took a picture on each side of the border. I had a schnitzel dinner and apple strudel at Bräustüberl for dinner. Afterwards, I attended a local choral concert featuring nine different local choral groups. I got all gussied up in my only jeans not covered in mud and wore something other than hiking shoes on my feet, so it felt like a real night on the town!

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 11

What did I do today? I dropped my phone and cracked the screen. How did that happen? I was trying to take a picture of my kücherl (German-style fried dough). End of story.

Just kidding, but that sort of soured the day. My phone still works, and it can probably be fixed, but it shouldn’t have happened because I didn’t need the picture. I already had one on my camera.

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Kücherl stand (the scene of the crime)

Anyway, I spent the day driving up to Wieskirche (the Pilgrimage Church of Wies) and then made stops in Oberammergau and Ettal on the way back. I’ll just give a couple of highlights of each place.

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The drive to Wies
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Wieskirche

Wieskirche The drive to Wies was beautiful because the sun was out. Once I got there, there was a mass going on and it would be another 30 minutes before the church was open again. I decided to walk to the next town, Resle because I saw a sign for it and it was only 2.2 km away. It was a pretty walk and I got to talk to a group from the US who were doing a multi-day hike on the King’s Way. The church itself was incredible, white with pastel paintings on the ceiling and walls. It was also busy with tourists, so I didn’t feel the need to stay too long. I stopped at the kücherl stand by the church on my way out and would have enjoyed it a lot more if not for the phone dropping incident.

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Wieskirche
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The village of Wies

Oberammergau This little town has two claims to fame: its many painted houses and its many wood carving shops. I picked up a map at the tourist info center and walked around town for about an hour. I also found a little wood carving shop and got a couple of souvenirs to take home.

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Oberammergau

Ettal Ettal Monastery is the big draw to this town. You can visit the basilica, but the beer and liqueur brewed by the monks are also big draws. I just looked around and then stopped at the cheese factory and got a yogurt to eat.

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Ettal
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Ettaler beer

Partenkirchen Tonight I walked to the neighboring town of Partenkirchen to check it out and enjoy an evening of Bavarian entertainment. The town seems more laid back and historic compared to Garmisch. Dinner was at Gasthof Fraundorfer, where they have various music and entertainment with dinner. Tonight it was an accordionist and two boys doing a Bavarian slap dance (which involves a lot of slapping on one’s thighs). Dinner and the music were okay, but I’m still mad about my phone.

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Partenkirchen
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Partenkirchen

 

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Gasthof Fraundorfer

 

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 10

Any guesses about the weather today? Clouds, rain, clouds, rain, and a couple of hours of sun to end the day. Despite the weather, I spent the day touring the two castles everyone who thinks of Bavaria knows: Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein. Neuschwanstein is obviously the more famous, and you’ll no doubt recognize the picture of Mad King Ludwig’s prize castle high on a hill. But it was actually Hohenschwangau that I enjoyed more.

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Schloss Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau was actually Ludwig’s father, King Maximilian II’s palace, and includes many depictions of swans (schwangau means “place with many swans”). The brilliant yellow color of the exterior stands out from the surrounding green landscape and forest. From its terrace, you can gaze out on Neuschwanstein on a hilltop across the small valley, which is exactly what Ludwig did from a telescope in his bedroom while his masterpiece was being built. The tour guide here was excellent and I felt like I learned a lot about the history of Bavaria in a short time (the tour was only 35 minutes).

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Schloss Neuschwanstein from Schloss Hohenschwangau

Like Schloss Herrenchiemsee, which I visited last week, Neuschwanstein was never finished. Just 6 weeks after Ludwig’s death at age 40 in 1886 (he and his psychiatrist both drowned while out for a walk), the castle was opened to the public.

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Schloss Neuschwanstein

If you’re touring both castles, your only choice is to tour Hohenschwangau first. When you make a reservation online, you pick your preferred time and date and they send you an email with times that may or may not match what you requested. I was lucky and got a 9:55AM tour time at Hohenschwangau and an 11:55AM tour at Neuschwanstein. The walk between the two involves a downhill hike from Hohenschwangau followed by a strenuous uphill hike which you can make on foot, by bus, or by horse-drawn carriage. I chose to burn some calories and walked up. 

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Overlooking Schloss Hohenschwangau

I had just enough time once I reached the castle to go beyond it to Marienbrücke, the bridge behind the castle. It seems everyone had the same idea. The castle tour was interesting, but felt more commercial than Hohenschwangau.

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Schloss Neuschwanstein from Marienbrücke
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The crowds at Marienbrücke

I really wanted to visit the church of St. Coloman near the castles, and was told the church was “usually” open for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I guess today wasn’t a typical day because it was closed. A peek in the window told me I was missing out, but I made do with a picture of the pretty setting.

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Church of St. Coloman

I got back in time to grab a small piece of cake at my hotel’s afternoon reception and relax for a bit before heading out for dinner. The sun came out for a while as I was enjoying my pork Cordon bleu and gelato.

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Garmisch, Germany

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 9

The day has finally come. You know which one I’m talking about: the day when I’m ready to go home. I love all the places I’ve seen, but the weather forecast calls for more rain and clouds the next few days, and I just want to sleep in my own bed and stop living out of a suitcase.

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Last night’s hotel, Seehotel Grüner Baum

Hallstatt was a great little town, and being able to wander the streets without the crowds this morning was very peaceful. I did manage to grab the iconic photo with a little sun before the clouds set in. 

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Hallstatt, Austria

I also stopped to take a couple of pictures at the cemetery. Unlike in the US, cemetery plots are rented and not bought in Germany and Austria. If a grave is not tended to regularly, your body and marker are removed to make room for others. Which is why all of the cemetery plots have well-kept mini gardens and people frequently around tending to them.

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St. Peter’s Church Cemetery, Hallstatt
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St. Peter’s Church Cemetery, Hallstatt

I decided I wanted to take the scenic route from Hallstatt to Garmisch (technically, Garmisch-Partenkirchen; the two towns were forced, by Adolf Hitler, to merge for the 1936 Olympics which were held here) rather than retracing my route back through Berchtesgaden. So I took a more southerly route across Austria to Innsbruck and then back up into Germany. Which would probably have been nice if it hadn’t been overcast and then drizzly. The route is surrounded by mountains. The only stop I made was in Gosau to see the beautiful Gosauseen (probably much prettier on a sunny day!). 

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Gosauseen

My Bavarian-style hotel is just a couple of blocks from the town center in Garmisch. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Garmisch, but I would describe it as the North Conway of Bavaria. Picture a few souvenir shops mixed with Bavarian restaurants and designer clothing stores and you’ll have Garmisch. Dinner was roast pork with potato dumplings and an amazing apple strudel at Restaurant Alpenhof in Garmisch.

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Restaurant Alpenhof, Garmisch
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Restaurant Alpenhof, Garmisch

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 8

This morning I had to pack up and leave Berchtesgaden. I could easily have spent another week there. The sun was shining, the temperatures were in the low 50s, and it was a beautiful morning in the mountains. The rainy days had their beauty too, but this is what the pictures in my head looked like before I came here. After breakfast, I walked around the town taking pictures and then saw a sign for a hike up to a lookout point.

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Overlooking Berchtesgaden

On the way, I came to Kirchleitn Kapelle, this tiny yellow chapel on the meadow-like hillside with a stunning view overlooking the mountains. Church bells were ringing in the town below and I spent time just sitting outside taking in the view. I can’t imagine a better way to start the day.

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Kirchleitn Kapelle

Then it was off to Hallstatt, Austria. You’ve probably seen pictures of this little town on the edge of Lake Hallstatt with its iconic church. I’m hoping to get some iconic pictures too, but the lighting today was all wrong. Many people day trip to Hallstatt from Munich or Salzburg, but from everything I read, you need to be here before and after the tour buses to really appreciate the town which means spending a night. There’s no parking in the town itself, so day visitors and overnighters like me have to use the remote parking lots and either walk or take the hotel shuttle into town. I dropped off my things and then set out to explore the town (along with all the aforementioned daytrippers – it was pretty busy!). You can walk the length of the town from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. There are souvenir shops, several salt product shops (Hallstatt is known for its salt mine), a few restaurants, and lots of window boxes and Bavarian architecture. It’s really a cute town.

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Market Square, Hallstatt
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Hallstatt, Austria

What if I told you you could visit a 12th century chapel filled with bones and skulls? Would you do it? It’s one of the interesting tourist attractions in Hallstatt, and of course I had to go in. Since cemetery space is at a premium in a small town like Hallstatt, bodies would be buried for 10 to 20 years, then exhumed to make room for the newly dead. Those that were exhumed had the bones and skulls bleached in the sun and moved to the “Beinhaus”, literally “bone house”. Many of the 1200 skulls in the chapel are artfully decorated and include the names and/or initials of the deceased. Kind of a morbid attraction, but neat to see.

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Beinhaus, Hallstatt
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Beinhaus, Hallstatt

Hallstatt has a funicular to the top of the Salzberg (salt mountain) with a suspended “Skywalk” platform overlooking the lake and town. There is also a restaurant at the top, and it was the perfect setting for today’s lunch/dinner. The food was average (spaghetti bolognese), but the view was to die for. 

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Lunch at Rudolfsturm, Hallstatt

After my meal, I walked around town some more and then headed back to my hotel. An evening spent sitting by the water on my balcony was the perfect end to the day!

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Hallstatt, Austria