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 4

I didn’t realize how much of a non-city person I am until I picked up the rental car this morning and set off on my own to explore Bavaria. Once I was out of the city (and its traffic!) and driving through quaint Bavarian villages and towns, I couldn’t help but smile and relax. After the horror stories I had read about rental car companies forcing you to take their insurance, or involving hidden costs in their pricing, I was a bit anxious about how the whole thing would play out. I’m pleased to report that my experience was nothing like what I had read about. Quick, easy, and no hidden costs. In fact, I got an upgraded car with built in GPS, and they actually took off the cost of the GPS. Of course, they also wrote “full risk” in big letters and made me sign to decline all their coverage, but still. I picked up the car at the airport, which added both time on the train and time in traffic to my day, but it worked out fine.

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A sure symbol of Bavaria in Berchtesgaden!
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German maypole

Before I knew it, I was headed southeast from Munich toward my next destination in Berchtesgaden. After about 45 minutes of sitting in traffic, the GPS detoured me to a secondary road. It passed through quaint village after quaint village, many with maypoles in the center of town. Maypoles in this area are tall blue and white striped poles that display the trades of the townspeople, traditionally erected around May Day. Legend has it that as May Day approaches, townsfolk will try to steal a neighboring village’s maypole and hold it ransom for beer.

I eventually ended up on the Autobahn heading southeast out of Munich. Contrary to popular belief, most Autobahns do have reasonable speed limits, with only small sections where there is no speed limit. My midday stop was Prien am Chiemsee, a large lake dotted with three small islands. It was on one of these islands, Herreninsel, that King Ludwig II of Bavaria (Mad King Ludwig) chose to build one of his three palaces. He revered King Louis XIV of France, and modeled his palace after Versailles. In fact, several of the details and artwork are exact replicas of the Palace of Versailles. Once on the island, there are several footpaths or carriage rides that will take you to the palace. There is also an old Augustinian monastery which has been turned into an art gallery, a couple of churches, a restaurant, and several walking trails. I bought the island ticket, which in hindsight was probably a waste, but which allowed me access to all of the buildings and a guided tour of the palace. No pictures allowed inside, but to say it was impressive would be an understatement. Ludwig spared no expense on the gilded walls, tapestries, hall of mirrors, and marble entry fit for a king. Sadly, he died before the palace was finished, so only 20 of the 70 rooms were completed.

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St. Maria, Herreninsel
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King Ludwig II’s Royal Palace Herrenchiemsee

After touring the palace, I made it back to the boat dock just in time for the boat to Fraueninsel, a small inhabited island on the lake. From the boat dock, you can stroll the dirt roads and alleys of the island, which is car-free. It took me less than an hour to walk the whole island and take pictures. The buildings and homes are very Bavarian in style, complete with dark wood trim and overflowing window boxes. There is a Benedictine convent and church at one end, homes for the island’s 300 residents, and a multitude of biergartens. Had I gotten there earlier, I likely would have eaten in one. As it was, I was pushing the time and decided to head back and finish the drive to Berchtesgaden. 

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Fraueninsel
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Fraueninsel

By time I arrived, it was after 7PM. I navigated the large but very narrow and confusing underground parking garage and was soon in my room overlooking the Alps surrounding Berchtesgaden. The back of the hotel abuts the pedestrian zone, and I was able to find a small biergarten for dinner (pork schnitzel with French fries tonight).

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Gasthof zum Neuhaus, Berchtesgaden
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Pork schnitzel for dinner tonight!

I haven’t addressed the weather at all because it’s been very summery and beautiful until now. Not unlike the temperatures in Massachusetts, it’s been in the upper 80s every day with almost full sun. However, that is about to change, as the weather forecast calls for rain the next couple of days (which started as I was eating dinner) and I have two days of outdoor activities planned. I’m determined not to let the rain change my plans, but my hopes for beautiful mountain scenery may not come to fruition for a few days!

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Berchtesgaden

 

 

Germany Austria 2019: Munich Thoughts

It’s time to move on from Munich, but first a few final thoughts about the city. It felt very European, but not necessarily German. I don’t know that there’s anything about Munich that would make me come back, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t find things to do here if I were to come back here again someday. Here are a few random things I noticed:

Bicycles. They’re everywhere. The wide sidewalks are divided into pedestrian lanes and bike lanes, which are loosely adhered to. There are directional signs for bikes just like you see street signs for cars.

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Bicycle signs

Sidewalk cafes are also everywhere. Outdoor dining is very popular (probably not so much in the winter!), and people sit outside to drink, eat, or just converse. Like other places in Europe, you can stay as long as you want. You just ask for a bill when you’re ready to leave. Nobody brings your check to you unless you ask.

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Sidewalk cafes abound in Munich!

Being outdoors in general is a big thing. Aside from the bicyclists, there were hundreds of people sunbathing in the English Garden the other day on a random Thursday afternoon and splashing around in the brooks that run through the park.

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Splashing around in the English Garden

Public transportation is just like any other big city, with a complicated map that looks daunting at first, but isn’t so bad once you’ve used it a couple of times. There are S-Bahn trains (suburban trains), U-Bahn trains (urban trains), regional trains, and long-distance trains. I also saw plenty of trams and buses, though the only trains I took were S-Bahn. 

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Munich public transit map

Munich was a good place to recover from jet lag for a couple of days, though it wasn’t the real destination for the trip. I’m most looking forward to spending the next week and a half exploring the Bavarian Alps and the countryside of Germany and Austria!

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Marienplatz, Munich

 

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 3

“Work Makes You Free”. Those haunting words greet you at the entrance to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, just 10 short miles outside of Munich. Visiting Dachau during my trip to Munich had long been on my must-do list. I’m not much of a history buff, but World War II and the Holocaust have always fascinated me.

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Arbeit Macht Frei – “Work Makes You Free”

The day started off with blue skies and sun, a stark contrast to the realities of Dachau, where I spent the morning learning about the first of many such concentration camps established by the Nazi regime throughout Europe. Several of the buildings have been rebuilt since the camp’s liberation due to their poor condition, but there are several original buildings too. From the words that greet you upon entry to the words at the end of the memorial – “Never Again” – the site is a living memorial to those who lost their lives at Dachau between 1933 and 1945 and to those who somehow struggled and survived. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of miles away is a town that had no idea of the horrors taking place on its own doorstep. 

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Roll-Call Square, Dachau

There are really two parts to the memorial: the museum and the barracks. The museum tells the story of how the Nazi party came into power after World War I, how Dachau was built, the living conditions, its eventual liberation, and its repurposing as a Nazi prison for those awaiting persecution as war criminals. There are two rebuilt barracks as well as the cement footprints of 30 other barracks surrounded by seven guard towers and razor wire fencing. At the far end of the complex are five religious memorials as well as the crematorium and (unused) gas chamber. It was incredible to see and a lot to take in, but it was well worth the visit.

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Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

When I got back to Munich, I was hungry. I had planned to eat at another biergarten, but a lack of tables without a “reserved” sign caused me to rethink my plans. I ended up at Ratskeller in the courtyard of the New Town Hall. Though just a short walk from the busy Marienplatz, it was quiet and the pork schweinebraten, apple strudel, and blackberry cider were delicious. Tomorrow’s adventure will be picking up a rental car and driving to the Bavarian Alps!

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Ratskeller, Munich

 

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 2

Happy 4th of July! Aside from my “Love USA” t-shirt, it hardly feels like the 4th in Munich, although one could argue that the biergarten atmosphere makes every day feel like the 4th of July! Today, I took a walking tour, ate in a biergarten, watched some surfing (yes, in Munich!), and got a birds-eye view of Marienplatz from atop St. Peter’s church spire.

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Frauenplatz, Munich

I slept for a glorious 10.5 hours last night and woke up feeling like a million bucks like I got run over by a truck. Seriously. Not a great way to start the first full day of vacation. I took some allergy medicine (thankfully, I’ve decided to start packing a small pharmacy when I travel out of the country) and felt better as they day progressed. Breakfast was in the hotel lounge, complete with an international version of the New York Times and American-style eggs. In fact, my hotel couldn’t be more American if it were dropped in the middle of New York City. Everything is in English, the room is American-sized (read: large), and it has American-style bedding and bath products. I expect that won’t be the case in the rest of my hotels here.

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Overlooking Marienplatz from St. Peter’s church tower

After breakfast, I set out to wander towards Marienplatz again. I was planning to take a walking tour that started at 10:45, so I walked around and then bought my ticket for that. I had just enough time to climb the 300 steps to the top of St. Peter’s church tower before the tour. From the platform at the top, you have 360 degree views around Munich.

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Glockenspiel in Marienplatz

The walking tour started a little late, thanks to a no-show tour guide. Once we got started, we were just in time to watch the glockenspiel on the New Town Hall in Marienplatz. The glockenspiel (glocken = bell; spiel = story/play) performs three times a day during the summer, and tells the story of a wedding with a friendly joust between the bride and groom’s families. From there, we walked the streets of Munich to the English Garden, where we watched surfers riding the small (but hugely popular) rapids on the Eisbach (brook). The garden forms one of the largest urban parks in the world and also serves as Munich’s outdoor summer playground. Nude sunbathing is very much a thing here, and though I did not feel the need to participate in this local custom, there were plenty of people taking part!

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English Garden, Munich

When the tour ended, I stayed in the English Garden to have lunch at the Chinese Tower biergarten (the second largest in Munich with seating for 7,500 people). It is a traditional biergarten where you walk through a series of stalls to get your food and beer and then sit in the garden to enjoy it. Kind of like an outdoor food court. I had a breaded pork schnitzel with country potatoes and a “spezi”, which is Coke mixed with Fanta (they love their Fanta here!). I settled in to relax and regroup at a table in the shade and soaked in the biergarten ambience. 

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Chinese Tower Biergarten
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Chinese Tower Biergarten
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Asam Church, Munich

My last stop of the afternoon was at the Asam Church, designed by two brothers from the Asam family to be their private church. The church itself blends in with the adjoining houses and looks unobtrusive from the outside. I couldn’t believe the beauty behind the door! The walls are gilded in gold, the ceiling has a beautiful mural, and the dark benches just beg you to sit and marvel. Being just 30 feet wide, there’s not a lot of room inside, but it was absolutely breathtaking. From there, I walked back to my hotel and relaxed for a while before enjoying the complimentary happy hour in the lounge for “dinner”.

 

 

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 1

Guten Tag! My neighbor asked me yesterday how I choose my vacation spots. Honestly? It could be anything from an episode of the Amazing Race to a picture I saw in a magazine. There’s really no rhyme or reason, and no “bucket list” I’m trying to check off. Germany and Austria have been on my travel “to do” list for a few years now, inspired mostly by the pictures I’ve seen and stories I’ve heard of my parents’ trip to Austria many years ago. Of course, both countries are pretty big, so narrowing down my itinerary took some thought and research. I finally settled on Munich and southern Bavaria along with the Salzburg region. I’d much rather stay in one place for a few days than pack up and move around constantly just to see more. My only source of apprehension for this trip comes from it being my first time driving a car in a non-English speaking country. But I have a couple of days in Munich before I need to worry about that.

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Marienplatz – Munich, Germany

Travel was long and exhausting, but I made it to Munich around 10:45AM. I first went to my hotel and (miracle of miracles) my room was actually ready. A shower and a change of clothes gave me enough of a second wind that for a little while I was able to forget that I haven’t slept in over 30 hours. Yes, you read that right. Not even a wink on the plane. In my defense, we landed in Dublin before midnight east coast time, so the timing wasn’t really conducive to sleep. By the time they served and cleaned up dinner, it was almost time for breakfast.

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Munich, Germany

Anyway, I had no plans for today, so I just wandered around the Marienplatz (the central square in Munich) and then hit the Hofbräuhaus for a snack. Sadly, my dislike for beer continues… I gamely ordered a Radler (beer mixed with lemonade/Sprite), which came in an enormous glass mug that I knew I’d never finish. I just don’t like the taste of beer. And I’m not going to force myself to drink it for the next two weeks; I’ll just need to find another drink of choice to keep me going. I also got an enormous pretzel which always sounds good until I remember I don’t really like pretzels. The Oompah band, however, was a lot of fun, as was chatting with a woman and her daughter from Massachusetts. Seating is at communal tables, so you have to get friendly with your neighbors!

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Hofbräuhaus Oompah Band

After that, the only thing I wanted to see was my bed. I am dead tired and it’s only 5:15PM. I’d like to make it until 7 o’clock tonight, but something tells me that may not happen…