Archive for September, 2010

Munich and Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany)

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

August 5, 2010 (Thursday) – August 7, 2010 (Saturday):

It was a rainy morning. The skies were gray. The mood was somber. Normally, weather like this would dampen our day. But today, it seemed appropriate. We were spending the morning to visit Dachau, the first concentration camp set up by the Nazi’s. Auschwitz is more infamously known, being the largest. But Dachau was the first, and the model from which all the other Nazi concentration camps would be similarly set up.

Many of the original infrastructure (sleeping barracks, receiving train tracks/building) no longer fully exists, but what does exist (outer perimeter, crematorium, museum building) gives you a grim reminder of what would have taken place in the camp. Especially poignant, is the crematorium. Now defunct, the emptiness only adds to the desolate fate of the prisoners that would have passed through here during their final hours. Visiting Dachau is a sad, but very eye-opening experience.

After Dachau, we made our way to Munich, where we were going to meet up with my relatives (my two cousins who are studying in Germany, and their parents who are visiting them from S. Korea). We spent the first day eating German food/beer, visiting the Pinakothek der Moderne (modern art museum), and eating Korean food. Yes, Korean food in Munich. I think Miriam could’ve passed out from the sheer joy of finally actually having (decent) Korean. A whole month without it. Any more days, and she might have developed the shakes from withdrawal. Thank you Korean food. Good tidings until we meet again in a month, in the motherland.

The next day, we took a day trip out to Fussen to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig II had this castle built in the 1800s.  A very grandiose castle, sitting high upon a mountain and surrounded by forests. A perfect setting for such a whimsical-looking castle. And rumor has it that Disney actually modeled his Disneyland castles after Neuschwanstein Castle. I can see the resemblances. After spending about a half-day touring the inside and outside of the castle, we headed back to Munich. But not before we took a detour Wieskirche. A little bit off the Romantic Road route, Wieskirche is listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites. Once we got there, the exterior of the church was nothing really to marvel at. But the inside was a different story. From memory (because they were having service so pictures were not allowed), the inside of the church was decorated with colorful frescoes and with beautiful stuccowork. I can see why this church was listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. Well worth the detour. (Would’ve been better if we timed it right when they weren’t having service so I could’ve taken pictures)

Back in Munich, we had dinner, at none other than the famous Hofbrauhaus. This large German beer hall lived up to its billing. Finding a spot in the large, but crowded hall proved to be a challenge. But once we did the beers and food came flowing. Waitresses scurried around the hall carrying liters of beer in the heavy glass steins, while the oompah band played loud festive Bavarian music. I don’t know how these waitresses are able to carry 6-8 steins in each hand without dropping any steins. Each stein, especially when filled with beer must have weighed at least….I don’t know, but I tried picking up three, and that alone seemed like a workout. No wonder German women do so well in the Olympics. Their training begins at the Hofbrauhaus.

Well, so after about a week in Germany, beginning with a rough start, we’re off to Verona.  Thanks for the memories, Germany.

Visit the Photos to view more pictures from Dachau and Munich/Neuschwanstein Castle.

Romantic Road (Germany) – pt. 2

Monday, September 6th, 2010

August 2, 2010 (Monday) – August 5, 2010 (Thursday):

Situated atop a hillside above the river Tauber, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the quintessential Bavarian town. If you see pictures of old Bavaria, it’s as if they would all be pictures from Rothenburg. Not even Disney could have recreated such a perfectly replicated historic town. The town, with its picturesque buildings and architecture, and surrounding defensive walls and towers, remains as if preserved in a time capsule without human interference for centuries. In fact, that was actually the case. After the Thirty Years War and the plague in the 1600s, Rothenburg became desolate and poverty-striken, and thus abandoned for hundreds of years. The city and buildings in essence preserved without any inhabitants. Not until the 1800s, did people again begin to populate the town.  Eventually, tourism began to flourish with visitors coming from all around to view the essentially preserved historic town. As they say in Rothenburg, history’s poverty creates a future’s wealth.

While in Rothenburg, we didn’t do much in terms of visiting inside museums/castles/churches, as the town itself is a living, breathing museum. Just by walking through the streets of Rothenburg, you can’t help but admire the old town. On one of the nights, we took a walking tour through the town guided by a medieval night watchman (a medieval policeman, if you will). A great way to explore the town and get an entertaining little history lesson at the same time.

We spent a couple of days in Rothenburg, before we continued on our road trip down the Romantic Road towards Dinkelsbuhl, then to Augsburg (our last stop on this portion of the Romantic Road before we stopped in Munich).

In Dinkelsbuhl, we had lunch and spent the afternoon riding bikes around the town.  I have to mention again, but Miriam is becoming quite the bicycle rider. After never having ridden bikes together, we spent an afternoon biking in Tiburon before we left San Francisco; then on this trip, we spent a day biking in Amsterdam, and now, biking in Dinkelsbuhl. I think the innocent gift of a bicycle windbreaker jacket given to Miriam by her friend, Elise, originally thought to be used just as a light jacket has instead possessed Miriam’s soul into wanting to ride bikes.  Now, if only there were such a jacket to inspire Miriam into wanting to give me daily back massages…

As for Augsburg, we didn’t do much there. For us, it was really just a pit stop where we would spend the night before heading into Munich. And after spending the night in Augsburg, I’m not quite sure why it’s included along the path of the Romantic Road. It was quite different than all the other towns we visited. It was much larger (size and population), and didn’t really have the historic (“romantic”) looking buildings as all the other towns possessed. It felt just like any other midsize city. But….getting to Augsburg was the real thrill. Driving on the Romantic Road, you’re traveling on the back-country roads of Germany. What I really wanted (and was looking forward to in Germany) was driving on the other famed German road, the autobahn. So we took a detour and ditched the Romantic Road. And I veered onto the autobahn and let our Audi stretch her legs. 80-100km/h (50-62mph), that’s where we were cruising along for the past few days on the Romantic Road.  But now, on the autobahn…140km/h (87mph), the needle on the speedometer gently fought against gravity and began to rise. 180km/h (112mph), beads of sweat were beginning to gather between my palms and the steering wheel as I clenched the wheel harder. 200km/h (124mph), thoughts of regret began to form in my mind as I remembered I had no life insurance policy. And there we were, cruising at 200km/h along on the autobahn. I had visions of David Hasselhoff and Knight Rider wondering if our car too would transform into Super Pursuit Mode like K.I.T.T. at these speeds. And then, after not too long, we arrived in Augsburg.  California needs speed limit-less highways.

Tomorrow, we’ll be in Munich, where we’ll meet up with my two cousins (who live in Germany and are studying there) and their parents (who live in Korea and are visiting).  And also take a day-trip to visit Neuschwanstein Castle.

Visit the Photos to view more pictures from Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuhl.

Interruption…

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

We interrupt this travel blog with a random note.  By now, you’ve already guessed, I’m about a month behind in updating the blog.  Today is September 3rd, and the last entry recalls events from August 2nd while we were in Germany…we’re currently (back) in Brussels.  I still have posts for Germany, Verona, Zagreb, Tokaji, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Berlin that I need to post (and write).  Basically, everything from the past month.  These will come….eventually.

But in the meantime, enough about the past, how about the present.  We’re in Brussels for the day/night, before we head to London for the weekend, then off to Russia.  And it so happens, it’s our dating anniversary.  Who still celebrates that after they get married, anyway?  Afterall, there’s already the wedding anniversary to celebrate.  Anyway, I suppose we didn’t really celebrate, we just went out to dinner.  And it got me thinking, where were we for the previous five (dating) anniversaries.

2005: New York (the beginning…what I like to refer to as the “sell weekend”)
2006: Los Angeles
2007: Napa
2008: San Francisco
2009: Las Vegas
2010: Brussels

So, looking back, we’ve always been in a different city.  It’s weird.  We never really consciously tried to be in a different city to celebrate, it seems to have happened that way.

Well, that’s that.  Now back to our regularly (delayed) scheduled programming…

Romantic Road (Germany) – pt. 1

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

August 1, 2010 (Sunday) – August 2, 2010 (Monday):

The famous Romantic Road (Romantische Strasse) in Germany. A stretch of country road spanning 353km (or 219 miles) passing through various villages, many keeping intact its medieval buildings and towns. Very romantic. What’s not romantic?…McDonald’s.

Having a McDonald’s right in front of our hotel in Mainz, we decided to go to their drive-thru to save time before we began our journey along the Romantic Road to our first stop, Wurzburg. What we didn’t plan for was a non-English speaking McDonald’s employee manning the drive-thru microphone. We ordered (or rather attempted to order) a #1 and #2. (That’s an egg mcmuffin meal and sausage mcmuffin with egg meal, for you McDonald’s novices out there). Instead, what we saw on the drive-thru display was 2 happy meals and 1 orange juice. Hmmm….that doesn’t seem right, something definitely got lost in translation. So we tried again, and explained what we wanted again. Now what we saw on the drive-thru display was 3 happy meals, 2 orange juices, and 1 coffee. Figuring that this method wasn’t going to work, we ended up just going inside and ordering, where we could just point to the pictures of the food items we wanted. Lesson learned — don’t use drive-thrus in foreign countries when you don’t speak the language.

Belly full, we were on our way to Wurzburg. Once we got closer to Wurzburg, just as we were entering the city limits, we got a glimpse of what we would be seeing for the next few days along the Romantic Road: remains of medieval walls that once protected city limits, old cobblestone streets, buildings intact (or rebuilt) in medieval and baroque styles. This would be a trip back in time to witness how towns may have looked (minus all the cars).

Wurzburg was a great start. There, we toured the Residenz, a one-time palace to the ruling prince-bishops. Inside, we saw the baroque style of apartments (living quarters) where each subsequent room was more decorated than the previous; as well as the ornate decorations and vaulted frescos. Outside, we walked through their magnificent garden, enjoying its sculpted flowerbeds.

It was also here in Wurzburg, that we went to our first real beer garden on this trip. Walking through the town and seeing the sights, we began to realize the humidity and the burning sun was beating down upon our unshaded bodies. We needed relief. So, we ducked into the beer garden acorss the river. The setting was perfect, right along the river under shaded groves of leafy trees. Picnic tables strewn across and along the ~50ft wide by ~100ft long grassy area. Beer and wurst, with saurkraut and potatoes. What a nice meal, escaping the 90degree heat, under the tree-shaded beer garden. Thank you, you giving trees.

The next morning we were off to continue our road trip towards Rothenburg (with pit stops in Weikersheim, Creglingen, and Detwang). But before we left, we noticed while walking through Wurzburg these odd-shaped wine bottles. Not your typical slender wine bottles with narrowing shoulders and neck; but instead, shorter, fat and round bottles, almost canteen-like looking. We soon found out these were the bottles of Franconian wines, wines famous in this region. So of course, we had to visit a Franconian winery. So that’s what we did the morning we left Wurzburg. The wine wasn’t bad, but the bottles were what drew us. Wurzburg, check. On to the next one.

We took a pit stop in Weikersheim to have lunch and tour another castle/palace. Another palace done in the baroque style, with a lush and vast garden. Unfortunately, many of these castles/palaces/museums do not allow pictures inside (what a crock). So all you get are pictures of the exterior. If you want pictures of the inside, I suggest you use Google Images and search for the pictures. I suppose I could do it for you and post them here, but you clearly have nothing else to do since you’re here reading this blog.

To view more pictures from Wurzburg / Weikersheim / Detwang, visit the Photos.