Beautiful Austria… we needed more time with you!

While traveling in Germany we decided to dip into Austria… mostly because we could. We were going to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle and with it being along the boarder it just made sense. We booked a night in Innsbruck, Austria and headed south!

During this time we still had the BMW 5 series so Marty was happily driving down the Autobahn speeding as fast as he was able in areas and enjoying the open road… I had motion sickness patch on and often closed my eyes. I’m not sure why, but it seems each year I become more and more susceptible to motion sickness, and it’s beginning to show itself in odd places. Large boats such as ferries or sight seeing boats are triggers, flying bothers me a bit but GinGins get me through, the cruise ship between Finland and Sweden was a bit of a trigger, and now more frequently car rides… even in the front seat! Bleh. At least we left home with 6 patches and they work brilliantly!

Previously noted, when we arrived at the Neuschwanstein Castle it was after hours so we weren’t able to take a tour. After enjoying the fresh snow and evening sunset we continued traveling through the mountains into Austria. Our host in Austria was a young college kid named Simon; we had a private room at his place for the night and access to the house. He was home when we arrived and cheerfully showed us around the house ensuring we took off our shoes (as everyone does in Europe), asking us to turn off lights when we left a room (as everyone does in Europe) and then proceeded to ask us to take no longer than 7 minutes in the shower (this isn’t usual). It was kind of fun watching him bounce around the house showing us everything and then chuckling at all of the notes posted throughout the house reiterating what he was telling us. Seriously… 3 notes in the bathroom, notes all over the kitchen… you get the picture.

After a good nights sleep, morning tea and a Berliner we headed out to explore Innsbruck. The town is in the middle of beautiful snow covered alps and every turn was absolutely gorgeous. They hosted Winter Olympics in 1976 and still had the Olympic Rings throughout the town. Innsbruck is known for amazing skiing and the town is clearly set up for it with many lifts and buses continually taking people up to the snow. It was fun traveling through the ski town with many people toting around their skis and boards as they walked down the street. It sort of reminds you of Salt Lake City in Utah, but a bit smaller bowl with the mountains closer on all sides.

Since we missed touring Neuschwanstein, we decided to check out Ambras Castle, a medieval fortress turned Renaissance palace, home of Archduke Ferdinand. We snagged free parking (by fluke that the machine was out of order) and we headed in to explore! It may not be the most extravagant castle at first glance, but it was full of history… and peacocks. The only downfall to this castle was that it was cold outside and cold inside. In the lower castle, we went through exhibits showing medieval armor and history of war, but we kept catching a chill! The buildings were not heated and the workers staffing the halls were all as bundled up as we were. It’s a bit amusing… until you need the toilet.

Although the outside of the castle was more simple than others, the inside had beautiful craftsmanship. After learning about the history of armor, medieval amusement of jousting and how it evolved, we followed the tour into what is the oldest museum in the world. The collection put together is quite amazing and also humorous when you begin looking at the oddities collected by the wealthy. Some items such as carved coral, carved ivory, intricate wood carvings, all with insanely tiny, clear details, etched glass, and amazing locks with single keys by a specific locksmith it was funny to look at a painting of the largest hog “in the world” on canvas that the king loved, or ridiculously tall platform female shoes that they technically couldn’t walk in and required an assistant to guide them when they walked… but continued to wear the shoes because it represented their level of wealth. Oh how times have changed… and yes, I am aware we have just as many oddities and amusing bits to poke at with our current wealthy individuals, but the past displays of wealth always tickles me funny.

In the Upper Castle we loved looking at the Spanish Hall with its gorgeous woodwork on the huge doors, the incredibly detailed inlaid woodwork they request you not to touch (which only makes you want to touch them), decorative stone floors, gorgeous ceilings laid out with warm, dark wood and paintings, on the wall you view paintings of Tyrolean rulers (27 life-size portraits) as well as artful detail, tall windows along one side topped with large round windows that had paintings of different scenic views across from them on the opposite wall. It was a lovely room that you could imagine full of life. The craftsmanship put into the decor is unlike anything you see now days; the intricate detail, use of natural products and built to last a lifetime. We had a great time admiring the castle, learning a bit more history and gawking like all of the tourist.

With only one night/day in Austria we made the most of it by visiting the Harley store (a must in each country), tooling around in Old Town to look at the Golden’s Dachl, Innsbruck’s most famous landmark — a golden roof! The Goldenes Dachl, or “little golden roof” is covered with 2,657 gilded tiles that glimmer in the sun. Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) ordered his royal box with its flashy roof so that he could watch jousting (something we learned a lot about at Ambras Castle). Finally we ended our day in search of a Starbucks to purchase me a “you are here” mug. Unfortunately, Innsbruck didn’t have a Starbucks, but Marty found one in Salzburg an hour away so we headed onward.

The amusing part… or not so amusing part of driving in most of Europe are the small towns you have to drive through, roundabouts and tiny roads that are two-way but look more like one-way. Now, don’t think for one second that the drive isn’t gorgeous, but it’s a bit tense at moments when it looks like you’re about to barely squeeze by the car in the other lane. Thank God Marty was driving!! After driving for about an hour, we followed GPS into a large parking deck and proceeded to look for Starbucks. We had actually arrived at a large, multi level shopping mall. It had a cool green-space on the ground floor, lots of cafe’s to grab a caffeine fix at and clean, comfortable seating areas throughout. After making a few rounds we finally found our Starbucks and picked up my coffee mug! Marty’s so good to me…

After a full day in Austria we were headed back into Germany… it was our first late-late night for arrival and it irked our host, but we made amends and after arriving close to 1am we finally tucked in for a few nights. (It was a private flat so we didn’t realize the host had to meet us personally to give us the entry fob and key… whoops!! (I wouldn’t make that mistake again).


Charity & Marty


Germany, Part I

Germany has quickly become a familiar country, grocery stores, speed limits, pubic transit, road signs/directions. It’s a large and beautiful country with so much to offer we find ourselves making it our home base and returning after visiting surrounding countries.

Car travel in Germany is a breeze and rentals can be cheap so we opted for 2 weeks of car rental to allow us a bit more flexibility with travel as well with our baggage. With a car we can not only see sights on our own time table, but we can also shop more easily at grocery stores and take the food with us to the next destination, as well we can stay on the outskirts of towns which is usually more affordable.

As we left Munich our travel plans were to make a sort of loop through Germany with us ending in Hamburg (we did a point-to-point car rental). Along the way we hoped to visit churches, castles and significant historical points throughout. While we drove we’d listen to Rick Steves Europe podcast and learn about architecture, cultures between the Bavarian south of Germany vs the more liberal north and how Germany has been shaped through the years. Revisiting the war-torn years of Germany quickly makes you appreciate your childhood and the lack of need we grew up in.

Ok, ok… castles, fortresses, churches, old towns…

Marienberg Fortress in Würzburg: most of the building date back to the 16th and 18th centuries lending it renaissance and baroque flavors throughout. As like many castles in Europe it has been captured several times, destroyed several times and changed “owners” multiple times through its history. It was fully rebuilt in 1990 and there was additional restoration taking place when we visited. The views across the land from the fortress were magnificent! The walls were massive and we had fun walking atop some of them looking down at the vineyards surrounding the fortress, the village below and across the river.

After enjoying the fortress we went down to the town below and visited St. Mary’s Chapel, a Late Gothic building. Church architecture varies significantly throughout Europe depending on the financial status of members in the community, if it was associated to academic institutes or was built under the patronage of a bishop. It’s been fun looking at the churches and reading about their history as we travel Europe. Marty and I love the beautiful stain glass windows the most and always look forward to entering churches in the afternoon sun.

We visited Würzburg on a Sunday (so Marty could zoom zoom on the autobahn with the least amount of traffic) which meant most of the shops were closed, but there was a heavy concentration of locals out enjoying the winter sun with a glass of wine or a hot coffee. The wind was kicking that day so we opted for hot coffee’s and hiding inside for a bit while we drank them.

Next up, Ulm Minster — the tallest steeple in Europe. It is a Lutheran church and never had a bishop, so it’s not a cathedral. The architecture is to die for and we were amazed. Unfortunately, like most areas in Europe it’s the off season so there is a lot of restoration taking place. Surprisingly, the scaffolding didn’t take away from its beauty (but it doesn’t allow for the most beautiful photos). We were going to climb the minsters spire for the panoramic view, but it wasn’t open all the way to the top so we skipped it.

Onward to Cinderella’s castle! Neuschwanstein Castle in southwest Bavaria. It’s a 19th century Romanesque revival castle perched on a hill, originally commissioned as a retreat and home for the king. Ludwig II of Bavaria paid for the building of the castle out of his personal funds as well as borrowed funds, but did not take from the Bavarian public funds. Shortly after the kings death the castle was opened to the public. As we drove towards the Neuschwanstein castle snow began falling in the mountains, when we arrived there was a light dusting across the land that lended an even more magical touch to the view. Unfortunately we arrived right around 5pm when the castle was closing, so we did not get to tour it. We considered driving back for a tour, but we were headed south into Austria and I didn’t think the time to backtrack was worthwhile.

After enjoying a drive around the village and watching the sunset over the castle we headed onward to Austria… there we found another castle to tour!


Charity & Marty

Germany, Part I

From Switzerland we took our first double-decker, long-distance bus ride to Munich, Germany. It was a pleasant bus ride with comfortable seats, WiFi, toilet and great views. Bus tickets are cheap, you don’t have to worry about stops along the way (unlike trains) and it’s a nice way to see more of the country as you move between locations.

In Munich we had a one night stay in a private room, so once we arrived at the bus terminal we started our 10 minute walk to the metro and followed our host directions. Onward we went, loaded down with heavy packs and a few bags we were toting since we knew the next day we’d have a car. The metro was easy enough, but German… oh man… most difficult language to decipher yet! Most of the countries we’ve visited I’ve been able to pick up a few key words quickly, but German is tough. Thankfully the metro had line maps posted on the inside I was able to follow so we could get off at the right stop.

One of my favorite parts of riding metros is seeing how they differ in design. The German cars we rode in were most definitely older, they had bench seats with a brown pleather covering them. It looked like a diner on the inside the way the benches faced each other. My favorite cars were in Budapest, they were TINY! Super cute and had a fun, quirky, antique ascetic. Maybe not as comfortable as some of the larger cars we’ve ridden in, but you have to enjoy the evolution of metro cars!

On our first full day in Germany we picked up a very nice BMW 5 series Marty picked out… Germany has the Autobahn so we had to get a fun, fast and comfortable car. The driving in Germany was for Marty — speed was his wish, and he got it! After driving the little Panda Fiat in Italy the BMW 5 series was humongo and felt like a boat in parking decks (thankfully Marty was driving).

Leaving Munich we headed to Heidelberg where we had a private flat for 4 days. After staying in private rooms the last week we were both looking forward to having the space to stretch out and enjoy ourselves. As we drove through Germany’s countryside we were amazed by the vast landscape, it seemed to never end. Beautiful farms dotted the sides of the road, pastures were bright green and there were wind turbines everywhere. Surprisingly the turbines were quite attractive and I loved seeing them peak over the next hill and then come into full view as we drove closer. Germany has an extensive plan for generating additional energy from wind and solar. During our ride I read about their plans, how many turbines they had in production and their plans for the future. With electric power becoming more popular in cars most countries are now consuming more electric than they can supply and with the demand continuing to grow countries are becoming more creative with how to keep up.

The first day on the Autobahn was a bit scary for me, but Marty had a blast! It was a bit fun at points flying down the highway, but during some moments I had to close my eyes! Most of the drivers are pretty good, but occasionally we’d be speeding down the highway and a tiny car would pop over into the left lane and we’d have to dramatically slow down because the car couldn’t accelerate fast enough. When driving in the unlisted speed zones you had to be on your toes!

Our home in Heidelberg was fantastic! Except for the stairs… Marty could have killed me! The house was up the side of a mountain, and you had to climb no less than 4 flights to get to the flat… 4 steep flights. When we spoke to our host the first day she explained that they used to have a lift, but her husbands arm was injured at some point by the lift so they disassembled it. Marty joked with her that the “woman” must have picked out this house, but she enjoyed disputing this and said her husband picked out the house, and that she has to carry the groceries in. On grocery day she carries them up the stairs and he is happily standing at the door ready to help her sort them. LOL Inside the flat we had a shared laundry room, and then a private bathroom, kitchen, living room and bedroom. The weather was cold and windy, as winter tends to be, so we enjoyed building fires in the stove at night and slept curled up tight in the duvets.

Up next… castles… to be continued… we’re in Amsterdam and the day has begun so I’ll catch up soon!


Charity & Marty