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Germany

More castles- Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangu

Hohenschwangu, Germany

Part of the modern "going to bed" ritual is plugging in your phone for the night. But when we went looking, we found that we were one short. My hypothesis is that it is still at the rest stop. I gave it back after taking the pictures of him drooling over the meat, but he says he never got it back.
Good thing I have a reecipt from there. The front desk was able to help us locate their phone number, call them, and confirm that they had it and we could come pick it up.
So, instead of a leisurely morning loafing in the huge castle bed or even touring around the village, we were going to drive backwards to get the phone.
view from our room in the castle

view from our room in the castle


First though, we had breakfast. They were set up inside as it was brisk with a threat of rain outside, but we felt it was too pretty to not eat outside. We had a great view of the back of the castle as well as some of the nearby grounds. The breakfast foods were simple- eggs, bread, jam, cut veggies, cheese, and such, but it was presented elegantly and tasted delicious. We especially liked the juice and the jam.
At some point, it started to drizzle, probably hinting that eating outside wasn't as smart as we thought, but it was light enough not to bother us too much.
We didn't have time to stick around and linger anyway. As soon as we were done eating, we packed and left.
Even though our time at the castle was cut short, it was totally worth it.
My guy drove on the way back to pick up his phone. He marveled at how smart our rental car was. Apparently, the cruise control automatically slowed you down as you approached other cars.
Driving through the countryside

Driving through the countryside


We headed back to the rest stop and were able to claim the phone. They made us describe it before they even let him try to unlock it, and confirmed that it unlocked it before they would give it to us. Impressive security.
We then drove back exactly the way we came, passing the same hills, forests, and villages that we already passed twice. That didn't detract from their beauty at all.
More mountain driving

More mountain driving


It continued to drizzle lightly the whole way to the castles we were due to see today, but let up just about the time we spotted them up on their hills off in the distance.
First, we parked and went on to get our tickets. Even though we preordered them, we still had to show up at least an hour before our entry time to physically pick them up. The tickets confirmation said they'd be cancelled with no refund otherwise. Personally, I get wanting people there somewhat early so that they have time to get up to the castles, but demanding an hour seems a bit unreasonable. One thought is that they want you hanging around, buying things from the variety of souvenir shops and food vendors. But there's time for that anyway.
First view of Neuschwanstein Castle

First view of Neuschwanstein Castle


Instead, we drove back to a cute little town we passed through on the way here- Fussen.
Fussen

Fussen


Fussen has its own castle, albeit much less majestic, mostly because it's in town and not up on a hill. Nearby, we had spotted a cobblestone pedestrian old city area, which is what we wanted to check out. Many of the shops sell tourist souvenirs, but many also sell regular clothes and items that would be of interest to non-tourists. My favorite was a clothing store that had many more modern clothes, but also lederhosen. You know- just in case you need something for casual Friday at the office.
lederhosen for sale

lederhosen for sale


Meanwhile, my Guy was attracted like a magnet to every store selling any kind of beer paraphernalia, which seemed to be every third store. He also ogled the food in the various shop windows, planning where he wanted to come back to.
The old town was small and quaint, replete with traditional Bavarian architecture. I could imagine that the buildings may have been painted the exact same way for the past few hundred years.
Fussen

Fussen


I enjoyed strolling through it, feeling put back in time a bit. I saw a shop selling some sort of traditional pastry, which of course I had to try. It wasn't that great. It seemed like they took the extra pieces of cookie dough left over from using cookie cutters, threw it in a ball, and deep fried it, except that they forgot to put the sugar actually in the dough and put it on the outside to make up for it. Also, the dough was a bit dry, so it wasn't chewy or soft when fried, mostly just crispy. But not a sharp potato chip crispy, more of a stale bread crispy. I ate half of it anyway, but wouldn't order it again.
What I did enjoy was the lunch we ate at a deli in town. In addition to their cold cuts and uncooked meats, this deli had some delicious prepared foods. I had some super fluffy potato cheese patties that were just heavenly as well as some spaetzle with cabbage that had just the right amount of tang and bite to it.
After lunch, it was time to return to the castles. The tour starts at the Hohenschwangu castle. This one was built by the non-Hapsburg Austrian royals and used as a summer palace. We saw the floor used by the queen, and the separate floor used by the king. I guess in an era of political alliance marriages, one of the best ways to keep happy was for each to have their own space and household.
Both floors of the palace are amazing. All of the walls are covered in elaborate murals that would hold their own in any major museum, except they're painted on, so they're not easily transferable. The ceilings are decorated beautifully. The stained glass is extremely detailed, giving the impression more of a lighted painting than normal stained glass. It's unfortunate they don't allow pictures as the postcards in the gift shop don't really capture all the interesting bits inside the castle.
Outside Hohenschwangen Castle

Outside Hohenschwangen Castle


The tour guide shared information about the castle- Wagner played on this piano, the chandelier is made of pure silver, this bust is the queen at age whatever- but told very few stories. For example, she pointed out that one of the large murals is a scene from the story of the swan knight. But she never bothered to tell us the story or what it was even about. I can tell she does this many times per day and is super-efficient. But really, she could have been replaced by a recording for what we heard.
The one more storylike description she gave was that the servants had to duck through tight holes carrying wood for the fireplaces. She also could have expanded on the story of one of the presents.
Many of the rooms had some present the king was given featured on a table in the middle. He received sculptures and dishes, items of gold and silver, and they were all crafted with extreme effort. He also apparently received a loaf of bread from some Russians. And the original loaf of bread is still sitting there, under glass, waiting for us to come look at it. I want to know why the Russians thought bread was a gift for a king when everyone else was giving gold. I want to know why the king saved it instead of eating it, and how it isn't moldy.

The tour of that castle finished with enough time for us to hike over to the next castle- Neuschwanstein.
Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle


The tourist map said 40 mins, but again we took much less time. It is still quite an uphill hike though.
This castle was never really lived in. The prince who grew up using Hohenschwangu castle as his summer home became king and decided that he wanted to build his own castle nearby. The castle was never finished, but within a week after he moved in to part of it, he died. The internet had a lot of information about the suspiciousness of his death- the people were unhappy at financing the castle, it was ruled a suicide despite him not leaving a note, someone else died with him- but the guide seemed to be sticking to some script. He said it was a suicide under somewhat suspicious circumstances, and when some other tourists in the group kept asking, he really didn't elaborate much. Like the guide at the other castle, we would have been about just as well off with a recording.
Neuschwanstein courtyard

Neuschwanstein courtyard


The castle itself was just as impressive as the first though. The walls were again completely covered in paintings. Even though it's newer, the king had it designed in a medieval style with ornate detail. He even put a cave room inside the house because there was some story he liked that somehow involved a cave.
For me, one of the cool parts of the tour was the restoration. The castle is getting old, and apparently needs some repairs. The people who were touching up the paint were not hidden from our view. We actually got to watch as they dotted and touched up the walls. What a fun job!
View of Hohenschwangu from Neuschwanstein

View of Hohenschwangu from Neuschwanstein


By the time we finished our castle tour and made it down to the Museum of Kings, we only had about a half hour to browse before the museum closed. I didn't need the whole half hour. The museum contained a single large room of displays. Half of it showed some objects they used and the other half was a long family tree explaining who was in charge of the area when and who married who. It was interesting enough, but just not expansive.
In our half-panic about the phone this morning, I had forgotten to go over the information about our apartment for tonight. I knew there wasn't 24 hour reception, but until we connected to wifi at the grocery store, I didn't know how much time we had. Seeing that the car gps told us it was 3 hours away (although google had told us 2.5) and that check in ended in 3 hours 15 minutes, I started panicking a bit and called the hotel owner to make sure we would be ok. He told us that things here run on German time, but he could have them wait 5 minutes, if needed. I promised we'd be there and scrambled to finish picking up supplies and check out.
Alpine View

Alpine View


Fortunately, the car gps time was less accurate than google. As we drove, our estimated arrival time crept earlier and earlier, until we had over a half hour to spare. I wasn't driving particularly fast, but my guess is that since much of the way consisted of back country roads where it was easy to get stuck behind a tractor for miles and miles, just not getting caught and driving a normal speed was probably enough to make good time.
The apartment was very cute. They had turned the top floor of a ski lodge style building into a hotel room. It had small but sufficient kitchen with a little eating nook, wood cabinets, and a nice view of the village.
One view out of our apartment

One view out of our apartment


We settled in quickly and splayed our groceries out over the kitchen table. We had picked the most exciting basics we saw. Of course we had bread, but to go with it, we had found mango chili sunflower something-or-other. It ended up being almost like hummus with a sweet and spicy kick. We had picked up Limburger cheese. All I knew about it was that cartoons always showed it with stink lines. It was actually more mild than many of the strong blue cheeses we like, but the flavor really was like stinky feet. (Later in the trip, my guy asked me to close my eyes and try to guess if what I was smelling was cheese or his dirty socks. I declined that game.) We had picked up buratta, which went much better with the sun-dried tomatoes and salad. Overall, it was a tasty dinner and promised to be a tasty breakfast for tomorrow.

Posted by spsadventures 09:42 Archived in Germany Tagged castle alps Comments (0)

Pretty pretty princess

Isny im Allgau, Germany

I had fortunately read the reviews online for multiple car rental companies and so when we went to the counter, I was prepared. First, I made sure to get instructions on how to get a "vignette" for the car for Austria. Basically, you need a special sticker on the car to drive in Austria, and since we were renting in Switzerland, it only came with the sticker for Switzerland. (She suggested the gas station before the border.)
While I raised that point, she made sure to raise the point about damage. She showed me all of the places on the car that were scratched or dented and told us to check the car and come back if we saw something else.
In the poor garage lighting, we couldn't even find the ones she said were on the car, much less additional ones. I had heard that the Swiss were super-picky about rental car damage, and that was no joke. We looked at the car, but quickly realized we weren't going to be able to add anything, so we hopped in and were on our way.
As we drove past Winterthur and St. Gallen, I smiled, feeling as if I was in the middle of Ticket to Ride Switzerland. One day, I'll come back here and see the country by rail. For this trip though, we only flew into Zurich because it was cheaper than any other city close to where we wanted to be.

The sun set as we headed toward some snow-capped mountains, making them difficult to see. Still, I appreciated their presence.
Just before the Austrian border, we pulled off at a gas station. The thought was that we would pick up some food as well as the car sticker. We were successful at getting the sticker and I got some delicious cheese to go. My guy on the other hand, decided that he didn't want to pay almost $20 for a Buger King burger and fries. So, we got back on the road to look for another rest stop.
It was worth the wait. The next stop was the border again, this time Austria and Germany. (It was actually a very short drive through the corner of Austria, much of which seemed to be taken up by a long (~7km) tunnel. Here, the restaurant wasn't really open, but the deli/bakery counter was. I was actually ok, having noshed on the cheese I got at the last stop, but that didn't stop me from a cheese-covered pretzel anyway. And my guy practically drooled over the huge loaves of pork behind the glass. (Later he said they were just mediocre, but at the time, his face showed how excited he was to try them, and I made sure to get a great picture of that.)
We drove on, eventually leaving the highway for back roads that passed through adorable villages. I remember passing through villages like these between Vienna and Bratislava, and am really excited to be back to get a closer look than what I was able to see from the bus.
As we passed through numerous forests filled with super-tall, super straight trees, my Guy commented that Germans are so strict that even their trees grow straight. The forest just had a different feeling than where we usually hike because there wasn't a lot of underbrush or short trees or trees leaning, growing outwards, or near each other. There were neat clear spaces between trees that could be easily mistaken for telephone poles. Later, we'd see neat clean wood piles, both next to residences and on large trucks.
Castle/Schloss

Castle/Schloss


We arrived at Schloss Neutrachtberg- a castle- that is also where we are staying. It is not as large and grand as ShoenbrunnPalace, but it does bear a resemblance as a miniature version. Because we were arriving so late, the reception was closed. They had told me via ail how to access the key so we let ourselves in like we owned the place. It's a bit of a heady feeling to "live" in a castle, even for a night. However, the email didn't say what room we were in. And we didn't have a wifi password for me to connect and make calls. So we decided to just try all the rooms.
Our key didn't fit into a few doors, and quietly fit, but wouldn't turn in others. Fortunately, we were in the 5th room we tried, so we didn't have to try them all.
part of the room

part of the room


The room is gorgeous, and is decorated in what is either well-maintained antiques, or really good replicas. Either way, I certainly felt like a princess or honored guest. I'm really happy that we chose to splurge a bit on this.

Posted by spsadventures 09:26 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

An afternoon in Berlin

My trip started with a layover in Berlin that was long enough to see some of the city. Tegel airport is very small, therefore it takes like 5 minutes to get through, which gave me more time for the city. Apparently Berlin has 4 city centers, so there was a bit of confusion amongst the helpers in the bus area as to what bus I should get on. Eventually I made it to the right bus and bought a ticket on the bus. (They have machines and you can buy them there before you get on, but that line was long and the bus was ready to go.)The internet said the ride would be 40 mins, but there's no way it even took half that- maybe traffic was light. On the way downtown, I realized that I was hungry, thirsty, and needed to use the facilities. Fortunately, I saw a ton of restaurants. However, when I got downtown to the spot where everybody got off (and I followed), there weren't really any to be found. I ended up walking past the Reichstag building (very cool) and over towards Brandenburg Gate. Still, nothing, which surprised me based on the amount of tourists in the area. I was getting desperate and decided that I'd stop at whatever the next place was. However, the first restaurant I saw had a fixed-price lunch that was over 100 Euro. I wasn't that desperate. The next 3 places I saw were Dunkin Donuts, Haagen Das, and Starbucks. I also wasn't that desperate. Finally, I found a place that looked like it was called 3M and that had food and facilities. As it turns out, it was actually called Berlin Moscow, which means they had Russian-German food. There was caviar and blinis on the menu. I ended up getting a salad and a pumpkin soup. The food was excellent and very elegant- we're talking foam on top of my soup, twilles, pink salt chunks, and other fancy things. The portions were "appetizer" sized, so I didn't leave hungry, but I didn't leave stuffed either, which was ok by mean because that meant that I could try more things. The price was less than I would have expected for that type of place, but still more than a "normal" lunch. Overall, I was pleased. Afterwards, I headed right down the street to the Brandenburg Gate. This is one of the major tourist spots. The square in front of the gate is completely mobbed, which is an interesting contrast to most of the rest of the city. It's as if nobody uses any of the side streets, but large groups of people magically appear at the major sights. In the square, there are a ton of people dressed up in costumes who will take pictures with you, if you pay. I completely got the whole American/Russian soldier duo. Later, I understood why the bear was there as all the gift shops had bears in them to represent Berlin. I have to admit, I'm not sure why Mario and Luigi were there. I'm even further confused as to why people dressed up as bizarre monsters were there. But, people were taking pictures with them. Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie. The whole area was very well-signed and it was easy to find. Currently, there is no sign of the wall at all. They did a fabulous job of tearing it down and erasing all signs. Instead, there are tourist traps related to the wall. For example, somebody set up a beach (with sand and beach chairs and everything). Also, there is a museum dedicated to the wall you can't see. Here, right at the checkpoint, there are guys dressed as American soldiers, holding American flags, who will take pictures with you for 2 Euro. In the surrounding area, there are a ton of souvenir shops carrying old Russian and American uniforms and hats. Even the little cafe I got a pretzel and streusel at was cold-war themed. I think the only thing not directly wall related was the McDonalds. I have to admit that I did buy a magnet with a "piece of the Berlin Wall" on it. However, I think that it's probably just like all the "real" pieces of Jesus's cross- if you put all the "real" pieces together, they'd equal an object several times the size it should be. However, even if it is a fake piece, it's still pretty looking. I had wanted to go to this funky tech/design museum on the other side of town, but I was starting to run out of time. Instead, I walked around the side streets. Again, I marveled at how devoid of people they were given the massive crowds just a few blocks away at the Checkpoint. There was actually some pretty neat architecture and some neat statues. Again, I found myself in need of facilities. Fortunately, this time I found a free museum. The Willy Brandt museum is a small museum dedicated to the life of politician Willy Brandt. It walks you through his time growing up into Nazi Germany, his exile, the cold war, the wall falling. I wouldn't have paid for it, but it was nice since it was free and I only had a little bit of time. From there, I had to head to the airport. The ride back took longer than the ride from. I think one reason was traffic. The other was that the idiot standing by the door kept blocking the sensors. EVERY time the bus stopped, it took several minutes and a yelling bus driver to get him to move the 3 inches away from the door and remain there until the door closed. Again, it's a small airport, so I took all of 5 minutes to get through security. I had time for a pretzel that was much better than the one I had in town, although the mustard here is hot and spicier than I expected.The flight was super-short and the view out the window as we approached Copenhagen was actually very cool. I'm glad I woke up for it. Unfortunately, my luggage did not arrive when I did. While it might be less of a hassle to have one company handling ALL the the luggage claims for all of the airlines, it does mean that the line is very long. I took a number and then waited over an hour before they saw me. The lady at the counter was very pleasant. However, I've learned through experience how to manage this situation. 1) Be as nice as possible to the lady- don't piss her off. There were 2 buttons to take a number, 1 for business class and one for regular. Some people got tired of waiting while the business class passengers get served and we didn't, so they took business numbers. When the lady asked if they were business class and they said no, she then had to play the bad guy and looked very annoyed. Plus, one of them had children that she wasn't controlling. I'm not a parent, and I understand that all kids are different, but I'm pretty sure she should have been able to stop her kids from screaming so loudly. Nobody cares if they run around, but the screaming was unnecessary and clearly annoying the ladies behind the counter. 2) Ask for the toiletry kit. If you don't ask, they don't offer it. The kit I got was nice- it had a t-shirt, brush, nail file, deodorant, shower stuff, laundry detergent packet, and various other useful items. 3) Ask what your allowance is for reimbursement and what the method is. Again, they don't always tell you and then you're left guessing. In this case, if I don't get my luggage within 24 hours, I get 77 Euro per day up to 3 days to go shopping. Of course, I'd rather just have my luggage considering that I hate shopping and most certainly don't want to spend my vacation doing that, but at least I'll know what to spend. After the baggage situation, I headed to the Metro station to get to my hostel. The ticket computer said it was 84 kroner, but that machine didn't work. So, I went to the desk and was charged 36 kroner. However, I couldn't see where to put my ticket in, so I just got on the train. I'm guessing it's one of those honor systems where the only time you get into trouble is if the inspector gets on the train and you don't have a ticket. I got off at Forum and walked several blocks to Sleep In Heaven. It was pretty out of the way, although it seemed like a completely safe area to be walking alone at night. I didn't really have a choice as it's not like I saw any taxis. Upon arrival, it turns out that my booking went through for the wrong nights. I promise I double-checked all details before actually booking, but even my printout confirmation had the wrong dates. I'm guessing that I ended up booking through one of the sites that keep resetting my dates and offering me other "cheaper" dates than what I wanted. Oh well. They allowed me to cancel that booking, but since they didn't have room that night, I needed to find a new place. Thank goodness for the internet. In a few short clicks I had reserved a place at Generator Hostel. I headed back to the metro station, actually not too upset that I didn't have to drag my bag the whole way. However, I was hungry and I tried to stop at the few restaurants that appeared to be somewhat open, but they were all closing. I took the train to the K North station that was close to my new hostel. I passed on eating at McDonalds, and the risk paid off as there was a pizza place nearby the hostel that was still open. I grabbed a pizza and the Danish version of a sprite and headed to the hostel. As it turns out, you're not allowed to bring outside food into the hostel. They say it's sanitation, but really, I think it's because they have their own overpriced food they're trying to sell. So, I ate the pizza outside and then went in to get settled. The hostel doesn't provide much more than sheets and a bed, but they have everything for sale, and the prices are actually pretty reasonable for the stuff. I bought a bath towel for about $10 and would have bought some of the toiletry stuff if I didn't have the kit from the airline. I didn't buy a lock, but the price was such that somebody else asked if that was a rental price per day or total. (It's a purchase price, so he must have gotten a deal.) The hostel itself reminds me of a college dorm more so than a hostel. It's actually very clean and well-kept. The mattresses and comforters were very comfortable. Plus, the location is very good as it's basically on the edge of downtown. I have to admit that I'm not at all upset to be staying here instead of the other place.

River View

River View


Reichstag

Reichstag


Lunch

Lunch


Brandenberg Gate

Brandenberg Gate


Mario and Luigi in front of Brandenburg Gate

Mario and Luigi in front of Brandenburg Gate


Checkpoint Charlie Beach

Checkpoint Charlie Beach


Checkpoint Charlie Sign

Checkpoint Charlie Sign


"Americans" at Checkpoint Charlie

"Americans" at Checkpoint Charlie

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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