Monday, December 3, 2012

Munich & Austria - Part 1 of 5

Well, the Universe felt the need to bless me with a nasty case of bronchitis, so I'm writing this in the midst of a haze of meds. I am also trying my best to not cough up anything that looks like The Blob onto my computer screen.

We'll see how successful I am.

Back in September, my cousin & her bf came over from Canada to visit and do some traveling. Ok, a LOT of traveling. They did Belgium on their own, then spent a week and a half with us, then did Paris on their own. For our leg of the trip, we went to Schwangau area, Munich, and Salzburg. I'll have to do this blog in 5 parts, as we were gone for the whole week. Lots of adventures happen in a week!

But, let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

Ha!! Get it?? Austria? Sound of Music?? Haha! (You should have the song stuck in your head right now, like I do. If you don't know what song I'm referring to, you fail at life. Or at least fail at Sound of Music song trivia. But I'm sticking with you failing at life.)

But, I'll get SoM in a later post.

Soo, like I said, my cousin & her bf came over from Canada to do some traveling with us. They spent a few days in Belgium with a friend, then took the train to Trier, which is where I picked them up.

A note about the main Trier train station - not hard at all to find, and it's way smaller than I was expecting.

We only had a few hours to spend in Trier, but we tried to make the most of it. Karen (the cuz) is a fan of Rick Steves (and after our trip, I am now a fan of Rick Steves as well). They brought his Germany guide, and it was actually really helpful. In the book is a walking guide of Trier, which is what we spent the afternoon doing. I have been to Trier a few times before, but the walking tour from the book really spelled out a lot of history & interesting factoids about the town, and took us down some roads that we may not have gone down on our own.

Towards the end of the walk, we decided to go into the Trier Archaeological Museum. This was a great museum, but we practically had to run through the exhibits. We only had maybe 30-45 minutes to spend at the museum, because our plans were to leave the museum by 4pm in order to drive back to Ramstein, get them signed-in to the base, go meet up with Josh at the Belgian bar (and of course have a few drinks), drive to K-town to have dinner, and then drive back home & get ready to leave at 5am the next morning for the drive to Schwangau.

Luckily, we made it to the Belgian bar in time. ;) Josh & Karen hadn't seen each other since our wedding 4 years ago, and Josh had never met her bf (Curtis), so we had a great time playing catch up at the bar. MAN I love that place. €1.50 for one of four different types of Belgian beers, or a big glass of wine.

After that - time to eat! We looooove going to the Brauhaus am Markt in Kaiserslautern. It is definitely my favorite German restaurant here.

After stuffing ourselves silly, it was time to go home and TRY to go to bed at a reasonable hour, since the plan was to *leave* the house at 5am.

I am not a morning person, and 5am is not a good look on me.

But, we managed to leave on time. Well, maybe 20ish minutes past the mark, but I still count that as a win. After a quick stop at a local bakery, we were on our way to Bavaria to check out some castles.

Unfortunately, we managed to hit traffic. Karen had pre-purchased tickets to the Neuschwanstein & Höhenschwangau castles. When you buy tickets to see the castles, you're reserving the time of your tour. We ended up having to call the ticket center twice, while driving, to push back the ticket times. The traffic was annoying, but really not THAT bad - we only had to push back the ticket times by an hour or two. We still made it there by noon. Of course, we would have made it SOONER, even with traffic, except there was a crazy detour in the town of Füssen that made us a good thirty minutes later (and Füssen is only like 5-10 minutes from the castles).

And, of course, it was drizzling....

Josh and I did the castle tours last year (click here for a refresher) so we didn't do it this year. We did have a fun time walking around the shops, though.

When you buy tickets to see the two castles, you go to Höhenschwangau first. Then, you have some time to make your way up to Neuschwanstein. You can either walk (blergh), take a horse-drawn carriage (um, no), or take a bus (if it's not winter). If you take the bus, it drops you off at Mary's Bridge, which we did NOT get to do last time (too snowy/icy).

While K&C went to Höhenschwangau, Josh and I had a super awesome picnic in the car (to get out of the rain). I had to steal coffee stirrers from a nearby shop, because I forgot plasticware for the pb & j. I am one classy lady. We also ran into the ticket center to buy the 14 day discount ticket from the Bavarian Palace Dept. This was such a smart purchase. For €24 each, we got free entry into 40+ castles/museums/landmarks in Bavaria. (quick note - it includes Neuschwanstein, but NOT Höhenschwangau, because Hö is a privately owned castle) Even though Josh & I weren't going to Neuschwanstein, it was still worth it to buy it because of the other places we ended up going to in Munich. Here's the PDF with all the info. I strongly suggest you look into buying the pass, if you're going to be traveling in the area.

The drizzle stopped for a little bit as K&C got done with the first castle, so we walked around the lake a bit.

I’m so glad we walked over to the lake when we did, because we got to see a woman tease a goose until it tried to bite her, and she jumped back, then fell down an embankment. I hate to admit it, but I have a wicked case of schadenfreude.

After a horrible time trying to use the pay toilets (the coin machine got jammed, and it was one of those toilets where you had to go thru a turnstyle - so, all twentysomething people in line had to crawl under, jump over, or try to force the coins to go into the machine), we caught the bus to take us up to Mary's Bridge.

I think the bus was something like €1.80 to go up, and €1 to go down (cheaper if you bought the round-trip).

Anywho - Mary's Bridge.

The vantage point was wonderful, but the bridge was....kind of really terrifying. The too-small-for-comfort boards were very creaky & wobbly. Plus, there were a ton of people on the bridge, which made the boards even more creaky & wobbly. I'm not scared of heights, but I was NOT comfortable on that bridge.

It made for some excellent photos, though.

After seeing my life flash before my eyes on the bridge, we caught the bus back down to do a little window shopping while K&C toured Neuschwanstein.

After Neuschwanstein, we drove about 40 minutes to visit Linderhof Palace. Linderhof was King Ludwig's smallest palace, but the only one he saw completed. It's also not near as touristy as Neuschwanstein or Höhenschwangau.

It was drizzling again, so we stopped in for some glühwein before heading up to our tour. No better way to warm up than hot mulled wine. ;) We only had about 15 minutes before the tour started - I think we got one of the last ones of the day, if not THE last, around 5pm or so. So, we're trying to drink our glühwein while trotting up a hill to get to the palace before the tour starts. Remember how I said hot mulled wine is a great way to warm up? It's also a great way to scald your insides when you don't have time to wait for it to cool down a bit. Oh, and it will also scald your chin, neck, chest, hands, wrists, forearms, and elbows when you spill it while trying to drink it WHILE trotting up a hill.

But, we made it to the tour on time.

And I have to say, Linderhof is SPECTACULAR!! This is definitely one of my favorite palaces I've ever visited (yes, I realize that statement makes me sound incredibly spoiled). Of COURSE you can't take pictures inside. :/ But, the outside is almost just as good.

Front view of the palace.

Here's the view out of Ludwig's bedroom. Lucky bastard.

View FROM the front of the palace, to temple of Venus.

King Ludwig was a seriously interesting character, and if any of you want to give me a present, feel free to send me a biography on him. I'm really interested in learning more. Although, during the trip, the four of us pretty much decided that he was a socially awkward, flaming homosexual who was filled with an all-consuming, unrequited love for Richard Wagner. He wasn't so much "mad" as he was desperately in love, and he refused to cover up his homosexuality by marrying a woman...but it did make him a bit of a recluse.

(I could totally be an expert in made-up history. The key is to discuss the "facts" with confidence.)

Unfortunately, the tour of Linderhof Palace only lasted 20-25 minutes. But, our ticket included a tour of The Grotto.

Ludwig built his very own grotto, which was also an Opera house.

The color of the lights could be changed to reflect the mood of the Opera.

He even included manmade stalactites, stalagmites, and a waterfall.

Kind Ludwig was not known for being budget-conscious.

After the tour of the grotto, we roamed the grounds. There was SO MUCH to see, we didn’t get a chance to explore everywhere. The sun did come out for a little bit, which was nice.

There is an on-site hotel, and if we ever get to visit Linderhof again (which I REALLY hope we do), I definitely want to stay at that hotel.

But, at this point, it was time to head to Munich. Originally, we were supposed to be at our apartment by 7:30pm, but I had to call and tell them to expect us closer to 9pm. Josh drove the whole morning, so I offered to drive to our apartment in Munich. It was really kind of freaky driving from Linderhof to Munich. There is a long section of very new freeway, and for a good 25 minutes, we were the ONLY car on the road. It got to the point where we all wondered if I was driving down a closed road.

Of course, that doesn’t sound like something I would ever do. (I’m lying.)

Thankfully, we started seeing cars here and there, so we figured (correctly) we were on the right path.

It is only about an hour & fifteen minutes between Linderhof Palace & Munich. Of course, it was completely dark by the time we got to the city, and raining again. Plus, it's a big freakin' city with a lot of fast-moving traffic. I was a tad stressed while driving (I hate driving at night) and my poor fingernails WOULD have paid the price, except for the fact that I was white-knuckling the steering wheel.

But, all's well that ends well, and we made it to the apartment by 8:30. Of course, the owners then didn't answer the door for a good twenty minutes. We found the room on Airbnb. It is a house owned by an older couple - they live on the first floor, and the top two floors are full apartments that they rent out. Well, we're knocking on the door, ringing the bell. We tried calling, but no one answered. We're all STARVING, and tired, and just wanted to get into our room & kick our shoes off. There was a large dog in the front yard (not very protective) that wanted to get into the house as much as we did.

FINALLY, the man comes to the door and lets us in. He was really very nice (we're pretty sure he had been drinking, which is probably why he didn't hear us banging on the door for twenty minutes). He took us upstairs to our apartment, which was awesome. Two bedrooms, bathroom, and a fully stocked kitchen. The man is a retired doctor who I swear almost died of a stroke coming up the two flights of stairs to show us to the apartment. He didn't speak the best English, but between him & the Aycock's limited knowledge of German, we got along fine. He even helped us get in contact with an Italian restaurant that delivered.

Not the best pizza in the world, but we were hungry, so it didn't really matter. We ate, had some drinks, then had a verrrrrry nice sleep (even though the mattresses were made of concrete).

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