Category Archives: Travel
Here are some things that I learned in Germany that don’t quite fit into my travel diary. Fun facts interspersed with pictures that didn’t fit some where else.
– Germans say, “Prost,” when toasting. Allegedly, you must look into the eyes of the person with whom you are toasting or you will be plagued by 7 years of bad sex.
– You may not realize this, but Germany wasn’t even an official country until the late 1800s. Munich was part of Bavaria. Bavarians have considerable regional pride and many of them fly the Bavarian flag instead of the German flag. Kind of like Texas.
– The German trains run on an honor system. They only spot check for tickets, so you could go months riding for free before you get busted. Jenny told me the fine is actually less than the amount for a month-long pass, so that sounds like a great plan to me.
– Schnauzers are an iconic dog in the country. On all the “No Dogs Allowed” or “Keep Dogs on Leash” signs, the schnauzer silhouette is the one used instead of a Labrador. I didn’t actually see a single live schnauzer until I got home to the US.
– While shopping, I noticed several high end store selling “American Mashmallows.” These stores are equivalent to West Elm or Crate & Barrel. These were not the Jet-Puffed Kraft marshmallows that most of us use; they were actually bags labeled “American Marshmallows.” My German friend Anne explained that advertisers in Europe really push marshmallows as something Americans constantly eat. They get wine and cheese, we get marshmallows. This doesn’t seem fair.
– I talked to some Australian girls on a four month world tour who told me enthusiastically that they did the “American tour” a few years ago. This is evidently going to New York and then flying cross country to LA. Because this is the best representation of the average American.
– Germans eat with both hands: one hand holds the fork and the other the knife. You keep both utensils in your hands as you eat. They can spot Americans because we cut a piece of food, put down the knife, change fork hands, and then put our free hands in our laps. Pay attention next time you eat dinner and you’ll see what I mean.
– In one of the underground train stations after dark, Jenny pointed out the classical music playing through overhead speakers. Evidently, Munich had a problem a few years back with hoodlums hanging out in train stations at night and rabble rousing. They figured out that if they piped in classical music, shenanigans decreased and people behaved.
– They seem unaware of the 50 Shades of Grey controversy over there. I envy them.
– Next time: business as usual back in the US and candy experimentation.
Note: If you’re here everyday, you’re probably tired of me saying this. I’m not actually in Germany any more, but I’m writing on delay thanks to some connectivity issues while I was there. Just be cool.
The last day of vacation is always bittersweet. You’re still there, but you can already see this trip getting smaller, further away.
I’ll be honest with you, that last insight is paraphrased slightly from a line in Dawson’s Creek. That doesn’t make it less true, though. I mostly remember my last day in Germany in impressions and flashes.
I’m thinking of a dark-paneled biergarten with actual foliage hanging from the ceiling, and I’m thinking of the two much older men sharing our table there who commented that I eat my food like an American because I eat with a hand in my lap. It sounds dirty when I re-tell it now, which is probably how they meant it at the time but I was too excited about my food to care.
And what food was that? Spaetzle. This is like mac and cheese on steroids. They put some anemic cucumbers and tomatoes on the side of the plate as if that might some how balance a bowl of cheese and noodles bigger than my face.
I’m also thinking of European breakfasts, which always feel like an event. Bread, eggs, jelly, cold meats, cheeses, yogurt, sugary black coffee… breakfast feels more like a leisurely stroll through all the best foods. You can’t leave Europe without having Nutella for breakfast. Unless you are having off-brand organic Nutella. That will also work in a pinch.
And you always think about the things you didn’t do and you think, “oh, next time,” even though you know there probably won’t be a next time because there are so many other place to visit. Like, I didn’t go to this famously huge biergarten called Hofbrauhaus, which is really touristy but well known. I don’t feel particularly bereft, but it’s still an unturned stone.
I spent much of my last day shopping for souvenirs with my friend Anne (not pictured, which is a shame because you would like her). Anne towed me around the Old City and enthusiastically pointed at things that I should embrace as quintessentially German. Naturally, the thing that really excited me was German editions of The Hunger Games.
We looked for suitable gifts for my three year old nephew. Anne encouraged sweet children’s books and wooden toys. I found the perfect thing but I couldn’t fit in my suitcase. When in doubt, always go with sharks.
I also snuck in one last tourist thing: I watched the glockenspiel. I informed Anne we would need to watch this at 5 PM in the square and she was bemused. She was kind of like, “You mean you don’t have medieval clocks with mechanical dancers that move in time with chiming bells thanks to meticulous clockwork?” And I was like, “Amerian, remember?”
Then I met Jenny for dinner at the kind of Italian restaurant where the wait staff just recites the nightly specials for you rather than giving you a menu. It’s like paying someone to eat in their kitchen with a few other strangers. Also, they had an enviable refrigerator.
It seems like one should drink beer in one’s last night in Germany, but I’m really just a wino at heart. Prost, Deutschland. It was fun.
Even though this is the end of my travel diary, this isn’t the end of my German inspired posts. We haven’t even scratched the surface with Mad King Ludwig II, and there’s an overflowing bag of candy just begging to be taste tested for blog purposes only. In the meantime, I’m still slightly jetlagged and would like some sleep. Excuse me while I curl up with my furry little German dog.
Note: I’m technically home. Due to some connectivity issues while in Germany, Im behind in posting. Still catching up.
Near the island that houses Ludwig II’s tribute to Versailles, there is another island that is home to a Benedictine abbey founded in 772. The nuns there have had many years to determine the most important things in life. You’ll be pleased to know that one of those things seems to be beer and liquor because they make their own. We actually spotted a nun in the wild, habit and all, and I acted like a two year old spotting on a dog on a sidewalk. “Nun!” I squealed as I pointed. Jenny proposed we split up to explore after that. Weird.
I’d like to say that after a day spent ogling the finery of a king obsessed with his own wealth that we then spent the afternoon on the nun’s island quietly contemplating the deeper truths of life. This is a lie. We made an effort to peruse the pretty walking trails, but all roads lead back to biergartens. At least this biergarten is holy. I think?
(Not pictured: An elderly woman sitting at the table behind us by herself, sipping coffee and happily noshing on a big slice of cake. She’s my hero.)
Since I’m a good Catholic girl, I felt it was my duty to support the nuns in the best way I knew how. No, I don’t mean that I got blitzed in the biergarten. Give me some credit. I bought some of their liquers in their giftshop, of course. Spoiler alert, Dad, you’re getting a few of these for your liquor cabinet. And attention to my college friends coming to the beach for Memorial Day: you are going to be submitted to a test taste for the scientific purposes of this blog. Bring your taste buds and sense of adventure!
To prove I didn’t just spend the whole afternoon turning water into wine (which Jesus is totally cool with, by the way, Mom), here’s a gallery of the beautiful flowers cultivated on the island.
Tomorrow: My last few German memories. Sadface.
A note: As I posted yesterday, I’m actually back from my trip. Due to wifi connectivity problems, I’m a little behind in posting my travel diary. Let’s just pretend I’m still there. I know I’m pretending it anyway.
Earlier in the week, I visited Neuschwanstein and documented my trip to the Cinderella castle with a twitter spree. The next day, Jenny went with me to visit another of the infamous Ludwig II castles– Herrenchiemsee (Heron-kim-zee). Thanks to my ongoing difficulty with German pronunciation, I mentally refer to this one as Harrenhal, like it’s on Game of Thrones. Ludwig built this palace on an island with a lovely view of the Alps. It’s a reasonable day trip from Munich, so we packed a picnic lunch and hopped a train to the suburbs.
A short history lesson: in the mid-1800s, Ludwig II took the Bavarian throne and went a little mad over building elaborate castles. I’ll write a lengthier post about him later because he fascinates me, but in the short term, all you need to know is that he relentlessly spent money he didn’t have in the name of creating fanciful castles from his imagination. He built three during his reign, though only one is actually completed. Neuschwanstein(the Cinderella castle) is one of the unfinished, and Herrenchiemsee is the other one. He finished a few rooms in both and they are elaborate enough to leave you wondering exactly how much he was going to bankrupt the Bavarian people in the name of architectural magic.
Herrenchiemsee is his ode to Versailles, the opulent home of the French kings and queens before they were beheaded for totally disregarding the horrible conditions of the people they lead in support of their belief in the divine right of kings. Ludwig seems to have overlooked the part where they ended up with their heads on pikes because he built this whole palace to honor their memory because he so admired what they accomplished over there in pre-Revolutionary France.
It’s not an exact copy, but I did have a weird sense of deja vu throughout the tour. I don’t have any photos of the interior because the palace forbids cameras, but the whole thing played out like an early version of fandom run amok. You know those Star Wars or Star Trek fans who build really elaborate models of the ships or the robots or whatever and spend thousands on replicating the costumes with gadgets that actually light up and all that? This is the kind of thing they might build if they lived in a time before modern pop culture and had the coffers of a king. Ludwig actually replicated full rooms, including the gilded and fabulously gaudy Hall of Mirrors, and there are enough portraits and statues of Louis XIV that one might suspect Ludwig of having a crush. He even called himself “The Moon King” because he saw himself as a sadder and more morose version of the Sun King. I like to imagine Ludwig sighing over fanfiction he wrote about himself and Louis; he might title his story. “The Moon Chases the Sun: An Impossible Love Story in 15 Parts.”
Since I can’t show you pictures of the inside, here are some pictures of the impressive mythological fountains in the courtyard leading up to the palace.
This is the first fountain you see upon entering the grounds.
Pretty basic until you realize the figures surrounding the statue at the top are humans gruesomely morphing into frog people.
As it turns out, this fountain portrays the story of some goddess who came to a village with her children begging for water and the villagers refused her. Then she got pissy and revealed her true form and turned them all into frogs. Seems fair, right? Anyway, I think we can conclude from this that Ludwig had a large chip on his shoulder.
I don’t remember the story with this one. She just looks arty, right?
There were a couple more fountains with very impressive spouts.
Jenny and I noticed a dearth of American tourists at this one and an unusually high population of German day trippers. My boyfriend Rick Steves doesn’t even mention it in his guide. We decided the remote location on an island in a German suburb makes it less appealing to tourists with less time in the country and more attractive to locals looking for a pleasant getaway.
I fear I was becoming blase about castles at this point because after touring a palace resplendent with gold encrusted mirrors and porcelain chandeliers worth more than my employer’s net worth, I told Jenny it was “just okay.”
Tomorrow: Nuns having fun!
Okay, I’ll let you in on a secret- I actually got home from Germany yesterday. Yup, a secret among you, me, and anyone who can find me on the Internet. Due to problems with wifi and some timing issues, I’m not actually done chronicling my journey. I’m planning to get through a few posts this weekend to make up for that.
Today, thanks to my general jet lag and malaise, I present: food porn! Mom, this is a term I did not actually make up. This is an accepted term for gratuitous food pictures.
One of the reasons I chose to visit Germany at this time is that Jenny’s 31st birthday is this week. In fact, it was a couple of days ago on Saturday. She wasn’t thrilled about the start of her prime and odd year, and the sky cried for her all day long. Still, I think we made the most of it and it was a good birthday in the end. As always, forgive spelling errors and weird words that seem random – I’m battling autocorrect and biergartens.
Jenny’s German roommate suggested Cafe Tomaselli in Salzburg for breakfast, a well know spot to see and be seen. We snagged a spot on the covered patio and ordered coffee to go with our people watching. A tour guide later told us this was one of the oldest restaurants in the world, which I don’t buy because half the restaurants in Europe say this.
You know what we haven’t discussed yet? People in Germany and Austria love their dogs and take them every where. It is completely normal to see dogs politely joining their masters on the train or in a department store. It’s like everyone here fancies themselves a young American heiress. This little guy joined us for breakfast.
During our first day in Salzburg, we continually noticed the great fortress on the hill. It showed up in many of our tourist photos like a photo bombing drunk girl.
That day, despite the drizzly weather and sharp cold breezes, we would tour the fortress.
When I was about 13, my parents took me to Paris while my dad was on business there. My dad, champion traveler, insisted we beat our jet lag by visiting the Arch de Trriomphe on the day of our arrival. When we got there. he decided we would climb to the top. Flights and flights of smelly tourist filled stairs, we emerged in the open air with sore legs, sweaty skin, jet lag hangovers, and a favorite “My Dad Is Soooo Annoying” story. I mention this now because the steep and slippery climb to the top of this fortress put me back in my 13 year old mindset. Only this time my shoes were filled with wet sludge as well.
This is only one of the hills we climbed.
But it was fine because we got to tour the fortress. There’s no tour guide, though, so you just amble around and read occasional signs indicating a cannon or portal or something. Salzburg likes to brag about this place because it managed to hold off takeovers for 1000 years without actually doing any battle. Outsides just really feared the imposing structure.
Fear my stone walls! Grrrrr.
For some reason, the fortress is home to a marionette exhibit. If you thought puppets were creepy already, this is not the place for you. Lots of wide staring eyes and fixed smiles.
Also, this display did not help the “Puppets Are Our Friends” movement.
We rewarded ourselves with apfelstreudel in the fortress cafe. This is where I found out the German word for whipped cream is “schlag.” And I laughed like a 12 year old boy for 5 minutes.
In the aftermath of our fortress trip, we carefully picked our way down the steep passage back to the city and tried to find a beirgarten suggested by my friend Rick Steves. After sloshing around for nearly an hour, we found the bar… locked up for the day.
The new philosophy became, “Screw Rick. We are going in the first place that doesn’t reek of smoke.”
And that’s how we found a great hidden gem: a quiet wine bar committed to serving local and sustainable food with special emphasis on the curly coated hog. It ended up being a very happy accident.
Fortified by wine, we braved the rain again in search of souvenirs and our dinner reservation.
This is the restaurant. Yes, it is adorable.
And then we went in Jenny’s birthday pub crawl in which we found out that Austrians make a good approximation of a margarita (but sadly no queso on the menu).
Prost to Jenny on her 31st! Glad to be here with her.
My sister is razzing me about my delay in writing this post. As you will see, she has an investment in learning about my adventures in Von Trapp land. As always, forgive typos or odd words. I’m doing my best to catch typos and autocorrect mishaps on the iPad, but I still miss some
What trip to Salzburg is complete without a Sound of Music tour? Actually, many trips since English speakers are the only ones who give a flying buttress about the movie.
When I was small, my older sister loved this movie. We watched it on a near weekly basis at one time. When I told her I would be going to Salzburg, she gushed like a Justin Bieber fan at his Madison Square Garden show. She asked for something cheesy and Sound of Music related as a souvenir. Sadly, as the English speaking tourists are the only ones who care about Maria and the Von Trapps, there’s not actually that much SoM kitsch to be found. Don’t worry, Al, I found something actually useful for your day to day life. There are, however, many SoM tours. We chose the biking tour because Jenny is athletic and I really wanted to see the gazebo and none of the other tours go there.
So, Allyn, this one’s for you.
We met the tour guide and the pack of mostly American tourists at 9:30 AM. It was a good, enthusiastic, and respectful bunch with one glaring exception.
Here is my enemy. The dreaded woman in the white hat. Totally oblivious to everyone around her. Ran me off the road without realizing it. Kept trying to pass people even though we were riding single file. Taking pictures while riding her bike even though she didn’t seem to have great balance. She is to be despised and avoided. You are warned.
But she was a small annoyance in an otherwise great ride. Even if you are not a SoM fan, this is a great tour because it does take you into the Salzburg countryside, which is harder to access without a tour.
Without further ado, here are the major SoM stops on the tour:
The theater where they sing Edelweiss and escape from the Nazis. Fun fact: the cast was only in Salzburg for 2 weeks and filmed all the location shots at once. Everything else was done on Hollywood lots.
The fountain where Maria sings about having confidence and splashes herself. In person, it’s much more obvious how far out of her way she had to go to splash herself. You get the sense she was kind of off her chain.
The abbey where Maria was a problem to be solved and the Von Trapps hid on their way out of town.
Another fun fact: that iconic scene at the beginning in which the hills are alive makes it look like Maria is in the hills dancing, hears the bells, and is home in 5 minutes. But the hills are not close by, as you can see below. She would at least need a train.
I call this photo, “Please, Rolfe.” Jenny had to be coerced. She told me I couldn’t put it on Facebook. She said nothing about this blog.
This is part 1 of Captain Von Trapp’s house. They used 2 buildings for the house on film. This is the back where the kids crawl out of the boats dripping wet and the Baroness acts snooty. Harvard now owns it because OF COURSE they do. Evidently you can stay there like its a hotel in the summer.
Here is the front of the house, or part 2, and it’s now a college dorm. This is also where the tour guide convinced me to attempt frolicking in the fields a la Maria. Jenny says we look more like figure skaters. I think I look like I’m psyching myself up to do a cartwheel.
And this is the gazebo! It was originally at House #1 but had to be moved because of tourists sneaking on to the property to take pictures and sing. It’s now in a public garden and there’s a line to take a picture. Jenny declined to humor me on this one, but the guide was eager to play Rolfe to my Leisel. We had a fun tour moment when some girls on the tour started to sing the end of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” while we posed.
Fun fact: you can’t go in the gazebo because an older woman was dancing on the benches singing “Sixteen Going on Sixty Three,” and she fell and broke her hip. She sued the city because it is obviously their fault that she was being dumb. And now it is ruined for everyone. Thanks a lot, litigious tourist.
The tour ended at the Mirabelle Gardens, which we already visited and staged a photo shoot.
This concluded the SoM tour. It also included several more stops relevant to Slazburg history, but who cares about that? All I need to know is that singing well can get you out of most big scrapes.
Decided to try something different and tweet my trip into Bavaria to see Neuschwanstein Castle today instead of writing a full blog about it. Check out my twitter @mdabski, scroll down to where I call it Neufchâtel Castle and work from there. I’m with a tour called Mike’s Bike Tours: quick bike tour to Swan Lake, lunch at an Alpine cafe, magic show with tour guide, hike to castle, and then castle tour. Great tour, FYI. Also, I am alone today so there are no real pictures of me. Just assume I was really there.
For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, I’ve tried to copy screenshots of my tweets below. Not sure how well it will turn out since I’m blogging from my phone.
I did tweet 2 videos that you won’t be able to see unless you go to twitter. Links to those videos below.
Jenny and I just got back to Munich after a full weekend in Salzburg. There’s still much to tell about that trip, but I’m bone tired tonight and I have an early wake up call for a tour of Cinderella’s castle. I’ll have more time to write tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a preview of our very exciting Mother’s Day morning.
Fräulein Maria? That sounds familiar…
Here’s Jenny getting suited up for the day’s excursion.
And here is me looking less athletic but more enthusiastic.
I don’t know if you can tell, but my bike has the words “Reverend Mother” stenciled on the side. Most of the bikes were named after Sound of Music characters, and I really would have preferred Fritz.
Details forthcoming. Suffice to say there was frolicking in fields and dancing outside a certain gazebo.
Today we caught the train from Munich to Salzburg, which was really only interesting when an undercover cop blatantly racially profiled a guy next to us.
Rather than hit every museum in town, we opted to spend the pleasant afternoon strolling through the Old Town. Luckily my old steady Rick Steves has a walking tour for the city. Here are the highlights.
We started at a statue of Mozart that was completely unremarkable. Thanks, Rick. We went on to discover this Italian fountain right in the middle of an Austrian square. I wonder if Bernini knows he got ripped off?
We moved on to the first of many churches, Salzburg Cathedral. Catchy name, eh? There’s a neat sculpture of Mary in the square right in front of it, and if you stand in a certain spot, the angels on the church facade appear to be crowning her.
Inside, the church is about what you expect: dreary paintings of the suffering of Christ, swirling Rococo stone work, confessionals that look more like playhouses, and a dome that could be heaven itself.
But this church had a dark underbelly– a secluded crypt area featuring some strange modern art. Jenny and I walked into a cave-like room and recoiled when we noticed a strange shadow moving across the wall.
Turns out it was a projection in an art installation. Maybe depicting the journey to hell? I don’t know, but we got outta there fast.
Outside the church, we were some what surprised to find a Ringwraith in an alcove. (It’s from Lord of the Rings, Mom. Kind of like a dementor in Harry Potter.)
The Ringwraith seemed to be looking on in judgement of this courtyard in which a guy is standing on top of a golden ball. No picture here because the sculpture was lame.
Also in the courtyard, another statue of Triton looking really pissed off about not being in Rome. He was accompanied by this creature with questionable genitals and a hamburger.
Hiding behind the courtyard, we found this ridiculously lovely cemetery in which each plot is a sweet little garden.
We also noticed this odd door in the middle of a rock face. We decided this is where Sirius Black was hiding. Okay, I decided that. Jenny just said she wandered about the rent there.
And then we ate an enormous chocolate covered pretzel on the street and we did not regret it.
My arms look enormous. Nothing but ex lax and water until prom. (Don’t worry– that’s just a quote from Never Been Kissed. I completely ate an apple strudel today and my arms look nice enough,)
Rick’s tour concluded on a busy shopping street, but we decided to ditch his schedule and find a Biergarten. You can only see so many churches and birthplaces of famous composers before you’re like, “Whatver, Europe is old, we get it.”
We did find something curious on our way to dinner: this bridge covered in locks. Our best guess is that married couples write their names on the locks and then leave on the bridge for good luck. No reason given for why this bridge.
Dinner was from a food truck. I know– how hipster of us. Jenny went for weinerschnitzel, and I got dangerous with a mystery meat sandwich.
Jenny knows the name of this sandwich, but she’s asleep right now. Let’s just assume it starts with an “L” and has too many consonants.
It actually wasn’t bad. Kind of like a strange ham sandwich bathed in mustard.
With solid food in our stomachs, we scurried into a street wine festival that popped up outside the concert venue for our evening’s entertainment. Random wine is preferable to planned wine any day.
Check it- fizzy strawberry wine! We are like a country song!
The drinks led to our play date in the Mirabell gardens which you can see here.
We ended our night with a string quarter concert in Mirabell Palace, the former Salzburg home of some drooling Hapsburgs. We didn’t take pictures there, but we met a pack of older women traveling together who called themselves “The Traveling Grannies.” They were quite posh and seemed utterly shocked by our Americanness. I couldn’t tell you much about the music except that I knew two of the songs because my employer uses them as hold music.
Tomorrow it will supposedly storm, so we’re cooking up some alternate plans. Stay tuned!