Finally, we crossed the German border for the lake of Koenigsee. The picturesque lake, nestled in between towering mountains, was a sight to behold.
We took the full boat trip, and there are plenty of hiking and dining opportunities at both stops. The water is a remarkable shade and I was amazed by the clarity. Yup, no pollution around here. Beware that the boat trip is quite long, especially if you factor in hiking; it definitely warrants half a day to a day. However, if you are used to mountainous landscapes (like the Rockies, for example), this may not be that impressive.
Fussen is an incredibly charming German town very close to the Austrian border. The architecture is flawless and it’s distance to Neuschwanstein Castle or Linderhof Palace is also a huge plus. I’m very glad, though, we did more than just pass through the town as many do, as it definitely worth your time.
Have you ever wanted to visit the original authentic Disneyland castle? Well, Neuschwanstein Castle is the place to go. The towering castle looks as if it came straight out of a fairytale, and you really can’t beat the location at all. Seriously, I don’t think King Ludwig II went into the right profession – he should have gone into interior design or architecture (it’s not like being the king worked out for him in the end…).
Go early to purchase your tickets (unless you got them online) and make sure to catch a bus up! We, unfortunately, did not and had to speed walk up a very long uphill climb in an effort to make our tour (there was also the option of horse led carriages, which sounds romantic, but is really just smelling horse manure and going at an extremely slow pace). By the time we reached the top, I was gasping for air and a little red in the face, to put it kindly. I guess if I were a tad fitter, I’d march right on up there like a trooper, but I think it was the wiener schnitzel diet that was holding me back a little.
The castle interiors were also impressive, and the tour guide was wonderful. Don’t forget to head to Mary’s Bridge, for a superb view of the castle. Note that if you happen to be afraid of heights (me), this is going to be slightly problematic. The bridge is often extremely crowded (thus, pushy people), it runs across a deep canyon, and the bridge creaks and sways a little at every step. But if you’re cool with all that, then by all means, go ahead and snap that postcard perfect picture.
Linderhof Palace is not a long ways away, and the garden is utterly amazing. It’s very compact but, hey, you know what they say – quality not quantity! And this place is definitely packing a lot of quality. Also built by King Ludwig II, Linderhof Palace is even more tucked away than Neuschwanstein Castle, but I can see why he chose the location that he did. Unfortunately, we arrived at 6 and just missed the last tour of the day, which meant we couldn’t see the inside of the palace.
From there, we continued driving up the Romantic Road. One thing that I happened upon amongst all the farms and cows in Bavaria was fresh milk. I don’t know why nobody else has mentioned it, but I thought it one of the most memorable things on the trip.
Many farms or little cafes in villages displayed the sign “fresh milk” (often in the shape of a cow), and some also offer buttermilk, which is almost like a cross between milk and yogurt. The milk tasted extremely rich and full of flavor. It just tasted right. But when I say rich, I don’t mean it like you’re drinking heavy cream, or anything like that. It’s like drinking store bought orange juice vs. freshly squeezed juice from perfectly ripe, recently picked oranges. After drinking some of the store bought stuff afterwards, the milk tasted flat, as if they took the goodness out and added additional whatever it is they add to preserve milk. One reason why it’s so good is maybe because they didn’t pasteurize the milk to death (I’m not even sure if they pasteurized it or not) and the Germans actually treat their cows well. All along the road, there were countless cows just lounging or grazing under the sun in idyllic pastures. After drinking the milk, I had this strange urge to thank each and every cow for providing the mind blowing milk they probably intended for their babies.
However, we soon left the countryside and entered the modern metropolis of Munich. In comparison to the rolling farmland, Munich was loud and grimy. Driving and parking in central Munich is a bit of a nightmare so biking or public transportation is probably the better option. I wasn’t really a huge fan of Munich, but I did notice that Munich does have a very high percentage of good looking males. Just thought I’d put that out there, in case anyone, you know, was curious. We did go visit the Hofbrauhaus, which is basically a huge beer hall. It was extremely loud, thanks to their gratuitous music playing. While we did not stay long, watching people who were way too drunk for 2 in the afternoon was very entertaining.
Nyphenburg Palace is a summer residence for the Bavarian royalty also located in Munich. This was also the first palace that offered free parking. However, for the rate they charge, there are relatively very little rooms you get to see. But since we got the Bavarian castle pass (around 40 dollars for 14 days and up to 5 people), we got in for free, or rather, we just used the pass.
Driving out of Munich was a even bigger pain than driving into Munich. In a non-moving kind of way. Yes, we were completely stuck in a non-moving traffic jam. In fact, the Germans turned off their cars, stepped out, and just started to hang around on the highway. Fortunately, our handy dandy GPS saved the day and found us an alternate route. However, because of the time lost in transit, we had miss a couple towns we had intended to visit on the Romantic Road, like Augsburg and Nordlingen. We stopped for a little while at Dinkelsbuhl, and it seemed like a wonderful town. If I had the opportunity to stay a day, I would.
We did end up spending a good amount of time at Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The town looked like it came straight out of a story book and because we arrived in the evening, the majority of tourists had already left.
One local specialty you should definitely check out is the Schneeballen, or “Snow Ball”. It’s basically a piece of dough wound up into the shape of a ball, deep fried, and covered in powdered sugar, chocolate etc. I mean, really, can you go wrong? It’s delicious and serves as a wonderful snack.The best one I had was at Diller and they have multiple locations in various German towns (including Fussen and Rothenburg). While in Rothenburg, you can also climb the 600 year old town wall, which we were unfortunately too exhausted to do.
The next morning, in a field very close to Rothenburg, we drove past a U-pick strawberry and flower field, which we decided to stop and visit. The strawberries were extremely cheap and it was run by a small local farmer family. Three generations were present: the baby, parents, and grandma. Granted, the baby just sat there and looked good. The grandma was absolutely delightful as she picked a bouquet of freshly sheared flowers for us, and when she thought a certain flower was missing from the bunch, she drove all the way home and back just for the sake of providing us with a better bouquet.
Next came Nuremberg, city of bratwursts. Needless to say, I was pretty darn excited. My knowledge of bratwursts extended only to Johnsonville brats so I’m not bratwurst pro, but I know a good sausage when in the presence of one. I ended up getting two bratwurst hot dogs from two different places, as most sit downs who serve brats have the option of these take out hot dogs. They were smaller than I expected, but the taste was definitely not small. The seasoning was perfect and despite being incredibly hot on that day, I wouldn’t trade the bratwursts for ice cold gelato.
Speaking of gelato, the medieval town of Bamberg had some pretty terrific gelato. It was rainy and cold when we went, but the gelato was definitely still welcomed. The town itself boasted a magnificent Dom, which was a bit of a climb from the main town. The Dom itself was filled to the brink with people, thus making it way too stuffy for my tastes so we hightailed it out of there after a brief look.
Finally, after driving more than 3000 km, we arrived back at our starting place, Berlin. The drive to Berlin wasn’t particularly smooth either; it took us around 7 hours to get there, when in reality it should have taken a lot less than that. Because of the time lost, we didn’t get to visit the Potsdam Palaces.
Berlin is still a city that is still rebuilding itself. If you look around, there is construction going on everywhere around you and despite Mitte being the historical center of Berlin, it is permeated with newly built sky rises. Even though the entire city of Berlin is going through a renovation, it has kept the old and built around it.
Of the famous Museum Island, the one museum we were really itching to see was the Pergamon Museum. The entire museum was built to accomodate the priceless monuments it housed, as the sheer size of them was astounding. These monuments include the Pergamon Altar (from Ancient Greece), the Ishtar Gate (from Ancient Babylon), the Mshatta Facade (Umayyad Palace), and many many others. I would rank this museum at the top, with the Louvre or the Uffizi (with the exception that those two are more art heavy). There was also an exhibition where they built a 360 panorama of Asisi, an ancient Greek city. There were exceptional details and everything looked perfectly real, as it showed a snapshot of real people doing daily activities. The background music and changes in daylight just sealed the deal for me. If you tune out the world around you, and just immerse yourself in the scene in front of you, it feels as if you’ve really stepped into a whole other world. Of course, it takes a little imagination, but once you get the feel of it, it’s wonderful. I felt like I could just sit there and stare for hours, deciphering the background of each person depicted.
The Jewish Memorial, on the other hand, didn’t really have that effect on me. It was raining (again) and my umbrella just kept on getting stuck between the blocks as they got taller and taller as you reach the center. After losing my map somewhere in the labyrinth and taking forever to find it, I’ve deduced that this is a wonderful place for hide and seek. The meaning of the memorial is not lost on me, but there were no statues, or writing, or really anything except for a sign to not walk on the blocks. I do, however, love the sentiment and can appreciate the meaning.
Rogacki is an indoor market in Berlin that sells everything from sardines, to raw meats, to bread and deli items. It really is a food lover’s paradise as you can get all sorts of strange cuts of meat, as well as terrific seafood options.
The Bundestag is the newly built dome within the Reichstag building. To visit, you first have to make a reservation online and security is very strict. Before you enter, you have to through an airport-like security system. Climbing to the top of the Bundestag is interesting and all those swirls, mirrors, and windows are intriguing. I still haven’t figured out if there’s an open hole at the top yet, or if it’s just a reflection.
After more than two weeks and three countries later, we bid adieu to Germany and fly back to the states. Every time I fly out of Europe, I always feel a little sad at the prospect of leaving, and this time was no different. I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again. I mean, we started in Berlin, so we could just start driving towards Dresden again, couldn’t we?