Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pretzels, Bratwurst, and Castles in Bavaria

We had quite the adventure this weekend! So exciting in fact, that it has taken me a few days to recover before I could even think about writing.  
Munich wasn't necessarily on my radar of "must see" places for this trip. Berlin maybe, but I've never really dreamed of visiting Munich like I've dreamed of seeing other European cities. However, when Mike was provided an opportunity to visit a colleague of his research project advisor, we could hardly refuse the adventure. Mike could get work done, and we could stay with a local who could tour us around the city.

We rented a car and drove about 6 1/2 hours. There is something I deeply enjoy about road trips... especially through Europe. You see the world in a way that is impossible via other transportation and the journey is all at your speed. If you see an interesting place to stop for a photo op you are free to stop. I love seeing the small towns and villages and getting a glimpse into how others live... especially in the most picturesque locations.

The drive was beautiful and extremely comfortable in our Mercedes rental car. It wasn't even an upgrade, those are the types of cars they rent here in Europe. Mike was thrilled at the prospect of driving on the autobahn with a German car. I was worried it would be slightly terrifying driving on highways without speed limits, but it was awesome! The drivers were fantastic, and it was great driving at a speed that seemed reasonable. Sure, there was the occasional daredevil who would speed by at nearly 220km/h. We were not that crazy, but it was nice not worrying about being pulled over for speeding.

We arrived in Munich in the early evening and our kind host had prepared a lovely dinner for us. We put Luke to bed and stayed up talking about the differences between healthcare systems in Europe and the US among other things. We were very lucky to be staying with such a prestigious individual, but she was so friendly and down to earth, she helped us feel right at home. 

The next day we began our sight seeing by touring the local hospital where our host is a key member of the organization. Mike was like a kid in a candy store. He loved seeing the similarities and differences. I even enjoyed the experience... especially the fact that we were able to tour a hospital in Europe without any of us being sick or injured. Mike was able to discuss and gain some interesting points for his project. 

Now that business was over, our host took us to downtown Munich to tour her beautiful city. We were thrilled to have a passionate tour guide showing us the city she loves. She was very knowledgable and patient. She showed us the original gates to the city that was founded around 1158 AD. I'm still amazed every time I hear dates like this... in the US anything older than 1940's is incredible! But the true middle ages... the history I'm surrounded by here makes me so excited!

They even had Lederhosen for sale. Originally, lederhosen was made from leather and worn for physical labor because it was more durable and you don't need to clean them like other fabrics... but today most people just wear them for fun. We actually came across many tourists who ironically wanted to "fit in" and couldn't have stood out more.  Mike and I weren't quite sold, we refrained from buying our own pair.

We then went to Marienplatz and saw the Glockenspeil. To translate, Marienplatz is the town square where the Munich town hall resides. The Glockenspeil is an incredible 100+ year old gothic style bell tower that houses 32 life-sized figures that reenact historical events in Bavaria 3 times a day. We were luck enough to see it in action. Its basically like a huge cuckoo clock with working parts... that are life sized. I'm not doing it justice, but it was incredible to see in action. Luke was amazed.

We then made our way through the Viktualienmarkt, or daily outdoor farmers market. It dates back to the early 19th century and our host mentioned her grandfather talked about visiting this market every day to get his meat and bread. The assortment of foods and crafts were exciting. We bought some hardy German bread and some fantastic Mediterranean food to save for dinner. But the best part was just walking through the market and feeling the exciting liveliness of the city. 
We then made our way to a restaurant where they serve traditional Bavarian food. One of the benefits to having a local tour guide is they can show you the traditional places that are not the tourist traps. The food was fantastic with huge portions. Mike and I split a roasted leg of pork with a potato dumpling and sauerkraut, and dessert of apple fritters. It was so good! The picture is actually half of the serving.... these portions were HUGE! 

According to myth, if you rub the nose of this lion
you will return to Munich one day

Entrance to the Nymphenburg palace in Munich 
Luke and Mike enjoying the view of the
gardens at the Nymphenburg palace

The next day we started early for our drive home, with a pit stop at a place I have always dreamed of visiting. My parents took a trip to Europe when I was little and came back with stories of a castle nestled in the Bavarian Alps which was actually the inspiration for Walt Disney's castle in Sleeping Beauty's. Since I was little I always imagined visiting this castle. Perhaps some of the wonder has faded after having the chance to visit beautiful homes and castles around the world, but there has always been a childhood desire to see Neuschwanstein Castle.

From the minute we left the city, every inch of the drive was picturesque. The day was perfect with a few clouds, against a bright blue sky. The German country side was stunning. I wanted to catch it in pictures, but it just couldn't translate the beauty I saw. Here are a few of my attempts. 


We arrived at the little town at the base of the castles... yes there are 2 in the area Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. The latter was the childhood home of King Ludwig II and the former is the home he decided to build... and never finished. 

We decided to walk up the hill to Neuschwanstein rather than take a carriage or tram. It was a beautiful hike through the mountains. We stopped for a pretzel and a bratwurst and it was heavenly after our ascent. This coming from the girl who doesn't normally eat hot dogs... I made an exception for the authentic stuff in Germany. Luke also loved eating a real German pretzel.


Luke had fun playing with this little girl while
we waited for our tour to begin

The castle was beautiful and different than other castles I've seen. Mad King Ludwig had a fascination with Wagner and his operas and dedicated the artwork in the castle to represent those works. Each room was focused on a different opera and it was quite breathtaking. The whole experience was worthwhile and my 8 year old self is pleased with fulfilling the dream of seeing this beautiful castle. 
The whole trip to Munich was quite a success. What a beautiful country filled with such stunning scenery, fantastic food and friendly company. I love Germany and can't wait to go back!
Sleeping Beauty's Castle on the Left, Neuschwanstein on the right 

We had to take a picture of our brief drive through
Austria on our way to Switzerland.

Austria is beautiful... even though we only saw it for 20 minutes

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