We left our Fussen accommodations and boarded an 8 a.m. train for Salzburg. After a short stop in Munich, we arrived around noon in Austria’s fourth largest city of 150,000 residents. Right outside the train station, we conveniently jumped on a bus, which took us within walking distance of our lodging.
After we checked in, we were off to explore the city of Mozart and the “Sound of Music”. We began by walking over one of the several bridges that crossed the brown rushing waters of the Salzach River. The city was filled with excitement and music. It was the height of the Salzburg Music Festival, which ran from late July to the end of August.
Dan led us on a tour through Old Town Salzburg, which included a climb to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The fortress, which sat atop Monchsberg Mountain, was built in 1077 and was the largest, fully preserved fortress in central Europe. It served as a fortification, a military barracks, prison and temporary residence of the prince archbishops for many years. Now the fortress is open to the public year round and serves as an impressive setting for concerts and city events.
We started our journey to the fortress by riding the Monchsberg lift (elevator) 1700 feet straight up through mountain rock. When the doors opened at the top, the panoramic view of the city was magnificent. We hiked along paved wooded paths that passed by an abbey, villas, and green meadows dotted with farmhouses. Medieval city walls, dating back to1470 escorted us to Hohensalzburg Fortress.
The fortress courtyard was huge and served as the main square for some 1,000 medieval residents. It was where they set up shop and sold their goods making the fortress a self-sufficient community. We walked around the grounds and explored the fortress chapel. Our most memorable experience was our climb up the Reck watchtower to the highest point of the fortress. From this vantage point, on one side we could see a magnificent view of the Alps and on the other side a great panoramic view of Salzburg.
When our fortress tour was over, instead of hiking back to the city we rode down on the funicular (cable) railway. We reached Old Town and walked by several Salzburg Music Festival venues. We saw everything from performing artists on street corners to concerts shown on large open-air screens. In Residence Square, we spotted several horse carriages where beautiful stallions standing all in a row waited to show off their charming city. After admiring them, Kevin treated us to a horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic city center. It was a great way to end our busy day.
August 11, 2014
After a hearty breakfast and several cups of coffee, we headed to the train station. It was time to say goodbye to Munich and head south to the small town of Fussen, located at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. We arrived in Fussen at 10 a.m. and walked to Hotel Sonne, our lodging for the night. We had only a few minutes to check in and drop off our bags because we had a bus to catch at 11 a.m. We were on our way to tour King Ludwig’s fairy-tale castle, Neuschwanstein.
King Ludwig inherited the throne of Bavaria in 1864 at the age of eighteen and two years later started building his castle. To execute his dream project, he commissioned a stage designer and several engineers as architects. It took seventeen years to build and Ludwig only lived in it six short months before he died at the age of forty. With only a third of the interior finished, it was opened to the public seven weeks after his death.
We arrived in the tiny town of Hohenschwangau where we picked up our tour tickets. It was a cold rainy day but we were ready to make the best of it. Our tour started at 2 p.m. so we had an hour to get to the castle. We could either take a shuttle or walk. We opted for the moderately steep 30-minute hike because the shuttle line was super long. As we climbed along paved road through the forest, horse drawn carriages full of families passed us on their way to the castle.
The rain held off until we arrived outside the castle, then the heavens opened up and a downpour followed. We were able seek refuge under a castle archway until it was time for our tour. The outside of the castle looked stunning with walls covered with a veneer of limestone and beautiful towers and spires that rose to the sky. I could see why Walt Disney used Neuschwanstein Castle as an inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland.
Our 15-room tour of the castle was amazing. We walked through ballrooms, bedrooms, formal dining rooms, servant areas and a very modern kitchen. Our tour guide filled us in on the history and what life was like in the castle in the late 1800’s. The inside was filled with magnificent architecture, frescos, paintings, carved works, mosaics, furniture and decorations. King Ludwig was a big fan of Richard Wagner and surrounded himself with paintings of characters and events from Wagner’s operas.
Although built in the 1870’s, the castle was equipped with all kinds of technical conveniences, which were very modern, if not revolutionary at that time. It was equipped with running water throughout, including flush toilets and hot water in the kitchen and baths, and had a forced-air central heating system. An elevator from the kitchen three stories below serviced the dining room. King Ludwig even made sure the castle was connected to telephone lines, even though at the time of its construction very few people had telephones. Truly amazing!
After our tour, we hopped on a bus and rode back to our hotel in Fussen. That night as we dined on our pizza at Ristorante La Perla we reflected on our day and the magnificence of King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle!
August 10, 2014
We started our second day in Munich by jumping on the U-Bahn (subway). We were on our way to the BMW Complex located north of Munich. The complex consisted of the corporate headquarters, the BMW Museum, BMW Welt(World) and the BMW Munich Plant.
When we exited the subway station, we were in front of a cloud-shaped glass and steel building.The spectacular modern structure was the BMW Welt. We entered the impressive high tech building and were immediately entertained by a stuntman zipping around on a motorcycle. The spacious building displayed all of the newest BMW motorcycles and cars.
On our walk through the building, we marveled at new Mini Coopers, Rolls Royce and electric cars. We got a chance to sit in some of the models and dream. I personally enjoyed sitting on the decked out, high tech motorbikes. Along with exhibiting the latest and greatest BMW had to offer, the Welt served as a delivery area. Up to 160 daily customers received their brand new BMWs there.
Our next stop was the BMW Museum, which charted the history of the car company. Founded in 1916, BMW built airplane engines. In 1923, they started manufacturing motorbikes and eventually in 1928, they moved forward with the production of cars. Shortly after WW II, the Allied Forces dismantled BMW’s factories and the company was only allowed to manufacture household utensils and bicycles. In 1950, BMW returned to the production of cars.
For the next hour we strolled by exhibits of airplane engines, cars and motorcycles from 1916 to the present. It was interesting to see the first BMW that looked like a delivery truck, evolve over the years into a high tech, sleek glossy car. While we were there, the museum was having a Rolls Royce exhibit, which displayed antique and modern models. After walking through years of history, we decided to jump on the U-Bahn and head to the English Garden.
The English Garden is a 900-acre public park in the center of Munich. It is one of the world’s largest urban parks and stretches from the city center to the northeastern city limits. The park, created in 1789 is named for the English style of landscape gardening. Along with a beautiful lake, the park main attractions include two beer gardens, a Chinese Pagoda, a Japanese teahouse and a Greek-style temple.
After lunch, we entered the sprawling park filled with acres of open space, shaded woodlands, streams, lakes and footpaths that followed along the river or through the countryside. It was a beautiful, tranquil place to spend the afternoon. The park was full of people cycling, jogging, swimming, paddle boating on the lake, sunbathing, and enjoying horse drawn carriage rides. On our walk, we came upon the Chinesischer Turm beer garden. We were surprised to see a pagoda-style Chinese tower there. The all-wooden structure was five stories tall and outfitted with a German oompah band playing foot stomping music. We walked around the beer garden but didn’t imbibe or chow down because we were on a mission to find some river surfers.
There aren’t many places in the world where one can find World-Class river surfing, except right in the middle of the English Garden. Munich was the birthplace of river surfing and has been the center of surfboard riding on stationary waves since the early-1970s. The wave, which reaches a height of two meters, was created by concrete slabs that were placed on the riverbed in the 1970s to weaken the rivers flow. We watched barefooted surfers in wetsuits line up along the bank taking turns entering the water with their boards. Surfs up river shredders! Who needs a gigantic ocean wave to Hang Ten?
Our hotel was close to a big transportation hub with the main bus station, train station and a subway station within a fifteen-minute walk. We decided to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. From the open double-decker bus, we were able to see main attractions as well as hop on and hop off at conveniently located stops around the city. Our guide pointed out historic galleries, churches, palaces and museums. It was a great way to get the lay of the land and basic information on some of the sights.
We hopped off at the Marienplatz, the heart of the city of Munich. The main historical square, full of grand buildings, great shops and outdoor cafes was bustling with people on a mission. I was very impressed with the bicycle friendly city and the rows and rows of bike racks everywhere. We were once again entertained by a mime standing atop a pedestal.
One of the first buildings that caught my eye was the New Town Hall with its world famous glockenspiel. The 300-foot long ornate building with hundreds of statues, turrets and arches looked like something out of the Middle Ages but was constructed between 1867 and 1909. Unlike many building in the area, it survived the bombs of World War II and served as a home to the city government and the Munich Tourism Office.
On our walk, we discovered Holy Ghost Church. The Gothic “Hall Church” was holding a summertime “Garden of Eden” display. Inside it was decorated with trees, bushes, flowers and an origami display of white doves suspended from the ceiling. It was a beautiful sight.
Since we were in the heart of Munich we had to explore the world-famous beer hall, Hofbrauhaus. It started out as a brewery, but in 1808, the brewery moved out and a 5,000-seat food and beer palace was built in its place. When we walked into the packed hall, it was standing room only. We wandered around and absorbed the ambiance of the grand hall. The beautifully painted arched ceilings and dark wood paneling on the lower walls dominated the room. Long wooden tables full of lively people downing beer and munching on Bavarian cuisine surrounded us. Servers dressed in traditional attire, zigzagged their way through the crowds with liter-steins of overflowing beer. We worked our way to the top floor where we found another huge beer hall, but it was not open for business. Its walls were covered with historical pictures, old menus and other memorabilia. I was happy we got to spend time in this great treasure, which was an essential part of Bavarian history and culture.
After lunch, we had one more place to visit, the Residenz. The Munich Residenz was the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs of the House of Wittelsbach from 1385 to 1918 and was the largest city palace in Germany. It was officially opened to the public in 1920. During World War II, the Residenz was destroyed but many of the masterpieces inside were moved to safety before the bombs hit the palace. Restoration began in 1945, and most of the rooms were reconstructed by the 1980s.
We started our walk through the 120-room residence; the first area we discovered was the Shell Grotto. This unusual display was built with fresh water shells in the 1580’s with a golden statue of Mercury as the centerpiece. The walls were covered in fish, mermaids, pots of flowers, and baskets of fruit all made of shells.
One of my favorite attractions was the Antiquarium. When I walked into the massive hall, I was captivated by the immense 66-meter long room. The ceilings and vaults above the windows were decorated with fresco paintings while sculptures and busts were lined along both sides of the walls. It was the oldest room in the Residenz complex and was built between 1568 and 1571 by Duke Albrecht V for his collection of antique sculptures. It was a wonderful place to sit and view works of art hundreds of years old.
On the upper floor, we were able to see the Wittelsbach’s lavish private apartments, banquet halls and ornate chapels. As we walked by room after room, we were taken back to past times when rulers lived in gilded Bavarian grandeur. Over the centuries, the Wittelsbachs amassed important collections of porcelain, silver, paintings and miniatures. Treasures of bronze sculptures, magnificent tapestries, rare furniture, candelabra and chandeliers were also collected. All of these could be viewed in over ninety rooms throughout the Residenz.
After walking around the grand palace for three hours, we were exhausted and had overdosed on opulence. It was time to hop on the bus and head to the beer garden for dinner.
We discovered Rothenburg’s largest church, St. Jakob’s. The Lutheran Church, built between 1311-1484, was a great example of Gothic architecture with its high arched ceilings, stone pillars and towers. Inside, the church had wonderful woodcarvings and beautiful stain glass windows. St. Jakob’s high alter; also called the Twelve Apostles Alter was considered to be the finest in all Germany. After exploring the church, I sat in the main hall and took in all the beauty and reverence around me. The sunlight shone through the stained glass windows and bathed the alter in color. It was a lovely place to rest and reflect.
Dan and Kevin were on a mission to shop for cuckoo clocks and beer steins. After exploring several stores, they discovered a wonderful little shop and found the gifts they were looking for. After they finished shopping, we had just enough time to return to our hotel, grab our luggage and hoof it to the bus station to catch the Romantic Road bus.
We boarded the tour bus and readied ourselves for a five-hour ride to Munich. The bus was half-full and we had plenty of room to move around. Our gregarious driver greeted us, made sure all were accounted for and then started on our journey. Germany’s Romantic Road was a trade route during the middle ages and ran from Frankfurt south to Fussen, near the Austrian border.
We traveled by beautiful pastoral countryside with small medieval towns tucked in between. The driver provided several opportunities for us to depart the bus for a few minutes and explore some of the towns. It was a long but enjoyable ride with the bus driver providing commentary on things of interest. When we arrived in Munich, we walked twenty minutes to our hotel. After getting situated, we headed to a neighborhood beer garden for supper. Sausage, French fries, German potato salad, pretzels and beer were on the menu.
August 7, 2014
We started our day by catching an 8:30 a.m. train to Rothenburg ob de Tauber(on the Tauber River). After an hour wait at our first stop in the town of Mainz and then train changes in two other towns we arrived in Rothenburg at 3 p.m. Rothenburg, located halfway between Frankfurt and Munich, is Germany’s best-preserved walled town with original buildings dating from the Middle ages.
We entered the city from the East through the Röder Tower Gate, which dates back to 1380. Standing inside the walled city, I felt like I had stepped back in time. Buildings decorated with flower-filled window boxes lined narrow cobblestone streets. Half-timbered old houses were topped with red tile roofs. I couldn’t wait to explore this medieval town but first we had to find our lodging for the night.
After dropping off our luggage at Kreuzerhof Hotel, we headed back into the center of town, and decided to take a walk atop the town wall. The massive stonewall and its forty-two towers were built during the 13th century. As the town grew, the wall had to be extended three times and is now about 1.5 miles long. We accessed the wall by climbing some stairs near one of the towers.
The walkway, protected by the cover of a wooden roof area erected over the wall, provided stunning panoramic views of the town. I looked down on red roofed buildings and spotted church steeples and towers in the distance. Along the fringe of the wall, I saw buildings and homes that were great examples of medieval architecture and got glimpses into backyards and beautiful gardens.
From the height of the thirty-foot wall, I was able to see the maze of lanes and alleyways that weaved between the buildings. Some parts of the wall were tight to fit through and the roof was so low in some places Rodge had to duck. The stonewall made of limestone, quarry, and sandstone rocks were full of arrow slots, used to defend the city within from attacking enemies.
Unfortunately, sections of the wall (mostly the eastern part) were destroyed by American bombs during World War II. The damaged walls were completely rebuilt in twenty years with worldwide donations. The entire length of the wall was covered in plaques that identified donors who supported rebuilding the wall.
After dinner, we went on one of the most popular tours in Rothenburg, the Night Watchman’s Tour. We arrived in Market Square at 8 p.m. and were greeted by the Night Watchman decked out in a black cape and tricorn hat. For forty minutes, we strolled through the town and listened to his informative stories full of history and dry humor. It was an entertaining way to learn about Medieval Rothenburg and its people.
August 6, 2014
We all awoke to a gorgeous sunny day and were looking forward to our cruise down the Rhine. Before leaving our hotel, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast included in the stay. It was set up in a private dining room and included breads, meats, cheeses, fruit, eggs, cereals, spreads, juices, tea, and coffee.
At 10:30 a.m., we boarded our K-D line boat and headed to the top deck. We were ready to take in castle views and picturesque German towns along the waterfront. Most Rhine castles dated back to the Middle Ages. Some were built to protect settlements, and others were residences of kings. Many were “robber baron” castles built by rulers to levy tolls on passing river traffic.
When the boat pulled away from the dock, our first view was of Stahleck Castle, sitting stately on the hill above Bacharach. As we cruised down the fast moving river, the boat pulled into a different town every fifteen minutes to pick up or drop off passengers. Ships and huge barges loaded with cargo passed by.
The spires of medieval churches and historic castles appeared around every river bend. Steep vineyards climbed up lush, green hillsides. My camera was shooting nonstop to capture all of the magnificent views. It was a magical time sailing through the Rhine River Gorge.
After a two-hour ride, we arrived at our destination, the quaint town of Braubach. Here we toured the Marksburg Castle, the only medieval castle on the Rhine, which had never been destroyed or conquered. The castle, located on a hill over-looking the town, required a twenty-minute uphill hike from the town center. When we reached the 800-year-old fortress, we joined a tour.
The castle was built primarily for defense, rather than as a residence for a noble family. The interior was spartan, with Medieval Age décor. Most of the rooms were outfitted with period furniture and equipment much as they would have been when the castle was in use. The narrow hallways of the castle escorted us into the kitchen, dining hall, bed chambers, blacksmith’s workshop, cathedral, armory, wine cellar and torture chamber.
Outside we toured the gothic gardens full of herbs used for cooking, medicine and witchcraft. Before we left the castle and headed back to Braubach, we enjoyed spectacular panoramic views of the Rhine River. Back in the small town, we were on the lookout for a café. We strolled by lovely half-timbered houses dating back to the 1600’s. Window boxes planted with colorful flowers decorated the sides of buildings. The only food being served in town at 2 p.m. was dessert, so we forced ourselves to down some apple strudel and decadent cake before we caught an afternoon train back to Bacharach.
August 5, 2014
Dan, Kevin, Rodge and I arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at 8 a.m. CEST from Atlanta, Georgia. After a nine-hour flight filled with meals and movies, we were ready to start our European vacation. With our luggage in tow, we walked through the airport toward the train station. With the signs in both German and English, it was easy to find. When we arrived, we validated our Rail Passes, checked the train schedule and then jumped on the 10 a.m. train to Bacharach.
When we planned our trip, we made the decision to travel by train, so before we left the U.S. we purchased German Rail Passes. The pass covered all of our train travel in Germany, train travel to Salzburg, Austria, tickets for a cruise down the Rhine River and a discount on bus fare down Germany’s Romantic Road. The trains had easy to access schedules, were efficient, reliable, clean and a joy to ride.
We arrived in the small town of Bacharach at 11:30 a.m. As we walked along its narrow cobblestone streets, it was hard to believe we were in one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany. The town situated along the banks of the Rhine River greeted us with its towering hillsides lined with vineyards and streets filled with timber-framed houses. We couldn’t wait to explore the charming laid-back town but first we needed to recharge our batteries in Hotel zur Post, our lodging for the next two nights.
After a much-needed rest, we took a walk along Bacharach’s old town wall. The wall, erected to defend the small town was built between 1344 and 1400. It originally had sixteen guard towers and now only nine remained. We climbed a set of steep stairs and a rugged path along the wall remnants until we arrived at the top of a hill. The views of the town and the Rhine River were magnificent.
As we continued to climb higher, we discovered Stahleck Castle.The medieval towering fortress was constructed around 1135 and throughout its history parts of it were destroyed and rebuilt several times. The last major renovation took place during the early 20th century. In 1926, the castle was reopened as a youth hostel and to this day continues to host young travelers and their families passing through Europe.
We walked around the castle and through its central courtyard, taking in the sweeping views of the Rhine Valley. A path outside the castle led us down along lush vineyards full of Riesling grapes and by one of the towns original guard towers. From the northern viewpoint of the city, we could see several other top sights. We ended our day with dinner at the restaurant Altes Haus, located in Bacharach’s oldest building constructed in 1368.