Germany Austria May 2018: A wonderful last day at Hellabrun zoo and Nymphenburg palace

All good things must come to an end. “But why mama, why?” asked the unhappy kid. “So that we can earn money for the next trip,” I unhelpfully answered. We were on the last day of our holiday and the very thought was depressing the two of us. But I was determined not to let it mar our last day.

The biggest worry for the day was where to go. The contenders were Nymphenburg palace (highest on my list), Munich zoo and Primark for shopping (highest priority for the kid). The hubby flatly refused one more palace, so we set off for the zoo.

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Hellabrun zoo is a long train ride from  Munich central station, so we left as soon as we could, especially because the penguin feeding time was 11 am and I was desperate to see that (it was past 10 am when we left!) We hurriedly walked/ ran to the zoo and then to the penguin enclosure which was at the far end of the zoo, without bothering to look at any of the animals on the way. “Relax Beejal, the penguins aren’t being flown out of Munich after their feeding,” admonished the hubby, but I was charged up.

Fortunately, we made it in time (the keeper was a bit delayed, thank God for the lack of the brilliant German efficiency here), and we could see loads of Emperor, Rockefeller and Humboldt penguins, waddling about on the ice.

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The tall commanding Emperor

I love penguins. They are my favorite birds. I love seeing these ataxic birds jump into the water and swim so gracefully. When the keeper picked up a penguin and cuddled him, I was so jealous and would have happily traded places.

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It was a wonderful experience, like watching ‘Happy feet’ live. We spent the bulk of our day here, and came back once again. Somehow after the penguins, I lost my steam and my interest slowly waned. The hubby was very irritated by my mad rush to the penguins and complained about how we’d not enjoyed the zoo because I was obsessed with seeing the penguins eat fish. “Hmmpphh,” I said, “the other animals aren’t being flown out of the zoo because I didn’t see them.”

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A snowy owl (looked so like Hedwig)

Of course, we patiently roamed about the entire zoo. There was a reasonable cloud cover and we had a good time. We saw a seal show that was in German and we couldn’t understand, but there’s no mistaking the love the trainers and the animals share.

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Awwwww!

Naturally, we were fascinated by the big cats, especially a growling tiger prowling about.

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A pair of lions was fast asleep as we walked by and admired the beautiful cats, when one suddenly woke up and looked us in the eye.

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The zoo had fairly large enclosures for the animals to move about in, but they could be a still larger. Though I do visit zoos, I feel that animals don’t deserve this kind of captivity. We wouldn’t like a world in which we were in some enclosure and a “higher” species was gawking at us.

On a happier note, there was a huge enclosure for the primates with swings and branches for them to enjoy, which they did whole-heartedly.

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Some primates are happy enough on land.

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A tropical rainforest enclosure intrigued us a lot. The atmosphere was hot and humid, and we were very much at home. We enjoyed listening to the chirping of the birds around us.

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By afternoon, I was in a rush to exit quickly as I wanted to see Nymphenburg palace before it closed. So, we rushed through the aquarium, shopped for soft toys and had lunch in a biergarten by the flamingos.

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Brew with a view

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We headed back to the hotel together post-lunch, as our Munich day ticket mandates our travelling together. By this time, stormy rain clouds had gathered and the sky was an ominous gray. The hubby refused to head out so I convinced the kid to come with me to Nymphenburg palace even though she was tired by all the morning walking.

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Much needed dessert on the last day of a great trip

A short tram ride took us to the gates of the summer palace of the Wittelsbach rulers. In the good-old-days, it took 2 hours from Munich by carriage, making it the perfect summer getaway for a ruler. It was raining heavily till then, but amazingly, the rain stopped just before we clambered out and walked the short distance along a canal to the long flat palace with buildings all around it and swans and geese curled up in corners at the sides.

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The stunning Nymphenburg palace on a stormy afternoon

Even as we approached, the sun burst through the dark clouds, momentarily brightening up the landscape.

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Buildings and gardens have been added on to the main palace over the years

It was truly breathtaking. The large green grounds with pretty flowers surrounding large water bodies reflecting the simple buildings made me admire the architect who had designed a home so well harmonized with nature. But this was just the prelude to the show. The magic of Nymphenburg unfolds as you see more of it.

We walked into the palace, put away our bags into lockers and set about seeing the palace interiors first as they would close in half an hour. We weren’t too keen on seeing too much of it as we’d already seen the opulent Residenz but that didn’t stop us from gawking at the beautifully designed stone hall with frescoes on the walls and ceilings featuring nymphs (naturally) and the flower goddess Diana.

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I would happily have lain down on the floor to admire this ceiling 

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My photography skills are too poor to capture this beauty. This hall has got to be seen, and we were happy to feast our eyes on it a second time before leaving. But now, we wanted to walk through a few of the rooms, and most importantly, the gallery of beauties.

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The Gallery of Beauties, with my own little beauty

So, the king made his queen a palace for bearing his heir, and then put up specially commissioned paintings of beautiful women chosen by him, in clothes and embellishments chosen by him. How sadistic can a man be!

 

We wandered through pretty rooms with glamorous chandeliers, liking this palace far more than the Residenz, for its compactness and relative simplicity. It felt like a palace one could live in.

DSC_4919Sure I’d love a canopied bed with a chandelier like that. But that’s not why I’d love to live in Nymphenburg. I fell in love with it for the palace grounds.

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The lawns and canals in the front of Nymphenburg palace, from the terrace of the palace

By the time we got our backpacks and set out to see the extensive park grounds of 200 acres at the back of the palace, the sun was out blazing away and no one could have identified this as the scene of a thunder storm an hour back.

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Geese were more at home here than tourists here as we gazed out at unending fields of green punctuated by canals and lakes. The large expanse in front of us was dotted by statues of Greek Gods and the kid, enlightened by “Percy Jackson”, had a blast running amongst them and naming them.

The amazing Nymphenburg park was increased in size over 200 years, and is now a huge forest-like space that would take an entire day to explore.

Screenshot (1)Sadly, we had barely a few hours and were already tired after a full day of walking at the zoo. Yet, we set off to explore at least one half of the park, intending to walk to the largest lake of the park, the Badenburg lake and then to see the waterfall cascades at the very end of the park. We certainly had taken no scale into account while chalking up this ambitious plan, nor the overpowering evening sun.

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Water bodies are the basis of the park, they fill every nook and corner of it. Small canals crossed by Venetian bridges, long canals you can take a gondola ride on and huge lakes that you can’t see the end of, all fill the park and add to its tremendous allure.

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A Venetian gondola in Germany, with a singing gondolier

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Geese with their goslings swam merrily along

Ever the explorer, the kid chose a path through the forest, instead of walking at the edge of the canal. Beautifully shaded, totally empty, surrounded by trees and the calls of birds, this was the most pleasant of all the walks we took.

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Rambling along, we were a tad concerned about finding the right path to the lake, when we came upon a fork in the road. Since we were on a small path unmarked on the map, we had to choose. Inspired by Frost, we chose the road less travelled and plodded on, to reach a clearing in the woods and a charming bridge over a little canal that opened out onto Badenburg lake.

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Thrilled, we pushed ahead and were delighted to see a few people milling about the periphery of a beautiful lake, with sunbeams dancing off the surface and charming geese for company.

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The monopteros at one edge of the Badenburg lake, that I couldn’t figure out any way to reach

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We sat there for a quite a while, stretching out our tired legs and enjoying our refreshed minds. It was so quiet that there was no need to intrude on the peace by conversation or shutter sound, we took a few pictures for memory and then, just sat quietly together.

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Reluctantly, we left this wonderful place of solace and walked on. By now, the kid was very tired and we couldn’t reach the end of the park. So we decided to cut across the forest and walk back along the central canal on the opposite side, coming upon a statue of Pan and his faithful satyr.

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The God of the wild would love this resting place for sure. As we crossed the central canal, we glanced at the reflection of the palace in the narrow canal and simultaneously went “Oooohhhh!”

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The only thing stopping us staring at this view was the hot sun and our own exhaustion. Truly, Nymphenburg deserves an entire day. We crossed over the canal to the other side to see the Pagodenburg lake, where the setting sun was casting its rays.

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We walked back to the palace halls, thrilled by the evening’s adventure and very glad that we’d stepped out in the storm.

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As we exited the palace and came out to the front lawns, we were struck by how different it looked without the dreary clouds and amazed by how the day had changed. It was as though Munich was giving us a fitting farewell.

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I noticed things I hadn’t seen before like the flowers and the cherubic statues.

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The swans reclaimed their places in the canals, no longer hiding their beaks under their wings, but proudly floating about.

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Tired, but very very happy, the two of us caught the tram back to our hotel and packed for the flight back the next day. We had had a terrific 14 days in Germany and Austria. Every day and every place we visited, we had loved. The hubby’s role in turning down the original plan of Italy must be applauded, as his terrific driving.

While I must credit the hubby the most, there are those who are very important too. The kid was a great companion on this trip, interested in the history of the places, willing to step out and walk and walk, and play lots of Uno. My sister was very accommodating as she didn’t insist on my going to her place to visit her and my adorable niece (my only regret). And I can’t sign off without profusely thanking Yogesh Shenoy for planning my trip to the hilt and being the greatest support system. Nor can I forget the lovely Bavaria and Austria that made my trip so special. I hope to be back someday.

Auf wiedersehen Germany and Austria.

Germany May 2018: Munich Day 2: Cars, palaces and gardens; a day well spent

“3 days in Munich? What will you do there,” asked a friend. As it turned out, 3 days were barely enough. The vibrant city with oodles of old world charm has plenty to offer within the city itself, apart from day trips, all of which we had already visited. Munich turned out to be a city that we fell head over heels in love with. The old town had already enamored us the previous day (Germany May 2018: Munich, the charming Bavarian capital), this day, we chose to visit the BMW welt, Munich Residenz and English Garden.

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The BMW headquarters represents the cylinder head of the four-cylinder car engine

After buying a Munich inner city pass that would allow us to use the train and bus network, we set off to the Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) welt and were surprised to see a bunch of high school kids get off at the stop. I was amazed by their interests till I entered the welt and realised that they were there to play racing games on the free Xbox consoles. The kid didn’t get a chance to play till we were about to leave. We had a blast looking around at all the beemers on display and choosing the ones we would buy if we could. The kid, unsurprisingly chose a concept car.

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From here, we headed to the Munich Residenz, the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian royalty. We got off the U-bahn stop and turned into the palace gardens just behind the Residenz.

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Sadly, it was too hot to tour the gardens, so we turned to look at the Residenz.

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“Imposing building,” I thought, as I tried to push open the doors. “No, no, you can’t enter,” cried a man, “the entrance is all the way around.” ‘All the way around’ turned out to be a long way around. We walked into many courtyards, but couldn’t gain entry through any of those.

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We had to walk back almost half the way to Marienplatz, to a square called Max-Joseph-Platz square and then get in. The walk in the sun was very pleasing to the eyes, with architecture like this to feast the eyes on.

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We stashed away our backpacks and entered the first HUGE room, the Antiquarium (the room of Antiquities), built to house dozens of sculptures. By far the most beautiful of all the rooms, it was filled with just the right amount of art and sculpture.

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We walked from one end to the other and back, staring at the ceiling as much as at the walls, and stood at one end and saw how different it looked with a change of position.

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This grandest room of this grand palace was stunning and captured our attention for the longest time. However it turned into the benchmark that everything else didn’t quite live up to. 

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The paintings on the walls and ceilings were stunning

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Munich residenz is a huge palace, where bits and pieces have been added on by different rulers. It actually looks deceptively small from the outside. There were lots of museum personnel who politely showed you the way and very enthusiastically opened doors and gushed about the rooms ahead. It was clear that the palace employees loved their jobs and were very proud of their city. I found this very very impressive. As we walked through, a gentleman reminded us to go back to see the shell grotto, which was well worth the walk back.

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From here, we entered a huge gallery with fancy chandeliers and gilt portrait frames with paintings of the entire Wittelsbach clan. Apparently these had all been removed just before the bombing of WWII and hidden in bunkers. 

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The Ancestral Gallery

There were many others that hadn’t been salvaged, hence there were many rooms with empty portrait frames. The palace was filled with rooms of gold and gilt. Some rooms had color themes like deep red, cream, blue or even green.

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The wallpaper matched the furniture and sometimes, it was more garish than elegant, but grand it certainly was. However, after a while, we got tired of all the sparkle and were happy to see a relatively simple (and very pretty) chapel.

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Some things were very beautiful indeed like the intricate tapestries on the walls.

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And beautiful artwork on the ceilings.

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And intriguing paintings on the walls of subjects that would have been perfect for the surface anatomy class of college.

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And a desk that the kid said she’d love to use as a book reading table.

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After some time, we got terribly bored. We hadn’t taken the audio guide, so all the rooms looked the same after a while.

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Never ending opulent rooms

So, we left the minute we saw a shortcut to the exit. We didn’t even see the treasury or the theatre, both of which are supposed to be very beautiful. We swiftly caught a train to our hotel, hogged on a delicious meal and rested the entire afternoon.

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We were too hungry to click a picture before starting

The much-needed rest perked us up and we set off to the Odeonplatz once again, now to the English Garden. I’ve always loved large open green areas in cities and visit them on every trip, so naturally, the English Garden could be no exception. But I hadn’t bargained for this wonderful oasis. We just walked through the gardens behind the Residenz, crossed a busy road where cyclists crossed us at supersonic speeds and entered the green patch, where the world seemed to shut itself out. It was as though we were in a different Munich.

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Huge tree cover, many walking paths, benches all around and large open green spaces intersected by small streams characterised this wonderland. There was no street noise, it seemed more like a forest. We walked down a path and came upon a small rivulet.

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Swans and ducks swam in this little water body and the kid desperately wanted to take a little gosling home. Ducks walked about us fearlessly, well accustomed to human presence.

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There were large green spaces packed with people walking, jogging, playing with their kids or dogs, cycling or just enjoying the sun. It was amazing. It was only 6pm in the evening and everyone was free from work to relax. This is a good quality of life indeed. I can’t imagine going to a public garden at 6pm on a working day in Mumbai!

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We walked on, enjoying our leisurely stroll as suddenly came upon yet another stream rolling over some rocks.

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Part of a city? Unbelievable. We fell in love with this oasis. I only missed packing a picnic basket. The kid missed renting a bicycle and cycling about. “Next time,” I promised her.

 I was keen on finding the bit of the river where a one foot high wave is created and surfers plunge into the freezing waters for their bit of fun. This huge garden is unfortunately not very well-marked so it’s not easy to navigate, but we saw a surfer and asked him the directions. A lot more walking led us to a narrow width of water where we could see surfers in the water. Excited, we followed the path upstream.

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It was great fun to watch. There was a small stream 10 feet wide with waves at one place. On both sides of the stream in 2 very orderly rows, stood a line of surfers. They alternately jumped into the surf and rode the waves til they fell in and got swept away by the current.

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Surfing in the center of the city! That’s Munich. We looked about for the stream that was the source of the water but couldn’t locate it. It came out from under a bridge, on the other side of which was the city. It was amazing. On one side were cars and motorcycles and huge buildings and on three other a stream with surfers and a huge green garden.

We stood there for long and then finally moved on. We walked deeper into the garden where there were large lawns. I could see the Monopteros, a small Greek style pavilion high on the slope and headed there.

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The hubby and I struggled up the slope while the kid found a nice staircase and merrily climbed up. While standing at the pavilion, the whole garden sprawled out in front of us with the old town in the background.

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We sat there, recovering our breath and enjoying the view before heading back down.

 

Now we were tired and hungry, so we walked the short distance to the Chinese tower beer garden, to enjoy the perfect German meal.

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The kid read the menu and promptly refused, saying she wanted to get back to the Turkish eatery we’d eaten at the previous day, so we tried figuring out how to get back to Marienplatz without walking backwards, when we suddenly;y came upon a large road with a bus stop. The road goes through the center of the garden, and wisely, we walked no further and saw no more of the garden, but headed back in a bus.

We spent the evening at the old town, wishing time would stand still and the holiday get prolonged, but these things don’t happen. Yet, we had had a wonderful day at Munich and slept well, dreaming of tree covered paths and bridges over streams in the midst of a bustling city.

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Germany May 2018: Munich, the charming Bavarian capital

We had reached the end of our trip, the last 3 days in Munich before we flew out of Europe, by a regional train from Salzburg. The Bayern pass we took enabled us to travel by the extensive rail, underground, bus and tram network of Munich very comfortably. After checking into Hotel Europhaiser hof, a brilliant find by Yogesh again (thanks!), right by central Munich station, we hurriedly grabbed a bite at the station itself, and rushed to Dachau concentration camp. Why did we choose to cloud a beautiful holiday with a visit to a place where humanity died? Where we would relive the Nazi days? Where we would end up sad and melancholy? Mainly to show our child how the madness of one can spread and destroy mankind.

 

Dachau was the first concentration camp to be built, and the model for those to follow. As Hitler grew in power, so did the camp and the unspeakable horrors unleashed on its inmates. This was where most new ideas for torture spread to other camps.

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The entire memorial site is stark, an agonising reminder of a time that should never have been allowed to happen. We walked in through the gate to see the huge empty area where the ground was and then the barracks beyond. This was the most chilling of all the places in the memorial site.

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Walking through these grounds, reading about the state of the prisoners, a documentary about the camp itself and the barracks themselves were the most depressing experience anyone could have. I was amazed that the kid was holding up, but impressed by how Germany took no effort to conceal its terrible past. Instead, it kept it alive in the memories of generations to come, to understand how history must never repeat itself. But today, for me, the sun seemed to go out of the trip.

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Extremely disheartened as we were, we decided to go straight to the center of Munich old town, Marienplatz. While on the train, some 9-10 year old school kids climbed on and sat down around us. Our daughter, who was still very disturbed, had asked to play games on the phone and was engrossed in it. The little boy beside her got so curious that soon he was peeping over her shoulder at the screen.

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You can depend on children to lighten up your mood and brighten up your day! We got off at the Marienplatz stop. Mary’s square has always been the center of Munich (München), when monks settled here and started a market right here. Now, it’s the most crowded and attractive of the many attractive squares that make up Munich, with the beautiful new and old town halls, restaurants and cafes and a very lively atmosphere.

 

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The Gothic Neues Rathaus or New Town Hall

We stood amongst the crowds to see the Glockenspiel, where figurines twirl to depict a medieval tournament and a dance. Famous as it is, I wasn’t particularly impressed by it. I personally found the rest of Munich far more enchanting.

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Münchner Kindl (Monk Child) statue at the top of the clock tower. The Monk Child is the symbol of the city

We followed the downloaded Rick Steves audio tour to guide us around, and frequently and enjoyably got lost. We might have missed a few sights (and churches, much to my chagrin), but fell in love with Munich. My friend Olivia told me that I should have taken a Munich walking tour, but we didn’t have time over the next 2 days and missed a chance to relive the history of this amazing city.

As I read aloud about the new town Hall and its Gothic architecture, my husband heard he magic word “elevator”. I’d told him that we would climb the bell tower of St Peter’s church, but the mention of the word “tower” made him clutch his shoulder and promptly refuse to accompany me. So as soon as he heard elevator, he was thrilled and without further ado, we were riding the elevator to the top of the new town hall.

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The old town hall and St Peter’s church from the clock tower terrace

A narrow enclosed balcony ran all around the top of the tower and we posed against every quarter we could see.

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The crowded Marienplatz with its turquoise colored fish fountain

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Frauenkirche, the tallest church of Munich. No building in the old town can be taller than this church tower

As we waited for the elevator, we noticed the trademark graffiti and couldn’t stop grinning.

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Back in the square, we enjoyed looking around and admiring the statues around and this weird fish fountain with turquoise waters that we’d seen from above.

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Our next stop was the oldest church of Munich, St Peter’s church, built by the monks who settled here and built a monastery right here. The village grew around it. We entered to see a very beautiful church with a marvellously painted ceiling. As a service was on, we didn’t sit too long or look about the church.

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Graves were dug up when the city expanded and the tomb stones were plastered onto the walls of the church

By now, our stomachs were growling, so we headed to the Viktualienmarkt, the central marketplace with a large biergarten, rows of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, cheeses, oils and spices, restaurants and cafes. I love market places and this was no exception, especially when we came upon cherries the size of plums.

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The kid and I were thrilled to find a Turkish eatery, with delicious hummus and falafel. No photographs could be taken as the hunger was overpowering! Tummies full and system recharged, we were set to conquer Munich old town more. Now that we’d ventured off theRick Steves route I struggled to reorient myself and then just gave up. We just roamed around the streets and admired the buildings.

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And weird fountains that you can have a beer in.

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Cattle Market Fountain, a memory of the old cattle market

And a church that were built for the predominant purpose of showing off the skill of the Asam brothers who constructed it.

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The wide streets that led off from the Marienplatz were all cobble-stoned and pedestrian only and studded with big brands, a veritable shoppers paradise.

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The buildings were small and ornately decorated. They were a delight to my  camera and the hubby and kid reached way ahead while I went trigger crazy.

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A beautifully painted building houses a popular restaurant

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What a lovely street with flowers in the center and ancient architecture to house pretty clothes!

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Rambling along as evening fell, we reached a square that we realised later was Odeonplatz. We were simply walking towards a very attractive yellow steeple and came upon a this huge square with a bright yellow church the  Theatinerkirche, built when the king had an heir after a decade of marriage.

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We entered this beautiful peaceful white church that I would have loved to spend an hour in, but were shooed out at top speed by the caretaker as it was closing time. Such a pity!

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Disappointed, we turned our attention to the large Romanesque Feldherrnhalle, built to honor Bavarian commanders and misused by Hitler to honor his own. All those who passed by had to give the Nazi salute. A route actually circumvented the square during the Nazi era, for those who wanted to avoid saluting, that earned the name Dodger’s alley and is now marked by bronzed stones.

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A long dinner at MacDonalds saw us reach the Marienplatz by dark. Gently lit up, the square was filled with musicians, playing at all corners. A violinist tugged at our heart, a band made us wanted to stomp with them. A little ahead a lady with an opera singer’s voice was raising her pitch higher and higher. I held onto my glasses fearing their shattering. Soft lights lit up the buildings of the square.

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The old town hall seemed to gleam at night.

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From around the corner of the new town hall, the onion-domed brick towers of the tallest church of Munich, the Frauenkirche dominated the skyline. These two towers had survived the massive bombing Munich underwent in World War II.

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As the sky darkened, the clock tower of the new town hall grew brighter and brighter.

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We headed back home, tired but happy. We had loved our first day in Munich, the big city with the small town charm, a city where Nazism started and spread from, yet one that has neither hidden nor suppressed that fact, a city that stayed true to its old world roots while moving forward. We still had two more days to enjoy this vibrant city and were determined to make the most of it.

 

Germany Austria May 2018: The religious town of Oberammergau

The tiny Alpine Bavarian villages of Oberammergau and Mittenwald were the main reason for my agreeing to change the Europe plan from Tuscany to Germany. Deciding between the two was tough, but I chose to stay at Mittenwald as there was more to do in and around Mittenwald and it seemed cuter. However, we did visit Oberammergau on the way from Hopfen am see to Mittenwald, driving through stunning Alpine scenery.

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We left the mountains behind as we drove along the Romantic Road for a part of the journey as it overlaps with the Deutsche Alpenstrasse (German Alpine Road), a 450 km drive along the foothills of the Alps, a road we were going to take before we added Austria to our itinerary.

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An equally scenic drive through the hills took us to Oberammergau within two hours, which gave us enough time to explore this amazing town nestled at the base of the Alps.

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We wanted to park outside the town as we still hadn’t figured out the parking, but we ended up driving straight into it and had to park at a parking lot with parking meters. Not knowing what to do, all of us tried different things. The hubby started searching the net, the kid tried reading instructions on the meter (in German) and I looked for human help. Just then, a couple came up to their car, asked if we were parking, dumped their ticket in our hands and drove off. We were shell-shocked. We suspicious Indians were convinced that they were trying to make us pay for their parking. Just then, a lady walked by. Luckily she knew English and explained that you prepay for the hours that you assume you will be there for. So the couple who gave us their ticket gave us the extra time left. So much for doubting others.

With 1.5 hours parking time available to see Oberammergau (hubby was thrilled by this time limitation), we promptly set off. As always, I wanted to find the TI (tourist information), as always, hubby wanted to aimlessly wander through. We finally grabbed a map and started walking about.

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Cinderella’s story painted on an ice-cream shop

It was a fine day, cloudy but without rain, and the town was charming as could be. The main street was full of beautifully painted houses that caught my attention the most (and my camera).

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The houses in this region are traditionally painted by a hand painting fresco technique that involves painting on freshly applied wet plaster. As the painters work quickly in fresh air (luft in german), the term lüftlmalerei got associated with this technique. This pattern became famous in the mid 1700s, wherein the paintings used to display the wealth of the owner.

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The paintings were so beautifully drawn that they looked more like 3 dimensional art forms. I thought they were plaster initially and later realised that they were painted on so fabulously.

The main street had lots of souvenir shops that certainly tempted us to walk in and sample their wares.

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Oberammergau is also the site of a play that only runs once in 10 years. The passion play was started as a bribe to God to spare the town from plague, the great killer of the 17th century. The people vowed to perform a play on the life and death of Christ every 10 years if they survived. So they did, and so the play is performed till today. In 2020, for 5 months, Oberammergau will be one of the most sought after cities in Germany. The play is still a savior for the town.

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A lot of the painted buildings feature images from the play. Most depict religious beliefs or Christ at the cross. There are some on the other hand that have nothing to do with religion. For example windows are painted around to create a 3D effect of baroque architecture.

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Whatever the work, the effect created was so stunning that I felt that I was walking through an open air art museum. Pictures cannot do Oberammergau justice, they can’t capture the atmosphere of the town at all.

Oberammergau is also known for its wood carvings and has plenty of shops with wooden souvenirs. Decorative wooden articles are placed outside the stores as well.

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Every street, every turn had something charming and photogenic.

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Random decorations, painted houses and gorgeous flowers at every junction

The kid must have loved this little town for she happily posed for pictures. She was even happier when she came upon a little cat stretched out over a wooden ledge.

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Since I’d lost my Rick Steves guidebook and hadn’t stopped at a TI, I didn’t know what exactly to see in the picturesque town, so the main street, Pilatus house (where woodcarvers displayed their art) and the frescoed “Red riding hood” house and “Hansel and Gretel” house were on my agenda, mainly the fairytale houses. So we were walking farther and farther away from our car, hunting for them, when we passed by a pretty church.

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By now, we weren’t sure whether we were in the right direction. The hubby never asks for directions, so I walked into a beautiful souvenir shop and asked for help.

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It was a very charming shop with wonderful women at the counter, who told me to walk ahead. I was too shy to take pictures of their shop without buying anything, and to this day, I regret doing neither of those. We plodded on in the heat when the kid squealed out, “Yarns, I want these yarns. I’m going to knit with my grandmother.”

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“Hmmmpphhh, no shopping for crap,” I said sternly, knowing I’d be saddled with yarns that never got knitted. Now the clouds had moved off and the sun was blazing down. Naturally we were uncomfortable in our warm jackets. We walked on, getting quite frustrated at not finding the fairytale houses despite walking for so long. So we turned back, hoping to find the TI and figure out the route. Walking back faster now, as our limited time was ticking away, I still lagged behind and took loads of pictures.

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Charming hotel with wooden balconies

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Water fountain with old-fashioned lantern lamps

I saw something pretty from afar and naturally took a detour to see what it was. It was an open square with lots of flowers with a huge statue of Christ on the cross.

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Just behind it was a gorgeously painted house, the Pilatus house, that was sadly closed as it was a Monday.

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Just ahead was the TI, where I got a more workable map, a loo and the all important knowledge that we could drive to the fairytale houses as they were anyways on the road out of town. This turned out to be very useful information indeed as our “free” parking was soon to end.

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Reluctantly (for me), we left this pretty little town to drive to Mittenwald. Of course the town was too photogenic to put away the camera, especially when one sees a statue like this.

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The hubby lived up to his promise to stop the car at the end of the town to see the much desired “Red riding hood” house, that I felt was well worth the walk, had we walked till there.

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What a cute Red riding hood! Just as she should be drawn. What was sad was the fact that these were actual people’s houses, so we were invading terribly on their privacy. No wonder their curtains were drawn shut and they had “Keep Out” signs on their locked gates. That didn’t stop me from going trigger crazy when I saw more fairytale houses.

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“Musicians of Bremen” house

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“Three little pigs” house

What skill the Lüftlmaler (the Lüftl painters) possessed! They could create art like this.

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And this.

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And my favorite, the “Hansel and Gretl” house.

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It was a wonderful short trip to an outstanding town. Oberammergau deserves a night stay for sure, maybe during the Passion Play when the entire town plays a role in the play. But for now, we were content with this “free parking” duration trip. True Gujjus!

 

 

 

Germany Austria May 2018: The castle at the end of the Romantic Road

We’d driven the 350 km of the Romantic Road over 2 days and reached the end, Füssen. Nestled at the base of the German Alps, this tiny town has the biggest claim to fame as the access point to the fairytale castle Schloss Neuschwanstein. This most famous castle of Germany has supposedly been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s famed castles at all their theme parks.

 

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Sleeping Beauty castle at Disney World Hongkong in my 2008 trip

 

I love all things Disney, just love them. I’ve grown up on a staple diet of Disney princess movies and even today, I get goosebumps seeing the logo of Disney productions with the lit up castle and the stars shimmering over it. Naturally, when I heard about the “original” Disney castle, I was desperate to fit Neuschwanstein castle into our itinerary.

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We left early to visit the castle. A bright and sunny day, a heavy breakfast to power us through the day and a fully charged camera were important adjuncts on this beautiful drive along the mountains.

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As we approached Neuschwanstein, we saw the castle perched up on a small cliff, playing peek-a-boo from between the trees. It looked stunning!

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Thanks to the internet, we knew where to go and where to park. More importantly thanks to the internet, we had booked the castle tour online, which meant that there was no queue for us to pick up our tickets. Best thing ever. This meant that we waltzed past 100 people (minimum) to an empty ticket counter. However, the online booking didn’t save us from the bus queue with huge tour bus crowds. Since you can’t drive up to the castle, you have to take a bus, horse carriage or walk. 

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The queue for the bus seemed never-ending, but moved quickly as soon as the bus rolled up. Since Murphy always gets his way, the bus doors shut just as our turn came, making us wait another 20 minutes in the glaring sun for the next one. However, it was good that we didn’t walk up, it was very steep and the bus groaned its way up slowly. The kid was very upset about the horses struggling to pull the heavily loaded carriages up the slope and was determined to write to the German chancellor about the cruelty shown to animals here.

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After getting off the stop, we still had a long walk till the castle itself. As we rounded a corner, we got this stunning view.

 

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Note the similarities with the Disney castle

 

 

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The view of the countryside from the same path and the castle itself

 

It was all too pretty and we went trigger-crazy, but remembered that we had to climb onto the Marienbrucke, the bridge from where you get the best view of Neuschwanstein castle. The bridge is a metal bridge high above a narrow gorge and initially, I was a little scared walking on it. But the sight of the castle took away all fear.

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Precariously perched on a cliff, surrounded by tall mountains, with the Alps as the backdrop, Schloss Neuschwanstein was the perfect castle. I could completely understand the obsession of King Ludwig II to build this castle. Apparently, it was designed first by a scene painter, and later on, architects came into the planning process. The king had himself written to his close friend, the opera composer Wagner, “The location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple.”

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Worthy temple indeed for a recluse king who’d been stripped of most of his powers, and was ruler mainly in name. This was his dream castle, but sadly he died before completion.

Just below the bridge was a waterfall plunging into a turquoise-green pool. There was a walking path down in the gorge, but the sight of it from high up was just too scary for me to venture all that distance down.

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However, I did want to continue on the narrow rocky path beyond the bridge, from where the views of the castle are even better, but the kid got very frightened by the lack of people and the steep climb and refused to go on.

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We crossed the bridge and walked a long walk to the castle, looking up at its side façade.

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Neuschwanstein can only be entered at fixed timings with tour guides who leave every 5 minutes. If you miss your time slot, you can’t enter the castle at all. So we stood outside the castle in the heat well in advance till we entered and started the tour. The tour itself was very rushed, so we couldn’t enjoy it much. The castle was grandly decorated but photography is not allowed inside, so there are no pictures of the interiors.

There was a throne room with a very high brilliantly painted ceiling which lacked a throne as the king died before the room was completed. The room that I liked the best was a grotto, fantastically lit up. A grotto in a castle? No wonder they called him the mad king. The paintings on the walls were inspired by operas of Richard Wagner, but the pieces de resistance were a swan beak tap with fresh spring water, flushing toilets and telephones. All this built in this remote high location in the late 19th century was certainly commendable, and expensive. So expensive that the king was certified crazy and arrested a few years after the construction began. Most shockingly, he was found dead with the certifying psychiatrist only two days after his arrest. Murder, they wrote?

We were done with the palace in 30 min after which we went out to the balcony to enjoy the views that King Ludwig could barely enjoy, of lake Alpsee and the gorgeous Bavarian Alps.

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The bright yellow castle between the two lakes was Hohenshwangau castle, the king’s father’s palace and childhood retreat. He stayed here to supervise the construction of Neuschwanstein, which towered over this smaller castle.

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We could appreciate the stunning viewpoint of the Marienbrucke after seeing it from here.

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“Good we didn’t walk down into the gorge,” I thought with relief.

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“I walked on that?” was my next emotion. “What a precariously balanced bridge!” Once we had our fill of the views, we walked through the kitchens and an interesting souvenir shop and came upon a model of the castle.

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Perfect fairytale castle

We walked through the courtyard, where we lost each other. Or rather, the hubby and the kid lost me. It’s a staple for every trip, that we miss each other somewhere and then go nuts locating each other.

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Reunited, we walked down the long leafy walk to Hohenschwangau castle, which we had decided not to tour from inside to avoid castle overload.

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It painted a very pretty picture as a bright yellow building against the bright blue sky. Climbing up to it was a very steep walk indeed and we were very tired by the time we reached the courtyard but impressed by the multitude of swan fountains and swan flags.

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The view of the lake from the courtyard was stunning, glistening in the sun with the snow-capped mountains behind. “What a beautiful view to wake up to,” I thought.

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We turned to have a last view of Neuschwanstein before leaving. This was the view that King Ludwig II must have been dreaming of while his castle was being built. Such a non fairytale ending for a fairytale castle.

 

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No “happily ever after” for King Ludwig II

 

We had chosen to stay at Hopfen am see, a lakeside town near Füssen, for beautiful views over an Alpine lake. We had wanted to see the town of Füssen too, but we thought we’d see it in the evening as it was too hot in the afternoon, even though it was on the way. However, we found Hopfen am see terribly crowded and we couldn’t get any parking anywhere. It was a though the whole of Germany had descended onto this lake.  After failing to get a parking spot after driving through twice, we finally drove back to Füssen for lunch.

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We parked on the street outside the pedestrian only old town and walked in the bright sun past the small pretty houses. Food was the priority and so we sat down at the first vacant table.

 

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The crowded main street of Füssen

 

Füssen was terribly crowded as well. “What’s with these people,”I wondered, “Do they also not cook on Sundays like the Gujjus?” After a lacklustre meal, we roamed a bit of Füssen. It had pretty colored houses and a castle of its own, and a river ran through the town.

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Germans have a thing for pharmacies, they are elaborately designed everywhere

We walked down the main street and the river and admired the pretty houses, but it was intolerably hot and sunny.

 

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A lovely church that captured my eye

 

 

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Cafes overlooking the main old town

 

I was keen on seeing the Lech falls, a small manmade waterfall on the river Lech, a short walk from the old town. By this time, a few clouds started rolling in, covering the sun and making the walk more pleasant.

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We crossed the bridge over the river and started climbing up alongside the river to the falls.

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The footpath had a clearly marked cyclist path and this area must be very popular for cyclists as there were so many of them. My dear child walked continuously over that designated path and almost got run over.

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We huffed and puffed along the 20 minute climb to the falls. 

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They were thoroughly disappointing. I knew that the falls were small, but this was positively tiny. The Lech falls were known for a deep turquoise color, but this day, they were a dull grey mirroring the sky. We turned back quickly and crossed the river to see the museum looming up ahead.

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It was drizzling so we rushed for shade in an ice cream shop and ate some delicious ice-cream. As soon as the rain stopped, we walked out of the town and headed back to Hopfen am see and drove past the lovely lake Forgensee.

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It was bad luck that we visited Füssen in the heat, after we were already tired at the castles. It was a beautiful town in a very charming locale, that we’d have loved had we seen it in the evening, after a good rest.

Thus ended our Romantic Road drive, where the towns provided the romance and the castle the tragedy. It was a wonderful drive with great stops along the way, a must see part of Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Germany-Austria May 2018: Rothenburg by evening and night

There is great enjoyment in walking about a gorgeous town alone, where one can stop and see what one wants to and take as many pictures as one desires, or simply sit alone and feel the breeze ruffling one’s hair. That’s how I felt roaming about the streets of the quaint picture-perfect medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Rodt for short) by myself. I’d already seen most of it with the hubby and the kid (previous post), but this was my “me” time. Coffee and cookies flooding my system, I walked out of our homely and wonderful hotel Garni Kreuzerhof, with no particular route in mind, and stumbled unexpectedly onto the most photographed building of Rodt, the Plonlein.

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This cute yellow half timbered house sits at the junction of two roads, sloping upwards and downwards towards two towers. It is actually the face of Rothenburg, the stock photograph, the one that comes up the minute one googles Rodt. It was being restored, so the lower part was cordoned off and actually didn’t look too appealing, but that aside, I just couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. The whole of Rodt had houses like this, and this street was as pretty as any other street. More charming that the Plonlein itself were the houses and shops leading to it, with quaint signs, old-fashioned lamps and eye-grabbing shop windows.

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Yeah, I know I’m too old to like teddy bears but I can’t help it. I spent a good 15 minutes in Teddy’s Rothenburg, allegedly to look for toys for my year-old niece, but actually just to have a good look around for myself. And I actually dragged my daughter here just so that we could leave with one teddy (allegedly for the kid, but again, really for me). Oops, I better make sure that she doesn’t read this post!

Walking away from the toy store took a bit of discipline but more sights awaited me. Since I had more time to stop and stare, I could notice more details than before, like windowsills that captivated me.

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And buildings with flowering trees and gardens around them.

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And hotels with ivy climbing all over their walls.

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As I happily wandered along, I suddenly stumbled into my much desired burggarten or castle garden, a huge green space with flowers and trees, and a terrace looking onto the old Rothenberg town and the Tauber valley.

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There were very few people here. It was very quiet and pleasant. Benches were scattered about and flower beds dotted the entire garden. Small statues were lined up in one corner. I knew instantly that the kid would love it.

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Unable to keep this beautiful discovery to myself, I rushed out of the castle gate, where once upon a time, the castle that protected Rodt was located. It had long since burned down and the stones used for constructing the walls, but the name castle garden has stayed till today.

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I quickly called the hubby to come to the garden with the kid and walked down to the Plonlein square to meet them, which was down the lane from my hotel. It looked very different now with the lights coming on in the lamps along the street.

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I dragged them to a different route than the one I’d taken, through the valley. There were multiple parallel paths cut into the hillside with amazing views of the whole valley. We soon ascended straight into the garden and the hubby was thrilled with the view of the old town of Rodt that lay in front of us.

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The kid, on the other hand, found the flora far more exciting and jumped about like a rabbit amidst the flowers. I don’t blame her, they were so stunning and unique.

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It was tough to tear ourselves away from this haven of peace, far from the madding crowd. But it was soon to be time for the night watchman tour, that we couldn’t afford to miss. We also had to buy the teddy bear (for the kid) and rushed to Teddy’s Rothenburg to pick up the imaginatively named “Teddy”.

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Just across was the Kathe Wohlfahrt store, the grand daddy of all Christmas stores. I’d read that the store was crazy but I hadn’t bargained for this. Predictably (and luckily for me) the hubby stayed outside, so the kid and I had a great girly time together.

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As soon as we entered, we saw the gorgeous animated soft toy exhibit with simple old fashioned soft toys.

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But the real magic unfolded as we went in deeper. Racks of teddies, soft toys and dolls lined the walls. Small trinkets hung from the sides. Holly sprinkled with lights decorated the ceiling. A huge glittering Christmas tree stood in the centre. The ceiling and walls were slung with sparking lights. All around were decorations and Christmas colours. It felt like a Christmas market. And I felt like a little girl meeting Santa.

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Wooden toys, soft toys, Christmas tree decorations, nativity scenes, mangers, lace table clothes and runners, and the most stunning range of Christmas tree balls I’ve ever seen were stacked in the store.

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Crystals, angels, Santa’s, stockings, doll houses, cutlery, paper napkins, cuckoo clocks, I have lost count of the wonders. It was insane. I don’t know how we managed to drag ourselves out.

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Naturally we got fired, but we didn’t care. We were still on the Christmas high. However, we were running late for the night watchman tour, so we sped up to join the group of people hanging about the steps of the new town hall with Hans Georg Baumgartner, the night watchman.

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Clad in a long black cape, well-worn boots, a rakishly angled cap and carrying a bugle, a lantern and a terrifying medieval weapon of murder, the night watchman held us spellbound for the better part of an hour. We followed him like children behind the Pied Piper, hanging on to every word, learning about the growth, fall and regrowth of Rothenburg through the ages. His style was simple and witty, and he held our attention (and our kid’s especially) very closely throughout his tour. Most of all, the love he had for his town shone through, and that’s probably why the history lesson didn’t seem like a school lesson, but an engaging, gripping story.

He highlighted how the town was on a trading route and so became a very prosperous town circa 1200 AD with a population over 6000. While that doesn’t seem like the population of even a block of Mumbai, it must have been a big deal in the days of yore in Rothenburg.

The night watchman’s job was a lowly job, preferred only over that of the executioner, because he had to tour the town by night and watch out for fires. There were 6 of them, on duty each night, and they were meant to be seen and not heard. A cry from the watchman indicated a much dreaded fire, which were devastating in the town filled with so many half timbered houses.

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I was surprised to learn that these decorative houses that had captured my heart and lens were actually used in the middle ages to store grain and other food stuffs. “What a waste,” I thought, but he gave a perfectly sound explanation for it. The many sieges, famines and diseases of those troubled times that made it essential for the town to stock up.

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We turned into this beautiful street, admiring the stunning architecture and the gentle slope when the night watchman told us how there were no drainage systems in the middle ages. Every morning, you could be hit by a sprinkle (or worse) from the windows. There were gutters on each side of the street. All the garbage and sewage material from each home was dumped into the gutters and washed away by the rain down the sloping streets. “Can you imagine what happened when it didn’t rain?” he said in a deadpan fashion that convinced us that he wasn’t joking!

I suddenly viewed the gorgeous street in a new light, especially when I saw this pretty young bride at her photo shoot and could only think of what she would be standing over during the middle ages!

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Eeks! Luckily for us (and her), we were in 2018 with decent sanitation. The night watchman chuckled at our expressions and walked cheerfully down the same path as the gutter contents and we turned a corner to see a lovely hotel with this interesting name.

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Hotel Meistertrunk is named after the story of the Meistertrunk or Master Draught. Legend (or at least the night watchman) has it that in the year 1631, the protestant town of Rothenburg was invaded by a large Catholic army during the Thirty Year’s war. Rodt lost despite a good fight, and let the troops in. As per custom, they served the winning army wine and the general, impressed by the quality, agreed to spare the town if anyone could drink a tankard-full of the very excellent wine in one gulp. The commendable ex-mayor downed it at one go, sparing the plunder that a losing town generally undergoes. He supposedly slept for 3 days after the incident, but lived to be acclaimed the hero of the town. Hmmmm. Should we credit his survival to an exceptional liver or really impotent wine?

We turned into the burggarten through the tall tower gate. The night watchman pointed out a face on the tower that I hadn’t noticed earlier, through which hot oil was poured onto the unsuspecting enemy.

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However, the heyday of Rothenburg, already on a decline when the trade routes changed, fell rapidly after the conquest by the Catholic General, whose troops despite the promise left the town bereft of any fortune. The plague soon hit Rodt and a large chunk of the population was wiped out. With no money to rebuild the town, it turned into a sleepy town, preserved in its yesteryear state. The misery endured by the inhabitants turned out to be good fortune for it in the 1800’s. Poets and authors flocked to the town to discover this remnant of the past in the increasingly industrialised Europe, and the fortunes of Rodt soared again.

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However, good times were short-lived as Rodt became an important town of the Nazi era. Naturally, at the end of World War II, it was heavily bombed. However, only part of the town was destroyed. The American artillery was to march into the town after the aerial bombing to complete its annihilation. The General had heard a lot about Rodt from his mother, who had visited Rodt when she was younger and was smitten by the town. He offered one last chance at peace in return for unconditional surrender. The German General defied Hitler’s orders of fight until death, surrendered and spared the town. The rest is history, for us to walk through and enjoy.

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The sun was setting now and glowed gently over the stunning town seen afar and the castle gates here. I whispered a big thank you to the wisdom of the American General who’d spared this town and we followed the night watchman out of the garden.

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As darkness fell and we came to the end of the tour, Georg had one last recommendation for enjoying the town. He suggested dinner and drinks at the traditional pub Zur Höll (German for Hell) quipping, “If a citizen in Rothenburg admonishes you to ‘Go to Hell,’ it is a good recommendation.”

The night watchman tour was just about THE most entertaining tour we could take. The kid who had stayed in the back, shy initially, stepped up right to the front and listened carefully to every word. Thank God she liked it because she was very hungry. So, we skipped Hell and went to a fabulous pizzeria instead, and then I roamed the streets of Rodt alone.

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Some towns are just meant for roaming about at night and Rothenburg is surely one of these. The main market square and most of the town itself was all lit by soft golden lights. The afternoon heat was replaced by a cool breeze, the crowds had dissipated and a magical feel had descended over the town.

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The lit up new town hall

The legend of the Meistertrunk was highlighted in the windows of the old town hall, with the figures of General Tilly and the saviour mighty-liver mayor drinking his tankard of wine. In this magical setting, it was a story that could be believed.

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Note the mayor drinking from his tankard

The most beautiful half-timbered houses of the market square were even more stunningly lit. Just like in the daytime, I found these the best houses by night.

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As it grew darker, the lights over the house dimmed and the figure of the Madonna was the only bright light of the building.

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St Jakob’s church likewise, was well illuminated at night.

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There were many moments on this walk when I didn’t take pictures. I just walked aimlessly along, happier than I was throughout the day. Rothenburg had more than lived up to the huge expectations I’d set for it. And Rodt by night was far more magical than by day. Even the shop windows seemed more alluring at night.

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I could have stood with my nose glued to the glass and stared for ages, but more of the town beckoned. I walked down to the Plonlein cross-roads, admiring it far more than by daylight.

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The lantern like lamps lit up the signs of the stores and hotels so beautifully. It seemed like nothing could bother me when a BMW came tearing down the now empty streets. This town sure had its share of car daredevils, which made me rue the fact that it wasn’t a pedestrian only town.

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I walked towards one of the watch towers gleaming in the soft lights, looking at the well lit cafes and hotels.

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Beyond this point, there was no one on the streets. The silence was eerie and the golden lights threw scary shadows on the floor. My hotel was on a parallel, quieter road and I had to take the narrow perpendicular streets that were totally desolate.

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I stepped up my pace and breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the hotel, and promptly slept off, contented as could be, with sweet dreams of the streets, houses and flowers of Rothenburg.

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And so ended my one day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a town that took me back in time. A place that no photographs or blogs could capture the essence of. A place I shall surely visit again.

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P.S. I must once again thank Yogesh Shenoy for editing my dull night pictures and bringing out the gleam in them and insisting that I spend at least one night in Rodt. You were right Yogesh, I should have spent 2 nights here instead.

Disclaimer: This post is unfortunately not sponsored by Kathe Wohlfahrt stores

Germany-Austria May 18; Rothenburg ob der tauber, the impossibly pretty town

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“Rothenburg ob der tauber,” repeated the kid, rolling her r’s and her eyes, “Why do you like going to places with weird names, mum?” She had a point. I have a penchant for places with unpronounceable names. But then, they are all also outstanding places to visit. And Rothenburg ob der tauber (from henceforth to spare my fingers, Rothenburg will be mentioned as Rodt) is an impossibly outstandingly pretty town. A tourist haven, a photographer’s mecca, a toy town, this town deserves time and lots of it. One day is not enough for sure.

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The name Rothenburg ob der Tauber means red fortress on the Tauber river. It was the first stop on our drive along the romantic road of Germany, a 350 km long road connecting Würzburg to Füssen, a drive I’d been dreaming about for months. This was the day to pick up the car and drive to Rodt, which meant double the excitement. We ate a hearty breakfast at our Würzburg hotel where, true to character, I spilt all the coffee over the table, and then cabbed it to the Sixt rental. We’d chosen a downtown pickup to save money on the pricier airport/train rentals, and were off to an early start, with me desperately praying for an upgrade from the chosen Volkswagen Golf. Apparently if they don’t have a car of your requested category, they provide a free upgrade. Fingers crossed.

We had a small panic situation when the hubby’s credit card couldn’t be swiped and they refused to accept any other card or cash as the security. A call from the hubby to the Indian bank sorted it out and we followed the Sixt guy out to the car pickup area, with me holding my breath. I saw a gorgeous yellow low-slung car and grabbed the hubby’s arm. “It’s a 2 door, silly, ” he said. “It’s fine,” I said, “The kid will jump over into her seat. And if she won’t, we’ll dump the kid here. Anything is ok for this car.” While this intense discussion was on, the Sixt guy crossed the car. “No problems, ” I said, looking lustily at a bright red BMW. “Keep dreaming,” said hubby. The sixt guy still walked. He walked past a cheery red Volkswagen, a jet black Volkswagen, an unaffordable convertible (sigh!), and then he stopped. Right beside an ugly dull grey Volkswagen Golf. I hate grey cars, simply hate them. “It’s ok,” I told myself, “Get in with your eyes closed, the interiors are good.” “Take pics of the exterior,” ordered the hubby. Ugggghhhhh. Anyways, the car was a sweet ride, sturdy and stable, and took us through the next 9 days safely, so I shouldn’t complain. Keep still my beating heart.

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Excited as hell, we got out of Würzburg city pretty quickly, said goodbye to the lovely river and the empty vineyards and hello to the romantic strasse. Miles and miles of narrow tarmac surrounded by green meadows, rows of yellow wildflowers and topped by blue skies, this is the stuff road trips are made of. Add the two most important people of your life, and you know why its called the romantic road.

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Of course, one must get off the road once in a while to be part of the fields of gold.

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An enjoyable 2 hours drive through the pretty countryside of Bavaria and we were just short of our destination. I was looking about for the river Tauber, on which the town of Rothenburg is perched. While I was hunting in the valley, the hubby pointed out a tall hill with scores of brown roofs and said, “That’s your town.”

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 Rodt sits high on the hill and a lot of gentle upward curves took us to the town itself. Like all walled towns, it has expanded beyond the walls and we drove through a small part of the unwalled bit before entering the main walled town to get to our hotel Garni Kreuzerhof.

 

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This small family-run bed and breakfast was the best hotel of the trip for me. Though they were cleaning when we arrived, they made our room ready in 10 minutes. The huge home-like room had a piano just outside it and the kid enjoyed playing while we settled in. The icing on the cake for her was a cute dog that she petted for ages.

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Camera and Rick Steve’s (RS) guide book in hand, we set off to explore each little street of this fabulous historic town (my plan at least). Rothenburg is a medieval walled town with a plethora of half timbered houses and pretty flower sills, that seems frozen in time. It was a rich independent town for many years in the 11th and 12th centuries, one of the  20 largest citoes of the Roman empire back then. In the 17th century, it was invaded by Catholic troops of General Tilly, who plundered it as they left. Further afflicted by the plague, it became a quiet village for almost 400 years. So its medieval look couldn’t be revised as they didn’t have money. Then tourism slowly picked up in the late 1800s and the town became famous. In short, Rodt has stayed a beautiful medieval town because it’s gone through a terrible history, like most beautiful places.

 

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A town that oozes old world charm

 

 I’d forgotten to carry the town map but it didn’t matter, because I had the Rick Steves walk to follow. I like his walks because he gives just about the right amount of history and architectural details without making it boring, and he covers all the main must-see sights and tells you about the lesser known ones (which don’t stay lesser known as they are in a guide book). We walked straight to the town centre, stopping far too often to take pictures because everything here is photogenic. It’s like Disney world without the rides. You don’t know where to look. 

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You know you are in a really special place when the hubby’s memory card starts getting filled up. Every street, building, shop had a character of its own. Of course it was touristy, but how could it not be? Everyone would be drawn to a town with buildings like this.

 

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Note the date of construction: 1617

 

Rotd is best known for its half-timbered houses that fill most of the streets and are a visual feast for the eyes. A style that became popular in the middle ages, they were actually cheap housing, because they weren’t all wood. The wood frame was exposed and filled in with plaster, brick or stone. These were very typical of Southern Germany and I just loved them.

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What a gorgeous cafe!

 

Do I need to say that I went into a photo frenzy? Even the kid was thrilled, running about, looking into stores, staring at shop displays and basically impeding our progress to reach the town square.

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Finally, we reached the large open space of the market square and grinned happily. This huge area was surrounded by some of the most picturesque buildings ever. Even though it was crowded, the people just seemed to fade into the corners. Like all central market squares, it had a town hall. Two of them actually, an old town hall and an older appearing new town hall. When the old one burned down and got reconstructed, it actually looked newer than the new town hall.

 

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The new town hall

 

 

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The newer looking old town hall

 

The buildings lining the square and the entire atmosphere were outstanding. I could close my eyes and picture myself in the middle ages, hear the clippety-clop of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestoned streets and the rustle of feathered hats and flowing dresses.

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Once the house of the richest man in Rotd, it has statues representing the 7 cardinal virtues and the 7 deadly sins

 

At one corner were the finest half-timbered houses in all of Rothenberg. One was a meat and dance house, and the other, surprise, was a pharmacy. Just nearby was an ancient water fountain, that was said to be the largest fountain of the Rotd of the middle ages. Slanted metal bars extended outwards from where people could fill their buckets.

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Lanes sloped away from all corners and edges of the square. Small shops with curios, wooden toys, dolls, beer steins, soft toys, cuckoo clocks and all sorts of alluring souvenirs were interspersed with restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops.

 

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Dolls of my childhood, they dont make them like these anymore

 

 

 

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Mini Rothenburg in a shop window

 

Flowers hung out of balconies and windowsills. Wrought iron signs lined by gold announced the names of the shops. It was overwhelmingly cute.

 

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Shops like these sloped down the slanting streets

 

 

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Yummy

 

I was keen on climbing the bell tower to see the views of Rodt from the top, so we headed back to the main square to the new town hall. The kid was thrilled; she had vivid memories of my panic attack 2 years ago at the bell tower in Split, Croatia; the hubby was scared that I would refuse to go up or down, halfway through again. Of course, neither happened as smart moi had researched well and knew that these stairs were easy and safe. What I didn’t know was that there were so many steps and they got narrower and narrower and steeper as we climbed up.

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Right at the very top was a very narrow iron ladder that was meant for skinny midget boys to climb up and ring the bell. Since I didn’t fit into that category, it was quite a struggle to hoist myself up and back down. But the views were certainly worth it.

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The lush green Tauber valley stretched out beyond the walls of Rothenburg with the meadows and vineyards we’d just driven through.

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This rooftop restaurant would be so wonderful to eat at, especially at sunset.

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The largest and most famous church of Rothenburg, St Jakob’s church, famous for having a cordial with a few drops of Christ’s blood, stood out in all its glory. I could have stood there for ages (mainly to postpone going back down), but space was limited and so we climbed down gingerly. Never before has the slr bag seemed so heavy! Thrilled to be down on level ground, we were eyeing the icecream stores, when I suddenly realised that my Rick Steves guidebook was missing. Oh no! Had I dropped it in the square, or worse, at the top of the tower? I retraced my steps all over the town square, went up the tower and even up the narrow ladder, accompanied by the kind kid, but we never found it. If this wasn’t bad enough, my camera fell down 4 steps. Fortunately, it worked, but without my guide, I felt a little disoriented, and a little incomplete. That “no small loss” fortunately didn’t reduce our enjoyment of Rodt and we plodded on. By now, it was hot and sunny, and the kid was tired. So we sat and rested in the shade of the grand St Jakob church.

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Batteries recharged, we set off to walk the walls of Rotd. Way back in the middle ages, as the town had expanded, the inhabitants had built a huge stone wall around it for protection. Tall, strong and 3.5km long, the walls now provide a bird’s-eye view over the town and into the backyards, balconies and windows of the houses. Little wonder that they keep their windows and curtains closed all the time.

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Less dramatic than the Dubrovnik walls, this narrow covered track is almost complete around the whole town, except for a portion at one end. There are many towers on the wall and steps down into the town. Small crooks and crannies along the path and the many small openings looking out towards the newer parts of Rotd had the kid and me jumping about excitedly, pretending to be soldiers defending their town and reading (and mispronouncing) the names of the donors who helped re build the destroyed wall and buildings after WW II.

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It didn’t take very long however for both of them to get bored and tired and want to get down from the wall. So we climbed down and made our way back to the hotel, helped only by Google Maps. They rested in the room, while I set off alone to see the town at my own pace, in my own way, and stumbled onto an amazing garden while I was at it. That however, needs another post, so I leave this afternoon in the magical town of Rotd with this stunning picture from atop the walls, that made me wonder, “Am I really in 2018?”

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PS: A very very important addition: A huge thank you to Yogesh Shenoy for telling me about this town, and for editing my pictures so that Rothenburg’s incredible beauty could be expressed on the screen.

 

 

 

 

Germany Austria May 2018: Würzburg

I think it’s amazing that a person can spend the better part of a year planning a trip and when it actually happens, the days just fly by so quickly. It’s almost like watching a movie that you are starring in. That’s how I felt through most of this trip, surreal, but nice (to rephrase Hugh Grant in Notting Hill). In fact, the planning, and writing the blog, both, have taken much longer than the trip itself. But on this day, 26th April 2018, I was not to know that. I was simply thrilled to be starting my much awaited German holiday.

After landing at Frankfurt airport, we had to reach Würzburg, the town where we would rent our car from and start the exciting road trip. Würzburg is known mainly for being the first stop on the romantic road and is not a very commonly visited place. We took the Flixbus (bad move because it wasted money and time) and walked the short distance to our hotel. We freshened up quickly, grabbed a bite and rushed off to tour Würzburg without wasting any time over (much needed) sleep.

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Würzburg turned out to be the quintessential charming European town. Most of the places to see are centred around the old town. With my Rick Steve’s Germany guide-book, we set off on his recommended route, to start at the Würzburg Residenz, a UNESCO world heritage site. 

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The grand Würzburg Residenz

 

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Built in the 18th century for the Prince-Bishops of Würzburg, this grand palace was inspired by the Versailles palace of France and the Schönbrunn palace of Vienna. Having learnt this, the hubby was quick to tell me that we were never going to see either of these two palaces now. It was sad news, as my desire to see both was increased after seeing the Residenz. While the palace exteriors aren’t that great, the interiors of the palace and the gardens are very impressive.

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As soon as we entered the palace, I promptly bought the Bavarian castle pass (allegedly to save money, mainly to ensure we saw multiple castles), put away our bags and walked in to see a sight that made my jaw drop.

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Pic from internet. No photography is allowed in the Residenz itself

We had come upon a grand sweeping staircase with statues along its banisters, leading to a huge hall with the one of the world’s largest ceiling frescoes, painted by the great Italian Rococo painter Tiepolo, depicting the 4 continents known at that time, Europe, America, Africa, Asia. The kid and I had a lot of fun guessing which was which continent, till we opened the guide-book and simply read. It is an architectural marvel that such a large ceiling doesn’t need any pillars except at the 4 corners.

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From there we moved quickly through the rooms. Grandly decorated with elegant chandeliers and paintings, it was tough to imagine that this palace had been badly damaged  at the end of World War II and then re-built in the same grand style. Large halls with painted ceilings and cherubs lining the walls abounded. Some of the paintings were 3 dimensional, a masterpiece in that era. Some had the paintings contiguous with statues sticking out of the wall. Even though these rooms were stunning, we rushed back to rest our eyes once more on the glamorous red-carpeted Titanic-like staircase and the gorgeous painted ceiling. It was easy to imagine oneself as Rose gliding down the staircase, to meet Jack.  However, we didn’t linger for long, as the beautiful gardens that we caught a glimpse of from inside the palace beckoned.

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The hofgarten (court gardens) located behind the palace were the best gardens we saw on the trip. They were compact enough to walk through and spread well not to appear crowded, studded with trees, flowers, statues and fountains. 

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Pic courtesy the kid

 

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For the hubby who hates palaces and castles, this was a treat for sore eyes. It was cool, yet sunny, and we spent a very enjoyable 2 hours strolling about here.

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On closer inspection, the barks of the cone-shaped trees had statues on them. Were they wood nymphs or dryads, or men pining for them?

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We turned back to get a stunning view of the gardens with the palace behind. What a lovely place to live in! I wouldn’t mind being a Prince-Bishop and spend every evening reading books on these lawns.

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Soon we moved off to see the gardens at the back, that we could see from the rooms of the palace. Arches of green vines interspersed with maze hedges and perfect lawns were spread across the length of the palace.

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Steps rose to a tall platform with benches and statues and more flowers, with views of the back of the palace and the impeccably designed lawns. It was simply too grand. Rose was happy indeed.

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At these gardens, I desperately wished for a huge Gujarati picnic basket that my sensible mum would always have carried (memories of Safa park came rushing back), but for now, the kid finally took out some food from the depressing Punju food stock and ate with the hubby, while I wandered about on the platform. Walking about, I came upon this statue that perfectly described the perennial state that my daughter and niece are in.

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Someone designing the palace must have had kids like ours!

Finally, satiated by the gardens, we left them and exited through a pretty arch to see a prettier church, whose grandness matched that of the palace.

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After a long time spent at the Residenz, we set out to roam the old town. Though I had a perfect walking itinerary in my hand, we just wanted to wander about. This meant that we missed a few sights (and churches, sadly for me), but getting slightly lost is often part of the fun!

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The red Marienkapelle church

 

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The atmosphere of the old town more than made up. Cobble stoned streets, pastel coloured buildings and cafes with umbrellas on the road were the norm of any European town, but the colourful flags along the shops lent it a carnival like atmosphere.

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Old styled buildings with souvenir shops, vintage stores and all the well-known brands lined the roads. I never realised that Würzburg was such a big place. A great blend of the old and the new.

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The Würzburg cathedral surrounded by newer buildings

Who wouldn’t love a town where the bakery announces itself in style?

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And where shop windows have a British hangover.

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And random statues line the streets!

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Some were ooh-la-lah!

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Roaming the streets of this totally picturesque town, it shocked us to discover that it had once been a big stronghold of Nazi Germany. At the end of WW II, the city had been destroyed almost completely during air raids. Heavy bombing led to fires, that spread easily amongst the wooden buildings. Scores of innocent women and children were killed and only a shell of the city remained. A small room has been built with vivid pictures of the historic events of the war and the destruction of the city, to remind all of the futility of Nazi ideology, war and also the heavy price of the Allied victory.

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Representation of the shell of the city after the bombing and destruction

 

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A plaque with a very important message

The sensitive kid hurried me out of this sombre place. The lively happy atmosphere in the streets of the old town couldn’t let us feel sad too long. We moved on towards our next stop, the famed fortress on the hill, the Marienberg fortress. I was keen on visiting it for its magnificent views over the town. So we made our way towards the bridge that crosses the river Main that flows through Würzburg, the Alte Mainbrucke. Even before we reached it, we smelled it. Drinking the famous Frankonian wine on the bridge is THE thing to do in Würzburg , and that explained the empty streets of the old town. All the tourists and all the locals were out on the bridge, glasses of wine in hand. 

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The Alte Mainbrucke is filled with statues of saints. All along the bridge are little cubby holes with a statue in each, with loads of people standing in the cubby holes with their drinks. It was so crowded that we had to cross more than halfway across the bridge before I could even get a picture.

DSC_1163Once there, I went bonkers clicking away. A fortress, a river, pretty houses, and lots of statues were like a dream come true.

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Beautiful houses lined both sides of the river bank. People were sitting along the river edge, walking their dogs or just cycling along. It was quiet and peaceful by the riverside and looked like a fabulous place to live in.

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We crossed over the bridge to the other side, where the fortress towered above the town, on a huge slope of vineyards. This part of Germany, Frankonia, is well known for its wine. Vineyards are spread around the town of Würzburg , but there are a few at the base of the fortress as well, adding to its beauty.

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The hubby and the kid gasped at the sight of the fortress, high up on the hill. Predictably, he said, “No way are we going up there.” Equally predictably, I said, “Of course we are. That’s why we came all the way here.” And so the banter continued till the kid piped up, “I will go anywhere but I need pizza first.” Some things are easy to solve. As Murphy would have it, we couldn’t find a pizzeria anywhere in the vicinity and so, we walked all the way back to the hotel where I’d seen a pizzeria and hogged. I planned to head out again after a short rest, which turned into a long night’s sleep, starting at 6 pm local time. That’s how I saw neither the fortress nor the sweeping views from it.

We had chosen the lesser known Würzburg for being a good place to rest after an overnight flight and not to have to drive in a tired state. We found it a lovely charming town, well worth at least a full day and a more awake state. It will remain a wonderful memory of a place from which I expected so little and got so much.

 

 

Germany Austria May 2018

Every year, without fail, a few months before the next year’s May, my internet usage shoots the roof.  That’s because, for 6 to 9 months at least, I’m researching heavily on the upcoming trip. Thank heavens for wifi and Jio, so that my net costs don’t equal my trip costs.

This year, like all previous others, the first hurdles to cross were country of destination and avoidance of Kesari tours and travels. The supramajor hurdles actually. The second was the easier one. It needed the “hands on hips, head on one side, teeth set firmly, NO,” to be said to hubby, multiple times, almost daily with a clear emphasis on the NO. Sometimes with foot-stamping and teeth-gritting too.

The bigger hurdle, and the omnipresent one, was the destination. I had (dumbly) thought it would be easy. You see, last year in 2017, when we planned Sikkim, the hubby dearest had promised a European destination for 2018 and had agreed to Italy, destination of choice for kid and me. So in my mind, it was sorted. Sadly only in my mind. After I’d looked up travel tickets, cities, towns and fishing villages galore, and had my brains ring with visions of me skipping along the poppy fields of Tuscany and dancing amidst the cypress trees, the hubby charmingly said, “NO. ” In pretty much my own tone with pretty much my expression. Reason: “We can’t go to a country on the other side of the same sea that we’ve already been to.”

 

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The trip not taken

 

Pretty pricey coming from a man who has been thrice to Goa, thrice to Mahabaleshwar and stayed at the same resort, 40 times to Lonavala, etc. Back to the drawing board, I turned for help to my one-man-travel advisor, Yogesh Shenoy, and asked for alternatives. Anything near any Mediterranean Sea was forbidden, as was any place with red/ brown roofs. Since I was left with so many options, I considered the first suggestion he made of Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges. It certainly looked charming but the thought of all those fries, waffles and Belgian chocolates scared me (and my hips) a bit ( a lot), and I asked for more ideas. So Yogesh suggested Germany. And I thought, “Good Lord, he’s sending vegetarian teetotaler girl to meat and beer land with nothing to see but factories and the black forest.” After all, the only bit of Germany that Kesari et al knew was Triberg and cuckoo clock land and the only thing I knew was BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagen land. Naturally I didn’t consider it worth the effort. “Nope,” I said to Yogesh. He sent me a list of cities and said, “just Google these.” That’s how I opened stock photographs of Neuschwanstein and Rothenberg and Mittenwald and was hooked.

 

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Neuschwanstein castle

 

 

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Rothenburg ob der tauber on the Romantic Road

 

Hooked and how. Bavaria became the new Italy.  Even when I realised that we would be traveling in the beginning of may in the freezing cold and the rain. Even when I suggested a reroute to Italy as it was more southern and hence warmer. Once I saw the images (especially of the Bavarian hill towns), I wanted to go there. Good for me, good for hubby. Win win for all.

 

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The most charming hill town of Mittenwald

 

Once the country was fixed as Germany, the greater part of the nitpicking had to start. Which town, how to get there, how to travel from one place to another, etc. And of course, the big question, how much money to carry, for which I had to know every attraction we would see and the exact cost of each. And do all this research by myself as hubby wasn’t going to help. Not that I’m complaining, I enjoy the manjan, but a little help is always helpful.

That little (read lots of) help came from Yogesh. To the extent that I have gone to these places physically and Yogesh has travelled metaphorically…so thanks a lot Yogesh. We sure owe you one. Actually, two, three, four, five…..as the kid pointed out.

So after deciding basics like Munich, Romantic Road and Rothenburg, one hillside town and Berlin (the most historic of all), we set about planning the nitty gritty details and looking for cheap tickets. Yogesh then suggested dropping Berlin and going to Salzburg instead, and introduced me to the Grossglockner high alpine road. Goodbye Berlin, some other day maybe.

 

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Grossglockner high alpine road

 

I asked the hubby time and again if he’d drive. We had thoroughly enjoyed the drive in Croatia and I was keen on repeating it. Also the smaller towns of Bavaria weren’t very easily doable by public transport.  Note that the romantic road is a road, not a track. Most of all, I knew the husband’s reluctance to drag the bags about by trains and could see the problems there. Hence the need for the road trip. Naturally the Grossglockner road needed a car. So the itinerary got planned brilliantly by car. The tickets suddenly got affordable and I quickly booked the tickets in the dead of the night. Yaaaaayyyy. We were going to go to Bavaria and Austria.

Oh my God! Had I written the correct names on the tickets? This was my greatest fear when I woke up in the morning. The nutter that I am, I was terrified that I’d spelled the names wrong, or worse, written my maiden name by mistake (like I did for all the hotel bookings without bothering to remember that my passport was with the hubby’s name.) Note for future: Get all documents rectified to maiden name.

Next step: Hotels, distribution of days, purchase of Rick Steve’s Germany and Salzburg book. All of which took one week. And of course, there had to be the requisite excitement. The hubby read reviews of car rentals and said that car driving was a bad move and to cancel the car plan. “What?” I exclaimed. This was an itinerary made for the drive. It would be very challenging to do this by public transport as all the towns were poorly connected. They would need many train and or bus changes. Nor would we be able to drive the “roads” of the trip. Now I was really bugged. 

That’s when the smart kid told me that I should drive if the hubby wouldn’t. That would have worked out better because then we could have stopped everywhere I wanted to stop, and the hubby could have rested his frozen shoulder. Anyways, the kid’s suggesting the change of driver goaded the hubby into agreeing to drive, though once a fortnight he’d go bonkers and refuse to drive, even on the eve of the trip. Lesson learnt: pay the money for the car right at the start. The numbers of train and bus connections I have researched have made me capable of redesigning the German public transport website myself.

 

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The route finally taken

 

Changes kept happening almost till the end, like switching the apartment at Füssen to a lake view apartment at a nearby lake; and adding Hallstatt to the itinerary (which got done too late to stay there, but it merits at least 1 night). But such fun is part of the trip. Oh and emailing all the hotels to change the names of the travellers.

As the days approached, it was time to finish the last-minute essential shopping of warm clothes. I’d already taken a lot of my sister’s stuff, yet I knew huge costs were up ahead. So we headed to decathlon where I bought water proof shoes and a fabulous fuchsia waterproof jacket , having frozen in Slovenia earlier. Please note: that by Murphy’s law, as I had adequate rain gear this time, it didn’t rain at all. 

 

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“THE” jacket

 

Packing, hair and face care, beauty rituals and clothes shopping were all left to the last few days before the trip as I had holidays for 4 days before going. And what did Murphy do? He sent my beloved sister with her adorable kid just before my trip. Whilst it felt like Diwali and Christmas come early, I sure couldn’t finish any of my work.

Yet, things have a way of working themselves out (Murphy must have been asleep), and we managed to get things together. Last minute packing finally done, we left for our trip amidst my usual panic episodes of flight fears and the lack of anxiolytic medication. It didn’t help that just 5 days ago, a plane had an engine blow out and a lone woman died. Not a helpful bit of information considering my aviophobia. Now it was possible that everyone wouldn’t die together or altogether, the only fact I was consoling myself with.

Needless to say, hubby and kid were super cool. I was the only stressed one, about the flight, the trip, the car, the money, the rain, the sun. To sum up, everything. Lesson learnt: travel by Kesari next time!

 

A very very big thank you to Yogesh Shenoy, without whom this trip would not have been possible. The hubby for the company, the drive and of course, the constant emotional rollercoaster he led me on. Most of all, the kid for her endless support, UN role as peacekeeper, the neverending chatter and the editing of the blog.