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 serene lakeside town of Hopfen am see

We had 2 nights at the end of the Romantic Road to see the king’s castles and town of Füssen (Germany Austria May 2018: The castle at the end of the Romantic Road). We’d booked an apartment in Füssen itself, but my best friend Archana’s stunning lakeside pictures of Austria tempted me to find a lake to stay on. That’s how I found Hopfen am see, 5km from Füssen and booked a hotel right at the waterfront and had the most beautiful and serene stay of our trip.

We were glad to reach the end of the Romantic Road drive as the hubby had injured his shoulder badly and needed rest. So naturally the glimmer of the lake as it came into view was more reassuring than alluring.

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Had I been younger, I would have kicked off my shoes and dived right in. Sadly, age and prudence have taken away the fun side of me. 

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The town of Hopfen am see climbs down the hills to the lake’s edge

We drove by the pretty houses on the hills to reach a road just parallel to the lake, amazed by the numbers of people and cars. “Maybe because it’s a warm and sunny day,” I reasoned.

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We had chosen to stay at the waterfront hotel Geiger. A small family owned hotel, this was a brilliant find, mainly for the location and the food.

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We’d taken a lake facing room, which was simply decorated, but outstanding for the balcony that looked straight out to the lake with the Bavarian Alps just behind.

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Panorama from the balcony

We could have sat and stared out of the balcony for ages, but the lake and the mountains called out to us and we set of on an evening stroll. It was very sunny but a pleasant breeze was blowing from the lake. Hotels and apartments lined the road, all facing the lake, pretty wooden chalet type hotels. The mountains were right behind the lake, looming tall with snow all over them.

 

Kids were playing with their parents. Mothers were pushing strollers, fathers were throwing balls to their kids, couples were holding hands and walking. It was Saturday, family day out. And I was lucky to be here with mine.

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I was thrilled to see boats of different types on the lake, but we were too late to go boating ourselves, everything had started winding up.

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So we just walked on and noticed that spring had certainly arrived in Hopfen am see!

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And love was in the air!

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The kid merrily hopped about on platforms on the lake and gardens alike, surrounded by her favorite dandelions.

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The sun was setting now and we turned to see it light up the entire town. No wonder Hopfen am see is called the Riviera of the Allgau.

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We walked back to our hotel, when I suddenly remembered that we needed to stock up on milk and fruits. Thus began the hunt for a supermarket, that led us all the way past the town to the Hopfen camping grounds. The supermarket was closed, but we got a great walk about the camp grounds.

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The path wound up very close to the water’s edge and we stood there for long, enjoying the view.

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The beautiful lakefront from the campsite

A place like this is essential on a trip, where life seems to slow down and you can forget all your cares and feel a great sense of calm.

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What a wonderful place to shoot into the sun.

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We returned to our hotel to retire early as we had an early start to the next day to visit Neuschwanstein castle. We were up earlier than the alarm because of the sunlight pouring in through the window. I rushed out to see a totally still lake with a gorgeous reflection of the mountains. 

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The morning rays just shone off the mountain tops. A cool breeze ruffled my hair as I stood in the balcony. How I wished that I’d booked a later time for the Neuschwanstein castle and gone instead for a walk along the lake now. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll go tomorrow morning instead, when there is no rush at all.” As we drove past the lake to see the castles, all the surroundings just reflected off the still waters.

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We came back in the early evening, when the kid and the hubby rested in the room and I set off on a solo walk around the lake. Coldplay was my companion on this outstanding walk. I walked right at the water’s edge for as long as possible then followed the path to wherever it led. As I crossed the last house to be seen for a long time, the path ran parallel to the lake where it was lined by reeds.

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Ducks swam near the edge, quacking gently. There was complete silence. The only people there were a few cyclists that crossed intermittently. Otherwise I was alone. I crossed a little bridge over a small stream and pondered over the path ahead. 

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I felt like a buoy in the water, bobbing up and down, letting the waves wash over it, but not drowning by them. I felt the world shut itself out and leave me alone. There was just me and nature.

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Ok, and Coldplay too. I was keen on walking the entire perimeter but it seemed a huge way around and I was already tired. so, I headed back, this time, climbing up among the apartments for an elevated view.

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What a gorgeous place to stay in! All these apartments faced the lake and had outstanding lawns with flowers and armchairs and a view to match.

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The gardens were filled with spring flowers and tulips grew here and there. Hopfen am see had totally stolen my heart.

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After walking for more than 2 hours, I finally reached back to the hotel, flushed with joy. I came back with a dancing heart and a lot of springs to my steps. I felt refreshed, calmed, pacified, but most of all repaired. This was what I’d needed. The best 2 hours of the trip.

The next morning was our last one at Hopfen am see. I woke up early to walk along the lake one last time and to capture the mirror reflections I’d loved the previous day. I stepped out into the balcony with my coffee and my heart sank. This day was a totally cloudy day, completely overcast. Strong winds were blowing and there were ripples all over the surface of the lake. I was shocked. Even as I watched, it started raining.

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There was no point heading out now. It was as though the weather was mirroring how I felt leaving this lovely town. I simply packed up and waited for the others to awaken.

But Hopfen am see was determined to give us a beautiful farewell. By the time we checked out, the weatherman blew off the black clouds and sent on bright white ones instead. As we got into the car, the sun was out, the sky a brilliant shade of blue and the lake, calm once more, mirroring the deep blue of the sky. The fluffy white clouds clung to the middle of the mountains and the snow on the mountain peaks gleamed in all their glory.

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Bye lake Hopfensee, thanks for the healing.

 

P.S. A lot of these pictures have been shot by the kid, on the slr and the cellphone. Very impressive indeed!

 

 

 

 

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-The unromantic Romantic Road with the very romantic towns

The name Romantische Strasse, or Romantic Road conjures up images of a fairytale road, lined by roses, lilies and floating Cupids, with pretty hamlets and castles on the way. In reality it was a narrow single carriageway road with great views of meadows and small towns, and most importantly, speed limits unlike the autobahns that we had been given reason to fear. However, the road was aptly named for the very gorgeous romantic towns that lay on the way, the smooth drive with practically no one on the road, and the stunning vistas of the German countryside from vineyards to the snow-capped Alps.

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“What’s so romantic about this road, mommy? Are you going to hop out of the car and start dancing?” asked the irritating smirking brat. “Or something worse?” She added wickedly. Remind me not to take her on the next trip. “The Romantic Road was a gimmick, a 350 km long tourism booster in the 1950s to tempt travellers to drive along this road after the devastation of WW II,” I explained. The road could be driven from North to South as we did, or reverse. Our Romantic Road drive began in Würzburg where we picked up our Volkswagen Golf and ended at a lakeside town just ahead of Füssen. In all, we spent 4 nights on the Romantic Road.

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The wheels for the trip, Volkswagen Golf

 

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The dream wheels for the trip

Its tough to drive on a road with 20 charming towns with a man who hates pausing the trip. Würzburg, the beginning and Füssen, the end point were undebatable. Rothenburg ob der Tauber where we stayed the night, was essential too. Stops other than these required careful planning to avoid visiting towns that looked similar to each other. We finally agreed on  stopping at Dinklesbühl, Nördlingen and Landsberg am Lech ( a lot of effort was spent in convincing the hubby). As we were keen on driving the romantic strasse, we keyed in the names of the next Romantic Road town to stay off the autobahn.

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The university town of Würzburg on the river Main

The drive to Rothenburg was the first leg of the journey, very scenic with the undulating meadows, vineyards and forests on a warm sunny day.

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber was undoubtedly the most romantic of all towns on this road.

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Both these towns have been covered in previous posts, so I continue my story with the day we left Rothenburg. The drive out of Rothenburg was beautiful with cloudy skies, gentle rain and lush green fields. Small towns dotted the road here and there.

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As we took the exit to Dinklesbühl, we were a little worried about parking (because we hadn’t figured out how to work the parking machines) but we found free parking outside the walls.

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A tulip-studded roundabout just outside the town

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Dinklesbühl is a mini-Rothenburg. Just like its more crowded and famous version, it is a walled town with a night watchman tour. It dates back to the medieval period as well, but has somehow been spared in WW II, so all the buildings are the original ones. It seems much smaller than Rothenburg, far more real and infinitely less touristy. However, it’s just as high on charm and good looks.

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Adorable little houses with sloping red roofs and windows with contrasting shutters greeted us as soon as we entered the town. As we walked towards the town centre, the half-timbered buildings with intricately carved signs started coming up.

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The town square was simply gorgeous with a church at one corner and stunningly colored half-timbered houses on both the sides. It was a lovely overcast day and the recent rain seemed to have washed the entire town clean.

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The most beautiful of all the houses was a hotel, but the others were lovely too. I simply loved the lace curtains on all the windows.

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Cafes lined the sidewalks and flowers peeked out from everywhere.

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A wedding party was climbing into a horse cart driven by a pair of adorable horses. 

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We strolled along the street so taken in by the city that we lost count of the time. The gentle breeze blowing through along with the chocolate high from the morning breakfast set us all in a great mood. After walking down the entire main road, we walked through the wall to emerge on the side of a little stream with pretty houses around it.

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Looking back through the walls onto Dr Martin Luther strasse with the prettiest buildings

We walked into St George church for a moment of peace and to rest our legs. In contrast to the colourful town, the church was a dull grey and brown, the stained glass and the flowers being the only color there.

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We had walked only on the most famous road of Dinklesbühl for want of time, but I managed to peer into one of the crossing lanes and found it just as charming.

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One of the many towers along the walls

As we walked out of the town, I felt so happy that we chose to stop at this town, even if for very little time. I know I went trigger-happy but it wasn’t my fault, it was that of Dinklesbühl.

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Good-bye Dinklesbühl!

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We drove off with the next stop Nördlingen keyed in to Maps, again staying on the smaller motorways. Romantic Road isn’t very well-defined as a road, and there are many alternate routes to reach any town along this route, so we were very worried when the smooth-as-silk motorway was replaced by this.

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With no other road in sight, we drove through this partly closed road instead of doubling back and taking the autobahn. Not a very good move in retrospect, as it turned into a dirt road and we were flung about. The only reassuring things were Google Maps pointedly leading us on and a BMW that had followed us.

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We managed to reach a proper road and were thoroughly relieved to see this signboard.

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“Thank God we are getting somewhere!” exclaimed the hubby, convinced that I was leading him on a wild goose chase through Bavaria. Relieved was I when we drove up to Nördlingen, yet another walled town.

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I’d chosen this town because my best friend Olivia, who’d driven the Romantic road in the Easter break, had stayed here and recommended it strongly.

 

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My bestie Olivia and Harun Gupta on their drive through Germany on a very similar trip as ours. I had desperately wanted to recreate this picture with the hubby

 

 

Also, the scene of the elevator rising above the town in the first Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie  was shot here. Since I’d loved the original movie, I was keen on seeing this view in person.

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Snapshots from the original movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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Nördlingen is a unique town as it is built in a crater left by a probable asteroid impact onto a graphite deposit. The impact created tons of tiny diamonds to get embedded in stones, that were used to build the stone buildings when the town was constructed in the 9th century AD. Of course they are microscopic, which is why we haven’t heard of this “glittering” town, but the time we reached there, Nördlingen was certainly sparkling under the fierce sun.

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The town is built within circular walls within the impact crater

For some reason, the town was totally empty. All the shops, all the cafes were closed. It was like a sleepy town. Also, it was so hot and sunny that I couldn’t even enjoy the walk or the very attractive buildings.

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The hubby was not pleased at all with my addition of this stop. Hence I was clearly told, “Get to the bell tower for the view, have food and get out quick.”  So my limited pictures are of the walk to the bell tower.

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I loved this cute car with the big headlight “eyes”

The bell tower, the Daniel, is part of St George church, from the top of which the whole town and the surroundings can be viewed. “No church, only tower,” repeated the man. So, we started climbing, and climbing, and climbing, almost 8 storeys up.

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It was such a long way up that the hubby and I had to take breaks and rest in the middle while our little mountain goat scampered up and found a friend.

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We climbed up the last steps and out onto the viewing platform. The red roofs glistened in the sun and the circular walls could clearly be made out.

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I felt like Charlie, soaring above the sky in the great glass elevator. I found myself wishing that I could inherit the magical Willy Wonka factory too. I could even smell the chocolate bubbling, the chocolate river flowing, the bubblegum swelling, even hearing the breaking of a bar of chocolate. Snap, and I was jerked back to reality. The hungry hubby and kid were merrily devouring a slab of Cadbury chocolate by themselves while I was lost in Wonka land. Hmmmpphh.

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Since I wasn’t going to wander about the town, I decided to view it from high above with the zoom lens, and was pleasantly surprised to see very gorgeous buildings.

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The town centre with the cafes we were eyeing hungrily from above

It was terribly sunny and we were all very hungry, so we left quickly. The kid was whining for pizza, the hubby for the car. I climbed down carefully and slowly, thanks to my unstable ankle. The kid and the hubby had sped past me 2 storeys above. Suddenly, I heard a huge thud. Fearful about the kid, I rushed down to find the hubby groaning in pain, holding his head in his arms. He’d lost his balance and had broken his fall by holding the railing with his left arm, that was already very painful because of a frozen shoulder. He was in so much pain that i was worried he’d torn his rotator cuff. Somehow, he made it down the tower and to the car where I had some painkillers. We had a quick MacDonalds lunch and drove off, the hubby managing with the painful arm.

Guilt flooded through me. This town wasn’t on the original plan I’d made in Mumbai. This was a last-minute addition that the hubby hadn’t been keen on. “No more going anywhere the man doesn’t want to,” I thought to myself. Nördlingen will always stay a bad memory for me, and bell towers a bad one for him. I dropped all plans of visiting Landsberg am Lech and chose the shortest route to Hopfen am see, the lakeside town near Füssen, the end of the Romantic Road and our stay for 2 nights.

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The road not taken, the one to the picturesque town of Landsberg on the river Lech (photo from internet)

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Weird trees lining the road out of Nördlingen

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The views of the surroundings got prettier and the towns we passed seemed to get cuter.

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All of a sudden, we turned left and merged onto a large highway, a dual carriageway  road. “Oh no, the autobahn!” I thought. “Yaay, no speed limit!” thought the hubby.

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The big surprise was that the man loved this highway, after he’d insisted earlier on never driving the autobahn. He grew more and more confident and drove faster and faster, despite his injured arm. He even started overtaking other vehicles Mumbai-style and now, I was really scared. Luckily, we took  another turn and were back on the smaller, slower country roads.

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Typical Bavarian villages with small wooden houses and church towers

The autobahn had fortunately cut down on the long drive, both by distance and time. After 2 hours on the road, we started seeing snow-covered mountains. “The Alps,” I gasped. We were nearing our destination for the day.

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Large meadows with wooden houses spread out on all sides around us. Fat cows grazed on the lush green grass. Pretty yellow wildflowers covered the fields. “Germany is prettier than Switzerland,” I thought.

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We reached our hotel in Hopfen am see soon after that, but our journey on the Romantic Road doesn’t end here. It continued the next day to the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein and the last town on the Romantic Road, Füssen. But that needs to be temptation for the next post, so I leave with these pictures as a sign of things to come.

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The multicolored buildings of Füssen

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The stunning Neuschwanstein castle

 

The reason for this outstanding drive was the hubby. I can’t thank him enough, for driving expertly on the other side of the road than he’s used to, getting us everywhere safely and especially for driving despite his injury and the considerable pain he was in.

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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.