Northern Europe, part 2: Driving through Deutschland

Background: Some friends retired and enjoy traveling so they decided to do a train/driving tour in Northern Europe. They had planned on just a trip to Germany and Burgundy, but the airfares were horrible! After desperately searching the internet and all the travel sites, they found a package for a full month of European travel! To maximize their dollars, time, and energy, they decided to fly, drive, and use commuter services. After visiting Prague and Budapest, they took the train to Munich and prepare for the next leg of their travels.

Everyone raves about Munich, but it didn’t rate in their top 10 cities. They did visit and enjoy the Munich Residenz, the former Bavarian monarchs royal palace of the House of Wittelsbach. With over 130 room and 10 courtyards, it is the largest palace in Germany and is one of many palaces constructed by the Wittelsbach family. Most of their palaces throughout the country are open to visitors except for a few being converted into addiction centers. If you need rehabilitation, check it out. It’s not too shabby a place to stay.

View of Salzburg from train. (Photos provided)

View of Salzburg from train. (Photos provided)

Munich also offers a great central location for exploring other areas so they day tripped from Munich to Salzburg, Austria. Think the Sound of Music; the film, music, and scenery. Just the drive is worth the trip. Once you’re there, the music changes to Mozart, complete with museums, a tour of his home and possibly, a dinner concert. You could most likely spend your whole vacation in the city. A tram will take you up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, the largest, fully preserved castle in Europe. Over 900 years old, it was initially completed in 1077 but was renovated many times up till 1500. During this time period it was attacked by warring neighbors but never fell to the enemy. Unconquered and undefeated, it stands as a proud monument to the city.

One of their favorite stops in Salzburg was the dwarf garden at Mirabell Palace. Why? Because it was so weird! Designed and built in 1606, the garden was adorned with dwarf statues of “disfigured creatures with their goiters and hunchbacks.” The guides quickly pointed out that they had used “actual dwarfs” living and working at the palace at the time as models for each statue. At one time the statues were removed because of their hideous features but were recently restored to their rightful place at Mirabell, a delightful blemish in a perfectly landscaped garden.

Salzburg is also wonderful if you are a horse lover. The city offers really cool horse baths, yes, public baths for your horse, called Pferdeschwemme, another German tongue twister. (Note: I think in hindsight we are fortunate the founding fathers decided to adopt English as our language versus German. Trying to text German would be a major chore!) Beautifully designed, you lead the horse in one side, soap him up, spray him off in the fountain, walk him out the other side and voila! A sparkling, clean horse. Wonder if Chicago should build these for the carriage horses downtown.

Horse bath.

Horse bath.

Germany seems to be the major spot in Europe for castles. “Mad Ludwig” of the Wittelsbachs was the money behind a number of castles including the one used as the model for Disney World – Neuschwanstein Castle. Another was designed to “outdo” Versailles in design and ornamentation – Herrenchiemsee New Palace. Built on an island in the middle of a lake, you have to take a boat to get to it. Plan accordingly if you plan to visit. These two castles are among the most popular tourist stops in Germany.

Want a twist on your trio? Stop off at Lake Constance. It may get confusing as it’s also called the Bodensee and maybe the Swabian Sea. Lake Constance is the international name and the only area in Europe with no defined borders as it’s shores border Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Why go there? My friends went because NO TOURISTS go there, except maybe them! It also means very few people speak English so they just guessing at food choices with varying results. Add a little adventure if you’re daring enough.

This sense of adventure increased as they stayed overnight in an “old petite palace” on the lake that had been renovated into 18 vacation condos. Built for daylight activities, there were no lights, so they groping around like a blind person at dark. (travel note: include a small flashlight or use your cell phone to find your way in darkened areas). But oddest was a huge picture window between the shower and the living room. Not sure who remodeled or what plans they used, but one of the most unusual places where they stayed the night!

With Lake Constance as a central location, you would think this is the major summer mecca for local vacationers, and it is. Swimming, boating, and windsurfing are major activities. Want to do a little biking while you’re there? The Bodensee-Radweg cycle path encircles the entire lake for about 260km (160+ miles). It would take me quite a while to cover the entire circuit at my present cycling speed.

Mainau Island was one of their stops in the Bodensee. The island has a unique climate, which allows a very broad array of flowers and plants to flourish. The island belonged to the Teutonic Knights from the 13th-19th century and then was passed to Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden who was quite the botanist. Over time, the island went to his daughter who became Queen of Sweden and it is now owned by her son. The island has probably the only Swedish restaurant in Germany. It was really good and they include reindeer in their menu; poor Rudolph! The island also has a large butterfly house with hundreds of different butterflies.

Graf Zeppelin, the namesake of the giant Zeppelin airships, was born in Konstanz on the Bodensee. Another great stop, the Zeppelin museum has reconstructed a section of the Hindenburg that you actually walk through. Relive the days of luxury air travel as it was pretty classy. In WWII the Allied air forces bombed the factory in Konstanz. In order not to miss, it included the whole town; no laser or GPS guided bombs back then. Due to this bombing, it was the only town on the Bodensee that wasn’t quaint and attractive.

Being a month long trip, there is yet another part to the story. Stay tuned for Part 3.

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