Germany – Stuttgart to Heidelberg

SEA Bavarian JourneyBavarian Journey Leg 7: Stuttgart to Heidelberg.

Last stop on our epic Bavarian Journey through southern Germany was the university city of Heidelberg; a city of crumbling age and modern edge.frame-7We had been following the beautiful Neckar River through the last few stops of Stuttgart and Tubingen. Just a few kilometres out of Heidelberg, it flowed into the mighty Rhine River.

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Neckar River

The city’s baroque style old town has some romantic cafe-lined streets to while away the hours. As well as crowds of students, Heidelberg is a tourist hotspot.frame-3In the past, the action focused around the central marketplace and Town Hall.

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Town Hall

These days though the hustle and bustle is stretched along the mile-long pedestrian street (hauptstrasse), that runs the length of the old town (altstadt).

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Hauptstrasse and Marktplatz

Overlooking the marketplace (Marktplatz) is the Church of the Holy Spirit, one of the few buildings to survive the many wars over the centuries.dsc06288Unfortunately, not faring anywhere near as well are the ruins of Heidelberg Castle.

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Heidelberg Castle

With its mix of styles from Gothic to Renaissance, it was started in 1398 as a royal residence. Its been destroyed several times and rebuilt. Though the years have taken their toll on the ol’ red brick fortress.frame-4After lightning struck it in 1764, no further attempts were made to rebuild it. The King’s Hall was added to it in 1934, and is used for dinner balls, banquets and classical concerts. With a nice multi-levelled garden surrounding the castle, it makes for a nice scene and sunshine stroll.frame-5Oh, and the views are fantastic.frame-6dsc06359It’s hard not to notice the Old Bridge that leads to the tree-lined hills across the river. The Old Bridge Gate still stands as the gateway to the city.

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Old Bridge Gate

On March 1945, German troops left the city from the approaching U.S. Army and destroyed three of the bridge’s arches in their retreat.dsc06392After the war, the university was quickly reopened and the city became a centre of learning once more. Traditionally, Heidelberg’s philosophers and university professors would walk and talk along the hilly riverside, aptly known as the Philosopher’s Walk.frame-9Wonder what they were pondering about?

Then again, with scenic views like this…
Perhaps nothing much at all.dsc06404Visited 2nd to 4th October 2014.

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Germany – Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 2

Bavarian Journey Leg 6: Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 2.
On a large rock overlooking the Echaz Valley, stands the “fairytale castle of Wurttemberg”; Lichtenstein Castle.

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Lichtenstein Castle

There’s been a castle on this precarious spot since around 1100, but the current structure dates to 1842. There is a windy road that climbs through the mountains before reaching the front. You first walk past the drawbridge that leads to the front gate.dsc06216But then you peer underneath at the “moat”. Surely there was never really water there that suddenly plunged over the cliff into the abyss like it was out of a fantasy movie.
Right?frame-1Along the cliff is the viewpoint.
And what a viewpoint!frame-2We eventually caught our breath back by the time we finally reached Stuttgart, ready for a relaxing drink or two.

Too bad the annual beer festival was in town.dsc06231Cannstatter Volksfest is Stuttgart’s beer festival and funfair to rival Munich’s more famous Oktoberfest. Of course, we had started our Bavarian Journey from that very beer festival, so the bar was already set pretty high.
But Cannstatter Volksfest did not disappoint.frame-3Less well known among international tourists, this place rivals Oktoberfest in every way.
(We would nearly go out on a limb and say it was…better!)

We had met a traveller in Russia who told us all about it, so we planned for it, brought out our lederhosen again and our drinking shoes to do it all again!frame-4Lots of big tents, decorated in bright colours and all serving their own beers and foods. You can’t go wrong! Canstatter Volksfest seemed more family friendly too, with hours of fun to be had at the funfair outside too.dsc06233But let’s be honest.
We didn’t come here to win an oversized Mickey Mouse plush toy.
We stuck with the oversized beers instead.

Prost!

dsc06240Visited 1st October 2014.

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Germany – Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 1

SEA Bavarian JourneyBavarian Journey Leg 6: Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 1.
Tubingen is an old university town, dominated by its large student population and picturesque buildings.

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Tubingen University

The Neckar River splits the town, but its the cobbled streets, local markets and cozy cafes that gives the city its character.
frame-2There are endless streets of traditional half-timbered houses. Some better off than others!frame-4dsc05981
We only had the morning to explore the city, which turned out to become a long, hard slog up some fairly steep alleys that climb the hilly terrain.

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Johanneskirche

Luckily, we had filled up on some super delicious dinner the night before. Tubingen is in the historic, cultural and linguistic region of Swabia. And the most famous Swabian speciality is the maultasche; a large ravioli-like pasta with various savoury fillings.
Hotel an Schloss is the best place in town for these. Ours came in a cheesy, pine nut sauce.
Soooo rich, but soooo good.frame-1
Speaking of Schloss’, just up the road from here was Schloss Hohentubingen. It was first mentioned in records from 1078. An imposing gate leads to another climb to its main four wings and a round tower overlooking the city below.frame-3dsc05994
Next stop on the road towards Stuttgart, was Kloster Bebenhousen.

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Kloster Bebenhousen

It is one of the best preserved and wealthiest Cistercian monasteries in southern Germany. Built around 1183, in became a boarding school after the Reformation in 1534 and home to many monks.frame-7
The complex has many rooms and walkways, showcasing an assortment of Gothic and Renaissance styles.frame-6dsc06098
These days its pretty quiet. There hasn’t been a monk here since 1648.frame-9
Though, with its idyllic woodland setting and serene surroundings…why wouldn’t you consider moving in?dsc06134dsc06106
Visited 1st October 2014.

 

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Germany – Gengenbach to Tubingen

Bavarian Journey Leg 5: Gengenbach to Tubingen.
For a brief walk back in time, we visited the Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof. It has fully-furnished farmhouses representing different parts of the Black Forest during the last 400 years.
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Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof

Each farmhouse gives an authentic glimpse into daily life back in the day.Frame 1

A trip into the Black Forest wouldn’t be authentic without a big slice of its famous namesake Black Forest Cake (washed down with a farmer-size shot of homemade schnapps)!Frame 2

Once out of the Black Forest and on the country road towards Tübingen, rising majestically on the mountain peak of the Swabian Alb stands Hohenzollern Castle.

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Black Forest

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Hohenzollern Castle

The ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House, it is the third castle on this popular site. The first was built in the early 11th century, destroyed in 1423 after a ten-month siege, then rebuilt larger and stronger.Frame 3

The second gradually fell into disrepair, until it was rebuilt again as a family memorial by King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Nowadays, it is a museum of the art and historical artefacts of the Hohenzollern family.Frame 6

Standing in the central courtyard was a bit surreal.
It could be Disneyland..
But no. It’s a real castle.DSC05869

On the left is St. Michael’s Chapel, originating from the previous castle, with stained glass windows from the 13th century.

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St. Michael’s Chapel

Picturesque from literally every angle, Hohenzollern Castle was another fine castle to add to our near-daily growing list.Frame 5

And not such a bad view from the top either.DSC05782DSC05878

Visited 30th September 2014.

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Germany – Freiburg to Gengenbach

SEA Bavarian JourneyBavarian Journey Leg 4: Freiburg to Gengenbach.

The old university town of Freiburg was unusually quiet, since it was a sleepy Sunday. The shopping streets were empty. The tram-lines were deserted. The students were gone.Frame 1Frame 2

In fact, only the old city’s Münsterplatz (Cathedral Square) seemed active. A farmers market is held here every day, except Sunday. Looks like we missed the action.

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Munsterplatz (Cathedral Square)

As the name implies, Freiburg’s largest square is home to Freiburg’s largest cathedral; Münster.

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Freiburg Munster

This gothic minster cathedral was built between 1200 and 1530 from an aesthetically pleasing red sandstone. Its towering spire was under restoration, but we got the idea.Frame 3

While we explored the empty streets, we couldn’t help but notice (and nearly fall into) the bizarre open water channels that criss-crossed the pavements. These bächle were once used to divert water from the river to provide flowing water to fight fires and feed livestock. It is said that if one accidentally falls or steps into a bächle, they will marry a Freiburger! Watch your step!Frame 9

Just one of many quirky traits this city has to stumble on!DSC05502

Back on the road again, we passed another castle.

Only in castle-land.DSC05557

On the edge of the famous Black Forest, is the popular tourist town of Gengenbach. This very traditional, medieval town has a lovely town centre (Altstadt).

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Gengenbach Altstadt

At Christmas time, its 18th century town hall becomes the world’s biggest advent calendar! 24 windows represent 24 days.DSC05561

It would look something like this:

But not this time of year. Instead, the sun was shining and the locals love to decorate their traditional half-timbered houses with colourful blooms. And shopfronts too!Frame 8Frame 5We think this sign sums up Gengenbach’s desire to remain traditional pretty well.Frame 4

Gengenbach Abbey was founded in 727 and still has nice stained-glass windows inside.

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Gengenbach Abbey

Overlooking the town is a steep hill with a tiny church surrounded by vineyards.Frame 7

A quiet couple of days after some serious castle-bashing.

Perfect.DSC05626

Visited 28th & 29th September 2014.

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Germany – Lindau Island & Meersburg Castle

Bavarian Journey Leg 3: Lindau to Freiburg.

Skirting Germany’s southern border is Lake Constance. Across the deep blue waters lies Switzerland and Austria, with the Alps stretching along the distant horizon.

Lake Constance

Lake Constance

The historic town of Lindau is a small island off the eastern shore. Its been around for more than a thousand years, with it’s medieval legacy at every turn. There were some nice buildings to discover, especially around Marktplatz.

Marktplatz

Marktplatz

As the name implies, this place had a local market during our morning visit with locals buying and selling some nice fresh produce.Frame 5

Surrounding us were two interesting churches. Stephanskirche had an open green and white interior, while Munster Unserer Lieben Fran Church was ‘all out’ with ornate decorations beneath a painted fresco ceiling.

Stephanskirche

Stephanskirche

Munster Unserer Lieben Fran Church

Munster Unserer Lieben Fran Church

Across town was the very basic but important Peterskirche. Also known as the Fischerkirche, or Fisherman’s Church, it is the oldest church in Lindau at more than a thousand years old. While the windowless church tower is thought to be older still, inside the church building was a major treasure; the Lindau Passion Frescos. The walls were covered in early Gothic drawings, while now the church also serves as a war memorial.

Peterskirche

Peterskirche

The popular island harbour, with its grand lion statue and lighthouse entrance, was a great spot to remember that fishing is still a big part of Lindau.

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But then the cute but old Diebsturm Tower, which used to be a prison, also reminded us that it wasn’t all good times by the water.

Diebstrum Tower

Diebstrum Tower

We continued our drive along the road that skirts the lake, through some very picturesque fruit and vineyards for a roadside picnic lunch.Frame 10

We left Bavaria behind and headed into Baden-Wurttemberg. Ahead was Meersburg, home of Germany’s oldest inhabited castle and an outstanding lake view.

Meersburg

Meersburg

Meersburg Castle was founded by the Merovingian king, Dagobert the First, in the 7th century according to ancient legend. It used to have a draw bridge crossing the deep moat that surrounds it.

Meersburg Castle

Meersburg Castle

Inside, we toured authentic displays of a ‘very real’ look at residential castle life. With the head of an elk keeping watch over the Hall of Knights and a very gloomy looking Castle Dungeon (with viewing platform over the “hole of fear”!), this was no ordinary home. In some cases prisoners were lowered 9 meters deep and left to starve, with nothing more than 2m thick stone walls to inscribe their final words.Frame 12

Although it wouldn’t be a home without a Bakery kitchen, Bedroom and Toilet!Frame 13

Back out in the happy sunshine, we could see why Lake Constance provided the ideal home for generations and generations.Frame 14

With views like this, why leave?DSC05370

Visited 27th September 2014.

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Germany – Hohenschwangau & Neuschwanstein Castles

Bavarian Journey Leg 2: Fussen to Lindau.

Germany may very well be the land of castles (schloss in German), with Bavaria boasting the cream of the crop.

Thanks to a vital trade route that sliced through this beautiful countryside back in Medieval times, prosperity and wealth of the many kings of the land required protection. Built on the hilltops with the best vantage points across the valley, these castles are postcard-perfect.Frame 5King Ludwig II of Bavaria was an eccentric and troubled monarch. His childhood residence was the 19th century palace; Hohenschwangau Castle, built by his father King Maximilian II.

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Hohenschwangau Castle

Located near the town of Fussen, this compact fortress sits on a hill overlooking Lake Alpsee. There’s been many fortresses reconstructed on this spot since the 12th century. By the time Ludwig II came to the throne after his father died in 1864, it was the official summer and hunting residence.Frame 2Frame 3The gardens and fountains were still nicely kept, with some great views from the balconies. The Swan Fountains were particularly prominent and may be the reason why he was also known as the “Swan King”.Frame 1King Ludwig II later embarked on an epic spree of building castles and palaces all over Bavaria, exhausting the royal revenues. The extravagance led his ministers to declare him insane and he was eventually deposed.Frame 4By far his greatest legacy would be the Disney-like fairytale palace of Neuschwanstein Castle, meaning “New Swan-on-the-Rock Castle”.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Although never completed, it was built and furnished in medieval styles but equipped with the latest technology of the time.Frame 7A steep hiking trail took us around the back of both castles for a different perspective.Frame 9DSC05162In fact, it was difficult to find an angle that wasn’t awe inspiring…DSC05185The waterfront of Lake Alpsee, lined with its old wooden buildings, gave a glimpse of a time when these castles really were the luxurious homes of kings.Frame 6The common folk have called nearby Fussen home since Roman times. Its Old Town is a pleasant change, after all the ‘castle-strolling’.Frame 10Frame 8Although, our road trip through Bavaria meant there would be more castles still to come.DSC05216Visited 26th September 2014.

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Germany – Garmisch-Partenkirchen

It’s true that proper German beer won’t give you a hangover! After two epic days at Oktoberfest, Andrew was all good to get behind the wheel of a rental car to embark on our first European road-trip!SEA Bavarian Journey

Bavarian Journey Leg 1: Munich to Fussen.

A road trip in Germany generally means driving on the infamous autobahn; multi-lane highways with no speed limit. And yep, they’re as fun as they sound. The rule is to stick to the right and only use the inside lanes for overtaking. You’d be surprised how quickly a BMW will come roaring up behind you in the rear-view mirror. Yikes!

Our first stop was the ski resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It lies near the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak at 2962m. In 1936 it held the Winter Olympics, the ski jump ominously hugging a steep slope.

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Olympic Ski Jump

Today it’s a modern reconstruction, but the alpine view is timeless.Frame 2

The town is actually two towns blended into one. The buildings are decorated with painted frescoes and windowsills; the latter a cheap alternative to fancy additions. From across the street, you wouldn’t notice.Frame 1

Outside town is Partnach Gorge (German: Partnachklamm), a deep gorge in the Reintal valley cut by a mountain stream. We parked at one of the hiking car parks out of town and set off on a long stroll through the countryside.DSC04896Frame 3

Once inside, a narrow ledge hugs one of the vertical rock walls and leads deeper and deeper inside. At one point, the walls close in and a trickling waterfall makes a dry passage all but impossible.DSC04847

But out the other side, the stream opens up to a nice view.Frame 4DSC04888

Back on the road, we stopped by Ettal Abbey (German: Kloster Ettal), a Benedictine monastery in the village of Ettal.

Kloster Ettal

Kloster Ettal

It was founded in 1330 and there are still monks living here today! The church interior is impressive, with its frescoed dome and small statues all around.Frame 5

After a fire in 1744, the abbey and church was rebuilt in the Baroque style.Frame 6

Over the years, the abbey has been a boarding school, while the monastery now runs a brewery, cheese store, bookstore and hotel amongst other ventures.
Some busy monks here it seems!DSC04918

But then again, in a picturesque little village high in the Bavarian mountains…

Why not?DSC04955

Visited 25th September 2014.

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Germany – Munich – Oktoberfest 2014

Oktoberfest!

Yep. The biggest beer drinking festival of all time actually comes around every year!
It’s been around since 1810, when it was originally a celebration of Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.

Every September, Munich becomes a smorgasbord of locals and tourists for two weeks of beer-drinking festivities!

Wait, why is it called Oktoberfest then?
Well, back in the 19th century, it WAS in October. But the organisers moved it to September so visitors could enjoy the warmer weather outside in the gardens and fields.

The festival itself is actually a massive family-friendly carnival fun-fair with many giant tents, where the beer drinking takes place. Each tent is run by families or groups, sponsored by the big brands and local breweries.Frame 2Frame 3

Each tent is themed and fantastically decorated in its famous colours. What a spectacle, inside and out!

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Augustiner-Festhalle

We had two days to soak it all in (beer and all). It’s amazing that with thousands of people filling these tents, everyone is so friendly and happy to share a table with strangers. But don’t worry. You wouldn’t be strangers for long!Frame 6

We squeezed onto a table in the Augustiner-Festhalle; considered the friendliest of all and been around for fifteen years. We got chatting with some visitors from USA and Russia amongst others.

At Oktoberfest, beer comes in the traditional stein. Which holds 1 litre, or 2 pints (depending on where in the world you drink pints, that is…). And it’s true what they say. The beer certainly does taste better.

Lakshi is proud to say that she managed to drink a whole stein by herself!Frame 1

What’s with the funny clothes?

Well, everyone is wearing the traditional Bavarian outfits.
Andrew wears a checkered button-up shirt with leather Lederhosen shorts with suspenders, topped off with a vest and Alpine felt hat (with a cute feather in it!).

Lakshi wears a Dirndl Bow, a coloured apron wrapped with a bow at the front; a bow on the left if you’re single, on the right if you’re taken (and in the middle if you’re a virgin, but let’s not go there…).Frame 5

As the day goes on and the beer keeps flowing, there are plentiful options to satisfy the growing hunger. Each tent has their own special foods. Ours had the greatest roast chicken with chips OF ALL TIME!
Dozens of waiters dash between tables serving plates of great beer-accompanying meals (not the healthiest, but we’re drinking beer right?)

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Yummy!

Every few minutes, a cheer would erupt from somewhere in the tent as some brave soul would stand up and skol his pint to the roaring delight of everyone around them.

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Skol! Skol! Skol! Skol!

We preferred to enjoy ours with our new friends.DSC04724Heart 01

As the sun came down, we ventured outside with our new group of drinking buddies to the lights and sounds of the carnival still pumping outside.DSC04773

Don’t be tempted to hit the rides after a long day of drinking. Andrew failed miserably at a speedy travelator ride, while our new friend Sam flipped out altogether!

Oktoberfest 2014 was an amazing experience and a bucket list item, like it probably is for many people around the world.

6 Oktoberfest

Skol beer at Oktoberfest.

After two days of great fun, we vowed to come back again soon.

And as they say in German; Prost! (Cheers!)DSC04678DSC04719

 

Visited 23rd & 24th September 2014.

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Germany – Munich

The three Baltic countries might have given us our first taste of Europe, but what better country to REALLY begin, than Germany.

Munich is the capital and largest city of the German state of Bavaria. The city would be our starting point for our upcoming road trip through Bavaria itself.

Home to some major museums, universities and theatres, Munich is a major tourist centre. Its eclectic mix of historic buildings and modern architecture ensures heads will turn, left, right…and up.DSC04543Frame 1

The inner city’s heart is Marienplatz, a large open square overlooked by the impressive New Town Hall. And while it’s pretty grand craning our necks up from the crowds below, its even more grand craning our necks down from the tower of St. Peter’s Church opposite.

New Town Hall in Marienplatz

New Town Hall in Marienplatz

View from St. Peter's Church tower

View from St. Peter’s Church Tower

Every day at 11am, 12pm and 5pm, all heads gaze up to the New Town Hall’s Rathaus-Glockenspiel. Mechanical wooden figures perform the Schafflertanz (Dance of the Coopers), and have done so for the past 100 years.

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To escape the crowds, we ducked inside St. Peter’s Church, where our eyes were drawn back up again. Are they birds up there?

St. Peter's Church

St. Peter’s Church

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Around the corner we happened upon a weekend market, with stalls of fresh produce and hand-made crafts.Frame 5

Unfortunately, our sightseeing in Munich would be short (this time anyway), as our main priority lay with the thousands of patrons downing stein glasses not far away.

Yep. Oktoberfest was in town.

Oh well. When in Munich…Frame 6DSC04552

Visited 22nd September 2014.

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