Hotel an Schloss is the best place in town for these. Ours came in a cheesy, pine nut sauce.
Soooo rich, but soooo good.
Each farmhouse gives an authentic glimpse into daily life back in the day.
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)!
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.
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.
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.
Standing in the central courtyard was a bit surreal.
It could be Disneyland..
But no. It’s a real castle.
On the left is St. Michael’s Chapel, originating from the previous castle, with stained glass windows from the 13th century.
Picturesque from literally every angle, Hohenzollern Castle was another fine castle to add to our near-daily growing list.
And not such a bad view from the top either.
Visited 30th September 2014.
Bavarian 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.
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.
As the name implies, Freiburg’s largest square is home to Freiburg’s largest cathedral; Münster.
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.
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!
Just one of many quirky traits this city has to stumble on!
Back on the road again, we passed another castle.
Only in castle-land.
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).
At Christmas time, its 18th century town hall becomes the world’s biggest advent calendar! 24 windows represent 24 days.
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!We think this sign sums up Gengenbach’s desire to remain traditional pretty well.
Gengenbach Abbey was founded in 727 and still has nice stained-glass windows inside.
Overlooking the town is a steep hill with a tiny church surrounded by vineyards.
A quiet couple of days after some serious castle-bashing.
Visited 28th & 29th September 2014.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Visited 27th September 2014.
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.King 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.
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.The 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”.King 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.By far his greatest legacy would be the Disney-like fairytale palace of Neuschwanstein Castle, meaning “New Swan-on-the-Rock Castle”.
Although never completed, it was built and furnished in medieval styles but equipped with the latest technology of the time.A steep hiking trail took us around the back of both castles for a different perspective.In fact, it was difficult to find an angle that wasn’t awe inspiring…The 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.The common folk have called nearby Fussen home since Roman times. Its Old Town is a pleasant change, after all the ‘castle-strolling’.Although, our road trip through Bavaria meant there would be more castles still to come.Visited 26th September 2014.
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.
Today it’s a modern reconstruction, but the alpine view is timeless.
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.
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.
Back on the road, we stopped by Ettal Abbey (German: Kloster Ettal), a Benedictine monastery in the village of Ettal.
But then again, in a picturesque little village high in the Bavarian mountains…
Visited 25th September 2014.
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.
Each tent is themed and fantastically decorated in its famous colours. What a spectacle, inside and out!
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!
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!
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…).
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?)
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.
We preferred to enjoy ours with our new friends.
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.
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.
After two days of great fun, we vowed to come back again soon.
And as they say in German; Prost! (Cheers!)
Visited 23rd & 24th September 2014.
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.
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.
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.
To escape the crowds, we ducked inside St. Peter’s Church, where our eyes were drawn back up again. Are they birds up there?
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.
Visited 22nd September 2014.
Music used without permission:
Lifehouse ft. Natasha Bedingfield – Between the Raindrops
We weren’t finished with Lithuania just yet.
A reasonable bus trip from Vilnius made Trakai Island Castle an ideal day trip, and a great chance to escape the “seen the capital city, seen the whole country” travel mentality.
For a predominantly land-locked country, why build a castle on an island?
Well in the 14th century the ruler of medieval Lithuania, Grand Duke Kestutis, began construction of this stone castle on the largest of three islands in Lake Galve.
It was built in several phases over the next hundred years, no thanks to sieges by Teutonic Knights. It eventually lost strategic importance when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s enemy was defeated by the Lithuanian-Polish Army in 1410.
Nowadays, Trakai Island Castle is a major tourist attraction and a big boost for the local lake town. The waterfront is dotted with cafes and stalls with views that can’t be beat.
A wide wooden walkway connects the lakeshore with the castle’s island. Although today’s castle is a 19th century reconstruction of it’s 15th century style.
The red Gothic Brick is a clear standout, built upon stone wall foundations. Much of the stone is original, but obviously much brick and timber inside is not.
The inner yard is massive! You can imagine medieval markets and army parades taking place within these walls, while generals and such watched on from the balconies. A “follow the arrows” tour took us inside some of the rooms, which house the museum with relics and other items of interest. But the best part was the freedom to roam around the grounds.
Can a castle on an island have a moat? Isn’t the lake it’s own moat?
Once upon a time, this castle DID have it’s own moat! But the water levels of the connected lake have dropped much since then.
The Ducal Palace is what was separated by this moat from the rest of the forecastle. To get a better view of it, we took to the waters that were still there.
Andrew loves a good paddle-boat.
So off we went a-paddling. It seems the view on the lake and from the other side of it are pretty worthy.
Trakai Island Castle. A unique place in a unique country in a unique part of the world.
Back in Vilnius for our last evening, we only needed to look out our hostel window to realise one thing that we would take with us from our whirlwind tour of the three Baltic countries…
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were definitely worthwhile places to visit.
Because they’re all unique.
Visited 21st September 2014.