Photo of the Day: Nymphenburg Reflection

This photo is from my second Eurotrip in 2009 (and second time accompanying my uncle’s German class as a chaperone). Since this was also my second visit to Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, Germany, I decided on this occasion to spend more time walking around the front of the palace so I could capture photos like this, with the palace reflecting on a pond full of swans.

Date: 4/6/2009
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FX8
Click for larger view

You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.

My First Eurotrip, Part 5: Fairy Tale Castles and Snowy Mountaintops

This is the long-delayed final installment of my series looking back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.


After spending a final evening in Salzburg we departed early the next morning for Bavaria, where we would be visiting Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s famous fairy tale castle. Along the way I took some photos of the pretty countryside.

River near a rest stop.
Taken from the bus.

We soon arrived at Hohenschwangau, where I took this photo of Hohenschwangau Castle, King Ludwig II’s childhood home.

We didn’t have time to tour this castle.

From here we began a long walk up a steep hill to visit Neuschwanstein. An optional bus or carriage was also available to take you to the top, but most of us chose to walk.

Our first view of the castle.

Here are some more shots of the castle exterior:

Front entrance with coat of arms.
Inner Courtyard
One of the turrets.
A view from the entrance.

Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland, whereas the Cinderella castle in Disney World was based on any of a number of different European castles, depending on who you ask. The castle was already an anachronism when it was built–the first skyscrapers were going up in New York around the same time. Ludwig II was also known as “The Mad King” or the “Fairy Tale King.” He was eventually declared insane and deposed, but now Bavaria makes millions from his palaces.

Ludwig II was fascinated with fairy tales and Wagner operas, both of which feature prominently in the castle’s design. The inside is quite spectacular, and even includes an artificial cave. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside but you can find pictures of many of the rooms online.

One word of advice: if you’re looking buy some souvenirs after completing the tour, avoid the first gift shop–things are cheaper in the second gift shop . . . and even cheaper in the shops at the bottom of the mountain, at least that was the case back in 2007.

Following the castle tour we hiked out to the Marienbrucke, a bridge spanning a large gorge, seen here:


About halfway to the Marienbrucke there is a great lookout spot with this beautiful view:

Hohenschwangau Castle is visible in the distance to the right.

From the Marienbrucke you can enjoy one of the iconic views of the castle, seen below. The other famous view, from the front, requires a hike up to the top of a nearby mountain, which we did not have time for.


After our visit to Neuschwanstein it was time to head to Lucerne, Switzerland. Along the way we were treated to gorgeous views of the Swiss countryside.

View from the bus.
Another view from the bus. This huge lake went on for miles.

Lucerne is reminiscent of some seaside resorts in the States, but with more historic architecture. Despite being a major tourist spot (complete with casinos) and one of the more expensive destinations in Europe, it is one of my favorite European cities. The views along the lake with the Alps in the background are simply breathtaking.

Lake Lucerne
A portion of the Lucerne shoreline.

No trip to Lucerne is complete without a visit to Mount Pilatus, the large mountain that looms over Lake Lucerne.

Mount Pilatus dominates the landscape.

To get to the top of Mount Pilatus you take cable cars, from which you can watch the terrain turn from grass to snow as you ascend.

First the grass . . .
. . . and then the snow.

After a while you exit your comfy small cable car and transfer to a large one, where you must stand, packed in with as many people as they can fit.

The larger cable car making its final ascent.

Once you reach the top, the views defy words, so I’ll let the photos do the talking, even though they could never do justice to the sensation of standing there in person.

On top of Mount Pilatus.
Some day I would like to return with a better camera.
I wonder how you get to this church . . .
The views are simply amazing.
I didn’t want to leave.

To get down, we took the same cable car route, though apparently you also have the option of taking some sort of railroad ride down.

On our way back down.

My uncle and I went to a restaurant on a boat for lunch, where we split an order of quite expensive fondue–54 francs for what was basically bread and melted cheese. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Lucerne is expensive.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the city on my own. In my travels I encountered another giant chess board like the one in Salzburg, though I didn’t play on this one.

Giant Chess

I had planned to do some shopping later in the day, but everything in Lucerne closed at 4pm . . . on a Saturday! Instead I just meandered and soaked in the beauty of the city.

Along the lake.
A city square.
One of Lucerne’s famed covered bridges . . .
. . . and another.

At one point I encountered a group of women having some type of bachelorette party scavenger hunt. The bride (dressed as a prisoner) had a list of things she had to do, one of which was to dance with strangers on camera. She tried to get me to dance with her, but I sort of just stood there and talked to her while she danced around me and her friends filmed it. The next guy (pictured with the girls below) was much more game and really got into the dancing.

Somewhere in Europe there’s a video of this prisoner dancing around me.

Later in the day, after I rejoined my group, we bumped into the wedding girls again. They said hi to me and then shouted “he’s a great dancer!” Everyone in my group gave me a look, like “just what have you been doing today?” So I had to explain it, a bit embarrassed, but it’s precisely these types of unexpected moments that add richness to your travel experience and provide you with unique stories to tell. I mean, anybody can tell anecdotes about visiting castles, but how many people can say they danced with a bride-to-be dressed as a prisoner in a public square in Switzerland? 😉

As the day wound to a close, we visited the famous weeping lion monument and posed for our final group photo.

Weeping Lion Monument

We had to wake up at 4:15 the next morning to hop on the bus to Zurich for our flight out, so we called it an early night. I got searched again at the Zurich airport (seemed to be a theme on this trip) and then we flew to Frankfurt for a five-hour layover before finally boarding a plane for the States. I had come down with a cold on my last day in Europe, which did not make for a pleasant flight—apparently my inner ear passageways swelled up and prevented my ears from popping—my left ear still hadn’t popped a week after I returned home.

Despite the dubious ending to the trip, it was a life-changing experience, and the travel bug bit me hard. Prior to this trip, the idea of traveling the world had never even been on my radar. I spent the first 36 years of my life barely venturing from the east coast of the United States, but in the 7.5 years since, I’ve embarked on three more Eurotrips, as well as trips to Peru, Mexico, and California . . . and it all began with this trip back in 2007.

So ends a story that has taken me nearly eight years to tell. 🙂

Lucerne at Night

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My First Eurotrip, Part 2: Munich and Dachau

This series is a look back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.

April 1st, 2007: Our second day in Munich began with a guided bus tour of the city.

The Siegestor (Victory Gate)
Munich Street with the Theatinerkirche and Feldherrnhalle visible in the distance.

We also stopped outside of the University of Munich to see the Monument to the White Rose, a resistance group in Nazi Germany, comprised primarily of students, many of whom were executed by the Nazis. The members of the group are now honored among Germany’s greatest heroes for their non-violent resistance against the Nazi regime. If you’d like to learn more about the White Rose, I’ve seen two excellent German-language films that are highly recommended: The White Rose and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.

Monument to the White Rose consisting of the group’s characteristic leaflets.

Back in the Marienplatz, we saw performers all over the square, as well as a huge anti-hunting protest march.

The Rathhaus in the Marienplatz

The city tour ended with a stop at Nymphenburg Palace, which had once been the main summer residence of the rulers of Bavaria. The palace is huge, but we only had time to tour a small portion. No flash photography was allowed inside (and Nymphenburg would turn out to be the only palace we visited on this trip to allow any type of indoor photography).

Nymphenburg Palace
A wing of the palace with one of its many resident swans in the foreground.
Nymphenburg Interior
Gallery of Beauties, a room of paintings commissioned by King Ludwig I
featuring the most beautiful women in Munich, some of whom were his lovers.
Group shot in the gardens behind the palace.

Later that afternoon we visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial. After watching a documentary about the camp’s history, we toured the grounds. Walking among the barracks, crematorium, and gas chamber was a haunting experience, impossible to put into words.

This powerful sculpture commemorates the victims.
“Never Again” in several languages.
There were originally two columns and 30 rows of prisoner barracks.
All but the first row have been torn down.
The crematorium ovens.
The Nazis installed fake showerheads in the gas chambers to convince victims they were entering
shower rooms. This gas chamber had not been put into operation before the camp was liberated.
The only window to the outside world in the gas chamber.
One of the guard towers.

After leaving the camp we returned to the Marienplatz in Munich for dinner. We then headed to a brewery called the Augustiner to toast our final night in Munich before returning to the hotel. In the morning we would be departing for Vienna.

Farewell, Munich.

View more photos from this trip.

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My First Eurotrip, A Look Back

This series is a look back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.

Flash Forward: Munich

In 2007, as I approached my 36th birthday, I was given the opportunity to travel overseas for the first time in my life. Prior to that, I had never done much traveling outside of some long drives up and down the East Coast to places like Maine and Florida, and parts in between. I hadn’t been on an airplane since my high school senior trip when I was 18, and the only foreign country I’d ever visited was Canada, but that had just been a road trip over the border to Niagara Falls, so I’m not sure that even counts. The thought of traveling the world had never really crossed my mind. I did not understand what it means to be bitten by the travel bug, but that was about to change.

My uncle, Kipp, invited me to join him on a trip with his high school German class to Europe during spring break. It was a trip he made with his class every couple of years. On this occasion he had an open slot for a chaperone and asked me if I’d like to be one. My trip would be completely free except for the surcharge I would pay to guarantee a private single room. I jumped at the chance. I mean, how many times do you get offered a free trip to Europe? For me it would turn out to be twice, but I didn’t know that at the time.

At the pre-trip group meeting I met the students and other chaperones. Among the advice given was to bring a small suitcase since you would be lugging it around everywhere. I took that to heart and crammed my entire 10-day trip into a suitcase roughly the size of a carry-on with no room to spare. So of course when I got to the school on the day of the trip, everyone else had giant suitcases. 🙂

Ready to depart with my tiny suitcase.

When we went through security at the airport in Philadelphia I was pulled off to the side and searched—it would be the first of three times on this trip I would be specially searched at an airport. I can only surmise that I resembled the profile of what they deemed to be a suspicious person worthy of extra scrutiny—maybe it was the goatee.

Eventually we got on the plane for a short flight to Boston, where we would connect to Germany. I had the window seat. The man sitting in the middle seat next to me decided that it was more important for him to spread his newspaper out over three seats with his elbow hanging half over my seat than it was to give me the courtesy of my personal space. It was a short flight so I just pressed against the window and endured it, though nowadays I would probably say something.

We reached Boston and boarded a Lufthansa flight for Germany. This time I had an aisle seat, which was key for an 8.5-hour flight during which I was unlikely to sleep. It was my first experience flying international and I couldn’t believe all of the food and drinks were free, so I indulged plenty, perhaps hoping that alcohol would numb the smell of the bad B.O. guy in the seat in front of me. The in-flight movie was Rocky Balboa (this was right before they started letting you choose the movie you wanted to watch on your own screen).

When we landed in Germany I had a much easier time getting through customs than in the States. I walked around for most of the first day without being able to hear properly—I hadn’t yet mastered the art of getting my ears to pop during landing. We met up with our tour guide, a British fellow named Tom, who guided us to our bus. Our group was just large enough to warrant our own private bus, but small enough that we each had an entire row of seats to ourselves—a very comfortable way to spend nine days on the road. This trip spoiled me because when we returned in 2009, the bus was filled to the brim with three groups and everyone battling for seats during the entire trip.

Before long we were on the Autobahn headed for the city of Munich. After navigating a traffic jam we arrived at the main square in Munich, known as the Marienplatz. We were unable to check in to our hotel until later that afternoon, and I hadn’t slept on the plane, so by this point I was running on fumes. In the end, I would be awake for 32 straight hours on my first day, but none of that mattered because I was standing in Europe! I honestly never thought I’d see another continent. I had never even owned a passport until this trip. Being here was sublime.

We arrived just in time to see the famous Glockenspiel spring into action like a giant cuckoo clock.

Closeup of Glockenspiel figures.

After the Glockenspiel our group split up. Uncle Kipp and I had lunch at a nearby cafe, where I enjoyed my first Euro-beer, plus sausage and sauerkraut. The next day for lunch I would have essentially the same thing, except with fries instead of kraut (the fries were so tasty; they were more like crispy fried potatoes). Besides beer and water, the drink I enjoyed most on this trip was Fanta, a popular beverage over there, which tastes a bit different than in the States–not as sweet, more refreshing and natural tasting (well, as natural as soda can taste, anyway).

After lunch we did some sightseeing.

Rathhaus (Munich’s City Hall)
The Feldherrnhalle (sight of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler’s unsuccessful first attempt to seize power).

Munich has some amazing cathedrals. Here are a couple of them:

One of the massive stained-glass windows inside the Frauenkirche.
I couldn’t fit much of the cathedral into this shot, the downside of only having a pocket camera.
Theatinerkirche Interior

Later we climbed 300+ steps to the top of the Peterskirche tower to enjoy some spectacular views of Munich. The inside of the tower, with its winding steps and dark, narrow corridors, really makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the medieval era.

The photo at the top of this post was taken from this vantage point. Here are a few more:

I was too lazy to straighten this out. 😉
The Olympic Tower. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Alps.
Looking down at the Marienplatz square.

While up here we also got a birds-eye view of the Glockenspiel in action. A little later we met up with the rest of the group and headed back to the hotel to finally check in before heading out to dinner. All dinners were included in the tour, but the best meals were in Munich because we went to actual restaurants (dinner was served in the hotels of the other cities we visited).

The first night also happened to be my birthday, so Uncle Kipp arranged for the waitress to bring out a steak with a firecracker in it and the group sang Happy Birthday. My other recollection about that first restaurant was that they served the best tomato soup I ever had, almost like eating spaghetti sauce.

My birthday steak.

After dinner we headed to the famous Hofbrauhaus for drinks and I had my first Mas beer, which is a draft beer served in a full liter mug. The beer in this region is very easy to drink; it goes down much more smoothly than beer in the States (I’m not a big drinker, so it only took 2 1/2 of these Mas mugs on the second night to give me my first hangover since college).

Me with Uncle Kipp

Later that night we returned to the hotel for a much-needed night of sleep. In the morning we would be taking a tour of Munich followed by a visit to the Dachau concentration camp, which will be covered in the next installment.

Rathhaus at night.

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Eurotrip 2009 Part 5: Heidelberg

This is the fifth part of my Eurotrip 2009 Revisited series, a special edition of sorts in which I have divided the original post into smaller parts while incorporating minor copy edits and a few new (and reprocessed) images.

Flash Forward: Heidelberg, Germany

After our adventures in Lucerne we departed the next morning for the final leg of our trip. The hotel front desk was late with my wakeup call so I had to rush getting ready and packed to make sure I got downstairs for the bus on time, but I still had a few minutes to hit the restaurant and get some more of that awesome bacon.

Our first stop that morning was the Rhine Falls in Switzerland. While not on the level of Niagara, it is still quite spectacular and powerful.

The Rhine Falls
The tiny people visible at the top of the island on the left give you a sense of the size of the falls.
Me at the Falls

We didn’t have long to stay and I had already wasted some time sitting on a bench and staring at the falls, but I wanted to get a closer view, so I ran around the far side of the river where a path and steps led to the top of the falls, climbing as high as I could while taking photos.  However, time ran out before I was able to reach the top and I had to book it back to the bus.

Side View of the Falls

Our next stop was in the fabled Black Forest of Germany to see the world’s largest cuckoo clock in action. It was kind of kitschy (it’s no Glockenspiel). I would rather have spent more time at the Rhine Falls than rushing to make the 12 p.m. cuckoo performance.

World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

After the cuckoo performance we went inside the building for a demonstration of how the Germans hand-make their famous cuckoo clocks. We then stood in line for 45 minutes to get some crappy cafeteria food for lunch because we thought it would be faster than going to the sit-down restaurant across the way. In all, this was my least favorite stop of the trip, but the rest of the trip was so wonderful that it’s hard to complain about one little bump in the road.

After lunch we departed for our final destination: Heidelberg, Germany. The bus took us straight to the castle ruin that overlooks the city (we would not check in to our hotel that night until after 8:30 p.m.). While not as magnificent as the intact fortress in Salzburg that I saw two years prior, the Heidelberg castle is still very impressive and provides a nice view of the valley below:

A view of Heidelberg from the castle. I would later take photos of the castle
from below while standing in the square visible in the lower left of the photo.
Another view of Heidelberg from the castle.

Here are a couple of photos of the ruins themselves.  The open window sections reminded me a bit of the Colosseum.

Heidelberg Ruins
Heidelberg Ruins

We stopped in the castle courtyard for a group photo, and then went inside to view the world’s largest wine barrel.

World’s Largest Wine Barrel

We then explored the grounds around the castle. Along the way, I snapped this photo of a nearby obelisk in my best attempt at a 2001-ish monolith shot:

My Monolith (no apes huddled around this one)

After our tour of the castle we headed back to the bus, which dropped us off in the middle of town for an hour of free time before dinner. I took a few photos of the castle from down below.

Heidelberg Castle
Heidelberg Castle overlooking a square.
I liked these trees.

I then did some shopping and bought a chocolate gelato. One of the stores had tons of absinthe of every kind imaginable. I had never seen so much in one place. I thought about getting a big bottle to bring home, but decided against it.

We ate dinner at a charming place called Zum Sepp’l, which has apparently been a hangout for university students since the 1600’s, complete with thick wood tables entirely covered in carved names.

Carved table at the Zum Sepp’l

This was the best dinner of the trip, and a nice way to spend our last night in Europe. The tomato soup appetizer was fantastic (and I’m not usually a fan of it), but this tasted almost like spaghetti sauce. The bread was great. For the main course we had these awesome large pierogi topped with ham and onion. They were so good that I didn’t hesitate for seconds when they offered them. Here’s a picture of our mini group at the dinner table:

The people I spent the most time with during the trip.
From Left: Uncle Kipp, Amber, Sam, Me, Sam’s Grandmother.

After dinner, a group of guys from the New York group bought a giant three-liter beer boot, which they passed around and chugged down in rapid fashion.

Giant Beer Boot

I was finally able to settle into my hotel room a little after 8:30 p.m., but we were right back outside at 9:30 for an extended walking tour of Heidelberg. The castle looks beautiful lit up at night, though the night photos taken with my pocket camera didn’t come out too great.

Heidelberg Castle at Night

After the tour, our Gateway group stopped at a pub for a final round of drinks. On the way home we stopped for our last European gelatos. That night at 12:30 I helped Uncle Kipp do a final room check.

The following morning we hopped on the bus with the Virginia group for a long drive to Frankfurt airport (the NY group had already left very early that morning because they had a different flight). At the airport we said our goodbyes to our driver, guide, and the people from the Virginia group.

Here’s a photo of our entire group (New York, Virginia, and New Jersey):

Our Group

After a fairly short wait (especially compared to the 2007 trip), we boarded our plane. I had my seat switched from a window to an aisle, thinking that I would have a nice relaxing flight home. Little did I know that the girl sitting behind me would think that the touchscreen on the back of my seat was a punch screen, so you can imagine how fun that was for eight hours (I did finally get up with about 90 minutes left in the flight to show her how to use the screen without punching it). The movies really helped pass the time, even if most of them were mediocre, though I actually liked Marley & Me, a real tear jerker if you’re a dog lover.

We had a pretty rough landing in Philly, just as we had two years ago. Is there something about landing in Philly? We got the shuttle back to Gateway high school in South Jersey, where Jen picked me up. After saying our goodbyes we began the long drive back to central Jersey. I couldn’t wait to get home and get some rest, especially since I was beginning a new job in a couple of days.

Overall, I had a great time on the trip, though I would rank it slightly behind the one from 2007, primarily because on that trip we visited Salzburg (my favorite European city to that point), we did not have to share our bus with any other groups (which gave us plenty of room to stretch out on long bus rides and we didn’t have to worry about losing our seats every day), and we stayed two nights in every location, which made for a more easy-going trip.

On the other hand, we visited more cities on this trip and met some nice people from the other groups. It was also a blast hanging out with Amber, and some other aspects of the trip and flight were easier this time around since I had already gone through it once before. In the end, both trips were fantastic and left me with a lifetime’s worth of memories. One day I’ll write up my journal of the 2007 trip and the comparisons can begin. 🙂

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Eurotrip 2009 Part 3: Neuschwanstein and Innsbruck

This is the third part of my Eurotrip 2009 Revisited series, a special edition of sorts in which I have divided the original post into smaller parts while incorporating minor copy edits and a few new (and reprocessed) images.

Flash Forward: Innsbruck, Austria

After spending our last night in Munich, we had a (gasp) 6:15 wakeup call the next morning, though I actually awoke on my own at 5:45. Following breakfast we were on the road to Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle of King Ludwig II. The Sleeping Beauty castle of Disneyland was based on Neuschwanstein . . . and for you Spaceballs fans, it was also used as Castle Druidia in that film.

Neuschwanstein from down below
Hohenschwangau Castle, Ludwig’s childhood home, located beneath Neuschwanstein

The long climb to the top of the mountain where Neuschwanstein sits was much easier for me than it had been two years ago when I was carrying around 30 extra pounds. We toured the amazing inside of the castle (Ludwig was like an overgrown child; all of his rooms were extravagantly themed on Wagner operas, and he even had an indoor cave built just outside his bedroom). Unfortunately, they don’t let you take any pictures inside (I tried to sneak a few pics from under my jacket but they didn’t come out), so here’s an exterior shot of the valley taken from the castle:

One of my favorite scenes at Neuschwanstein

After the tour we made our way to the Marienbrücke, a bridge over a gorge that normally provides a stunning view of the castle, but unfortunately the entire side of the castle was covered in scaffolding. Luckily, I had gotten great pictures when I was here in 2007, so it wasn’t a huge loss.

The Marienbrücke
Neuschwanstein unfortunately covered in scaffolding

Amber and I crossed the bridge and began climbing the path to the top of the mountain, during which I took my obligatory Karate Kid photo:

The obligatory Karate Kid pose

After a short climb we decided to make our way back, but were separated from the rest of the group, so we started walking back down the mountain on our own. We came to a fork, at which a sign seemed to indicate that we could get to the bottom taking either path, but one was shorter than the other. We took the short path, which was steeper than the traditional path.

About halfway down we reached a dead-end, so we climbed back up to an intersection where the path appeared to continue on down the hill, but we didn’t want to take anymore chances and wind up late for the bus, so we climbed all the way back up the steep path to the original fork, an arduous climb with the clock ticking—Amber had never heard me curse so much in her life 🙂

Eventually we made it back to the original path on which we had climbed up to the castle, but way too late for lunch, so I grabbed a Bavarian hamburger and munched it on the way down. We made it back to the bus just in time, putting a little scare into Uncle Kipp, but as it turned out, the leader of the NY group was 15 minutes late, so we would have been fine.

Our next stop was the Wieskirche (also known as the church in the meadow). Here’s one shot of its amazing interior:

Wieskirche interior
The meadow that gives the Wieskirche its nickname

Following that we stopped in Oberammergau, a town famous for its Passion Play, as well as its wood carvings and painted buildings. I was still worn out from our mountain experience, so I just explored the town briefly before sitting down with a radler at an outdoor cafe, relaxing, and enjoying the view:

Alps in Oberammergau

We eventually arrived at our hotel in Innsbruck, Austria around 6pm. My room had a nice view of the alps:

View from my Innsbruck hotel room
View from an Innsbruck street
(McDonald’s truly is everywhere)

After unpacking and eating a hotel-provided pork dinner, we went on a brief walking tour. The kids wanted to find a nightclub, so Uncle Kipp befriended a group of local kids and had them lead us to a bar. A few of the girls did not want to stay, so I led them home, which was fine with me because the smoke in the bar was disgusting. Everyone who stayed at the bar apparently had a great time, but as my uncle is fond of saying: “To each their own.” After a very long day, I slept like a log for most of the night.

The next morning we went on another brief walking tour, culminating in a visit to a church with cool statues:

Innsbruck church statues

After that I did a little shopping with Amber, as well as Sam and her grandmother. I picked up another t-shirt (which I would only get one use out of because it shrank to nearly a half-shirt after I washed it). This was the same store where I bought my nephew Jamie’s t-shirt, so I hope his fared better than mine did.

Amber and me trying on some hats

A little later I bought a small bottle of absinthe, just to see what all the fuss was about. Amber and I then walked down to the river, where we got some great photos:

View of Alps from Innsbruck
Alps over river in Innsbruck
Innsbruck historical district at riverside

We then ate lunch at an outdoor cafe where I had a good spaghetti bolognese (even though I was enjoying the German food, I couldn’t go a whole week without eating Italian :-)).

Following lunch we hopped on the bus for a very long drive to Switzerland, which will be covered in the next installment.

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Eurotrip 2009 Part 2: Munich

This is the second part of my Eurotrip 2009 Revisited series, a special edition of sorts in which I have divided the original post into smaller parts while incorporating minor copy edits and a few new (and reprocessed) images.

Flash Forward: Nymphenburg Palace in Munich

Soon after our adventures in Rothenburg we left for the bus ride to Munich. On the way we stopped at two more medieval towns that also had city walls like Rothenberg. Our first stop was Dinkelsburg, a charming town that looks like it jumped right out of the pages of a storybook.

Dinkelsburg street

Our next stop was Nordlingen. For film buffs, this is the town that can be seen from the glass elevator at the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (most of the movie was actually filmed in Munich). I did not know this during the time I was there, though, or I might have taken more pictures (I didn’t snap many photos in this town because it looks so similar to Dinkelsburg and Rothenburg).

Nordlingen city wall

Later that day we arrived at our Munich hotel. The room card was needed to activate both the elevator and the electricity in my room, which I thought was an interesting feature. We had some free time to get settled in before leaving that night for the Augustiner restaurant. What was supposed to be a 15 minute walk turned out to be a half-hour walk, and by the time we got there people were starving (in retrospect, complaining about a 30-minute walk seems a bit silly in light of all the walking I did last year on the Inca Trail :-)).

Dinner began with a basket of pretzels (which you see more often in Munich than bread). The dinner was good, pork chops and spaetzle. I also ordered a radler (beer mixed with lemon soda). It’s a tasty alternative to beer and was my drink of choice for most of the trip.

On the way home that night we went to the Augustiner beer garden, where I had my first Mas beer of the week: a one-liter beer in a giant mug. Uncle Kipp had bought Amber her first beer earlier in the day (a radler), but she had not tried real beer yet, so I let her taste mine, to predictable results:

Amber’s first taste of real beer

A couple of German guys (who we thought worked there) came over and talked a few people from our group into going up on stage to dance and sing. The kids who went up soon discovered the truth when a real employee yelled at them. Soon after we headed back to the hotel. Exhausted from a general lack of sleep over the first couple of days of the trip, I fell asleep pretty easily a little after midnight, though I woke up a couple of times during the night.

The next morning for breakfast I had some outstanding croissants with tasty European butter, as well as a good chocolate-frosted pound cake. That day we went on a bus tour of Munich with the same guide that we had two years ago. Our first stop was Nymphenburg Palace:

I snapped this quick photo of Nymphenburg Palace from the bus.
Gotta love Photoshop’s spot healing tool for getting rid of window reflections.
The gardens behind Nymphenburg palace

While inside, I briefly leaned against one of the pillars in the picture below to take a photo of the ceiling mural, which was a no-no. A little old lady came over to yell at me, then proceeded to follow me around for the rest of the tour.

Nymphenburg interior

After finishing our tour of the palace, we hopped back on the bus and stopped by the Eisbach river to watch surfers ride the rough waters where the river forms a standing wave.

Surfer on the Eisbach in Munich

Our tour ended in the town square known as the Marienplatz, where we watched the Glockenspiel in action.

Glockenspiel with statue in foreground

Our group then split up and I bought Amber lunch for her birthday—we ate with Sam and her grandmother. Like the previous evening, we were supplied with a basket of pretzels. However, unlike the previous evening, they charged us for them—and neglected to mention this until after we had already eaten them. That was kind of annoying, but what are you going to do? These things happen when you travel. The lunch was good anyway: sausage and potato salad.

That afternoon I skipped the group excursion to the Dachau concentration camp since I had already seen it two years ago, choosing instead to walk to the famed English Garden (Munich’s version of Central Park). It’s a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city complete with mini waterfalls and babbling brooks.

Mini waterfall in the English Garden

Before going I bought a t-shirt (the first of many I would buy on this trip because the April weather was much warmer than I was expecting and I had mostly packed heavy clothes) and changed into the only pair of shorts I brought. By the time I got to the English Garden I realized it had taken me an hour to walk there, and it would take me another half hour to walk to the beer garden at the back of it. While in the park I discovered firsthand how much less prudish Europeans are than Americans when I saw a naked guy running around playing Frisbee with himself. There were tons of people there; including children, but nobody cared. It was certainly a jarring site for someone who grew up in a country that freaked out over a Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.

I made my way to the back of the park, first stopping at a gazebo on a hill overlooking the entire park with the city line in the background:

Munich city line behind the English Garden

I then continued on to the beer garden, at the center of which stands a large Chinese pagoda:

Chinese pagoda and beer garden in the English Garden

I sat down and drank a Radler and ate a giant donut type of pastry, soaking in the beautiful sunny day. I also took this time to call Jen at work. On my way out of the park I stopped and had a chocolate gelato (I was pigging out on this trip). A German man then asked me to take a picture of his family. We had a brief conversation, during which he sort of made fun of me for wearing an Oktoberfest shirt in the spring, but it was good-natured ribbing.

While walking back through the city, I saw an accident happen in front of me in which a motorcycle wiped out. The guy was okay; he had jumped off the bike. Interestingly, we had also seen a motorcycle accident on the trip two years ago.

When I got back to the hotel I stopped and spent a few minutes on the pay-per-minute internet computer to check email (this was back before I had a cell phone or kindle capable of keeping me connected abroad) . . . facebook was down so I couldn’t check that (perish the thought!). I then went to Uncle Kipp’s room and we chatted for a while only to realize that we had lost track of time and were late for the bus that was taking us to dinner. Everyone took turns being late on this trip, today was ours–and Amber now had some ammunition to fire back at Uncle Kipp. 😉

Dinner that night was roast chicken and fries, and once again we fell victim to the pretzel bait and switch, only this time it was more egregious because our dinners were supposed to be all inclusive except for drinks (the pretzels at the previous day’s dinner had been free). It wasn’t a big deal for me, but many of the students were there on limited budgets and were not expecting to have to pay money toward their dinners.

For dessert, Uncle Kipp gave Amber a very good birthday cake that our table shared. Later that night we went to the famed Hofbrauhaus for drinks.

Amber & me with Mas beers at the Hofbrauhaus

At one point during the evening I discovered that German women have no problem coming into the bathroom to clean while you are still using the facilities. Anyway, we got home that night a little after 11. We had a 6:15 wakeup call the next morning to leave for Innsbruck, Austria. Along the way we would be stopping at King Ludwig II’s fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein, and a few other places. Those events will be covered in the next installment.

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Eurotrip 2009 Part 1: Rothenburg

This is a re-posting of my 2009 Eurotrip journal. I am revisiting it in order to split the long original post into smaller parts that will fit more neatly into the country categories of the top menu. I also wanted to restore some images that were lost when I imported my old blog to WordPress.

What follows is the original text with minor edits and a few new (and reprocessed) images here and there. Consider it the special edition, or Eurotrip 2009 Revisited. 🙂

This is actually a photo from later in the trip (Innsbruck, Austria),
but I thought it was a nice choice for kicking off the journal.

This journal chronicles my trip to Europe from April 4th to April 12th, 2009.  First, a little background. My Uncle Kipp is a high school German teacher who takes his students on biennial Spring Break trips to Germany through a tour company called ACIS. As group leader, his trip is free, and he is allotted a certain number of chaperones, who also get to go for free. This was my second trip with one of his classes (I had also chaperoned two years ago). As with the previous trip, I paid extra to be guaranteed my own room, so my trip ended up costing $280, which is still obviously an enormous bargain for a trip to Europe, and more than worth it to have my own room for the week.

On this trip we were joined by my cousin Amber, who would be turning 18 in Munich (coincidentally, I had celebrated my 36th birthday in Munich two years ago). I wish I had kept a journal for that first trip because it would have been interesting to compare the two trips, but this one will have to do…


After packing all night and getting little sleep, we left the house around 12:45 p.m. for Gateway high school in South Jersey. The airport shuttle arrived at Gateway a little after 2 p.m. and, after saying our goodbyes to family, we were off.

We breezed through check-in at Philly airport—and I wasn’t searched for a change! The flight did not leave until 6:15 and we had some time to kill, so I watched the Star Wars episode of Family Guy on my iPod. Also during this time, I learned how easy it is to misplace your passport as I had a brief panic attack when I couldn’t find mine (it was under the seat I had been sitting in.) It would not be the last time on this trip that I would have a passport snafu (more on that later).

On the flight I got separated from the rest of the group and wound up with a window seat. I would have preferred an aisle seat but at least I had a nice view. I like this shot of the sun setting over the runway as the plane turned for takeoff:

Turning onto the runway

During the flight, Lufthansa serves food and drinks (all free). The dinner was actually pretty good for plane food and I had a few glasses of white wine to wash it down. The woman sitting next to me was nice and we had a good conversation for the first half of the flight. She was headed to Germany on business for Siemens.

I tried to sleep during the second half of the flight to no avail thanks to the guy behind me kicking my seat the entire time. I finally gave up and decided to watch a movie. They now have touch screens on every seat where you can choose from a number of movies, TV shows, and music channels. The movies are edited for content, but it wasn’t too noticeable. I decided to watch Twilight (the first film had just come out) to see what all of the hype was about—there’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. Anyway, we soon landed. I bought a pair of earplugs supposedly designed to help relieve the pressure during takeoff and landing, but they didn’t work; I pulled them out about halfway through the landing. Thankfully, I’m more of a veteran now and better at popping my ears on flights, but at the time it was only my second flight in 20 years.


We arrived at Frankfurt airport around 8 a.m., met up with our tour guide, Keith, and hopped on the ACIS bus. The other two groups had arrived before us, so there wasn’t much choice in terms of seating (it would be the first salvo in a week-long battle for seats on the bus). The drive to Rothenburg, a charming medieval town surrounded by a perfectly preserved city wall, took around two hours.

First shot of the wall surrounding the medieval city of Rothenburg

We were unable to check in to our hotel until 3:30 in the afternoon so the bus dropped us off and we embarked on a walking tour of the city with our full plane carry-ons in tow (I had not been to sleep since the previous day). After the walking tour we split up and went off on our own. I ate lunch with Uncle Kipp, Amber, her friend Sam, and Sam’s grandmother Elizabeth. This was the group I hung out with for most of the trip. We sat outside at a restaurant in the town square. The lunch I had was fantastic, and would prove to be my best meal of the trip. It was a pork steak in a dark beer sauce topped with onions and thick bacon, with a large pile of awesome fried potatoes on the side. After lunch we stopped for some delicious gelato. We then walked around the city streets and on the wall, taking lots of photos. Here are a few:

Typical Rothenburg street
The wall
A covered bridge
Amber and me with Sam (the girl Amber befriended and hung out with for most of the trip)

I was finally able to check into my room around 4pm, at which time I crashed and got about an hour of sleep before dinner at the hotel. Dinner that night was decent, a beef pot roast. That night we walked back into town for more gelato and to see the town crier, who was dressed in full period costume.

The town crier in full costume

After that I went to bed early, around 11:15 p.m., but not before I realized that I had forgotten to bring my contact case, so I was forced to improvise a container to store my contacts for the evening. The next morning I awoke before the wake-up call (after waking up several other times throughout the night) and went down to breakfast in the hotel. Following breakfast we had to be packed and ready to put our suitcases on the bus by 8:30. Amber was late and wound up having to store her suitcase at the hotel front desk after the bus driver left, which led to a scolding from Uncle Kipp. 🙂

That day we had some free time before leaving town, so I walked around Rothenburg by myself. First I toured the historical museum in the town hall devoted to the 30 Years War, which had a cool dungeon complete with cells and instruments of torture. I also tried to climb the town hall tower to get a bird’s eye view of the city, but it was closed for the day, so I did some shopping and then ate at the same restaurant where I had the great meal the day before. This time it wasn’t as good, but it was still okay: a pork chop, sauerkraut, and my first beer of the week.

I was disappointed to discover that I could not use my credit card to pay for the meal because there was a $25 minimum (this would be a recurring theme throughout Europe), but when you’re traveling you have to roll with the punches and realize that many things are not going to be the same as they are back home, though Europe is pretty close—if you can’t handle the minor differences in Europe you should probably do all of your vacationing in the States. 😉

Later I bought a chocolate covered snowball (a local specialty for which I cannot remember the German name), and soon after we were back on the bus for Munich, which will be covered in the next installment. Until then, I’ll leave you with a couple of night shots of Rothenburg.

City Hall
Outside the wall

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