England Trip, 2016: Leeds Castle

These photos are from my second visit to Leeds Castle (I had taken a tour of the castle back in the summer of 2014). This time, I was there for a Valentine’s Day wedding. Unfortunately, I had caught a terrible flu in London and was barely able to function, so I took far fewer photos on this visit, but I did manage to get a few outside and several inside, including pics of our awesome room. We spent the night in the castle, which was really cool, though I didn’t get to savor much of it as I ended up sleeping through most of my stay there . . . still, I’ll always be able to say that I slept in an English castle. 🙂

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 13: Leeds Castle and Dover

After a long, long delay, I am finally returning to the journal of my 2014 European trip. Perhaps I might finish it before 2016 rolls around. 🙂

July 9, 2014: Fresh from my visit to the Cotswolds on the previous day, I embarked on another excursion outside London. Today I would be visiting Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, and Greenwich, before boarding a boat that would take me along the Thames back into central London. This was my fourth and final trip booked through Premium Tours.

The first stop was Leeds Castle. Our group was given a private tour before the castle opened to the public, enabling me to get plenty of people-free shots. Leeds may not be as big as other castles, but it’s very pretty and serene, situated on a lake and surrounded by beautiful grounds. It’s worth a visit if you’re looking for a day out from London to a nearby destination.

Little did I know that in less than two years I would be returning (and actually staying in the castle for a couple of nights) for my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. This time I will be visiting the castle in February, so perhaps I’ll get some new photos with snow cover to contrast with the summer photos below:

Our next stop after Leeds Castle was Dover for a chance to view the famous white cliffs. Unfortunately it was just a 15-minute stop, so I only had time for a few photos.

After leaving Dover we next headed to the land of Chaucer: Canterbury. That part of the trip will be covered in the next installment.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 10: Edinburgh Castle

July 6, 2014: I awoke on my final day in Scotland, took one final look at the garden outside my window, and then headed downstairs to check out of my room. The train back to London would not be leaving until the late afternoon, so we had one free day left to spend in the city, and our hosts were kind enough to store our luggage in a room in the guest house after checkout so that we could enjoy the day without dragging around suitcases.

I chose to spend my final day visiting Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town, so after breakfast I headed outside and began the long walk to the castle. Between the distance and stopping for photos, it probably took me about an hour to get there. Here are some photos I snapped along the way.

Finally, I reached Edinburgh Castle and presented my ticket, which I had purchased online ahead of time and printed out. The castle did not disappoint–gorgeous architecture and stunning views of the city below. Some highlights of the castle itself were the 12th-century St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh), the Great Hall (featuring a musical performance by a minstrel), the prison barracks, the Scottish War Memorial (in spite of some dude disrespectfully allowing his children to climb all over the lion statue as if they were in a playground), a touching little dog cemetery, and exhibits depicting medieval castle life.

After leaving the castle I made my into the Old Town to do some shopping, soak in the festive atmosphere, and eat a late lunch. I found a little hole-in-the-wall joint serving doener kebabs, which was perfect, as it has become a tradition to eat at least one doener kebab on every Eurotrip since I had my first one in Vienna back in 2007.

Here are a couple of photos from my walk in the city, including one shot of a woman dressed in a stormtrooper uniform—never expected to see that in Scotland. 🙂

I wanted to do a tour of Mary King’s Close, but there wasn’t enough time, so I meandered about the Old Town for a while longer (stocking up on various kinds of shortbread cookies for the wife) before making my way back to the guest house to grab my luggage and catch the bus to the train station, where I boarded a train for the roughly 5-hour ride back to London. The train arrived late in the evening, probably around 9:30. I said my goodbyes to George, who was a great guide, and gave him a good tip. I then headed back to the same Cartwright Gardens apartment building in which I had stayed during my first week in London.

However, checking back in to my flat turned out to be a 45-minute ordeal. I hauled my luggage up two flights of stairs, went to open my room, and there were people already in there–they had double-booked it. Luckily, I heard voices on the other side of the door before I tried to open it. By the time they sorted my room and provided me with everything they kept forgetting, I had run up and down two or three flights of stairs five times. I ended up in the same 3rd-floor room I had occupied during the previous week, which I liked better than the 2nd-floor room they initially tried to give me anyway, and the familiarity made me feel as if I was arriving home, so all was well that ended well.

After unpacking I collapsed into bed following nearly a week of getting very little sleep. I didn’t have definitive plans for the next day until the evening, when I would be heading to the theater district to see a show, so I decided to sleep in and not set a wakeup call. The rest of the week was mostly booked solid, so tomorrow would be a lazy day.

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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 4: Von Trappin’ in Salzburg

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.

My original title for this post was “The Hills Are Alive in Salzburg,” but then I realized that a fellow blogger recently used almost the exact same title, and I didn’t want it to seem like I was copying. 😉

April 4th to April 5th, 2007: It was time to leave Vienna and head to Salzburg, passing through more gorgeous Austrian countryside. Along the way we caught a glimpse of Melk Abbey, one of the world’s most famous monasteries, over 900 years old and still functioning as an abbey and school. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop and check out this impressive site, so I had to settle for a photo snapped from the moving bus.

Melk Abbey

Eventually we reached Salzburg and I got my first glimpse of the spectacular fortress that overlooks and dominates the city landscape.

Hohensalzburg fortress, one of the largest and best preserved medieval castles in Europe.

After checking into our hotel we went on a guided walking tour. I quickly fell in love with Salzburg. It was not only my favorite city on this trip, but possibly my favorite that I’ve ever visited. Salzburg doesn’t feel at all like a city, there’s not a tall building in sight. Featuring cobblestone pedestrian streets lined with historical buildings fronted with iron signs, it’s like a walk back in time. I could have spent an entire week here.

View from a pedestrian street.
Mozart’s birthplace. The museum inside is very touristy.
The Salzach River runs right through the middle of the city, with pedestrian bridges crossing it.

I was particularly fascinated with the fortress, taking many photos from many angles. Here are a few:

Hohensalzburg Fortress
View from Mirabell Gardens
Seeing the fortress for the trees…

While in Salzburg we saw many landmarks that were featured in The Sound of Music

The Fountain
Mirabell Gardens
The Mirabell Gardens archway featured in the film.
St. Peter’s Cemetery, where the Von Trapps hid from the Nazis,
though the actual scene was filmed in Hollywood.

After our guided tour we had free time before dinner. I went off by myself and ended up in the main square in the shadow of the fortress, where I spotted some men playing on a giant chess board (I saw several of these giant boards in Lucerne as well).

The man moving the knight in this photo would later be my opponent.

I watched a couple of games and then decided to challenge the winner of the most recent game. We didn’t speak each other’s language, but the language of chess is universal. I did very well early on—I went up a knight pretty quickly and appeared on my way to a win, but then I blundered back a knight and ended up losing a close match. Despite my disappointing loss, it remains a fond memory—how often do you get to play jumbo chess in Europe while gazing up at a magnificent castle?

After the game I made my way back to the hotel for dinner. The helpings of schnitzel were very generous—I guess they knew they were serving Americans. 🙂

That night we went to the Augustiner Brewery, which was founded by Augustinian monks in 1621. The beer crafted here is still based on their methods, and those monks knew what they were doing. The beer was maybe the best I’ve ever had anywhere; it went down so smoothly.

I thought these were cool mugs.

The next morning we went on another walking tour.

Group portrait in Mirabell Gardens.
This monastery is built into the side of the mountain.
Closeup of the monastery catacomb windows carved into the rock.

After the tour we split into smaller groups. Some of us decided to go up to the fortress. There is a steep walking path to the top if you prefer to hike, but we opted to ride the funicular since we only had a couple of hours to spare (you could easily spend an entire day exploring everything the fortress has to offer). I was surprised at the speed of the funicular cars; they travel up the track much faster than you would expect at first glance.

View of Salzburg from the fortress.
View of the square below. In a neat coincidence, the marching band down there was from New Jersey.
Side view of the fortress overlooking the city below.
Salzburg through the eyes of a cannon.
Although this tree in the middle of the castle courtyard wasn’t white,
my first thought when seeing it was of the Minas Tirith white tree in Lord of the Rings.

Before heading back down we had lunch at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the valley below. Unfortunately the Alps were shrouded in haze, so we could barely make out their majesty. I imagine the view must be phenomenal on a clear day. All in all, our visit to the fortress was the highlight of our stay in Salzburg. The rest of the group members who chose not to accompany us really missed out.

View from the restaurant.

Back down in the square it was time to leave for the salt mines, but we had about 20 minutes to kill, so I played another quick game of chess with a native Austrian, this time with everyone in the group watching. Since I had to rush through the game, I wound up getting my butt kicked. The Austrian who defeated me was very nice, though, even posing with me for a picture afterward. My uncle has that photo somewhere.

The bus then picked us up and we were off to the salt mines. It’s a pretty neat tour: part walking, part mine car ride, and part boat ride.

Uncle Kipp and me (everyone had to put on these outfits before entering).

One really fun part of the tour is sliding down the optional big slides to the lower parts of the mine. You ride down with a partner. Several of the students went multiple times.

One of the slides.

After exiting we toured a replica Celtic village at the top of the salt mine mountain. From here we had a nice view of the valley below

A view from the top of the salt mine.

With that, our stay in Salzburg was near an end. In the morning we would depart for Lucerne, Switzerland, with a stop at Neuschwanstein along the way, which will be covered in the next installment. Until then, I leave you with a shot of the fortress at night.

Farewell, Salzburg. I hope to return someday.

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