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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Europe, Part 6 · Berchtesgaden

On our drive through Bavaria after touring Neuschwanstein Castle, we stopped by a few small churches in the Berchtesgaden area (in Germany, near the south-western border with Austria)- the heart of the Bavarian Alps!

While planning the trip, I frequently relied on Pinterest for itinerary ideas.  So shockingly 21st century for me! ;-)  In my searches of the area, several amazingly picturesque churches kept popping up, so I figured we'd stop by and see if they lived up to the hype.

Well, as you can see from this post, even my terribly feeble attempts at photography show that they are quite stunning in their natural state. :-)

(Previous trip posts here if you've missed them: parts 1, 2, 3, 45)

Our first stop was the Parish Church of St. Sebastian in Ramsau.  Visiting these places in person is always so fun, because the real experience is almost always more impressive than the photographs, and less impressive, simultaneously- however that's possible! ;-)

The "more impressive" part of this one is that it really, truly does look exactly as impossibly quaint in real life!  I do wonder if the folks responsible were fully cognizant of the perfect location, ideal architecture, etc when they were planning it... because it also has the attraction of being perfectly natural and unaffected.

The "less impressive" part is that there is a bit of optical illusion going on- at least as regards the immediate surroundings.  Ramsau is a fairly popular place, so there was a lot of foot and motor traffic.  There are lots of buildings all along the road, and quite honestly, I still don't know how they don't show up in the photos....  The delightful thing is that there's a perfectly situated, easily accessible location for taking the "iconic shot".  After our experience with castles, it's nice to not need a helicopter to get a great shot. ;-)

Ramsau.  We arrived in the afternoon, and after our drive, a little refreshment sounded like just the thing. ;-)  We had several options to choose from, but settled on a place that had a lovely-sounding Raspberry Cream Cake (or Himbeer Sahnetorte as the case might be.  Our German is still horrible, but we got very good at deducing berry names, cream, cake, cheese, chocolate, etc... ;-))

Oh. My.  I didn't get photos when it arrived, because it looked way to good to wait.  And once I got started, it was way too good to stop. ;-)

Our last stop of the evening was the Maria Gern Church in Berchtesgaden.  This one was SO HARD to find.  Our GPS was less than helpful, and the minimal signs we came across were confusing.  After quite a bit of mix-up, we eventually found it!  I still can't believe it- especially since it was miles away from where our GPS led us.

But yet again- stunning location!!!

Fun details in the stucco-work!

Our destination for the next day was the peaceful Konigssee.  It is an alpine lake surrounded by mountains so steep that not even a walking path borders the edge!  It's a popular tourist destination (especially on gorgeous weekend days like we experienced!) and a boat company offers rides halfway or all the way across the length of the sea.

Wonderful Bavarian architecture in the tourism area- way too amazing not to include in the post! :-)

Halfway down the length of the sea is a small church that's quite iconic and charming as well!

(Have you noticed the trend for onion domes here in Bavaria? :-))

We took our time and relaxed this day, so there was no getting up early to ensure that we arrived on the peninsula before the rush.  Like I mentioned before, it was a stunning day AND a weekend, so as you can imagine- everyone was out in full force. ;-)

The amazing thing was- the entire day still felt peaceful and secluded!  So relaxing and enjoyable- it certainly wasn't diminished at all by the other tourists. :-)

On the peninsula, a smokehouse prepares fresh fish, and boy did it smell heavenly!  We indulged in some smoked fish on baguettes and they lived up to the smell!

At the end of the Konigssee, there is a small isthmus of land separating Konigssee from Obersee, and it is an easy walk over.  The water was perfectly still and clear and the views were amazing!  Oh, and can you imagine living in that house on the other side of Obersee?  Talk about remote! ;-)

On our ride out, we had a very entertaining and energetic tour guide!  The entire boat was in stitches and he was hilarious!  Or at least, we assume he was hilarious.  The entire tour was in German, so all we could catch on to was the fact that everyone thought he was a riot. ;-)  Made me really wish I knew the language, because it seemed like it was very informative as well as being amusing! :-)

I think that was the one time on the trip where we really felt like foreigners.  The locals were always very helpful and friendly wherever we went, and frequently the language barrier wasn't an issue at all. (SO thankful that English has become such a universal language! We are totally spoiled...)

On our ride out, we sat in the only empty seats left on the boat, and they ended up being on the wrong side to take photos of the church.  I was a bit disappointed, but I figured it would be an easy matter to take photos on the way back.  Not so much.  By the time we were ready to head back to town, there was already such a line that we waited 50 minutes for a boat back!

In all that time, I had plenty of opportunity to think about the horrors of not getting a photograph. :-P  We had noticed several slight variations of boat styles, and since I had so much time to think about it, I formed my "ideal plan" and prayed that I would have a good attitude no matter what ended up happening. ;-)

My ideal situation was a boat with no windows in the back (so I didn't have to worry about opening them or getting any glare) and seats that faced front/back.  Another crucial aspect of the idea was that we would be first on the boat, so we could snag the right seats.  Or at least, very close to being first.  I clued in the whole family about the plan so my chances of getting a good seat were greater.

The boats actually seat quite a few people, so it can be very hard to tell which boat you'll make it on while you're waiting in line.  As we followed the line ahead of us, everyone was being herded into sardine-like spaces on the boat.  Oh no.  This is not good.  The entire time we got closer and closer to the boat, I kept getting more and more resigned to my lot.  It's OK.  It's just one church.

One amazing church.  On an alpine lake.  In Germany.  Yeah, maybe it's not that OK.... ;-)

As we neared the gate it looked like we'd be squeezed into the last remaining seats, but lo and behold- would you believe it- we were instead the very first people on the new boat!  I couldn't believe it.  And not only that- it was exactly the kind of boat I was hoping against hope for!  Speechless.  Such a gift!!  I think I enjoyed it even more for the anticipation and doubt that came before. :-)  At this point, all I had to worry about was getting blurry photos because I was so shocked I got exactly what I was hoping for!

One last fun fact about Konigssee- when we were watching "The Sound of Music" after returning home, we discovered that Konigssee makes an appearance!  In the opening landscape shots, there is an aerial view of it- you can tell by the shape and by the fact that you can even see a couple of these tour boats on it!  Another movie location to add to our list! ;-)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Europe, Part 5 · Reichenbach Falls and Neuschwanstein Castle

· Catch up on parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 if you haven't already! ·

On our way from our Alpine village to the Germany/Austria border, we took a few stops along the way.  Our first was the infamous Reichenbach Falls- scene to the final confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Moriarty.

Being a family rather keen on mysteries, we've of course read all the Sherlock Holmes books as well as enjoying several different movie adaptations.  When I realized that we'd be including Switzerland in our trip itinerary, I just had to see how close we'd be to Reichenbach Falls!  Wonderfully, it wasn't far out of our way at all. :-)

We drove through a large portion of Switzerland that day, and it was a wonderful drive for admiring the views!  From the looks of them, I'd love to take a Swiss lake vacation at some point. :-)

This stunning view was what greeted us at the top of our funicular ride up to the falls.  SO stunning!  And we loved how atmospheric the clouds and mist were that morning- even more lovely than a sunny day would have been. :-) 

The downside to having mainly novelty prints in your wardrobe... sometime they aren't quite applicable to the situation you find yourself in- as demonstrated by my 50 States dress being worn in Europe.
I guess that's one way to broadcast my tourist status. ;-)

The waterfall was impressive, although not quite the magnitude I expected after reading the book; however, that is most likely due to the fact that a hydro-electric plant now harnesses the flow of water.  Also, apparently in the intervening 120+ years since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited the falls, they've carved their way back into the mountainside several feet.

There is a white star (only visible as a speck from this far away) on the far left that marks the spot of the duel and demise.  I'll have to read the book again, because I was surprised they marked it so far from the falls!

Up at the very top of the falls is a hotel/tea shop.  We took the original funicular from 1899 up to the main vantage point, and after hiking the rest of the way to the top, we're rather glad we didn't opt to climb up the entire thing- the falls are over 850 ft in total!

All in all, it was a great way to break up the trip, and I love visiting book/movie locations!!

We drove off to our next home, and arrived early that evening.  Isn't it another nice place??  We used to find almost all of our accommodations, and were so pleased with selection of affordable, comfortable places. :-)

This was just a one-night stopover on our way to Berchtesgaden, but it was almost within view of our destination for the next day: Neuschwanstein Castle!  We stopped by the grocery store for food that evening (local sausages-yum!), and as you walk out of the store you can't help but be struck by the clear view of the castle!  Whaaaattt.... I hope all the locals appreciate their area, because that's just crazy!  I'd love to see castles in the landscape when shopping for vegetables! ;-)

The castle was just as lovely in person as in all the famous photographs!

Unfortunately, the overlook bridge was closed for repairs, so we never really got a semi-aerial view of the castle.  I fee like that's one aspect that most castles could improve upon- give me directions to the place that I can take the "money shot"! :-)  I'm pretty sure that the view from nearby Hohenschwangau Castle would be rather nice, but we didn't make it there.

View from castle.  Sigh.  Hohenschwangau is on the right.  It was King Ludwig's childhood home- you can see why he was fond of the area!  Simply lovely!

It's kind of funny, when we drove up to the castle I was shocked at the location.  It's right on the edge of a large plain- completely not what I'd expected from all the photos!  But as you can see, it's nestled amongst the mountains, so the other 180° of views are stunning!

We had rather low expectations for the castle- we'd heard lots of people were very underwhelmed by it.  As it turned out, we were all pleasantly surprised and greatly enjoyed it!  Ludwig died before finishing it, but I didn't think that detracted much from the overall experience.  There were several interesting informational videos on his vision for the castle, the process of building it, and all of the buildings and rooms he planned but never made.

There are no photographs allowed within the castle itself and I didn't know what to expect.  I was so delighted by the interiors, though!  All the walls were painted with murals- he was very inspired by medieval stories and art and had a very opulent sense of style that meant the finished rooms were all lavishly decorated.

The whole thing has a definite "fairy tale" feel to it- it certainly doesn't feel like an authentically old castle, but I don't think that lessens the charm at all. :-)  And really- most of the well-known castles in Germany are actually from the 1800s, too!

We all greatly enjoyed our visit after all, and the horrible crowds that we were expecting really weren't bad at all. :-)

Centuries ago, there was a real medieval castle in this location, and Ludwig grew up exploring the ruins.  He decided to make his own ideal castle on the foundations of the original, and while many people deride him for his fondness for excess, it is rather true that he had rather good taste!  No one can deny that this castle has become quite iconic and universally admired.

His personal life on the other hand.... I'll admit that he sounded like quite the spoiled brat. ;-)

We spent the rest of the day driving through charming Bavaria (oh Bavaria, how I love you!!!) to our next destination: Berchtesgadener Land.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Europe, Part 4 · Switzerland

OK, I realize Switzerland gets raved about all the time and that I'll just be repeating what everyone else has said before.... but that's because it is just UNREAL!  We loved being there and it was awe-inspiring, but looking at these pictures again really brings it home- it is, quite simply, gorgeous.

It didn't hurt that our weather was positively magnificent!  I was a bit concerned about the weather for this portion of the trip, as it would make a huge impact if it wasn't very nice... well, I needn't have worried- we had sun and wonderful temps the whole time. :-)

(Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the trip found here!)

Quite literally, this was the view from our room.  Stunning.

We stayed in Gimmelwald, a tiny town nestled in the Swiss Alps and only accessible by cable car!  We traveled from Colmar, France to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland on our travel day and arrived at the cable car in the early afternoon.  It was a short ride up, but wow! was it steep!

That was one of the aspects of our alpine stay that was a huge "culture" shock- there was no flat ground!  Literally, always an incline.  We come from the prairie and we don't even have many steps to climb in buildings, either!  Needless to say, we got a workout. ;-)

My cousin had been to Gimmelwald twice before and has taken stunning pictures, which is what prompted us to put it on our itinerary!  We got our accommodation referral from her too, and we enjoyed our quaint stay! :-)  

Hotel Mittaghorn (or "Walter's") is a small, old-fashioned hotel in a wonderful location!  The accommodations are more "old-school"- bathroom down the hall, showers on a 5-minute timer, not remodeled for 40 years, etc.  However, with that also comes a certain charm... everything was clean and cared for, our host was wonderfully welcoming and personable, our stay felt more authentic, and... we had really cute little green beds. :-) 

Stunning location!!

We took a walk one day that led us into a little wooded area- it seemed like something out of Narnia. :-)

(oh, and can we just have a moment with that waterfall picture??  yeah, I'm pretty impressed that I was able to achieve the coveted "soft" look for the water!  LOL, it's the simple things, folks... ;-))

A sampling of the alpine flora on our walks.

Shepherds huts from our walk.

I felt like Heidi.

On all our walks we saw cows and goats (or heard their bells), but this group was the most photogenic! 

A hotel in Gimmelwald; the cable car that goes up to Gimmelwald and then Murren, as seen from our balcony.

(oh man! Swiss buildings are just as cute in person as you'd expect!!)

Downtown Murren.  Not exactly bustling itself! ;-)  It does however boast a grocery and a few restaurants, as well as some souvenir shops.  I'm not a big one for buying souvenirs or mementos of my travels, but I did indulge while in Switzerland.... :-)  Something about edelweiss scarf pins and decorative cow bells (to make my cow dress more Swiss, ya know! ;-)) isn't to be resisted!

Actually, I realized after we were already in the Alps that it was another of those rare opportunities to wear my cow dress!  That clanging bell wouldn't be out of place at all!  Such a pity I didn't think to pack it... heehee. ;-)

Just look at those mountains!  It's really just unreal.....  In the second photo, that's the view from our hotel- looking up the mountain to Murren.  It's farther to walk up for dinner than it looks.  Just sayin'. ;-)  However, the amazing cheese fondue dinner was totally worth it.  And this way, we burned off a few of those calories. ;-)

We saw this sweet kitty several times throughout our trip- from all appearances, it looks like he walks back and forth from Murren a few times each day, looking for loving from anyone along the trail.  So cute!  Gretel is great with animals, and has a special fondness for cats, so we always kept our eyes open for them. :-)

Is this for real?  Can I live here forever?

I took a series of photos for a panorama, but as I mentioned in my last post, they don't translate as easily to digital sharing as I expected.... and this group is even worse than the one in Colmar. :-P  So instead, I'll just share the pics individually. ;-)

These are from our hike up above Murren.  We had the same view from our hotel, just a little closer and a couple thousand feet lower and thus less capturable with a camera. :-)

 Look how huge and amazing those mountains are!!

The view over Murren- complete with a parasailer taking off!  There were lots of them out all day- sounds like such a cool experience!  Looks absolutely terrifying. ;-)

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