(Part 1 of 3)
Warning: This is going to be painfully long and not entirely interesting. Oh well, just scroll through the pictures, they’re not too bad.
I like this travelling bug, y’know! Blowing up your savings (more or less) to travel once every couple of years. My 2012 European sojourn left me wanting more of Belgium. So this time around, I planned a little holiday with the intention of visiting at least one trappist monastery. I ended up seeing none, and that was disappointing. But I visited a few cloisters that DO brew beer and a bunch of other interesting places.
August 2014, I took two weeks off work to travel around Germany, Austria (where I met Vipin, after a year!!) and Belgium. This post is all things Germany.
Planning the trip was quite a pain, to be honest. This time, there was no bunking with cousins, no favours, no paid dinners, no free trips to Barcelona courtesy aforementioned rich cousins. I learnt that Germany is big country, however small it looks on the map. And you need to know what you want to do, to narrow your options down. First things first, I booked my air tickets and bought my Eurail pass (damn! I completely forgot to mail my pass back to them, now that the trip is over, for the freebies!!). The Eurail website is pretty neat, it gives you some fun train itineraries and routes. I don’t know why I narrowed down on South-West Germany, but I did. Bavaria. The Black Forest area. As for why I picked Germany and Austria and Belgium, over the other twenty odd countries that make up the EU, I guess I have only one answer – beer.
My original itinerary was planned around a cousin’s wedding that was happening in London and the implicit assumption that I would be invited. So I had Bavaria, Edinburgh and Brussels on the cards. Turns out, I was told that I wasn’t obliged to attend the wedding, which I treated as an explicit non-invite and went ahead and changed my plan to Bavaria-Austria-Belgium, only to be told 15 days before the wedding that I should attend it. Amidst a mild clash of egos, some borderline ill will and awkward conversation, I decided to do the holiday just the way I wanted it.
The plan broadly involved making Munich my base and doing a bunch of day trips across south-western Germany, with a couple of detours – a day and a night in Freiburg to meet a friend and a slightly more out-of-the-way visit to a village called Furth im Wald to attend Drachenstich (which I have written about later on in this post).
You know you’re in Germany when the bus outside the airport has a huge Erdinger sticker on it.
I’d taken a painfully long flight – Bangalore to Munich with layovers at Abu Dhabi and Berlin. My flight from Abu Dhabi to Berlin was delayed and then they put me on an even later flight to Munich. So, by the time I got to the Munich airport, it was close to 3 pm on August 15th (when I was actually scheduled to land at 9:30 am). It took me a while to find the hostel I was staying at because sometimes I’m hopeless with directions and can’t care enough to read signs. That meant pretty much everything I’d chalked out for Day 01 had to be pushed out.
The Meininger Hostel is a really nice place to stay at – bunk beds, with cards to mark your space and storage space for your bags in their rooms. They also offer a luggage room in the basement, in case you want to leave your bags and be gone a couple of days.
Breakfasts on most days were a strong coffee and a panini or a sandwich which I bought at the Munich train station and had on the train.
The morning of August 16th, I took an early train to Füssen from where I took a bus to Hohenschwangau.
It was raining pretty heavily (so much for it being ‘summer’ in Europe in August!!) and I figured it made sense taking a look around Hohenschwangau – the village and the castle, before I went ahead and explored the Neuschwanstein Castle.
(This, below, is Schloss Neuschwanstein, as seen from the central square at Hohenschwangau.)
Hohenschwangau translates to “hilly region of the swan”, which makes me wonder if “gau” is actually derived from a Sanskrit word which finally found it’s way to the Hindi word for village. The lake that you can see from the Neuschwanstein Castle is called Schwansee, pretty evidently. See, in German, is lake. And Neuschwanstein, of course, is New Swan Stone. Most castle names are preceded by the word Schloss which is the German word for castle.
I paid €23 for a King’s ticket, which included entries into both castles, and an additional €6 for a ride up to the Neuschwanstein Castle.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the castle, obviously. But it was a very simple castle – just like a huge house owned by a bunch of really rich people with very decent tastes in tapestry and furniture. I like that sort of stuff. Heh! Oh, also, it was mostly Neogothic Architecture, something I saw around a bunch in Europe. Almost Gothic, but not quite as dark and with a definite Roman aesthetic influence.
Another thing I saw around most castles I visited this time around were ceramic heaters – in the corner of every room and connected with air columns behind the walls and down to the basement where heated coal helped circulate warm air up the columns and into the rooms. All these heaters are invariably extremely pretty, with fine patterns and art work over them.
Oh, and this! It’s just an attempt at an artsy picture of a wheelbarrow, a bench and a palace door all in the same frame.
I skipped the visit to the museum right outside Schloss Hohenschwangau (I was told it had a bunch of the stuff people from back then used. Nothing anything too interesting, to be honest). The walk from Hohenschwangau to Schloss Neuschwanstein is about 30 minutes, and while I had no issues doing it, I decided to take a horse buggy up to the Neuschwanstein Castle. It was fun – sitting in the front with the man who rides the carriage (and a couple of over-excited 5 year olds), the click clack of the hooves and a beautiful path up to the castle.
The palace was beautiful. It’s only about 30% complete because King Ludwig, who built it, died before it’s completion. It’s also a lot larger than Schloss Hohenschwangau with far more detailing – painted arches and ceilings and several historic references all over. I had a mug of Gluhwein, a pretzel and some Bavarian salami – all that warm stuff with my umbrella propped open. It was all just very comforting and felt just like what I wanted the rest of my holiday to be like.
Here’s what Swchansee, Schloss Hohenschwangau and the village look like from the Neuschwanstein castle.
I head back to Munich on a train from Fussen about 5:30 pm and picked up a few beers on the way, to have in my room, while I updated my little travel book (yes, I made one and updated it on the train and at bedtime and such, very diligently).
Sunday, August 17th, I picked up breakfast at the station at head to Bamberg. I had a bunch planned for the day. Bamberg is a little way off from Munich – more towards the north east and not quite Bavaria. But I’d been told it’s a pretty little town and a place that I’ll most definitely like. And then, in the evening, I was to head off to Furth im Wald.
Bamberg was beautiful (too!). When I got off at the Bamberg station, it was 9:30 am on a Sunday morning and everything was still shut! I couldn’t even post my postcard to Suraj! I picked up a map at the station and walked to the town center where I got a few tips from the tourist centre on how I could spend the next few hours.
The walk to the centre of the town was so reminiscent of Santa Cruz, CA! And then, everythign else was so European. There was the Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) which has been built on the River Regnitz. There’s the Domplatz (cathedral) and an adjoining cloister (which was so perfect! with red and white flowers hanging from the balconies and a big tree in the open courtyard at the centre!) Then there was a little residential area which has come to be known as Little Venice, along the Regnitz – all houses with gardens overlooking the river and private boats. There was also the Gruner Markt where a Jazz and Blues Festival was on in full swing, that day. So I sat around for about 40 minutes, listening to local musicians, eating another sandwich and sipping some lemonade.
When I had exited the tourist centre, I’d seen KlosterBrau written in an old, bold font on one of the buildings in the distance. So I’d gone back and asked what the building was. Brau is German for brew – 24 hours of being in Germany, babeh! The lady across the counter told me it was a brewery and that they served good stuff though Schlenkerla was the more popular one. I’d read about Schlenkerla on the internet and also crossed it while I was walking around. But my heart was set on Kloster Brau. And it exceeded all expectations.
It was run by a bunch of women, I’m guessing the entire property and operations are run by a family – the men doing the brewing and the women at the front of the house and at their restaurant. I ordered a couple of beers and a pork roast (served with dumplings, something you get pretty much everywhere in these parts and not quite stuff I liked! The dumplings, that is!)
The pork was amazing! The beers (a Braunbier which is possibly a dunkel and a Schwarzla which is a dark beer) even more amazing! The dumplings, gnocchi-ish table-tennis-ball sized thingies stuffed with a bread crumb. I’m not sure what point they serve – they make for meh dipping accompaniment for sauces and are, well, not my thing!
There was a large-ish family seated at the table across from me and it made me think of home and evenings when Madhu Dada and Sunil Kaka would come over and Dadaji (my grand dad) would make all of us drinks and be extra careful to make my drinks small and be amazed at how much alcohol I was capable of consuming without getting too drunk. There was a grandpa who was generally sipping away on a dunkel and having a good time by himself while the kids played games at the table and the other adults chatted away. I imagined my own grandfather enjoying a good beer, for all his knowledge about alcohol – a good scotch, varieties of liqueurs and what makes a good cocktail. It made me sad to think of what he has become now. Dementia sucks. And for every article that I read online, I feel so glad that my mum’s around all the time and the extent of attention she gives him. Oh well, I guess that’s what life’s all about and all of that.
That said, I made it back to the Bamberg station around 3:30 pm, a good buzz going, some great food in me, and an absolutely fantastic half-day and took a train to Furth im Wald to watch Drachenstich!
(more on that in the next post)