An Enchanting Bavarian Town and Some Schneeballen- Füssen, Germany

Have you ever been inside a fairytale? Walked the streets of a town or city that you felt would fit so neatly right into the stories spun by Disney or Miyazaki? Füssen was this for me and the word enchanting wouldn’t even begin to describe it.

Located just north of the Austria border and just a short distance away from not one, not two but three castles( Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau and even Linderhof are easily accessible from here), a beautiful picturesque lake (Alpsee) and many (many) historic sites, museums and churches to be seen, Füssen certainly deserves more than the few hours Julia and I spent there that afternoon we visited.

After leaving the madhouse that was the Neuschwanstein Castle we headed back here to tuck in somewhere for lunch and then make our way to Linderhof Palace. We found easy parking just off the city center and then picked a direction to start walking towards in the hopes it would lead us to good food.

We got a bit sidetracked of course because I was like a wide eyed child as soon as we had emerged into the town itself- the beautiful bright colors of the buildings, all the interesting small shops tucked in neatly next to each other, even the people walking around added to the magical touch of it all.

Italian food made by Germans- a novelty I hadn’t expected to encounter. After wandering around for a bit we spotted a place with plenty of happy customers eating outside and figured hey, Italian sounds nice. If you’re curious if I ever actually tried traditional Bavarian cuisine on this trip btw, let me go ahead and sate that curiosity by saying I definitely didn’t- but in my defense my own native German friend wasn’t too keen on it either so we decided to save that experience for the next trip.

The food we DID have here was actually pretty good and we finished up our meal happily stuffed and ready to make our way back to the car and head off to Linderhof. But then we got sidetracked- this time by Julia! She had remembered a place from a previous visit that sold a special type of pastry and was determined we should find it so I could sample the goods there. I was more than happy to go on this adventure that might possible end with me eating something delicious.

The shop was found and the restraint exercised because as much as I wanted to buy one schneeballen of each flavor (and they had so many tempting flavors) I still had a week left on my trip and unless I wanted to lug around a suitcase full of these, only buying a few was the best plan. And what are schneeballen? In English you would call them snowballs, they’re made from short crust pastry and then rolled over toppings like caramel or chocolate and they taste heavenly. Also, they keep for a rather long time as I found out when I experimented with bringing some home with me. I brought 3 home for the bf and they tasted almost as good as the day I bought them.

All in all Füssen was a lovely town to have been able to stop in and i’m so beyond happy and greatful that Julia and I missed our turn while navigating to Neuschwanstien and I really hope I can come back one day for a longer stay.

~m

The Neuschwanstien Adventure- Schwangau, Germany

After leaving the beyond idyllic town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Julia and I embarked on a quick hour and a half roadtrip to see our second Ludwig II castle, Neuschwanstein. This is the one castle I had heard of before doing any research into where I wanted to visit, as it’s about the most famous of all German castles and arguably the most beautiful. Something I didn’t know before we went is that it’s also one the most visited tourist destinations in all of Europe, which makes sense of course, given it’s accessibility and beauty.

The skies were a clear brilliant blue and I enjoyed the views on the drive- the rolling hills, lush green farms and small towns just off the main highway almost begging for us to stop in and explore them. Finally though, the road curved just right and off in the distance, nestled right into the hills, we spotted the castle.

A 19th century romanesque revival palace constructed for a king who could be best and most kindly described as a social recluse, it was built in homage to the operas of composer Richard Wagner. Neuschwanstein was still incomplete when the king died in 1886 however, and in total he only slept 11 nights there. As the official tourist website for the castle states “the shy king had built the castle in order to withdraw from public life – now vast numbers of people came to view his private refuge. ”  To say there’s something deeply and almost sadly ironic about this would be an understatement.

After catching this glimpse of the castle so near and yet still so far away Julia and I continued on our way and then we ended up missing our turn and would up driving into the outskirts of Füssen, which turned out to be a lucky break as a I had no idea the town was there, nor that it would be so immediately interesting to me. As we made the necessary u-turn to get back on the right route I turned to Julia and said, “We really should see if we can find the time to come back here after we tour the castle, or at the very least stop in for lunch.” She readily agreed and all was well, even as we got behind a long – extremely long- line of cars that were all apparently going the same way as us.

By the time we made it up to the general parking lot at the bottom of the hill from where the castle is situated, we realized that perhaps spending our morning exploring Garmich-Partenkirchen had been a bad call and we should have gotten here earlier. Tour bus after tour bus lined up 6 deep and more people walking around trying to either buy tour tickets, start their walk up the hill to the castle or board a bus than I had seen at any of all the other places I had been to so far. Both Julia and I were caught off guard and we both expressed some version of “holy crap” as we tried to navigate our way to a parking spot.

So here’s something I rarely talk about in my blog posts- heck something I don’t even really talk about in my everyday life- which is the fun fact that I have occasional bouts of sensory overload coupled with social anxiety. As you can maybe imagine, traveling, especially to extremely crowded or busy places… well it can honestly wreak hell on my nerves. I can handle it well enough after years of forced practice and in general, unless you know me pretty intimately, you would just think i’m a bit tense and maybe not having the greatest time. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy traveling in cities or to tourist attractions, just that I need to be prepared in advance for the amount of energy i’ll need to have to find it in myself not to get overwhelmed by everything and everyone.

I work really hard to make sure there’s nothing ever standing in the way of the things I want to do- whether thats time, money or even myself- but of course the other side of that is also knowing when something isn’t quite worth the effort. If I had been by myself I would probably have taken one look at this crowded parking lot and flashed a cheery peace sign as I departed to calmer pastures but since I was with someone else, I took a deep breath and grabbed that extra cord of determination I keep stored at the bottom of my chest for emergencies and did my best to put on a happy face.
Thankfully however, neither of these were necessary as Julia was of the same opinion that really, this didn’t look like it would that much fun. So we talked it over for a bit and came to the decision that we would book it out of that madhouse, head to Füssen for lunch and then go to Linderhof Palace and maybe come back to Neuschwanstien the next day.

We got a bit turned around as we attempted to make our way out back to Füssen and ended up on some quiet roads that provided some really wonderful (and much more solitary) views of the castle and the surrounding hills and really, that just made us feel even better about our decision.

Things to think about if you decide to make the trip out here:
Just like all the other Ludwig II castles, you can only enter to visit with a tour, and these tours only last 30 minuets. The tickets cost $19 per person and while you can buy them when you arrive, it’s best to reserve ahead of time as they do sell out. Like I mentioned above, it’s an extremely popular destination and it’s probably best to try and make it as early as possible, though tours don’t start until 9am during the summer hours and 10am in the winter. And last but not least, photography is not allowed inside the castle.

On our way back from Füssen (which i’ll cover in the next post), as we headed to Linderhof Palace, we spotted a road that wound it’s way to a very picturesque church so we of course made a quick little detour to snap a couple of photos and check out some pumpkins being sold by the roadside that I had become intensely interested in. The skies had turned grey over the course of the past few hours we had been here but the wind was only a little crisp and with no rain immediately visible on the horizon, we headed on our way to the final Ludwig II castle on our Bavarian agenda.

~m

The Best Views in Town, Courtesy of a Local- Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The best place to start this post is to state outright and without reservations- I love cows and sheeps. Not in a weird or creepy way, just in a very appreciative I-spent-the-first-decade-of-my-life-in-NYC-and-then-the-next-one-in-suburbia so whenever I’m in what can be constituted as the “countryside”, I get overly excited to see them.

Overly excited to the point where I will point them out when I see them- almost every single time. So by the third day of my stay in Germany with Julia she was very used to this and that morning before we headed out to Neuschwanstein castle she took me on a quick tour to the Garmisch part of her home town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (located about an hour outside of Munich) and started it off with a view that included not only the tallest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze, but also had amazing views of some happy cows grazing in the fields. Needless to say, it was the perfect way to start the day.

After this we drove back into town and found a good parking spot to go on a quick walking tour of some of her favorite places.

We stopped in first at the Parish Church Of St. Martin, which was completely empty that morning and provided an interesting contrast to the vivid colors of that part of town. I wouldn’t call the atmosphere somber though, maybe more just appropriately pious? In any case it’s a beautiful town church and I’d highly recommend stopping in if you’re in the area.

We didn’t wander too far as we still had plans to travel out to Neuschwanstein Castle but that mornings walk provided an over abundance of postcard worthy views and I left with the impression that Garmisch-Partenkirchen was really and truly like somewhere out of a fairytale. Every curve of the road, every street seemed to be filled with charm, color and culture to the point where I almost didn’t want to leave.

(We would be back later that day of course and do some more exploring as well as visit the Partenkirchen part of town the next day but more on that in a later post. )

~m

Intimate with Van Gogh and Market Flowers- Amsterdam

An early start to a jam packed day : a morning visit to the Van Gogh museum, meeting up with Elsa (the girl I had met during the historical walking tour of the day before) right after to explore the Albert Cuyp Market and then heading back to the hotel to freshen up before heading back out to meet with my friend Dennis for the first time. And somewhere in there or after, finding time to pack up to head to Germany the next day.

First stop though, the Van Gogh Museum, happily only about a 10 minute walk from my hotel which was helpful as it was yet another slightly rainy morning. Putting in my headphones and listening to some U2 while I walked through the quiet streets was it’s own adventure though, and once I made it to the museum I couldn’t quite mind the drizzle. You might notice theres only one photo of the museum in this post and thats because photography is only permitted at certain designated areas- the Entrance Hall and by what are called ‘selfie walls’ (which I don’t think I even saw….or maybe they were the areas that were surrounded by people and so I skipped them). I did see some people sneaking photos of the artwork when the attendants weren’t looking – btw, this museum has the most attendants i’ve ever seen anywhere- but i’m happy to follow the rules in these cases and respected the policy.

I’ve heard some people describe this museum as small, and I guess compared to the Rijksmuseum it is, but considering its dedicated to just one artist, i’d say it does the job perfectly. It feels intimate to me, partly because when I visited early that morning the crowds hadn’t descended yet, and partly because of it’s size. Every section feels carefully crafted and above all else, respectful to the spirit of the man who’s work we’re all there to see and reading the placards, seeing his artwork with your own eyes, it’s so humbling. There’s a deep melancholy to everything of course, you can’t quite escape that, but it’s appropriate and real, and you leave the museum feeling, hopefully, like you’ve gained just that little bit more of a closer understanding to who Van Gogh was as an artists and as a person outside of his art.

According to the I Amsterdam website, the Albert Cuypmarkt is the largest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands, and it’s located on the Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat, in the De Pijp area of the Oud-Zuid district of the city. It’s also only about a 15 minute walk from the Van Gogh museum which I appreciated as I headed straight from there to meet up with Elsa. I hadn’t planned on visiting, I actually hadn’t known about it until she mentioned it but having only visited the more touristy areas of Amsterdam, I was more than happy to go somewhere with a more local atmosphere.

I definetly recommend some good walking shoes, cash for the vendors, an empty stomach for all the tasty treats for sale and probably a tote bag or two for anything you end up being tempted to buy (and trust me, you will most definetly be tempted by at least one stall if not five). We wandered around the market for a good hour and a half, and I bought a fantastically yummy cappuccino, a couple of art prints for my friend Rachid (who I would be visiting later in Paris) a couple of magnets for friends and a tote bag to add to the collection I had started in Edinburgh. Elsa bought some fresh cheese for a friend she was heading off to see in Geneva and even now i’m sitting here wondering why the heck I didn’t buy myself some cheese as well. Oh well, another reason to head back, no?

After we finished up at the market, Elsa and I walked back towards the Van Gogh museum together, where we parted ways- she was headed to the airport to catch her flight to Geneva and I was headed back to the hotel to freshen up (and unload all the souvenirs I had bought) before heading out again. I’m not going to go into how I got lost heading back to the hotel despite having just walked from there that morning….but I will mention that eventually I realized I was going the wrong way well past the point you would think I’d have figured it out and had to call a cab to come get me…and the cabbie ended up being the same one from the day before who had dropped me off near the walking tour meet up point. Whats kinda shocking is he actually remembered me and after I had settled into the back seat said, “hey so how was the tour yesterday?” and I completely freaked out before I realized why he knew that. Lovely guy though, I definetly suggest using Amsterdam Taxi-Online if you’d like to support a local business but still have an uber-like convenience.

I met up with Dennis at Leidseplein Square at around 1:30, again just another 15 minute walk from where I was staying and honestly, I have to agree with everyone else who’s said this- Amsterdam is truly one of the most walkable cities. Not saying you can’t get lost or you won’t be run over by either a tram, bus, car or bike….but you’ll get further to your destination before you do at least. There were no real solid plans for this part of the day, though there had been a mention of a record store and possible a book store, an idea I was more than keen on. Side note- I met Dennis online about oh, 5 years ago back after I had first gotten interested in Amsterdam as a future travel destination, and as he was a city native it was the basis of our first few conversations but we kept communicating because he has really fantastic taste in music and we have similar taste in books and movies. Unlike my first meeting with Rob in Edinburgh though, this one was planned much more on the fly and involved a lot less hiking.

A wonderful guy with a ice-dry sense of humor and a high tolerance for my sometimes over-exuberant personality, we clicked about as soon as we met and hanging out with him that afternoon was the perfect way to end my trip to Amsterdam. We went to a music shop called Concerto, a really fantastically stocked and chill place where I had to hold myself back from buying a vinyl copy of U2’s The Joshua Tree and instead contented myself with buying a couple of CD’s… one of which was a Toto’s Greatest Hits- which yes, he did rather mercilessly make fun of me for but I still hold up as an awesome and sound purchase. Afterwards he took me to the American Book Center, a really lovely and well stocked bookshop where we browsed their graphic novel section and he most graciously allowed me to photograph him holding some I wanted to buy (but would be responsible and wait till I got back home to buy- adulting, I do it sometimes).

I eventually made my way back to the hotel, taking a very leisurely walk back through the streets and trying not to fall prey to the urge to cancel the rest of my travel plans and extend my stay but it was a near thing. Of course the next day proved that perhaps I should have listened to my instincts and stayed at least another day but, thats for another post.

~m

 

Foggy Canals and Amex Adventures- Amsterdam

The day started early…ish. It also started with some light rain and a bit of a foggy mist, which really wasn’t the most promising start to my first day in Amsterdam, especially given I had planned to spend most, if not all, of it walking around. I was tempted to think the rain I had encountered in Scotland had followed me down, but that would be dubious logic, right?  No matter the weather, it was still unbelievable amazing to actually be here, in Amsterdam.

Not to say being in Scotland wasn’t amazing and it’s own kind of dream come true but, Amsterdam was the city I had first picked out to visit when I was 16 and only just starting to dream of traveling to Europe. Full disclosure: this probably had a good bit to do with a big and rather inconvenient crush I had on an incredibly sweet and friendly Dutch boy I knew at the time, but the love for the city remained even after that summer infatuation faded.

I had never done any kind of tour before this trip, but after reading about people who’d done them and not wanting to spend all my hours wandering by myself through a new city, I decided to sign up for one just a few days before leaving and hope for the best. The walking tour I signed up for met at 10am at the National Monument in Dam Square and for someone that hadn’t ever had the chance to really sit down and learn about Amsterdam’s history, it was unbelievably informative while still being super fun. Some of the subjects and areas that were covered in the 3 hours:  Anne Frank’s story, the Dutch East India Company, the Red Light District, multiple hidden Catholic churches, Amsterdam’s Chinatown, and the history and reasons behind the leaning buildings & gable stones. While doing a walking tour that consisted of mostly all couples while I only had my camera as companion might have turned out a bit depressing, the guide we had was so chipper and genuinely enthusiastic about teaching us about her city’s history as to make me feel only that much more happy to be there.

We stopped at a restaurant for half and hour (I can’t remember the name of the place but I can tell you it was surreal, purple and very cool) in the middle of the tour so people could use the bathroom, rest their feet and talk to the tour guide about other tours available.  While I was debating whether to take that nights Red Light District tour one of the other people in the group came over to talk to me- she introduced herself as Elsa from Chicago and we started chatting and getting to know each other better as the tour continued.

By the time the tour concluded at the Homomonument (exactly what it sounds like yes- a memorial that commemorates gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality) the sun was well and truly out, the fog has dissipated and we set off to try and find lunch together.


Now, if you’ve read the last couple of posts you might remember that I lost one of my credit cards somewhere on my flight from Paris to Edinburgh and as such only had some Euros and one card left to me while I waited for the other two to arrive by overnight mail. The good news was that my other cards were due to arrive that afternoon to my hotel, the bad news was that I still had a whole morning to try and get by with what I had with me…which wouldn’t have been such a problem if I hadn’t decided to take my American Express card with me instead of say, my debit card. Amex, as some of you might know, is not excepted everywhere. Generally i’d been lucky with it being accepted and thankfully Elsa was a good sport about making sure we could find a place that took it but it was still a fun half hour of walking around the streets of Amsterdam looking for that little blue and white “we accept” sticker on windows. Eventually though we found a nice and quiet sandwich shop and tucked in to barbecue chicken and gouda sandwiches and chilled pear juice which was an interesting but surprisingly tasty combination.

After that we walked off in the general direction of the Rijksmuseum, which I had bought skip-the-line tickets for and where we parted ways as she was headed towards the Vondelpark. We exchanged numbers though, and made tentative plans to possible meet up again the next day before she headed off to Geneva and I headed inside to spend the next couple of hours wandering happily through the many (many many) hallways of one of the most beautiful museums i’ve ever visited.

So, fair warning- the next 2-3 posts will probably be about the Rijksmuseum because i’m a gigantic nerd and so if you’re not too interested in that (but why wouldn’t you be, it’s an amazing museum!) feel free to tune back in for the Salzburg, Germany and France posts that will come after that.

~m