A Church By the River – Ramsau, Germany

well I don’t know if we will make it before dark… but we’re already on our way so…

might as well try!

That’s the exchange Julia and I had as we drove from Salzburg, Austria to Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden, Germany while we were trying to decide if we would make it in time to see the church she was taking me to or if we’d arrive after dark. After getting turned around twice while trying to navigate our way out of Salzburg, it was anyone’s guess at this point. The postcard worthy scenery as we made our way- tall lightly snow dusted mountains, lush green valleys and a winding road that showed it all to the best advantage- had already made the drive worth it to me though.

And what were we on our way to see? Why, another church of course! The Parish Church of Saint Sebastian( if you haven’t read my previous post on all the churches we visited in Salzburg- here it is – , which might give you a greater insight into why we both enjoy visiting these places and how truly worth the visit they are even if you wouldn’t normally be interested in these kinds of places)

The town of Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden is a small one, and one I had never heard of before Julia mentioned it. She told me the area was very popular with tourists though, as they liked to photograph the church, which is situated by the lovely Ramsauer Ache river, with the surrounding mountains rising in the background. It just sounds very picturesque, no?

The gently curving road eventually deposited us outside the town and I can say with full honestly the first words out of my mouth were a solid “wow”. The town is like something out of a fairytale, nestled right into the valley, with the main street tucked next to the river. There were also plenty of hotels and Gasthäuser in the area, not to mention a few tour buses and vans spotted here and there so it’s definetly popular with tourists of all kinds.

After finding a lucky parking spot just by the river and walking across the bridge to take a couple of photographs of the church opposite the other side, we meandered around the streets there for a bit and then made our way back. We crossed the surprisingly busy street (well, busy for the small town atmosphere) and found ourselves looking up at the church. “Should we go inside?” Julia asked and why not? We’d come this far, it would be almost silly not to really take it all in.

We encountered a group of German tourists at the entrance and they asked Julia to take a photo of them- coincidentally, they both had the same camera model after which they headed off and we looked around to realize we had been left with the whole place to ourselves.

The inside of the church was modest, at least compared to some of the other splendorous insides we had seen that day, but there was a really wonderful intimacy that was unique to the space that still stands out to me when I think back on it. We stayed inside for a bit and then quietly made our way back outside, where we took the path just next to the church that leads up to the cemetery.

Is it in bad taste to comment on the aesthetics of a cemetery? Maybe, but that doesn’t stop me from saying this was one of the loveliest cemeteries I’ve ever visited. It’s situated right behind and slightly above the church, which means it overlooks the valley, river and surrounding mountains, providing a really unexpected kind of view. We walked through the area there before heading back down and then taking another path around the side of the church through what ended up being a historic graveyard.

What I can most easily remember as we walked there in the town and around the church was the gentle smell of burning firewood somewhere , something heady and slightly sweet that wafted over us and made everything seem that much more idyllic.

Eventually though, true darkness began to settle in the valley and we decided it was probably high time to make our way back home to Julia’s apartment- especially since we wanted at least a little bit of an early start the next day when we headed to Herrenchiemsee, to see the palace built by King Ludwig II that was intended to be a Bavarian Versailles.

~m

A Sunset Walk Goodbye- Salzburg, Austria

There’s very few times where i’ll recommend visiting a cemetery, but St. Peter’s Monastery and it’s accompanying cemetery is easy to recommend given it’s history, location and general beauty. One of the highlights of the cemetery (which btw, is the oldest cemetery in the city) are the accompanying catacombs which are carved out of the Mönchsberg itself. They’re open year round and if you’re interested in going up into them, the entrance is located at the graves of Mozart’s sister Nannerl and Michael Haydn. Julia and I of course decided to go up and take a look.



After coming back down from the catacombs we walked to some other churches in the area and then sat on the stairs of the Kollegienkirche for a while, just people watching and wondering where everyone had gotten the delicious looking ice cream cones they were walking around with. Eventually we found ourselves heading to the river to cross back to the other side as the sun climbed lower in the sky.

And whats that in the background? Another church of course. In front of it is the hotel i’d really love to stay at the next time I visit( because yes of course i’m already thinking of when I can visit again). 

Walking back through the gardens of Mirabell Palace, we ended up right back to the first view where we started that day and looked out across the landscape and up to where we’d been just a couple of hours ago.

We eventually made it back to where we had parked the car and the plan had been to head back to Geretsried since its about a 2 hour ride back but, Julia had a suggestion for another place to visit that was hard to resist. So with a roadmap out between us and some fruit snacks ready to be chewed on, we headed on to the last part of that days adventure.

~m

Under the Heavenly Domed Ceilings- Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg is a city full to bursting with charm, history, impressively well preserved Baroque architecture and a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s plenty of ways to view and tour the city- from a Mozart inspired adventure to a more architecture oriented exploration, I’d be hard pressed to say there isn’t something for everyone.

For me and Julia though, we were just happy to explore wherever the streets took us that Saturday we were there and they just so happened to wind us through countless churches and cathedrals (I say countless because we really did pass through a bunch and I didn’t take photographs at each so i’m honestly still not sure which all we saw…I want to say we saw and/or passed by at least 5 though). If you’ve ever looked at a city view photograph of Salzburg you should be able to immediately pick out the many cathedral domes and church towers- especially if its a view of the Altstadt ( the Old City on the left bank of the river)- so its definetly, as the city guide website puts it, a City of Churches. 

After coming back down from our walk up to Hohensalzburg Castle we immediately veered of from the path we had taken before through a iron gate into what turned out to be The Petersfriedhof (St. Peter’s cemetery). Fans of The Sound of Music movie might know this as the cemetery where the von Trapp family found a secure hiding place before ultimately escaping to Switzerland- which, if your keen on it, I saw plenty of tour buses for Sound of The Music inspired tours in the area as well. This is also where we visited the Catacombs, but that along with the cemetery will be it’s own separate post. Stiftskirche Sankt Peter (St Peter’s Abbey) was where we went into after coming back down from the catacombs, and it was an unexpected rococo splendor.

With a history spanning back to 696 when it was founded by Saint Rupert, the abby is full of history and definetly worth at least a cursory visit. The romanesque abby church that is open to all visitors was erected around 1130- though it wasn’t dedicated to Saint Peter until 1147- and the interior that makes it such a beautiful place of worship was refurbished in the Rococo style between 1760 and 1782.

After leaving and walking for probably less than 15 minutes, we came across the Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)- this would be the one with the slender steeple that’s almost instantly recognizable on the city skyline. This church is one of the oldest churches in Salzburg and it’s gothic style makes it a genuinely fascinating church to visit, from outside to the interior (though apparently I didn’t take any photos of the interior….or if I did my phone and/or camera ate them…?)

Finally the last church we came across and couldn’t help but visit was the gorgeous Baroque style Kollegienkirche (Collegiate Church). This ended up being my favorite of all the churches we visited that day, at least in Salzburg. From the moment you walk in, it’s an otherworldly experience. As soon as you shut the heavy doors behind you, the bustling of the busy square outside shuts off like water from a tap being turned off, and a calm hushed silence completely inundates you. The tall domed ceilings allow light spill into and over the beautifully renovated walls, and while there are plenty of statues, frescos and touches of rococo splendor to be found, its an overall restrained beauty you’ll find here. It’s hard to stand inside and not feel utterly small but, somehow, the expansive halls never once lose their intimacy.

I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I was raised in a fairly spiritual household and the iconography of Christianity was always in my life in one way or another. Rebellious and eager to strike out on my own, I went through a short lived but rather hardcore atheist period that really just drew a kind of “uh, ok then” reaction from my family and eventually petered out into a general agnostic view of things. Now, older and with a deep seated love for learning about history (especially with regards to the Byzantine empire), I find myself much more comfortable exploring these areas of western religion – whether it’s at a museum or in a centuries old cathedral – than I ever did before, mostly as a oddly knowledgeable and respectful outsider but every so often, if the mood is right, as a hands clasped reluctant believer.

Whichever one you find yourself as when visiting Salzburg though, I highly recommend taking a quiet walk through at least one of the churches here- not only for the architectural beauty on display but also as an integral step into understanding the city’s long and fascinating history.

~ m

Final post on Salzburg coming up next, after which will be a post about the Parish Church of St. Sebastian (also known sometimes as the Ramsau church) and then diving into some fairytale castles built by Ludwig II that Julia and I visited. 

An Introduction to German Culture Via Austria- Salzburg, Austria

Technically this post is about the day trip I took to Salzburg from Munich with my friend Julia. But I can’t really start this post before first explaining how I ended up in Germany in the first place, and who Julia is. Julia is a friend I met about a year or so ago through the same website I met Rob (guy I met up with in Edinburgh) and Dennis (guy I met up with in Amsterdam) though she has the distinction of being the only person I know who also has bunny rabbits as pets and that cemented the bond of friendship between us.  

After leaving Amsterdam at the literal crack of dawn and dealing with a truely craptastic journey that included having to buy a whole new train ticket because the one I had wasn’t pulling up for some reason (though I did get refunded for this later thankfully) and wondering why I had thought trying to visit so many countries in one go was a good idea, I finally made it to Munich HBF where Julia was waiting for me. By the time we made it to her car we were talking like we’d been friends for ages and the journey from Munich to Geretsried (where she lives ) was filled with breathless laughter and her trying to explain why someone on the train had said “shoes” to me- they actually said “tschuss” which means bye.

She took me on some picturesque country backroads and by the time we made it to her apartment I was feeling 100% better about my decision to leave Amsterdam for Germany. We settled in for the evening and then ran back out to pick up some groceries and drinks for the next days adventure, which we had decided would be a day trip to Salzburg. 

 Why Salzburg? Because I bought a guide book for the Bavaria region of Germany and there was a whole section as to why Salzburg makes a great day trip. It does indeed make a great day trip- which is probably why we got stuck in traffic almost as soon as we got on the road. The fact that it was a stunningly beautiful Saturday also had something you to do with it I think. The drive took twice as long as it should have but it was enjoyable as Julia taught me some more about the German way of life (like why so many trucks were out on the highway that day, why the exit for Innsbruck was so popular, etc). Eventually we made it to Salzburg and found parking just a short distance from Mirabell Palace and after grabbing a quick lunch across the street at a places called “Pommes Boutique”, we started our tour of the city there. 


The crowds were definetly out in full force here so we didn’t stay long, eventually moving on from the lovely gardens surrounding the palace to head deeper into the city and cross the river to the other side where my guide book assured me there were a hundred and one things to see. 

(That’s Julia in middle picture btw- can I just say how awesome it was traveling and exploring with someone who also loves photography? There’s such joy and freedom in being able to stop to get a good shot and not feeling like you’re annoying your fellow traveler because they’ve also stopped to snap a pic too.) 


Taking a bit of a circuitous walk we made it across the  river, our goal to head to Getreidegasse, a busy shopping street in the historic Altstadt section of the Old City ( as it’s called, I’m not calling it old just to start a fight with anyone).  Even as we crossed the bridge to the other side, I knew I was going to have to come back again because you could just feel and see so much ahead and behind and all around you, every direction holding something interesting. 

 We wandered a bit aimlessly for a while, just enjoying the weather and city- it’s genuinly one of the most beautiful and explorer friendly places I’ve ever visited, so many side streets and inviting storefronts, you feel you could wander happily all day. We stopped in at a Christmas decoration store because Julia was like “oh my, we have to go in there.” And she was right, I have never in my life seen more Christmas ornaments in one place, all delicate, handmade and selling like hot cakes even out of season. 

After that spellbinding (seriously it was magical) interlude we stopped in at some  gift shops so I could pick up some souvenirs for friends and if you didn’t know it before let me tell you now- Salzburg is the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As such you’ll easily be able to find his face on any kind of souvenir you wish:  beer steins, postcards, chocolates. It’s pretty sweet (pun totally intended).

Finished up with the requisite souvenir shopping, we made our way vaguely up.

 Hohensalzburg Castle is in view from near almost any point in the city and while we decided not to spring for the entrance tickets, we still climbed up a mini mountain of stairs to enjoy the magnificent views of the city. As we caught our breath from the climb and enjoyed the views, the bells of the cathedral below us started to toll and if the journey up hadn’t been worth it before, that moment more than made up for it. 

~ 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