I just love the Alps. No matter how much I travel, the area of Bavaria (Southern Germany) and Austria will always be one of my favorite spots on Earth. The snow-capped mountains are spectacular, the air is refreshingly crisp and clean, and the towns and lifestyle are so peaceful and charming. I love the white and brown Bavarian houses with the huge wooden window boxes overflowing with colorful flowers; and the tan and white cows with huge, clanking cowbells lazing around the bright green, hilly pastures. I haven’t been back to the region in 20 years but when I returned the wonderful memories of my childhood came rushing back as if they had just happened yesterday. Unfortunately, my grasp of the German language did not come flooding back! 🙂 I would love to have the opportunity to raise a family in Bavaria (but I’d miss our family and friends in the US too much).
Our WizzAir flight from Bucharest, Romania to Meiningen, Germany surprisingly made it without incident. It sounds like a quality airline, right? 🙂 We took a few trains from Meiningen to Salzburg, Austria. One of our train switches was in Munich, Germany, which really made me excited for Oktoberfest in a couple weeks! There were already people running around in Lederhosen and huge pretzels and Oktoberfest cookies for sale. Even just in the train station, I could already feel the intensity.
Salzburg, Austria is famous for quite a few things. First of all, it’s the birthplace and childhood home of Mozart – a fact that they are quite proud of. There are Mozart souvenirs, statues, and other reminders all over the city. Secondly, Salzburg is setting of the classic movie “The Sound of Music.” Salzburg takes full advantage of this fact, too. Our hostel played the movie every evening. There are also “The Sound of Music” tours. Since it was my favorite childhood movie (and probably the only movie I’ve seen more than once), I probably should have taken a tour (without Bryan). But I was worried it would be cheesy and contrived. On the grounds of Schloss Hellbrunn Palace (about 3 miles from Salzburg’s city center), you can see one of the most memorable scenes from “The Sound of Music” – the gazebo where the eldest daughter danced and sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” I had the songs from the movie stuck in my head the entire three days we were in Salzburg. Bryan was pretty tired of hearing them. 🙂
Schloss Hellbrunn Palace itself is definitely worth a visit. For 9.50 euros (about $12 USD) you can take an audio tour of the palace, explore the grounds, and take a tour of the trick fountains. Compared to the expensive Schonbrunn Palace we toured in Vienna, Hellbrunn is a steal. We also enjoyed touring the palace because there were very few other visitors – a big change from the places we toured in the summer season when we could barely move around. Hellbrun is not the typical palace. The grounds are spectacular – especially the trick fountains. During the fountain tour, the guide demonstrates all of their gimmicks (prepare to get a bit wet). Salzburg’s Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus had a sense of humor and enjoyed entertaining and surprising his guests. He had a stone table where he seated his guests that shot them with water when they least expected it (there was even a water spout that came up from the seats they were sitting on). Archbishop Sittikus had the only chair at the table that remained dry, while his guests were soaked. He also entertained his guests with a wide range of water-powered spectacles, including an elaborate “water theater” with an entire village of moving people. It’s amazing to think that these were engineered and built in the 1600’s and were completely water-powered.
Our second night in Salzburg, our hostel was completely booked due to a Hip-Hop Dance competition taking place next door (no, Bryan didn’t participate 😛 ). So I booked the only other available hostel that wasn’t 100 euros ($135 USD) a night per person. This hostel was at the top of a small mountain overlooking Salzburg. We hiked up to the top with our backpacks in the dark and finally found the hostel. They had no record of us staying there and no available rooms. Bryan showed them our booking confirmation on his iPhone but they said sorry, there was absolutely no room for us. The owner recommended another hostel far from the city center. By this time it was late, I was tired, and my shoulders were sore from carrying my backpack up the mountain. The last thing I felt like doing was trekking across the city in the dark to try to find another hostel. The top of the hill was peaceful and woodsy. I suggested that we just camp outside for the night instead of waste our time looking for another hostel and spending over $50 USD. Austria is one of the few places I’d feel safe sleeping outside. I like camping so I thought it would be no big deal. Even Bryan thought this was a bad idea but he finally agreed. “I’m telling you, it’s going to be freezing,” he told me. “Nah, it’s only September. It’s not cold out and it’s already night time,” I told him. About midnight, I realized I was wrong. We had all of our layers on (including wool hats and gloves), and we were shivering and couldn’t sleep. For the first time, “Happy to be Homeless” really felt homeless. On the positive side, for once I didn’t have to make Bryan cuddle (even though I know he was just using me for my body heat). 🙂 We hiked down early the next morning and regained feeling in our toes. Bryan said there was no way we were sleeping outside again, no matter how much we had to pay for a hotel. I will never take a warm, comfy bed for granted!
Once we thawed out, we took a train to Berchtesgaden. This area is a beautiful region of Bavaria with much to offer. Berchtesgaden is an adorable town surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Alps. The Eagle’s Nest is also nearby, as well as Lake Konigssee. I have fond memories of visiting this area as a kid with my parents, sister Bethany, and Grandpa and Grandma Munch. During our visit then, the Eagle’s Nest elevator was broken so we weren’t able to go to the top. The Eagle’s Nest is a mountain-top residence that belonged to Adolph Hitler. It was built by the Third Reich as a gift for his 50th Birthday. The Eagle’s Nest was intended as a retreat and a place for Hitler to entertain foreign dignitaries. But in actuality, Hitler very rarely used it. You take a bus up the mountain from the town of Obersalzberg and then an elevator to the very top of the Eagle’s Nest. Nowadays, there really isn’t anything to see in the house – it’s just a touristy restaurant. The views from Eagle’s Nest, however, are astounding. The mountains seem to go on forever. Birds and paragliders soared right beside us. Nearby Lake Konigssee glittered in the sun, completely surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Even in September, there was already snow at Eagle’s Nest.
After probably the best night sleep I’ve ever had (and it was indoors!), we boarded a train and headed towards the tiny country of Liechtenstein. It was on our way to our ultimate destination of Belgium, so why not? There wasn’t anything in particular that compelled us to visit Liechtenstein, other than our curiosity. Maybe we can be box-checkers at times. Liechtenstein is about the size of Manhattan and is sandwiched in between Switzerland and Austria. We had less than two hours to explore the country before we continued northwest to Luxembourg. We literally ran around Vaduz (the capital city) to try to see as much as possible in our short time there. It felt like we were in the Amazing Race – there actually was an episode where the participants raced across Liechtenstein on mopeds. In less than two hours, we bought a shot glass (Bryan collects them from everywhere), had our passports stamped at the Tourist Info booth, hiked up to the Prince’s castle to snap a few photos (sneaking onto private property to do so), ran down the hill to take pictures of the “Welcome to Liechtenstein” sign, grabbed a snack and caught the bus back to the train station in Buchs, Switzerland.
It’s a shame we didn’t have a bit more time to spend in Liechtenstein. The country deserves more time than our rushed tourist dash. Even from the short time we spent there, I could tell Liechtenstein is a special place. The country felt like a real-life fairy tale setting. They have a castle high on a hill in the mountains where a real-life Prince lives – His Serene Highness Prince Hans Adam II. The castle overlooks the peaceful country and gorgeous mountains.
After our quick adventures in the Alps (we’ll be back in a couple of weeks with my parents), it’s time to continue our train travels through Switzerland (eating Swiss chocolate on board) and onto Luxembourg and Belgium. I’ve never been to Switzerland, which is kind of strange because I’ve been to most of its bordering countries. Ironically, I told Bryan not long ago that I’d never been and he said we won’t be visiting Switzerland on this trip. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about our travels – we never know exactly where we’ll end up.