August 24, 2010

Schloss Neuschwanstein

When visiting Bavaria (the southern region of Germany including Munich) countless people make a mandatory stop at the Neuschwanstein Castle. I can attest to the countless part when my friend Trisha and I arrived to the small town of Schwangau and saw the ticket line with hundreds of people waiting.

Luckily, I had read somewhere online to reserve tickets ahead of time. I did that and the line for the reserved tickets only had about 8 people in it - I would have looked like a pretty bad host if we spent 2 hours of a vacation waiting in a line. Instead Trisha and I were able to enjoy lunch on a patch of grass in the shadow of the Hohenschwangau Castle.
After refueling, we took a brisk walk up a fairly steep trail, leaving all of the slow hikers behind us. We were not in a hurry, but we just both tend to walk fast. We hiked right passed the castle to Mary's Bridge where apparently King Ludwig II would go in the evening to look back at his candle-lit castle.

Finally, our tour of this unfinished icon began. I will let Trisha tell her impression of the quirky tour guide. Unfortunately, this was yet another visit where pictures were "not allowed" inside so I respected the rule in knowing that I could find all online. There is a great virtual tour to check out (click on the different rooms - including his grotto/cave).

Ludwig II is often mentioned in Bavaria as being crazy or mad. After visiting a few of his "homes" I see him more as a dreamer with big ambitions. Apparently, he cleaned out the royal coffers to start building all his castles. While at the time, many probably thought he was foolish. I mean, nowadays I can't help but read news articles of how well Germany is doing during this global economic chaos because of its tradition of austerity. Ludwig II is a total contradiction to that tradition - the one who stood out and had big, crazy ideas that cost a lot of money. However, these big, crazy ideas built a timeless castle, which people will continue to visit for hundreds of years. For the small price of 10 Euros each I reckon those old coffers will be full before long.

August 21, 2010

First Guest Blog: Priscilla

We are very grateful to Greg and Ayelet for their kind and patient hospitality during our July 2010 visit to Munich. Their tours from trains to trams to museums to castles to parks were fascinating! We took hundreds of photos of beautiful sites and some very sad sites. We are very grateful for all that we learned and enjoyed in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Schonbrunn Palace
St. Stephan's Cathedral - Vienna
Best of all was spending time with Greg, Ayelet and Scoots!
Breakfast in Vienna
We very much enjoyed having a picnic and also visiting with Ayelet's Aunt Na'ama, Uncle Gil and their
children. Delicious food and we appreciated the rides with Na'ama from the airport and to the picnic.
Beer Bike - you must pedal to move
It was much fun to have our last evening of vacation at a bier garten with Greg and Ayelet's very nice friends and co-workers who lived all over the world before they lived in Munich. I talked with a couple from New Zealand - my first time ever talking with people from New Zealand!
What a fabulous adventure!
Thank you very much, Greg and Ayelet. You two are amazing!
Love, Mom/Priscilla

August 17, 2010

Nature's Waterpark

After a suggestion from a friend of a friend, we decided that going to Plitvice National Park in central Croatia was a must see of our one-week trip. We left Zadar and took a 2-and-1/2 hour bus ride away from the coast and into the mountains. Like many other stops on our trip, we took a blind traveler's leap based on one sentence from the guidebook on how to get to and from this living art work of the Earth. Blind because our travel book only said that buses run to the park - without any listed stops. I only had a rough plan of what to do if we got dropped off many miles from our hotel.

The pictures speak for themselves, yet even then, it's difficult capturing the true depth of the blues and greens in this "land before time." I kept waiting for a dinosaur to walk out from behind a tree or swoop through the sky. So sit back for a moment, imagine the smell of a fresh spring air and the sound of rushing water around every turn as you hike on boardwalks over lakes and waterfalls through Plitvice.

If these few photos do not satisfy your hunger for more, check out our full collection. You will not be disappointed!

August 15, 2010

Gladiolas on a Sunday

Last Sunday, Greg and I had planned on picking raspberries with the slim hope that it was still raspberry season here. It wasn't. We couldn't even find the field - that's how wrong we were! It was so typical that when we finally got around to doing something, it was over. The locals seem to all follow a sort of timetable for this sort of stuff that I just haven't acclimated to yet, I guess.

Anyway, we didn't pick raspberries, but we did come across one of the many lovely bluemen fields that they have here - basically, you pick your own flowers fresh out of the field.

It's all on an honor system and unlike in the US, where people might try to cheat the system, here they actually pay the correct amount for the flowers! And they trust them to bring back the little knives used to cut the flowers, too!! They almost had an overflow of little flower knives, that's how straight-laced everyone is here. It's unreal sometimes.

Our flowers that we picked

August 12, 2010

Croatia: Ferry and Zadar

We took the car ferry to Zadar and let me tell you, was that a fun way to travel! I'm being completely serious, too. I remember car ferries that we took back in Wisconsin to get to Michigan. Naturally I associated ferries with incessant rocking, cold and discomfort. This one was surprisingly nicer - steady throughout; frequent stops at quaint little islands along the way; and warm bathrooms with soap (my mom would be so happy). Plus, we got to see the sunset...
Sunset sometime between Cres and Zadar
I especially loved the sea breeze in my hair, the impressionistic colors of the water, the rocky shores passing slowly on the right, and the foaming waves spritzing from below. We arrived in Zadar late and hurried through the old city to our hotel before it closed for the night. As soon as we dropped off our bags, we went out because seriously, everyone and their brother were out for the night. Little bars and cafes lined the narrow old city marbled streets and everywhere people were walking around with ice cream cones. The streets were bustling even past midnight on that warm night.

The next day we went to see the sea organ that produced music from the waves and did a lot of people watching at local cafes. Then we caught a bus to Plitvice National Park, which Greg has promised to write a post about soon so I won't go into details besides saying get excited for the awesomeness of the place.  Anyway, we returned to Zadar where Greg had one short afternoon at the beach before it started raining. Sadly, it rained for the last day and a half in Zadar, but we found diversions involving pizza, bureks, really cheap movie tickets, reading, cards and making buddies with the pizza guy who spoke four languages well.

August 10, 2010

Croatia: Cres

Cres, pronounced quite unexpectedly as Sa-ress or Tsa-ress depending on who you're listening to, was our first island stop during our trip through Northern Croatia.
Marina on our first night in Cres
I should give you some background on our strategy in Cres, mainly to do with housing. Basically, we had no idea if there would be anything available for us and Greg kept hoping that we'd be sleeping on the beach that night. I was more optimistic because I didn't want to hyperventilate at the thought of freezing all night. You see, in Croatia, they have sobes where local people rent homes or rooms to travelers. To find one, you either look for the blue signs advertising vacancies or you go to a travel agency.

In Cres, we headed to the travel agencies once we got off our bus at 8:30 pm, close to closing time for some of them. The first place we went to had no rooms left - my heart sank. But the second place had one room left! She called the owner, Greta, who came to pick us up a half hour later. As we walked to her place, Greta told us in pretty good English all about her life living in Cres for the last 25 years and how much she loved island life. Our room turned out to be an attic room (with a private bathroom) atop her house - comfy and surprisingly close to the clock tower that rung 4 times an hour every hour. By the second night, we were used to it though. It was fun to be a little adventurous and get to know a local at the same time!
Flowers at the middle of our hike on Cres island

Hike back towards Cres along the coast

Cres was just beautiful and the perfect island town - colorful flowers overflowing; fresh daily fruit and vegetable stands lining the marina square; sweet-smelling bakery just down the street; private rocky beach coves waiting to be discovered; boats floating happily in the marine; and olive tree plantations lining the hikes through the countryside (Greta said that she received a plot of olive trees with her house - she sometimes collect the olives and sends them to someone else to press them for her into olive oil). Cres was so relaxing because the only things we had to worry about were where to wander to and what to eat next.
Clouds rolled in and out on our last night in Cres

August 6, 2010

Ljublana, Slovenia

View of river and market area
On our first day of our trip, we took the train to Ljubljana (pronounced: "Lyoo-blyah-nah") for a quick day there. Although the city was quiet, we were impressed with all the creativity that we were met with. The city has a nice old town district to walk through and reasonable boutiques have sprung up throughout that area. Most of the shops were filled with unique, local crafts that aren't the usual kitschy tourist junk. It was inspiring to see some of the work these people were doing.

Greg with first cheese burek of trip
Greg and I strolled through the city and then hiked up the hill to the castle, which was not very impressive although said to be one of the biggest tourist attractions in Slovenia. That's not saying much about the rest of the attractions in Slovenia, I think. It was sort of off-and-on rainy that day so we ended up chilling in the afternoon alongside the river with cups of tea, listening to jazz and watching the rain splash down.

We also got our first cheese burek in Ljubljana. For those who have not had or seen a cheese burek before, it's basically a cheesy pastry that is pretty greasy, but oh so good! It's filled with a salty cheese like feta, but a little lighter. While we didn't have this treat every day, we did relish it fairly often on this trip. As vegetarians, sometimes it was one of our only options at restaurants or cafes.

Here are some more photos from the city:
Dragons guarding the Dragon bridge
View of city from the hilltop
Greg, ready to go up the hill

August 5, 2010

Visitors of the Year

As many of you know, we've been in Munich for just over a year now and counted 16 total visitors from July to July! So we thought it'd be fun to do a wrap-up with pictures *hopefully we got it right*.

Lee, Leif and Greg in July 2009 - these two just welcomed a little one to their family a couple months ago!
My aunt Smadar in November (although she didn't come to see just us :-)

Jessica and Chris on their honeymoon (!!!) in September

Robin and Ryan spent a night with us in the fall

My grandma, Safta Rachel, in December

Oren and Erin happened to overlap their visits so we had plenty of pretzel and beer time together.

My other grandmother, Safta Tzipi, came twice to visit my aunt and cousins as well.

Santhi and her boyfriend, James, stopped over before a conference in March for a few days.

And of course, we just had Greg's parents and Aunt Kathy in from Wisconsin.

With all these guests, you may be wondering if we have any others lined up. Yes, we do! This week, Greg's friend from high school, Trisha, is in town and will head to Prague for a bit. Then, my parents come in for a few days. And we just got word that Greg's college buddy, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Davidian, will be here in October. Surprisingly, no one is coming for Oktoberfest or the strong beer fest in the spring. We love having visitors so these are definitely exciting times!

August 3, 2010

Traveller's Cheques - "Not" Accepted Everywhere

How many of you know what a traveller's cheque is? I can name three people who do, but at least 100 businesses in Europe that do not. As with all family vacations, running jokes seem to really stick in my family and create memories last a lifetime.
The recent visit of my parents and aunt to Europe gave us another perspective on the subtle differences among cultures and a continued interest in our travels. Although our journey started off on a hot train ride to Prague, with the lack of a promised chocolate box and one debit card swallowed by an ATM, we managed to make the most of our time.

Prague is a great stop if you are heading out of Munich. There is a totally different feeling in the city with its tight streets in the old city that scatter out from a main square. I was especially happy to get a second look at the city. Last time Ayelet and I were here (in Prague) in February, the days were short and we were both under the weather travelers.
summer fishing across the river from the Prague Castle

The best part about summer in the city is all of the outdoor live music. This was a big jazz event in Prague with the temperature so hot that a firetruck was parked among the people with a wide spray of water. There were more adults getting soaked than kids.

August 2, 2010

Serenity in Vienna

As travel season ramps up in Europe, I realized that you still can find many calm places throughout the day.

Travel Tip #1 - Get up early and head right downtown. We arrived at St. Stephan's Cathedral around 9 a.m., giving us a chance to take in the square with only a few locals in sight.
Travel Tip #2 - Parks empty out around dinner. We went to this massive park that was the summer home of the Hapsburgs - Schonbrunn Palace. We enjoyed a stately walk through the grounds and a very quiet dinner by a fountain. Often we were the only people in sight on a gorgeous summer evening.
Travel Tip #3 - Arrive at the art museums when the employees do. My family and I split up when we went to the Leopold Museum early on Saturday morning. You will have to ask them about their opinion on some of the unique pieces. I had unobstructed views of work by Klimt - and time to reflect on the changes he had made to his piece Death and Life (original version).

August 1, 2010

Photos from Croatia

For those who aren't yet on Facebook daily, here's a link to an abbreviated version of our photos there:

Croatia and Slovenia Trip Photos


Back from Croatia

Croatia's current tourist slogan is "the Mediterranean as it was." And that is so true. It reminded Greg and I a lot of the Mediterranean-esque places we've been to - Israel, Italy - and pictures of other places - California, Greece. However, it has a unique vibe all its own - not really picture perfect, but very much real with all the good and bad that goes into being real.

For example, Zadar was our last stop. A beautiful city with old, twisting marble pedestrian streets lined with cafe tables and chairs. People sitting out at all times of the day and night chatting over kava (coffee) and pivo (beer). Spotless? Not exactly. Well-preserved buildings? Mostly not, due to wars (WWII and 1990s conflicts). Variety in food? Not enough for vegetarians, but the cheese burek, pastries, pizzas, and fresh fruits and veggies were delicious. Safe? Definitely. It also didn't hurt that the city was steps from the sea shore. 

That example best depicts our time during our slow trip south - we traveled by train, bus and boat from Munich to Ljubljana, Slovenia, to the islands of Cres and Mali Losinj to Plitvice National Park to Zadar all in one week (and then took an hour and a half flight back to Munich ;-). There is still a lot more to see in that region, but it was a fantastic week-long trip.