Photo of the Day: Nymphenburg Reflection

This photo is from my second Eurotrip in 2009 (and second time accompanying my uncle’s German class as a chaperone). Since this was also my second visit to Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, Germany, I decided on this occasion to spend more time walking around the front of the palace so I could capture photos like this, with the palace reflecting on a pond full of swans.

Date: 4/6/2009
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FX8
Click for larger view

You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.


My First Eurotrip, Part 5: Fairy Tale Castles and Snowy Mountaintops

This is the long-delayed final installment of my series looking back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.


After spending a final evening in Salzburg we departed early the next morning for Bavaria, where we would be visiting Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s famous fairy tale castle. Along the way I took some photos of the pretty countryside.

River near a rest stop.
Taken from the bus.

We soon arrived at Hohenschwangau, where I took this photo of Hohenschwangau Castle, King Ludwig II’s childhood home.

We didn’t have time to tour this castle.

From here we began a long walk up a steep hill to visit Neuschwanstein. An optional bus or carriage was also available to take you to the top, but most of us chose to walk.

Our first view of the castle.

Here are some more shots of the castle exterior:

Front entrance with coat of arms.
Inner Courtyard
One of the turrets.
A view from the entrance.

Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland, whereas the Cinderella castle in Disney World was based on any of a number of different European castles, depending on who you ask. The castle was already an anachronism when it was built–the first skyscrapers were going up in New York around the same time. Ludwig II was also known as “The Mad King” or the “Fairy Tale King.” He was eventually declared insane and deposed, but now Bavaria makes millions from his palaces.

Ludwig II was fascinated with fairy tales and Wagner operas, both of which feature prominently in the castle’s design. The inside is quite spectacular, and even includes an artificial cave. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside but you can find pictures of many of the rooms online.

One word of advice: if you’re looking buy some souvenirs after completing the tour, avoid the first gift shop–things are cheaper in the second gift shop . . . and even cheaper in the shops at the bottom of the mountain, at least that was the case back in 2007.

Following the castle tour we hiked out to the Marienbrucke, a bridge spanning a large gorge, seen here:


About halfway to the Marienbrucke there is a great lookout spot with this beautiful view:

Hohenschwangau Castle is visible in the distance to the right.

From the Marienbrucke you can enjoy one of the iconic views of the castle, seen below. The other famous view, from the front, requires a hike up to the top of a nearby mountain, which we did not have time for.


After our visit to Neuschwanstein it was time to head to Lucerne, Switzerland. Along the way we were treated to gorgeous views of the Swiss countryside.

View from the bus.
Another view from the bus. This huge lake went on for miles.

Lucerne is reminiscent of some seaside resorts in the States, but with more historic architecture. Despite being a major tourist spot (complete with casinos) and one of the more expensive destinations in Europe, it is one of my favorite European cities. The views along the lake with the Alps in the background are simply breathtaking.

Lake Lucerne
A portion of the Lucerne shoreline.

No trip to Lucerne is complete without a visit to Mount Pilatus, the large mountain that looms over Lake Lucerne.

Mount Pilatus dominates the landscape.

To get to the top of Mount Pilatus you take cable cars, from which you can watch the terrain turn from grass to snow as you ascend.

First the grass . . .
. . . and then the snow.

After a while you exit your comfy small cable car and transfer to a large one, where you must stand, packed in with as many people as they can fit.

The larger cable car making its final ascent.

Once you reach the top, the views defy words, so I’ll let the photos do the talking, even though they could never do justice to the sensation of standing there in person.

On top of Mount Pilatus.
Some day I would like to return with a better camera.
I wonder how you get to this church . . .
The views are simply amazing.
I didn’t want to leave.

To get down, we took the same cable car route, though apparently you also have the option of taking some sort of railroad ride down.

On our way back down.

My uncle and I went to a restaurant on a boat for lunch, where we split an order of quite expensive fondue–54 francs for what was basically bread and melted cheese. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Lucerne is expensive.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the city on my own. In my travels I encountered another giant chess board like the one in Salzburg, though I didn’t play on this one.

Giant Chess

I had planned to do some shopping later in the day, but everything in Lucerne closed at 4pm . . . on a Saturday! Instead I just meandered and soaked in the beauty of the city.

Along the lake.
A city square.
One of Lucerne’s famed covered bridges . . .
. . . and another.

At one point I encountered a group of women having some type of bachelorette party scavenger hunt. The bride (dressed as a prisoner) had a list of things she had to do, one of which was to dance with strangers on camera. She tried to get me to dance with her, but I sort of just stood there and talked to her while she danced around me and her friends filmed it. The next guy (pictured with the girls below) was much more game and really got into the dancing.

Somewhere in Europe there’s a video of this prisoner dancing around me.

Later in the day, after I rejoined my group, we bumped into the wedding girls again. They said hi to me and then shouted “he’s a great dancer!” Everyone in my group gave me a look, like “just what have you been doing today?” So I had to explain it, a bit embarrassed, but it’s precisely these types of unexpected moments that add richness to your travel experience and provide you with unique stories to tell. I mean, anybody can tell anecdotes about visiting castles, but how many people can say they danced with a bride-to-be dressed as a prisoner in a public square in Switzerland? 😉

As the day wound to a close, we visited the famous weeping lion monument and posed for our final group photo.

Weeping Lion Monument

We had to wake up at 4:15 the next morning to hop on the bus to Zurich for our flight out, so we called it an early night. I got searched again at the Zurich airport (seemed to be a theme on this trip) and then we flew to Frankfurt for a five-hour layover before finally boarding a plane for the States. I had come down with a cold on my last day in Europe, which did not make for a pleasant flight—apparently my inner ear passageways swelled up and prevented my ears from popping—my left ear still hadn’t popped a week after I returned home.

Despite the dubious ending to the trip, it was a life-changing experience, and the travel bug bit me hard. Prior to this trip, the idea of traveling the world had never even been on my radar. I spent the first 36 years of my life barely venturing from the east coast of the United States, but in the 7.5 years since, I’ve embarked on three more Eurotrips, as well as trips to Peru, Mexico, and California . . . and it all began with this trip back in 2007.

So ends a story that has taken me nearly eight years to tell. 🙂

Lucerne at Night

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My First Eurotrip, Part 2: Munich and Dachau

This series is a look back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.

April 1st, 2007: Our second day in Munich began with a guided bus tour of the city.

The Siegestor (Victory Gate)
Munich Street with the Theatinerkirche and Feldherrnhalle visible in the distance.

We also stopped outside of the University of Munich to see the Monument to the White Rose, a resistance group in Nazi Germany, comprised primarily of students, many of whom were executed by the Nazis. The members of the group are now honored among Germany’s greatest heroes for their non-violent resistance against the Nazi regime. If you’d like to learn more about the White Rose, I’ve seen two excellent German-language films that are highly recommended: The White Rose and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.

Monument to the White Rose consisting of the group’s characteristic leaflets.

Back in the Marienplatz, we saw performers all over the square, as well as a huge anti-hunting protest march.

The Rathhaus in the Marienplatz

The city tour ended with a stop at Nymphenburg Palace, which had once been the main summer residence of the rulers of Bavaria. The palace is huge, but we only had time to tour a small portion. No flash photography was allowed inside (and Nymphenburg would turn out to be the only palace we visited on this trip to allow any type of indoor photography).

Nymphenburg Palace
A wing of the palace with one of its many resident swans in the foreground.
Nymphenburg Interior
Gallery of Beauties, a room of paintings commissioned by King Ludwig I
featuring the most beautiful women in Munich, some of whom were his lovers.
Group shot in the gardens behind the palace.

Later that afternoon we visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial. After watching a documentary about the camp’s history, we toured the grounds. Walking among the barracks, crematorium, and gas chamber was a haunting experience, impossible to put into words.

This powerful sculpture commemorates the victims.
“Never Again” in several languages.
There were originally two columns and 30 rows of prisoner barracks.
All but the first row have been torn down.
The crematorium ovens.
The Nazis installed fake showerheads in the gas chambers to convince victims they were entering
shower rooms. This gas chamber had not been put into operation before the camp was liberated.
The only window to the outside world in the gas chamber.
One of the guard towers.

After leaving the camp we returned to the Marienplatz in Munich for dinner. We then headed to a brewery called the Augustiner to toast our final night in Munich before returning to the hotel. In the morning we would be departing for Vienna.

Farewell, Munich.

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My First Eurotrip, A Look Back

This series is a look back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.

Flash Forward: Munich

In 2007, as I approached my 36th birthday, I was given the opportunity to travel overseas for the first time in my life. Prior to that, I had never done much traveling outside of some long drives up and down the East Coast to places like Maine and Florida, and parts in between. I hadn’t been on an airplane since my high school senior trip when I was 18, and the only foreign country I’d ever visited was Canada, but that had just been a road trip over the border to Niagara Falls, so I’m not sure that even counts. The thought of traveling the world had never really crossed my mind. I did not understand what it means to be bitten by the travel bug, but that was about to change.

My uncle, Kipp, invited me to join him on a trip with his high school German class to Europe during spring break. It was a trip he made with his class every couple of years. On this occasion he had an open slot for a chaperone and asked me if I’d like to be one. My trip would be completely free except for the surcharge I would pay to guarantee a private single room. I jumped at the chance. I mean, how many times do you get offered a free trip to Europe? For me it would turn out to be twice, but I didn’t know that at the time.

At the pre-trip group meeting I met the students and other chaperones. Among the advice given was to bring a small suitcase since you would be lugging it around everywhere. I took that to heart and crammed my entire 10-day trip into a suitcase roughly the size of a carry-on with no room to spare. So of course when I got to the school on the day of the trip, everyone else had giant suitcases. 🙂

Ready to depart with my tiny suitcase.

When we went through security at the airport in Philadelphia I was pulled off to the side and searched—it would be the first of three times on this trip I would be specially searched at an airport. I can only surmise that I resembled the profile of what they deemed to be a suspicious person worthy of extra scrutiny—maybe it was the goatee.

Eventually we got on the plane for a short flight to Boston, where we would connect to Germany. I had the window seat. The man sitting in the middle seat next to me decided that it was more important for him to spread his newspaper out over three seats with his elbow hanging half over my seat than it was to give me the courtesy of my personal space. It was a short flight so I just pressed against the window and endured it, though nowadays I would probably say something.

We reached Boston and boarded a Lufthansa flight for Germany. This time I had an aisle seat, which was key for an 8.5-hour flight during which I was unlikely to sleep. It was my first experience flying international and I couldn’t believe all of the food and drinks were free, so I indulged plenty, perhaps hoping that alcohol would numb the smell of the bad B.O. guy in the seat in front of me. The in-flight movie was Rocky Balboa (this was right before they started letting you choose the movie you wanted to watch on your own screen).

When we landed in Germany I had a much easier time getting through customs than in the States. I walked around for most of the first day without being able to hear properly—I hadn’t yet mastered the art of getting my ears to pop during landing. We met up with our tour guide, a British fellow named Tom, who guided us to our bus. Our group was just large enough to warrant our own private bus, but small enough that we each had an entire row of seats to ourselves—a very comfortable way to spend nine days on the road. This trip spoiled me because when we returned in 2009, the bus was filled to the brim with three groups and everyone battling for seats during the entire trip.

Before long we were on the Autobahn headed for the city of Munich. After navigating a traffic jam we arrived at the main square in Munich, known as the Marienplatz. We were unable to check in to our hotel until later that afternoon, and I hadn’t slept on the plane, so by this point I was running on fumes. In the end, I would be awake for 32 straight hours on my first day, but none of that mattered because I was standing in Europe! I honestly never thought I’d see another continent. I had never even owned a passport until this trip. Being here was sublime.

We arrived just in time to see the famous Glockenspiel spring into action like a giant cuckoo clock.

Closeup of Glockenspiel figures.

After the Glockenspiel our group split up. Uncle Kipp and I had lunch at a nearby cafe, where I enjoyed my first Euro-beer, plus sausage and sauerkraut. The next day for lunch I would have essentially the same thing, except with fries instead of kraut (the fries were so tasty; they were more like crispy fried potatoes). Besides beer and water, the drink I enjoyed most on this trip was Fanta, a popular beverage over there, which tastes a bit different than in the States–not as sweet, more refreshing and natural tasting (well, as natural as soda can taste, anyway).

After lunch we did some sightseeing.

Rathhaus (Munich’s City Hall)
The Feldherrnhalle (sight of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler’s unsuccessful first attempt to seize power).

Munich has some amazing cathedrals. Here are a couple of them:

One of the massive stained-glass windows inside the Frauenkirche.
I couldn’t fit much of the cathedral into this shot, the downside of only having a pocket camera.
Theatinerkirche Interior

Later we climbed 300+ steps to the top of the Peterskirche tower to enjoy some spectacular views of Munich. The inside of the tower, with its winding steps and dark, narrow corridors, really makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the medieval era.

The photo at the top of this post was taken from this vantage point. Here are a few more:

I was too lazy to straighten this out. 😉
The Olympic Tower. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Alps.
Looking down at the Marienplatz square.

While up here we also got a birds-eye view of the Glockenspiel in action. A little later we met up with the rest of the group and headed back to the hotel to finally check in before heading out to dinner. All dinners were included in the tour, but the best meals were in Munich because we went to actual restaurants (dinner was served in the hotels of the other cities we visited).

The first night also happened to be my birthday, so Uncle Kipp arranged for the waitress to bring out a steak with a firecracker in it and the group sang Happy Birthday. My other recollection about that first restaurant was that they served the best tomato soup I ever had, almost like eating spaghetti sauce.

My birthday steak.

After dinner we headed to the famous Hofbrauhaus for drinks and I had my first Mas beer, which is a draft beer served in a full liter mug. The beer in this region is very easy to drink; it goes down much more smoothly than beer in the States (I’m not a big drinker, so it only took 2 1/2 of these Mas mugs on the second night to give me my first hangover since college).

Me with Uncle Kipp

Later that night we returned to the hotel for a much-needed night of sleep. In the morning we would be taking a tour of Munich followed by a visit to the Dachau concentration camp, which will be covered in the next installment.

Rathhaus at night.

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Eurotrip 2009 Part 5: Heidelberg

This is the fifth part of my Eurotrip 2009 Revisited series, a special edition of sorts in which I have divided the original post into smaller parts while incorporating minor copy edits and a few new (and reprocessed) images.

Flash Forward: Heidelberg, Germany

After our adventures in Lucerne we departed the next morning for the final leg of our trip. The hotel front desk was late with my wakeup call so I had to rush getting ready and packed to make sure I got downstairs for the bus on time, but I still had a few minutes to hit the restaurant and get some more of that awesome bacon.

Our first stop that morning was the Rhine Falls in Switzerland. While not on the level of Niagara, it is still quite spectacular and powerful.

The Rhine Falls
The tiny people visible at the top of the island on the left give you a sense of the size of the falls.
Me at the Falls

We didn’t have long to stay and I had already wasted some time sitting on a bench and staring at the falls, but I wanted to get a closer view, so I ran around the far side of the river where a path and steps led to the top of the falls, climbing as high as I could while taking photos.  However, time ran out before I was able to reach the top and I had to book it back to the bus.

Side View of the Falls

Our next stop was in the fabled Black Forest of Germany to see the world’s largest cuckoo clock in action. It was kind of kitschy (it’s no Glockenspiel). I would rather have spent more time at the Rhine Falls than rushing to make the 12 p.m. cuckoo performance.

World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

After the cuckoo performance we went inside the building for a demonstration of how the Germans hand-make their famous cuckoo clocks. We then stood in line for 45 minutes to get some crappy cafeteria food for lunch because we thought it would be faster than going to the sit-down restaurant across the way. In all, this was my least favorite stop of the trip, but the rest of the trip was so wonderful that it’s hard to complain about one little bump in the road.

After lunch we departed for our final destination: Heidelberg, Germany. The bus took us straight to the castle ruin that overlooks the city (we would not check in to our hotel that night until after 8:30 p.m.). While not as magnificent as the intact fortress in Salzburg that I saw two years prior, the Heidelberg castle is still very impressive and provides a nice view of the valley below:

A view of Heidelberg from the castle. I would later take photos of the castle
from below while standing in the square visible in the lower left of the photo.
Another view of Heidelberg from the castle.

Here are a couple of photos of the ruins themselves.  The open window sections reminded me a bit of the Colosseum.

Heidelberg Ruins
Heidelberg Ruins

We stopped in the castle courtyard for a group photo, and then went inside to view the world’s largest wine barrel.

World’s Largest Wine Barrel

We then explored the grounds around the castle. Along the way, I snapped this photo of a nearby obelisk in my best attempt at a 2001-ish monolith shot:

My Monolith (no apes huddled around this one)

After our tour of the castle we headed back to the bus, which dropped us off in the middle of town for an hour of free time before dinner. I took a few photos of the castle from down below.

Heidelberg Castle
Heidelberg Castle overlooking a square.
I liked these trees.

I then did some shopping and bought a chocolate gelato. One of the stores had tons of absinthe of every kind imaginable. I had never seen so much in one place. I thought about getting a big bottle to bring home, but decided against it.

We ate dinner at a charming place called Zum Sepp’l, which has apparently been a hangout for university students since the 1600’s, complete with thick wood tables entirely covered in carved names.

Carved table at the Zum Sepp’l

This was the best dinner of the trip, and a nice way to spend our last night in Europe. The tomato soup appetizer was fantastic (and I’m not usually a fan of it), but this tasted almost like spaghetti sauce. The bread was great. For the main course we had these awesome large pierogi topped with ham and onion. They were so good that I didn’t hesitate for seconds when they offered them. Here’s a picture of our mini group at the dinner table:

The people I spent the most time with during the trip.
From Left: Uncle Kipp, Amber, Sam, Me, Sam’s Grandmother.

After dinner, a group of guys from the New York group bought a giant three-liter beer boot, which they passed around and chugged down in rapid fashion.

Giant Beer Boot

I was finally able to settle into my hotel room a little after 8:30 p.m., but we were right back outside at 9:30 for an extended walking tour of Heidelberg. The castle looks beautiful lit up at night, though the night photos taken with my pocket camera didn’t come out too great.

Heidelberg Castle at Night

After the tour, our Gateway group stopped at a pub for a final round of drinks. On the way home we stopped for our last European gelatos. That night at 12:30 I helped Uncle Kipp do a final room check.

The following morning we hopped on the bus with the Virginia group for a long drive to Frankfurt airport (the NY group had already left very early that morning because they had a different flight). At the airport we said our goodbyes to our driver, guide, and the people from the Virginia group.

Here’s a photo of our entire group (New York, Virginia, and New Jersey):

Our Group

After a fairly short wait (especially compared to the 2007 trip), we boarded our plane. I had my seat switched from a window to an aisle, thinking that I would have a nice relaxing flight home. Little did I know that the girl sitting behind me would think that the touchscreen on the back of my seat was a punch screen, so you can imagine how fun that was for eight hours (I did finally get up with about 90 minutes left in the flight to show her how to use the screen without punching it). The movies really helped pass the time, even if most of them were mediocre, though I actually liked Marley & Me, a real tear jerker if you’re a dog lover.

We had a pretty rough landing in Philly, just as we had two years ago. Is there something about landing in Philly? We got the shuttle back to Gateway high school in South Jersey, where Jen picked me up. After saying our goodbyes we began the long drive back to central Jersey. I couldn’t wait to get home and get some rest, especially since I was beginning a new job in a couple of days.

Overall, I had a great time on the trip, though I would rank it slightly behind the one from 2007, primarily because on that trip we visited Salzburg (my favorite European city to that point), we did not have to share our bus with any other groups (which gave us plenty of room to stretch out on long bus rides and we didn’t have to worry about losing our seats every day), and we stayed two nights in every location, which made for a more easy-going trip.

On the other hand, we visited more cities on this trip and met some nice people from the other groups. It was also a blast hanging out with Amber, and some other aspects of the trip and flight were easier this time around since I had already gone through it once before. In the end, both trips were fantastic and left me with a lifetime’s worth of memories. One day I’ll write up my journal of the 2007 trip and the comparisons can begin. 🙂

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