This is The End

Our last day in Munich began with a leisurely breakfast at KaffeeKüche. I didn’t take any pictures, but it was a super cute little coffee shop with tasty food. I had a cheese plate and I really don’t know why I don’t start every day with brie. After breakfast, we then went to Peterskirche to climb the tower for a view of the city. It was a beautiful view and I am so thankful the weather was nice enough to enjoy it.

DSC 0558DSC 0555We stopped in the Marienplatz to watch the Glockenspiel go off at noon. So delightful.

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We enjoyed our last lunch (and beer and pretzel) together, then headed back to the apartment. We LOVED our apartment in Munich. It was spacious, modern, and actually had a dryer with the washing machine (no more waiting four days for clothes to dry in the damp cold weather!).

Sari and I flew out Friday evening for our layover in Istanbul, so we needed to finish getting our things packed, and leave in plenty of time to get to the airport. While we were on the train to the airport, Sari started looking peaked and she looked at me and said “I think I’m going to be sick.” Being the good and helpful person that I am, I just told her “no” and shook my head.

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It worked! She made it all the way through checking our backpacks and getting our tickets before getting sick. Other than dying, I don’t know that there is much worse than being sick to your stomach during a flight. The man that shared our row was extremely nice despite the fact that she puked the entire way. I felt awful for her. Thankfully, she didn’t get sick again while we waited to go through passport control or on the ride to our hotel in Istanbul.

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We stayed at this hotel (which was beautiful) and we arranged through them for a car to pick us up at the airport which worked out perfectly (especially since it saved us form having to wait in line for an hour for a cab). We arrived around 2 am, and Sari was exhausted. I had planned for us to go see the Hagia Sophia on Saturday morning (because it was super close to the hotel), but she was still in bad shape, and I felt nervous leaving her and nervous going on my own. I guess this just means that I need to make a special trip there because from what little I saw, it’s a beautiful city.

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(source)

I am seriously so impressed with the level of security at the Ataturk Airport. You go through security to just get in the door, then the normal security to get to the gates, then when we got to our gate, we went through another level of security where they scanned our passports again, and Sari got picked for a random search. They take safety seriously, and I always appreciate that no matter how inconvenient it may seem. We flew 14 hours to San Francisco, during which time Sari was sick multiple times and felt miserable the entire way. I don’t think I’ve ever felt sorrier for someone. Luckily, we ended up in a row with just the two of us, so she was able to at least lay down for most of the flight. I didn’t sleep much, so I got to watch seven movies, including this film classic:

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When we arrived in San Francisco, Sari had to go sit down on the floor while I held our spot in the passport line. Do they purposely make it 400 degrees when you are waiting to go through passport control?

We made it home late Saturday night, and Sari was feeling better on Sunday thankfully. I slept for about 12 hours Saturday night, then spent Sunday unpacking, cleaning, and watching the last season of Gilmore Girls while trying to avoid a nap. All eight of my Christmas mugs and 30 pounds of chocolate made it home safely, so that was a relief.

We had such a great time on the trip, and I am so thankful that I got to take such a magnificent vacation with such awesome friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip or better group to go with. Can’t wait for the next one!

Royal Delights

We started our day in Munich at the Residenz which is the former city palace of the Bavarian monarchs, the House of Wittelsbach. Doug and I bumbled around the exterior of the palace when we were in Munich in 2014, but we could not figure out how to get inside. It was the weirdest damn thing. I greatly regretted not touring it last time, so we went again this time. With FOUR of us looking, we still could not find the ticket office. We walked all around the palace and through the courtyards, and came up with nothing. Finally, on our second lap around, we found a small sign that said the ticket office was 200 m on the left. Sari stepped it off for us as we walked, and we finally found it. We started in the treasury, and the jewels of the WIttelsbach monarchy are hands down the most splendid and numerous that I’ve ever seen.

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My favorite piece of headwear:dsc_0427-1The whole thing was breathtaking, and the audio guide said that it would take over five hours just to listen to information available on each piece. It was a truly outstanding exhibit.

We then went on to the palace for our audio tour. It was also exquisite and massive. I couldn’t believe how many rooms were open to viewing, and how significantly the palace had been restored after extensive damage in World War II.

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The first section of the tour included ZERO fabulous lighting pieces, so I was thrilled to get into the chandelier sections.DSC 0465DSC 0466
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You get the picture – TOTALLY FABULOUS. And I hated this monstrosity. WHY, GOD, WHY???

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We then wasted an inordinate amount of time wandering around trying to find somewhere to eat. I will never understand why this is always SO HARD, but alas, it is the ongoing struggle of my travels. After lunch, we walked back through the Christmas market in the Marienplatz. Still so striking.

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And we bought dirndls because why not? And you are probably thinking, “Why, Cely, you already own a dirndl you crazy wench.” You are totally right, and now I own two. I got swept up with the Bavarian fever. Sari and Ashley both purchased dirndls as well, and they looked adorable in them. Can’t wait for Wurstfest next year!!

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Ashley could wear a dirty old bag and look amazing, but she could not have been cuter in her dirndl. We then popped into the Hofbräuhaus for some afternoon beers. It was just as wonderful as I remembered.

IMG 1146IMG 1150We ended the day back at the Christmas market where we enjoyed some sausages (Sari did not partake in the sausage, of course) and glühwein for dinner. Little children were singing German Christmas music and I almost died from cuteness. It was a fabulous day.

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The Greatest Meat of My Life

Much to my great sadness, we left Salzburg on Wednesday morning. I LOVED that pretty little city, and the people there were so nice. We drove to Berchtesgaden, Germany for a tour of the Salt Mines just before lunch. We wanted to show Ashley the beautiful town and Konigssee Lake before the tour, so we go there a few hours early. It was FREEZING. One of our thermometers said it was 29 but another said 26 with a windchill of 19. That is end of times cold for a bunch of Texans and a lady from Kentucky. At least it was beautiful.

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I still can’t believe it’s only been two years since we were there before. We also could see Hitler’s tea house, Eagle’s Nest, (wayyyyy up on that mountain) while we walked to the mine tour.

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Ashley wanted to go see it, and we would have all loved to see that museum again, but it’s closed this time of year due to ice and snow.

We had booked an 11:30 am tour, so we go to the Salzbergwerk mines a few minutes early to suit up.

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We couldn’t take pictures inside the mine, but it was surprisingly interesting. I had never thought about how salt is mined, and how salt deposits are formed. The tour was impressively modern, and they had some beautiful light displays – especially when we crossed the underground lake. It was impressive. We also got to go down a huge slide together, so that was an unexpected surprise.

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After all of that fun, we drove to Munich. Bavaria proved to be as beautiful as we remembered.

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We arrived in Munich just before dinner, checked into our apartment, and returned our rental car. Our little blue Skoda was a tight fit, but she treated us well.

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After dropping her off, we headed to the most important thing in Munich – the Christmas markets. I am biased because I think the Marienplatz is one of the beautiful areas in Europe, but it was even more AMAZING with the choir singing and Christmas decor.

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Ashley and I beelined it for gluhwein and Christmas mugs. I have a duffel bag full of mugs and I am not sorry.IMG 1067

After cruising around the market, we rode the tram to the Augustiner Braustuben restaurant and beer hall which located next to the Augustiner brewery. Doug and I went last time after a local suggested it, and we had one of the best meals of our lives. There was no way we were missing an opportunity to eat there. I highly recommend making the journey out to the original restaurant instead of eating at the one near the Marienplatz, it’s cheaper and filled with locals instead of tourists. We sat at a table with friendly Germans who were full of suggestions about which beer to order. We order two meat plates between the three of us (Sari, the vegan, ate mushroom soup) and it was just as fantastic as we remembered. No one does duck as well as Germany.

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We spent a few hours there and had a blast. It was such a fun and relaxing way to spend the evening.

Such Castles

When we arrived in Fussen we had a bit of a kerfuffle over the hotel room as the one we had booked had not noted that there was a time you could not check in after. I tried to make sure that all of our reserved rooms didn’t have that, but I guess they can go to bed whenever they want.

We eventually located a small inn called Ruchti’s and a  sweet little grandfather cheerfully checked us in. We were all exhausted and got in bed just after midnight.

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The hotel was older, but still very clean and comfortable. They had free wi-fi, parking, and breakfast so that was already a 99% win. We left just after 8 and made our way over to the village of Hohenschwangau for CASTLES. We reserved our tickets online and had a tour scheduled to start at 9:50. We picked up the tickets and headed up to Schloss Hohenschwangau. If you’re wondering what a name that spectacularly unpronounceable could possible translate to, it means “High Country Swan Palace.” The Swan was the symbol of the Bavarian monarchy and it was everywhere.

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KA KA (<- mighty bird noises, you know you do it too)

We had a little under an hour to kill before our tour, so we wandered around the castle taking pictures. Some were good, some were not.

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DSC_0656 We couldn’t take any pictures in the palace which always makes me sad, but it was very pretty and colorful. The castle was built by King Maximilian II and was the childhood residence of Ludwig II. The coolest part was that all of the artwork was painted directly on the walls. He said this was a very lucky decision because they couldn’t be stolen by the Nazis or occupying Americans.

After the tour, we headed back down the hill and enjoyed the beautiful lake.

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After Schloss Hohenschwangau, we headed over to check out Ludwig II’s little house, Neuschwanstein (New Swan Castle).

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We paid a few euros and rode the bus up the hill. You can walk up for free, but we aren’t sadists. We had a little time before the tour, so we walked around and checked out the exterior and the view below.

DSC_0672 DSC_0679  IMG_2278      DSC_0703DSC_0694  DSC_0710 DSC_0712 DSC_0713 We were again not able to take pictures inside, but whatever. Ludwig II began construction on the palace in 1869 as a place for him to relax in peace (living the introvert dream) and as an homage to Richard Wagner whose music he was a big fan of. I find it hard to believe that a person would choose the entire architectural and artistic design of both the interior and exterior of an entire palace based on someone’s work if there wasn’t something more going on, but what do I know?

Anyway, I always thought that Ludwig was a full-blown crazy, but he wasn’t actually declared crazy until the final few days of his life. According to our tour guide, he was actually completely sane, but he was blowing so much money that the Bavarian government decided to stop him. So, he was declared insane, arrested, then he mysteriously died in a lake near Munich with his psychiatrist a few days later. Convenient.

Unfortunately for Ludwig, he only lived in the palace for 172 days before he was arrested and hauled away. Only 14 rooms were finished before his death, and we saw those today. They were ridiculously spectacular and ornate. I really enjoyed the castle, but it almost seemed like a fake movie set. I felt like I was at Disney or something. It was just too perfect and pristine.

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While I think they are both worth a stop, I enjoyed the Schloss Hohenschwangau tour considerately more because the tour group was much smaller and the guide spent a significant amount of time in each room explaining everything in the room including each of the paintings. The Neuschwanstein tour was good as well, but the group was huge and we felt rushed through many of the rooms. Some of them we passed without a word. I don’t know if it’s because Neuschwanstein is owned by the government and the other is still run by the family, but there was a difference in the quality and quantity of detail.

After the tour, we walked down the hill some to get lunch. On the way, Sari found these fantastic fried donut-like things:

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Those were amazing. After inhaling those we had some hot dogs that were one billion times better than any hot dog I’ve ever had. The bread they use over here is so damn wonderful. Then we piled into the car and headed north out of Bavaria. I was sad to leave it behind. Bavaria will forever be one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the honor of visiting. I hope I can come back and just spend a couple of weeks down there. If you are ever in the area, do not miss it! The scenery is incredible and the people are completely lovely.

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After about five hours of driving and Sari unhelpfully napping the entire way, we made it to Neunkirchen just in time for dinner. After we checked into a hotel, we headed across the street to Stumm’s Brauhaus for dinner.

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I had Bavarian sausage and a pretzel with one of their own wheat beers. It was delicious.

Dachau

I didn’t know what to expect when we drove to the Dachau Concentration Camp north of Munich, but it is a place everyone should see in their lifetime. When we arrived, we got our devices for the audio tour and went through the ominous gates that all prisoners entered the camp through.

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I did not know a lot about the Dachau camp itself. I grew up learning about Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I knew Dachau was a larger camp, but I didn’t realize that it was the camp all others were based on. It was opened in 1933 and holds the title of the first concentration camp. They did so much training for the SS officers who would eventually run the other camps, that it had to be shut down for two weeks to accommodate them. Some of the most notoriously terrible concentration camp guards were trained there to get the “Dachau mindset.”

Our tour first detailed the large area used for roll call each morning and night where prisoners were often made to stand for hours. It was also where prisoners were forced to do largely useless labor like building a large pile of sand for days on end.

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We also viewed several of the memorials to the various groups of people who were imprisoned there and died within those walls.

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The shapes and colors in the above piece correspond to the symbols and colors used to mark prisoners based on their “crimes” as detailed below.

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After we walked through some of the prison block for “special prisoners” such as priests, military men, police officers who had refused to to the Nazi oath, and journalists. While other prisoners were kept in large bunkhouse quarters, special prisoners were locked alone in cells and often tortured and left for months in complete isolation.

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We next spent an hour in the museum. The amount of information was overwhelming and I wish I could make several visits to take it all in. They did an incredible job of mixing the historical facts with the personal accounts.DSC_0158

The Nazi flag waving from the tower of Marienplatz in Munich:

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We then moved to the bunkhouse which has been reconstructed for the memorial site.

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The remaining bunkhouses have disappeared over time, but their foundations remain as a reminder of the thousands of people who lived there.

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The final stop was the long and solemn walk to the cremation chambers.

DSC_0182 It was a discordant feeling to be walking on such a beautiful day in a beautiful area and realize what terror had existed on those grounds. Then you see the barbed wire fences and guard towers and you don’t forget.

DSC_0206What was even more incongruous was that the cremation facility was the most beautiful part of the camp. It was located in a quaint little house that rested in side a highly manicured garden and was surrounded by beautiful trees (they have maintained the landscape as closely as possible to what it was then).

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The wall in the crematorium included a plaque dedicated to four British servicewomen who had parachuted into France to help with the resistance. They were captured, then murdered in the crematorium.

Although the camp was not labeled a “death camp” such as Auschwitz, over 31,000 people are officially recorded as dying there. The camp was not a “death camp” as prisoners were not brought there to specifically be killed, even though they had a large gas chamber built.

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Following the path that the people took who were murdered in that chamber will likely remain one of the most haunting and troubling experiences of my life. I don’t know how so many people did so many incredibly brave things knowing that that is what awaited them if they were caught.

I am glad we took the time to visit the camp and I am grateful that so many people have worked to make it a valuable learning opportunity. I hope that by taking the time to see and remember places like this and the people who were here, that we do a better job of not letting it happen again.

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