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Trip Report MUNICH, SALZBURG AND BAVARIA 5/27/10 - 6/7/10

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The kernel of this trip was to see the famous Oberammergau Passion Play, which has been performed regularly by the villagers of Oberammergau in lower Bavaria since 1633. The town’s residents vowed that if God would spare them from the plague that was ravaging the region, they would perform a play depicting the life and death of Jesus every 10 years. The town was saved from bubonic plague, and since then, Oberammergau has kept its vow. Only town residents who have lived there for at least 20 years are allowed to participate in the play, and the play utilizes a cast of hundreds – Jesus, the disciples, the Jewish high priests, Romans, children, animals, chorus and orchestra members …. It’s a real big show. The play runs five times a week from mid-May to early October, and every seat of the 3,000 seat Passionspielhaus is full, at every performance. We bought our tickets for Saturday, June 5, 2010 way back in August 2009.

Once we (DW & I) had the Passion Play tickets, the rest of the trip formed around that event, and we decided to split our time between cities and countryside. We flew in and out of Munich on United, nonstop from Washington Dulles, and rented a car through AutoEurope for the “countryside” part of the trip.

Day 1 – Arrival in Munich (Friday, May 28)

After an 8-hour overnight flight from Dulles, we arrived in Munich at 8:00 am, of course we felt like it was 2:00 in the morning...We took the S-Bahn commuter train from the airport terminal to the Isator station. A “tor” is a gate, and Isator is one of the three original city gates still standing around the central old city (Aldstadt) of Munich. Hotel Concorde, where we were staying for the first three nights, was only 2 blocks from the Isator station, just inside the old city walls. We checked in and parked our bags and went out to explore for a few hours – our room would be ready after noon.

We started by walking to Marienplatz (2-3 minutes), the very center of Aldstadt, and sat down at a café directly in front of the Neues Rathaus, or “new city hall”, which was built in 1867. This is to distinguish it from the Altes Rathaus right next door, which was built in 1470. The Neues Rathaus has a famous Glockenspiel, carved wooden figures that merrily put on a show a few times a day, accompanied by a carillon. We sat down at about 10:15 and ordered a traditional Bavarian breakfast – Weisswurst (white veal sausages), pretzel, and beer for DW and meat, cheese and bread for me. Weisswurst are eaten only before noon, and come in an ornate bowl of poaching water. At 11:00, the Glockspiel did its thing, and we watched entranced for a solid 5 minutes a miniature tournament with mounted knights, jesters, and Morris dancers.
We walked through the square to St. Peter’s Church, the oldest church in Munich (completed 1180). We poked our heads in and would have toured the beautiful baroque interior, but a Mass was being celebrated. So we walked on to the Viktualsmarkt, a sprawling outdoor market sometimes called “the stomach of Munich”, where you could buy any kind of fruit, vegetable, meat, fish, cheese or bread … but especially spargel (asparagus) and erdbeere (strawberries), which were in season. We never saw any green asparagus in the outdoor markets (or at restaurants), but big, fat, white asparagus, which is what the Germans appear to prefer.

By this time, it was past noon, and we were able to move into our hotel room, get showers, and nap for a couple of hours. At about 3:00, we got up and took the U-Bahn (subway) from Marienplatz north to Muncher Freiheit, a stop in the center of the bustling Schwabing neighborhood, built around the Ludwig-Maximilian University. Schwabing was the bohemian center of Munich after WWII, sort of like Greenwich Village. The main drag, Leopoldstrasse, is full of cafes, restaurants, and cute shops. We got coffee (at Starbucks, because Iknew it would have free internet for my iPhone), then rented bicycles at Bike Sport Munchen. By this time it was about 4:30, and we had to have the bikes back by 7:00, but we just wanted a quick spin around the beautiful Englisher Garten, which is Munich’s Central Park.

We began our tour at a wonderful beer garden in the center of the park, which featured a large Chinese pagoda, called Chinesischer Turm, a brass band, and hundreds of picnicking Munchers. Since we’d just had a pastry at SBUX, we pedaled on, going to the southern end of the park. Here we found surfers – cutting through 2-3 foot waves where the Eisbach Canal enters the park. It was so out of place to see surfers in wet suits in the middle of the city! Then we pedaled up to the northern part of the park, stopping at a large lake with paddleboats, canoes and kayaks. As we sat by the lake, a thunderstorm quickly blew in. We started back toward Bike Sport to return the cycles, but were suddenly being pelted by marbles of hail! We took shelter under some trees with other walkers and cyclists, and once the hail had turned to a hard, soaking rain, we just went for it, returned the bikes and got onto the subway, dripping wet and drawing stares.

Back at the hotel, we changed into dry clothes then walked to LaValle, a very nice Italian restaurant. We shared an order of marinated asparagus with grilled cheeses, DW had cannolini stuffed with spinach and ricotta and I had an authentic Napoli pizza (they proudly display their certificate) with a perfect thin crust. Yum! We shared tiramisu for dessert, then walked west back through Marienplatz and along the pedestrian shopping street Neuhauserstrasse to the western city gate, Karlstor. We took the train back to Isator, and were in bed by 9:30, after a full and fun first day.

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    Well done, nice report! Waiting for more. Just a few things ;-)
    >Oberammergau in lower Bavaria
    upper Bavaria
    Aldstadt = Altstadt
    Viktualsmarkt = Viktualienmarkt
    Muncher Freiheit = Münchner Freiheit
    Englisher Garten = Englischer Garten
    Munchers = Münchner

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    Day 2 – Exploring Munich (Saturday, May 29)

    We awakened at 7:30 and ate a delicious breakfast at the hotel. At a little before 9:00, we walked into the historic center and did a self-guided Frommer's walking tour, beginning at Frauenkirche, the twin-towered symbol of Munich. A large group of Canadian tourists joined us in the somber sanctuary. From there, we walked to Peterskirche, but just like yesterday morning, we had no luck getting in – there was a Mass being held. We did stand right inside the doorway and listen for a bit; the congregation really knew their Latin chant. So, it was across the street to Heiliggeist (Holy Ghost) Church, a beautiful and bright sanctuary in the baroque tradition.

    We walked by, but passed on touring, the Residenz, official home of Bavarian rulers from 1500 to 1850, because we were holding out for a tour of the summer palace at Nymphenburg later in the afternoon. The Italianate loggia known as Feldherrnhalle was being set up for a music festival, with a stage and food stands. The cheerful scene was hard to square with visions of Nazi Brown Shirts rallying there in the 1930’s. Munich is the birthplace of the Nazi party, and the Feldherrnhalle was the popular gathering point.

    Then we found ourselves at the Hofgarten, the royal garden connected to the Residenz. From the gardens, we had a beautiful view of the mustard yellow Church of St. Kajetan. The garden was a good place for another SBUX break. Walking on, we passed through the outdoor drawing room of Willesbacher Platz, with an imposing equestrian statue of King Ludwig I.

    By now, it was time for lunch, so we stopped at one of Munich’s oldest restaurants, Café Luitpold. What a nice restaurant! I had risotto with fish fillets, and DW had a pork roulade, both delicious. The pastry display beckoned, so we had fantastic desserts, mine was a mango chiffon cake with a kumquat on top. We finished the walking tour by going west to the formal Konigsplatz, passing the U.S. Consulate, Amerika Haus. At Konigsplatz, two similar temple-like buildings faced each other, one called the Antikensammlungen, or antiquities museum, and the other the Ionic-columned Glyptotek. The subway platform at Konigsplatz was full of display cases of ancient Greek and Roman statues. We hopped on the subway and took the train back to Isator, where we visited the Bier and Oktoberfest Museum. Located in Munich’s oldest house, the museum had very low ceilings, lots of old beer steins (hundreds of years old), and a great film on the history of beer brewing. All that ducking through doorways made us thirsty, and we sampled a beer in the museum’s cozy beer hall, then walked back to Hotel Concorde for a nap.

    We got up at 4:45, too late to visit Nymphenburg Palace, so instead, we walked through the Viktualsmarkt (English spelling, sorry logos), which was very crowded on a Saturday afternoon, to the Munich City Museum. We sat in the shady courtyard and had coffee, then entered the museum at 5:30 – we only had half an hour! So it was definitely a highlights tour, starting with the famous group of carved wooden Morris Dancers, created in 1480, that are the most valuable works of art owned by the city. We quickly moved up the floors of the museum, particularly enthralled by a rotating display of typical foods of Munich. (I recognized the Weisswurst and pretzel from Friday’s breakfast.) But the best was last – the top floor was all puppets, particularly marionettes, from tiny to enormous. Some were very scary looking. The museum guard warned us “Closing in 3 minutes,” and we ran out, afraid to be locked in with the puppets all night.

    We left the museum promptly at 6:00 and tried, once again unsuccessfully, to see inside Peterskirche. They were worshipping again - how thoughtless of them! We never did get to see the inside of that church! Then back to the hotel room to get ready for dinner at the world-famous beer hall, Hofbrauhaus. Unfortunately for us, the festival hall was too crowded (we didn’t think you needed reservations at such a huge place), but we ate in the 2nd floor restaurant, which was very nice, if a bit sedate. After dinner, we walked to Marienplatz to get cash, and my card was eaten by the ATM machine (Duetsche Bank, middle outdoor machine) – oh no! I had to call our bank and cancel the card.

    Day 3 –The Suburbs (Sunday, May 30)

    We got up, showered and ate at the hotel, then walked back down to the Munich City Museum to retrieve my sweater, which I had left at the museum café the evening before. From the museum entrance, we could see the small hotel that our DS had stayed in back in 2007 on his European trip (Pension Lindner). What a good location!

    We looked up the one Anglican church in Munich (and Bavaria at large, actually), Church of the Ascension, in a southwestern suburb called Harlaching. The hotel staff gave us directions using the city’s streetcar system, and Xeroxed a detailed streetmap page of the neighborhood for us to show the tram conductor so we’d know where to get off. The driver gave us a great transit system map, which came in very handy for the remainder of our visit. The Church of the Ascension is a guest congregation at a German Lutheran church called Emmauskankirche, so their service didn’t start until late, 11:45. But choir rehearsal takes place for 90 minutes before the service begins, and the church’s website said that all were welcome to join the rehearsal. So we did, and were welcomed by the friendly choir members. The choir was just wonderful, about 20 voices, including some real ringers. Singing with the choir made the service – Trinity Sunday – especially meaningful and enjoyable.

    After church, we were invited to join some of the choir members for lunch, but we wanted to get in more sightseeing. On a recommendation from the director, we went to lunch at a wonderful beer garden that was even further out in the ‘burbs along the tram line. Menterschwaige was on the bank of the Isar River, with dozens of picnic tables set up under the chestnut trees, a lavish playground, and cozy indoor restaurant. We arrived at 1:30, and it was fairly empty, but the seats under the awnings and umbrellas filled up quickly. (It was raining by this time.) We had a delicious lunch – DW had fried flounder and I had wienerschnitzel, . The wait staff didn’t speak ANY English (not many tourists in Menterschwaige), but their gracious hospitality required no translation.

    Then it was on the tram, back in to the city and to the end of the line, Max Weber Platz, where we transferred to the subway to go under the river one stop to Lehen, which is a short walk from the Bavarian National Museum. This museum is a fantastic collection of Bavaria’s historic and artistic treasures, from early church art from the 10th century through Middle Ages masterpieces – tapestries, wood carvings and stained glass – as well as 17th and 18th century statues, furniture, and Meissen porcelain. No English guide materials were available, but we knew we were seeing beautiful things! We stayed until 4:30, then had a leisurely coffee in the fin de siècle tea room in the museum lobby. A short tram ride took us to Mariannenplatz, a short walk to Isator and our hotel. Nap time!

    At about 7:00, we got up and dressed for dinner, our last night in Munich. We wandered about, checking menus, and ended up at the crowded and convivial Andescher am Dom, behind the Frauenkirche. We shared a table with two other couples. The couple next to us was on their honeymoon, and they were from Alexandria, VA. We had a terrific time drinking beer from the Andechs Monastery – “the best beer in the world” – and discussing the eternal question of why people from Virginia don’t like to go to Maryland and vice versa. The food was fantastic – spargel and wurst – and we had a wonderful night.

    Day 4 – Monday, May 31

    After another Hotel Concorde breakfast, we packed, checked out, and called a taxi to go to the train station. It was raining, which it did all day long without a break. At the busy Munich Hauptbahnhof (central train station), we bought a Bayern family ticket one-way to Salzburg -- 30€ for both of us (though it would have been the same price for up to 5 people), a great deal. I asked about reserved seating, and the ticket seller, who spoke perfect English, said, “No, it’s open seating.” There was a brief kerfluffle when I realized I still had the Concorde’s heavy hotel key and brass fob, so we called the hotel and they asked us to drop it in the mail. The Post Office was directly across the train station but there was a very long line, and we didn’t want to miss our train, so I entrusted the fob with a guy who said he worked in the Altstadt neighborhood and would drop it off at the hotel. Then we got on the train and settled in …. Only to be thrown out of 1st class by the conductor, and banished to the lower level 2nd class seating. So much for “open seating” – I guess it’s unassigned seats, but stay within your ticket class!

    The ride was smooth and relatively quick (though we were on the local, not express train) – 1 hour 50 minutes for 75 miles about the same amount of time as driving would have taken. We arrived at Salzburg at 12:45, and cabbed to the Altstadt on the south side of the Salzach River, where we were dropped off at the end of our little pedestrian street, Goldgasse, right in front of the Cathedral, and walked a few yards to our hotel Das Goldene Ente, the Golden Duck. The room was rustic, but the front desk clerk was warm and helpful. After settling in, our first order of business was a shopping trip. It was still pouring rain and cold (about 49 degrees F), and I needed a jacket. With recommendations in hand from the hotel, we shopped around, and found a nice little department store on the “new” side of the river called Kleider Bauer. I found the perfect jacket in my hard to find size (XL tall) at 50% off – good shopping!

    Feeling proud of ourselves and much drier, we walked back across the river and spent a contented hour at the famous Café Tomaselli (est. 1704), a cozy coffee house with out-of-this-world pastries. Tomaselli was a favorite hangout for Wolfgang Mozart’s wife Costanze, who lived right next door. DW had a cream-filled Napoleon and I had apple strudel – then we switched off halfway through so we could try each other’s desserts. I was still pouring rain, so we then had a leisurely beer and a smoke (Austria has indoor smoking, whereas Germany does not). We could have stayed all afternoon, but culture beckoned. We walked a block further to the Residenz, the baroque palace that housed centuries of Salzburg’s prince archbishops. It was at the Residenz that Mozart gave his first public concert at age 6. We had audio tours describing each opulent room, and enjoyed the tour. (Though I have to say that, as palaces go, the Residenz is no Versailles.)

    We returned to the room for a short rest and then went to a ticket broker to buy concert tickets for Tuesday night and then walked into the Cathedral, Dum du Salzburg. An organist was playing in the balcony, and it was calm and dimly beautiful inside. We also walked down the famous shopping street Getreidegasse and scoped out restaurants for dinner. We chose Zum Wilder Mann, a traditional Austrian Gasthaus with shared seating and a “gemutliche” atmosphere. I had asparagus salad with sautéed rabbit livers, and DW had venison stew, cabbage and dumplings, along with the local Salzburg beer, Stiegl. We shared an amazing dessert with the politically incorrect name of “Moor in a Jacket”, a warm chocolate cake with liquid chocolate center, vanilla ice cream, and lots of whipped cream – YUM! Despite the crummy weather, we had a great first day in Salzburg.

    Day 5 – Tuesday, June 1

    We were up, showered, breakfasted (at the Golden Duck), and ready to tour by 9:30. It was still raining, though more lightly than on Monday. We walked on to St. Peter’s Church and Monastery on the southern edge of the old city, at the base of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. We started our tour at the beautiful churchyard, where each grave was marked with granite or wrought iron markers, and planted with elaborate mini-gardens. The church itself is stunning, truly over-the-top, high baroque décor. Our favorite painting was the ceiling fresco of St. Peter trying to walk out across the water toward Jesus, and sinking since his faith was not strong enough to keep him afloat. The Benedictine monastery at St. Peter’s is a going concern, with about 20 monks in residence. Directly past the church was the 100 year-old funicular to the fortress, definitely the easy way up the mountain. At the fortress, we viewed the State rooms, a small marionette museum, and rooms with armor, torture implements, musical instruments, and even the archbishop’s bedchamber and en suite privy. We also viewed the Golden Room, set up for evening concerts, and an exquisite Gothic chapel. The 900 year-old fortress was never attacked; it is in an impregnable position, and its grim appearance would have scared off would-be attackers even if they could have gotten close.

    We took a coffee break at the onsite café, sharing a Sacher Torte, then queued up for the audio tour that showed all the Salzburg prince bishops and the different stages of building the fortress over the centuries. The most important bishop in the fortress’s history was Leonhard von Keutscharch, whose family coat of arms was the turnip. There are turnips everywhere you look – above the doors, on walls, carved and painted, inside and out. The audio tour took us to the observation tower at the top of the fortress, where we had a commanding view of the city of Salzburg and surrounding countryside. (Well, a misty and foggy view!)

    After the tour, we walked down the hill back into town, and went to the popular seafood cafeteria chain Nordsee for a late lunch. Afterwards, we walked across the river to scope out the location of our dinner restaurant choice and the Mozarteum concert hall for later in the evening. We also visited the Mirabellgarten, one of Europe’s most beautiful parks, and the setting for Maria and the von Trapp children singing “Do, a deer” in The Sound of Music. We walked back to the hotel along the south side of the swollen, rushing river, and went in for a well-deserved nap. At 6:00, we left for dinner, at another traditional Austrian restaurant called Mindenhamer, near the Mirabellgarten. I had an incredibly rich asparagus soup and steak; DW went lighter with a pineapple, asparagus and watercress salad and trout with toasted almonds. It was delicious, and we got out in plenty of time for the 7:30 concert at the Mozarteum.

    The Sinfonie Orchester der Musikhochschule Stuttgart is a college group under the baton of Per Borin, a young and very expressive conductor. The music was wonderful – Brahms, Mozart, and a 20th Century composer we had never heard of, Hilding Rosenberg. The orchestra was terrific, too – so young, yet so passionate and musical! Then back to the Duck and to bed.

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    Okeydokey, nice!
    Konigsplatz = Königsplatz
    Glyptotek = Glyptothek
    Viktualsmarkt (English spelling, sorry logos) =
    Willesbacher = Wittelsbacher
    Emmauskankirche = ?
    Duetsche Bank = Deutsche Bank
    Andescher am Dom = Andechser am Dom
    Das Goldene Ente = Die Goldene Ente
    gemutliche = gemuetliche
    Leonhard von Keutscharch = Leonhard von Keutschach

    Not bad at all so far!!

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    Day 6 – Rainy Road Trip (Wednesday, June 2)

    We checked out of the Golden Duck in Salzburg and took a taxi, in the rain, to the Avis Car Rental office by the train station. We reserved in the mid-size class, which turned out to be a Mercedes Benz Z-Class diesel 6-speed, roomy and easy to maneuver. We got out of Salzburg with no wrong turns, and once we crossed into Germany, our factory-installed GPS kicked in.

    We started our driving tour of eastern Bavaria in Berchtesgaden, which is one of the most beautiful regions of Germany. However, it was pouring rain, so we opted to go underground with a tour of the Salzbergwerk Salt Mine. It was great! First, we donned mine workers’ coveralls, which were needed – it was cold, although the tour takes place in the mine’s upper levels. The lower levels are still being mined, even though the mine has been in continual operation since 1517, the oldest active mine in Germany, maybe the world. We rode down on a mining train, sitting one behind the other like on a bobsled. To get to the tour level, we slid down a 100-foot wooden slide, which miners used to get from one level to another. The tour took us from station to station, explaining the salt mining process, which is basically: (1) drill a huge hole; (2) fill huge hole to the brim with water; (3) pump out the water; and (4) dehydrate the resulting sludge to crystallize the salt. The end of the tour was particularly mesmerizing, as we were rowed across a subterranean salt water lake on a boat, with a laser light show playing across the pitch-black cave walls. Very cool!

    We rode the train back to the surface – it was raining even harder. Ugh! We drove into the town of Berchtesgaden and stopped at the Hofbrauhaus for an inexpensive and filling lunch of boiled beef for DW and fried fish for me. Then we started our drive west across Bavaria in earnest, climbing misty mountain roads in a cold, steady rain. About half of the 120-mile drive was on twisty mountain roads and about half on highly engineered Autobahn-class freeways.

    We arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen at about 5:30 and checked into the Atlas PostHotel. There was a parking space with our room number and a warm welcome from the front desk attendant waiting for us, and we settled into our spacious, comfortable room for a 4-night stay. At about 6:30, we walked into town (in the driving rain), but not having GPS for our feet, it turned out we were walking out of town, away from the city center. After 1/2 mile or so, we figured out we were going the wrong way, and we caught a city bus back to the Kurpark, or main town square. We ate dinner at the Alpenhof Restaurant, which is a couple of blocks from the Kurpark along the pedestrian shopping street in the center of town. It was great food – lamb with aparagus and spaetzle for DW - a cold meat platter and asparagus with potatoes for me. The continuing rain was starting to get us down, and after dinner we returned to the hotel and went to bed, hoping for better weather in the morning.

    Day 7 – Bavarian Villages (Thursday, June 3)

    We slept in until 8:00 and then went down to the amazing breakfast at the PostHotel. Wow! Delicious artisan home-baked breads, hot eggs and bacon, cold meats, smoked salmon, beautiful fruit, fresh squeezed juices, champagne – best hotel breakfast we've ever had. And just think, we get 3 more of these breakfasts!

    The weather was still gray and sprinkling rain, which was an improvement over Wednesday’s downpours, but not a good day to ascend to the top of Zugspitze, which had been the original plan. Instead, we toured three charming villages located close to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (or GAP, as it is known by the locals): Mittenwald, 11 miles to the south, on the way to Innsbruck; Ettal, 9 miles north; and Oberammergau, 2 miles beyond Ettal.

    Mittenwald is full of beautifully painted houses, and has been a violin-making capital for 500 years. We walked through the pedestrian center of town, which was quiet, because it was a local holiday and many shops were closed. We visited the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which as also painted on the outside with saints and martyrs. In front of the church was a statue of violin maker Matthia Klotz (1653-1743), the paterfamilias of a dynasty of Mittenwald artisans making violins, lutes, cellos, guitars and zithers. We visited the Geigenbau Musem and learned about how violins are made, and watched a film showing the current students in Mittenwald’s violin-making school. Violin making and tourism are the town’s biggest businesses. We had lunch at a popular locals restaurant, Gasthaus Gries. It was delicious --- lebernudel soup, house-made Bratwurst, and a cold meat and cheese platter.

    Next, we drove back through GAP to Ettal, home of the enormous high baroque pilgrim church, Ettal Basilica and Cloister. The church was stunning. The abbey is known for brewing the wonderful Ettal Bier and various liqueurs, but the brewhouse was closed for the mystery holiday. So it was on to Oberammergau. This was sort of an advance recon trip, to get familiar with the town, figure out where to park the car and eat, and generally get ready for the Passion Play we would see there on Saturday. We wandered the busy streets – since Thursday was a “play day”, there were no stores closed for the holiday in Oberammergau! We shopped for wood carvings. Besides the Passion Play, wood carving is the other historically traditional activity for which Oberammergau is known. Then we had coffee, and compared menus of various restaurants, choosing where we would make our Saturday dinner reservations. The Passion Play is five hours long, starting at 2:30, breaking for dinner at 5:00, and starting back up at 8:00. It’s a real marathon!

    We drove back to GAP, and decided that, since breakfast had been so delicious, we’d try dinner at the PostHotel. It was a relaxing and lovely evening. An accomplished cocktail pianist played in the dining room, though he must have been shy, because he hid behind an elaborate candelabra and couldn’t be seen at all. After dinner, we walked to the Kurpark and listened to a Bavarian quintet called Die Kathreiner play jaunty folk music. Usually, the “music in the park” series is outside, in a lovely bandstand, but the weather was still inclement and the performance was moved inside to the Park Café. The band was peppy and fun, and the small audience enjoyed the music. Afterward, it was back to the hotel and bed.

    Day 8 – Castles (Friday, June 4)

    Our plan for Friday was to tour two “King Ludwig II castles” in Schwangau. King Ludwig, sometimes known as the Swan King, the Fairy Tale King, or even Mad King Ludwig, reigned in Bavaria from 1864-1886. We had pre-purchased 10:50 timed tickets to tour the first castle, Hohenschwangau, which was the childhood home of Ludwig, and were supposed to arrive an hour ahead of time to pick up the tickets and get to the castle door for the tour. The second tour, scheduled for 12:50, was for the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, which Ludwig built during his reign, along with two other fantasy castles, Herrenchiemsee and Linderhof. In fact, Ludwig’s castle building craze practically bankrupt the country, and led his royal cabinet to declare him insane and remove him from the throne.

    From GAP, our trusty GPS routed us through the upper Tirol Mountains of Austria, and it was a gorgeous drive. The day started cloudy, but by 10:00, there was a perfectly blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. Hey, we were surrounded by mountains! Who knew?

    We had miscalculated how much time we would need to get to Schwangau, which was only about 40 miles from GAP but took about 70 minutes to drive, and got to the ticket office at 10:25 with just enough time to pick up the pre-reserved tickets and run up the hill to the castle. (Pant, pant.) The tour of Hohenschwangau Castle was quick, only 35 minutes, and no pictures were permitted. The castle was very ornate and romantic, with lavish furnishings, paintings, and decorative pieces. You could easily picture the royal family at home: King Maximillian, Queen Marie, crown prince Ludwig, and little brother Otto, entertaining eminent visitors such as composer Richard Wagner, whom Ludwig adored in a completely obsessive fashion.

    Back at Café Muller at the bottom of the hill, we had a cup of coffee and ridiculously huge slab of chocolate cake, then got in line to take a horse-drawn carriage up the much longer, much steeper path the Neuschwanstein Castle. There was still a 10-minute climb at the carriage drop-off point, and we ran in to the castle gates just in time for our tour. Well, if we thought Hohenschwangau had been wildly romantic, it was small potatoes compared to Ludwig’s Wagnerian fantasy atop the mountain. Each room of the Neuschwanstein Castle was based on a different Germanic legend and Wagner opera, Parsifal, Lohengrin, Tristan and Isolde, etc. There was a knockout throne room … with no throne. In fact, much of the castle was unfinished, and Ludwig lived there for only about six months before his highly suspicious death in 1886. Three days after his cabinet declared him insane, he was found drowned in Lake Stamberg, outside Munich. Was it suicide, an accident, or murder?

    After the tour, we climbed 15 minutes along a path to the Marien Bridge, with a stunning view across the woods to Neuschwanstein, perched high atop the hill, gleaming like a beacon. It was truly a fairy tale castle – you could see why Walt Disney decided to model his Disneyland castle on Neuschwanstein. We descended back to the village by bus, and ate a late lunch at Hotel Lisl, a classic combo of smoked trout salad, potato pancakes, weisswurst, pretzels and beer.

    At around 3:30, we started the drive back to GAP, stopping in the neighboring village Grainau to get information about ascending Zugspitze, at 10,000 feet, the highest mountain in the German Alps. It was too late in the day to go up the mountain, but we enjoyed relaxing at a café at the Grainau Kurpark Resort, which sits at the foot of the mountain, overlooking an enormous swimming pool complex. The view was spectacular, especially since our weather had finally turned – Friday was gorgeous from beginning to end.

    We returned to GAP and the PostHotel and rested for an hour and a half, watching The Simpsons in German. At 7:00, we walked down the pedestrian main street to Ristorante Antica Roma, for a nice pasta dinner that was a break from all the sausages and beer. Afterwards, we wandered down to GAP’s Kurpark for an outdoor brass band concert. The Garmisch Brass Band was playing with considerable enthusiasm and somewhat less talent. The band massacred a West Side Story medley, but were on firmer ground with traditional concert marches. Then back to the hotel and bed, after a long and glorious day.

    Final days (9 and 10) soon...

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    Day 9 – Zugspitze and the Passion Play (Saturday, June 5)

    We got up early to a sunny, crystal clear day, had another amazing PostHotel breakfast, and drove back to the village of Grainau to ascend the Zugspitze. The fastest way up the mountain is the Eibsee Cable Car, on the banks of the Eibsee Lake at the base of the western slope. (Though “slope” is a misnomer – the mountain goes more or less straight up, 10,000 feet.) It was a quick 10 minute trip to the summit, and the cable car was crowded with families and couples with hiking poles and ski gear. It was clear why when we stepped out of the summit station – there was snow everywhere! All that rain the past week had yielded a couple of feet of new powder in the mountains. However, it wasn’t too cold, especially in the morning sun, and we took in the spectacular views on both the German and Austrian sides of the summit. There was a little museum showing the history of conquering the Zugspitze and development of a tourism and recreation industry, and a beer garden (Germany’s highest!).

    Then we took a short cable car ride down to Zugspitzplat, at 8,530 feet, where there was a both the cable car station and a train station, restaurant, skiing and hiking center, and a tiny wooden chapel (Germany’s highest!). We had gotten such an early start that we almost had the place to ourselves, but there were children skiing and couples hiking on the glacier. We stuck to the indoors and patio areas because I was wearing sandals – not the right footwear at all!

    At 9:30, we took the earliest cogwheel train back down the mountain, a trip that takes 45 minutes and goes through a long tunnel for the first 25 minutes, then breaks through to glorious sunlight and beautiful views of the Eibsee Lake below. We were the only passengers on the downhill train, but as we passed the train coming up from Grainau, we saw it was standing room only. I’m very glad we had the chance to visit Zugspitze, even though it was a very short visit.

    We made a brief stop back in GAP for coffee, then were on our way to Oberammergau for the Passion Play, arriving at about 11:45. We were directed to park in the south lot. We wandered down to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and had a wonderful lunch at Restaurant Brunello, tucked behind the churchyard. This was one of the best meals of the whole vacation – great Italian food in a shady, peaceful courtyard, with attentive but unhurried service. Then a walk up to the Passionspielhaus to take our seats.

    The Passion Play is the story of Jesus Christ’s last week on earth, from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem through the crucifixion and resurrection. The narrative scenes are alternated with tableaux vivant sections that are accompanied by a Greek chorus-style choir, showing Old Testament scenes that relate to the action in the main story line. Everything was impressive – the acting, singing, production values – and the sheer numbers in the crowd scenes, with hundreds of people and animals on stage together.

    For our dinner break, we went to Hotel Turmwirt, which I really can’t recommend. Let me restate that - it was AWFUL and I don't want to think about it for another second. The play ended at 11:00 (not the advertised 10:30). The drive back to GAP was long, in a slow snake of headlights down the mountain road. GAP and Oberammergau are only 12 miles apart by road. We got back to our hotel at midnight.

    Day 10 – Dachau and Freising (Sunday, June 6)

    Our last day dawned to another sunny, beautiful start. We checked out, with many thanks and compliments to the wonderful hotel and gracious staff, then started our 90-minute drive north to the northwestern suburbs of Munich, to visit Dachau and the Concentration Camp Memorial Site. We arrived in time to watch the English version of a 25-minute introductory film about the history of Germany’s first concentration camp, which would become a model for other camps in Germany, Austria and Poland. After the film, we toured the museum and reconstructed prisoner barracks. The most moving monument for me was the urn with the ashes of the unknown concentration camp prisoner, recalling the fate of the thousands of people whose corpses were burnt in the crematorium. As we walked back to the car, I was struck by how close the little houses and apartment buildings of the town of Dachau are to the camp (they butt up right to to the Camp). How awful to always and forevermore be associated with the worst atrocity of the 20th Century, literally in your back yard!

    The town of Dachau itself is actually charming, small and quiet in the Sunday sunshine. We had lunch at a quiet Italian restaurant just off the main square called Floriano Brunnen. It was a wonderful place with house-made pasta, solicitous and professional wait staff, and a quiet setting. DW and I shared grilled radicchio with pecorino and honey sauce, I had spaghetti carbonara, and DW had homemade gnocchi with truffles. Highly recommended!

    After lunch, we drove to the Tulip Inn Munich Airport, our last hotel. No "to dos" so we enjoyed resting and watching some American TV (in German). At about 6:00, we drove 10 miles north of the airport to the ancient city of Freising, established in the 8th Century. We ate dinner at a beer garden connected to the world’s oldest brewery, Weihenstephan, where a Benedictine monastery has brewed and served their own beer since 1040. The beer garden was fun – self service and communal long picnic tables. We relaxed, admired the views and chatted with some local university students (with their PERFECT English). The food is an afterthought (though the rolled pork was great) … people come for the beer, and to socialize. It was a friendly, family oriented scene.

    We went into Freising's old town afterward to walk around the Marienplatz Square and have ice cream. The town was quiet in the evening light (it stayed light until at least 9:00 pm), and our little walk seemed like a fitting end to our wonderful trip to Bavaria.

    There’s nothing else much to report – all airport hotels are pretty much the same, and all last days are pretty much the same, too. We flew back to Washington Dulles on a 11:40 am flight on Monday, June 7th. The ticketing agent at United just looked at me (6'4") and asked if we might want to switch to the exit row.... uh,..."yes!"

    The "list" - places we both want to see - is too long for a return to Bavaria anytime in the future, but I am so glad we went. It was one of our favorite vacations.

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    Well done, few errors, but was there anything new and exciting to report? You mentioned the standard program. Anything special that happened during your stay? That would be interesting.

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    Logos, I can only submit that this well beaten path was new and exiting to us as this was our first visit to Germany. Nothing felt dull about it to us - even something as everyday as attending church and rehearsing with the choir and making friends are memorable to us.

    Another example is something as mundane as crossing the street on the outskirts of town - we were beside a middle aged woman and came to a cross, we could see 1/2 mile in each direction, no cars anywhere in sight so me and DW crossed. The quick look of severe disapproval from the woman was stricking. There were NO cars! We noticed this in others areas as well - rules are rules. I think if that lady was the last person in Germany, she would still not cross without a walk signal.

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    Thanks for taking the time to write and post your report. We are once again attending the Passion Play (in August) so I was particularly interested in your travels and glad you enjoyed it all and the area.

    Yes, "the rules" and the "certain way" of doing business..sometimes the attitude even shows up in posts on here. In Switzerland they actually enjoy them because that way they can spend lots of time figuring out how to GET AROUND them, or at least that's what my Swiss friends keep telling me.

    Happy Travels...

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    Logos, I've thought of another general impression that really struck me. So many people were wearing lederhosen, dirndl, feathered hats, boiled wool jackets, and carrying walking poles (not all at once, of course) -- and all without any sense of irony or "dressing up". The culture is so strong, and the people of Bavaria, old and young, don't see anything hokey about it. It was sort of sweet.

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    I enjoyed reading about your trip. I must be an exception, but I enjoy logos' comments and find them most helpful and interesting.

    I just back from a trip to Bavaria last night. It was mostly a trip of eating and bike riding. The strawberries and spargel were both great as was the weather except for one day of steady rain. It looks like the cool weather is back again for awhile.

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