Dachau, Chris and Munich

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All I can say about the tour of Dachau is that it was incredibly sobering and incredibly moving.  Even though it’s not a fun time, I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone.  It was a cold, gray and rainy day, which seemed totally appropriate.  If you go, definitely take a guided tour.  They cost next-to-nothing and the guides have so much color and background story.

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The day did have some happy notes, however.  Julie and I had lost touch with Chris and Marion Schreier years ago: emails bounced; letters were returned by the post office; telephones had new owners; directory listings showed us nothing.  All I could remember was the Marion worked in a yarn shop in Dachau.  We arrived in town a few hours early for the tour, so we decided to head to the one yarn shop that was listed on the Internet.

On the way, Laurie said, “Oh, hey, that shop over there sells yarn.”  I look in the window and there’s Marion.  It was doubly-fortunate since Chris later told us that Marion wasn’t supposed to work that day.

Chris met us in Munich for dinner.  We tried several restaurants that he recommended but all were jammed solid with waits of three or more hours.  Finally he said, “There’s one more, but it’s pretty rough.  It’s the oldest restaurant in Munich, Gasthaus Isarthor.”

The oldest restaurant in Munich?  Lead us on!

We all had duck, dumplings and red cabbage.  It was, by far, the best meal we ate on the trip.  I only wish we could have stayed longer, but our table was reserved at 9:00 and they booted us out.  A perfect end to a great trip.

Back to Munich by way of Plzeň

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We said goodbye to Wendy and drove back to Munich but, of course, had to stop in Plzeň as it’s the home of Pilsener style beer.  Despite the downpour, we had a great lunch and some great beer.

Once we arrived in Munich, we eschewed the totally-touristy Hofbräuhaus and headed for the somewhat-touristy Augustiner Großgaststätten.  What’s not to like about a place where you pack into communal tables to drink beer brought by an Italian-Greek waitress named Marta who spoke Italian, Greek, English, Russian and German and was a comedy show in her own right?  Plus, we shared the table with a group of Icelandic gentlemen who were participating in the Munich Marathon the next day so, of course, let’s go drink beer! I loved this place the last time we were in Munich, loved it this time, and will probably love it the next time.  I thought this was the only thing I really, truly enjoyed about the city, but tomorrow would bring another gem.

Marta comped us (a polite euphemism for stole for us) a few beer steins with the logo.

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Prague from above

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We tried to take the funicular railroad up to the top of Petrin Hill but, wouldn’t you know it, we came during the two weeks it was closed for cleaning and repair.  Instead, we braved the Prague trolley system and rode around to a higher entrance to the park and then hiked in.  This kind of walking was old hat for Wendy but the rest of us puffed a bit.

There’s an observation tower fashioned like a miniature Eiffel Tower on top of the hill that adds another 60 meters to your perspective.  The view from the observation tower at the top, however, was well worth the walk.  It’s a shame that it was raining that day but the pictures still have a nice soft-focus to them.

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We did get a brief moment of sun while we were having a snack in a little cafe at the top of the ridge line and the smiles came out.

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We ended up the day eating at a restaurant chosen simply because it was a short walk up the street from the hotel.  Certainly the name – The Three Cockroaches – didn’t endear us to it.   It was small and smoky.  The ceiling were quite low and vaulted.  The overall impression was we were stepping back into a medieval era.  But the food turned out to be quite good.  Some of us had the venison, some the duck liver.  Frank and I got a nice little buzz on from a local beer made in Belgian style that was 9% alcohol.  Wendy also got a bit of a buzz but I don’t remember if it was beer or wine that caused it.

A long day in Prague

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Basically, we did the four-day walking tour in one day.  First a trip up to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral.  Along the way we got to listen to a four-piece sidewalk band playing something that sounded, well, I have no idea what it was.  It sounded vaguely gypsy to me.  Then there was the archeological dig going on in the square outside the castle where they were digging up kitchen pots and refuse from centuries ago. The castle, itself, was quite imposing but lacked the impact of Český Krumlov for me.  It was a little too neat and prettified.  The exception was the Gothic cathedral where the stained glass was incredibly rich.

At this point I have to mention that there are many bronzes in Prague that pilgrims and tourists touch for good luck…saints, martyrs, angels, and…

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Our wanderings continued down, across the Charles Bridge, into Old Town, where we saw the famous Astronomical Clock.  It’s cool to look at but I agree with the guide we eavesdropped upon who said that the much-ballyhooed figures of the apostles that appear on the hour is one of the greater anticlimaxes in Europe.

The Lennon Wall, a symbol of rebellion during the communist era, was fun to see.  It  changes constantly as graffiti artists work on it.  The communists tried to stop it and failed.  The Knights of Malta, who own it now, permit it.

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The Jewish quarter was interesting but we were starting to flag, so we didn’t actually tour the cemetery but did spend some time looking in through the gate.  We tried to go into the Old New Synagogue, which is the oldest medieval synagogue in the world but the fees were high, the sights were few, and the restrictions were many, so we gave it a pass.

On to Prague…

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Breakfast was surprisingly hard to come by in České Budějovice but we managed and then headed on to Prague.

First, however, we made a detour out to the ossuary at Kutná Hora.  It’s the largest ossuary in the world with the bones of around 50,000 people.  It was creepy and fascinating at the same time.  Just imagine an entire room decorated in bones or a chandelier made out of skulls:

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All I can say about driving in Prague is everyone is right: don’t drive in Prague.  After our GPS tried to turn us off the little cobblestone street and down a stairwell, we parked, found the hotel on foot and then got careful directions to get there.

Wendy, fresh from walking the Camino Francés, came up to meet us, which was fabulous.

The hotel, U Zeleného hroznu (At the Green Grape), was perfect!  The recommendations to stay in the Malá Strana district were spot on.  It’s within walking distance to just about everything of major interest in Prague.  Dinner out on the square, served by Pavel who educated us in many thing Czech…particularly on the tipping of waiters.

Linz, Český Krumlov & České Budějovice

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Monday saw us up and out of Salzburg on our way to České Budějovice – or Chesty Pecanowitz, as it got dubbed.  We stopped in Linz for a bite to eat on the town square and for a glimpse of the Danube…which is certainly not blue.  After lunch, we decided on a semi-Plan B stop in Český Krumlov.  The castle is closed on Mondays but we learned that the castle grounds are open, so a quick look-around seemed in order.  Definitely worth a stop, closed or no!

The view from the castle walls is spectacular and the town looks like something out of a story book.

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One incongruous note, however, was watching maintenance vehicles drive up through the interior passages of the castle.  I didn’t have my camera out in time, but just picture a Fiat coming up this hallway while we flatten ourselves against the wall…

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After a minor fender bender that left a paint scratch on the rental car (something that would concern me for a few days) we had a great dinner out in České Budějovice.  It’s home to the original Budweiser, a brew I find far more tasty than what comes from Anheuser-Busch.  We met Trish and Will at the restaurant.  They’re a couple who perform a small show called “A Brief History of Beer.”  We’ll have to put them in touch with the Reeds.

We spent the night at Residence U Černé Věže which was far more an efficiency apartment than a hotel, with a kitchen and washer/dryer in the room.

Salt Mine & Sound of Music

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The impetus for this entire trip was to knock a Sound of Music tour off Laurie’s bucket list and today was the day.

We first headed out to Berchtesgaden for a tour of a salt mine.  Laurie wasn’t entirely happy 1800′ under ground, but we all a good time.  We also all agreed that it was a bit spooky being led by a blonde, blue-eyed, whistling youth in full uniform through door that he locked behind us, while we were all wearing company-issued jumpsuits.

The train ride that took us partway down would never have existing in the United States.  We were moving at a substantial clip with no seatbelts, protective rails, roofs, walls or anything through tunnels where the walls and roof were about one foot away from you.  Stick out your hand and you’d lose it.

After lunch, we went on the Sound of Music tour.  It was a hoot!  Somehow, Nadia got the whole bus singing.  Perhaps it was the fact that she had the bus continue to loop around a traffic circle until we did.  Perhaps it was the beer at lunch.  The apple strudel in Mondsee was the best of the entire trip.

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Schwangau on to Salzburg

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Rain…something that would be a theme of this trip.  Personally, I didn’t mind it too much as I’ve seen Neuschwanstein before but I wish it had been nicer for the Harveys.  I have to say that I loved the bratwurst, mashed potatoes and kraut at Hotel Müller, washed down by a glass of König Ludwig Dunkel beer.  Nice filling food for a wet day!

We took the bus up to the castle but we didn’t check the tour schedule and found we had several hours of waiting before the next tour in English.  So, we decided to just see the courtyard and then walk around the castle.  I’m glad we did as the view down to Hohenschwangau Castle was great…it just floated in a sea of clouds.

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We then headed off for Salzburg.   There was a nice stop in Bad Tölz for lunch.  I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it was across the square from the cathedral.  They spoke no English but I had a great meal of a pork cutlet made into a pocket for onions, bacon and mustard.

That night we went to the Augustiner Braustubl.  It’s an old beer cellar in the basement of the monastery.  There was the Austrian version of a food court serving all-local pork and pastry.  You picked up a stein (1 liter!), cleaned it in the natural spring, got the guy running the beer barrel to open the tap, and plopped down at a communal table.  It was a great time.

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We arrived in Munich Airport, suffering from the usual couldn’t-sleep-on-the-plane jet lag and, really wanting to avoid the Oktoberfest crowd in the city, we headed down toward Schwangau for our first night.  In a total Plan B, we decide to stop off at Linderhof Palace: King Ludwig’s monument to total excess.

It wasn’t bad, but I can’t say I loved rooms that had more gold that Ft. Knox competing with the tail feathers from a few zillion peacocks.

The private grotto he constructed as a concert hall really did take the cake, though…

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