What a whirlwind of a couple weeks!
Last week I got back from my Germany vacation with my family. That brings my number of european vacation to 7! I can’t believe I have had the opportunity to see that much of Europe at such a young age. But it’s crazy to think that there is still so much more I want to see over there. If anyone finds themselves going Munich, Germany or Zell am See, Austria, here is an overview of what we did when we were there. We had a blast and would highly recommend going to these places.
My sister and I had an amazing time exploring Munich. We jam packed our days to get the most out of our couple of days there. We started with a FREE walking tour of the city, just like we always do, which really helps us get our bearings of the city layout. We get to see a ton of sights and hear about some of the history and culture from each city. This walking tour hit a ton of the major sites around Munich. We started at the famous Glockenspiel clock tower and got to see it in action while learning about its significance from our tour guide. The show depicts the wedding of Duke Wilhelm and a jousting bout between a German and Austrian knight. Can you guess who wins? OF COURSE, the German knight always gets to win. The second half of the clock tower show is the Coopers of the town doing their signature dance to ward off the Plague spread not by rats as our history books tell us but the PLAGUE DRAGON!! It wasn’t until the citizens of Munich came along and finally killed it that drove the plague out of Europe. Which caused the Coopers to perform their dance to ensure the plague would never come back. And every 7 years, the Coopers come out to the main square and perform their dance. We then walked past St. Peter’s Church with its enormous stain glass windows from nearly floor to ceiling and ended up near the Viktualienmarkt, a huge open air market in the heart of Munich, one of the main hubs for people to flock to during the 2 week Oktoberfest in Munich, the largest in the world! FUN FACT: the second largest is in Cincinnati, OH (my hometown) and is a sister city to Munich! So pretty cool to see and hear the origins of the famous festival.
After looking around the market a bit we made our way to the original Hofbrauhaus, one of the 6 main breweries in Munich. Each of the main breweries make a third of the ENTIRE YEAR’S profit during the two week Oktoberfest. How outrageous is that!! As we walked into the Hofbrauhaus we made our way upstairs to a big banquet hall. There we learned about the rising Nazi Party headed by Adolf Hitler. We got to see the hall where he regularly gave speeches to rally his supporters. It was ominous knowing we were standing where one of the world’s worst dictators stood. After getting another history lesson for the day, we finished the tour right outside the English Gardens. A huge park in the middle of the city with a beautiful river flowing through where surfers can ride some waves on the river, children can play on the banks and a whole host of nudist aficionados can bathe in the sun. This park has something for everyone! We took a little rest on one of the park benches before heading out to our next attraction of the day.
After our wonderful walking tour of the city we headed out via the S-Bahn system to Munich’s Olympic Park which hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics. My sister and I love everything about the Olympics because that’s where our travel obsession started. We were fortunate enough to go to the 2012 London Olympics and love traveling to cities that have hosted in the past and see what their Olympic Park currently looks like. Minuch has kept theirs in pristine condition. It was absolutely free to walk around the grounds and it seemed every sport imaginable was represented there. They have a huge stadium, an exhibition hall, a swimming complex, beach volleyball and tennis courts. Unfortunately for us, construction was going on to some of the major complexes and most of the other stuff was closed for the day. But it was still cool to walk around and see the Park. After moseying around the park for a couple of hours, we took the S-Bahn back to Munich city center and went to an authentic biergarten for dinner where I had the MOST GERMAN MEAL POSSIBLE: 5 different types of sausages, boiled potatoes, and sauerkraut. It was amazing! After dinner, we took the S-Bahn back to our hotel, which was free thanks to credit card reward points. For a more exact look at out pre-trip spending check out this article. Then it was on to the next day!
Day 2 started out with very Americanized complimentary breakfast at the hotel. It offered pancakes, bacon, and eggs, as well as some of the more traditional European breakfast items: croissants, pastries, beans, lunch meat, cheese, fruit and yogurt. We always make sure to fill up on breakfast because we tend to not eat lunch and prefer to eat an early dinner to cut some of the cost while traveling. Then we were off to the main train station to meet up with our tour guide to take a coach bus ride to Nueschwanstein castle, the famous castle of Bavaria and inspiration for Walt Disney’s iconic castles at Disneyland and Disney World. It was a very relaxing 2 hour ride through the German countryside. And while we were getting there, our tour guide told us about this brilliant idea he had to get us to Mary’s bridge before the crowds to get the best photo of the castle (you know the one you see when you google the castle). He told us he knew a short cut up a walkway that would take us about 20-25 minutes to get there instead of the traditional 40 minute walk. Boy were we duped. Not only was the walk UPHILL THE ENTIRE TIME ON GRAVEL but took us much longer than the 20-25 minutes we were told. The 40 minute walk would have been a nice leisurely walk on a paved road to get there. And there was also a freaking bus that took you almost all the way up! I was stupid enough to listen to our tour guide and took the gravel road against the advice of my sister. I trusted his judgement since he should have been the expert but that was the wrong decision. The downside is we didn’t get the most famous picture of the castle. Fortunately, we were still able to tour the castle and overall had a great day.
Typically, I do a great job navigating and trusting my gut when it comes to traveling but I have to admit I was a little rusty because I haven’t gone abroad with just my sister in 3 years. So, after our experience with the Nueschwanstein castle, I was determined to make better choices and listen to my sister. But pride and ego got in the way and I made another transportation mistake. Although not as detrimental as the grueling hike we had to endure the day before. We were on our way to Dachau concentration camp and I wanted to get the guided English speaking tour. I thought I had done all my diligent research on exactly how to get to the concentration camp with ease. But low and behold, we ended up one stop away and ultimately missed the tour. In my defense, there were two S-Bahn stops labeled Dachau but I should have noticed that all of the English speaking American looking travelers got off the stop before we did. My sister even made the comment that everyone was getting off the train except us, but once again I didn’t listen and paid the price. The good news that came from this situation was the concentration camp also had English audio guided tours that you follow a map around the camp and listen to pre-recorded information. Ultimately, this was a better fit for us because we went at our own pace and take all the pictures we wanted and didn’t have to follow the group at all. So, all in all it turned out to be a beneficial experience.
The concentration camp, itself, was the best part of the trip for me. It was a haunting, yet humbling experience. The camp was much bigger than what I anticipated and we got to walk around as a “day in the life” of a prisoner. The oddest part of the entire experience was that it was a gorgeous day with the sun shining and a nice breeze blowing but walking the ground where major devastation occurred was a bizarre experience. For me, there were two very impactful parts of the tour that highlighted the terrible things that happened at the camp. The first was a reconstructed example of the barracks the prisoners had to live. Inside was a replica set of three years that showed the living quarters and each replica got progressively worse and worse. By the end, a stat was given that 2000 people were living in a barracks that was only meant to house 200 people. The second most impactful part of the tour was the crematorium. There were two located on the camp. The second one was built because of the sheer number of bodies that needed to be burned at the camp. It also housed the gas chamber to brutally execute the prisoners. Going through the crematorium was eerie because you walked the same steps as the prisoners. You first entered the waiting room followed by the disrobing room where it was rumored that the prisoners just thought they were going to take a shower since the gas chamber was modeled as a huge bathroom. When gas came out instead of water, the prisoners knew this was the end. However, according to the tour it is still up for debate whether or not the gas chamber at Dachau was actually used. After the gas chamber, there were 2 huge rooms just for storing all of the bodies and then came the incinerator room where the bodies were actually burned and cremated. Following the footsteps of the prisoners made the entire experience seem so real. If you are ever in Munich, I highly recommend going to Dachau just to feel the magnitude of the whole experience because my words cannot do it justice.
After spending half a day at Dachau (we could have definitely spent more time there), we made our way back to Munich’s central station to catch our train to meet up with the rest of my family!
Zell Am See, Austria
The train ride was absolutely spectacular. It’s one of the best parts of Europe. It is so much easier and relaxing to travel by train than having to drive everywhere like we do in the Midwest. We sat back, relaxed and soaked up the German and Austrian countryside. We passed town after town that had all the Bavarian charm with tons of cute houses everywhere you looked. We finally made it to Zell am See, Austria and met up with my parents and brother’s tour group as they were eating dinner. We then relaxed in the lounge of the hotel and talk about each other’s trip so far.
The following day was Father’s Day in the United States and we spent the entire day together as a family in Austria. How cool is that! We walked along the lake and into town to window shop a bit. We then made our way up a cable car 3000 meters to a ski lodge. We saw 360 degree views of the Austrian Alps, had a coffee in the cafe, and just relaxed a bit while taking in the amazing views. After traveling back down the mountain, we went to Mass where my brother’s glee club group performed the songs then dinner with the tour group. Once dinner was finished, everyone made their way to the lake where a monthly water and laser show was performed. It was a much needed slower and more relaxing day just hanging out with my family.
While my parents went with the group to visit a castle an hour away, my brother, sister and I spent some quality sibling time together the next and final day of the trip. We took a boat ride around the lake that had some great info about the towns surrounding the lake. After the boat ride, we went to our hotel and swam in the pool. The outdoor area of the hotels was stunning. The landscape was beautifully manicured and it was a wonderfully sunny day so the pool was refreshing. After a quick change, it was back to the lake where the group performed several songs with a men’s Austrian philharmonic group. Performances by both groups were amazing! I have heard my brother’s group perform before and they always put on a good show but pairing it with the German speaking group made it exceptional. After the concert, it was back to the hotel to say our goodbyes. My sister and I were going back to the States the next day and had to be up very early in the morning to catch a train back to Munich, while the rest of my family and the tour group made their way to Salzburg, Austria. It was sad to say goodbye knowing that our trip was coming to an end but it was another amazing trip I got to experience with my sister and this time got to include my entire family. It’s this type of reflection that make me forever grateful that I have a built-in travel partner for the rest of my life. Here’s to many more world adventures!
What some of the best vacations you’ve taken? Let me know in the comments below!
Steven | Rx for FIRE