Sunday, January 19, 2014

Christmas from Bavaria to Bohemia

Amy and I spent our first Christmas away from home this year. Because of the cost of flights it just didn’t make sense to fly back (especially for me, having been in the U.A.E. for only two months). But, lucky for me, Amy’s a natural born travel agent, and she assembled an amazing trip that wound down the Romantic Road through Bavaria, the Austrian Alps, and ended in the heart of Bohemia.

Our trip actually started in Dubai. Just before leaving we were contacted by our friends Anthony and Jennifer. They were going to be vacationing in Dubai and arrived 48 hours before we left. We were lucky to be able to spend an evening with them dinning on a dhow on the Dubai creek before we had to leave for our 5:00 AM departure to Germany.

The European leg of our trip started in Stuttgart, Germany. Having never been to a Christmas Market, I didn't know what to expect. Upon arrival, we instantly felt the Christmas Spirit! We ate fresh gingerbread, drank Glühwien, and spent most of the night winding through the many stalls of craftsman and food vendors.

The next day we headed to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a medieval walled city that overlooks the Tauber river. We stayed at a hotel inside the walls, and when we drove through the gate, it felt as if we had been transported back in time a few hundred years. Rothenburg also had a Christmas Market, and although smaller, the setting could not have been more perfect.

For Christmas Eve and Christmas morning we stayed in nearby Colmberg Castle. The castle operates as a hotel (and on some nights, apparently as a murder mystery dinner theatre) and is located in a beautiful valley that was eerily similar to the Shenandoah Valley.

On Christmas day, we headed south from Colmberg to another pair of medieval walled cities, Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen.

We began our foray into the Bavarian Alps by first visiting Wieskirche, an amazing Baroque styled church in the middle of nowhere. The GPS literally had us taking logging roads to get there (I’m sure there is a bigger road, but we took the logging road again when we left because it was fun in the snow). We met a long time friend of the family, Tom Stout, in his home of Wertach, and were treated to a traditional dinner of fresh Spätzle  at a nearby restaurant. Back in the town of Wertach, we had a round of dunkel as we watched some traditional German Oompah music.

The next morning we stepped out of our hotel doors to see Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the castle that inspired Disney Land’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The castle is incredible, and so is the story of King Ludwig II. Amy is now the resident scholar on all things Ludwig, so if you are curious, she can give you an education.

From Neuschwanstein we headed to Munich. Munich is the capital of Bavaria, and home to the original Oktoberfest. We were not visiting at the right time to attend Oktoberfest, but our hotel was in the heart of the city, a  block away from the famous Hofbräuhaus. We couldn’t not try the huge beers they serve, so we order some pretzels and had at it!

After Munich, we left Germany and headed to Salzburg, Austria, home of Mozart and incredible chocolate cake. I think we logged about 15 miles of walking before we were done exploring the beautiful city.

We left Salzburg early in the morning so that we could have ample time to wind our way through the Alps before arriving in Halstatt. Though I never knew its name, I had seen Halstatt many times before. Halstatt is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Halstatt is, in fact, so beautiful that the Chinese have created a full size copy of the village in the Guangdong province.

For New Year’s, we headed to Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Another medieval city, Český Krumlov is unique because of the river that wraps around the entire old town area. We ran into more Christmas Markets here and had our first Trdelník.

We ended the trip in Prague. Amy once lived in Prague so I had a VIP tour of the city. We ventured out from our domicile at the Botel and hit the Christmas Market, climber the clock tower in Old Town Square, and crossed the Charles bridge too many times to count. Prague is beautiful and bustling. The food was delicious, and the beer amazing. 

This trip will definitely go down in the record books. I can’t wait for what's next!

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