Germany- Würzburg (6)

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Würzburg from a top Festung Marienberg

Würzburg. I bet you’ve never heard of it. Although not ranking as high in popularity as Frankfurt, Berlin or Dresden, the city has an undeniable charm and beauty that surrounds it. Daniel and Katja had to work that day, and I, the curious traveling American, was hungry for adventure. I wanted to go out and explore! I looked out my hotel room, it was a beautiful day. The air was crisp and a blue sky hung overhead. I went downstairs to the receptionist, who was very helpful in offering suggestions on places I could check out for the day. I wanted to go somewhere at the furthest, about an hour from Ansbach. She suggested Würzburg. Of course, I had never heard of it. But nevertheless, she noted it was one of her personal favorites, a picturesque city dotted with red roofs, Gothic and Baroque churches and chapels, a stately Residenz and an impressive Fortress dating back to the 12th century that overlooked the whole city. I was there.

I walked to the Ansbach train station, got my ticket and hopped on an S-bahn. I had to say, for me only being in Germany for about 7 days, I was becoming rather comfortable with their public transportation system. It came so easy- key in the type of ticket, where your destination is, and you’re off…

Train tickets

Now this train was taking a different track, for the last few days the only one I’d become accustomed to was the Ansbach to Nuremberg route. But this one would take me 1 hour outside of Ansbach to the northwest, winding through Bavarian countryside. The train had many stops, picking up a lot of school children. I sat there in my seat, observing. Some sat there with their iPods, some chatting with friends, some alone. I thought about children in the USA, many of them dependent on mom or dad to pick them up from school. And these kids, as young as they were, strikingly independent riding on a train to their final destination, without mom or dad holding their young hand. I admired that.

When we finally reached the city, I was greeted by Würzburg’s busy hauptbahnhof (main train station). It was a sea of people, like the Nürnberg one, bustling and full of life. I loved it. I  loved how normal it was to depend on public transport here. Back home, if you didn’t own a car, people gave you a blank stare like, How do you possibly get around? Public transport isn’t highly prized stateside unless you reside in a metropolitan area such as New York City. And on that scale, it’s faster to get around on the subway than sit for hours in bumper to bumper traffic. Americans like their cars and the freedom that comes with them. Here, public transport was a way of life, and not at all looked down upon.

I grabbed a stadtplan (city map) and began walking. My first destination was the Residenz. I had googled it on the train ride, learning some key points about the place.

  • It took 24 years to complete, construction beginning in 1720 and ending in 1744.
  • The Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, (a fellow with a lengthy name) Johann Phillip von Schönborn, built the sprawling palace in an effort to mark his important political standing. It also housed later Prince-Bishops.
  • The architecture follows a Baroque, steering clear of the ever popular Gothic style seen over much of Germany.
  • Heavily destroyed in World War II air raids, renovations from 1945-1987  helped to bring back the Residenz to its near-original state.

Walking along the busy city streets, the entrance to the Residenz is marked by high iron gates, intricate in detail. Because I was visiting in late March, the courtyard gardens (Hofgarten) were not particularly in bloom yet, but, still pleasant to gaze upon.

Beautiful palace...

My eyes were wide open, scanning all the beauty...

Topiary in the court garden...

Angels in the court garden...

Court garden staircase & some curious statues...

I spent a considerable amount of time out in the court garden, pacing back and forth, trying to cover every inch of the grandiose estate, I didn’t want to miss a thing. I took a liking to the fountain strategically placed in the center of the gardens, the water trickling, was the only audible sound. The busy city of Würzburg, left behind in the mind, an element of tranquility wrapping around me, providing a sense of comfort…

Next up, I wanted to check out the interior of the place. The outside of it was impressive, I could only imagine what was waiting inside. They gave tours, but sadly, photographs were prohibited. According to the receptionist, camera flashes damage the delicate murals on the walls (whatever). But they were quick to remind that you could always purchase a postcard for memories. Pffff! So, I passed on the tour. It was early afternoon and I hadn’t eaten yet, so I began walking in town and found this homey little bakery.

Inside, chatting with the owner, I made an effort to speak in German, but then found out that she used to live in Georgia, so the conversation quickly switched to English. She told me how much she loved Georgia, really all of the USA, and longed to go there again. Funny how, one man’s trash is another’s treasure or so they say. Because I couldn’t begin to understand why she would want to live in Georgia over this place! I mean, the buildings, the culture, the food, landscape…everything, beat Georgia ten times over in my opinion. What did Georgia have? Red sand and paper mills. Ah, to each their own.

Might I add that Germany has some of the best pastries I’ve ever tasted? Below, my afternoon treat…

Lecker...

While in the bakery I pulled put my stadtplan and began scanning it, checking out all points of interest. The owner told me to definitely go check out an old fortress perched atop a hill, overlooking all of Würzburg. She noted that I should call a taxi since it was quite a walk, but I thought, how better to experience a city than to walk through it? So I did.

I didn’t take main roads, I took side roads and winding alleys because those were more interesting to me, with small trinkets of beauty and a bit more obscure. I soon met the one cathedral synonymous with Würzburg’s skyline, St. Killian. It was constructed back in the 10th century, and rebuilt due to World War II air raids.

St. Killian cathedral

Behind it was this small, Gothic chapel that I instantly fell in love with. The Baroque character of it drew me in, the exterior decorated with sculptures of skulls, flirting with a bit of Gothic. The chapel is otherwise known as the Schönbornkapelle,  and was built in 1721. This was indeed one of my favorite buildings in all the city.

Schönbornkapelle

Detail of skull sculpture...

From there, I continued my trek toward Fortress Marienberg, taking me onto the alten Mainbrücke (old main bridge). This bridge has a substantial timeline in the city and is often compared to the Charles bridge in Prague, having a somewhat similar appearance.

  • Construction for the bridge began in the 11th century.
  • Due to destruction from flooding, the new bridge was constructed in the 14th century.
  • The bridge is adorned with statues of saints.

alten Mainbrücke

While the busy hustle of pedestrians passed me by, I was studying the saints, the detail on them was absolutely beautiful.

Saints watch over...

St. Killian

View of the river Main…

The river Main from old main bridge...

The river was lined with restaurants and bars, packed full of Germans hungry for some sunshine…

Chowing down over the river...

Once across the bridge, I had a steeper trail to climb to get to this Fortress. Indeed it looked punishing, but hey, I was young, I could handle it right?

To Fortress Marienberg

I would be lying if I said I didn’t break a sweat while hiking up to this place. I was sweaty and breathless by the time I got to the entrance. Whew! I told myself, this better be worth it. And was it, ever…the place was intriguing.

Impressive beauty...

Fortress Marienberg (German: Festung Marienberg),  housed the Würzburg Prince-Bishops before notable Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp von Schönborn constructed the Residenz. The first building atop the great hill was the Marienkirche (Marien church), constructed back in the 7th century. Later, the groundwork began for the surrounding fortress in the 14th century. Today what consists of the Fortress is a chapel, well house, and a museum full of artifacts. I walked inside the courtyard…

Light billowing into the medieval darkness...

The courtyard was quiet, a few visitors piddling around. I walked around, eyes huge and taking it all in, the beauty of this place, feelings of time swept by. I pondered the inhabitants of this place, what hardships were faced here, the experiences here, a lot of feelings…

Beautiful Baroque structure...

Walking around the fortress walls...

Most impressive from the fortress was the view. Being a resident of Florida now for five years, I’ve grown accustomed to the ever-abundant flat nature of the state. Not to say I’ll ever tire of the beaches and palms but, it’s always refreshing to see a little bit of landscape.

Loitering around the walls for a bit, really doing nothing in particular, just, taking it in. The city of Würzburg reduced to a microscopic bustle of hurried people and traffic below, but up here, the attitude was at a slower pace, more reserved, and serene. The fortress grounds served as a sort of relaxation place for many, a place where they could disconnect from life for awhile. People sitting under a tree reading a book, people chatting with a friend, people wandering alone, or appreciating the sunset. Whatever they were doing, everyone I passed by, looked content.

Overlooking Würzburg...

I made my way back to the courtyard and checked out the Marienkirche (7th c.), the church that the fortress was constructed around.

The interior was striking and also very delicate, these photos were taken through an iron gate that prohibited visitors from walking further in.

Interior

Next, I checked out the well house, once serving as the main water supply for the fortress. Looking down, deep down!

Well, hello...

I looked at my watch, it was 5:00. I had to get going back to the train station, which seemed so far away. I didn’t know exactly how many miles I had walked, but I knew it was at least seven. Looking down at the city, I could see how far the Residenz was from where I was standing now, atop this steep hill inside the Fortress Marienberg. But, as stated before, what better way to experience a city than to walk through it right? Here’s a few random shots of the fortress before I left.

I treaded carefully down the same punishing steep hill I had climbed to reach that magnificent piece of history, following the same way that I came, through winding alleyways and mossy staircases…

I crosssed the alten Mainbruecke and took a few side streets…

I looked at the fortress one last time before hurriedly setting afoot to the train station, forever pressing into memory…

Wow, I walked all the way up that hill! Sad thing is, that's a normal walk for most Europeans!

Bumping shoulders with busy pedestrians like myself, all waiting to get on a train home, I finally hopped on one headed to Ansbach, back to my friends Daniel and Katja. I came aboard, and slumped into my seat. I was a bit tired. iPod in ears and eyes shut, the quiet rumble of the train lulled me into a slumber.

An hour and half later, I was back in Ansbach. Daniel and Katja picked me up from the train station and we got a bite to eat together. I told them about my day in Würzburg. Having never been to the city before, they enjoyed my plethora of tourist photos. Over dinner, Katja commented on my traveling alone, saying how she wished she could’ve taken more time off work to show me around. Asking if I was afraid or nervous, I told her no, because traveling alone, it makes you get in touch with yourself on a deeper level. You learn about your strengths, your weaknesses, your sense of self, it’s a whole lot of self-actualization…it’s great. Of course, traveling with friends is always fun too, but, I think everyone should at least travel alone once in their lives. Just a trip for you and your conscience. I really enjoyed Würzburg, as it was the last city I visited in Bavaria. I only had one day left, and that was a travel day. My time in Deutschland had now coming to a close.


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Germany- Rothenburg ob der Tauber (5)

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Being that my German getaway had me in the heart of Bavaria, this put me at the disposal of many beautiful, storybook German towns, many being a feast for the eyes. One of these, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, is one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Bavarian Germany.

Enchanting Rothenburg...

A largely preserved medieval town, Rothenburg wears its age well. Once home to the Counts of Rothenburg, the earliest recording of the city was in the middle 10th century. Like most medieval cities in Germany, Rothenburg is encased in a city wall with several towers. Driving within the city is kept to a minimum; everyone walks. It’s a place of beauty, charm, and quite whimsical in character. From the cobblestoned streets and the quaint, antique nature of the town, it has the power to take you to another place in time…

The city is situated on the Romantische Straße (Romantic Road) in Bavaria, a medieval route stretching through the Bavarian countryside stretching from Würzburg, Augsburg, Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl, down to Füssen, near the infamous Neuschwanstein Schloss. The route is aptly named for its picturesque German towns and beautiful countryside.

The Rathaus

The Rathaus

At the city center of Rothenburg stands the Rathaus (government building), built in the 12th century, clock tower and numerous cafes.

Rothenburg city center

As noted in previous posts, the Germans love the outdoors, welcoming any opportunity for sunshine. I just loved that. I thought to myself, there’s people back home in my native Florida that live next to the beach and barely take advantage of that, and these people are sitting out in 50 degree weather sipping coffee- brilliant! The Germans know how to appreciate a beautiful day, as do I. Prost!

Java lovers...

From the city center, Katja, Daniel and I made our way to the Burg tower and castle garden. This tower is the only reminder of where Rothenburg castle once stood until it crumbled to the ground following an earthquake in 1356. Slightly elevated, the castle gardens overlooked the Tauber river and some of Rothenburg. Was beautiful…

View from atop the castle gardens...

Yes, I had to succumb to my inner tourist and plant myself on the medieval garden wall and snap a pic.

Aber, hallo!

The Burg tower was important in the protection of Rothenburg castle. The tower features two round guard houses, where guardsmen would sit in anticipation of the enemy arrival by greeting them with hot tar. Those medieval people didn’t mess around!

Me & the Burg tower

The town definitely was quintessential German. Almost every building flaunted bright paint, cheery storefronts, welcoming open doors, windows adorned with flower boxes, and a clean exterior. I loved this place, it seemed almost as if it belonged at Disney or something, with its storybook quality. But even better, I wasn’t at Disney staring at some replica of a German town, here I was, in the middle of the real thing.

Wonderfully preserved buildings...

Bright colors...

A flower brightens anyone's day...

Rothenburg, like many German cities had a lot of pride, it was evident in how they kept up their city. Beautiful, quaint, preserved and clean. There was an evident respect for nature in Germany. Although I’d only been in the country for a few days, I took note of how litter-free the place was. And there was a place for recycling everywhere. They didn’t just have trashcans like we do in the states, they were labeled Plastic, Glass and Paper. In the states, we were really behind, too many people not taking note to how they dispose of their trash.

Katja, Daniel and I decided it was time for a coffee break and not to forget, the occasional sweet…

Schneeballen (snow balls)

Schneeballen is a Rothenburg specialty but you could also get these at many other places in Germany. Katja went jumping for joy when she saw these. There was a large assortment, you could get anything from chocolate covered, powdered sugar, coconut, cinnamon, you name it. Mmmm, es war lecker…

After devouring our sugar bomb pastry, we all headed to the old town wall.

View from city wall...

Badly damaged from bombing in World War II, much of the wall has been reconstructed thanks to donations from all over the world to help preserve Rothenburg’s rich medieval heritage. Our pathway in the wall took us to the outskirts of the heart of the city, but still, never a disappoint…

The epitome of medieval…

Walking along in Rothenburg, the place definitely had me under a spell. Every cobblestoned street I walked down, every building I had the pleasure of viewing, every minute detail of the city, had me in awe. It definitely lived up to its reputation as one of the top Bavarian tourist destinations. Aside from the strong medieval influence throughout the city, Rothenburg was is also a hot topic among romantics. It’s the site of many weddings and honeymoons every year. There were even horse drawn carriages for lovers! I had to stop and say hello…

Friendly...

Closing in on the evening, Daniel, Katja and I headed back to the car. I couldn’t keep my head from turning, savoring one last view of it. The quintessential Germany, captured in one, small medieval town. Rothenburg, I heart you.


Germany- Nürnberg (4)

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Me in Nürnberg, Pegnitz river

Nürnberg. When one thinks of the city name, hundreds of familiars flood into mind…

The Nürnberg Trials of 1945-1946

Nürnberg’s notorious lebkuchen (gingerbread)

The stage grounds for Nazi party demonstration rallies

One of the most beautiful Christkindlmarkts in Germany

Nürnberg is no doubt, rich in history. The city is believed to have been founded around the 11th century. It’s dotted with many historical landmarks, from the original medieval city walls surrounding the altstadt (old city), to the impressive Schloss Kaiserburg overlooking the city, to the quaint Schöner Brunnen (beautiful fountain) in the city center, to various Baroque and Gothic architecture abounding, Nürnberg is rich in art history.

It’s also a multi-cultural city. Walking around the city center, Nürnberg is home to many different ethnicities, from Muslim, to Indian, to Asian descent, and most speaking German. Some of these, maybe German by nationality, but many were immigrants for sure.

Transportation to and from Nürnberg is relatively easy. Thanks to Germany’s exquisite public transportation system, I was delivered to the city via train (S-bahn) and proceeded to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). I really liked the flow of transport within it; the bustle of busy people, connecting and reconnecting there for work, home or leisure, it was a busy place.

 

Nürnberg hauptbahnhof

Within Germany’s train system, lies a few types of trains.

  • S-Bahn: Suburban train. These are somewhat slow, and stop at every little town along the way, usually red in color. I took these often in my travels.
  • R-Bahn: Rapid train. These have a little more pep in their step, the interior more modern, and utilized by many people.
  • U-Bahn- Underground train/subway. Electrically operated and genius, for moving underground and avoiding all pedestrians and traffic above.
  • Ice: Ice train. Germany’s speed train, reaching 186 mph and connecting only major cities (Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg etc.) These do not go to small town train stations.

* There’s also a variety of trams and buses available for your transport…

Tram passing by in Nuernberg...

What I found amazing is how so many people rely on public transport. Thinking back to my own country, the USA, not many take the bus or train… wait, we don’t even have a public rail system unless you’re in New York City or some huge metropolitan area like that. I liked how structured and organized the train system was. You didn’t need to have a car in Germany, you could hop on the train. I liked that. It was like a well oiled machine. Those Germans, ever-so-smart…

This is where you get your train tickets...

Being that my friends Daniel and Katja were working all day until 5:00, I wasn’t about to sit around indoors and ponder my reason for being in Germany…I wanted to explore! So I walked 15 minutes to the Ansbach train station, bought my single day ticket and hopped aboard an S-bahn to Nürnberg, about 35 minutes north. Contrary to some of my friends’ beliefs, I wasn’t afraid. Some asked me, “Wow, you traveled alone in a foreign country? Damn…” but I didn’t understand why some of them were making such a big deal, like it was rocket science that I had boarded a train and went sightseeing. As stated in earlier entries, I’m not one who’s afraid of solitude. Solitude provides an opportunity to really examine oneself and become in deeper understanding of who you are. Maybe I’m more gutsy than my female friends, but, I’ve always been an advocate of relying on yourself when it comes to accomplishing goals. If the goal is to see Europe, go see Europe. Make it happen. Don’t depend on others to come along and hold your hand. Go experience it first hand, on your own terms. And that’s exactly what I did.

Arriving to Nürnberg, if you walk from the Hauptbahnhof directly across the street you will find the altstadt (old city). Its distinct medeival design is unmistakable. You can’t help but be lured by the city’s Gothic architecture and notable contributions to history books everywhere. After all, this was the place where Hitler rallied thousands during the Nazi regime. But, aside from that dark morsel of history, Nürnberg itself, is indeed a photographer’s friend. Although much of the city had to be rebuilt after WWII, it’s not lacking for scenery. Take for instance the winding Pegnitz river that cuts through the city, or the Frauenkirche,  St. Lorenz kirche, and not to forget, Kaiserburg Schloss. All of these, rich in their own individual history. Each building has a story to tell. Won’t you come in and listen for awhile?

Entering Nürnberg altstadt

I took my first steps into the city with caution. Coming from the USA, I’m accustomed to dodging the occasional crazy motorist with no regard for human life. But there was more respect for pedestrians here. Although there’s designated crossing times, if you cross the road even without the crosswalk signal, motorists will stop. It’s the law. Pedestrians have the right of way. I got a surge of bravery and crossed the road to get to the altstadt, noticing not even the sneakiest motorist blowing by me at full speed. Everyone stopped.

Altstadt Nürnberg is surrounded by a medieval city wall (stadtmaurer), a reminder of what life was like way back in the 12th century. At one time, the wall had multiple towers (turmen) which artillery guardsmen sat up in and protected medieval Nürnberg from gunfire and other threats. Today only four towers remain. I remember exiting my train, walking upstairs out of the Hauptbahnhof, seeing this giant tower weathered by time, and the gratification and excitement that came over me, like a kid at Christmas opening his first gift. I was right here; right here where I had read about in my travel guide for hours on end!

It was love at first sight; just simple things that the typical German probably didn’t blink an eye to, I was enamored with. The quaint, tudor-style Gasthofs and restaurants, the windows, accented with flower boxes, the paint, seemingly fresh in color, the cobblestone streets, the mesh of medieval and modern within the city…everything about it was just splendid, and I hadn’t even really begun exploring yet. With my stadtplan (city map) in hand, I studied it closely for a bit, looking at such attractions as the Schöne Brunnen, Kaiserburg Schloss, Frauenkirche, and St. Lorenz kirche and set on foot.

I wasn’t afraid of walking alone in a unfamiliar city. Should I have been? After all, I’m a 26 year old American female, in a foreign country, in a foreign city, in an otherwise foreign atmosphere. But that’s what attracted me. The sheer enjoyment of the unknown. I felt strangely comfortable in this city, despite the obvious. Some people would have never dared set foot on a train alone, and hike a foreign city alone. Some may have wished for a counterpart to be along for the ride. But I was feeling fine, feeling somewhat assimilated in a city not my own. Nürnberg was an open book and I wanted to turn the page.

I walked along the main artery of Nürnberg, the Königstraße (King’s road) and a few neighboring streets. This road led to the Innenstadt (city center) and various ‘toursity’ destinations. Snapped a lot of pics along my route…

View of the Frauentor, entering the altstadt

Can you see Kaiserburg Schloss in the distance?

Walking around Nürnberg, I really forgot what it felt like to walk…not that I was ever afraid of a little exercise, I used to jog with my dog at my dad’s house and have always been an advocate for exercise and a healthy lifestyle. But more or less, I guess I had become trapped in my own little culture, that is, one where everyone drives. In the USA, no one walks 45 minutes somewhere, they drive. Perhaps out of laziness or, a bad knee. Whichever the case, I came to find out, the Europeans are a bit more fit than we Americans. I really enjoyed walking all over the city. What better way to experience a city than walking in it, right in the heart of it? You can’t experience something within a quick taxi ride. The memories fly by you too fast. Walking, one can savor, remember and really internalize the city.

Before I knew it, I came upon the Hauptmarkt, the stage for Nürnberg’s Christkindlmarkt. Being that I was there off-holiday season, it was nothing more than a big, wide open space dotted with vendors, selling everything from flowers to sausages, but still beautiful. In the USA you don’t see many outdoor markets, everything is super sized and institutionalized with endless gray aisles, like Wal-Mart or Publix.

Hauptmarkt

Since the Frauenkirche is directly in the Innenstadt, I decided to take a visit. Built in the 13th century, the church is synonymous with the Nürnberg skyline.

Frauenkirche, 13th c.

Like many of the buildings throughout Nürnberg, the Frauenkirche is a Gothic masterpiece. Also in the Hauptmarkt not far from the Frauenkirche is the Schöner Brunnen (beautiful fountain),a  popular tourist delight.

Schöner Brunnen

The original fountain was built in the late 13th century and stands roughly 62 feet high. This colorful, Gothic spire depicts forty sculptures of important figures in Germanic history, from philosophy and liberal arts, evangelists, prophets, church heads, and notables from the Holy Roman Empire. The fountain has undergone many restorations in an effort to preserve and protect it. Today, what stands in the Hauptmarkt is a replica of the original. If you visit the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, you can see pieces of the original.

Some of the figures on the fountain...

Germany is a feast for the eyes when it comes to architecture. A visit to St. Lorenz Kirche, built in the 12th century, is an amazing feat of Gothic architecture. With its wide open naves, towering columns, and various art ranging from sculpture, reliefs, friezes and oil painting, the church is definitely breathtaking, inside and out.

Looking up at St. Lorenz kirche

St. Lorenz kirche

The interior of the St. Lorenz kirche was an eyefull, a photographer’s paradise, everything so old and untouched. I just couldn’t get over the fact that here I was, some small American girl, standing inside a church built in the 12th century, looking at sculptures and other artwork so old they were seemingly larger than life. Everything looked so polished and fragile, I was afraid to sneeze in there!

Interior, St. Lorenz kirche

Holy sculpture inside St. Lorenz

After taking in all of St. Lorenz’s impressive beauty, I made an exit and proceeded onto  my next conquest, Kaiserburg Schloss (castle). I remember flipping through my Germany travel book and seeing photos of this impressive, and delicately preserved castle from the 12th century. The castle had a notable seat in the Holy Roman Empire, with Emperors and Bishops calling it home. The castle was definitely a few miles hike, but, unafraid, I set afoot en route to this majestic medieval reminder of what life was once like here in Nürnberg.

Me & Kaiserburg Schloss

Kaiserburg, and its most notable tower, the Sinwell...

Although Kaiserburg was not a relatively large castle, it still had impeccable charm. I was in love with how largely preserved it was. Being that the castle was damaged in World War II, parts of it have since been renovated. It’s free to tour the grounds and there’s also a museum inside the courtyard.

Kaiserburg

Kaiserburg

Medieval door lock. One of the many beauties inside Kaiserburg.

I was in a real state of wonder while at this castle. Touching the cool, stone walls, walking the cobblestone alleys, studying every little intricate detail of its construction, this castle had me captivated indeed. One of the most satisfying gems about Kaiserburg is the impressive view of  Nürnberg. Kaiserburg is perched atop a steep hill, providing a birds-eye view of the busy city below.

Me overlooking Nürnberg from Kaiserburg

Spending a good amount of time pawing over the castle and all its wonders, I proceeded to walk back down that steep hill, following my good sense of direction en route to the Hauptbahnhof…

As I turned the corner I was greeted by a quaint restaurant adjacent to Kaiserburg. Having walked God knows how many miles around the city, I had worked up quite an appetite. I decided it was time for some good German grub.

The little hidden restaurant. Loved it...

One of my favorite German dishes is Schweineschnitzel (pork cutlet) and not to forget, the ever-tasty Spaetzle (a potato noodle). Pair these up with some Champignon mushroom sauce, and you’ve got a winner.

Mmmm, lecker (tasty)!

And, last but not least, the oh-so-hearty hefewizen, this one brought to you by Tucher…

Germany knows how to do froth. America, we've gotta work on this.

After my scrumptious tastebud pleaser, I continued to the Hauptbahnhof.  I had to meet Daniel and Katja for dinner later that evening. Walking uphill, downhill, my photographic excursion didn’t stop…

 

Walking downhill...

I really admired how Nürnberg kept true to its medieval roots, many of the buildings all looking so weathered by time, but without showing signs of disdain. Most of the buildings were alive in vibrant, fresh colors and looked thoroughly maintained. Germans seemed to take a lot of pride in their homes or business fronts; it was refreshing.

 

One of my favorite pics from Nuernberg...

These 3 guys were curious about what I was doing. Yes, I'm a tourist. I take pictures. So what?

Although on vacation in Germany for eight days, my pesky caffeine addiction didn’t fail to remind me that it was time for a little coffee break. Low and behold, a Starbucks.

Starbucks along the Pegnitz r.

But it’s deceiving…not as cheap as we’re accustomed to here in the states, my favorite from the menu, the White Chocolate Mocha, cost me €4,50 or, $6.40 USD! Haha! That’s some pricey java! Nevertheless, I wallowed in my surrender to the corporate caffeine giant and sat outside, savoring every sip of my whipped cream topped goodness.

Nearing closer to the Hauptbahnhof, I couldn’t resist walking over to the Nürnberg alte operhaus (old opera house). Built in 1905, the building is impressive, more Baroque in nature, steering away from the typical Gothic architecture found all over the city.

Nürnberg alte operhaus

I didn’t have time to go in and check the place out, but the exterior was definitely impressive. A few more blocks walk and I had finally reached the Hauptbahnhof. I have no idea how many steps my little feet took that day in Nürnberg, but I know it was more than what the average American does. But that’s something I admired. Everybody walks. No one is afraid of a little physical exertion. Back in the states, you see people fighting for the first parking spot at Wal-mart. And they wonder why America comes with labels like ‘lazy’ and ‘fat’… the proof is in the pudding. But at the same time, America’s cities are more expanse, spread out. Most cities lack a city center where shopping, restaurants and bars are all within walking distance. I wish I could walk to more places but sadly far too many of America’s city plans differ greatly from that of Germany’s. I’ll just stick to my 4 mile beach speed walking workout three times a week! But I have seen progress in some cities. Due to the great weather here in Florida, there’s been an influx of outdoor shopping and dining malls, but, still doesn’t quite compare to the infrastructure of Germany’s cities and how beautifully organized everything is.

I hopped on the S-bahn back to Ansbach, going through my camera and reviewing the photos from the day.  Although I only paid it a visit for one day,  Nürnberg definitely captivated me. A city of medieval beauty, undeniable charm, rich in history and… the lebkuchen! You bet I brought some of this stuff home. Goes fantastic with coffee.

 

Mmmmm....

This Bavarian city definitely had me from ‘hallo’.

Tschüss!

 

 

Germany- Munich (3)

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Most intense building ever: The Rathaus

The weekend was here, the sky was a crisp blue…what better to do than go check out the birthplace of Oktoberfest? Munich! Katja, Daniel and I packed into the car and hopped on the Autobahn. Now let me just take one sentence or two to discuss this amazing feat of German engineers. The autobahn is by far the coolest highway traveling experience ever. We were buzzing along at 160 km (100mph) and it was perfectly legal! I couldn’t get over that. And it wasn’t like we were the only ones driving that way, many of our neighboring motorists were as well. And the amazing thing about German highways was, if you’re coming up on someone putzing along in the left lane, they won’t hesitate to get over, they move right away. It’s not like in the USA where if you’re cruising along at 80mph and come up behind ‘Joe-slow’ who’s too stubborn to move even if he’s got a trail of frustrated fellow motorists behind him. Of course, Daniel and Katja didn’t think anything of their speed, but I was in the backseat reveling in it!

Autobahn! Ja Mann!

We parked about 15 minutes outside of Munich as the city is very expensive to park in. But not to worry, thanks to the smooth operating machine that is the German rail system, we hopped on an U-bahn that took us directly to the Marienplatz, right in the heart of Munich. Exiting the U-bahn, we walked upstairs, but not on actual stairs, on an escalator (I was still in awe of Germany’s public transportation system, it was just brilliant). When we got to ground level, we were looking up at a massive, towering, Gothic building. I flashed back to the Munich chapter in my travel guide, that had to be the Rathaus I assumed…I was right.

Looking up at the Rathaus

The building definitely had presence, that’s for sure. You could not walk around the city of Munich and not be in awe of its grandiosity.  Built in the 1800’s, the Rathaus serves as Munich’s government building. There’s a restaurant in the basement called the Ratskeller and a few businesses inside. I couldn’t get enough of this building, it was just an amazing, architectural feat. It had me from hello.

Me inside the Rathaus courtyard...

Me, Katja & Daniel: Rathaus courtyard

After wallowing in the splendor of the Rathaus, me, Katja and Daniel began checking out the city, on foot of course. What better way to experience a city right? There was strong influence of Munich’s reputation as a beer manufacturing giant of Germany. Every beer distributor has their own brauhaus(beer house) as well as a restaurant where you can sit down, have a meal, and of course savor one of their house beers. One of my favorite German beers, Spaten, and their brauhaus is pictured below…

Spatenbrau. Jaaaaa!

Munich was not lacking for beer gardens, they were everywhere. And I really admired how people sat outside sipping their beer in 50 degree (but partly sunny) weather. The Germans liked to be outside, at whatever opportunity.

Bier garten

Walking around Munich for a few hours, I decided it was time for a much needed beer break instead of my usual coffee break, I mean, I was in Munich, I had to sample my favorite German beers right here in the city where they’re manufactured! We came upon the Franziskaner restaurant, I was jumping for joy. Although a lover of many German brews, this one took the hot seat for my tastebuds. Runner up being Tucher hefeweizen. We checked the place out. Typical German style, lots of wood, dim lights, wall sconces, warm and cozy inside. The place was busy with an interesting mix of clientele, businessmen, teenagers, families, young women. The food was pricey, being that we were in the heart of Munich I expected that much, so we just opted for some Franziskaner hefeweizens. Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaa 🙂

Ah, my precious Franziskaner in a signature Franziskaner weizen glass!

Me and Katja’s tastebuds were happy. See pic below for proof…

Lecker!

Daniel and Katja…

Daniel & Katja

After basking in some hefeweizen delight, we headed over to the most infamous of Munich brew houses, the Hofbrauhaus.

Hofbrauhaus

The Hofbrauhaus has had a popular seat in Bavarian history for quite some time. It was founded in the  late 15th century by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V., who claimed it as the royal brewery of Munich’s residenz. Hitler and his socialist cronies utilized the beer hall in the 1920’s as a meeting place to talk politics up in the Festsaaal (festival room) on the third floor. While living as an exile in Munich in the period before World War I, Vladimir Lenin became a famous visitor, frequenting the beer hall with his wife.

The Hofbrauhaus is the most celebrated beer hall in Munich, and also the most sought after. Locals and tourists alike associate the Hofbrauhaus with Oktoberfest.

Inside the Hofbrauhaus

Me & Katja inside Hofbrauhaus

The interior of the Hofbrauhaus features ceiling and wall murals and the loud, boisterous chatter of friends enjoying a beer. There’s also a live band playing Bavarian folk music. Although I was visiting off- Oktoberfest season, many men were dressed in traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest garb, complete with the suspenders, lederhosen and hat. I loved it! The place was packed with people, so we didn’t stay long, but I snapped a few pics along the way…

Hofbrauhaus beer mugs...

Munich beer steins. Sehr teuer (very expensive)! €59,00 or $85.00!

All over Munich, you could see how much the city played up its reputation as beer capital of the world. Everywhere, in storefronts, on street corners, there were gift shops galore, reaching out to the tourist traffic, selling everything from beer mugs and steins, postcards and traditional men and women’s Oktoberfest garb…

Dirndls!

Walking around the city, I snapped some of my favorite photos…

Restaurant outdoor seating

Katja, Daniel and I headed back to the Marienplatz to catch the U-bahn back to the train station where we parked. I thoroughly enjoyed Munich, a beautiful city full of history, culture and beer. Lots of beer. Although we walked quite a bit through the city, I feel like there was still so much more to discover. Not to worry, those to-do’s would be added to my Munich bucket list for the next visit.

Having reached the Marienplatz, we rode the escalator downstairs to the U-bahn.

Hello, U-bahn!

On the busy train home…

Me & Daniel...

Daniel & Katja...

Gute nacht, Munich.

Nightfall in Munich

Germany- Dachau (2)

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Lonely, cold, dark...Dachau

Dachau. The name is haunting. Images come to mind that are not so pleasant. It’s definitely not one of Germany’s most traveled cities. The town itself is situated in a small, quaint setting in the Bavarian countryside, not far from Munich. It was a town once known for its medieval architecture, beautiful castles and residences, and old age (earliest recording in 1,000 BC). However, these days, the most notable mention of the town has to do with its dark, cold past. Dachau was the site of the Nazi party’s first concentration camp and served as a model for future camps. Dachau was categorized as a labor camp, but thousands of innocent people lost their lives within these walls. Some 200,000 were imprisoned here. Statistics vary greatly as to how many died here, but the death toll is estimated to be in the 40,000’s due to starvation, disease (a Typhus outbreak on the camp), and gas. Among these victims were:

  • Jews
  • Polish
  • Russians
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Homosexuals
  • Communists
  • Royal figures
  • Clergy
  • Politicians

Despite the painful, grim past of this camp, it was still one of the sights I wanted to see during my time in Germany. Not because, I wanted to be depressed on the trip but because, it’s a major piece of history. We went over World War II countless times in history classes both high school and college.  But seeing pictures in some textbook doesn’t even begin to compare to actually being there, in it; there to feel the pain and monstrosities. To visit a place where so much turmoil, so much strife once took place, a battlefield of morality and human rights, a continuous struggle between good and evil…to see this place, reminded me of how truly lucky I am, to just be, living. To be able to wake up freely, see the rising sun. Simple things one takes for granted. These people were all robbed of that. Robbed of the right to live, to be. I was also haunted as to how people can become so twisted, so cruel, and become walking, brainwashed robots with an inability to differentiate between right and wrong, with no moral compass.

The atrocities committed here were still fresh in the air, like a stagnant funk of death and despair, just looking around at the place, there was a certain heaviness you could feel. The buildings did not look welcoming, somewhat frightening me. They came off as giant, wide open monsters, ready to swallow up innocent people, innocent in mind and soul, each with a life, a goal, a dream… this place specialized in shooting down all hopes and desires. Just touring the place, I felt pain; I couldn’t imagine waking up to the horrors that went on here on a daily basis.

It was cold that day. But strangely enough, I liked the cold. To view this facility of mass murder, despair and hopelessness on a sunny day would have just been ironic. The cold, gray cast of that day further solidified the overall feeling of the camp. Pain, depression, trapped, inferiority, weakness, fear… I walked over to where the prisoner barracks once stood. These were on each side of the main camp road. Today, only two are still standing and open for viewing. In the shadow of where additional barracks once stood are only empty lots with the block number.

Barrack block number

Empty lots where barracks once stood...

Main camp road

Walking down that camp road, images of terror, strife,and  helplessness flashed before my eyes. Here I was, walking down the same road that so many prisoners once set foot upon. Here I was, staring at the same cold, dark building before me. Here I was, looking up at the cold, somber sky above me, saying to myself, why, why, why…here I was, attempting to internalize all of what those people felt here, from the years 1933-1945.

It’s damn near impossible to go to Dachau or any concentration camp for that matter and not get flooded full of emotion. Anger, depression, fear, confusion…just some of these overtook me while on my visit. When I went inside the two remaining barracks, you got to see just how harsh the living conditions were at this camp. Prisoners slept on hard wood bunk beds, stacked 3 beds high. They shared wash basins, and toilets. Their living quarters had to be meticulously kept up, or risk being beat or tortured by an SS guard. Toward the end of Dachau’s days, the camp was overflowing, barracks were overcrowded. Disease swept over the camp, and accounted for many prisoner deaths, next to starvation.

Barracks

Barracks

Lunch room

Looking out the windows from the barrack, one cannot help to feel somber…

Leaving the barracks, I walked out toward the barrier to freedom around the camp; the fence. Dachau did not replace the fence, this was the original, once electrically charged barbwire fence. Indeed there was a certain eerie factor just standing inches away from it.

A reminder of helplessness, loss of hope...

The original watchtowers where SS guardsmen used to sit with guns are still standing at the camp today.

Trench and watchtower at Dachau...

Ending my visit at the camp, I enjoyed the many memorials they had constructed, in an effort to remember those who met their untimely fate at the hands of the Nazis. Perhaps the most striking one was the international monument, a 4 ft. tall bronze sculpture of emaciated inmates scattered on a barbwire fence. The monument was not exactly peachy to look at, but nonetheless served as an honest, raw reminder of the hardships people faced while here.

International monument

I also liked the message here on this wall…

Walking toward the gatehouse to exit the camp, I came away from this dreary place reflecting upon my own life, and how very thankful I am for it. It baffles me how the crimes against humanity committed here some 75 years ago still to this day, haunt. The scars are deep. The sorrow is great. The memory will never fade. The Nazis never took into account how their actions would leave a ominous, painful shadow not only to the victims but to the whole world.

Me in front of the entry gate some 200,000 prisoners once walked through...

Germany- Ansbach (1)

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I woke up in the morning – well, closer to afternoon (11:30am) at the hotel, a bit groggy but feeling refreshed, having slept away most of the jet-lag. I still managed to miss the hotel breakfast. Haha, not a surprise there; I’ve never been much of an early riser due to my late night gig at the bar & grille I serve at. I opened my window, took a look outside. The weather was a little better than the day before. The rain had lessened but an overcast, gray ceiling still hung in the skies. I got ready and headed out to explore Ansbach. The hotel reception told me of a shortcut to get to the city through a nearby park which previously was the royal hofgarten to Ansbach’s residenz, a stately mansion dating back from the 1700’s . I figured a leisurely stroll through a royal park would provide some peace from the bustling traffic above. I tucked my fingers into my jacket and walked down that tree lined pathway.

So, some of you are probably wondering, Ansbach? Where’s that? Well it’s a city in Bavaria of roughly 40,020 people (according to the Dec.2009 census) and located about 25 miles south of Nürnberg and 90 miles north of Munich. Although a small town, I thoroughly enjoyed walking around and exploring things. The town is definitely up there in age. The earliest recordings of the town date back to the 12th century. As I am a self-professed lover of all things having to do with art and history, this town was a feast for my eyes.

Ansbach altstadt (St. Gumbertus in background)

Ansbach old city gates

To some locals, the surroundings are probably not much to look at it, as they’re used to it; but its the same with us Americans. Some Floridans residing in Miami don’t really take time recollect on its beauty after having it at arms reach. The same idea held true to Ansbach’s inhabitants. Indeed, I was playing the tourist role, but I didn’t care. The architecture of the city was a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Classicism. I enjoyed how many of the buildings had their own character and their own style, not carbon copies of each other.

Ansbach is a city of many churches: St. Gumbertus kirche, St. Ludwig kirche, St. Johannis kirche to name a few. St. Gumbertus is a recognizable part of the city’s skyline. It hovers above the Innenstadt (inner city) where Ansbach’s Christkindlmarkt takes place. St. Gumbertus is named after a Franconian noble named Gumbertus. The church served as a Benedictine monastery as early as 748 B.C. and today is a Protestant church.

Quaint Ansbach

Although a small altstadt, I carefully examined the buildings, paying attention to details like, paint color, craftsmanship, detail. Detail, holy crap was there detail. Whether you were standing there looking at a Gasthof (guest house) or a Gothic church, the buildings were just a real treat for the eye. Everything from the vibrant paint, cleanliness (there was seemingly no mold or rust on any buildings I saw), to open doors, to the inviting outdoor Speisekarte (menu) greeting you at every restaurant, there was an air of friendliness, of warmth to this place.

Speisekarte (menu)

Won't you come in for a bite?

Ansbach’s many storefronts and eateries were on a smaller scale than that of the states, but I liked that. A lot of the restaurants were owned by local families, each with its own character. A typical restaurant in Germany seats maybe 40 patrons. When you open the door, there’s usually a place to hang your coat and scarf, and the place is warm and cozy inside. You won’t see huge restaurant chains like Chili’s or Friday’s that seat 100 or more patrons. That’s strictly the USA. The storefronts always have merchandise for sale looming on an outdoor rack, everything from shoes, handbags, scarves, and hats.

Merchandise for sale

Apotheke (pharmacy)

Walking along, the city had it’s luminosities, from the tall church steeples, the unassuming alleyways, the cobblestoned streets, it was all beautiful to me…

Hello, alleyway...

What's lies the other side?

In front of St. Gumbertus kirche

Why don't we have stuff like this in the states? What do we have? A whole lot of asphalt.

It's normal for restaurants to advertise beer offered...

The one thing I really admired was how nearly all restaurants offered outdoor seating. The Germans reveled in anything outdoors, where the sun shines. It made me think of how Miami’s dining scene operates. Walking along Ocean Dr. that’s all you see, extensions of the restaurants on to the sidewalk, hostesses reciting their menu specials to you, eager for your business. Germany was much the same way, minus the barking hostess. Instead, what they had was the speisekarte (menu) outside the door.

Rainy & gray day= empty chairs

My friends Daniel and Katja texted me while I was on my little Ansbach hike, just to check on their lone American friend. I told them I was doing fine, content taking photos of this beautiful little town, despite the gray ceiling that hung above…

As the day came to an end, I headed back to the hotel, back through the familiar royal hofgarten that I had walked through earlier to get to the altstadt. Walking down the long tree lined pathway, I came upon a somewhat hidden building, the Orangerie, built in the 17th century along with the Residenz. It used to serve as the courtyard and herbal garden to the Residenz. Oranges and lemons are still harvested here today and it’s also used as a venue for weddings and other receptions.

The Orangerie. Beautiful even on an overcast day.

 

Germany- Intro…

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So, my decision to go to Germany for a vacation was somewhat spontaneous. It started with a rut. A simple rut. A rut of the same old, same old routine. Not that I lead a boring life, definitely not. I’m one who is always chasing the sunset, if it’s beautiful I’m usually outdoors. I’m one who enjoys quality time with friends, theme parks, shopping, working out and the occasional photographic adventure. However, I don’t really know what brought it on but I developed a strong desire to travel. I just had a huge urge to go explore… explore unchartered territory, territory not my own.

I guess you could say I’m a little traveler. I even travel in my own backyard. I’m a lover of old, historical places and am always seeking out hidden gems in my own surroundings. I’m a lover of state parks, beach boardwalks, gardens and other natural wonders. I’m one who will take a drive on a beautiful day and hike all over a state park or take time to smell the roses at a public garden. But, even with having embarked on these small wonders in my own backyard,I was still feeling a bit under-stimulated; I had a strong sense to go on a European tour. This time, to Germany.

Why Germany? Well, why not? Look at the country. It’s a wide open book of beauty and history, ranging from medieval castles and other impressive architecture to impressive terrain like the Alps in the south, to a big seat in the history books when it comes to World War II and the Nazi regime. The country’s definitely not lacking when it comes to things to explore. Being that I studied the German language for three years I also wanted to go to the country where it originated and test my skills! I wasn’t totally alone in Germany: my friends Daniel and Katja live in Ansbach, a town in Bavaria.  Katja always joked with me for years saying, “We need to show you how the Germans party!” Well, here was my chance. After exhausting a lot of travel sites, searching and then searching again, I landed a round trip ticket for $700. Couldn’t pass it up.

Travel Day…

The plane ride was long but that was to be expected. I still think it’s über-cool that within 9 hours you can be displaced in another country. Ah, what would we do without airplanes? I struck up some conversation with my neighboring passenger about his final destination and passed the time with my iPod plugged into my ears. I’m not one who can’t sleep sound on a plane. It just doesn’t happen. At most, I’ll curl up into a not -so-comfortable position with my legs smashed into the back of a plane seat and shut eye for a few hours, but never completely knocking out. Before I knew it, I was greeted by the light of a new day in Europe (as we had left the states at night) and we made our descent down into Frankfurt. I was only at Frankfurt for a few hours then hopped back onto a plane to Nürnberg.

Frankfurt airport

Of course I made time for a stop to Starbucks…

Before I knew it, it was time to board my connecting flight. Nürnberg wasn’t that far via plane, only about 50 minutes. From the Nürnberg Flughafen (airport), I went downstairs and hopped on a U-bahn that went directly to the hauptbahnhof (main train station). I know my neighboring passengers probably didn’t think twice about that subway ride, but to me, it was awesome. Electrically operated machine, sans man; it was genius.

On the U-bahn...

Arriving at the Nürnberg train station, studying the schedule, I looked for the next train to Ansbach. Essentially, I was a virgin to Germany’s public transportation system, but without fail, I found a train leaving for Ansbach in 15 minutes. I drug my luggage down the cold cement corridor. The place was busy. Hundreds of people scurrying (and running) to their next train. In the states, the only place we had that came anywhere close to the same level of hectic travelers would be NYC.

About 35 minutes later, I finally reached Ansbach. Jet- lagged and operating on an overdose of coffee, I waited at the Ansbach train station for awhile and then out came Katja, pulling up in her small, Indigo wagon. The cars were definitely smaller here, as in most of Europe. People are more conscious about the environment as well as fuel costs. You won’t see a big  gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalade on rims here folks, people are just more sensible. Later in the evening, Daniel came home from work, and we all went out to dinner at what would become my favorite restaurant in Ansbach. It was great to catch up and enjoy a warm meal after about 20 something hours of traveling! I don’t even know how I was still awake to savor the meal, but it was delish!

My first meal in Germany: Schweineschnitzel & spaetzle with a Tucher!

After the meal, set out to walk through Ansbach altstadt, a rainy evening, but nevertheless so beautiful…

Rainy night and city lights...

I greatly appreciated the fact that Daniel and Katja had had taken a few extra days off for my visit, but they still had to work (oh, the joys of adulthood). Being that their home wasn’t conveniently located near the Ansbach bahnhof, I told them I’d found a sweet hotel online, only about a 15 minute walk from the train station. So I checked in there for a few days, and then on the weekend I would stay with Daniel and Katja. This way, while they were at work, I could have a easy track to the train station, get my ticket, and check out my surroundings. I checked in that night and with the following day came a new adventure…

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