We have just returned from a whirlwind of a trip through several spots in Germany and Austria as well as Prague in the Czech Republic. This post is long, but how else can I tell you about all the things we packed into 8 days!? So, grab a drink and a snack, sit back and join us on our fall trip.
Day 1: We pulled away bright and early and headed to Frankfurt, Germany for a quick stop. While there, we wandered around the main square of the Aldstat or Old Town and took a peek in the church there before trying a snack of cake and apfelwein (apple wine) which Frankfurt is known for (I think we will stick with wine made from grapes!).
After Frankfurt, we headed to Regensburg, Germany, which was a very lovely town. We started at an Abby from 700, St. Emmeram’s, which seemed to be very dark and heavy in half and light and airy in the other half. It also had many bizarre elements and skeletons.
We strolled through an open-air mall on our way to Alte Kapelle, the oldest Catholic place of worship in Bavaria, which was built under order from Charlamange. This church was very light and had lots of “gold” elements. A wedding had just concluded there and the bride and groom were greeting their guests at the side door of the church.
Next, we looked at St. Peter’s which was very big and very dark with lots of stained glass. After that, we walked by the Porta Pretoia, an old Roman gate built in 179AD by Marcus Aurelius. We decided to stop for a snack at Wurstkutch on the river next to the Old Stone Bridge from the 1200’s that linked the city with the outside world. We sat outside enjoying a beer and some sausages with saurkraut and brown mustard. The kids even got “kids beer” (carbonated apple juice)!
After our snack, we walked to the Rathaus (Town Hall) with its large clock and through the town square. There were many “old elements” along the way such as statues, wells and a large painting of a Roman soldier. The old town itself was very quaint with small side streets and colorful buildings.
Finishing our day, we drove to Munich, Germany for a dinner of sausages, 3 types of dumplings, crispy roast pork and beer.
Day 2: We began our day at Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. This was a very somber and surreal experience, and I’m not sure any of us was prepared for our emotional response to this place. As we approached the entrance gate, it was very cold, cloudy and desolate. There were almost no other people there and blackbirds were circling and cawing. As we walked through the gate, you could almost feel a sense of foreboding, fear and helplessness. We walked the grounds and saw the barracks, crematorium and some memorial churches constructed on the site. Many times, we all had the urge to cry just being in a place where so much sadness and humiliation and the worst of human behavior occurred. It was a powerful experience.
After Dachau, we visited Nymphenburg Palace which was the summer palace of the royal family. Our favorite room consisted of large ceiling and wall paintings along with gold trim and chandeliers. Munich’s old town center was our next stop and we immediately headed to the Glockenspiel on the Town Hall. The building itself was very attractive with cascading flowers on its side but the highlight were the figures on the clock which reenact jousting and dancing to a musical piece at certain times of the day. In addition to the town hall, there were other clock towers and a statue of the Virgin Mary (Mariensaul) in the square.
By this point, we were hungry, so it was off to the famous Hofbrahaus for lunch. This beer garden was a lot of fun with a German band playing a rousing piece every couple of minutes. We tried as many traditional items as we could including a large pretzel, obatzda (cheese spread), pork knuckle, sausage, red cabbage and potato salad, and of course, beer!
Next, we wandered down to Odeonplatz and the Theatine Church which had ornate stone carvings on the inside. We also checked out Frauenkirche which was a very plain interior church with stained glass and some incredibly strange statues and paintings and Asamkirche which was a very small church that was heavy and dark. Finally, we saw St. Peter’s Church with had a huge clock tower and was filled with golden statues along the main aisle and a massive golden alter area.
After all of that, it was time for a snack at Haxnbauer im Scholastikahaus. We decided to try the plum dumplings and flambeed apple fritters. With that, it was time to call it a night!
Day 3: We headed out of Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle. The drive was very beautiful with lovely views and towns along the way, but it was very foggy as we approached the castle area, so it was hard to see the castle (or anything). We decided to hike up the path to the castle which was a nice hike through the fall forest and the views of the valley from the top were impressive especially with all the fog.
Next, we drove to Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden, Germany. We drove through many small towns along the way which were dotted with small church spires and Bavarian-style homes displaying wooden balconies with bright flowers spilling over the edge. In Ramsau, we hiked the Zauberwald trail to Hintersee Lake. The hike was beautiful with lots of fall colors. The trail followed a running stream with very clear water and the rocks and trees along the way were covered with moss.
In the town, we visited Parish Church. It was very small and simple on the inside but had a very lovely graveyard in the back which had many plantings on each plot. In addition, the church is one of the most photographed in Germany because of its idyllic setting.
We ended the day with an amazing dinner on top of the mountains. While it was getting a little chilly, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the views. As we waited for our food, the kids played on the small playground while some sheep with tinkling bells grazed on the hill. We had some delicious schnitzel, beef and venison goulash, and cheese dumplings, but the crowning moment of the meal was the dessert, Kaiserschmarrn, which is a shredded pancake. It was huge, so we shared, but I think everyone wished they had their very own!
Day 4: We started our day with another hike, this time in Wimbacklamm Gorge. It was a bit of a hike up the hill to get there but totally worth it. As we hiked up, we walked past some cows wearing bells on the hillside pasture and a pen containing sheep and their herding dogs. The fall colors were beautiful, but the best part was the rushing, clear water flowing down the Gorge.
Next, we drove to Salzburg, Austria. The drive into the city was once again beautiful with Bavarian homes and pastures and all the fall colors. Once in the city, we saw Mozartplatz, Residenceplatz and Dom Platz. All were large squares with either large statues or fountains in the center and both Residenceplatz and Dom Platz were used in filming The Sound of Music. We also saw the amphitheater where the Von Trapp family performed in the Salzburg festival in the movie. We checked out Salzburg Cathedral where Mozart was baptized. The church could best be described as opera house meets church. We also walked by Mozart’s birthplace and residence and stopped at Kondotori Furst, a confectioner, for Mozart Balls-a center filled chocolate truffle candy.
We ate lunch at Mozart Cafe and enjoyed another delicious goulash as well as schnitzel and beef in beer sauce. We tried some local beer and finished the meal with Salzburg Nockerel, a meringue type concoction with fruit on the bottom. We also got to meet “The Queen of Mozart Cafe.” Before she arrived, we saw pictures of this elderly woman behind one of the tables with the moniker “Queen of Mozart Cafe” and then lo and behold she came in before we left. She came to our table to talk to the children (though it was not in English!) and as we left she said “Auf Wiedersehen” so of course, we said it back!
After lunch, we went to Mirabelle Gardens where some of the scenes from the “Do a Deer” song in The Sound of Music were filmed. We snagged a jam filled, chocolate covered Salzburg pretzel or Brezen and ate it on our way to the actual Von Trapp family home which is now a hotel. We took a quick peek from the gates, before heading to Hellbrunn Palace for the Trick Fountain tour. The fountains and garden were very pretty and a lot of fun, especially all of the grottos. Before leaving Hellbrunn, we saw the Gazebo from The Sound of Music. Then we drove to St. Michel’s Bascilica in Mondsee which was the church used in the wedding scene from the movie. The town itself was quite cute.
*Update-I am happy to report that after returning home, we watched The Sound of Music and were able to identify the places we were in. The kids were very excited about that!
Finally, we drove into Halstatt, Austria. Small towns dotted the edge of the massive lake with the tree covered Alps in the background. Breathtaking! We walked the lakeside streets of Halstatt to a couple of churches. One of the churches also housed another planting filled graveyard and the Beinhaus. As it was closed, we weren’t able to go in, but the Beinhaus houses one of the last collections of painted skulls in Austria with around 700 skulls.
After walking, we stopped for dinner at a hotel in the village. We tried some local beer and wine and Tafelspitz which was thin pieces of beef that can be dipped in various sauces. Very good! We finished the meal with an apricot dumpling.
Day 5: This was the one and only soggy day of our whole trip, but we tried not to let it get us down too much. We got up early to take a lift up the side of the mountain to go to the Dachstein Ice Cave, the largest ice cave in the world. We had to hike 15 minutes on some steep uphill switches in the pouring rain to get to the cave entrance-it was not very pleasant. Then after waiting for 20 minutes in the cold, the tour began. Luckily, it was a private tour as no one else was crazy enough to come to the Ice Cave on a cold, rainy morning. Unluckily, it was only about 32 degrees inside the cave and we were soaking wet! But we made the best of it and enjoyed an informative tour and some massive, thick ice.
After the tour, we decided to take a second tour, so we headed over to the Halstatt Salt Mine. It is the oldest Salt Mine in the world as they have been mining there for 7,000 years. We took a mountain car up and once again had to hike several minutes in the rain to the entrance. Once we entered, we had to put on miner clothing over our clothes, which some people in our party were not too happy about. Then we walked the tracks into the mine, which is still an active mine. The path in was dark and dank, but the walls sparkled with the salt. During the tour, we learned all about the mine and how the salt was formed and we got to slide down two wooden miner slides. One was 24 meters, the other 62 meters making it the largest underground slide in Europe. The slides were surprisingly fast! We also got to see the oldest staircase in Europe at 3,000 years old-a discovery made just a few years back in the mine. Finally, we rode a little mine car out of the mine. Before heading back down the mountain, we had some cheese strudel which our children did not like at all.
We drove into Vienna and by Sigmund Freud’s old apartment where he treated patients before fleeing the Nazis and headed to dinner at the famous Grienchensbiesl. The restaurant has had many famous patrons over the years including Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Wagner and Mark Twain. As we drove to our apartment, we were able to see the city at night which was very pretty.
Day 6: We began our day with a walk to the Rathaus (Town Hall), a tour of Schonbrunn Palace and a walk through the famous outdoor market, Naschmarkt. We decided to grab a Wiener Wurst from a stand and eat it outside the opera house. We walked through an outdoor shopping area to St. Stephens which was very elaborate from the outside with fancy spires. The inside was dark and heavy. Next, we went to the Hofburg. We walked by the Spanish Riding School where they train the Lipinezzer stallions and saw a few in their stables. Then we viewed the Imperial Treasury which housed many interesting artifacts such as crowns, clothing, jewels, relics and more.
We ate lunch at Cafe Demel where we tried both apple strudel and the Sachertorte-we weren’t big fans of either, but who would be after having that shredded pancake!! I also had a cafe melange which was good.
Overall, Vienna was a nice city with lots of old architectural elements, reliefs, and building decor and ornaments, but it was time to head to Prague. The drive in was a little nervewracking as the traffic was a little crazier in Czech Republic, but once there we headed to a little place for a dinner consisting of fried cheese in potato cakes, pork stuffed with sausage and bacon and topped with cheese and some local IPA and a digestif called Becherovka-very good!
Day 7: On the seventh day, we walked a lot and ate a lot -32,000 steps and what felt like 32 pounds! We began the day by heading to a bakery for buchtna (dough pastry filled with fruit) and Kolac or kolache-this version was a raspberry topped pastry with a streusel topping. We walked through part of the city and by the Spanish synagogue. We headed to the Old Town square and saw the town hall. We wandered by lots of old buildings and monuments. We tried Tredlink, a dough cooked on a cylinder and sprinkled with sugar on our way up to Prague Castle. At the Castle complex, we went to Lobkowicz Palace which had some interesting artifacts including some musical scores of Beethoven’s as well as his signature on a financial document and Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Messiah. Then we walked to Golden Lane inside the complex, which is a row of old homes in the castle walls. We saw a display of armor and weaponry as well as some torture elements. We also viewed St. George Basilica and St. Vitus inside the complex.
After leaving the castle, we walked to the Mala Strana for lunch. We started our meal with steak tartare, which our children actually liked, and Pilsner Urquell-the famous Czech beer and originator of the Pilsner. We had goulash with dumplings and beef svikora with dumplings-very good! After filling up, we headed to the Church of Our Lady Victorious which houses the Shrine of Infant Jesus (my Tulsa friends who have ever driven I-44 to OKC have surely heard of this guy!). After the church, we decided to eat again-don’t judge! We stopped at Cafe Savoy for fruit dumplings (very interesting dumplings with plum inside that you top with butter, powdered sugar and gingerbread crumbs) and vetrnik (delicious). Then we walked across the bridge that joins one side of the city with the other providing some beautiful views and entertainment.
As we walked back toward our apartment, we saw a crazy, rotating sculpture and a giant silly bear.
Since it had been a few minutes since we had eaten, we decided to try another tredlink (the dough on the cylinder from the morning). This one was served hot and with nutella inside-delicious! We also tried some Svarak (hot wine)-not delicious! It was just a bit strong and had a strange aftertaste. We walked by the Jerusalem synagogue which was a very interesting building and to Pernickuv Sen, a small bakery where we got a Kolach cookie (gingerbread filled with a poppy seed paste filling) and a Pernicky (gingerbread) cookie. Finally, we ended our day with-you guessed it-more food! We had dinner which we started with yet another Czech beer and pickled cheese. We tried Kulajda which is a Czech soup served with a poached egg in it-very good. And since we felt we had done more eating than walking, we walked back down to the Old Town Square after dark. It was lit up and there were tons of people wandering around the monuments, shops and restaurants.
Day 8: It was time to head home, but not without a quick stop at the halfway point-Kassel, Germany. We went to the Bergpark Wilhelmshobe. We saw the main palace or Schloss from the outside and then hiked up the trails by ruins of an aqueduct toward a huge statue of Hercules. Finally, we walked over to Lowerburg which is a castle built in a medieval style in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s. However, the area was undergoing renovation to restore it, so it was an outside view only. The area was very beautiful with the fall colors, the ponds and waterfalls and bridges.
Now, if you are tired from reading all of this, imagine how we felt! But it was an amazing trip- we saw a lot of wonderful places, learned a few things, and ate a lot of great food! The only question is: Where should we go next?!