Monday, June 27, 2011

Salzburg AND Salzberg

On Sunday, June 19, a friend of mine and I took a road trip to Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is about 2 hours from Penzberg, just across the Bavarian border, so it was a perfect day-trip destination.

Salzburg is a quintessential middle-European city. Situated in an Alpen valley, Salzburg boasts a rich cultural history. It is the home of many musical masters such as Mozart, Johann Haydn (Joseph's brother), and Mohr, and, for science geeks like me, Christian Doppler (Doppler effect!). Salzburg is characterized by Baroque architecture, much of which was preserved and/or rebuilt after the World Wars ravaged parts of the city. Several abbeys and universities are located within Salzburg as well which add to the reverent and academic feel of the city (in addition to the "liveliness" that the student presence injects, according to the tour books).

As for its name, Salzburg literally translates to, "Salt Castle," which is a reference to the enormous fortress situated on top of a hill overlooking the city. I kept confusing "Salzburg" and "Salzberg" (which translates to, "Salt Mountain"), and I couldn't remember how to spell it. My friend set me straight that the name is an homage to the fortress, not the mountains, and somehow that stuck with me (that, and I remember that the "burg" of "Salzburg" is not the "berg" in "Penzberg," and Penzberg definitely doesn't have a castle or fortress within it :)).

Needless to say, Salzburg, no matter how you spell it, is beautiful.

We arrived in Salzburg around lunchtime and immediately set out on our adventure. My friend led me into old town Salzburg, and, before I could get my bearings, we were already standing in front of Mozart's birthplace. It was incredible to stop and think that such a musical genius could have stood in the same place as I was, 300 years before. As soon as this dawned on me, I expanded my gaze and immediately understood the possible inspiration for musical masterpieces (not limited to Mozart, of course) - Old town Salzburg is breathtaking, and the fresh mountain air is crisp, clean, and refreshing. I could envision composers sitting in their flats with the windows open or in one of the many cafes around the town getting lost in their music.
Apparently, to add to this feeling, the open courtyards and streets of the old town are often filled with live Baroque and other classical music. However, since the day we were visiting was rather rainy, there were no consistent street musicians. I can only imagine what Salzburg is like during the music festivals...

After we saw the house, we wandered through the streets stopping at various churches and abbeys along the way. Specifically, we stopped at the Franzikaner (Franciscan) abbey and the Salzburg Dom (cathedral). The abbey church was surprisingly ornate with elements (like massive neutral columns) that reminded me of the Bamberg Dom. Because folks were within the church praying after mass, I only took a few pictures, as my camera makes obnoxious noises when in use. The mental pictures and feelings from entering the abbey will stay with me forever. That was probably one of the most peaceful places I've ever been. Just amazing.
Then we went to the cathedral, where mass was just letting out. Holy cow - the cathedral was incredible. Everywhere you looked (even on the ceilings), there was something new and significant to take in. Everything within the church obviously had a purpose, and half of the fun of exploring it was guessing the mysterious reason for some of the more obscure characteristics or facets within it. More obvious to the eye were the Stations of the Cross which were individually separated into their own sections, indicated by Roman numerals above the arches. It was impressive to see basically ENTIRE rooms/altars dedicated to each Station. The organs (yes, plural) were also simple but gorgeous, and there were so many crevices and upper rooms that I would have loved to tour, but, alas, they were roped off. The crypt, however, was not roped off, and it was a peaceful and cool escape from the busy nave. It houses many tombs of significant religious figures of the region, a small chapel, and an art exhibit. I must be honest and say that the art exhibit, which had a very macabre theme (not in the religious sense, either), just didn't fit with the rest of the crypt, ironically. I found it reminded me more of a Hallmark Halloween celebration...
As we stepped out of the Dom, we were greeted by accordion music. We followed it and, much to my surprise, found a small boy (probably no more than 8 or 10 years old) playing an enormous accordion with great perfection. I'm not a fan of the accordion, but I could have listened to him play all day, and it could have just been because he was an enthusiastic performer. Just incredible.
We walked through the adjacent courtyard and found ourselves in a remarkable, old cemetery. Cemeteries in this part of the world are different from those we see in the States, as each grave is essentially topped with a raised flower garden. Family and designated guardians are responsible for maintaining the graves, and it is very apparent that a lot of pride and care is taken at every plot. Flowers and greenery abounded, which made a place of beauty and joy out of what could be a dark and sad site. I love this aspect of Austro-Bavarian life.
The cemetery itself was extremely old - I think I might have seen a couple of graves that were from the 1900s, but many of the graves dated as far back as the 17th century (that I saw). A small chapel was also located in the cemetery for visitation ceremonies, and it was dated in the 1400s, so I assume there were probably graves that were much older than those I saw. Additionally, catacombs had been built into the mountain side, so we toured those as well. People must have been MUCH smaller than we are today when they built the tunnels and chapels in the mountain, as I was feeling a bit cramped making the hike up into the catacombs. Regardless the size, the view from the catacombs was, of course, breathtaking and led to an intense sense of calm and peace. Amazing.
When we came down from the catacombs, Baby A and I were starting to get really hungry, so we convinced our partner in crime to go down into town for a bite of lunch. We wanted to eat at Cafe Tomaselli, but when we looked at their menu, we realized they primarily serve desserts and coffees, so we settled for a street vendor instead. I had a hot dog, which is traditionally served on a bun with ketchup and mustard only (the way I like it!), so I was happy as a clam. And my friend got a cheese bratwurst, which was also delicious.

Once we had an appropriate lunch, we decided to go back to Cafe Tomaselli. Established in 1705, this cafe has hosted many of the significant historical figures of the past few centuries. And their desserts (and supposedly their coffee, though I couldn't try any) definitely attest to their longevity - it's good there isn't a Cafe Tomaselli close to my house, as I would probably visit it every day (and exponentially gain weight!), both for the delicious treats and the classic atmosphere. While we were indulging in our treats (I had a Viennese cake and a hot chocolate), it started to rain heavily, so we took that opportunity to rest our feet and chat for an hour or so. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: How European of us! :) I loved it.

With happy bellies and a break in the rain, we headed out of the old town and up towards the Mirabell Palace and gardens. I'm a sucker for formal gardens, so this was right up my alley. We didn't tour the castle itself, but the grounds kept us busy sightseeing for more than an hour. Combinations of flowers and colors I hadn't considered before were in front of us, and statues and fountains were heavily sprinkled across the grounds. Aside from flowering plants, there were shrubs and trees that lined narrow walkways that gave us the sense of walking through a labyrinth (yes, I thought of David Bowie at that moment). And as we came out from the secret passages through the greens, we would come upon a statue or fountain. I was particularly taken with one fountain that highlighted a beautiful woman washing her feet and legs. There was something so serene on her face that I probably could have sat in her presence all day.
On the flipside, there was a courtyard of freaky Medieval miniature statues that I could have done without seeing. I tried to appreciate their artistic value, but I couldn't get over how disturbing they were: Many of their faces were distorted (and not from being exposed to the elements for years, either), and they were in odd and striking poses. I am sure I did not appreciate them fully for what they represented, but I was disturbed enough not to really want to linger too long in their presence. I included a picture of one of the least freaky statues below.
Once we finished touring the Mirabell gardens, my hips were starting to really hurt, so we decided it was time to head back to Penzberg.

There is still more that I would like to see and do in Salzburg, such as tour the Salzburg fortress or attend a Baroque concert or try one of the Mozart chocolates, but I will have to save those for my next trip. For being only a few hours, we made the most of our trip and I feel like I got a great feel for Salzburg. I look forward to visiting it again one day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Medieval Times in Bamberg

During the first weekend of June, I traveled up to the northern Bavaria town of Bamberg to explore the city with a college friend of mine. I read up on Bamberg a little before I left, but I had no idea just how impressive it would be. To be in the same state as all of the other German cities I've visited, it had it's unique style and charm that made it a perfect destination for a weekend getaway.

Bamberg, as I already mentioned, is in the northern part of the German state of Bavaria, north of Nurenberg by about an hour train ride. From Penzberg, which is about 30 minutes north of the Austrian border, the train ride to Bamberg took about 4 hours, including a one-hour "layover" in Munich. My college friend was coming from Hamburg, which is pretty far north in Germany, so her trip was a little longer than mine (maybe 5 hours?), but Bamberg was the best middle meeting point for us, and I don't think either of us could complain.

Bamberg is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and its architecture, medieval in style, is what primarily separates it from what one typically sees in the southern parts of Bavaria. The city, like so many other old cities in Germany, is located along a river (the Regnitz River) that bisects the heart of main pedestrian areas. The area on the southwest bank of the river, where the majority of the historical areas are located, is rather hilly (meaning intense up-hill walking!), while the other side, dedicated to more industrial and residential endeavors (including another waterway), is a bit smoother. And, of course, the side we wanted to tour was the historical side, so we had a lot of urban hiking to do.

We arrived in Bamberg midday on Saturday and dropped our luggage off at the hotel (to check in later). Then food became our priority. Using a map that my friend so smartly brought along, we found our way over the river and into the heart of the historical section of Bamberg. We ended up in an area called, "Little Venice," so we figured it would probably be a great place for food, and we weren't let down. We stopped in a small pizzeria, hoping to sit inside, as the midday sun had gotten rather oppressive when combined with the humidity from the river and impending rain. We walked into the restaurant and were guided to an interior courtyard dining area, so we ended up sitting outside but in an area with little cross breeze (because we were in an interior courtyard!). The restaurant was quaint and the service was delightful, and eventually the cool drinks we had made the heat less oppressive. Our waiter was eager to try out his English skills on his American diners, but since my friend is a fluent German speaker, she was able to help out when he searched for a word.

Because we were still in the throes of the e.coli scare (damn bean sprouts causing me to cut out lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers from my diet for a couple weeks!), my standard caprese salad was out of the question, so I opted for a calzone. The crust on pizzas and calzones in Bavaria is much thinner and pliable than the crusts I'm used to in the States. Unlike the thin crust pizzas I get back home, the thin crusts here (which are standard) are not tough or crunchy; you should probably use a fork and knife to eat your pizza here because the crust is so soft. But it's absolutely delicious. For someone who loves thick-crust and deep-dish pizza, I can truly say that the crusts here, though thin, are delicious and make up as much flavor in the pizza (if not more!) as the toppings do.

After eating, we reviewed our map and planned our tourist attack of the city. We prioritized the Cathedral (Dom), New Residence, Kloster St. Michael, and the Altes Rathaus, in that order, as the places we needed to see. And we were not disappointed.
Our first stop was the Cathedral, and I was simply in awe. This building was huge and when you entered it, you immediately felt the cooling effect of the stone used to build it (a nice break from the heat). Unlike other churches I've seen in Bavaria, this church was more monochromatic, containing many stone statues and carvings throughout the main sanctuary. Don't get me wrong - there was vibrant color in specific places all around, but you really had to pay attention to the details of the stone work to really appreciate the architecture, too. And, of course, in true cathedral opulence, there were plenty of gold and silver pieces, particularly on the altars, that gleamed against the grey stone.
One of the most striking statues was the Bamberger Reiter - He really doesn't fit in with the rest of the statues and architecture, and no one is sure who or what he represents (popular theories is that he is pointing towards one of the kings or saints buried in the Cathedral). He is so striking that the Nazis idealized him as perfect heroicism and used him as a symbol of "Aryan perfection" in the classroom. Whoever he is, he is very unique and an interesting feature in the Cathedral.
We really wanted to visit the crypt of the Cathedral, as it is listed as a "must-see" in most traveling guides, but it was closed for a baptism, so we could only peek in from above. To us, it just seemed a little weird and uncomfortable to gawk at people during a sacramental event, so we respectfully glanced in and then excused ourselves from the church. I found it a bit disconcerting to see a group of kids climbing up on a tomb in the body of the main church just to get a better look of what was going on down below in the crypt. My only hope is that they didn't realize what they were climbing on and their chaperones were simply elsewhere at that moment.

After touring the Cathedral, we walked across the plaza (appropriate called the Domplatz) to the New Residence (Neue Residenz). In this time, a wedding was just wrapping up, and, in what appeared to me as a perfect European wedding ending, an adorable yellow car picked up with the bride and groom to drive them off to their new married life. It reminded me SO much of the Sicilian wedding scene from The Godfather that I had to applaud the couple as they drove by, honking their horn and celebrating their new union. It was beautiful.
The New Residence, a former political center for Bamberg (I think!), has been converted into a museum. The admission was steep and we really didn't feel like being cooped up in a museum, especially when everything was in German (meaning that I wouldn't understand anything unless my friend translated, which kind of ruins the whole thing), so we chose to just explore the grounds instead. One of the most popular destinations in Bamberg is the rose garden at the New Residence. And I can tell why - It is a beautifully designed traditionally rose garden with a myriad of rose variations. Most of the roses were in some phase of blooming, so there was so much color all over the garden. Within the garden, there were statues and fountains, many of which in the form of cherubs (some beautiful, a few creepy). On one edge of the garden, a tea house and restaurant were situated, and on the edge of the garden, the best view of the city was available. Benches and shade trees were provided along this edge, and people were parked all over them just looking out at the amazing view in front of them. Amazing.
After the New Residence, we decided it was time to head for higher ground and go to the Kloster, located on the tallest hill in the city. Phew! It was quite a hike! And the heat was rather oppressive, so let's just say one of our motivating factors to climb up there was knowing that our walk down would be all downhill. :) The Kloster is unbelievably formidable, resting on top of a hill, looking down on all of Bamberg. It has a pair of steeples on one side that made it easier to navigate to when we were lost in the maze of winding streets trying to find it.

When we got up to Kloster St. Michael, we were disappointed to see that a wedding closed off the church and monastery for tours (in addition to some major renovation projects), but the grounds around the Kloster made the uphill journey worthwhile. Again, a small restaurant had been set up on the back side of the building, looking out onto the city below. Several hidden outbuildings awaited our discovery as well. We took a path through what looked like a field to go back down to the city (instead of the streets we took up), and we found a beautiful fountain, two gate houses, and some hidden statues and whatnot sprinkling the hillside. And, of course, the views from looking down from Kloster St. Michael and then up at it (especially at night) were breathtaking. I definitely want to go back to Bamberg just to tour the Kloster interior some time (note to self: Don't try to tour on a Saturday or Sunday, to avoid wedding and mass traffic).
By the time we got down to the city from the Kloster, my water bottle ran empty and I was starting to feel a bit sweaty, so we headed back to the hotel to officially check in and rest for a little bit. The timing was good, too, as it appeared that it was going to rain (even storm) by the time we got back to the hotel. We took that opportunity to freshen ourselves up, rehydrate, and relax for a little while - A perfect plan. :)

And, almost as exciting as the sites we had just seen, we discovered that our hotel room contained AIR CONDITIONING! We definitely indulged in as much AC as we could get - it was such a nice break from the heat and humidity outside.

Once we regained our energy (especially me - it turns out that carrying a baby is hard work, even on vacation!), we made our way to the Rathaus. The Rathaus is located in the middle of the river, in between the two sections of the city. A couple of bridges connect the old and new city, with the Rathaus right in the middle. As with everything else we had seen that day, it was just beautiful. The building was painted with frescoes reminiscent of the paintings I've seen on buildings throughout Bavaria. However, one of the frescoes included a three-dimensional element, a cherub's leg, sticking out from the painting. It was identical to the three-dimensional elements that Justin and I saw on the ceiling at Schloss Linderhof a couple weeks earlier.

Several sculptures and statues were located around the Rathaus, too, including a unique partial giant face (for or of someone we couldn't figure out), an empress, and Jesus on the crucifix surrounded by his apostles. And a beautifully painted and ornamented house (its purpose or historical significance I don't know) was just over the bridge from the Rathaus. Everything was simply picturesque, and it felt exactly like what I expected of a European vacation, including an ice cream stand and a book store right off the path from the Rathaus. Gorgeous!

We ended the night by having dinner at the a brewhouse/Bavarian restaurant. Bamberg is known for its smoky-flavored beer (said to have an after taste of bacon), so my friend had to try this. I had a sip of her beer, and, well, it was definitely smoky, but I didn't get the bacon aftertaste. My assumption is that people would consider it similar in taste to bacon since a lot of the bacon that we eat in the States is smoked... ??

Dinner was delicious, but our desserts made the night. My friend had a chocolate mousse served in the cutest little mason jar, and I had a French chocolate cake served with white chocolate ice cream. Amazing. It was probably the best dessert I've had while on this assignment and I could almost justify the expense of the train ticket to go up to Bamberg to have that dessert again.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night. The next morning, we had brunch and then headed to the train station for our departures.

Overall, Bamberg was absolutely spectacular and actually exceeded my expectations. I will definitely return to Bamberg on a visit to Bavaria, and I look forward to recommending it to my German and US colleagues alike.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sunday at the Zoo

Last weekend, after overexerting myself earlier in the week, I laid pretty low. However, by Sunday, I was stir crazy again, so I wanted to get out and get some fresh air. Since it was a Sunday, my options were limited (most things are closed on Sundays in this region, even in major cities), but I had the brilliant idea to check the Munich Zoo schedule. Surprise: They are open every day of the week during this time of year! I had no excuse; I needed to go.

I piled into the car and drove up to the south side of Munich to take the subway to the zoo stop. The zoo website said that the zoo was just a 3-minute walk from the subway station, so I figured I wouldn't exert myself too much trying to get to the zoo and could stop as much as I wanted along the trail through the zoo. I'm not sure, however, who they clocked who made it to the zoo from the subway in 3 minutes, but they must have been running or riding a segue. It took me at least 10 minutes to get to the entrance at a decent pace and then another 10-15 minutes to stand in line for the tickets. Regardless of the extra hassle, I was determined to have a good day and took the inconsistencies in stride.

The Munich Zoo (Hellebrun Zoo) is beautiful. It was established early in the 1900s and was rebuilt a couple times after the wars destroyed parts of it. The zoo prides itself on having more natural habitats for its animals - animals that would normally live together in the wild are housed together, though they carefully (and fiscally responsibly) keep predators separated from their prey through concealed moats and steep valleys. And although the zoo is older, it has many modern touches in architecture and housing.

Once I got through the admission gates, I carefully looked over the map and decided on my path, to go along the perimeter of the zoo and pop in and out of exhibits that interested me and that I had the energy to go into. Reasonable plan, right?

Well, it turned out that the zoo is HUGE and the perimeter is not exactly separated from the exhibits, so I got lost and mixed up a few times. The trickiest part was the primate area, where I just couldn't find my way out of it to the next exhibit/path. Thankfully, there are plenty of benches and biergartens and ice cream stands to stop at along the way, so I paced myself through strategically planned water and "eis" breaks.

In all, I spent probably 3 hours walking around the zoo, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun to see what the "Americas exhibit" contained and to realize that the animals that I see from day to day are different from those the folks in other parts of the world. I was extremely impressed with the variety and number of primates the zoo housed, which might be why I kept getting lost in that exhibit. Most of the monkeys and apes had at least two large areas to play in: One to be fed in with a few things to climb and then another outside with huge tree houses, ladders, and moats. And there were so many different primates that you saw so many of their activities at one time. I probably could have watched the mommas take care of their babies or the adolescents play all day. It always amazes me to see how much of their behavior reminds me of human behavior. And it's so hard to look into the face or at the hands of a monkey or ape and not recognize it as someone familiar and human.

Another exhibit that entertained me was the parrot/guinea pig habitat. I have never seen guinea pigs in formal captivity (only in my friends' cages, etc.). And there were SO many! They live on the floor of one of the parrot habitats, and, in true Bavarian form, feast on baked goods and pretzels. :) I couldn't help but laugh at this exhibit. And what a great life for those guinea pigs!

The aquarium building was impressive, too. It is probably one of the oldest parts of the zoo, and I find it really interesting (and conveniently cool in temperature) that the majority of the aquarium exhibits are underground. And when you enter the aquarium (at ground level), two beautiful fountains flank the stairways down to the exhibits.

One of the final exhibits I came across was the kid's petting zoo, where goats, cows, and horses were available for petting. I have a soft spot for goats, so I had to stop and watch them play for a few minutes. One of the goats, doing what they do best, climbing, figured out where the feed came from, so he climbed up on the fence and craned his neck so his tongue was licking the receptacle for the feed. It was hilarious, and the kid standing next to the feeder was caught off guard. I just had to get a picture of him. Smart little goat. :)

Here are few of my favorite pictures from my journey through the zoo. I am so glad that I made it out to get some fresh air and see some animals that are internationally familiar.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two Days in Southern Bavaria

Following up a trip like ours to Berchtesgaden with something equally amazing was difficult. Justin and I knew that we weren't going to top it, so we shifted our focus to finding local gems in the various villages and towns around Penzberg.

On Monday morning, Justin and I headed to Bad Tolz, a town about 20 minutes from Penzberg. Bad Tolz is a picturesque Bavarian town situated on a river with a great pedestrian area just off the water. We spent a couple hours just walking in and out of stores and checking out the gorgeously painted buildings along the way. And I even found a perfect (I think!) diaper bag for Baby A and me to use, so that was icing on the cake for a beautiful setting.

While we were shopping, we ran into a store clerk who spent a long time telling us (in almost perfect English) that she loved the US so much that she wanted to move there and that she also thought people from the US were terrible. Yes, that's right: In the same breath she both loved and hated on the US. And it wasn't just a brief comment - she kept talking to us for probably 20 minutes, telling us why she loved the US (the people are great and the opportunities are great, etc.) and her rationale for hating Americans, which was humorous. At one point, she said that Americans were terrible because they have electrical wires above ground. I know, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that seemed like an odd reason to hate an entire group of people, especially if you want to live among them. Plus, I don't know how one goes from loving the US for its people and then hating the US for its people. Then again, she could have it right and we are all mistaken. Who knows? Regardless, it was a very interesting interaction. :)

The one really beneficial piece of information this woman told us was that the best view of Bad Tolz was from the church up on the hill. We took her advice and tried to navigate our way up there with the car. I found out later that day from my coworkers that you can only get to that church by walking/hiking, which explains why we couldn't find the road to get there. I guess I'll just have to go back and try to get there another weekend. I am determined to see that view, as Bad Tolz was probably one of my favorite towns around Penzberg.

Although we weren't able to get "the" photograph of the town, here are a few pictures that we took around Bad Tolz. Note: The church in the photo below is NOT the church up on the hill. Sigh.

Both Justin and I had meetings to attend for work on Monday afternoon, so we weren't able to head back out to explore Bavaria until that evening. When we were trying to decide where to go next, we let our stomachs guide us. We found that Oberammergau, another small town about 30 or 40 minutes from Penzberg, has a Mexican food restaurant, and that was too fun to pass up. We were both curious what Mexican food would taste like in Germany, and we heard that Oberammergau was a great town to visit. So, we packed up the car and headed out to El Puente (the restaurant).

El Puente didn't open until 6PM, and we arrived in the town at 5:30, so we took that opportunity to wander around the town. There were many different hand-carved wood shops to tour that were just incredible. In one of the stores, the clerk even took the opportunity to show us how a couple of the impressive cuckoo (spelling?) clocks worked, one of which had a water component to it. He also (very smartly) told us that these were NOT clocks for a casual collector, as they need a lot of maintenance, attention, and care. We didn't have the heart to tell him we weren't interested in them anyway because they cost anywhere from 800 to 1500 euros each. That's a little more than we have to spend on souvenirs for this trip. :)

At a little after 6PM, we found our way back to El Puente. And, to our surprise, the food was pretty good! The flavoring reminded me of a Spanish-influenced Tex Mex. But in the true Bavarian spirit, the portions were HUGE (I have yet to finish a meal here, I think). The waitress warned me that my fajitas were going to be spicy, but I suppose that description was relative. The seasoning was tasty and mild, and the ingredients all tasted fresh. Needless to say, Justin and I were pleased with our gut instincts. :)

With happy, full bellies, we took a few pictures of this beautiful town and headed home for the evening. (If you look closely at the mountain peak below, you may be able to make out the cross that is on top.)

On Tuesday, Justin's last day in town, we decided to see what all the fuss was about the castles in this area. We chose to go to Linderhof, one of the only castles that King Ludwig actually completed. Plus, Linderhof is close to Oberammergau, so we already knew the way there.

Linderhof is a lot smaller than we expected, but the grounds were expansive. We took the tour through the castle (sorry, no cameras were allowed in there), which took about 15 minutes, and then we headed out to the Venus Grotto. The interior of the castle was unbelievably opulent and almost too much to behold. Modeled after Versailles, all but one room were covered in gold (the one exception was covered in silver because it was more appealing to have the contrast of silver against the gold tones of the room). There were many portraits of King Louis XIV and Ludwig's royal relatives, including his briefly betrothed and her sister (who were also his first cousins). There was so much to see that I could probably take the tour several more times and find something new and different to look at each time. I think my favorite items in the castle were the twin peacock statues, in perfect brilliant color and size, that were used by the castle staff, placed outside the castle when it was occupied by Ludwig (about 2 weeks per month). They were just stunning and beautiful.

After the tour (which, ironically, exits through the gift shop, for all you Banksy fans, on the other side of a "secret door" in the stairway), we were told to go up to the Venus Grotto, that our ticket covered that tour as well. WHAT A HIKE! To get to the grotto, we walked through vine covered walkways and along a beautiful path through the woods. However, the paths at Berchtesgaden that I took three days earlier were NOTHING compared to (what felt like) the 40-degree inclines to get up the hill to the grotto. I seriously thought about taking a breather a few times on the way up, but I saw so many other people just trekking along, so I was bound and determined to get up there without stopping either (and I wonder why my hips are revolting against my pelvis right now...).

We arrived at the Venus Grotto entrance just in time for the tour. And that was the highlight of that tour. We just weren't that impressed with the interior of the grotto: I love the painting of the birth of Venus and know the story, so I appreciated the beautiful sculpture in the middle of the water within the cave, but there was so much backlighting and scaffolding (that looked like it was there to help host a party, NOT to support or restore a piece of history) that the whole mood of the grotto was sullied. We actually left part way through the narrative because it wasn't our cup of tea.

Once outside, we took the opportunity to get some pictures of the grounds from on top of the hill. What a view! The only downside was that the water features on the back of the castle were shut off for maintenance, but the view was still spectacular. And we couldn't have asked for a prettier day. Here are a few of the pictures of the grounds:

After our adventure to Linderhof, we drove down to Garmisch just to say we'd been there, and then we headed home to get ready for dinner with our friend. We let our friend pick the restaurant, and he recommended a convent (cloister) in Benediktbauern, about 10 minutes from Penzberg. The convent is fairly old with a beautiful cemetery (yes, I know that sounds weird, but it was just beautiful and peaceful) and an amazing church. We toured both (without taking pictures) and then headed back over to the cloister's biergarten. The menu was mainly Bavarian, with a special "Spargel" (white asparagus) menu that I decided to pass up (I've had so many spargel over the last few weeks that I might turn into spargel if I have much more!). I had a traditional plate of meats, cheeses, and bread, while Justin had some jaegerschnitzel. And we finished the evening with apple strudel. Yum!

Afterwards, we headed home and got Justin ready to fly back home to Indy the next morning. Our friend, thankfully, helped us figure out Justin's train schedule to get him back to the Munich airport without much to-do the next morning, which was a tremendous help. Of course, if I could have had it my way, I would have kept Justin here with me for the rest of my stay, but I don't think work or Buckley or Cagney or even our families or friends would have been too thrilled about that...

Justin arrived home safe and sound on Wednesday evening, and Buckley and Cagney (and probably his family and friends) were glad to see him. :)

We made the most of our short Bavarian holiday; our only regret is that we didn't have more time. We have definitely identified some places we will have to travel to together next time. I don't think this will be our only trip to this part of the world.