By the time we made it to Munich, we had very little desire to do any more sightseeing. Unless you consider the beer halls historical sights, in which case, we did plenty of sightseeing.
My former Gold Pride teammate Niki Cross lives in Munich now and is playing for the German club Bayern Munich. She met us at our hotel after her training and took us out on the town. The beers in Germany are absurdly large and delicious. Joe was much better at drinking them than I was. A couple of Niki’s teammates and basketball players met up with us too. The night was a late one and was full of adventures. Needless to say, Joe spent most of the following day in the hotel room.
Niki picked me up again the next day and we tried out the local cuisine before going to my final European soccer game of the trip. It was a Champions League Quarterfinal match, featuring Bayern Munich and Marseille. The atmosphere was incredible, even better than the previous 2 games we had seen. Because Niki plays for the women’s team, we got free second row tickets to the games. We were right up next to all the action. There is nothing like live football matches in Europe.
Finally, we reached our last day in Europe. Our last stop in Munich was the Hofbrauhaus. What an incredible beer hall. The waitresses have some serious arm muscles with the ridiculous amounts of liter beers they carry around. We were there a little before noon and the place was already packed. I’m glad we stopped by to see it before heading to the airport. After an hour train ride from the heart of the city, we arrived at the Munich airport. It was time for our 12 hour direct flight from Munich back to San Francisco!
We were in Heidelberg for much less than 24 hours. More than anything, it was a halfway point in our travels between Berlin and Munich. We were sad not to have more time!
We arrived at about 6:30pm and quickly set out to see what we could in the remaining daylight. After about a 20 minute walk, we made it to the highlight of the city; the Heidelberg Castle. The castle was originally built in AD 1214. It sits high in the hills above the old town center and has been struck by lightning a couple times throughout the centuries. Certain sections have been rebuilt because of that, but it still stands strong and sits beautifully in the hills above the city.
For dinner we stumbled upon a gem right off the main road called Schnitzelbank. It was sort of miraculous we were able to get a table. There are only 6 tables in the entire place and 5 of them were either full or reserved. After we were seated, 5 or 6 couples came in and were turned away. Apparently it is one of the top restaurants in the city. We had one of our best meals of the trip before heading back to our hotel to get some sleep. Heidelberg was a charming little town! It was off to Munich in the morning.
After a long and uneventful train ride, we arrived in Berlin. We got there just before nightfall and hopped on the Ubahn to try and see a couple things before dark. Our first stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial contains almost 3,000 slabs of concrete that vary greatly in height and length, and was designed to create an uneasy, confusing atmosphere. It is apparently very controversial in Berlin as most Germans felt it was unnecessary. It was different than any memorial we’d ever seen. We wandered through it awhile and found our way into the Holocaust Museum. It was expectedly dreary and powerful. We then walked down a couple blocks to the Brandenburg Gate.
The next morning, we joined a bus tour to see the rest of the highlights of the city. Just about all of the landmarks throughout the city were destroyed during WWII, and were rebuilt in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. We were surprised by how new everything seemed despite how old the city is. We stopped off at Checkpoint Charlie and read all about the history of the Berlin Wall and saw a couple tiny chunks of what remains. By this time we were prettttty tired of sightseeing, so we decided to do something a little different. Off to the zoo!
You have not been to the zoo until you have been to the Berlin Zoo. This is a bold statement coming from a San Diegan as ours is one of the best in the world, but I have never seen anything like this. I also would not really endorse it, because the conditions there seem very cruel for the animals. To say we saw the animals up close and personal would be a huge understatement. The lions, tigers and leopards were in probably 10×10 cages that you could walk right up to. There was hardly any separation between the outdoor animals exhibits and the human pathways. We felt like we had to be on the lookout for escaping animals the entire time. OH- and while we walked around it was pretty sunny but chilly for most of the afternoon. It got cloudy out of nowhere and we thought it might rain, and suddenly it started hailing… hard! I thought they were big snowballs, but Joe is from Michigan and said it was hail so we will go with that. We fled to one of the covered exhibits for shelter. Here the monkeys had fun harassing Joe while he tapped on the windows. One baboon in particular didn’t really appreciate this gesture and turned around and rubbed his butt into the glass right where Joe stood. Joe was rightfully offended, although he probably deserved it and everyone around us enjoyed it.
We were exhausted after the zoo so we found dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant (in the hood) and then called it a night. Only two more stops left!
Making it to Prague turned out to be a bit of a miracle. For the most part, the trains in Europe had been wonderful. Always on time, fast, clean and easy. This train experience was a little bit different. We got on an old looking, musty smelling thing and found some open seats. This one did not have seat assignments like most of our other ones, but there weren’t many people aboard so this wasn’t a problem. We left eventually and cruised along slowly, making lots of stops in the middle of nowhere. Not at actual stations, just literally on the middle of the track out in the open. A little odd, but little by little we made our way in what appeared to be the right direction.
After a few hours of this, a train employee came up to us and started trying to explain something to us in German. We had no idea what he was saying, but eventually got, “No more train.” He wrote down some strange names on the back of our ticket and we got off and boarded a random bus he had pointed at. He patted me on the back and gave me a somber look and we were on our way. The bus cruised along a sketchy looking Eastern Europe for a good hour or so and then we arrived at a random train station. We searched the boards and got on the next train that said Praha and a few hours later we made it! It was an uncomfortable, all day journey but we were overwhelmed with joy when we arrived (alive) at the Praha main station.
Prague was a very cool city. We unfortunately hit some bad weather for the day we were there, but we still enjoyed it. We cruised across the Charles Bridge, took a tour around the palace (their President still uses/works there) and wandered through the Jewish district. The Jewish Cemetery was especially interesting. It was closed by the time we got there so we were only able to peak inside, but you could see layers and layers of gravestones built on top of each other. Twelve layers in fact, because it was the only place Jews could be buried for about 3 centuries in Prague. The Old Town area was also very fun. It has an amazing astronomical clock (the only one still working in the world) and tons of street vendors on the roads. We tried chicken skewers and brats at one of them. We also visited the John Lennon Wall, which apparently was used to voice anti-communism sentiments in the 1980’s. Beatles lyrics were written on the wall everyday by young Czechs despite police efforts to cover them up just as quickly. It is still changing all the time today. It was a short trip to Prague! I would love to go back there someday.
In Salzburg we were the ultimate tourists. We stayed in the actual Von Trapp family villa about 10 minutes from downtown Salzburg. A different house was used for the filming of the Sound of Music, but the villa we stayed in was where the magic really happened.
Our first morning we set off for downtown and joined the Sound of Music bus tour (this is the part where we become the ultimate tourists). Below is a picture of our bus. Our tour guide was dressed just like the lady on the left.
Our first stop of the tour was the lake and backyard of the Von Trapp villa. If you watch the movie, you will see the back of the house is never shown during these scenes because the house used for filming is at another location about 20 miles away. The main scene shot here was where Captain Von Trapp returns from Vienna and Maria and the children are so excited they fall out of the boat into the lake. We watched the movie the night before to refresh our memories of all these scenes. Next we visited the actual Villa they used and the cabana in the backyard where Liesl sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” We stopped a few more places and ended at the church where the Captain and Maria are married at the end of the movie. The highlight of the tour was probably Joe singing the soundtrack of the movie at a volume the entire bus could enjoy.
I hope I’m not spoiling it for you, but much of the Sound of Music movie is fabricated and not based on the real story of the Von Trapp family. One thing we learned was that the villa we stayed in was seized by the Nazis when the family fled to the US (not Switzerland like in the movie). The room next to the one we stayed in was used as a study by Hitler’s right hand man, Heinrich Himmler. The room is now used as a chapel. Creepy!
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking along the river and visiting the fortress on a hill in the center of the city. We also tried apple strudel – delicious! For dinner we stopped by a grocery store during our walk home and picked up some meats, cheese, bread, fruit and wine and enjoyed them in the Villa. We packed up for a long train ride to Prague the next morning.
After 4 train rides and 6 or 7 hours of travel, we arrived in Interlaken. It was around 9pm and pitch black outside so we had no idea what sort of scenery surrounded us. We could see a couple lights way off in the distance that we thought might be marking the top of the mountains. They also could have easily been stars. We had to wait until the next morning to find out.
We woke up to breathtaking scenery. We were in a valley surrounded by snow capped mountains in every direction. Jungfraujoch, the highest peak in Europe, was in the distance right outside our window. We had some breakfast and took a train ride up to the top of Europe.
I had a moderate amount of anxiety on the ride up to the top. You take a series of trains for a couple of hours that climb from 1,500 ft all the way up to almost 12,000 ft. Parts of it are so steep that you start to feel like you are on a roller coaster that is slowly climbing to the high point where it will max out and drop you down at full speed. It was scary at times, but the view was incredible the entire way up. Small towns were built into the sides of mountains and the ski slopes were filled with people all the way up.
Finally, we reached the top and set out for the view points… a couple of which are outside. They kindly post the temperature for you to see before you step out. It was -9 for us. It was easily worth losing all feeling in our bodies and me almost sliding across ice into all kinds of people (bad shoe choice… zero grip) just to see the scenery. Luckily I made loud noises and Joe was chasing me so everyone knew I was coming. We took a couple videos and some pictures for as long as we could stand to have our fingers out in the open.
That expedition took most of the day, but when we got back down to the valley in the afternoon we wanted to see the lakes. Interlaken literally translates to between the lakes and we had yet to see any during our stay, so we set out to find one. We looked at a map and took the intercity train to a stop called Darligen that was right by the water. We walked to a nearby park on the lake and relaxed for an hour or so. The water in the lake is so clean and pure because it comes down from the melted snow and glaciers high above. It was beautiful. We thought everything in Switzerland was absolutely beautiful.
In the evening, we found a pub right by our hotel where we stopped for dinner and to try the local beer. We probably stayed there a little bit too long, and ending up having a card tournament playing war and Indian poker. Their card decks only have 36 cards, so we couldn’t come up with too many games. All in all we had a great time in Switzerland… maybe our favorite place yet!