We had a lovely 24 hours on our Car Ferry from Greece to Venice, Italy. The car ferry is no cruise ship but a very basic smallish ship which carries lots of semi-trailers and cars and then has 2 floors of cabins and a main lounge area with a bar and restaurant serving a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With a propensity to get very motion sick, I was a little trepidatious about these 24 hours but I took about 3 Bonine (motion sick pills) over the 24 hours, slept a lot and felt fine and the trip saved us about 4 days of driving back over countries we had already traveled and hotels, meals, etc. Well worth it and a fun, different experience. We have had lots of different transportation opportunities: cars (2), trains, car ferry (2), funiculars (cable cars), metros (subways), buses and more!
We hadn’t planned to go back to Venice as we had already been there a few years ago but since the ship docked there, we did spend a couple of days. Not much had changed but our stay was not as impressive as our first visit and prices were high and for February, there were a lot of people. The town is still very beautiful and unique with over 400 bridges creating the unique network of canals which which connect the many islands that make up the area of Venice.
Vaporetto boats in the canals are used like buses to get around Venice.
Our drive from Venice to Salzburg, Austria was stunning. We had our mud+snow tires and the Italian Alps transitioning to the Dolomites (Austrian Alps) were beautiful snow covered huge peaks of this rugged mountain range. It was neat to see the transition to small Bavarian villages, ski towns and lots of snow with clear roads over very high mountain passes often times closed for snow but luckily not this year. We have been so fortunate that Europe has had a warmer winter this year allowing us to travel throughout the northern Countries without a problem for the most part. Salzburg is the ‘Home of the Sound of Music” where it was filmed which gives you some idea of the amazing terrain surrounding Salzburg. While the ‘home of Mozart’, it was just a nice town to visit and pretty unremarkable except for a castle on the hill overlooking the town.
Stunning snow-covered Dolomite Mountain Range in Austria.
Our drive from Salzburg to Munich, Germany (Bavaria as locals make it clear it is not really Germany which it is but they identify as Bavarians) was made on a snowy day – our first but just flurries and flat land. Munich was a really nice city. We had a great 3-hour Walking Tour in the snow but a great intro to the depth of history in this city – Birthplace of the Nazi Movement. Hitler was actually Austrian but changed his citizenship to Germany as he rose to power. We learned a lot about the Nazi Movement and visited Dachau Concentration Camp which Larry will share about further. The main plaza, Marienplatz, has the famous Glockenspiel clock that does a show everyday at 11am and 1pm. Of course, Munich is the home of beer (Octoberfest!) and below is a photo of one of the prettiest and oldest beer halls in Munich.
Hoffbraus House Beer Hall
From Munich we headed to Eastern Europe to Budapest, Hungary. We had never been to Eastern Europe and so this is breaking new ground for both of us. Budapest is a wonderful city with Buda and Pest on opposite sides of the Danube River. Another Walking Tour (cold and rainy) was wonderful for an overview of how the 2 cities became one and the different flavor of each. It is an easily walkable city and we had a great Airbnb right in the heart of Pest. The city is young and vibrant with restaurants and bars everywhere. There is a new wave of ‘ruin bars’ which are bars operating in literally buildings that were considered ruins but the young entrepreneurs have fortified the buildings for safety and furnished them with thrift store finds so they are eclectic and funky. There are now 14 in Budapest and all the rage.
Decor of the oldest and most famous ‘ruin’ bar in Budapest called Simpla
Buda and Pest separated by the Danube River
We drove back to Austria via Bratislava, Slovakia and had lunch so we can now add another country visited. I had heard so much about Vienna and was really excited to visit. I have to say it has been disappointing. We visited the Schoenbrunn Castle and gardens but while nice not spectacular. The Old Town is a mixed architectural style with some very pretty older buildings but overall the town is very commercial and an unpleasant mix of old and new that don’t really fit well together. Of course, getting the opportunity to visit Vienna is extraordinary and I am grateful for the time but do like some countries and towns more than others.
St. Stephens Basilica in Vienna with its beautiful mosaic tiled roof
Continuing our Eastern European Tour, we are now in Prague, Czech Republic. It is a big city but the Old Town is beautiful. It fortunately didn’t receive much bombing during WW I & II and so the original old buildings stand and are just amazing. Again, big pedestrian walkways, nice people and good food. Good exchange rate and we had a nice time. We actually ran into a person who was in our Budapest walking tour and happened to be in Prague and in our Walking Tour there too. Strange to run into a ‘friendly face’ while traveling but she said she went to Vienna and left early to come to Prague because she didn’t like Vienna either.
St. Vitus Basilica in Prague- stunning from the 14-15th centuries.
One of 14 bridges which cross Prague
Prague has many beautiful churches, the Astronomical Clock and unique buskers just to name a few interesting sites to see. We took a 1/2-day trip to Kutna Hora to see the Unesco Bone Church. This is a very old church that was decorated with human bones. There are more than 40,000 bones in this church and we learned this wasn’t an unusual practice but a bit macabre.
This was supposed to be a respectful way to honor the dead!
Need to be in Paris on the 22nd to turn in our current car (can only keep them for 6 months at a time) and pick up a new one for the remainder of our trip. We are getting a little bigger car since the kids will be visiting. In between now and then, we will be touring Germany more in-depth which should be fun. Going back to southern Germany where we will revisit The Black Forest which is where we went on our honeymoon (30+ years ago) and purchased a ‘real’ cuckoo clock. Should be fun!
UPDATE: I did get the name of the lovely flowering tree I posted in the last blog from my daughter, who is a great researcher. It is called an Angel Trumpet Tree and there is also a similar Trumpet Vine, both of which can be bought online. They are beautiful and I think I will order some for my home garden when I return.
Angel Trumpet Tree in Greece
I agree with Sandra about Venice being different from 4 years ago when we were here last . We had this great memory of a seafood salad we ate, found the same place, and it was not as we remembered. Oh well, the Rialto fish market was still spectacular and we both got a Murano glass memento.
Our next stop was Salzburg, Austria and our ” Bavarian ” tour. Nice city, nice fortress but not necessarily on our top 10 list. We did start to experience winter with snow covered roofs and flurries to see as we walked around. Interestingly, the US is getting a worse winter than this part of Europe which normally has several feet of snow on the ground and temps below freezing. On the drive from Italy to Austria, we did go through some mountain passes where the roads were clear and the ground covered with several feet of snow (and happy skiers).
On the drive to Munich there were flurries but nothing that caused concern with driving. We have noticed that the truck drivers are extremely professional and polite – wish that was true in the States. They pull right so cars can pass and do not ride the left lane unless they can pass another truck quickly . Munich during WWll was destroyed by over 75%. To its credit, the city was rebuilt in the architectural style as pre-war. I am going into a different tangent for the rest of my part of this post as we have been in an area of Nazi roots and rule and it has sort of hit me with the realization that this was not only history, but history in my lifetime. Hitler got his start in Munich and the City has acknowledged its part in this history. They have a wonderful museum called the Documentation Center which was built on the site of the ” Brown Building ” – the main building used by the Party at its inception. The museum is four floors and covers from the end of WWl to the end of of WWll including the area’s long history of supporting the Nazi movement. Add to that a series called ‘Hitler and the Nazi’s’ on Netflix that we watched and our visit to Dachau Concentration Camp and it has been a sobering several weeks. Seeing places in Munich in person that were in the Netflix series and the video clips in the museum was eye opening – Beer Halls that were the Nazi favorites, paths where people did the Nazi salute or be arrested by the Gestapo etc.
Main gate at Dachau – Nazi Humor for camps. Ironic that this is not the original – it was stolen several years ago
What is interesting is that the average German bought into Hitler’s hate- like what he was saying about why Germany was in economic free fall, why the German’s were superior etc . According to the video interviews most people thought he was a fool and would never be a problem – they did not count on his ability to influence and intimidate through violence and terror. We watch current American political news and can’t help but draw some parallels to what happened in Germany and Europe. I will end it before I get into politics.
Budapest is a lovely city that made us feel really comfortable with its vibe and history. Unknowingly, our Airbnb was in the old Jewish Ghetto/Quarter which is the ‘happening’ part of Pest. So many restaurants and bars in the area that served great food and drinks for reasonable prices compared to Italy, Austria and Munich. Budapest also has rebuilt in the old style before the bombing, but has been hampered by being under Communist rule since the end of the war. The food and pastries were wonderful as was the exchange rate.
Budapest Opera House – one statue of many that have interesting female forms
Like Sandra, I was not impressed with Vienna as there are too many new tall buildings in areas where 16th century four-story buildings would be more architecturally pleasing. The statues there were well done – I especially liked the lion below. Sadly, the best food we had was in an Asian Fusion restaurant with an incredible teppanyaki grill with 4 different kinds of squid, fresh scallops in the shell and loads of other goodies.
St. Augustine Church in Vienna
Thankfully Prague has been more of what we seem to find enjoyable in the Eastern European cities with great buildings in the Old Town and a vibe that seems to resonate with us. The local dishes have been better than what we found in Austria, so no more oriental dishes for us. We haven’t seen Buskers for quite awhile and Prague had around 5 in the main square with this being the most interesting and mind boggling. Couldn’t figure this one out.
We need these guys in Asheville
We now head to the Black Forest area of Southern Germany – home of great smoked meats and cookoo clocks as we wind our way back to Paris and a new Peugeot. By that time the Citroen will have passed 22,000km in 6 months – a testament to our many travels.