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Three Castles and a Monastery 25 January 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Happiness, Travelling, Travels.
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As flights were delayed and cancelled all around Europe, we were worried that we would not be able to travel onwards from Warsaw. I was checking the weather forecasts (and the news about the Christmas tree in Japan being lit up with the electricity generated by an eel) anxiously as we awoke on the Monday morning to snow twirling outside of the windows. We were in luck, however, both Warsaw and Munich airports seem to have heard of this winter phenomenon (“snow”) before, and neither one was seemingly having much trouble. Our flight ended up being only 30 minutes delayed.

We arrived in Munich after dark, and took the train to Marienplatz, where we had found a place to stay. The underground at Marienplatz was cold, grey, and uninviting, though not as cold as the weather had been in Poland. Yet stepping out onto the market square (albeit with suitcases hobbing along behind us) was like stepping into a Christmas romance. The Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) there is quite famous, and as we emerged from under ground, there were carollers lined up along the balcony of the Town Hall, singing. Fairy lights, Christmas decorations, sausage stands and other booths selling anything you might need at a Christmas market made us determined to drop off the bags as quickly as possible, and return to drink in the delights of European Christmas.

Image courtesy of the Internet

A most refreshing thing is that the Christmas markets seem to not only be filled with tourists like us, but the locals come out as well to try their hand at the famous gluhwein. Groups of smiling people gathering around standing tables with their real cups (upon return to the stand, you would receive a deposit back), all wrapped up in scarves and gloves, breathing frosty air and enjoying the Christmas spirit together.

Although I must admit that the gluhwein of Poland has a far more potent kick to it than the one in Germany, (who would have thought?) I never thought I could consume this much of it. But everywhere we went, it was a complete must, and we enjoyed letting our spectacles fog up from the cups containing the boiling liquid. For dinner? Currywurst with bread ordered in my most atrocious German. Currywurst is a famous (and delicious) sausage, which, it appears, also has a museum dedicated to it in Berlin. Let the sausage diet begin.

Bavaria has much to offer, but getting around is not easy. The “Romantic Road” is serviced by a number of tour bus companies in summer, but in winter, you are hard pressed to find one. Trains are available, but afford little or no flexibility in general. As we are terrible at deciding in advance what we wish to do on our holidays, flexibility is a must, so we rented a car.

We joined the Romantic Road towards the end of it (at Landsberg am Lech) where we had a break to look at the church and the town in general. Churches in Bavaria (mostly Catholic) are gilded with gold, and have fantastic frescoes. Most of them are open to the public, and shelter a weary traveller somewhat from the cold outside, although they are generally not heated.

From there, we went on to stay at Irseer Klosterbrau, which is an old monastery/ beer brewery which had been recommended to us. It is like stepping back in time, with the rooms entirely fashioned to look like (a modernised and idealised version of) the middle ages; think knights and maidens and eating meat and drinking beer in front of a fire. The beer brewed on site is fantastic, and served in huge steins, or beer mugs. This side trip alone made it totally worth it having the car!

The next day, we did as many castles as we could possibly stomach:

Hohenswangau, a castle built by Maximillian II near the Austrian border. We were taken on a highly efficient but fun tour through the rooms, by a very knowledgeable guide called Wolfgang.

Neuschwanstein, the unfinished castle started by Ludwig II, but stopped after his sudden (and suspicious) death. The famous Disney castle apparently was inspired by this castle. We missed out on going on a horse carriage on the way up to the castle, but we did catch one back down.

Linderhof, which we saw only after closing time, as getting there takes you into Austria, then back into Germany, and is a small mountain road with a lot of snow. Seeing the snow-covered mountains and the icy lakes was a serene and beautiful experience in itself, but driving a small car through them was exhausting. I haven’t done any winter driving for years, so it took a bit of getting used to, especially with giant trucks coming the other way. So getting there took longer than expected, but I don’t think we could have processed the opulence of (yet another) castle had we been there before closing. Walking through the gardens was enough.

That evening we continued to Garmish-Partenkirchen, a mountain town that anyone who follows winter sports will be familiar with (at least by name): I spent every New Year’s Day of my youth with the television on in the back ground showing the annual ski-jumping contest. Cue for more gluhwein, sausage, Christmas markets, cheese fondue, raclette and skiing!

And with that, we ended our Bavarian adventure, as we headed onwards into Austria the next day. Only half-way through our holidays, we were stoked that everything was so perfect!

In the words of Tom Lehrer: Spring again… 10 April 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, Travelling.
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Spring is a many splendored thing. And I tend to forget the amazing coming to life of the North European countries during this time.

I arrived two weeks ago, when bitterly cold winds were gushing around corners, when I thanked the foresight that I had had in bringing my winter coat as I was standing at the ferry terminal, teeth nearly chattering.

It is worth noting here, of course, that I have been extremely spoilt of late – I have not been around for any truely cold winters for a while. Vietnam seldom has minus degrees, at least in Hanoi, and we left Australia just before winter took hold before that.

So any cold is a shock to my system. Yet there were little signs of hope already on those first days: the crocuses were about to wither and the daffodils were in full, yellow glory in the fields. The ones around the house were also getting along fast, and were just about to burst open when we left last week. Before leaving, though, I witnessed many avian courtships in the garden, and I even spotted the year’s first rabbit happily chomping away on the grass.

The fields were quickly filling with lambs, little fuzzy looking things on short, stocky legs, fluttering their long tails as they drank their fill from their mothers.

Britain seemed just those few steps further along, though, with leaves bursting out of their buds, bushes flowering, and birds on nests tending their eggs. We could cycle along the Thames in the sunshine today, and we lunched outside.

If you have never really lived in a cold climate, where the world seems to die over winter, you will never truely understand the magnificence of nature coming to life again. Perhaps it is similar in extremely dry areas after rains. It is magnificent.

Yesterday, we drank tea on the back porch and saw the first butterfly. Today we saw countless more. It feels as if it is a change from one day to the next – everything bursts with energy, and it is no wonder how spring brings around love and hormones. I mean, in the words of Cole Porter: let’s do it, let’s fall in love.

That is spring to me.

It is best described by the yearly occurance all through the Netherlands when the cattle that has been held inside for months on end over winter is first released back into the fields: they leap and jump, and are said to dance for joy of being outside again. I hope you will get to see that, too, one day.