Europe 2019 - Part 1 - Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy
Six Countries in 21 Days Including a Croatian Island Yacht Cruise
What started as a friends suggestion to look into a cruise of the Dalmatian Coast quickly blossomed to a 21-day adventure that covered six countries. Turned out to be an amazing trip full beautiful sites across a varied landscape of big cities, rural outbacks, tall mountain peaks, rolling hills, rocky coasts, deep blue waters, two-thousand-year-old ruins, 40 shades of green grazing land and some great local Food, Beer and Wine!
Traveling with a group of 9 friends added character to the journey, even though we have traveled abroad with the majority of them, it was fun to introduce new members to the group too. We all managed, just like one big family to adapt to the rhythm of the group (some a little quicker to adapt than others😉). That's what makes traveling so much fun, the memories of the moments shared are what makes the journey live on.
Mary and I began this trip with a flight from LAX to Dublin, where we met Dan then caught a short flight to our first destination, Munich. AM, Manny, and Jimmy joined us in Munich the next day then after a few days, we all jumped into a rented van for a two day drive through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. John and Laura joined the group in Lake Como where we spent the next three days in a Villa on the North end of Lake Como. We then flew to Split Croatia where Dan's friend Lynn joined the group for an eight-day Dalmatian Coast small Yacht cruise through the deep blue waters of the Adriatic, stopping at several small island towns along the way ending up in Dubrovnik. After three days in Dubrovnik Dan, Lynn, Mary and I flew to Dublin for three days before returning to the states.
By the way, Croatia is a gem! Discovered by many eastern Europeans as a great warm-weather travel destination it has yet to see its peak of Western European and American travelers. You should consider a trip to explore it's history and beauty and doing so by one of the many small Yacht cruises available.
It's a long read but here’s our story…Make sure to click on the < or > arrows in the photos to view all in each group
GERMANY - Munich
The weather in Munich was warm but comfortable. We stayed at the Hotel Munchen Palace, located just outside the tourist areas and near the Englischer Garten (English Garden), a large public park in the center of Munich, stretching from the city center to the northeastern city limits. The hotel was very nice, quiet with a very friendly staff, great amenities, breakfast and bar with a few good restaurants within walking distance (4 stars). There is an amazing upscale market across the street Feinkost Kafer, that has everything from a small bistro to cheeses, meats, wines, sweets, pastries and coffee that you continue to discover as you walk through the maze up and downstairs turning each corner revealing another section high of quality goods. Mary, Dan and I were the first to arrive getting to the hotel late the first night. Following a long day of travel, we headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap and met Wolfgang the friendly and witty bartender who has worked there for 20+ Years. We enjoyed the conversation and met another American couple who happen to live about 20 minutes from Dan in Arizona, it’s a small world!
The next morning I woke up early and ventured out for a short walk around the area to explore our surroundings. It was a beautiful Saturday morning so the streets were quiet providing a good opportunity to peacefully enjoy the surroundings. I walked toward the Isar river, past the quiet offices and residences, the Villa Stuck Museum and paintings of artist Franz von Stuck displayed in his luxurious and spacious former home, and the Friedensengel park whose statue of a golden angel on a column is a monument to peace with mosaics & a viewing deck. Finally reaching the ornate bridge crossing the immense Isar rivers heavy flow of water winding its way through tree-lined banks of the city, I reversed course back to the hotel.
We borrowed bikes from the hotel this morning and ventured into the English Gardens park. The park is massive with several bike trails, rivers and grassy areas including two massive beer gardens. Many of the Oktoberfest activities are held in this park where in addition to the existing beer gardens, massive beer garden tents are set up in the grassy expanses of the park. We first stopped to watch the river surfers carving it up on a wave created by an anomaly in the fast-flowing river. Several locals dawned in their wet-suits with surfboards in hand queued up to take their turn entertaining the crowds that gathered to watch. A bit perplexing to see surfboards mounted to bikes riding through the city and the passionate few carrying surfboards on the city's buses and trolleys, especially in a city far away from the nearest coast. We stopped at Fräulein Grüneis, a small shack in the park where we had coffee and a snack then continued our ride through the park and soon ran across another fast-flowing stream where locals were cooling off by jumping in upstream and riding the current to a stopping point of a rope strung across to grab on to and work your way over to the concrete edge and a ladder. In the river below the rope, there was another surf spot jammed with local riders getting their fix and showing off their skills.
Continuing our ride through the park we came across the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) and beer garden and stopped for a beer and large Bavarian pretzel. This is a massive area with more than a thousand picnic-style tables scattered under the shade trees far and wide. The large beer and food stalls were packed with many old Munich’s favorites; pork knuckles, sausages, pretzels, and Obatzda a Bavarian Cheese dip (made from Camembert, cream cheese and butter seasoned with paprika, cumin, and caraway) and of course beer. We were there relatively early for the locals around noon on a Saturday so only a few hundred people were enjoying the area. They were setting up additional beer stands and entertainment stages for tomorrow's big community celebration, The Kocherlball or Cook's Ball. The celebration began around 1880 where working servants in Munich started to meet every Sunday in summer (at the crack of dawn) at the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), to dance and have fun early enough so they could return to their work before their employers returned from church. Today thousands of Munich locals meet at dawn at the Chinesischer Turm dressed to impress for a spot of dancing and of course, beer.
We continued riding through the park to the Seehaus, another beer garden about half the size of the Chinese Tower where we sat next to a lake filled with ducks and swans, having a beer while waiting for the rest of our group to arrive from their overnight flight. Once they arrived we decided on lunch at Seehaus where Wiener Schnitzel was the popular choice of our group…and of course, beer.
We rode back through the garden to our hotel then headed out to old town for a scheduled bike tour of the city (Mikes Bikes). We opted for the private tour since the groups were far too large to interact with the guide. Our American guide was fun and informative providing an open honest depiction of the city’s history and the role of Hitler and his followers. The locals are very open and upfront about the mistakes made in Munich that allowed Hitler to gain the power to conduct the atrocities of his reign of 1933 to 1945. We rode past the famous Hofbrauhaus, Old town hall, Neues Rathaus, Peterskirche, Marienplatz, Odeonsplatz, Residenz, and back through the English Garden. Late on a hot Saturday afternoon, the garden was packed with locals sunning themselves on the large open grass areas, cooling off under the shade trees, wading through the creeks and streams and otherwise enjoying the park. A few chose the clothing-optional theme while sunning in the park. The Chinese tower beer garden was now full with locals and tourists enjoying the shaded picnic benches, plentiful food and beer in a festive environment that included an oom pah pah band dressed in traditional attire perched high up in the tower. Of course, we had to stop and join in with beer and snacks of traditional pretzels and Obatzda Cheese dip. We maneuvered our bikes through the crowds in the park eventually ending up back in the old city where we completed our tour and history lesson. The boys stayed in Oldtown for a while while the gals made their way back to the hotel.
An amazing breakfast spread in the hotel this morning was a great start for a day of touring.
Our tour guide met us at the hotel this morning for a trip out to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. We walked to the train station, then took a bus to the entrance of the memorial site. Our guide was very knowledgeable and again provided an open and insightful dialog surrounding the Hitler era and why atrocities were allowed by the locals. Dachau is a must-see sight while you are in the area, its sobering to see the physical sight and to learn about what happened here and in other locations in and outside of Germany during this time. Unless you have studied this era in-depth, it's hard to fathom the scope of what took place. Being able to view and discuss the era with someone who is an expert on the subject provided immense insight.
WARNING Photos depict graphic images of the concentration camp facilities
Following our journey through Dachau we headed back to the hotel then out to Old Town to walk the area stopping by the Glockenspiel hoping to see the display and movement of the clock but were too late for the last showing. We were on the hunt for some good pork knuckle (Haxn) which Munich is famous for so the hotel sent us to Haxnbauer where we found just what we were looking for! After dinner, we headed to the packed Hofbrauhas for a beer in this 16th-century beer hall. In February 1920 Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists held their first meeting in the Festsaal (the Festival Room) on the third floor of the Hofbrauhas, where our guide told us they continued to meet in private to recruit people who were in positions of power into the Third Reich party and plan their strategies, led by Hitler. It was Erie to look into the room and imagine what was taking place in those early formative years. On the lighter side, we came across a room on the second floor where there was a private banquet and got to listen to a traditional Bavarian band for a few.
If you don't know already the Germans love their beer and drink it like water. The beer is really good but remember, they are very well trained so trying to keep pace with their consumption is not recommended. The Irish also drink a wee bit so while we were there I asked our guide who he thought drank more beer, the Germans or the Irish? Without hesitation, he said "Oh the Germans do by far"
What we liked about the Munich area
Hotel Munchen Palace – Luxury hotel, Great concierge, quiet location close to the main attractions in the city. Say hello to Wolfgang the bartender
English Garden for walking, biking, Chinese Tower Beer Garden, River Surfing, and laying around in the grass.
Mikes Bikes riding tour of the city
Dachau Concentration camp memorial
Hofbrauhas for beer and entertainment
Haxnbauer for Meat!
Walking through the old town and experience the history and architecture.
Headed out of Munich today continuing our adventure through Germany, Austria and Switzerland (and the border of Liechtenstein) on our way to our stopover point of Davos. Manny and I headed out in early rush hour traffic to pick up our rented van which would be our mode of transportation for the next few days. After about an hour delay we finally got the van and headed back to the hotel to pick up the rest of the group and meet our guide for the day, Nicolas. Mary and the crew picked up Coffee, snacks, and pastries from the market across the street for the road trip. Nicolas Led us out of town stopping at Ettal for a quick tour of the vast Benedictine Monastery & Baroque Church with frescoed dome, liqueur distillery & bookstore. Then off to the quaint Bavarian alpine village of Oberammergau known for its ornate and intricate wood carvings, a once-a-decade performance of the Passion Play, and The House of Pilate's restored frescoes by Franz Seraph Zwinck woodcarvers and artists. A white knuckle scenic drive along narrow alpine roads barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic, then add in the occasional bicycle riders that suddenly appear around blind corners bringing traffic to a halt, led us to our next stop for a well-deserved lunch and beer. Hotel Forelle is a small hotel and restaurant across the Austrian border on the edge of a scenic alpine lake where Deer Goulash was the specialty. Our last stop with our guide Nicolas was Neuschwanstein Castle where due to the crowds we opted for a view and history from a distance versus an inside tour.
After saying farewell to our guide for the day we ventured out on our own (with a little help from google maps) through the back roads of beautiful Austrian and Swiss countryside brushing up against the border of Liechtenstein and ending in Davos. One of the most beautiful countryside drives winding through small villages, farmland green gentle sloping hills, lots of farm animals and very old traditional homes and structures. Arriving in Davos, the town was a bit of a let down as it is more modern compared to the traditional Bavarian/Swiss villages we have passed through. One night only here in the odd-looking modern Intercontinental hotel that staff described being designed to look like a pine cone but ended up looking like a modern egg which it is now fondly referred to. Being in Switzerland we decided to try traditional fondue for dinner tonight at Pulsa Fondue Stube. It was well prepared and the service was very attentive but very heavy and filling especially after spending most of the day traveling in the car.
What we liked about the drive from Munich to Davos
Driving Tour from Munich through Austrian mountains and lakes to Neuschwanstein Castle (Our guide was Nicolas Prompt www.nicolasprompt.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, He’s also a professional photographer)
Drive on our own from Neuschwanstein Castle to Davos through the back roads and countryside of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria
Klosters vs Davos, Klosters is a more traditional Swiss Village where Davos is a bit more modern
SWITZERLAND/ITALY – The Alps
Off this morning continuing our road trip today through the Alps. We stopped at the nearby village of Klosters for a quick glimpse of the traditional village and a stop at the Coop market for supplies. Manny took the helm today headed up the steep slope and the long downhill as toward our next destination of Colico in Lake Como Italy. The scenery was once again jaw-dropping as we pass steep granite peaks of the Alps, view snow-capped mountains and glaciers in the distance and pass through small towns and villages perched on the side of mountains or in the valleys below. Once we reached the peak of the roadway through this section of the Alps we found several portions of the road with steep switchbacks which seemed to be dropping us significantly in elevation. We continued to venture downhill for what seemed to be hours, we must have started at very high elevation. We stopped for a quick lunch in St Moritz, must have picked the worst restaurant in town! Continuing our downslope journey we passed a large lake filled with hundreds of kite surfers, we figured it must have been some sort of competition drawing the large numbers.
What we liked about the drive from Davos to Lake Como
Drive on our own over the Alps – spectacular scenery!
ITALY – Lake Como
Crossing the Italian border we continued through fantastic scenery eventually arriving in the town of Colico in the north end of Lake Como where our rented Villa awaited. After checking in, our host escorted us up a narrow road in the small village of Olgiasca where several homes dotted the hillside near Abbey Piona. Arriving at the villa through a gate and narrow twisting road we received our instructions for the next few days and settled in. Villa Meraviglia or Villa Olgiasca which was the sign on the outside is an older home appearing as most do with several additions to it over time which makes it unique, sits on a hillside overlooking Lake Como and features six bedrooms and several indoor and outdoor gathering spots. We watched a pair of deer run around on the hillside just below the villa.
Lake Como was experiencing very hot and humid weather, mid ninety degrees with humidity in the 60-70 percent range it was stifling. The Villa as with most older homes did not have air conditioning which made the next few days very uncomfortable. Thankfully the pool was cool and just the right cure for the heat. Laura and John joined the group following their visit to Milan then Jimmy Mary and I ventured out to stock up on groceries for the next few days. Jimmy had volunteered to make dinner for the group tonight so he came with a shopping list in hand. The Villa host recommended a grocery store in Colico which resembled a Walmart Superstore on steroids…inside a shopping mall. It was difficult to find the things we needed in this enormous store but we finally managed to piece together what we needed, we miss the small Coop stores we found along our journey.
Back at the Villa, in the stifling heat Jimmy, Mary and a few other volunteers cooked up an amazing dinner for our first night. We sat out on the veranda overlooking the lake and enjoyed dinner and Italian wine. Didn’t cool down much overnight as the breeze subsided making sleep difficult for all despite the provided fans in the rooms.
With everyone a little groggy from lack of sleep we were slow to rally today. John and Laura were off to meet one of their former exchange students nearby for lunch while Mary, Dan and I drove to the Abbey nearby to take a look. The Abbey grounds and buildings were beautiful with vegetable gardens and fruit trees growing in abundance around the perimeter. On our way back Jimmy joined us for a drive down the east coast of the lake, AM and Manny stayed behind to cool off in the pool. We stopped in Varenna for a walk around and a beverage, it felt good to be in an air-conditioned van on the drive. Varenna is a cute little lakeside village with shops and restaurants on the shore near the ferry terminal. There are several ferry’s that make getting around the lake simple for locals and tourists alike. As Dan, Mary, Jimmy and I were enjoying a cold beer, John and Laura called to see where we were and try to catch up with us. They took a short train ride from Colico to Varenna and joined us on the veranda in Verenna for beverages.
We continued our sightseeing drive in the comfort of air conditioning down the shoreline where we turned around at Lecco and took the highway back to the Villa. Dinner tonight was at a small hotel restaurant virtually at the top of our driveway, Albergo Ristorante Conca Azzurra. Food, wine, and service were nice with our table overlooking the lake from high above.
For our last full day in Lake Como, we planned a full-day private boat tour with Como Lake Boats on an Italian made Cranchi Endurance 30’ boat. We also decided yesterday to hire a local chef to come to the Villa and prepare an authentic Italian dinner for us tonight. Temperatures overnight were not quite as hot as the first night thanks for an early evening thunderstorm that raged across the lake all night. Still very hot though so a day on the lake with stops for swimming are in order. We headed to the Colico boat docks in the morning stopping off to retrieve some cold beer and snacks for the boat. Our driver Mauricio, a man of very few words and strong Italian machismo helped us on board and assisted with a plan for the days sightseeing.
Mauricio, through his tough exterior you could tell he was a kind man and very proud of his work. He engaged us in a little information about Villas and sights along the way including his top 3 favorites on the lake. We stopped in front of the Clooney’s place to see if they would come out and greet us but maybe they were out of town for the week? Several beautiful towns and buildings surround the Lake and were great to see from the waters vantage point. We stopped at Bellagio and walked the city’s stairways filled with shops and restaurants, ducking into one that was air-conditioned for a quick cold beer. Bellagio is one of the more famous towns on the lake and heavily populated by tourists. Glad we didn’t stay near here. Mauricio took us to this fantastic little restaurant across from Bellagio on the west side of the lake. Locanda La Tirlindana where covered tables sat just at the water's edge where boats docked to each side, a quaint little spot for us to sit and enjoy the lifestyle. Only a handful of tables made service extremely attentive and the food was perfect along with some great Italian wine recommendations. After lunch, we stopped for a swim then continued the rest of our journey across the lake seeing the spectacular sights along the way.
Arriving back to the Villa in the early evening, Maria our chef was working her magic in the hot Kitchen with smells of garlic and roasting meat flowing from her kitchen. A quick dip in the pool and clean up before dinner on the veranda. Maria served several courses; Appetizers of Caprese salad, and cantaloupe wrapped in Parma ham; the first course was fresh egg pasta with bolognese second-course veal with lemon served with crispy potatoes and for dessert panna cotta with berries. Traditional Italian home cooking was a great way to end our stay in Italy. A relatively early evening for the group since we depart at 5:00 am to make our flight from BGY airport near Bergamo.
What we liked about Lake Como
Don’t go there in July/August – Too Hot!
The Villa was in a nice location on the North end of Lake Como in a hilly residential area near the Piona Abbey. It sits high on the hill with great views of the lake with a path to the lake but difficult to swim from the shore here. two restaurants very close are good choices within walking distance. Colico is nearby for access to more shops, restaurants and boat hire or Ferry. No air conditioning though, and the home has challenging air circulation. We were there in 90+ degrees, 70% humidity and nearly impossible to stay inside or to sleep at night even with the fans provided. Thankfully the pool was a refreshing respite during the day
Hire a boat to tour the lake, much better way to see the villages, villas, and sights. We used Como Lake Boats. Mauricio was our captain for the day
Lunch at Locanda La Tirlindana accessed by boat on the west shore of the lake
Great inexpensive Italian wines