Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fall Trips

We had the opportunity to use Ben's parents' car for a few weeks in the fall, so we took some weekend trips.

First was Bodensee (Lake Constance). We started in Lindau. It was kind of rainy and windy, but the view from the shore out to the lighthouse and lion statue was still nice. We also walked around the nice old town area. Next we drove along the coast to Wasserburg, which is more of a summer vacation town. We walked around the shore there and past a lot of charming B&Bs. Then it was on to Friedrichshafen, which is one of the larger cities on the lake, but one of the newer, more industrial ones, and is known for zeppelins. They have a nice promenade along the lake, but it was rainy and foggy when we were there, so there wasn't much of a view. All of the many cafes along the way were full anyway. We then drove on to our hotel in Meersburg. We had originally planned to stay in Friedrichshafen, but could only find a hotel in Meersburg, which turns out to be a good thing, since Meersburg is much more picturesque (also touristy). Our hotel, the Gasthof zum Baeren, is centuries old and right in the old town. The city has a medieval castle, so we went there first. Most of the rooms have medieval decor, but some have furniture and such from later centuries. After the castle, we walked down to the waterfront area. It was the time of year for "new wine" (known by many different regional names), so we went into a wine shop/bar and had a glass. The next day we moved on to Konstanz, the largest city on the lake. They, too have a nice waterfront promenade and a weird rotating statue on a pier. Next we saw 3 old churches on Reichenau. Our last stop on the lake was Ueberlingen. The weather was much nicer that day, so we stopped at one of the many crowded cafes with outdoor tables on the promenade for the popular coffee/cake combo and some more new wine (you have to drink it while you can, since it's not around long). On the drive back, we stopped in Ravensburg, of puzzle fame, and walked around the old town.

The following (extended) weekend we headed north to Franconia and Thuringen. First stop was Bamberg. Bamberg is a very nice city, and consequently popular with tourists. We were also there during Oktoberfest, so we think that was a popular day trip from Munich. First we saw the cathedral and surrounding old buildings, and got some lunch with more new wine, even though the city has famous smoky beer. Then we headed up the hill to Michaelsberg Abbey, which has over 600 medicinal plants painted on the ceiling. There was a new wine festival happening on the premises. Then we walked along "Little Venice" and saw the old town hall on the river. Next we drove to Bayreuth, which is where the annual Wagner opera festival takes place in the summer. We saw the old opera house, which we were lucky to see, since it closed for multi-year renovations 2 days after we were there. It is filled with elaborate wooden decorations. We had some of the local specialty, Klöße (dumplings, often potato dumplings), for dinner. The next day we saw the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which was built under Wagner's supervision and is used exclusively for his opera festival. We also saw the graves of Wagner and his dog Russ. We then drove to Coburg and saw the old town, then headed up to the large, attractive Veste (fortress/castle). Finally we drove into Thuringen to its capital of Erfurt. You wouldn't know Thuringen was part of East Germany, except for some remaining Ampelmännchen and occasional Soviet street names. We walked through part of the old town and the Oktoberfest carnival happening in the cathedral plaza, and saw the Bernd das Brot statue next to the Rathaus (town hall). The next day we went to Goethe-central, aka Weimar. Weimar was also home to a whole host of other famous Germans (see list), the Bauhaus art movement, and the Weimar Republic. Unfortunately the Goethe museum and the Anna Amalia library were closed (Mondays), but we saw many other historic locations and monuments. Weimar also has several streets with art nouveau houses, which are very nice. The next day we saw more of Erfurt, including the cathedral, paintings in the Rathaus, and Krämerbrücke (like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence or Rialto in Venice). Then we drove to Eisenach. Aside from being the birthplace of J.S. Bach, the main attraction there is Wartburg castle, so we walked up there first. Parts of the original medieval castle remain, and the rest was continuously updated. Inside, where we couldn't take pictures, are several impressive romantic-era mosaics, the music hall that was the site of a medieval minstrels' contest and the inspiration for Wagner's opera Tannhäuser, and the room where Martin Luther hid out for a while. After the castle we saw the old town, including Bach's birthhouse and one of the houses where Luther lived. Our hotel was a villa on a hill next to the city, which had many other cool villas. If it wasn't already known for Wartburg, I would consider Eisenach the City of Villas. The next day we drove home, stopping in the half-timbered town of Schmalkalden and then Meiningen.

Our last weekend, before we returned the car, we went to Burg Hohenzollern. It was originally medieval, but was mostly destroyed twice, and the current castle is mostly from the romantic era, in the gothic/medieval style. It's pretty neat.

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