Thursday, August 13, 2015

Over the Mountains and Across the Lakes

Switzerland is an amazing place, ladies and gentlemen. It's too bad about the super high prices and the impossibility of getting a visa and the [mumble mumble mumble], otherwise I kind of think I could spend my life there. 

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We left F├╝ssen and bade Neuschwanstein and its sister castle, Hohenschwangau, a fond goodbye. 



Then it was back over the mountains of Austria and Switzerland and Italy to Milan, where we would be flying to England. 

Unbeknownst to us, our route ended up taking us through the roof of the Alps. 

The road kept going higher and higher from the relatively flat farmland of the Bavarian towns until we found ourselves here:


At the highest elevations, the snow was piled higher than our car on the sides of the road - but the roads themselves were clear and well maintained. The views were breathtaking.

Eventually we made it through the highest passes and ended up in the gorgeous (I've been using that word a lot, I know) town of Breno, Italy. 

The town - of course - has its own castle. It was also the site of our last AirBNB lodging - the top floor of someone's mountain villa. 

I don't have many pictures of this area, so I'll just skip ahead to the next day.

Except... I do have these two pictures that we took while trying to figure out how to get to our lodging. I feel like sharing them here, just because.



And, also, this happened to be my birthday - so here's a picture of my birthday dinner. It may not look fancy, but it tasted great - and the fact that I was eating it in Breno, Italy made it even better. 


Sulzano, Lake Iseo, and Monte Isola

We took off the next morning for our last touristic destination of this part of the trip - Lake Iseo.




The lake is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by old towns and settlements. In the middle of the lake is the prominent island and town of Monte Isola - which we proceeded to visit by ferry.


We walked along the shore of the island and took in the sights.


It's a charming settlement that seemed to have more mopeds and scooters than cars. (Which sort of makes sense, since it's a relatively small island.) 


There wasn't much in the way of wildlife, but there were some donkeys and ducks. 


My favorite part was the "Cat Colony" - which appeared to house several dozen cats.

"Warning: Possible Cat Crossing"
There are several cats in this picture. 

There were several other smaller islands in the lake - I was quite taken with this one. It seems like it'd be a nice place to spend a holiday weekend relaxing, reading, and eating pasta:



After getting our fill of the island, we took a ferry back to the mainland and headed on towards the Milan Airport. 

And there we have it. Another section of my trip is completed, and another is set to begin. For my next blog post, I'll take you to one of the most famous ancient sites in the world. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Neuschwanstein (Finally!)

Almost exactly ten years ago, my brother and I took a whirlwind tour of Europe. Over the course of a month, we hit nearly 20 countries and quite a few of the world's most famous sites.

We even made it to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany. We visited Linderhof, one of the other castles built by King Ludwig. Yet somehow we missed the king of all castles - Neuschwanstein.

Whether or not you know the name, you've seen pictures of the place. It's the Disney Castle, the Fairy Tale Castle, the castle in all those promotional photo montages of Germany.

When I decided to travel back to the area, Neuschwanstein was at the top of my (admittedly very long) list of places I had to visit.

Ten years older and wiser too, my brother and I - in a strangely familiar echo of our last trip - headed up from northern Italy through Switzerland and Liechtenstein and into southern Germany. Of course, this time we had my nephew in tow. And we were driving, rather than riding trains. And we were staying in nice apartments rather than crappy youth hostels. And we had cell phones. And digital cameras. And laptops. And... Well, that's a subject for another blog post.

Anyways. We drove north through some of the world's most beautiful countryside into the lush and verdant (and moderately smelly) farmlands of Bavaria.



For those who don't know, I'm kind of obsessed with Germany. I've been teaching myself German for the past few years, and I harbor dreams of living and working there... Some day (in the near future?)

Suffice it to say, crossing the border into Germany for the first time in ten years was something of a spiritual experience for me. I immediately had to try out my self-taught German language skills - and quickly discovered that, while I can sometimes understand the written language, my listening comprehension skills are, well, nicht sehr gut.

Here's how most of my attempts at conversations went:

[Waiter approaches]
Me: Kartoffelkuchen und ein Glass Fanta, bitte.
Waiter: Ja, ich bin nicht wirklich Ihr Kellner. Ich kam gerade vorbei, Sie zu betrachten und lachen Sie, wie Sie versuchen, Deutsch zu sprechen.
Me: [with dazed expression on my face] Umm, sorry, I don't understand.
Waiter: [switches instantly to fluent English]

Ok, I'm digressing.

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We stayed the night in a small village that smelled an awful lot like cows and that had some really lovely views of the surrounding mountains. Then, in the morning, we were off to see the wiz...

Umm, I mean... We were off to the castle(s).

Like this one:


And, of course, this one - which, sadly, I didn't get any really great pictures of. You should definitely Google it though. It's almost certainly one of the most photogenic buildings in the world:


The path up to the castle is fairly steep, but the occasional glimpses through the trees of the surrounding countryside make it worth it. (We could have taken a horse-driven carriage - which would have been fun, but kind of expensive.)







Unfortunately, you're not allowed to take pictures inside the castle. Suffice it to say it's quite nice (though unfinished) on the inside. Castles have a tendency to look cooler on the outside though, and this one wasn't really an exception. There were some grand and luxurious areas, but it just didn't seem very comfortable. 

With that said, the views were exceptional. Imagine looking out your bedroom window and seeing this:



It's been lovely, but eventually we have to head back down the mountain and back towards Italy. But first we have a little bit more time for some pictures:






A castle that is not Neuschwanstein.
So there it is - Neuschwanstein.

My future home. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bellinzona

Most places in the world would be content with one cool castle.

Bellinzona, Switzerland, however, wouldn't settle for just one - oh no. They needed three - three (!) castles in an already gorgeous alpine valley.

This is why the average European village is better than your home town, ladies and gentlemen.


We weren't even planning to go there. A valley with three castles and all-around amazing scenery had completely slipped under our radar during our trip planning process - that's how awesome and chock-full of amazing sights Europe is.

After leaving San Marino and Rimini, I got on a train to the northern Italian city of Varese where I met my brother Matt and my nephew Lincoln. For the second time on the trip, I'm able to enjoy the increased freedom and flexibility of traveling by car.

I only had a few hours to walk around Varese, but what I saw seemed quite charming.


We stayed the first two nights in a lovely little apartment located on a mountainside in the Italian Alps. We woke up to this lovely scenery on Sunday morning:

The view from the Italian apartment where we spent a few nights.

...So we decided to head out for a drive, after a quick detour to church across the Swiss border.

Someone at church recommended Bellinzona, so away we went.

It's the Swiss Alps, so of course the drive to the town was gorgeous. Once we got there, we drove up the mountain to see the first of the town's three castles and some of the surrounding countryside.




Whoa, who's that?!

Then we go back down to the largest and most distinctive of the bunch.


Here we get out and wander around the town and the castle grounds.






It's quite imposing.


It's a very nice day.




Can I go back now?