One Sappy Travel Goal

Ryan and I in junior year of high school. May 2008.

Have you ever had one place that you absolutely have to make it to? I don’t mean a normal bucket list, appears on every travel wish list on the internet, kind of location, but a place that for a single, deeply personal (or maybe even a little crazy) reason you are almost embarrassed to tell the average person about because it feels a little silly – maybe even intimate?

While I have done this for random locals on bigger trips – we went to the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris on one of my last trips specifically because the outside was featured in my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie – I have to confess a place that I would be willing to make a trip completely about, but not because I’ve heard about how amazing it is; instead for an intimately personal reason:

Dresden, Germany.

Never heard of it? Well, it isn’t one of the biggest stops when thinking about a European or even just a German vacation, however, this city has a very special place in my heart and I have never even visited it – YET!

While I have read through the Rick Steves’ version of this town and all it’s amazing history and art scene (another two big ‘yea, I can make that work’ marks in my book), these aren’t part of my reasoning. Instead, it all goes back to my senior year of high school, a marriage project, and having to name our fake baby: Dresdyn Pheonix.

Now, all these years later, I am marrying my old project partner who I fought with for hours over a silly made-up baby name and who is going to be living in Germany for the next three years – with all of these events lining up how am I supposed to miss out on Dresden, Germany?

While everything about the city calls for me to visit, it’s not about the place any more, it’s about what that place means to me in context with all the things and choices that led here. And that’s what I love about travel: inspiration can come to you from anywhere and everywhere as long as you choose to embrace the craziness of this messy life.

I don’t know when we will go to this city, but for my own silly, embarrassing, sweet, sentimental reasons, I will make it to Dresden and I will have a partner by my side who is going to make the trip worth it – a person who knows exactly what that town means and can be just as sentimental and in love with it as I am.

And isn’t that what traveling is all about?

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

One Sappy Travel Goal

Germany’s Christmas Markets

German Christmas Market. December, 2017.

Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen! We are still in the 12 days of Christmas, right? so not to late for all of this! Also I am extremely excited to announce another guest blogger – whose work I will probably have a lot of fun commentating – My Fiance, Ryan, who I have been discussing a whole lot lately…. which he now is very aware of as I just gave him access to this site….. Yep. Hi, babe!

Anyway, he’ll be going into more details on his life and I hope you guys enjoy and get to hear from him a bit more – partners are fun!

As the aforementioned fiancé living abroad in Germany, I am finally joining Taylor here on Leave-on-the-Wind as a guest blogger. Seeing as I will be spending 3 years as a Soldier in a foreign country, I figured it would be fun to support my fiancé’s blog with some OCONUS (Outside Contiguous United States) views. I get to experience Germany and Europe as a whole for the first time; while I have lived in a couple states and deployed twice to the Middle East, I haven’t spent much time in foreign countries that are not war zones.

I arrived in Germany a little over a month ago, disappointed to have missed Oktoberfest (The real one since we did manage the LA equivalent!), but excited for the next big holiday group event: The Christmas Markets.

Most major cities in Germany have their own Christmas Markets as well as some of the smaller towns but they are proportionally smaller versions. My first taste of the markets was in my local town of Ansbach, where a small market took place in a walking shopping district.

My friends told me it was a tragedy to attend any Christmas Market and not have some festive glühwein, a traditional Christmas beverage most commonly made from a boiled red wine mixed with various spices. I gladly purchased a glass, which instantly started warming me up on that windy, cold day that I have come to recognize as the common daily weather.

It’s taste was compelling, to say the least.

I have never fancied wines much – always feeling forced to enjoy them when offered a glass – but something about the glühwein really resonated with me. Whether that was because of the added spices, or the warmth it provided, I cannot say, but I know I went back for quite a few more cups of it.

Throughout this drinking process, I also discovered an interesting sales mechanism that seemed particular to the markets. Every glühwein seller will charge extra for the mug they provide the drink in, but if you later return the mug, you receive a deposit back or you may forego the deposit and keep the glass. Naturally I kept my first one as a souvenir of my first market. (Check out the pictures below!)

We wandered the market, making small purchases and enjoying the time with friends, as I practiced my meager German. I had come to think of this small, lightly crowded market with just a couple dozen stalls as being the standard of a Christmas Market.

Boy, was I wrong.

The next weekend, I had the opportunity to travel about an hour away to Nuremburg with a coworker, her husband, and their 9-year-old son.

Making our way into the market, I was floored by how many people I was seeing already – this market must be huge: it was. It had hundreds of stalls and thousands of people were milling around.

Most of the time, the market was a crushing crowd, as people pushed left and right to get through – certainly not for those who don’t do well in crowds, but if you can brave the ruckus, you are rewarded with stalls selling all kinds of goods; from handmade candles, to Christmas ornaments, to pastries, pretzels, and sweets. The smells of all the foods cooking was overwhelming, and I wanted a little bit of everything. I stand by my decision to start of with a pretzel and a glühwein and slowly try random pastries and other foods picked at random.

As we walked, we started in on a maze of stalls that seemed organized to lead you in a line from stall to stall as if in a brightly colored labyrinth. My group lost me more than once as I would get distracted by a beautiful bauble, a delicious smelling bag of tea, or the plethora of hanging Christmas tree ornaments. Finding them again, we would start back down the path again, seemingly wanting to buy everything they had to sell. (I talked about this way back when I was living in London; pace yourself and set a budget!)

In the end, not counting food and drinks consumed as we roamed, I managed to buy two ornaments for me and Taylor, a big bag of caramel apple black tea (which smells as sweet as its namesake), and a bag of fruit flavored sweets for my friend’s son. After hours of walking around, we spent some time listening to the band that was on a little stage in front of what looked to be a cathedral, and then called it a night.

Honestly, this introduction to a little bit of German culture and a wonderful evening out was just what I needed to help integrate me better into the place I plan to live, and I was glad to have the chance at some (very poor) German interactions as I butchered their otherwise beautiful language.

Thank God for Google Translate.

I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did and, again, welcome, Ry (as both a reader and writer)! So until next time around,

This is Ryan, writing for Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Germany’s Christmas Markets

Looking Forward: Germany.

So it turns out that my best friend from high school who I’ve been spending almost all my time (that I’m not working) with while he visits SoCal will be moving out to Germany later this year and he’ll be staying for another 3. In that time, I will definitely be heading out there for at least one visit and while I need more research once I pick out the exact when.

Yes, I have been to Germany briefly in my WWII adventures with mom and Bex but the more that I research the more that I feel the urge to jump on a plane as soon as possible.

From my last experience with Germany, I’m already convinced it’s the land of fairy tales. Looking through Pintrest, I’m convinced more and more. Wile I am nowhere near finished (and I should probably take those I’ll inevitably travel with into consideration) a few broad ideas are definitely on my list.

First up, Burg Eltz Castle. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful castles in Germany but Burg Eltz has a totally different feel – based on the pictures that is. If you are here in April to November, you’ll be able to take a castle tour, but if not, everything I’ve read indicates great views and hikes that will still be worth the visit (Don’t forget to bring good shoes!).

While Berlin and Munich are amazing cities, there are little towns straight out of fairy tales that are dying to be explored. As with most of these kinds of sights, you may need a car to get to them but, when there’s a will right? Also, as a personal joke, I want to visit the city of Dresden. This is a cultural center and filled with natural features from the river to parks and forests.

Finally, Germany is a country that is really well traversed so, essentially, without much work, there is probably a plan already out there on the internet waiting for you to discover it. Try searching road trips through Germany and you’ll probably find some great guides with more than a few hidden gems.

Even though this trip is a long way off, researching is making me more and more excited at the prospect. If you have any other suggestions – which may include where to take a bestie who is less travel savy (as a civilian at least) than I – leave them in the comments!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Looking Forward: Germany.

My favorite places (Part 2)

Austria, 2015.

Last week, I started my run down memory lane covering much of my older travels, but this week I’m looking at much of my 2015 trip. These locations are more recent but, during them, we explored much less making less choices over what I could revisit. Still, everywhere we hit on that crazy month in 2015 was amazing so I’d truly want to do it all over and over again.

1. Switzerland

We really only hit one thing in Switzerland: Jungfrau or Top of the World.  When we went everything was shrouded in fog but we had such a fantastic time playing aroundin the snow. Because of the weather, they had to shutdown a good chucnk of the outdoor activities and I’d love to explore more and get to take pictures with much less fog.

2. Austria

Austria and Germany are a bit of a blur since we tended to stay along the borders of both and past between them on almost every tour we took, but when it comes to Austria, I would love to revisit the Mirabell Gardens. This is where they filmed parts of Do-Re-Mi in The Sound of Music but there is so much more to the gardens than that. When we explored last time, The rain was starting up which was fun but also made the adventure shorter lived than I would have liked. Plus the movie reference gives you a great excuse to stomp, dance, and sing your heart out throughout the greenery.

3. Germany

Germany is a tricky spot for me but what I loved most were the many stops within the Balvarian Mountains. Whether on break along its giant lake views or venturing through King Ludwig II’s castles, they left so much more to explore. On a trip that I explore alone instead of on tours, these mountains and all their sites might take up the bulk of my time.

4. Netherlands

The Zansee Schans was the perfect stop in the Netherlands that I would visit again and again. Yes, it is touristy but the cheese room alone haunts my dreams! seriously, read the post and go, go, go!

5. Belgium

Just like every other stop along this trip, out time in Bruges was short but so much fun. It was one more city sitting along the channels and exploring them more would definitely be on my list of must do’s. I loved siting in the middle isle, straddling the center bench and watching the city pass me by.

Yes, these were quick but, again, so was the time I got to spend in each of these places. Next time I will be looking over my last 4 countries which I have been lucky enough to visit over and over again – a very different but equally daunting challenge.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

My favorite places (Part 2)

Castles, castles, castles…

… and I feel like a princess.

Neuschwanstein Castle. Balvrian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.
Neuschwanstein Castle. Balvrian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.

We went from our hard day out to a day of hard climbs and more Disney views—which basically means we shipped out of Munich on our last day in Germany to go explore the Bavarian Mountains and two of King Ludwig II’s castles, Neuschwanstein and Linderhof.

We took a ten and a half hour tour (who’s itinerary you can see here) in order to see more areas than we originally had planned if we’d stuck to our self planned, single day trip. However, this tour was bigger than all of our other excursions, which meant it was a lot less intimate and much more rigorously scheduled.

But here’s some background to the man and his castles:

King Ludwig is known as the fairytale king, but not because his kingdom was fairytale happy when he was in power, but because he was a king in love with fairy-stories. And because of this love, he basically went bankrupt trying to build the castles he imagined and designed.

Linderhof Castle, Germany. June 2015.

The first visit on the tour is to Linderhof Castle—a French rococo-style castle inspired by France’s Versailles, surrounded by immaculately manicured gardens. Because that is another thing that our boy Ludwig loved: French royalty, especially King Louis IX, a king with absolute power who ruled his kingdom the way Ludwig wanted but was never able to do.

There is really nothing much to say except that Ludwig was a Fanboy (major capital “F” here) to an extent all other fans wish they could be.

If you have been to Versailles, seeing the tiny palace of Linderhof will definitely have you feeling déjà vu.

The interior of the palace is basically a replica of France’s premier palace down to portraits of French royalty adorning the walls. In fact, there are very few spots where you can tell that this is Ludwig’s at all, mostly in the form of the family crest.

What makes this a fan’s dream for me, is that Ludwig was very detailed in his recreation but did not skimp on any modern convenience. My favorite was the table that could be lowered to and raised from the kitchens to quickly and efficiently get food to the king’s rooms.

The palace is surrounded by a great expanse of gardens that I would have loved to explore. However, do to the tours set up, you have no time to explore the grounds. Rather there is a swan pond you get to look at briefly on your walk to and from the palace and the fountains out front, but going up into any of the green spaces is impossible with your time limit.

While the tour is nice for travel convenience, this is one stop I wish we had had more time in and I would have visited by myself for longer, if not hindered by time limits.

Between castles, you get to stop in this tiny village, Oberammergau, for half an hour—this is not a stop for eating!—where you can wander, stretch, take a few pictures, and get an ice cream form on of the many shops. If you are on the tour, quickly head over—first stop—to the shop recommended; delicious, quality, light but large scoops for cheap.

This village is nice for a stroll as long as you eat and walk and keep an eye on your time, but what makes it fitting for this fairytale ride is painted across the town buildings: fairytale murals.

Still, this isn’t what the town is famous for: In the time of the black plague, the town prayed and made an oath that they would put on the Passion Play every 10 years if the town was spared from the sickness. The next performance is in 2020 and if you are planning to travel near that time: BEWARE! All rooms are booked way in advance—like years—and basically everything around it get crazy. However, this is something you may want to check out and, if you are interested, just do your research and no last minute planning.

The last stop is the main point of our day: Neuschwanstein Castle.

The bus gets into the town near the base of the climb at around 1:00 p.m and you have approximately four hours to explore the castle and the surrounding areas.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. June 2015.

This is the castle which inspired the animator’s and designers of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle, but, for me, it is more reminiscent of the Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast. If you decide to hike up the mountain—it’s a good hike up so be prepared with proper shoes— you will get some great shots as you climb. You can also take a horse buggy or a van up. The buggy, however, doesn’t take you the whole way so you still have a bit of a climb, and the van drops you off a bit above the castle entrance so you have to walk back down to it. Both of these options cost you a little bit as well, and, after sitting on the bus all day, the climb felt nice.

If you have time before or after your tour of the castle, there is another vantage point about fifteen minutes above the castle which is spectacular.

We climbed straight to this point, but I’m going to give you the warnings and descriptions we were not told to stop anyone who can’t make it, either because of the time and/or effort to get here.

The vantage point is beautiful, there is no doubt about it, but for anyone who is sketchy about heights, big warning. The vantage point is a bridge over a river and waterfalls which—because tourists are stupid—gets a little shaky. The walkway is made of wood planks which wobble except for the center one, but this isn’t the tricky part. The problem is that people do not walk far enough out, so getting on the bridge and off again is a fight through people who are either oblivious to you or freaked about the heights and bridge shaking, but determined to push and shove for a picture but without going far enough onto the bridge.

My sister is afraid of heights but she came out with us and according to her, if you stay on the center plank and get past the nasty crowd of people, the view is worth it. But, when I say getting that far on the bridge is a fight, please, don’t take it lightly! It was insane.

If you can’t do the bridge, there is a stop along the walk to this point that is a great picture vantage point, so if you only make it here, you will be a happy photographer.

If you look around the castle courtyard, this feels more Sleeping Beauty but, if you are a fan of castles (and Disney inspiring one’s at that), the 4 hours is an amazing chance to wander along with touring the inside. We were lucky enough to have the last tour time for our tour so we were able to really explore everything.

Basically, this was a long day out with a whole lot to do but it was a great tour. If you have multiple days to dedicate to these castles, going off by yourself to each location is worth looking into to explore everything to your liking.

But, that’s all for now as we through a little more Disney into our adventure, so until next time:

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Castles, castles, castles…

The Hard Days You Can’t Skip…

… on a World War II tour in Europe.

Dachau memorial. Munich, Germany. June 2015.
Dachau memorial. Munich, Germany. June 2015.

There are a lot of things that can start off a post like thi,s but I think I like the way my mother put it best:

“Today has been a tough but important stop on our WWII sites. At Normandy, we were in awe of the sacrifices made by so many to liberate others. Today has been about the other end of the spectrum, how so few could inflict such suffering and death on the many.”

Whenever I’ve told anyone about this trip, mainly the World War II theme, I mostly get a single reaction: why in the world would you want to go around Europe looking at all the sights where people were killed in mass?   Then there is a quick segue into how nice it must have been to spend time with my family or how crazy it is that we fit so much into this trip.

But, as with most things, most people don’t really want to linger on the harder subjects that we deliberately put on our agenda—yes, this trip covered topics rarely seen as part of polite conversation.

And then again, I’d argue, these are some of the most important parts of travel: going to places and seeing things that force you out of your comfort zone.

So while those first few days were tough, our day in Dachau was something else.

The problem with visiting sites like this is that you can never really express the feelings you get wandering around a place where so many died for no reason. So instead, here’s a few simple facts:

Dachau was the first major concentration camp built during World War II (March 1933) and it was one of the last to be liberated (April 1945). It housed men from 34 different countries over the 12 year span, beginning with political prisoners and then branching out to all other groups deemed undesirable. This was also the testing camp—the place where methods of containment and execution were tested before being implemented elsewhere.

We spent the whole day here between wandering the camp by ourselves and on the guided walking tour, and, if you really want to see everything, it’s a good idea to plan for a long day.

The tour was a really helpful way to see the camp. You move quickly through each location getting a lot of extra information. But when I say quickly, I mean, very. You won’t be able to see or read much while being led, which is why you’ll probably end up spending the whole day there retracing your way through the museums.

My favorite part of this was seeing one particular memorial art instillation. While this piece is great for looking at those who suffered here, what is interesting—and again, you’ll get a lot of this information in the tour—is those who were not represented; who also suffered and died but who, years later, were not deemed worth remembering. While some are debatable, I just find it interesting that we still go around passing judgement on who is owed what and why, while we know nothing about the individuals we judge.

See? This is why we travel.

We ended the day back wandering the Marienplatz and having a well-deserved shandy—a beer and lemonade mixed drink which tasted like neither part—at the Hofbräuhaus, which on a happier note, is well worth a stop.

I’m keeping things short, but this was an experience I had never had in my other adventures, but that I do recommend even when the experience is a hard one to take in.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

The Hard Days You Can’t Skip…

It’s on to Salzburg

and we just keep flying through.

View from lower part of Eagle's Nest. Eagle's Nest, Germany.  June 2015.
View from lower part of Eagle’s Nest. Eagle’s Nest, Germany. June 2015.

While this trip both felt and really reads quickly as a whorlwind adventure, I will admit I’m glossing over some of our longer travel and slightly more restful days. Our first day reaching Salzburg was one of them.

We spent the day wandering the town, hitting some of the local sights from the famous fortress to the many horse statues to the shop and water spectacle-clad side streets.

Gherkins by Erwin Wurm. Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.
Gherkins by Erwin Wurm. Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.

This really is a great city and well worth a day to wander. Alas, I’ll cover some more of these sights next week when I talk about the hills and music—if you can’t guess where this is going, you’ll just have to tune in next week!

In your wanderings, don’t forget to take a selfie with whichever Gherkin most looks like you (this is an art exhibition by Erwin Wurm)

But moving on to another active day on the road.

Salzburg is an Austrian city closely bordering on Germany which means it is the hub for many tours between the two countries and, as our travels centered around World War II (another hint for next week!), this was one of the many reasons we stopped here.

Our big tour for this destination went through Salzburg Super Saver, which, throughout the course of one day, let us visit Eagle’s Nest, the Durrnberg Salt Mines, and the Bavarian Mountains.

Eagle’s nest

If you don’t know what Eagle’s Nest is, here’s a little back ground. This was one of Hitler’s bunkers which he apparently did not visit often as the man was afraid of heights. It’s located on the peak of a mountain, meaning that, on a clear day, you feel like you can see the whole world.

But since this was a Gallagher girl adventure on a mountain, we got rain and fog. Still, this was a cool but very quick stop on our tour and, since it was first thing, there was no time for the gloom to burn off.

Since this is a major attraction, the bunker gets busy and everything is highly scheduled whether you are on your own or in a tour. You have to schedule leaving on the bus down the mountain before you head up into the bunker but they tell you you’ll need no more than two to two and a half hours. For us, the tour stop was quick but much easier than doing it on your own.

However, be aware when you are scheduling this tour: There is one tour which says you’ll go to the Eagle’s Nest and another says you’ll get a great view OF Eagle’s Nest—Huge difference. We met a couple who got confused by this so it’s very easy to do. You have been warned!

Slat mines:

This was a fabulous stop and there are a lot of different tours which will let you explore these once-working salt mines.

With lots of history, tools to look at, interactive areas, and slides and trains to get you down to the various levels, this was easily one of the highlights of the trip. We were shocked we didn’t have to stop my mother from licking the walls!

You are outfitted with a jumpsuit as you enter the main building and these women are magic—they never seem to get sizing wrong! It can get cold down in the mines but be careful of layers that night bunch up as you don’t want to spend your tour trying to readjust your outfit at every turn. There are also lockers in the main building to store your personal belongings—just don’t forget to get your money back from the locker once you are finished!

A warning must be issued: when you are given your jumpsuit and you are on a tour, don’t mess around! If you miss the train you are supposed to be on and end up on the next one, you will miss your bus and, therefore, miss out on some of the exploring you are paying for! Not to mention, you are wasting everyone’s time which ends with you being the people everyone glares at on the bus.

One other warning: Be ready to get up close and personal with strangers. This is mainly for the train ride in where you are in a single file train car, sitting by straddling a cushioned pole, sandwiched between your fellow adventurers. It’s a quick trip, so it’s really not much of a struggle and well worth it.

Bavarian Mountains:

Well worth the short hike. Bavarian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.
Well worth the short hike. Bavarian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.

This whole areas is breathtaking.

You are surrounded but mountains on all sides and faced with a huge serene lake which reflects the sun in an indescribable way—the whole view is really indescribable.

To get to where you can really appreciate this, however, you have to make it through the long row of tourist traps—ie. shops and stalls full of overpriced wares.

You can stay down by the lake’s edge and get a great view, but I highly recommend a short walk through the greenery to the left; at a mild walk, this will take about 15 minutes (you’ll pass a trail up to a building but keep going) where you’ll see some steps down to a quiet lookout point. We spent half an hour out there in the quiet and only a few people came by so it really is a great place to take a break and relax.

There are other tours to the mountains which give you other perks, such as a two hour trip on boat to middle of lake where they apparently blow a horn and let you hear the echoes from all the surrounding mountains (this could easily be something I do the next time around).

I love the tour my mother picked and I highly recommend it but, again, there are many to choose from so shopping around is a great option. This tour gave the perfect amount of time for us to explore, relax, and enjoy every minute. The tour guide was great, entertaining and helpful. So, if you haven’t guessed, this is another tour I would definitely recommend if you are anywhere in this region.

Next week, we’ll talk a little more about Salzburg and hill and music, but until then,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

It’s on to Salzburg