Monday, November 16, 2009

Introduction to Nurnberg

Nurnberg ("Nuremberg") is very centrally located in Germany. Because of this it has always been one of the major cities of the region. It's a perfect place to spend a day and see the sights. The old city area is located near the train station and has many Medieval buildings, castles, and churches. The other "must see" area is the Nazi Rally Grounds and its documentation center. Supposedly, the Nazi Rally Grounds area is the most impressive Nazi sight to be seen in all of Germany. Nurnberg is famous for its little Nurnberger Bratwurst which are spicier and better tasting than the normal brat. You can buy three of them on a roll for really cheap at many vendor stands, which makes for a nice fast-food lunch. I'll have some more blog entries to break down Nurnberg into more manageable pieces.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rothenburg, Germany

Rothenburg is pronounced ROE-tehn-burg for us Americans. It is usually full of day-tripping tourists who crowd the town, but it's still worth a visit. A great thing about Rothenburg is that no sights in the town are more than a 15-minute walk away from the train station. Most of the crowds melt away after dark, which makes this a wonderful town to spend a night in. It is Germany's best-preserved medieval walled town. During the medieval period, Rothenburg was Germany's second largest city. Because of it's huge tourist industry, this is one of the best places in Germany to shop for German souvenirs.

Some of the main attractions of Rothenburg are the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum, the famous wood carvings by Tilman Riemenschneider in St. Jakob's Church, and a walk along the city wall. Tilman Riemenschneider is considered the Michaelangelo of Germany and the St. Jakob's Church is his Sistine Chapel. There are many wonderful wood carvings to be seen there. Plus the church building itself is quite interesting. The Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum is a suppository of medieval criminal justice. There are many torture devices and such to amuse the modern crowd. It's considered the best museum of its type in the world. Walking the city wall makes for a 1.5 mile hike that can be done even in the rain because it's under a roof. It's perfect for getting great pictures of the town.

There are quite a few other things to do in this town. It's got some delectable pastry shops where you can try traditional German baked goods. There are some more sights outside of town. There are several scenic views of the countryside to be had from a couple of places in town. It's a delightful place to visit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Mosel Valley

The Mosel Valley is a smaller, sleepier version of the Rhine. It too has wonderful castles and fine wines, but far less travelers than the Rhine. The towns are beautiful and fairytail-esque. Perhaps the best castle in all of Germany is to be found in this area - Burg Eltz. You can cruise the Mosel, but the boats are fewer and the trip is slower because you have to go through many locks. There are many cheap places to stay along the Mosel. Below is a video of the Mosel region.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rhine River Cruise Video

Well, I learned how to put video from YouTube into this blog. Below is a video of a Rhine River cruise. If anyone is interested, the music is Schubert's Symphony Number 8, the "Unfinished" Symphony.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cruising the Rhine River

Looking at the the Rhine from Rheinfels Castle

Cruising the Rhine River is one of the best ways to see this amazing region of Germany. Cruise boats stop nearly every hour at many places up and down the river. You can use a Eurail Pass to access the cruise boats at no additionaly cost. The area stretching from Mainz to Koblenz gets most of the traffic since it is the most romantic section of river. You can actually make this whole stretch of river in 5.5 hours if going downstream and 8.5 hours if going upstream. Of course, it would take longer if you make stops at the towns and sights along the river. Along the river you will see old fortresses, castles, vineyards, and boats. If time is a problem, you don't have to do the whole section from Mainz to Koblenz - in fact, most tour guides recommend that you just pick a section and only focus on it. Rick Steves suggests the section from St. Goar to Bacharach if you want the most scenic hour. Marksburg Castle is not far from Koblenz and is considered the best preserved of all Rhine castles. The Rheinfels Castle (pictured below) near St. Goar was once the mightiest castle on the Rhine River. It is relatively ruined now but is one of the neatest places to visit on all the river.

Looking at Rheinfels Castle from the Rhine

Some of the towns along the river are extremely picturesque and fun to visit. They abound with history and scenery. One such town is Bacharach (pictured below.) Both Bacharach and St. Goar are nice villages to stay in for a night.

Bacharach - most beautiful town on the Rhine

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Intro to the Rhine Valley

Marksburg Castle on the Rhine

The Rhine Valley is one of the most castle-studded areas of the world. There are countless castles along this romantic river. The whole area is easily accessible and can be seen in a variety of ways, from trains, riverboat cruises, or by car. It is also a relatively "compact" area that can be covered pretty thoroughly in two days and reasonably well in one day. It's a great area to stay in if you want to make day trips to either the nearby Mosel valley or the cathedral city of Koln. Boat cruises are popular and cheap. You can also follow the river by train making stops wherever you want. Towns also have cathedrals to view. It is one of the most beautiful areas in all of Europe, though there are plenty of other tourists to contend with.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Black Forest Region of Germany

The Black Forest region is a hilly region in Southwest Germany bordering France. It is covered in thick forests and is considered the "backwoods" area of Germany. In many ways it is Germany's equivalent to the Ozarks. It was generally cut off from the main stream of Germany until the last century, so the locals became quite colloquial with many of their own traditions. The area is famous for its hiking opportunities, cuckoo clocks, and cherry cakes.

The two main cities of the Black Forest are Baden Baden and Freiburg. Baden Baden has been a major spa and casino town for centuries. It is a more hedonistic version of Bath, England, or maybe Hot Springs, Arkansas. The nude spas and gambling are two of the main attractions of Baden Baden. Freiburg is a large university town. It is very pedestrian and has small streams running down the center of many of the streets.

The whole Black Forest region doesn't have many historic sights - it's main charm is in the actual beauty of the countryside. It's best seen from a car traveling down a local by-way. The famous Gutach River waterfall (below) can be viewed, as well as the Black Forest Open Air museum or the Black Forest Museum in Triberg.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Intro to Germany

Berg Eltz

Germany is about half the size of Texas. It has the Alps in the South, coastal flatlands in the North, and forests and hills in between. It is home to bucket-loads of history. There are many wonderful museums, outdoor vistas, some of the best castles in the world, and cathedrals that will be awe-inspiring. There is no way our trip will be able to encompass all of Germany, so we'll likely be focusing on several specific areas. It's also famous for all types of sausages. There is not nearly as much food variety to be had in Germany as in France, but it makes up for it by being a little cheaper. Over the next number of blog entries, I'll hit some of the many sights that may be part of our itinerary. We'll probably be travelling through the Black Forest region, then into the Rhine River region (which is full of castles and history), then across country to Berlin. Perhaps we'll see some sights between the Rhine and Berlin as well. I've already made blog entries on some of the German stuff and will not repeat those. Look for the "Germany" label on the right side of this blog page for other earlier posts on this country.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Farewell to Provence

Pont St. Julien - Roman Bridge in Provence

Provence should be a fantastic and scenic part of our trip to Europe and I'm sure we'll leave it wanting to come back. The trip itinerary should lead us to Switzerland after Provence and it will be just as wonderful. On this blog, I'll be jumping to Germany for my next group of updates. I don't have any good travel books on Switzerland, so that's the reason for the lack of information on that part of our trip. I'll make up for it by doing more stuff on Germany.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Luberon

The Luberon region rivals the Cotes du Rhone area for beauty and charm. It is probably more famous and has more tourists than the Cotes du Rhone. It is covered in hilltop towns, stone houses, old ruins, rocky outcrops, vineyards, and fields of lavender. You must use a car to really experience this area. Many of the towns are justifiably famous, such as Isle-sur-la-Sorgue which is called the Venice of Provence because of it's many canals. Rousillon is a Spanish-looking town seated at the top of a rocky hill. The Pont St. Julien is the only bridge left on the main Roman road from Italy to the region. Fort de Buoux is a ruin of a castle that once controlled the entire region, but was destroyed in France's religious wars because it was controlled by the Protestants. There aren't many specific sites to visit in the Luberon, but the country and towns are a feast for the culture enthusiast. There are many cheap places to eat and lodge. It's a great place to get off the beaten path and get lost.