Foodie Heaven in Augsburg: The Bavarian City No One’s Heard Of.

With the charms of the alluring Munich, Regensburg and Nuremberg all nearby, Augsburg doesn’t get much of a look-in on the Bavarian tourist trail.

In fact we have lived an hour’s drive away from here for two years now and hadn’t even bothered to visit Augsburg ourselves until this weekend.

This was due to a bad review from an American expat friend (who wasn’t that impressed) and a less than enthusiastic write-up in the Lonely Planet.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Germany’s third oldest city is a beautifully buzzy place with astounding architecture and a thriving market perfect for foodie types.

In typical German style the Stadtmarkt (city market) must also be one of the world’s cleanest and most organised.

In one lane you will find around half a dozen bakeries, selling delicious German breads and mouth-watering cakes.

In another there are the colourful fruit and veg stalls peddling autumn truffles among the florists and a few home ware shops.

Then on a third aisle you have all the fishmongers and a few eateries where you can snack on fresh fish buns while watching the world go by.

As if that’s not enough the market also boasts a food hall full of international goodies in its Viktualienhalle.

Here you’ll find stalls brimming with Italian antipasti, Asian spices and fine smoked meats as well as a couple of pop-up bars where weary shoppers pause for a wine or beer. Nice!

It’s the perfect place for stocking up (particularly at Christmas time) and soaking up a great atmosphere at the same time.

As I grew up in Essex in the UK I used to think of markets as being the kind of place where dodgy guys sold cheap clothes and knocked off shampoo somewhere under a grimy underpass.

So I’m forever impressed when I stumble on a market that has charm, class and sells fruit a bit more exotic than apples.

After munching our way through the market we checked out Augsburg’s colourful Altstadt (old city) with its 17th century Renaissance Town Hall and gothic cathedral.

The sun even popped out for a bit, causing a rush of Germans to the nearest ice-cream sellers (they are mad for ice-cream here. When sun shines,  Brits sunbathe. Germans buy ice-cream).

Large chains and independent shops are in abundance in compact Augsburg too (perfect for shopping) with some cool arty places dotted along winding backstreets such as Dominikanergasse. I was impressed and wondered why the hell no one had gushed to me about this wonderful place before.

I guess the moral of the story is, don’t trust American dudes or Lonely Planet. Find out for yourself.

After being seduced by the market and the shops we didn’t have time to see much else, but hopefully we’ll pop back one day to see the Art Nouveau synagogue and the famous Augsburg Puppet Box.

Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

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How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days: Drag Him Around All of King Ludwig’s Castles.

After almost two years in Bavaria, I can finally say that I have been to all three of King Ludwig’s ridiculously over-the-top castles.

And so can my boyfriend, who pretended to be as impressed as I was as he was marched around them all.

When I first arrived in this barmy little part of Germany I couldn’t help but notice that the name and face of “Konig Ludwig” was everywhere. Here he is:

English: photograph of King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Dashing chap. Photo credit: Wikipedia

From beer bottles to beer mats, from pub signs, to pub lanterns, and from bread bags, to fridge magnets; the late Bavarian King is on all of them. There’s even a signposted walk that goes through our town called the King Ludwig Way. He is clearly Bavaria’s most famous person, besides that Pope who did a runner.

Hundreds of thousands of people a year come to this part of Germany to visit Ludwig’s castles, and it’s not hard to see why. The thought, craftsmanship, attention to detail and money Ludwig II ploughed into these beautiful palaces is beyond belief. And kind of depressing when you think that most of our stuff comes from Ikea.

Sadly Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances at aged 40 in 1886 and barely spent much time in his eccentric creations or live to build more he had planned.

The King is said to have had a very sheltered childhood with little contact with the real world. This led to him being ill-prepared when he became King of Bavaria aged just 18. He developed a fascination with the operatic composer Richard Wagner, and was at odds with his catholic beliefs and supposed homosexuality. He was shy, felt misunderstood, and built his dream castles as a way to escape the pressures of his life.

After whittling away most of the royal family’s fortunes on his castles, Ludwig was declared “insane” by doctors who had never examined him in person. He was banished to Berg Castle on the Starnberg Lake. It had once been one of his favourite residences but was practically turned into a prison after his arrest.

The following day Ludwig and his doctor were found dead, floating in the lake after going for a walk. It is not known whether they were murdered, if they died accidentally, or if Ludwig killed the doctor then committed suicide.

I have developed a bit of a fascination with Ludwig myself, and have been captivated by his remarkable and tragic story. As a result I have not only visited his palaces, but also his summer holiday home, the spot where he died and also his tomb (morbid I know). I saved my German guy from the tomb visit, but the rest he has most definitely seen. “I would never have bothered if I hadn’t met you,” he added cheerfully.

The castles now belong to the Bavarian State, although some of the entry fees still go to Bavarian royalty.

Here’s my insider guide to the castles and other locations associated with the ‘mad fairy tale’ king.

Neuschwantein - scaffolding hidden

Neuschwantein – scaffolding hidden

Neuschwanstein: No I can’t pronounce it either. Sounds like “Noishvanstine”.

If you’ve ever wondered where the hell everyone in Bavaria is, they are here at Neuschwanstein. Germany’s most popular tourist attraction heaves with people from all over the world even on a quiet day, but even at its busiest, it’s well worth a visit. The palace sits in a gorgeous setting in the mountains and is believed to have been the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Construction began on Ludwig’s dream medieval palace near Fuessen in 1869. He dedicated it to Richard Wagner and many of the artworks inside depict scenes from his operas. Sadly the castle wasn’t finished before Ludwig died, and he only spent around 170 days in it.

My favourite bits inside were the King’s wood-panelled bedroom and his bathroom, where his toilet is actually disguised as a very regal-looking chair. The water from the taps here came direct from a nearby spa (as you do). The palace also features an artificial grotto and an amazing kitchen beautifully advanced for its time. Ludwig loved technology, and he also had one of Germany’s first telephones here. Sadly you can’t take pictures inside any of the castles.

The palace is about a 40-minute uphill walk from the town of Hohenschwangau. (There are horse-drawn carriages for those unable to walk and lazy people). You need to buy tickets from the ticket centre in the town for a 30-minute tour of the palace.  As these get booked up you may have to wait a few hours for your tour, so leave plenty of time. In the meantime you can also visit 12th century Schloss Hohenschwangau, which was renovated by Ludwig’s father Max. There are lovely views from here of the green hills and stunning alpine lake below.

The views from outside Neuschwanstein of the Bavarian countryside below is also great, plus you can take a walk along Mary’s Bridge for that all-important photo of the castle nestled in the mountains. Unfortunately it was really foggy when we went so we couldn’t see said castle. The castle was also undergoing renovations on one day we visited (I’ve been twice) and it was covered in scaffolding in parts. Hardly the fairy tale we were expecting, but still.

You can catch a train to Fuessen from Munich and catch a bus to the castle. For latest ticket prices and opening times, please see the official website here.

Charming Linderhof

Charming Linderhof

Linderhof: My personal favourite.

Much less touristy than both of the other castles, stunning Linderhof in Ettal is the one I would most recommend seeing if you only can do one and you’re blessed with decent weather.  Although this palace is smaller than the others, it is set in a stunning green valley with wonderful gardens, forests and a few out-buildings including a Moorish Kiosk. This was Ludwig’s private retreat, where he hardly had visitors, and it just feels much more personal than the grander palaces of Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee but nonetheless extravagant.

You could easily spend a day here exploring the gardens and surrounding land (only open in summer). But if you’re pushed for time you could see Linderhof and Neuschwanstein in the same day, as they are about an hour’s drive from one another and looped together on tours. Again Linderhof, inspired by Versailles, can only be seen by joining a tour of the inside but you can wander the grounds in your own time.

If taking public transport you can catch a train to Oberammergau and then a bus.  See the official site here for more information.

Herrenchiemsee at the back

Herrenchiemsee at the back

Herrenchiemsee: The one Ludwig only spent 10 days in.

Built on an island on the stunning Chiemsee with the Alps in the distance, this palace was also modelled on Versailles and dedicated to King Louis XIV of France. Ludwig went to great lengths to ensure that this palace was similar or even better than the one in France. The most famous room is the Hall of Mirrors, which also features more then 2, 000 candles. The palace also boasts a 60,000 litre capacity bath and one of the world’s finest porcelain collections.

What’s more surprising than the extravagance of this place is the fact that Ludwig only spent 10 days here and even then it wasn’t complete as his money ran out (this palace cost more than Linderhof and Neuschwanstein combined). He never intended to really use it for anything either. It was, as the knowledgeable guide said, just a ‘time capsule’ for him to escape his everyday life. There is also a great museum on site telling you all about Ludwig’s life and a self-service restaurant with a terrace on the palace’s forecourt. Nice touch.

To get to the palace you need to catch a boat to the Herreninsel from one of the departure points on the Chiemsee. We caught the short boat trip from Prien, about an hour’s drive from Munich and on the Munich-Salzburg train line. It is then a 15-20 minute walk through countryside and woodland to the palace (horse-drawn carriages also available). Again the palace can only be seen by joining a tour, lasting around 30-minutes.

For information, visit the official site here.

Ludwig’s Island Retreat: The Casino, on Rose Island, Starnberg Lake.

This is nothing like a casino at all, so gamblers don’t come disappointed. Instead the Roseninsel is a romantic little island with a very sweet-smelling rose garden and villa, where Ludwig used to hang out with his friends. You can catch a tiny boat to the island from the small town of Feldafing on the Starnberg lake, then spend a couple of hours wandering through the gardens and touring the inside of the summer house for a few Euros. Starnberg is about a 15-minute drive from Munich, with trains stopping at Feldafing from Munich on the S6 line.

We attempted to tour the house with our 18-month-old son in tow. Ever tried doing a historical tour with a loud little man and a group of unimpressed Germans? Big mistake. I dropped out, leaving my boyfriend to go it alone while I entertained our little chap in the garden. “Take some pictures” I instructed. This is one that came back.

Fortunately he did take some more, revealing the intricate and sometimes simple interior.

Although no where near as grand as the castles, the villa was built without a kitchen (that was situated in a building to the side of the villa instead) so the cooking fumes did not overcome the smell of the roses from the garden. Tall trees were also planted around the garden to stop the rose smell from escaping. The smell is amazing and I would recommend visiting in summer when the flowers are in bloom.

It was a lovely afternoon out, and one that can be combined with a trip to….

The spot where Ludwig Died: Berg, Starnberg Lake.

Marked by a simple cross erected by his mother, this is where Ludwig was found dead. Although Berg Castle is closed, you can wander through the woodland leading to the cross. There is also a pretty neo-Romanesque memorial chapel built in honour of Ludwig. Berg is about an hour’s walk from the town of Starnberg (one of Germany’s richest areas. Look out for women dressed as Cruella De Vil).

For details on the chapel, call +49 (0)8151 5276. For details on catching the boat to the Rose Island, call +49 (0)171 722 2266.

Ludwig’s final resting place. The crypt of Michael’s Church, central Munich.

Drawn in to the Renaissance church from the busy shopping street of Kaufingerstrasse, I discovered this was actually where poor Ludwig was finally laid to rest – in a rather creepy crypt besieged by visitors and worshippers (entrance 2 Euros). The crypt is full of tombs of late Bavarian Royals, but there’s no second guessing who the largest and most decorated one that sits behind iron gates belongs to.

King Ludwig's tomb

King Ludwig’s tomb

It’s also ironic that the king’s tomb is in Munich because he grew to hate the city’s residents for their opposition to his close friend Richard Wagner.

It seems the troubled King, who in the end just wanted to cut himself off from the world bestowed upon him, will never truly be left to rest in peace.

Oktoberfest 2013: A Guide for the Lazy and Unorganised

Oktoberfest. The one time slightly uptight Munich actually explodes into a riot of fun, drunken debauchery! Merry people everywhere, girls in slutty dresses, and piles of vomit on every pavement slab. Just like London at 4pm every Friday then.

Last year was my first time at Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival – and I was lucky to experience it with a local Bavarian who has been a lot. I discovered that you don’t need to be a beer drinker to have fun, although the prices of any other beverage there will make you wish you were one. You don’t have to book a table or buy a ticket. Just turn up and get involved. Ja wohl!

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Oktoberfest is the huge fair. It’s hard not to, as it is the largest in the world. The rides seem to go on for miles. They also look positively retro, and they’re great fun, especially after a litre or two of strong Bavarian beer. Word of warning – look out for projectile vomit when standing under them. Really drunk people and fairground rides don’t mix.

I’d like to point out that we didn’t see one female in this state. Just men. WIMPS.

After having a few rides (ahem) get yourself to a beer tent and find a space on one of the many long tables. I’d recommend doing this pretty early, as those tables do get busy and the punters don’t tend to budge much (except for the loo). Avoid being in large groups too. We were a three, and found it pretty easy to slide onto the end of another group’s table.

The social side to Oktoberfest is great. Of course the beer gets everybody chatting, and it’s a great way to meet people who have come from all over the world to enjoy the festivities. Everyone is there to have a good time. We got chatting to a very nice Croatian boxer and also a sixties British hippie who was selling glow in the dark thumbs. Here he is.

And here we are with our massive jugs.

But the real fun to be had is inside those beer halls. That’s where there’s loud band music, people dancing on tables and an all-round amazing atmosphere. They had already stopped admitting people when we arrived that afternoon, but we managed to get into one later on thanks to my cousin flirting with one of the doormen, telling him she had come all the way to Munich from Australia. Which she actually had. Not many men can resist a young, blonde Aussie, and with that, WE WERE IN.

The carnage inside was bloody brilliant. Hundreds of people all high on Bavaria’s finest. Men in Lederhosen, women spilling out of dirndls, and ‘liquid gold’ slopped all over the place. There was a great live band playing pop songs, and when they belted out ‘Hey Jude’ everyone got on the tables and sang along. It was a moment I will never forget.

Get yourself to Oktoberfest this year. You won’t regret it! (Unless you’re one of those guys throwing up in my pictures above).

Oktoberfest facts:

  • Oktoberfest 2013 actually takes place from September 21 to October 6.
  • It has been running since 1810 and is called ‘die Wiesn’ by the Bavarians
  • Oktoberfestbiers are the beers that have been served at the festival since 1818. They come from six brewers and must be brewed within the city limits of Munich.
  • They are strong – 6% alcohol minimum.
  • The fair is held right in the centre of Munich at the Theresienwiese. The underground trains take you right there. Don’t drive unless you’re crazy.
  • A majority of visitors are Bavarian. Be aware of the local guys girls. I have been told it’s a real badge of honour if one manages to pull a foreign female in front of his mates.
  • If you haven’t booked accommodation already, then good luck. Prices rocket in Munich during the festival. Consider staying somewhere outside of Munich, like the Five-Lakes district. It’s an easy commute from there into the city.

Prost!

And Then The Pigs Magically Became….Sausages

On Saturday we went to one of my favourite local spots in Bavaria, a tiny, picturesque village up in the hills with a farm, adjoining restaurant, and a 5-star bakery.

I’ve never heard of a 5-star bakery before and I’m not exactly sure why the Kasprowicz in Gut Kerschlach is one, except for the sign outside saying it is and the exceptionally good cakes.

But at least I can now say that I have been to a 5-star bakery, even if there weren’t any limos parked outside, high-class hookers hanging out at the counter or bread rolls lounging around in tuxedos smoking cigars.

To get to the village you have to drive to another small village in the south of Bavaria called Pahl, and walk 20 minutes or so along a trail through tall forests and rolling countryside with gorgeous Alpine views.

It’s very pretty to say the least.

Once more it’s great for kids, because there’s very little traffic up there, and you can tour the farm with its kids’ park and zoo, with  moo moos, bunnies, baa baas and neeeee-ighs! (This is how I talk now I have a 16-month-old).

Now we all know how much kids love animals. And how much nicer it is to see them on an ‘eco’ farm, being treated all humanely and stuff. It was a lovely family outing, and our hearts were literally singing with joy as we skipped around in the sunshine like characters from a Disney movie, talking to the animals all Dr Dolittle like.

But sadly we were unable to find the oink oinks. The map showed their barn as being at the back of the farm. But they were nowhere to be found.

Max has just learnt how to make grunts like a pig.  When you’re a parent and your child learns to make grunts like a pig, THIS IS ONE OF THE HIGLIGHTS OF YOUR YEAR.  Therefore, we had to find those smelly noisy pink buggers as if our lives depended on it.

After ten minutes of frantic searching, we found what we thought was the pig area. Hooray! Max’s face lit up, and he started making his cute oink oink noises.

We all skipped over holding hands, with grins like the Cheshire Cat (not really but got to keep up the Disney-esque-ness of it all). We had found the pigs!

But instead of the pigs we actually found this….a sausage factory.

Are you having a laugh? Who puts a sausage factory on a farm for kids, right where the pigs are meant to be? That’s the wurst!

There wasn’t even an attempt to disguise the factory of horrors. There’s a whopping great big sign on the sausage factory announcing it’s a sausage factory, explaining to the children what happens to the animals inside. The way they break the news is quite hilarious. The sign is in German, but let me (or Google) translate.

“Kerschlach Factory. Here the animals that come from the farm and from partner companies are slaughtered in an animal friendly-way and are transformed into speciality sausages.”

“Transformed.” What a nice way of putting it.

It was a sad end to a beautiful day. We trundled off, heads bowed,  looking and feeling grim. Damn those Germans for always being so brutally honest and direct. Practicality rules over everything here. Feelings don’t always count. That’s why there was a sausage factory on a farm for kids. That’s why my friend’s nan lives in a sheltered housing scheme for the elderly with great views of the cemetery over the road. That’s why people here still wear Crocs – in public.

Although I have to admit, I have enjoyed a German sausage or two in my time.  They taste amazing. I guess there’s no point hiding the truth of what happens to most pigs in what is the land of sausages. In Britain I doubt this scenario would have existed, for fear of being insensitive and giving children nightmares. Not in Bavaria!

And at least, like whenever something doesn’t go to plan here, we can cheer up over five-star cake.

Nuremberg: Great place. So what’s up with the locals?

Nuremberg is  one of my favourite destinations in Germany so far. Yes I know I raved about Regensburg. And I haven’t been to Berlin yet. But read on and you’ll see why Nuremberg must surely be one of the top places to visit in Deutschland. DESPITE THE AWFUL PEOPLE. More about them later.

Nuremberg is Bavaria’s second largest city behind Munich. But I love it so much more. According to a friend of mine, Nuremberg has a higher unemployment rate and more druggies than Munich. Great! This means it is far grittier and therefore more interesting than nice but dull Munich.

But please don’t think that because of that Nuremberg is some hell-hole full of pick-pockets. Far from it. Its centre is a beautifully restored medieval marvel, full of ye-olde-worlde buildings and airy cobbled streets. It is where one of Germany’s most famous Christmas markets is held. Its history is simply fascinating, and can easily be recaptured through the dozens of museums and sights on offer. But it is also lots of fun, with cool clubs, bars and a thriving student scene. It seems to be pretty popular with stag parties too (that’s bachelor parties for you Yanks), as Nuremberg is surrounded by hundreds of breweries, and has a number of brothels. Class!

One of Nuremberg’s most interesting sights has to be the dungeons underneath the Rathaus. That’s the local town hall, not a house for rats. You can take a tour of the old prison, built between 1334 and 1340, and imagine the absolute horror the inmates went through there. The cells were small, cold, stone-walled, and completely devoid of daylight. A pail served as the toilet and the table. Some people were tortured as a way of making them confess to crimes they may or may not have committed, and you can still see these torture devices  today. Some inmates were subsequently sentenced to death by hanging, beheading, burning or burying alive. Don’t go on a hangover, like we did.

In stark contrast to the dungeons was my next favourite attraction – the gardens at the Kaiserburg. The castle’s grounds are a perfect place to catch rooftop views of the city and to laze around surrounded by the wonderful flowers.

Another great aspect of Nuremberg is its fascinating yet harrowing Nazi legacy. It was here that Hitler held his mass party rallies and stripped the Jewish of their German citizenship in 1935. Bastard! More than 6, 000 people were killed and 90% of the centre destroyed during the war. But many of the ruined buildings were rebuilt using the original stone, which is why you can still see most of the old town today. Nice.

A must-see is The Reichsparteitagsgelande (pronounced ri -chhhhhhhhccccchhhhhhrrrrrrr flemmy flemmy spit spit schpart tie tag schhhhcccclrrr geland – e), or more easily known as The Nazi Party Rally Grounds. A visit here is a great way to comprehend the scale of Hitler’s support in Nuremberg back in the 1930s. This was where he held his huge rallies to thousands at the Zeppelinfeld. Today the grounds are used for sports and music events, but you can still tour the old grandstand, and literally stand where Hitler did to address the mammoth crowds. Standing in the footsteps of one of the most evil men in history feels eerie to say the least.

In Hitler's footsteps at the Nazi Rally grounds

In Hitler’s footsteps at the Nazi Rally grounds

Despite its shady past, Nuremberg is now a young, multi-cultural, buzzy place, known as the “City of Human Rights”. We loved strolling down the Way of Human Rights, a symbolic row of 29 pillars and one oak tree bearing the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No I don’t know what that is either, but it sounds like a very good deal.

Way of Human Rights

Way of Human Rights

So, if Nuremberg is such a gorgeous place, what the hell is wrong with the locals? We couldn’t help but notice that almost everyone we dared to have a conversation with in the city was miserable, unwelcoming and completely stand-offish. Yes, I know they are German. But still. In Nuremberg they take it to a whole new level. Here I am with one of them.

A Nuremberger and I

A Nuremberger and I

Our first run-in with an unfriendly local was at a sausage cafe, where I was loudly told off by a butch looking waitress in a dirndl for giving some of my bread crumbs to a malnourished pigeon. Yes I know it encourages more of them, but there are polite ways of addressing these things. Then I was accosted by a market stall seller for daring to take photographs of Nuremberg’s famous ginger-bread cookies. But I got a picture anyway bitch, and here they are:

Gingerbread

Gingerbread

We were also made to feel extremely uncomfortable in a cafe where the witch ahem waitress serving us was extremely curt and awful. We almost felt guilty for daring to order a large breakfast each, and spending our Euros there. Mrs Awful then told another member of staff off for a good ten minutes in full view of all of the customers, saying how crap she was at HER job. Professional!

On a night out during our trip, I had a very insightful conversation with one of the lovely Nurembergers.

Him: “Where are you from?”

Me: “England, but we live in the south of Bavaria.”

Him: “Most people who come to Nuremberg from the south of Bavaria never admit it. We hate each other.”

Me: “Oh.”

Man gets up and leaves.

I then had a rather unpleasant run-in with a really cheesed off toilet attendant in a nightclub. I could tell something was wrong when I was sat on the loo doing a number two, and someone started spraying air freshener under the door. Blaming it on a slight drunken haze, I thought nothing of it until I left the said stinky toilet.

Cheesed-off toilet attendant: “Hast du kacka gemacht?” (Did you do a poo-poo?)

Me, pleased that I had finally understood a German speaking German: “Ja!” (Yes!)

Cheesed off attendant, spraying furiously: “Du Schwein! Nein!” (You pig! No!)

I had never been told off for using a toilet as a toilet before. Somewhat surprised, I looked at crazy spray lady as if she was crazy, washed my hands and left the loo. Did my poo really smell that bad? I have pondered that question ever since.

I remember meeting a lovely family once from Nuremberg who were on holiday in our part of Bavaria. We got chatting by the lake, and they explained that they liked to come down this way because the people are ‘much nicer ‘. I can see their point.

Today I visited a Bavarian friend of mine, and told her how much I loved Nuremberg. Before I could mention our experience of the locals, her face turned to angst. “But what about the people there?” she hissed. “They are bloody awful! I lived there for six months. If you walked up to a stranger and said ‘hi how’s it going’ they would look at you as if you were bloody mad. Terrible people.”

So there you have it. Nuremberg. Great place to visit.  Just be prepared for the people and don’t poo anywhere, especially in a toilet.

Regensburg: Bavaria’s Coolest City?

I love Regensburg.  For a city that boasts some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe, Regensburg is young, vibrant, fun, and cool. The University City is also stunningly beautiful and full of really really interesting places to devour food. The world’s oldest sausage kitchen? It’s in Regensburg! Germany’s oldest chocolate shop? Yay, in Regensburg! One of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria? Yep, Regensburg. (Why would a hospital need a brewery? Contrary to popular belief Bavarians, beer only cures confidence issues).

But back to Regensburg. It’s easy to explore the German city’s main attractions, colourful squares and cosy alleys in a day. It’s also just 90 minutes on a train from Munich, and well worth the trip.  (It’s been declared a World Heritage Site, don’t you know.)

Regensburg. What an alley!

We arrived by car from our little part of Bavaria and spent a full day soaking up the best of Regensburg. The first thing that struck me about this city is how similar it is to Prague. From their narrow winding backstreets, to their huge gothic cathedrals, and their old bridges over the rivers, the two medieval cities are somewhat in sync. While it’s not as large as the Czech city, Regensburg crams in over 700 spots for eating and drinking – minus Prague’s huge crowds and drunken stag parties. Hooray!

It also has lots of cool shops, a buzzing street market, and a relaxed, laid-back vibe. Me loves.

The temperature was a whole 1C on the day we decided to visit. But the sun was beaming down on the cute, cobbled streets, and it seemed everyone was out visiting the market, drinking in cafes, or simply wandering around like us.

Regensburg street scene

Regensburg is very different to where we live in Bavaria. We live in a small village where people generally have one eye and women get beaten with a stick every time they leave the kitchen. Ok, so it’s not that bad, but you get the picture. I love it here really, but we all need a change from time to time. A day in Regensburg was just the very fresh and fricken cold blast of air that was needed. Sometimes you only need to take a little trip up the road to enjoy a break from the norm.

Don’t miss:

  • Lunch at the Historische Wurstkuche, the world’s oldest sausage kitchen. While these little beauts look a bit small, what they lack in size they definitely make up for in va-va-voom flavour. The restaurant makes its own sweet mustard too and it goes really well with the pencil sausages. The Wurstkuche is situated right on the banks of the Danube River near the Stone Bridge, but it also has an inside area for those cold German days. How lovely! Unless you’re a veggie, which I was when I first came to Bavaria. Kind of given it up now.

Sausages

  • Having a sweet at Germany’s oldest chocolatiers, Prinzess Cafe. Praline heaven. 

DSC_0457

  • A stroll across the Stone Bridge, which was built between 1135 and 1146. Great spot to enjoy views over Regensburg.

Stone Bridge

  • A beer at Spitalgarten, one of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria. Sit outside in the biergarten under the trees, right on the river. 

Spitalgarten

  • The Dom, Regensburg’s awesome Cathedral. Now I don’t usually go all gooey for churches and all things holy, but this place has to be seen. It’s huge. It has magnificent stained glass windows. And it feels very eerie inside.

The Dom

Do you live somewhere with a completely contrasting area just up the road? Or do you have any experiences of Regensburg to share? Make my day and leave a comment! And here are some more pictures of Regensburg.

Great Bavarian Get-Away: Seefeld, Austria

Pretty Seefeld

One thing I really love about the Germans is the way they embrace their excruciatingly long, dark, and freezing cold winter. If it’s -15C outside you won’t find these lot panic buying at supermarkets or sat at home cuddling a water bottle. They will be out burning calories faster than Usain Bolt by going cross-country skiing, ice-skating on frozen lakes or hiking with those silly poles they even use on concrete. It seems most people in Bavaria own some kind of winter sports equipment, be it a snowboard, skis, ice-skates and half-a-dozen sledges (or sometimes all of those). In England only rich people have skis and snowboards, so I’m forever impressed when I see the contents of a Bavarian’s garage. In Bavaria there are plenty of places to ski and snowboard in winter, such as Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Mittenwald. But as Bavaria borders Austria many Germans bypass their own country’s resorts and head deeper into the Alps for even better conditions. Petrol is also cheaper in Austria, which is why the pumps close to the German/Austrian border are usually full of satisfied German drivers filling up their tanks. And it takes a lot to satisfy a German, particularly one that’s driving!

Last weekend some friends and I drove across the border into Austria – a 90 minute trip from our home near The Ammersee. As with most European border crossings the only way we could tell we had entered another country was a ‘Welcome to Austria’ sign and our mobiles frantically bleeping with text messages telling us it would now cost an arm and a leg to answer our own phones.

The drive was spectacular. The snowy German Alps were shrouded in an eerie light morning mist, which gradually lifted to reveal their full grandeur. Then as the road snaked higher into the range we were engulfed by a heavy snow storm, turning our surroundings into a wonderful winter wonderland. Pine trees stood tall sprinkled with white, while cute little log cabins with thick snowy roofs poked out from the blanketed countryside. Just lovely.

We ploughed through the blizzard to the Winter Olympic resort of Seefeld, a pretty postcard ski village just a few minutes drive over the border into Austria. As you can tell from the photographs, it’s a gorgeous little place.

To cater for the huge number of Germans who ‘drive and ski’ the resort has a multi-story car park with escalators to take you right to the bottom of the slopes. Everyone changes in their car or on the car park floor on arrival before purchasing their lift passes by the runs. So efficient, the system must have been designed by a German! There are also 25 ski lifts, 28 km of ski runs, and facilities for night-skiing.

Being a Sunday the resort was pretty busy and heaving with kids. Most of these children were extremely competent German skiers and snowboarders who annoyingly whizzed past me as I fell on the same part of my right butt cheek again and again and again (it’s been a while since I last snowboarded.) Ten days on and the huge purple bruise to my bottom – and ego – is still there. Still, the view from the top of the easiest run I could find was breath-taking. Between painful snowboarding sessions I sat on the snow, took in the scenery, and breathed in that beautiful fresh alpine air.

That great view

After some hearty food in a wooden Apres-Ski restaurant complete with smokers and pumping Austrian dance music, we dragged our sore bodies into the heart of Seefeld. The picturesque village boasts plenty of hotels (all proudly advertising their saunas), cute cafes, and souvenir shops bursting with cuckoo clocks.

We only had a day here but if you stayed for longer there would be plenty of fun to be had. The area is a popular destination for cross-country skiers, sledgers, climbers and hikers. There’s even a ‘Strudelfest’ on this July! I can’t wait to return and see more of Austria. Just remember to do as the Germans do, and stock up on petrol if you’re coming back this way.

For further information, visit http://www.seefeld.com