At the age of 43 I finally visited Europe and what a visit it was! On October 10, Katie and I set out on an adventure to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. This was Katie’s 3rd trip across the pond (London and Paris), so I looked to her for guidance in many ways.
About 13 months ago our Durham neighbors Mike and Mary packed up and moved to Zurich, Switzerland for a work opportunity. At the time, we vowed to visit and started brainstorming how we would make it happen, how much money we would need to save, and where our main stops would be. We settled upon Salzburg, Austria; Munich, Germany; and Zurich, Switzerland with some side day trips along the way. We monitored flights closely and one day Katie came across a sale that was ~$350 cheaper per ticket than we had previously encountered so we pounced on those and the rest of planning was set into motion.
We locked down AirBnB’s in Salzburg and Munich and we had shelter lined up with Mike and Mary in Zurich. Thank goodness for that. Zurich is crazy expensive.
Our route to our first destination of Salzburg was RDU to Heathrow to Berlin to Salzburg. Not a big fan of 2 layovers when traveling, but if you can save $700, you go for it. I got a cold the day before travel (which eventually I would pass onto Katie), but I was so excited I didn’t even care.
Our flight path to Salzburg was overnight and we lost 6 hours due to the time change, so I was in full zombie mode floating through the London and Berlin airports, but I got my first passport stamps so all was right in the world. Heathrow is HUGE and I learned that traveling internationally typically involves a security re-screen and other steps beyond just making your way to the next gate.
Heathrow Airport= mega shopping mall and glitz
Berlin Airport = Boxy warehouse, announcements in German, and of course a beer garden. Our gate was 43, but we were bussed 60 seconds to gate ~49. We are still trying to figure that one out. This was Katie’s first prop plane trip, so that was a fun conversation.
Reality set in on final approach to Salzburg that I was on a different continent. The lush green landscape and surrounded by mountains was breathtaking. After deplaning on the tarmac, we were happy to see our travel backpacks coming off the plane.
It was now my time to be introduced to how awesome public transportation (bus, light rail, train, etc.) is in Europe. The good news about Austria and Germany in particular is that there are English options and signage most everywhere. We bussed to the main train station and 10 minutes later were arriving at our first AirBnB. Being so close to the main train made it easy to get from place to place when we weren’t averaging 25,000 steps! per day.
Salzburg and Day Trip Highlights:
- Just walking around!
If you are Catholic and/or into Churches, you need to visit Salzburg (and Munich). Everywhere you turned, there was a church that was hundreds of years old and many you can walk right into. Immaculate (pun intended) detail is everywhere. If you’re into shopping (we are not), Salzburg has a great district to take care of that. Most of the streets are pedestrian/taxi only so there was not a lot of interruption to your walk. We popped in and out of alleyways, walked along the river, and crossed bridges for hours on end.
- Mozart’s Birthplace and Museum
Salzburg is the birth city of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I learned a lot about this guy beyond just his compositions. I have my museum limits when I travel, but we are talking about freaking Mozart here. We did a combo ticket that allowed us to visit both his birth house and museum.
- Augustiner Brauhaus
We ventured up the hills that surround the city toward the fortress. Knowing that we would be visiting some other castle structures on our trip, we didn’t drop any euros on this, but found a great greenway along the ridge line of the city. The best part is that at the end of this 1.4 KM trail was the Augustiner Brauhaus. Imagine a giant brew house, large beer halls (5), permanent food vendors, and a 1,400 seat beer garden (the largest in Austria) under chestnut trees and you have Augustiner. Grab a clean mug off a shelf, pay for your bier, hand it to a guy pouring beer from a wooden barrel and you’re on your way. It was the perfect way to end a day full of walking.
I will post a photo after this section, but it hard to describe how beautiful Hallstatt is. We realized we arrived to perfect weather and peak leaf color change season, but wow. The lake is surrounded by mountains and this little quaint tourist town is full of character. Outside of some tourists taking photos and selfies every 3 feet, it wasn’t really gaudy at all for a tourist destination. We took a train from Salzburg to a random town in Austria. From here we were to catch 2 buses to Hallstatt. Hilarity ensued. The train and unmarked and locked bus station area was the size of my yard. In the end the bus picked us up 30 yards from where we got off the train and the bus driver let us know that he would take us 5 minutes down the road then we would get on another bus. Still lacking confidence in the process, and in the middle of nowhere in a foreign land, sure enough another bus swooped us up essentially in a roadside park and took us to Hallstatt. It was here that I gained great confidence in all things public transportation in Europe.
Once in Hallstatt, we did a quick through “town.” There was smoke on the water which led to some great photos. After discovering that Austrian coffee pours contain very low ounces, we started a trek up the hill that serves as downtown’s backdrop. This was very vertical in nature, but luckily we packed a lunch to fuel up halfway. Once on top the views were spectacular. We checked out the scenic overlook and walked to the oldest salt mine in the world. The tours were a bit pricy so we chose to hike back down to town. As we traversed downtown and even found some less traveled areas, we decided to rent an electric boat and putt around the lake. We grabbed a beer and studied the train schedules. The Hallstatt station was across the lake, so we took a 10 minute boat to the station and although we missed our 1st choice in train because of a slow and rude American buying tickets we were on our way about 30 minutes later.
Next Stop: Munich, Germany
A train trip between Salzburg and Munich is a 1 hour and 45 minute lovely journey through small Bavarian towns with several farms, cows, goats, and even magpies along the way. Arriving into Munich station we knew we were dealing with a bigger city. While Salzburg is a little more subdued, neater and closer to nature, Munich was a legit, yet now overly sprawling city. I likened it traveling from Bend to Portland, Oregon.
Once off the train, the energy and noise level was totally different from Salzburg. It took a few minutes to get our bearings directionally toward our next AirBnB, but we managed through the miracle of Google Maps on our smartphones. Our host Angel was very gracious and excited to share his recommendations in Munich.
So, you might think after traveling, we might sit and relax for a bit? Nope, we were ready to check out this city. This was the start of consecutive 30,000 step days.
Munich and Day Trip Highlights:
- English Garden
We traveled through city and passed more beautiful churches and architectural wonders on our way to the English Garden. English Garden is larger than Central Park in New York City. The walk was made more pleasant by another perfect day of weather. To break up our long walk we stopped at the Chinese Beer Garden. We put in a few more miles around a lake and back into city center.
- BMW and Olympic Park
Katie and I split up one day. She checked out some museums and I walked ~3 miles up to the BMW and Olympic Park area. Katie is a great travel partner and since I am an introvert and she is an only child, we don’t have any problem doing our own thing for a few hours. I should note that our dividing point was a Cat Cafe where cats walk (or sleep) amongst you while you enjoy your coffee, cake, etc. I wandered through BMW and as I finished up there, Katie walked from her museums and we met at the Olympic Park. There was a sports festival going on (Yes, the weather was perfect again) so walked through vendors and exhibitions of any sport/activity you can imagine. This is the moment we confessed our love for Munich.
- Hohenschwangau and Neuschawnstein Castles (Fussen)
The only activity we purchased train and venue tickets for was for our train trip to Fussen to visit 2 amazing castles. The train arrives to Fussen and most folks will take a bus to the castle area. Of course the Todds walked 2-3 miles to get there. Once picking up tickets we had some time to kill until our scheduled entry time into Hohenschwangau. This was another area where we had to dodge tourists lacking self-awareness taking multiple photos of every possible object. Climbing hills to castles began to take their toll as this day went on, but we carried on. Castle Neuschwanstein was very picturesque. We did choose to take the bus back to Fussen and had some time to kill. We found a little restaurant and we were the only patrons for a while in this sleepy town in the heavy tourism off-season. Still with time to kill, we both bought a beer and went to sick in a little city park near the main station. Outside of watching some kid get clipped by a car (it was his fault and he got back up and biked away), this was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Back to Munich.
For our last day in Munich, we took a 21 minute train ride and 15 minute bus ride to the Dachau Concentration Camp and Memorial Site. This should be required education for everyone. It was a solemn and educational visit. If you visit Munich, I also think it should be required for your travel itinerary.
Next Stop: Zurich, Switzerland
We bid farewell to Munich on a 4 hour and 20 minute train ride to Zurich, Switzerland. After figuring out the tram situation, we were on our way to our friends’ place. We were dropped off about 2 blocks from their place and were approximately 3 blocks from Lake Zurich. We are grateful to these neighbors inspiring us to create and take this trip. They have a GREAT apartment and were gracious hosts. Our first night there we walked a bit and saw some sights on our way to a fancy vegan dinner at Hiltl. The next morning, Katie and I basically traced the Rick Steve’s walking tour and then ventured to the other side of the lake to walk some parks, then we threw down a blanket and enjoyed some recently purchased beers. Europe living at its finest. Zurich provided some great moments to reconnect with our neighbors simply by sitting down and shooting the breeze.
At about this time, Katie’s cold (courtesy of yours truly) is starting to peak. Initially we planned a day trip to Luzern. Between the cold and having been on the move for 9 days straight, we opted not to take this day trip. While Katie slept I walked more of Zurich (Alps visible through the haze in the distance!). In the afternoon, I checked out the University area and one of few craft beer locations in Zurich. I chatted with the owner for about an hour about the beer cultures between our 2 countries. That evening, we walked to the International Beer Bar with the neighbors which was situated in a really cool neighborhood. We ended our evening with dinner and drinks back at the department since we had a 7:10am flight the next morning. Our neighbors graciously walked us to the train station and after some adventure at the Zurich airport, we were on our way to London, then home.
- Everyone should visit a different part of the world or at least our country. We can learn so much from others and appreciate what we have in the process.
- Europe is miles and miles and miles ahead of the U.S. in renewable energy, environmental responsibility, and public transportation.
- Austrians and Germans are super nice and the Swiss are hard to read.
- Europeans love graffiti, yet hate littering.
- Markets and Cafes every 30 feet is a great thing.
- Europeans walk or bike everywhere. Portions are smaller. There are no European countries on the top 20 obese country list. U.S. is #18.
- Smoking was everywhere but the per capita life expectancy of the countries we visited destroys the U.S. Figure that one out.
- The Swiss do not do small talk
- Beer gardens were everywhere and were always full no matter the time of day or day of the week.
- Traveling is awesome. Jet lag? Less awesome.
So there you have it. If you made it this far, you need a hobby, but thanks for reading. I wanted to capture this experience while was fresh in my mind. I can’t wait to travel again. We are already looking at next July to visit Ireland and Scotland and attend The Open at Carnoustie.