Destination: Northern Bavaria - Rothenburg, Donauworth, Dinksbuhl, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Legenfeld & Lauber, Germany
Number of Days Spent: 1 week
Where we stayed: Our friend Leann's house!
Best restaurant: The brewery restaurant in Legenfeld had the best spatzle (potato dumplings) of our trip! Our vote for best beer goes to Weltenburg or to Legenfeld, we liked the dunkels (dark) the most.
Best of: If we learned one thing in Germany it had to be this: Monks make the best beer. Best enjoyed as Ein Mass (1 liter); The night watchman's tour in Rothenburg is surprisingly entertaining and well worth the 5 euros.
Worst of: Train tickets are expensive compared to Italy and the Czech Republic - even short routes will set you back at least 8 euros each
Most Memorable: Stumbling onto multiple festivals (the Germans look for excuses to drink some beer!); our favorite - Legenfeld (below)
Travel Tip: The Bayern Pass will cost you 28 euros for the day (9am - 3am next day) but you can travel unlimited in Bayern (Bavaria) with up to 5 people on the same pass, it was almost always cheaper than the individual tickets. If traveling to the Czech Republic (i.e. Prague) opt for the Bayern-Bohemia Pass for 33 euros (same rules as Bayern) which will get you to Pilsen where you can purchase a ticket onto Prague for 7.50 euro each. Much cheaper and the exact same route as the direct line from Munich to Prague.
We arrived in Germany to stay with our friend Leann, and be treated to some good ole' US of A hospitality; after the fast paced excitement of Italy it was a welcome breath of fresh air. Sometimes when you are traveling you miss the simple things in life. Cooking your own meal, sitting in a living room in a recliner, not having to pack and unpack virtually everyday and having a conversation with a native English speaker other than each other are the little things you miss. We cannot express how grateful we were to have the opportunity to do all those things at Leann's and THANK YOU again so much for letting us crash at your house for so long!
The Romantic Highway starts in the north of present day Bavaria in the town of Wurzburg and runs all the way to Ludwig's Castles in the south by the Austrian border. Aptly named, the highway encompasses some of the most scenic and well preserved Medieval towns and exudes a wonderfully charming air. We opted to bite off little bits at a time rather than rush through the whole road.
We started in the Gingerbread towns of Donauworth and Dinklsbuhl. Come summertime, the Germans look for ways to have a festival. Donauworth had a Kinderfest (kids festival) going on that day and Dinklsbuhl also had a festival, but one that included beer and brats - more up our alley! The towns themselves all have a cute charm that is typical in this part of Germany. The facades of all the homes are painted pastel colors accented with soft wood tones. They all sit on medieval cobblestone streets providing a great postcard type backdrop.
Of all the towns along this stretch of highway, Rothenburg is without a doubt the most popular and deservedly so. Rothenburg is home to the Kathy Wolfhart Christmas stores, makers of the infamous "Christmas pyramids" which slowly turn from just the heat of candles burning on four sides. The town was also hosting some sort of festival, complete with - beer and brats (Notice a theme developing??). For a look at Tracy's first brat experience see the photo below. Mmmmm....good!
Seemingly every touristy town has a Torture Museum and Rothenberg is no exception. If you have not been to one yet, the one here is considered one of the best and it's both interesting and slightly amusing to see the forms of punishment used back in the dark ages. My personal favorite is when a married couple could not resolve a dispute and the courts needed to determine which one was telling the truth. The man was buried in the dirt up to his neck with only his head and two arms remaining above ground. One hand was bound and the other welded a club. The wife was given a rope with a rock tied to the end and also had one hand bound, but was free to move about. The winner of the ensuing battle had to obviously be telling the truth and therefore won the case. The rest of the museum has other interesting stories like this as well as all the fun torture devices.
The town itself is magically charming. The wall has been rebuilt and mostly intact, all of the old town is lined with cobblestone streets and loads of Gingerbread style homes. One way to appreciate it and be entertained at the same time is to take the Nightwatchman's tour. Every night, a tall scruffy man carrying a pike and lantern and dressed the part gives you a glimpse of life in the Middle Ages. Not only does he explain some of the history of Rothenberg, he also explains some of the everyday living conditions during the Dark Ages.
Bavaria is also home to dozens of monasteries. Not all monasteries actually brew beer, but the ones that do, do it well. One such place we visited was Weltenburg, beautifully set in a bend on the Danube River, this "Kloster" had the best beer that we tasted in Bavaria, the nectar of the Gods it could very well be. While trying every single one would take months...or a serious binge week, we tried our fair share. I had the Dunkel (dark) and Tracy had the hefwiezien (wheat beer), both were quite tasty and cannot be compared to anything I have had in the States. Aside from the beer, which could quite possibly make a believer out of an atheist, they also have a beautiful church decorated in the classical Baroque style. Dear reader, you can figure which element left the best impression.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the town of Bamberg lies just north of Nurnberg and it was easy to see why it made the list. It's Old City Hall is drop dead gorgeous, sitting on a small island in the river with its Gingerbread style building overhanging the river. Not to be outdone, Bamberg also had a festival, the Spetzle (Asparagus) Festival, complete with beer, brats and a couple of stalls selling the supposed star of the show. We tried the delicious cream based soup and wandered around the town for a bit. The town is famous for it's dark, smoked beer. We sat down and had a pint, not bad but certainly has an interesting flavor that is somewhat acquired.
Continuing on our list of UNESCO Heritage sights, we drove out to the town of Wurzburg to see the New Residenz. Serving as home to the Franconian Kings. Despite taking some major damage in WWII, the main halls still remain intact, including the worlds largest ceiling fresco (Michelangelo's Sistine is a series of frescoes as opposed to one single fresco). The fresco depicts the 4 continents of the world (what was discovered at that time) - Africa, America, Asia and Europe. Other highlights include the hall of mirrors and an impressive optical illusion. In one of the paintings a dog sits in the foreground; but from the ground, the dog seems to come off the canvas.
The town also hosts a number of churches, a nice pedestrian area, complete with more festival fun and a statue lined bridge similar to Charles Bridge in Prague (coming soon!).
Our last stop in Wurzburg was the castle at the top of the hill, the old Residenz. The castle served as home to the kings of Franconia until it became outdated and they moved down to the New digs in town. The gardens have commanding views as you can see!
We also went to the local little town of Legenfeld. Not on any tourist maps or guide books, we originally went there to have a nice meal and try their Kupfer Beer. When we arrived, there was a....yep...festival going on. Unlike the others we had stumbled across, this one was unique. Underneath the massive white tent, hundreds of people were chatting and gulping down Ein Mass (1 liter of beer) of the Kupfer. On the stage at the far end was a competition. Donning their traditional garbs, the locals were having a dance contest. It's ended up being a miniature Oktoberfest, without all the cookie tossing tourists. We went inside and had a nice meal and then came back out and enjoyed our own Ein Mass squeezing into the benches with all the locals. This was hands down our favorite festival and the beer was second only to Weltenburg in our opinion!
Our last stop in Northern Bavaria worth noting is the Chocolate factory in Lauber. It's a bit kitschy with mechanical animals singing songs, but the chocolate was delicious and came in any flavor and shape imaginable.
Next, we head to Munich and south to the castles of Mad King Ludwig's, across into Austria and of course, more beer!
To see more photos click on the links below!