I’m lucky that I have a job where I can work wherever I want (as long as I have internet access), and I took advantage of that fact in the fall of 2013 — landed in Brussels, cruised into Germany via Cologne, trained to Freiburg (and did a big hike), rented a car and cruised around the Black Forest and Romantic Road, visited Munich, then a couple long term (~3 week) stays in Prague and Berlin. Not bad!
There were a few standout memories from the trip:
Hiking to St. Ottilien for lunch
I definitely would add my Freiburg to Sankt Peter hike to this list, but as I’ve already mentioned it here, a close second would be the lunch hike recommended by our host in Freiburg. I’m sure St. Ottilien is accessible by car but the hike from Freiburg is much more fun — an hour walk through the Black Forest with plenty of signage leads you to a tiny two-house-and-a-restaurant town with, quite simply, amazing food.
As we were walking up to the restaurant, the soup special was being erased, with pumpkin soup replacing the former onion soup. I’m so thankful it did — we ordered the pumpkin soup and it was the best soup we had all trip. The most standout part was that the soup wasn’t completely pureed like most pumpkin soups — there were small chunks of squash, onions, and other vegetables in the flavorful creamy soup.
The only issue is that the bees (like most bees/wasps we encountered in the Black Forest) were curious to a point of being aggressive, making it a bit hard to enjoy our meal without shooing them away. There was even a bee who had crawled in our sugar shaker, trapping itself in (probably short-lived) sugar heaven.
Climbing the Kölner Dom
I’m usually not a fan of most “tourist” activities, but make exceptions for ones that involve physical activity or major, beautiful views. The Kölner Dom in Cologne promised both — the largest Gothic church in Europe, you could pay a few euros to climb one of the towers, all 533 steps, tiny spiral staircase packed with other panting tourists. I feel a bit ashamed admitting that I needed a couple stops myself. But it was great getting an inside view of the cathedral and the architecture, was treated to such an amazing view of Cologne, plus the hopefully burning off some of the calories of the many Kölsch beers I had already imbibed in.
Brunch at Britxos in Brussels
I’m going to have to admit early on that a lot of my best memories revolve around food. No regrets! My family asked, upon seeing my travel photos on Facebook, whether I was writing a food blog while traveling since 90% of my photos revolved around our meals.
My partner and I are huge fans of brunch (breakfast being the best meal of the day, and brunch being a celebration of breakfast that you can have past traditional breakfast hours.) I scoped out an interesting blog post about brunches in Brussels, and as the secret garden breakfasts detailed in the blog post weren’t happening, we resolved to go to the original restaurant, Britxos.
Getting there was an adventure, and the reason it stands out so clearly in my mind. First, reservations. The restaurant required reservations, and I decided we should go to Britxos at 10pm on Saturday, the night before. I sent an email over asking for reservations, not knowing whether we’d get them for the following morning. Which we did, but of course, I lost track of time the next morning, and realized at 9:30am that we had reservations for 10am, and the restaurant was nowhere near us. I woke my partner up and we rushed to the local tram, not knowing how much they were and how we were going to pay (which, as it turns out, you can pay the driver). Secondly, I forgot to get directions beyond getting to the tram so we had to guess which stop we needed to get off on. Third, after we got the right stop, I had no directions from the stop to the restaurant. We wandered in circles hoping we’d just run into the restaurant. We stopped by a shop, asking if they knew of the restaurant (and they didn’t.)
We finally found some open wifi, found the restaurant, practically ran over (at this point, we were way past our original restaurant reservation time), burst in sweaty and stressed, and… everything worked out beautifully. The staff welcomed us and assured us that our lateness was fine. We ordered a three course breakfast, which turned out to be one of the best breakfasts of our entire trip, capped by an actual cronut for dessert.
Such a stressful ordeal to get to brunch, which turned out to be one of the best meals we had all trip.
Viehscheid in Haldenwang
Another major bonus of renting rooms (rather than whole apartments) — our wonderful host in Kempten (near the “Romantic Road”) discovered that the celebration Viehscheid was occurring at the village a few miles away from where we were staying. Viehscheid is the annual “cattle-drive” of the cows from the mountains for winter, accompanied by traditionally-dressed Bavarian cattle-herders and headed by the kranzrind, the “coronary beef”, the lead cow covered in wreaths and flowers to celebrate an uneventful summer. The entire town turned out for the celebration, with booths selling cheese, meat, beer (at 10am, no less) and trinkets.
A really lovely “non-tourist” celebration we were able to see by being in the right place at the right time.
Accidentally driving into Austria
We rented a car in Freiburg and proceeded to run around the Black Forest and the Romantic Road, and one day in Füssen, the start of the Romantic Road, we spent some time driving around the area close to the border to see an incredibly ornate church (and I honestly was probably more excited by the ponies just outside) and a few villages in the area. We relied on our car’s GPS to get us most places, and for the most part, it worked perfectly. However, our agreement limited our car to Germany only (needed extra stickers and whatnot for other countries, which we declined to pay for), and this day, close to the border, we told the GPS to take us home and it proceeded to drive us into Austria, which we didn’t discover until it was too late to turn around.
We imagined border crossings with angry guards scolding us for going the wrong way and not having the appropriate stickers, and we watched the GPS like a hawk as it warned us we were getting closer and closer to the border. Which turned out to be… just a river. No border, no guards, no nothing. Oh America, I blame you for making me think there would be more of an ordeal.
Our impromptu trip into Austria was spectacular — through mountains and forests, and alongside the Plansee (my partner says, “More like didn’t-plan-to-see, amirite?”) which was the most spectacular shade of blue. We crossed back into Germany without trouble. Thank goodness for happy accidents!
Mass biers and brezels in Munich
My poor partner was very patient with me as I insisted we couldn’t leave Munich without getting one of the giant, 1 liter, mass beers. You know, the famous ones from Oktoberfest. We missed Oktoberfest by a week (purposely, due to 3x prices), but the main beer halls in the center of Munich have an Oktoberfest vibe all year around.
Very crowded but we were able to share a table with a few other groups, which is actually preferred as every time you toast (“prost!”), you’re supposed to do it with the entire table (something we missed doing the first round, since we just did it to each other and I caught our table-mates looking put out… oops.)
Not to mention getting one of my favorite foods in the whole world… a giant, perfectly made, German pretzel.
I could probably add another 15 moments to this list (actually, it was originally five and then I realized I couldn’t possibly do just that, so I changed it to six), but this is a good overview of the best moments from traveling Europe. Great food, active adventures, and happy accidents.
All photos by me from my iPhone 4s