Archive for June, 2013


Bavarian Alps: Munich to Lake Como

It’s been a busy week, during which we’ve added four new countries to Zara’s roster.  We bid “sayonara” to Kyoto, flying Emirates via Dubai to Munich (highly recommended–the contrast between this experience and the one to Japan via United Airlines deserves its own blog post as UAL is its own version of hell on long-haul flights.  Seriously, no seat-back screens?  Are we back in 1999?).

The heavy rains that had pelted southern Germany in the weeks prior to our arrival fortunately had abated and given way to warm weather, so Zara and Jonathan explored Munich via bike and on foot for a couple of days while I attended my conference.  Munich is another city made for cycling.  Our hotel was adjacent to the Englischer Garten, which is a lovely park even larger than Central Park and with the added surprise of its own surf break–seriously!   And after the culinary exoticism of Japan, we all happily dug into our hearty German meals of Spätzle and wienerschnitzel and joined the crowds of Germans drinking from large steins in the outdoor beer gardens.

After my conference ended, we picked up the Renault Scenic we’ve rented for the next three months through Renault’s Eurodrive program outside Munich.  Definitely worth checking out for long stays in Europe–hassle free experience so far and the price is reasonable (especially compared to camper van rentals in New Zealand)!

Neuschwanstein Castle:  How could we miss checking out Baron Bomburst’s castle home in Vulgaria?!  Okay–so we may be biased as we are slightly obsessed with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but this was a must-see.  We actually skipped the castle tour because a late afternoon arrival meant the earliest tour of the castle’s interior was at 6:40pm (warning: this place gets crowded in high season), but we’re not huge fans of guided tours anyway and we were still able to tour the outside of the castle and take in the amazing views.

Oberammergau:  We drove into this charming town filled with religious iconography and decided it was a good stopping place for the night.  Oberammergau is famous for its Passion Play, which is produced once a decade.  As the story goes, in 1633, hoping to save their town from the ravages of the black plague, the inhabitants of the town gathered and prayed, and promised to re-enact the life and suffering of Jesus every 10 years if they were spared further deaths.  Apparently, it worked! We stayed in a fourth-generation family-run hotel with a friendly proprietress, watched a fierce lightening storm after dinner from our balcony and took a stroll along the river the next morning.

Zugspitze: This was another unplanned stop, but when we saw the sign advertising a railtrip to the top of Germany on my birthday/Father’s Day, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  Unfortunately, our sandals weren’t the best footwear for exploring the peak at an altitude of close to 3,000 meters, but the views were stunning.  The ride up on the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway from Eibsee was also seriously impressive, as we quickly and smoothly gained altitude and tunneled through the mountain for over 15 minutes. Not for the claustrophobic!

St. Moritz:  We picked St. Moritz as our 2nd overnight stop on our way to Lake Como and stayed at another fourth-generation family run hotel.  The town was less ritzy and crowded than I’d expected (I suspect high season is in winter) and we had a tasty dinner in our hotel’s restaurant where an American Jazz pianist entertained us with popular jazz pieces while Zara danced away (until she realized everybody was watching her).  Before taking off the next morning, we took a stroll around the lake where we discovered that Switzerland does have black flies, although they fortunately appeared to be the non-biting variety.

The Drive:  This is probably the most stunning  drive I’ve ever taken, through Bavaria, into Austria over the Fern Pass and then dropping down into Italy.  It just kept getting better and better.  I would have been happy to stay longer at any of the places we passed along the way.  Of course, I did always dream of being Heidi when I was younger!  Warning that claustrophobes may not enjoy the number of miles spent driving under mountains.

Now we are happily ensconced in our house rental perched on hill overlooking Lake Como in the charming village of Nesso.  More to come!

2013-06-14 12.05.57

Beer and pretzels in Englischer Garten, Munich

Beer and pretzels in Englischer Garten, Munich

2013-06-15 12.35.31

We still need to christen her!

2013-06-15 15.17.06

The Bavarian countryside

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Bavaria with post-storm skies

Bavaria with post-storm skies

2013-06-15 18.52.58

Fourth generation hotel in Oberammergau

Fourth generation hotel in Oberammergau

Cross on hilltop above Oberammergau

Cross on hilltop above Oberammergau

Walk along the river in Oberammergau

Walk along the river in Oberammergau

Atop Germany at Zugspitze

Atop Germany at Zugspitze

Austrian Alps

Austrian Alps

2013-06-16 15.53.25

More Austrian Alps

Italian Alps

Italian Alps

Near the Italian border

Near the Italian border

St. Moritz lakeside walk

St. Moritz lakeside walk

Advertisements

Kyoto on Bikes

Gearing up for our cycle ride.  How come Jonathan gets the electric bike?

Gearing up for our cycle ride. How come Jonathan gets the electric bike?

The cooling breeze as we cycled north along the Kamo River that bisects Kyoto was a welcome relief compared to the days we’ve hoofed around in the heat.   It was a Sunday and the banks of the river were populated with a slices of Kyoto life — families having picnics, senior citizens painting, children playing sports, men fishing, tourists napping…

Kyoto is a sprawling city, with hidden gems waiting to be discovered in every neighborhood.  And, as much as we tried to explore on foot, a month was not enough and we left many areas unexplored.   The bus system is comprehensive, but we discovered that cycling is loads more fun.

We rented two bikes from our local bike store (which are ubiquitous), one an electric hybrid with a rear child seat large enough to fit Zara (something that would be rare in the US) and a regular city bike for me.  Although Zara rides a bike well, it’s been nearly a year since she’s been on a bike and we didn’t want her to have to relearn the rules of the road while navigating the crowded city streets and sidewalks.  It wasn’t a tough sell, she was more than happy to ride along as passenger.  She found it a welcome relief from pounding the pavement for miles each day.

Princess passenger

Princess passenger

Cycling in Kyoto is easy because it’s the norm to ride on the sidewalks–thus, risk of serious accidents are minimized (unless you are a pedestrian, in which case this practice leads to much higher risk from walking).   Nobody wears helmets, but again, the risk seems acceptable when riding primarily on sidewalks or down quiet alleys.  The feel of the wind through my hair brought back fond memories of the years before bike helmets were mandated…

We headed north along the river banks until the urban noise quieted as we hit the northern suburbs and then circled back and towards the west to join up with the Philosopher’s Path.  We’d done that walk the week before, but this time we seized the opportunity to get a tasty snack at a cafe situated on the famous path.  Nothing like a 20+ mile bike ride to assuage feelings of guilt while eating a matcha cake.

2013-06-09 15.38.58

A few days ago we decided to pay Arashiyama another visit, as our initial one on a crowded festival Saturday in the pouring rain had been a bit of a downer and limited what we could do (although Zara amused herself pretending to be a turtle and our walk through the misty bamboo forest was unforgettable).

Image

Our daughter, the turtle.

Image

My “I’m waterlogged” look.

Arashiyama is a western district of Kyoto that is been designated by the Japanese government as a meishō, or Place of Scenic Beauty. Despite being a Kyoto suburb (it took less than 2o minutes by train), it feels like being in a small (albeit busy) Japanese village .  Our second visit we were blessed with blue skies and light crowds (a rarity at many of the “must see” tourist sights, which typically are overtaken by busloads of Japanese junior high students tasked with practicing their English on foreign visitors).

Post-interview pic with junior high students

Post-interview pic with junior high students

Another English-practicing group of students

Another English-practicing group of students

Zara’s disappointment at missing the monkeys on our first visit had not been forgotten, so we kicked off the day with a 20-minute climb to Iwatayama Monkey Park on the slopes of Mount Arashiyama.

(Note: Sightseeing in Japan involves a lot of walking, with few of the drive-up alternatives you’d see in the U.S. and given the heat, signs warning of heat stroke were prominent.   And yet, Japanese woman have perfected the art of navigating strenuous walks in 4-inch platforms carrying delicate sun parasols and maintaining a shine-free face in high humidity–must be that Japanese oil blotting paper!)

The Monkey Park is home to more than 100 Japanese macaque, popularly known as the snow monkey outside of Japan and notable for the red faces and fannies.  I was a bit apprehensive, especially after the Nara experience, but the park is organized in a way that avoids visitors being besieged by hungry monkeys.  As we arrived at the top of the park, we were directed towards a wooden hut where they passed out ice-cold washcloths (further preventative measures against heat stroke) and from where we could feed the monkeys apples, yams and peanuts that were on sale.  Feeding monkeys outside the hut was expressly prohibited, which meant that monkeys don’t expect food outside of the hut so they leave you alone.

The birth season runs from end of March to the beginning of July, so we were fortunate to see a few newborns, which was a definite highlight.  Zara was equally enthralled by watching the monkeys groom each other for lice.  You never know what will capture a kid’s imagination.

Image

ImageImageImageImageImage

Next up was the Sagano Scenic Railway (aka the “Romantic Train”), which is a 7 km journey along a forested mountain track perched above the Hozu River from Arashiyama to Kameoka.  I suspect the multiple long and dark tunnels along the route account for its “romantic” designation.  The train is open-air, clackety and offers a  scenic ride at a leisurely pace.  I imagine it would be spectacularly colorful during the fall.  The highlight was when the train conductor ended the journey warbling a Japanese song to great applause.

ImageImage

It was approaching 4pm as we left the train station, but we wanted to do the return journey via the Hozu-gawa River Boat , so we hopped on a bus to a point a little further downriver, where a group of about 12 of us boarded a flat bottomed boat with four guides, one to row and the three others to stand fore and aft and use bamboo poles to push away from rock hazards.  We spotted multiple heron, deer grazing riverside, diving ducks and Zara burst into delighted laughter every time we navigated some minor white water.  Our guides frequently had Jonathan and the other passengers bursting into laughter with their jokes, and Jonathan did his best to translate.  We learned from a Japanese friend that many of Japan’s comedic geniuses hail from the Osaka-region and Jonathan has had the opportunity to enjoy their wit first-hand.  (The longer you stay in a place, the more you feel the loss of the ability to speak the local language.)

It was a perfect day from start to finish, and any stay in Kyoto should include a visit to Arashiyama!

Post-rapid grin

Post-rapid grin

Jonathan's mum, Mary, is all smiles on the river

Jonathan’s mum, Mary, is all smiles on the river

World Travel Family

Family Travel Blog

CARROT QUINN

dispatches from the wild

Mike Adamick

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

OurTravelLifestyle-LatestBlogPosts

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Family Travel Blog

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

A King's Life

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

EscapeArtistes

Just another WordPress.com site

Travel With Bender

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Worldschool Adventures

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Edventure Project

Education and Adventure for Everyone

Lonely Girl Travels

An Oakland Girl in the World