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!

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Beer and pretzels in Englischer Garten, Munich

Beer and pretzels in Englischer Garten, Munich

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We still need to christen her!

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The Bavarian countryside

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Bavaria with post-storm skies

Bavaria with post-storm skies

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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

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More Austrian Alps

Italian Alps

Italian Alps

Near the Italian border

Near the Italian border

St. Moritz lakeside walk

St. Moritz lakeside walk

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