Ed’s European Road Trip – Finale

Final Entry – Lake Como. We are now at the end of our fantastic European Road Trip. One week ago, we checked into our villa (Prima Isola) overlooking the beautiful Lake Como.


The peach coloured house higher up

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We met up with Dick and Julie who are family of Don and Diane’s and the 6 of spent an amazing week exploring this gorgeous part of Northern Italy. It is probably more interesting to share some of the really wonderful Italian towns that dot the coast of this large lake.

Bellagio – Of course everyone knows the name from the infamous hotel on the Las Vegas stip. This town is nothing like that! Instead, it is made up of quaint, narrow roads that spread out from the main waterfront dock where ferries make their way to and from several other historic villages. Our ferry took us from the town of Cadenabbia directly to Bellagio. Since we are staying in the small town of Ossaccio, we have to traverse the small, narrow, winding roads from our villa to the ferry points. It is a really tight squeeze as buses and large trucks also use these roads!

Bellagio is a very picturesque town that is mostly pedestrian only and filled with shop after shop of locally made items, particularly silk scarves that are made in Como. We were on a mission that day to buy a suitable birthday trip for our friend Diane and we wanted something to remind her of her birthday trip to Italy. So many choices, we hope she likes the one we picked!

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We found this great little wine bar that we thought we would have a glass and a little snack, but it had such great atmosphere and the little snack of meat and cheese we ordered for 3 was more than enough for the 6 of us. We stayed a little longer!

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Como – Saturday is market day in Como and a perfect way to kick off Diane’s birthday. We took the hydrofoil from Lenno to Como and spent the day kicking around the town and doing some shopping. Como is a pretty good size and not nearly as quaint as the other villages in the area. However, if you want to do some shopping, being this close to the fashion mecca of Milan, means there are many choices to look for those chic fashion trends.
The ladies wanted to go to a silk museum because Como is famous for it’s silk products, so after finding the museum, the men scouted for a refreshment while the ladies enjoyed the tour.

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The big news of the day though was the celebration of Diane’s birthday. Don had made reservations at the famous restaurant Locanda di Isola Comacina. It’s 7 course set menu has been the same for over 40 years and since it’s on an island the only way to get there is by boat. The big surprise was that Don had arranged for a water taxi to take us on a tour around a part of the lake before depositing us off at the restaurant. Great fun, including the Prosecco that was on ice for us on the boat.


Richard Branson’s Villa

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The meal was fantastic (70 Euro each) and a wonderful celebration!

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Varenna – an attractive village on the eastern shore of Lake Como, looking over the central part of the lake towards Bellagio, it’s picturesque lanes and old fishermen’s houses are unpretentiously appealing, and we preferred the town to its grander neighbours. The pretty waterfront and tiny stone beach has somehow a more authentic air than the other areas.

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One of the main tourist activities in Varenna is visiting the gardens of Villa Monastero and the villa itself. We happened to be there on a day when it was free…bonus! It was an exceptional visit and well worth even paying for it.

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Way up high on the hillside we spotted an old castle ruin which attracts a number of people to it. The hike up was quite steep and a good work out. The end result was worth the exertion as the castle ruins are quite well maintained and we were able to climb the tower for some spectacular views of the lake. I must say that pictures do not do justice to the views we have anytime we look at on Lake Como.

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Menaggio – a little larger than either Bellagio and Varenna, it does not have the quiet charm of the those fishing villages. It does however have a good selection of restaurants, shops and a lovely piazza! Right on the water, it was certainly worth the investment of our time!

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The weather this week has been fantastic, with only 1 day of rain and that allowed us to get some laundry done and some time with our noses in a book. What I haven’t told you about was the hiking trails and the paths through ancient old streets filled with stonehouses and churches, the hundreds of great little restaurants and bars and the friendly people always willing to greet you with buongiorno!

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We also haven’t suffered on the food and wine side either! Fantastic pasta, parma, prosciutto and cheeses washed down with local wines…yum. Alas, we saw neither George Clooney nor Richard Branson both of whom have villas nearby.

What a great trip it has been with Don, Diane, Dick and Julie. Memories that will last a lifetime! As we head back home tomorrow morning, Ciao from Lake Como!

Ed’s European Road Trip Part 5

Last Day in Germany! Tomorrow we head out to Lake Como, Italy! However the last couple of days in Germany have been outstanding! We had 3 main things we wanted to do in Munich. Go to the Haufbrau house – mission accomplished! (see previous blog)

Second main attraction – the Marienplatz! Our hotel was so strategically placed and the Marienplatz was literally a 2 minute walk. So that was an easy one to tick off our list. A few times a day, the puppet characters in the Rathaus tower come out when the bell towers are ringing (see the picture). Unfortunately, this was a Sunday and we were not there for that event.

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We walked around until the tourist information booth opened as we wanted additional information on another primary sightseeing target – BMW Welt! As it turned out, our best bet was to get on the U-Bahn right at the Marienplatz and bingo, a few stops later and we were right there. Not only were we able to visit the BMW museum but they had a full selection of their models right in the massive foyer of the BMW Welt building. Saw some very exciting cars, both old and new and the architecture of the building was also truly amazing!

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Enough car pictures? That was only a very few of the many that I took. I promised Karen that I would post a picture of the Mini-limo that was on display as she thought that was a very cool automobile!

So, 3 sites we wanted to see and do…accomplished. However, we still had time in our day and Diane showed some interest in visiting the Munich Residenz which is very near the Rathaus. The Munich Residenz is the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs of the House of Wittelsbach in the centre of the city of Munich and are we very glad that Diane mentioned it.

It served as the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian dukes, electors and kings from 1508 to 1918. What began in 1385 as a castle at the north-eastern corner of the town (the Neuveste, or new citadel) was transformed over the centuries into a magnificent palace, its buildings and gardens extending further and further into the town. The architecture, interior decoration and works of art collected in the Residenz range in time from the Renaissance, via the early Baroque and Rococo periods to the neoclassical era. They all bear witness to the discriminating taste and the political ambition of the Wittelsbach dynasty.

What a beautifully restored and decorated palace. Room after room of opulence, art and artifacts. A few pictures to show what I mean.

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Off to Southern Bavaria we go, first stopping at the Linderhof Palace of King Ludwig II or the “Mad King” as he was later named. This was his favourite residence and the only one of his buildings that was actually completed (1878). Although comparatively a small palace, it is opulent and very much influenced by French architecture including a Versaille style of garden area.

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The gardens include other buildings including:

Venus Grotto: The building is wholly artificial and was built for the king as an illustration of the First Act of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”. Ludwig liked to be rowed over the lake in his golden swan-boat but at the same time he wanted his own blue grotto of Capri. Therefore 24 dynamos had been installed and so already in the time of Ludwig II it was possible to illuminate the grotto in changing colours.

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Hunding’s Hut: This hut was inspired by Richard Wagner’s directions for the First Act of the “Valkyrie”. Ludwig used to celebrate Germanic feasts in this house.

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Moroccan House
This house was actually built in Morocco for the International Exhibition in Vienna 1873. The king bought it in 1878 and redecorated it in a more royal way.


As most of the day was spent here at Linderhof, it was a quiet and early night at our last stop in Schwangau. This area is home to 2 more of Ludwig II castles…Hohenshwangau and Neuschwanstein both of which we will be visiting.

Our last day in Germany! Two spectacular sights to visit! Tickets for these two castles are bought at the bottom of the hills on which the castles are situated. 23 Euro per person provided entrance to both castles. We opt for Hohenshwangau first and walk up what was supposed to take 20 minutes but in actual fact took half of that. The process here is very punctual and our tour is at 10:55. Our tickets allow us in the automated turn-style only at that time for only that tour.

Hohenschwangau Castle or Schloss Hohenschwangau is a 19th-century palace and was the childhood residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria but was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria. Hohenschwangau was the official summer and hunting residence of Maximilian, his wife Marie of Prussia, and their two sons Ludwig (the later King Ludwig II of Bavaria) and Otto (the later King Otto I of Bavaria). The young princes spent many years of their adolescence here. The King and the Queen lived in the main building, and the boys in the annex.

King Maximilian died in 1864 and his son Ludwig succeeded to the throne, moving into his father’s room in the castle. As Ludwig never married, his mother Marie was able to continue living on her floor. King Ludwig enjoyed living in Hohenschwangau, especially after 1869 when the building of his own castle, Neuschwanstein, began only a stone’s throw from his parental home.

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After our magnificent tour of this castle, we focus on Neuschwanstein. We decided to take the horse drawn cart up the steep embankment up to Neuschwantstein but after a quick coffee break, we stand in the long line to get on a carriage. There seems to be a delay in the carriages coming down from the castle (we think because of a medical emergency as we saw an ambulance speed up to the castle a bit earlier). Don and Diane decide to walk up but as we have done the castle before, we opt to take our chances with the carriage for the 12:55 tour time. We eventually got on the carriage and with only a 5 minutes to spare, we make it to the drop off point near the entrance but still a 15 minute walk. I have never seen Karen walk so fast ever before and I struggle to keep up with her but we managed to make it seconds before the tour started!

Neuschwanstein was started by Ludwig II in 1868 high above his father’s castle, Hohenschwangau. It was actually never completed and only 17 rooms were ever finished. From 1885 on foreign banks threatened to seize his property. The king’s refusal to react rationally led the government to declare him insane and depose him in 1886 – a procedure not provided for in the Bavarian constitution. Ludwig II was interned in Berg Palace. The next day he died in mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.

Seven weeks after the death of King Ludwig II in 1886, Neuschwanstein was opened to the public. The shy king had built the castle in order to withdraw from public life – now vast numbers of people came to view his private refuge. The setting of Neuschwanstein could not be more idyllic. However, movement in the foundation area has to be continuously monitored, and the sheer rock walls must be repeatedly secured. The harsh climate also has a detrimental effect on the limestone façades, which will have to be renovated section by section over the next few years.

A great view of the castle can be had by a short hike up to the Bridge (Marienbrücke) which looks directly down on the castle.

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So that’s it for our road trip through Germany. Next stop is Lake Como, Italy. Thanks for following along!

Ed’s European Road Trip – Part 4

OK, we are in Munich and a lot has happened this last week. We went to the Hofbrauhaus tonight for supper and only had 2 beer…really! However that equates to at least 6 beer at home…see the pictures at the end of this report to see what I mean!!

Let’s start at Bamberg which is one of my favourite German cities. A beautifully preserved medieval town, Bamberg is easily walk-able and has many sights that take your breath away. Our hotel is perfectly situated just down the hill from the Cathederal (Dom). So naturally that’s where we start our self guided tour.

The first cathedral was consecrated in 1012 and the current building was finished in 1237. The famous Bamberg Horseman was dated to around 1230 (see picture below). Another picture is of the tomb of the imperial couple (Heinrich II and Kunigunde) was from 1513.

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From there, onward to the Old Court which was the former imperial and bishop’s palace and once directly connected to the Dom. The inner courtyard is surrounded by half-timbered buildings and was the sight of scenes from one of the Three Musketeers’ movies.

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Our walk took us through the old monastery and along “little Venice” as the river flows high right up to many of the old buildings. However, perhaps the most well known spot in all of Bamberg is the old town city hall or “Rathaus”. A bridge has led over the river at this point from as early as the 11th century . The old town hall was built in the middle of the 14th century.

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Here we met my cousin Simon who toured around some other sites and specifically landed in what he termed the 2nd best Biergarten in Bamberg…second only to another which was unfortunately closed for the day. We ended the day in a great restaurant featuring Franconian food (loved the schnitzel) and of course some of the beer that Bamberg is world famous for!

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May 5th – Karen’s Birthday!! An early morning breakfast and off we go to Rothenburg ab der Tauber! A world famous site of a beautiful medieval walled town, it truly represents what life was like back in those days. It is a walled city, so much of our time is spent walking the walls of the city since we have seen most of the highlights in the town before. If you have never been, make sure you climb the city hall tower and visit the “criminal museum” if you have the stomach to see how prisoners were tortured back then!

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Onward to celebrate Karen’s birthday in the small town of Sindeldorf, home to where my Grandfather and Grandmother lived (Oma and Opa) and where my Aunt Karin and my cousin Georg still live. We are staying with Karin and we have arranged to have the birthday supper at the local Gasthaus, the site of many family celebrations over the years. All of my relatives have been invited and we end up with a dozen people there. The reunion is magic and we have the best time possible…a great way to celebrate Karen’s birthday although, she admits missing our own kids and our grandson!

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The next day, my cousin’s husband…Wolfgang takes us to a couple of great sites including Langenburg Castle. Langenburg castle, the residence of the royal Hohenlohe – Langenburg family, is magically situated on the top of a hill overlooking the enchanting Jagst valley in “Hohenlohe country”.

Langenburg castle has one of the most magnificent Renaissance inner courtyards in Germany, a castle chapel, and fascinating museum exhibits. This stately home provides beautiful views of the Jagst valley.

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The Langenburg Castle Automobile Museum (“Deutsches Automuseum Schloss Langenburg e.V.”) is located in the historical stables, with approximately 35 vehicles, and documents the development of motorised vehicles from vintage cars up to modern times.

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A permanent exhibition gives a great insight into the lives of the princes and the special events that have occurred in Langenburg Castle. One of the many highlights was the state visit of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. The family has close family ties to the British Royal Household as well as to many European Royal and aristocratic dynasties.

From here, Wolfgang takes us to the very special town of Schwabish Hall. Rather than try to explain the beauty of this city, please have a look at the pictures below…you’ll understand why we have come back to this stunning city.

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Finally, off to my cousin Anja’s and Wolfgang’s beautiful new home for a home cooked meal of German cuisine and great wines. Too much great food and fun…we love visiting with our relatives!

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A tearful goodbye to all and the next day we are off to another must see site on the Romantik Road – Dinkelsbuhl. It’s only about an hour away from Sindeldorf but we have never been here before and it is an unexpected delight! Our accommodation at Hotel Luise is perfectly situated in the centre of the old town and we set off on a walk outside of the city wall to get a different perspective of the town.

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That evening, we decide to take a night walk around town and want to meet up with the Nightwatch Tour. Unfortunately, it’s only in German so we struck out on our own for a short walk.

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With Willie Nelson’s famous song “On The Road Again” as our anthem for this trip, the next day we strike out to discover more of the Romantik Road with a stop in Nördlingen, one of the most attractive of the towns in the central part of the Romantic Road.  As all the tourist guides mention, it shares with its neighbours to the north (Rothenburg and Dinkelsbühl) the distinction of being one of the only remaining walled medieval towns in Germany. Nördlingen, however, is far less crowded than the other two and offers an additional attraction of geological interest – being located in the crater of a meteorite impact and with its impressive tower being built of the rock formed from that impact. Again, as in Dinkelsbühl, after a stroll around the old town we opt for a hike around the city wall. Only this time, we picked up a take away lunch and a bottle of wine to enjoy a picnic lunch along the way.

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After our picnic lunch we are off to Harburg, a small riverside town on the Romantic Road located under the imposing presence of the castle looming on the promontory above the town. The town is worth a stop along the way but it is really the castle we have come to see.

The Harburg Castle is one of the largest, best-preserved castles in all of Germany. We made it there in time for a guided tour but unfortunately, the tour was completely in German. My rudimentary German was not enough to be able to translate all that the guide was saying and when I mentioned I didn’t understand something, she would look me in the eye and say exactly the same thing only a little louder – lol!

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The Harburg Castle is one of the jewels of the Romantik Road. Wonderfully preserved, the castle sits high on a hill and overlooks the town for which it’s named. The castle complex, including the castle house, chapel, sentry walk (complete with holes through which to pour hot oil on invading marauders!), prison tower, dungeon, and various buildings used to support the inhabitants, is surrounded by a wall supporting six towers. In the center of the complex is a large courtyard with a well. We ended the day staying in a nice Gasthaus and had a fabulous outdoor supper overlooking the luscious green countryside.

Dachau! We had never been to a German concentration camp before and thought we would stop on the way to Munich. We have all read and been taught the horrors and atrocities that these camps were, but I was very moved, upset and horrified at what humans can do to each other. Our planned 1 hour stop turned into 3 hours as we read account after account of what the inmates at Dachau had to endure before many of them perished at the hands of these monsters. It was a visit that I will always remember and hope that we have learned the lessons that this black period of history should have taught us.

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We arrived in Munich to a traffic mess! I don’t know what was going on, but there were police roadblocks everywhere and ambulances chasing around several locations. What should have taken us 5 minutes from the point of the first roadblock actually took us over an hour. Kudos to Don Gibson who navigated us around all of the mess and to Karen, who managed to program the GPS to find the parking garage we needed to get to our hotel.

None the less, we made it to the Hotel Schlicker in time to check in and head off to the world famous Hofbrauhaus for supper and a couple of beer. The following pictures will explain it all.

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That’s it for this update. Prost!

Ed’s European Road Trip – Part 3

We had a nice leisurely drive to Cologne and found our Hotel, the Marriott Courtyard without any problems. Great location close to both the train station and the Cathedral, so it made our walking tour of Cologne very easy. The hotel is very modern and clean but a little sterile and no character, when you think about staying in the old area of Cologne. The breakfast was 16 Euro each (we didn’t eat there with so many little cafes around) and the car parking was 18 Euro per day. None the less, it was a really good hotel.

Most of our time was spent walking around different areas of Cologne although in the times we have been here before, we have always missed going to the chocolate factory. So, this time we spend some time learning and understanding the process of making and enjoying Lindt chocolates. It was really quite interesting although we would have liked a few more samples 🙂 Went to a great restaurant to have some Bratwurst and Kolsch beer (the local beer made only in Cologne)…fantastic!


Chocolate Museum

On Saturday, my cousin Renate and her husband, Mario joined us for a little while as we saw some of the sights. Of course, the major sight to see is the huge cathedral. The square around it and the line to get into it was packed! It was interesting to watch the crowd and the various street performers.

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We also walked across the Hohenzollern Bridge. For several years now, love locks have been considered one of Cologne’s most charming traditions. As proof of their love, couples fix padlocks to the railings on the Hohenzollern Bridge; to ensure everlasting love, they then throw the key into the Rhein river below. It is quite a sight to see and the view from the other side is beautiful too.

There are many, many beautiful squares filled with a variety of restaurants, many with outdoor seating. It is impossible not to sit down, relax with a beverage and a snack and watch the world go by. We have done quite a bit of this and are enjoying our time in beautiful Cologne.

However, it is soon time to pack up once again and strike out to our next stop – Bamberg, an absolutely gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Centre. On the way it was good to hit the Autobahn again where 140 means you are in the slower lane and cars are whizzing by you like you are in a school zone. Great fun to drive although I did take it a little slower because we had friends along. We did manage to take a few wrong turns and that meant our stay in Wurzburg, a stop we had planned along the way, was shorter than anticipated. However, we did spend some time at the Residenz Palace, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No pictures were allowed inside, but this is a fantastic place to visit. I cannot believe how well it was restored when it was almost completed devastated during WW2. Thank goodness that someone had the foresight to restore it!

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We left Wurzburg at 5:30PM and we were supposed to check into our hotel before 7PM. First big mistake on our road trip…I gave Don a wrong turn and our next available turn-around point was 15KM away. OK, no problem…we would still check in by 7. Unfortunately, there was road construction and we could not turn around for another 13 KM. Now, we would miss our check in time at the small, family run hotel in Bamberg plus, we were almost out of gas!

Thanks to our cell phone and an agreeable hotel owner, they gave us a code to get into the hotel and left the keys in our room as they leave at 7PM. Even more thankfully, we came across a gas station just before we ran out of gas, so we were much relieved! Arriving at the Barock am Dom Hotel in Bamberg at 7:30, the hotel owner had stayed late so she could be sure we didn’t have any problems!

Next bog will be our stay in Bamberg. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions!

Prost from Germany!