Castle Neuschwanstein and Hohenzollern

I've had a fascination for castles that I've covered in a few different posts before - Alcazar of Segovia, Duffus Castle in Scotland, and various others in Frias and Lerma. Its no surprise that if I get to the castle capital of the world, I would try to visit at least one of them. Well, on two separate trips, I got to see two different castles - Castle Neuschwanstein and Castle Hohenzollern.

I wish I could visit both these castles with more time, and I definitely plan to go back to Neuschwanstein. This castle is actually deep in the heart of Bavaria, very close to the border with Austria. The castle itself is a major tourist attraction, and you should definitely book your tickets online so you don't have to wait in line. Be prepared to intermingle with many tourists vying for photo ops. One way to have it be less crowded is to go in the winter, but be prepared to have it be really cold. But it may be worth it, because the views would be pretty awesome: Castle Neuschwanstein in Winter. But this view is not that accessible unless you are willing to go on a hike. You can get a really good view of the castle if you hike along the path to go to Queen Mary's Bridge. But if you really want an awesome view, you will need to hike a little bit more to go to Pöllat Gorge, and you should get a view from the waterfalls that is much more off the beaten path. Castle Neuschwanstein has a very rich history, and you can read all about it here.

I would like to say that I got to both of those places, but there was really no time as it was getting dark, and I only got to take a few pictures. Must. Go. Back.


The other castle I got to visit on the other trip is Castle Hohenzollern. Burg Hohenzollern is a ancestral home (oh, the suffering) of the Hohenzollern family. Its another castle in Germany with a very rich history. I can never get tired of these castles.This is also pretty touristy, but its so big, you can wonder the whole place without running into crowds. Plan your trip here.


A Visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a picturesque little town in Bavarian region of Germany, one of the towns on the Romantic Road, a theme based travel route set up by travel marketers in the 1950's. Its one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany. 

Our drive to Rothenburg was pretty uneventful, aside from a stop at the Krausenbacher Forst. We were eager to reach Rothenburg and explore the town. We got there at night, checked into our hotel and took a walk. We reached on a wednesday night when the town was asleep somewhat already; so we decided to take a walk around and find a place to eat and find all the nooks and crannies of the medieval city.


Rothenburg is a not a UNESCO heritage site, but it is still very popular with the tourists, especially Japanese tourists. Just as in Segovia, there are translations in Japanese everywhere, including the street signs in the Romantic Road. Rothenburg has also become a popular tourist destination for Japanese because of the animated film "Sugar a little snow fairy", where the main character lives in Rothenburg. After all the walking around, In the end we found something to eat in hotel we were staying in.


Rothenburg is known as the quintessentially German town, representing everything that is pure German. It was a very prized city, and so during WWII soldiers were sent to defend this city from the allied forces. This town was very well protected by the 20 feet wall with guard towers around the town, so the allied forces couldn't do too much damage. But then the when the town got surrounded, the allied forces gave them Germans the option of surrendering, otherwise they would bomb and level the town. In the end, the German forces gave up the town, so there was no warfare within the town itself; which is why the town is so well preserved.

The next morning, we woke up earlier (as I was suffering from jet lag) and decided to walk around again and find the wall. There are stairs to go up the wall, and walking on the wall gives a very nice view of the city from a higher elevation.


After the walk on the wall (sounds like a Pink Floyd album), we finally ventured into the city center. At the end of the day, Rothenburg IS a tourist city, and the city had to be brought up to have a lot of the modern amenities. So, when I was taking pictures from the top of the wall, the line of parked cars stuck out like a sore thumb. But at the same time the juxtaposition of the old and new is interesting, and something I've always found very interesting - the fact that they can live together side by side.


Rothenburg as a medieval city is perfect for a Christmas setting, and even though it was only October, they preparations were well under way, especially the window settings. Some of the window settings were exactly what I imagined it to be - with small wooden toys, and christmas decorations.



No trip to Rothenburg is complete without having a few "Schneeballen". What is "Schneeballen", you ask? Schneeball is made of pieces of dough, turned into a ball and deep fried. The recipe is old and traditional, particularly in the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, where different shops and bakeries produce this traditional sweet and sell it in bakeshops.

According to history, the Schneeball is more then 300 years old. According to the locals, the pastry initially started in the Thirty Years War in Europe, as a way for soldiers to carry food easily. The original Schneeball was just dough fried and topped with sugar, but it has evolved and the bakeries now dip them in chocolate, mix other ingredients like nuts and caramel into the dough. Nowadays you can find fancy flavors, like dulce de leche, etc.

We stopped by to have a few of the eclectic flavors - chocolate dipped and cinnamon and caramel. First bite is tough, but it gives way to the softer inside, and all the extra ingredients overload the taste buds. I have a serious sweet tooth, so this was delicious - just the right of sugar to help me continue the tour.


After the Scheeballen, we were hopped up on enough sugar to go around a few more times. The town is easy to navigate because of the wall around it, so you really can't get lost. Because of the fortress nature of the town, the walls have towers that have artillery in them, and all the features of a town from the middle ages. The exterior is mostly woods, and somehow walking through the towers and the wall, we ended up outside the wall. Unexpectedly, outside the wall it was very peaceful and serene.


A Drive through German Countryside

When I got a chance to go to work in Germany twice in the last year, I took the opportunity to first go to Milan and then drive up there with my friend in Italy. We drove through Switzerland mostly, and some places near Bavaria. But a major part of the drive was through Germany with visits to a few towns. Germany has a very rich history (which I won't really go into here because there is a ton of information out there about it) which is impossible to experience in one trip. On our drive, the thing that I could experience most was the country side, which were like scenes from fairy tales and story books. You have the surrounding Alps, majestic views of them towards the north, river valleys and castles all over the place, and a lot of forests that look very enchanting and mysterious. 

We happened to pass by one these forests - Krausenbacher Forst - driving through Bavaria on highway AB15, near Dammbach. Its part of the larger Schwarzwälder Hochwald (Bavarian Spessart Nature Park), and has really good views of the forest. We stopped near one of the turns to discover some of the forest.


Exploring Frankfurt: Part 2

After the first Frankfurt trip, I had to go to Frankfurt again for work, and this time we had a little bit more time to explore the city. Frankfurt, or as the city center is known - Frankfurt am Main - is mainly a financial/commercial area, so we asked around where we can get some of the local 'flavor' so to speak, and we were all pointed towards a city district called Bornheim. Bornheim is a block of area designated as a historic area, where there is a huge concentration of cafes, bars, restaurant and myriad of fairs and activities for younger people. It was the original red-light district of Frankfurt - called Das lustige Dorf ("The merry village") - about 120 years ago. The main street of Bornheim is Berger Straße, a cosmopolitan boulevard with many bars, pubs and restaurants and two of Frankfurt's most traditional cider houses, Solzer and Zur Sonne.


Other than the traditional fare of all different kinds of wurst, one of the local favourites around here is the Bornheim Stinker. I'm sure that name made you curious. So - Bornheim Stinker is a dish that is made with a type of cheese found locally, called Handkäse cheese. This cheese is VERY smelly and pungent. The dish is served with the cheese (sometimes baked) on top of bread, with a vinegar and oil dressing. You have the option to get it "wit musik" (with music), which means you get it topped with chopped raw onions. When asked to explain "wit musik", the standard response is that the vinegar/oil dressing creates musical notes when it is combined with the cheese and the onions. But local inside joke is that "Die Musik kommt später," i.e. the music "comes later." meaning all the gas that can be produced by consuming raw onions. The Bornheim Stinker we had is from Wirtshaus Gikelschlag. This is very much an acquired taste, so I'll leave you without any opinions to judge for yourself.....


Another fun area to go to in Frankfurt is Sachsenhausen, but its more touristy, but it does have some really good restaurants that have more diverse food. Other than German food, Thai food seems to be very popular here (which I thought was totally random) - and also Turkish food, possibly made popular by Turkish immigrants. 


A Visit to Acqui Terme, Italy

Acqui Terme is a small town in the Northern Italy, in the Piedmont region of Italy. It's also the hometown of a good friend of mine. Italy is a country precious to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons - for its food, for its art, for its romance (I know a lot of couples that have gone there for their honeymoon) and for the architecture and history, of course. There are plenty of sights to see in all the big cities like Rome, Milan, Naples and Venice - if you wanted to tour Italy and see all the sights, it would take you months. But if you've been to this site, you know I don't really go to the big cities (at least, not at first). I'm more interested in the cultural experience that you can have when going around with a local in a smaller region. I personally find that much more rewarding. Don't get me wrong - there is a time to see the big sights as well, but as much as I can, I prefer to go around the lesser known areas. So when I got a chance to go to Germany for work, I figured a good way to see Acqui terme would be to fly into Milan, and then drive up to Germany through Switzerland.

On the first trip, we drove back late from Rothenburg, and eventually got there pretty late. My first impression was as I had expected, as Acqui resembles some of the historical Italian cities I've seen in the movies. The architectural style is full or arches, and domes and building facades filled with details. It was not easy to see some of these details at night, but walking through the town, you can get the feel for being in an old town.


The next day, we got up early to have breakfast and and walk around the city center a little bit more. During the day is when you can appreciate the picturesque town.


Going around town with a local is always better. They know where to go for the local experience, and can likely keep you away from the tourists. They also know the secret spots where the food is awesome. We went to a restaurant in a hidden away alley for lunch that was close to my friend Francesco's house, and also owned by a friend of his, called Carialoso Trattoria. I've heard that the grandmother of the friend cooks a lot of the food, or at least provides the recipes. Simple in-season food, but seriously delicious. I had the steak tartare, and the speciality during that time was this large wild mushroom fried in season. I've heard since then the restaurant is no longer owned by the same person, but I assume the food is still awesome.


I think one of the best ways to experience a local culture is by experiencing their food. Italian food needs no introduction, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to appreciate a wide array of flavors, even though I am a picky eater - picky in the sense that I don't eat certain food groups (fish/seafood) - but the food groups that I DO eat, I want them in as many different flavors as I find. So on one of the dinners, I was taken to a restaurant a little bit out of the way, and definitely not on the tourist brochure, called Ristorante Da Mario in the Montferrat region in the same Piedmont region as Acqui Terme. Locals know about this place very well, and they usually take anybody that visits. As with a lot of really good restaurants, the place has a pre-fixed menu, and they come to your table every 10/15 mins and serve one dish after another. 

It was a little funny in the beginning, because when we first walked into the restaurant, we stood out like a sore thumb - our group consisted of a normal Italian guy, his Japanese wife, and his brown skinned friend. I assume there aren't too many non-Italian fellows in that are that frequent that restaurant. It was a reminiscent of a scene in a bar in an old western movie - when the door swings open and someone new walks in, the music stops and everybody turns around to look at who just walked in. It was only for 2 mins, and then everybody continued with their meal. 

One of the real specialities of this area is truffle. If you are familiar with truffle, you know how expensive it is, especially white truffle. The white truffle originally comes from the Montferrat region, so it was impossible to pass up. I've never had actual truffle (just small amounts in sauces and stuff), so this was a real treat. We started with their own house wine and ended with their own house made Grappa. The best way to have truffle is just get plain spaghetti pasta, which is flavored lightlly with garlic and olive oil - and then shave the truffle on top. There were some great cold and hot anti-pasti, but the highlight of the meal was definitely truffle. 


My friend Francesco also has a confectionary/candy shop in the family that is run by his aunt, from which I've had many a chocolate when he was in the US. The speciality of the shop is Acquese al rum, which is a thick, dark chocolate disc and in the middle is soft chocolate fudge, heavily infused with a type of rum. His aunt would pack a bunch of them nicely in a plastic bag, and tape it multiple times and mail it to the US. But that didn't help the rum smell from intoxicating anyone around - when the mailman came to deliver the box, he would always ask what was inside that smells so good. I can't help but think he was a little tipsy from the fumes...


The rest of the time was spent walking around and shopping! The abundance of really good cheese and other stuff around town is just amazing - I took some time to stock up. Francesco stands next to the cheese stack for size scale.


Exploring Frankfurt: Part 1

After a long drive through Switzerland, we made it into Frankfurt for the workshop, and then it was all work for a few days - the area was cool, and we had some awesome views of downtown Frankfurt:


After the workshop was over, we got to go visit Frankfurt briefly. Frankfurt is a pretty commercial area, with the financial center of Germany in the heart of the town. It's also the most diverse and international - almost one in three of the people living in Frankfurt do not hold a German passport. Walking around town we also managed to stumble into the shop of a very famous graffiti artist, who goes by the street name of Klark Kent. I honestly don't know much about graffiti art, but NYC is a huge playground for graffiti artists. When he found out that we were from NY, he got all excited and started showing us all sorts of pictures from his work in NYC. 


He seems to be an established artist in his field, and has worked in many different cities. He owns/runs arts and craft store in Frankfurt, names Montana. He is part of the Montata Writer Team, a group sponsored by the spray can painting manufacturer Montana. The store sells a lot of spray paint stuff, obviously, and he is pretty passionate about it. He also described Frankfurt briefly, and explained that Frankfurt is a gritty city, which makes most tourists think that its full drugs or something of that sort. But It's a hard town, he said. I didn't really feel that as we walked around, but possibly we didn't go to the 'right' areas.


We had to leave pretty early, but we came back to Frankfurt after a few months again - more here: Exploring Frankfurt: Part 2