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Day Two in Germany – Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein

Nicole and I woke kind of early and took a train to the city of Füssen where King Ludwig II’s childhood palace, Hohenschwangau, and his later castle, Neuschwanstein, were located. To visit Füssen, we took all manner of transportation: a subway to central Munich, a train to Füssen, a bus to Hohenschwangau, and finally a short walk to the palace and castle.

Arriving in Füssen

We booked our tours for the palace and castle for the day and waited for our scheduled tour time. Schloss Hohenschwangau, the palace, and Neuschwanstein, the castle, are available by tour only. You book your ticket for a scheduled tour time and then wait until that time to visit the two sites.

Hohenschwangau Castle or Schloss Hohenschwangau

Before our number was called we visited a local beer hall and had another pretzel and beer before starting our tours. Up first was Schloss Hohenschwangau, or “swan palace on a high place”. King Ludwig II grew up in this palace. It was one of several residences occupied by the Bavarian Royal family. However, this palace was not enough for Ludwig, he desired a palace of his own creation, something gaudy and filled with swan motifs. Enter Neuschwanstein.

Neuschwanstein

After Hohenschwangau, Nicole and I made our way up the steep hill to Neuschwanstein, the castle King Ludwig had constructed. It doesn’t look that much like actual European castles, but it does look a lot like fairytale castles from classic literature and parables. That’s because it was built well after every other castle in Europe. In fact Neuschwanstein was built around the same time as the Eiffel Tower. The castle even had a state of the art, for the time, kitchen. Unfortunately for King Ludwig, he spent almost no time in his fairytale castle. He lived there less than a year before he died. Ludwig was declared unfit to rule shortly after the castle was completed and several weeks later found drowned in a lake along with his psychiatrist. No one is certain what happened, but foul play was not ruled out. Less than six weeks after Ludwig’s death Neuschwanstein was opened to the public for tours and has been a profitable tourist attraction ever since.

Returning to Munich and General German Musings

We spent about an hour on our tour looking around the castle before eventually making our way back down and taking a train back to Munich. It had been a full and exciting day. We saw a palace, a castle, and we even got a chance to see the Bavarian countryside. The countryside itself is fantastic. The little cities we passed through were so clean. Even areas that you assume would be dirty such as the back of a supermarket or a small gas station were spotless. I tried to actually look for litter or trash and couldn’t find any. It was remarkable. Bavaria really embraced solar power as well. Dozens of businesses, and houses as well, had solar panels installed on their roofs.

Back in Munich, I managed to make it to about 10 before finally falling asleep. Jet lag was proving a hindrance to any chance of seeing Germany nightlife.

Our first day in Munich, Germany – Beer and Pretzels

If India was an adventure, Germany was a vacation. After our late night/early morning plane from Adu Dhabi, Nicole and I took the commuter rail into central Munich and transferred to a subway that took us to our AirBnB for the next four days. Our host, Benjamin met us downstairs and let us into the apartment. The previous guests were still there and asleep as it was only 8am. Ben made us some coffee while we freshened up. It had been nearly 48 hours since either of us had bathed since the water ran out in India, and we were both very smelly I’m sure.

Nicole did not enjoy the train to the Munich AirBnB

Nicole did not enjoy the train to the Munich AirBnB

A nice shower, its the little things

After a year of living abroad in Korea with visits to Japan, Thailand, and India, I’d forgotten what it was like to take a shower with real water pressure. Everywhere we’d stayed over the past year, hotels and hostels included, had poor water pressure and I forgot what it was like to have a good shower with enough water pressure to really massage your back. Munich was my first fantastic shower in a year and I didn’t want to leave, but I wasn’t traveling around the world for its plumbing. I was here to see the sites and Munich was calling.

Marienplatz

 

After a quick shower and some coffee with our host we headed back into downtown Munich to take a free walking tour of the city. We met at the central plaza, or platz, Marienplatz. It’s the hub of Munich culture and where many of the cities sites and walking tours start.

On the tour we learned about the Michael Jackson memorial, a famous church in Munich, and had a visit to the Hofbrauhaus, one of Germany’s most famous beer halls. Its odd that the beer hall is so well known. Its not the oldest, its not the largest, and arguably, its beer is not the best. However, that being said, no visit to Munich is complete without a visit there. We each ordered a large stein of beer. I got a dark beer, or dunkel, and Nicole got a lighter beer, or helles. We split a giant pretzel and relaxed for a bit.

Nymphenburg Palace in the rain

After the walking tour we took a train to Nymphenburg Palace and attempted to visit it, but the rain prevented us from exploring the palace and gardens that day. Instead we hailed a cab from the palace and returned to our AirBnB for some rest. I intended to take a quick nap then get up and check out more of Munich but instead fell asleep around 7 and didn’t wake until the next day.

It was nice to be back in Europe. Three years ago I visited on a 3 month backpacking trip around the continent and really liked it. Returning with Nicole rekindled my fondness of Europe and Germany in particular. The city was so clean and compared to Korea and India, so quiet. There weren’t neon signs everywhere and every store downtown wasn’t blasting its own music to compete with stores around it. No one on the street was trying to sell me postcards, t-shirts, or to be my guide. The weather was nice too. It was a relief to be out of the Indian heat. The weather in Munich was cool and rainy.

Our Last Days in India – Defense Colony and Laj Pat Nager Bazaar

July 5th

Yesterday Nicole and I didn’t do much of anything. We were both feeling a little under the weather on account of the constant traveling and heavy pollution in Delhi. We laid around our AirBnB and ate delicious curry from the vegetarian place around the corner. That evening, however, tragedy struck. The water in our apartment stopped working. This meant no showers, no sink, no toilet to flush. I won’t go into details, but a broken toilet and an all curry diet don’t mix. You can all be glad I didn’t take any pictures from that day.

July 6th, Our Last Day in India

Nicole and I woke up early as usual despite our room being pitch black all day, a feature I was a huge fan of. We were optimistic that the water might be working this morning and we could finally banish the mountain of feces in the toilet to the netherworld sewer labyrinth. Alas that was not the case. However, we didn’t let this minor poo setback ruin our day.

The Defense Colony

Riding to the Defense Colony

Riding to the Defense Colony

The two of us walked downstairs and hailed an autorickshaw to the defense colony. The defense colony is one of Delhi’s fancier neighborhoods, according to Nicole’s research. It took us about 30 minutes to arrive and once we got their we walked around the small market area of little shops. There were a few coffee shops and stationary stores, a pet shop, and an ice cream parlor.

Coffee lunch at the Defense Colony

Coffee lunch at the Defense Colony

Nicole and I stopped into the first coffee shop we saw and were greeted with a wall of icy air. I had forgotten the luxury of air conditioning until that moment. Nicole and I split a cronut (that’s a croissant donut for anyone unfamiliar) and a chicken sandwhich. We also got two coffees that came with miniature cookies, presumably for dunking in said coffee. The experience was fantastic.

Kent, my dad's name, and the name of a store in the defense colony

Kent, my dad’s name, and the name of a store in the defense colony

Laj Pat Nager Bazaar

After our breakfast/lunch the two of us hailed a real taxi to a local market and shopped for a bit. I won’t go into detail as we purchased gifts for our families and they are likely reading this (Hi family!).

Our taxi to the airport

Our taxi to the airport

Gifts in hand, we took an autorickshaw back to the apartment and had some curry for the last time. We packed the last of our things up and went downstairs to get into the cab Atul, our AirBnB host had booked for us.

Indian traffic

Indian traffic

Indira Gandhi International

It was perhaps 40 minutes later when we arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The airport is unique in the fact that you must show your ticket and passport to a security guard before they will let you into the airport. The whole airport seemed very security intensive, more than any airport I’ve ever been in. We had too answer a ton of questions when we checked in.

“Where are you going?”

“How long will you be there?”

“Can you show me your exit flight from your next country?”

“How much money do you have in your possession?”

In the security line I needed to empty out all of the electronics in my carry on into separate bins and after the metal detector, I had a full pat down. Nicole did as well, although her check was in a small boxed room.

Duty Free Mecca

Duty Free Mecca

Finally through all the security, we reached the terminal. India’s airport has a fantastically gaudy duty free section, Nicole and I spent our remaining 240INR ($4) on a chicken sandwich and a brownie before boarding our flight to Munich with a layover in Abu Dhabi.

Etihad Airways

Nicole on Etihad to Abu Dhabi

Nicole on Etihad to Abu Dhabi

This is by far the nicest airline I have ever been on. The food was incredible, the seats were really comfortable, and they had big TV screens in the backs of all of the seats, much bigger than other airline screens I’ve seen. I would definitely recommend them if you have the choice to fly any airline ever.

Airplane meal

Airplane meal

Landing in Abu Dhabi

We landed in Abu Dhabi around midnight. Abu Dhabi is a cool city to fly into at night because its so lit up. Its interesting to see from above because all of the city is condensed into a small habitable patch of earth. Aside from those dense little pockets of humanity, the country is just sand and salt water. When we landed at the airport, we had to take a bus to the terminal and go through security. At every airport I’ve ever been to, if you’re just flying through you don’t need to go through security. However, we had to take off our shoes and belts and put our bags through the metal detector all over again in Abu Dhabi. The process ended up taking a really long time because everyone had to go through this process and dozens of planes were all landing at the same time.

The bus to the terminal in Abu Dhabi

The bus to the terminal in Abu Dhabi

The airport was incredibly busy for midnight. Just about every single gate had a flight coming into it and flying out of it every few minutes. I was also surprised by the number of westerners in the airport. I saw very few arabs in the airport, maybe a family or two here or there, but mostly westerners. The airport was really cool, all the bathrooms had shower stalls, there was a massive food court and duty free area, and there was even a sleep egg area where presumably you could sleep in some sort of pod for a few hours before your flight. We didn’t partake in any sleeping pods since our layover was only two hours.

Landing in Munich, Germany

Landing in Munich

Landing in Munich

My TV was broken on the flight from Abu Dhabi to Munich. The flight attendants offered to move me to a different seat, still economy class unfortunately. However, our flight was from 2am to 6am so I just wanted to sleep. I stayed in my seat with Nicole and managed to sleep almost the entire flight, which is very unusual for me and a real testament to how tired I was.

Once we landed in Germany….well I’ll start a new post with our Germany adventures….to be continued.

India-ception – visiting Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal

Nicole and I woke up at the crack of dawn, or several hours before it, 5am to be exact and walked up the road to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal East Gate was a few minutes walking distance from our hotel. We were two of probably the first hundred guests into the complex. It was nice to be able to wander around the Taj Mahal without several thousand people also doing the same thing. The Taj Mahal was really impressive in person. I felt like the Statue of Liberty and several other monuments just don’t hold up in person. You see them and think “it looked bigger in pictures”. The Taj Mahal was not the case. It was as impressive in pictures as it was to behold in person.

Taj Mahal

Catching up on Sleep

Nicole and I walked back to the hotel to get some rest. Unfortunately, when we returned to our room, we realized that we had locked the key in the room and we couldn’t unlock the padlock on the door. Yes, the hotel rooms were padlocked shut, that was their security procedure. Luckily, one of the hotel employees broke the lock for us and were able to get in, get our stuff, and get some rest for awhile. We had a small bite to eat at the hotel restaurant before meeting our rickshaw driver from the night before. He drove us to our next stop, Agra Fort.

Agra Fort

The fort wasn’t too far from our hotel and it was a short ride. Our rickshaw driver dropped us off and said he’d come back in about two hours. We wandered the fort grounds and got some great photos. Some form of the fort has existed in its present location since the 11th century, although its been rebuilt and added on to several times since then.

 Next Stop Park and Lunch

I said yesterday was the hottest day in India, but today takes the cake. It was sweltering. The high was 102*F and it felt like it. Nicole and I chugged water all day as much as we could and still felt hot. After the fort, we just wanted a place to get out of the heat and get a bite to eat. We stopped into a restaurant between the fort and the Taj Mahal for a bite to eat. The restaurant was on the ground floor of a hostel and it was filled with tourists like us escaping the midday heat. We enjoyed some curry and naan, although it wasn’t as good as the curry and naan from the restaurant below our AirBnB in Agra. An hour or so later, refreshed and no longer at the point of heat exhaustion, we took the rickshaw to the North bank of the Yamuna River to a garden called Mehtab Bagh.

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah

Our last stop of the day was at Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, also known as the Baby Taj. The mausoleum is considered a draft of the Taj Mahal and represents the beginning of the second phase of Mughal architecture. It shows the transition from red sandstone in Humayun’s Tomb to white marble, best shown in the Taj Mahal.

Returning to Delhi

Nicole and I had an incredibly busy day of riding around in an autorickshaw seeing as much of Agra as one can see in a day. We woke and saw the Taj Mahal at sunrise, walked the grounds of the Agra Fort, relaxed on the North Bank of the Yamuna River with a secluded view of the Taj Mahal, and visted the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah. Now it was time to return to Delhi. We bid farewell to our autorickshaw driver and went into the train station to wait for our train. It showed up about 20 minutes late but otherwise our trip back was smooth sailing. We made it back to our apartment and got some curry and naan from the turbaned man and enjoyed a late night snack.

India-ception – New Delhi to Jaipur

Happy Fourth of July from India. Truth be told, I didn’t even realize it was the fourth of July until the day was half over. If it wasn’t for someone on Facebook, I might have forgotten about it entirely.

India-ception

Train breakfast, toast, cereal, and coffee

Train breakfast, toast, cereal, and coffee

Today marked the beginning of Nicole and my India trip with in a trip, India-ception! Nicole and I took a train from New Delhi to Jaipur that left at 6am. We traveled first class for $16 each. The seats were nice, the food was plentiful and the scenery was great outside of Delhi. The seats were really spacious, Nicole couldn’t even reach the foot rest in front of her because we had so much space. We had a filling breakfast of toast with honey, cereal, coffee, and a banana.

As we were leaving the Delhi train station we saw numerous shanty towns and Hoovervilles with locals pooing on the train tracks. It was bizarre. Presumably they knew everyone on the trains could see them. In most cases there were bushes and other things nearby that they could have gone behind and not been in plain site.

Nicole and I diverted our gaze and tried to enjoy our breakfast. Outside of Delhi, the scenery was much better. We saw little farms, soaring mountains, and the occasional little village or school here and there.

 Jaipur

Eventually we reached Jaipur and hired a cab for the day for about $8 each. The driver took us all over Jaipur and we had an incredible time. After a quick fill up at the gas station, our first stop was at the City Palace.

Jantar Mantar

Our next stop was Jantar Mantar, its right next to the City Palace. Jantar Mantar looks like a cross between a skate park and a Dr. Seuss book. The whole park is a series of astonomical tools used for things like predicting eclipses or the time of day. For anyone who has seen The Fall, several scenes from the movie were shot in and around Jaipur.

Hawa Mahal

After our visit to Jantar Mantar, we crossed the street and walked to Hawa Mahal. Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of the Winds, is a palace in Jaipur within the old city walls. The palace’s name comes from the fact that its basically a giant screened lattice. It was built so the ladies of the royal household could look our over the commoners on the street without being seen. The palace was really cool to check out. All of the floors were completely open and as with other places in India we visited, everything was open to us. There were no rooms closed off or locked. We were free to wander everywhere.

Amber Palace

The Amber Palace was our last stop on our trip around Jaipur. Its a bit outside of town and kind of difficult to get to. You can rent a jeep or you can take a tourist taxi, like we had to the top.

The road to the top takes you through lots of small and winding city roads before it eventually opens up into a wider road that terminates before the palace.

The driver dropped us at the entrance to the palace. From there, we walked a zigzagging series of ramps to the gate.

Just inside the gate is an expansive courtyard and another series of ramps and stairs leading to the palace.

This was probably our hottest day in India. We drank about 2 liters of water just walking around the palace.

The Lake Palace

On our way back to the train station for our trip to Agra, our taxi driver stopped and showed up the Lake Palace in Jaipur. Its a really cool palace built on the water and its absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, you cannot visit the palace. You can only take pictures from the shore of the lake. We took a few pictures and admired the palace as best we could from the shore.

The long train to Agra

Our train was supposed to last 4.5 hours, but we ended up traveling for 6 hours from Jaipur to Agra. Why? I’m not really sure. There was a lot of stopping going on and zero explanation for why. When we finally reached Agra we hailed an autorickshaw and rode to Hotel Sheela, our hotel directly beside the Taj Mahal, but more on that later.