Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The scenic Romantic Road

On this day last year, 16 February, was Shrove Tuesday. It was also the 10th day of my European sojourn and I found myself in Munich. It was the 9th stop in my amazing race around Europe. Ten solid days of the grey and bleak wintry weather. Having left Adelaide at the tail end of the southern hemisphere summer, I was by then missing seeing the sun and Australian blue skies. The novelty of experiencing snow was starting to wear off.

But motivating myself and thinking positively that the snowfall is surely bound to stop at some point, I crossed my fingers that what's on offer for the day will be special. This was the leg of the trip where I drove from Munich via the Romantic Road to Schwangau, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and ending in Frankfurt.

I left the hotel at 6.45am for the two hour drive to Schwangau, Bavaria southwest of Munich to make the pre-booked 10.50am tour of the King's Castles*. My road trip adventure began with trying to get out of the city which took me the better part of the hour just to get on to Autobahn A 96 / E54. Much as I loved the Mercedes Benz A Class rental, the built-in GPS would only indicate which street I was on and a compass for orientation. I had to call on my navigational skills, rely on the Hertz free map with challenging text and font size and the printed details of the route and directions I downloaded from Google Map (Did I mention printed in A5 paper size?). I got lost 3 times including taking the wrong ramp at B2R and finding myself on the wrong direction while at the busy Autobahn which meant that I was heading north back towards Munich again! I wanted an adventure - I got an adventure.

By 8am, I was finally on the way but panic started to set in again as I couldn't go past 80kph due to heavy fog. I was starting to worry that I'll definitely miss claiming those already-paid-for tickets in time for the tour of the two castles. Then about 65kms into the trip and getting on to the start of the Romantic Road (B17) on the way to Landsberg am Lech, (drum roll)... the sun came out and woahh...the postcard perfect winter landscapes started to unfold.

Romantische Strasse (B17), Bavaria

After 10 gloomy days, I saw the blue skies and the winter scenes of the Bavarian countryside were awe-inspiring. I remember thinking that if it's this beautiful in winter what more in autumn or spring (mental note for next trip). I was treated to so much visual delight and teasing glimpses of the quaint and picturesque towns along the route that I found it annoying I was pressed for time and not have the luxury to stop to take it all in.

Then by 10am, I saw the Neuschvanstein Castle. And there she was - dream-like and perfectly perched on the mountain slopes. With goosebumps, tingles down my spine and a lot of oohs and aahs (and screeching!) reverberating within the confines of the car, the day was certainly going to be perfect.

View of Schloß Neuschanstein from Coloman Strasse

I left Hoheschwangau at 4.30 in the afternoon after a fun-filled and a full 8GB compact flash memory card! JOY! I continued with the drive along the scenic Romantische Strasse to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for an overnight stay.

Here are some of images:

St Coloman Church along Coloman Strasse
St Coloman Kirche in Schwangau, Bavaria

Hohenschwangau Castle
Hohenschwangau (loosely translated as "High Swanland")

Neuschvanstein Castle
Schloss Neuschvanstein in Bavaria

*Serendipitously, 2010 was the first time the Castles were open to tourists on a Shrove Tuesday.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

My Amazing Race

A year ago this weekend, I took the plunge and went on my biggest solo travel trip to date. My almost month long European adventure began on the 5th of February 2010. The trip was 24 days to be exact including air travel and an overnight and full-day stay in Singapore to visit and catch up with my bestfriend and her family.

As a methodical planner, creating and planning the vacation/adventure of my dreams took over a year and the four months prior to the trip was spent ironing out details.

...the research

The preparation and planning was not an easy feat. In 2009 much of the world was in the grips of the financial crisis - the ominous effects of the worldwide economic downturn hanging in the air. With the currency exchange rates pretty much a deal breaker, I decided early on to experience off season travel and plunge into wintry Europe. The major drawback, of course, is the weather - made more graphic by the horrible stories around Christmas time by the experiences of snowbound travellers, particularly in airports and transport hubs. Hence, the decision to do the trip during the tail-end of winter - in February 2010. Sounds childish but I actually looked forward to seeing winter landscapes.

Pouring over maps, travel guides, travel videos and travel books, I locked in my travel budget and booked my 'open-jaw' ticket to Europe in August 2009 - fly in to Amsterdam via Singapore and fly out from Paris back to Adelaide via Singapore.

By the end of September 2009, I was able to work out the final itinerary I am most happy with:
Singapore * Amsterdam - Zaanse Schans * Bruxelles - Cologne * Berlin * Prague * Vienna * Salzburg * Munich * Romantic Road - Landsberg, Schwangau, Füssen, Augsburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Würzburg * Frankfurt * Zurich * Rome * Florence * Venice * Paris - Angers - Paris * Singapore

Looking forward to the trip...the itinerary

Phew...I know, I know - too much to take on travelling solo and on such a tight schedule!

My own Amazing Race around Europe! But I tell you, if I'm to sum up the trip in one word - it was empowering. After the trip, I felt I can pretty much do any thing I set my mind to.

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