Finding the Perfect Cuckoo Clock

Ever since I bought my sister a cuckoo clock when I was leaving Austria in 2004, I regretted not getting one for myself. So when we planned our trip to include Bavaria, I knew it was the one souvenir I had to have. One of the factors in my disappointing day along the Romantic Road was that it was Sunday and all of the shops were closed, so I was completely out of luck in my hunt for a cuckoo clock (and for several gifts I was hoping to find for my loved ones). The following day was pretty open. We just had to be in Strasbourg that night. Originally, I had hoped to visit some more of the towns along Lake Konstanz and in the countryside on the way to Freiburg (which I had heard was very pretty) and then up through Colmar to Strasbourg.

But since I couldn’t find a cuckoo clock along the Romantic Road, I knew there was one place to go where I was sure to find one – Triberg im Schwarzwald, home of the world’s largest cuckoo clock. (I actually just learned about that on Wikipedia, and now I am totally devastated that I didn’t see this landmark for myself. How could I miss it?!)

We did linger a little bit near Lake Konstanz, though. The benefit of having a car is that when you see a huge, beautiful pink church off the side of the road, you can pull over and explore a little. It was the Basilika Birnau and it was situated right on the lake next to what looked like a vineyard.

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And then we were off to Triberg. Luckily our detour took us through the Black Forest and we climbed up hills (along very narrow roads where I just prayed that we didn’t accidentally meet another car coming the opposite direction) and we would come out upon the most amazing views. It was really gorgeous.

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Triberg was hilly and mountainy. It actually reminded me of a resort town here in the West, like Park City or Vail. Except that there were tons of stores selling cuckoo clocks and other wood carvings made from trees in the Black Forest.

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I certainly had my work cut out for me finding the perfect cuckoo clock. There were so many to choose from! I went to each store along the main road and checked them all out. I wish I had taken photos of the variety, but I got the feeling that many of the store owners wouldn’t have liked that. There were some huge ones that cost thousands of dollars, some modern ones that reinterpret the traditional cuckoo clock, and lots of styles in between. I actually picked mine out in the first store, but I wanted to be sure, so we visited all of them. Then I just went back to the original one. The owner packed it up tight for me, and I carried it with me the rest of the trip. And now it hangs proudly on my dining room wall.

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It was definitely worth the side trip to Triberg im Schwarzwald.

Schloss Neuschwanstein in the fog

Remember how I said this was the most disappointing day of the trip? And I’m sure after you read the last entry about Dinkelsbuhl and Donauworth, you are thinking, “Oh, that doesn’t seem so bad!” Well, it’s true. Because this is where it all went wrong. We sped down the Autobahn until we got closer to Fussen. The scenery was incredible.

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But I kept waiting for the mountains. We were driving into a little something called the Alps. Now, I am no stranger to majestic mountains. I do live in the shadows of the great Rockies, but I was really looking forward to seeing the Alps again. Fussen is almost directly over the mountains from where I studied in Innsbruck, and I used to love staring at these mountains every day while I waited for the bus.

Photo from my time in Innsbruck in 2004 - the view from our bus stop.

Photo from my time in Innsbruck in 2004.

I kept waiting for the Alps to rise up ahead of me, but the fog was so thick that we were in Hohenschwangau before I even realized it. I never did see the Alps. We got in line for tickets to tour Neuschwanstein. It was around 1 pm, but the earliest time we could get tickets for touring the castle was 5 pm. Of course, we should have bought tickets online in advance, but I guess I didn’t realize how busy it would be in September. Lesson learned.

Since we still had the Alpenstrasse to drive and possibly the beautiful lakeside town of Lindau to visit, we didn’t want to waste 4 hours just waiting for a chance to tour Neuschwanstein. It looks amazing, of course, but we had already visited some chateaux and we basically just had to make a tough decision. We did want to look around, though. Even without going inside either castle, we could at least enjoy the scenery.

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Schloss Hohenschwangau

Schloss Hohenschwangau

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We took the bus up to Queen Mary’s Bridge (Marienbrucke) for a view of the castle. The bus was stuffed full of people, but we were lucky to have gotten some seats because it wound up and up and up the mountainside at quite a fast speed for a bus full of people. It was a little stomach-turning, to be honest. Once we got off the bus, we had to hike just a little up to the bridge. We were in the thick of the fog there, but it turned the forest into an enchanted one.

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However, it didn’t bode well for our view from Marienbrucke. In fact, standing on the bridge – hundreds of feet (maybe) across a waterfall – was perhaps one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. The wood was soft from all the fog and mist and there were tons of people crowded onto it. I was so worried that it would give way at any time. And it wouldn’t have even been worth it because the view was so obscured by the fog.

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Can you seen the misty outline of Neuschwanstein?

Can you seen the misty outline of Neuschwanstein?

And here I was worried about the scaffolding ruining the view. (In case you’re not sure what Neuschwanstein Castle looks like, it’s the fairytale castle built by Mad King Ludwig — here’s a Google image search for you.) Oh well. It might not have been what I wanted it to be, but not everyone gets to see Neuschwanstein in the fog, right? And it was pretty.

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We walked back down to the village after checking out the castle and headed on our way. I still had the Alpenstrasse to drive – all those scenic vistas!

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But that’s as far as we got – about 2 miles down the road. It started raining. My throat and head were killing me. It was still foggy, and we were losing the light. I had to admit defeat, and I was seriously ready to just get to the hotel and fall asleep.

So I know… certainly not the worst day ever, but it was just so disappointing because I had looked forward to traveling through the Alps for months. I guess I’ll have to go back another day.

the Romantic Road: Dinkelsbuhl and Donauworth

Welcome to part one of the most disappointing day of the entire trip.

It’s my own fault really. In all the planning, this was one thing I just didn’t plan well. I really thought two days on the Romantic Road would be enough. It wasn’t. I should have known. The distance we were trying to cover on the Romantic Road over the 2 days was 541 km (or 336 miles). And hey, I’m from the West in the U.S. of A. where we drive 100 miles without thinking twice. But when I explored Southwestern Colorado last year, I only traveled about 250 miles over the course of three days. And that was just about perfect. So I knew ahead of time that we were pushing it, but I hoped it would be enough.

The other reasons it was such a disappointing day were not my fault. I was sick. Horribly, miserably sick. And also, it was foggy and rainy.

And also, and maybe this is my fault, I had really high expectations. This is the part of the trip that I was really looking forward to. For years, I have wanted to return to Bavaria with a car so I could visit some of the smaller, picturesque towns. I hoped to take it slow and easy. Stop when and where I wanted. I was planning to drive the mountain roads of the Alpenstrasse. Sigh… it was going to be amazing.

It started off great! We spent the night in Dinkelsbuhl at a really cute, friendly guest house called Goldenes Lamm. Our room was really nice, and right above the eponymous golden lamb.

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After breakfast, we went exploring around Dinkelsbuhl. It’s a really beautiful town. The most popular town along the Romantic Road is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but I think Dinkelsbuhl holds its own in charm and interest.

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So I need to explain the next photo. Nerd Alert: I have a slight major obsession with the Lego Minifigures Series. Just before I left, they came out with a new series that included a Bavarian man in lederhosen. I packed Fritz along with me thinking he might like to see his homeland.

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I think he appreciated it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to walk these streets?

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We couldn’t stay forever in Dinkelsbuhl. After all, we had 223 miles to travel, 4 towns, and one major castle. (Yeah, I was much too optimistic about how much we’d be able to see.) We headed toward Nordlingen, but ended up on a detour. We didn’t mind, though, and you wouldn’t either if your detour looked like this:

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Yes, the day started off pretty amazing. Somehow, with the detour, we missed Nordlingen, though, and kept going toward Donauworth. As we neared the city, we saw fog rising from the ground. It was eery and beautiful, but a little distressing because it foreshadowed the weather we had up ahead.

The streets of Donauworth are lined with colorful gabled buildings.

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As we walked along the street, we suddenly found ourselves walking through a pink gate outside the walls of the city. There was a lovely little path along a canal or creek that we took. It was just a really pleasant way to spend the morning.

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But the morning was pretty much gone, and we were still quite far from our ultimate destination – Neuschwanstein Castle. I decided that, as much as I wanted to see the other towns along the Romantic Road, I really wanted to get to the Alps, visit the castle, and then enjoy the vistas of the Alpenstrasse. So as much as it hurt, we got on the Autobahn to high-tail it to Fuessen and Neuschwanstein.

But more of that later.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Hey remember how I went to Europe? Four months ago? I know it’s been a while, and I’ve already spent two months blogging about it, but I still have a whole week’s worth of adventures to share. I took a little hiatus over Christmas, but I’m ready to get back to Europe and finish documenting my trip.

After Prague, we took a bus to Nuremburg. Although the city looked lovely from the windows of the bus, we were actually just picking up a rental car so we could spend two and a half days driving along the Romantic Road. I had some hiccups with the rental car at first because I had never driven a standard where reverse was in the upper-left of the gears. It threw me off because I kept worrying that I’d put the car in reverse instead of first gear until I realized that there’s a trigger you have to use first. That was a relief! Also, this was my first time on the Autobahn. And yes, people really do go as fast as the legends say. However, people also drive kind of slow — like 45 mph slow — in the right lane. So the trickiest part of the Autobahn is not getting stuck behind the slowpokes because it’s hard to get up to speed fast enough to pass them in the left lane without getting overtaken by a car going 120. As for me… I think I topped out at 100. Just for a minute or two. Just so I could say that I did it.

We quickly arrived at our first destination, which was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It was everything that I hoped it would be! Beautiful, colorful buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. Lots of little shops and bakeries.

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I had researched places to visit and things to see, but we really just ended up wandering around looking inside the shops. I was on the hunt for the perfect cuckoo clock (along with some Christmas presents). I brought my sister home a small cuckoo clock from my time studying in Austria (we split the cost of it), but I didn’t think about getting one for myself at the time, and I always regretted it. In planning this trip, my one requirement (souvenir-wise) was to come home with a cuckoo. I didn’t find on in Rothenburg. But that was ok because I still had time and I had lots of fun looking.

We mostly just wandered around the town. I probably should have mapped it out a little better, but it was pleasant just to wonder and (other than the cuckoo) my primary hope was just to take photos. We ended up at one of the outer gates of the city with a spectacular view.

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Rothenburg was actually larger than I expected. At first, I wondered what that walled city was in the distance, but then I realized that it’s part of Rothenburg.

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And a friendly cat. (We met lots of cats on our journey. I’m not sure if it helped Cristen or made her miss her own beloved cat even more.)

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We headed back toward the center of town to the Rathaus and Marktplatz.

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But there was one particular street that I was looking for. I had seen photos of it during my research, and it just seemed like the quintessential Rothenburg street. I wouldn’t feel like my visit was complete until I saw it. Luckily, it was easy to find, just down the road from Marktplatz.

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The awesome thing about this view is that I posted a photo on Instagram and one of my friends commented that her dad had actually visited that adorable crooked building right in the center many times while he was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The lady who lived there would have the missionaries over for dinner and would drop the key down on a string for them. I wish someone would have dropped a key down for me! (Also, did you notice the pulleys on some of the houses and a bucket in front of one? I didn’t notice them until the other day when I was editing photos.)

Rothenburg has a medieval wall that still exists around most of it and you can climb up to walk along it. I’m not really sure how far it goes around, but we walked along a stretch just as the sun was setting.

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We decided to have dinner in Rothenburg before driving to our hotel in Dinkelsbuhl. When we first walked in to the restaurant, I was not interested in staying. It was crowded and hot and smokey. The owner saw us and welcomed us right away and said there would be a table for us shortly, but I was iffy about staying. They did, however, have a bathroom, so I waited for Cristen and when she was finished, the table was ready, so we stayed. And it was awesome. After a little while, the crowd became lively and jovial instead of noisy and the heat was welcoming instead of overbearing. I don’t know what happened to make the difference. Maybe it was the big smile of the owner or the delicious schnitzel or the huge glass of Spezi, but it was the perfect end to our visit to Rothenburg.

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Beautiful Dresden

We knew we wouldn’t have much time in Dresden, but we wanted to see it anyway. We had heard it was incredibly beautiful, and I got an amazing deal on a room at the Hilton right in the heart of the historic Old Town. We ended up taking a taxi from the train station, and I felt so posh pulling up to the doors of the Hilton… at least until the doorman put my old backpack on the brass rack and then, even worse, hung my hobo sack (my catchall stashable tote where I put everything I couldn’t fit in the backpack) from a hook on it. You guys, this place was nice! The doorman showed us to our room (we had no idea how much to tip him) and there were even chocolates on our pillows and a complimentary bottle of water (not even the fizzy stuff) on the table. Yep, so fancy!

We dropped off our stuff and headed just down the street for some food. It was a gorgeous day. We really lucked out throughout the whole trip as far as the weather went, but this was the type of weather that outdoor cafe dining was made for, sunny and warm with a cool breeze. After lunch (tapas), we went for a walk around town and I kind of fell in love with it. Everything was just so pretty.

The only disappointing thing about Dresden is that I really wanted to see the jewels at the Green Vault. We had bought a Dresden Card, so we thought we got in for free. Then the clerk told us we had to pay 10 euro each, which we did. Then we looked at all of these amazing little miniatures made from coral and carved from ivory. We thought it was the Green Vault, but then we saw that on the other side of the map, the Green Vault was actually on the first floor. When we tried to enter, we found out that we had the wrong tickets. I was so mad! I even complained to the clerk, and I never do that.

It was just a miscommunication. We had asked for tickets to the Green Vault, but they gave us tickets that didn’t include it for some reason. I have no idea really. And I tried to persuade them to give us free tickets to the Green Vault since (in my opinion) it was their fault for giving us the wrong ticket (although I guess it was probably our fault for not knowing German). They said we’d have to pay, and you know, we had just walked around for over an hour looking at tiny things in the museum and there was still so much to see in Dresden (and I was still mad!) that we didn’t. Now I kind of regret it because it looks incredible!

We decided to get over the mistake by visiting the Zwinger Palace. It’s just down the road. Something great about Dresden is that everything is really accessible. Our Dresden Card gave us free transportation on the trams, but we didn’t even use them. Zwinger Palace has a beautiful courtyard and lots of great stairs and fountains.

And look — I captured God’s footprint.

Cristen wanted to check out some of the museums or maybe climb to the top of some churches, but you know, I was tired. I was in the beginning stages of a cold, and I was just kind of touristed-out. Plus, I had been reading a book on the trains (Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta), and I had gotten really into it. So much that it was all I could think about while we were wandering around. I just had to find out more about Taylor’s mysterious past. So we decided to split up. I wandered back to the hotel and spent a few hours finishing up the book. I struggled with it because I didn’t want to waste time and there was certainly plenty to see and do, but I felt so refreshed afterward that I was glad I chose to spend my time that way.

We enjoyed a leisurely dinner at another outdoor cafe (a veggie-friendly one Cristen had discovered while climbing to the top of a church). Then picked up some gelato to eat while we enjoyed Dresden at night.

We had an early train to Prague in the morning and asked the concierge to call us a taxi. Unfortunately, it was raining, and everyone wanted the concierge to call a taxi. We missed one that was meant for us (someone had nabbed it), so we had to nab someone else’s. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, but we had that train to catch. We didn’t want to miss out on Prague, even if I wouldn’t have minded spending more time in beautiful Dresden.

Berlin Burial Grounds and Gardens

After visiting the museums, we decided to view a different kind of history by visiting the cemetery attached to St. Matthew’s Church – famous for being the burial grounds of the Brothers Grimm. When we got off at the stop for the church, I think we were both surprised. It felt like walking into another world because the stop was surrounded by trees and birdsongs. It didn’t feel like the city at all. It was almost as if we were walking into our own fairytale.

And the ivy-covered, stone and wrought-iron gate made it even more fairytale-like.

But inside, it felt more cheerful than I expected. Kind of homey, in a way, with the candles and smaller, unimposing tombs.

That’s not to say, however, that there wasn’t elements of a dark tale in the making.

When I was doing my study abroad in Austria, I visited some of the cemeteries there and was surprised at how frequently I saw people tending to the graves. I thought it was really beautiful that people cared for them personally. It looks like the tradition is shared with Germany because there were lots of watering cans available and even a little cafe near the church to accommodate those visiting.

The sun was getting lower, and we knew that we didn’t have much light left in the day. We really wanted to see the Tiergarten, a large park in the center of the city, so that was our next stop. One of the entrances is right across from the Brandenburg Gate. The trees were just starting to turn when we were there in late September. It was so beautiful.

I wish we could have explored more of the garden, but it’s huge, and we were getting pretty hungry. One of the downfalls of traveling in the fall was shorter days, but I think the beautiful weather made up for it. On our last evening in Berlin, we got Chinese food. It just sounded good, and you know, it was. We had reservations for a later train to Dresden the next day, hoping to catch a long breakfast, but we had lots of repacking to do and since we were taking the bus to the train station, it ended up taking almost an hour to get there. There just never is quite enough time.

Greeks, Egyptians, and Assyrians – Museum Island in Berlin

Something super convenient about Berlin is that many of its world-class museums are located in one location. We bought the Berlin Pass with Museum Island, so we had free access to all of the museums on Museum Island. To be honest, it didn’t end up being worth it because we weren’t really in Berlin long enough to take advantage. But it was nice to know that all of our entrance fees were covered and we could visit some museums that we might otherwise not have seen. While I love (almost) all art, I definitely have a preference for 18th to 20th Century European painting and sculpture, but when you’re in Berlin, you have to see the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum. They really are incredible. So often I only see Greek art as a single sculpture, so it’s really cool to see it all pieced together.

Here are some scenes from the frieze around the altar depicting the battle between the Olympians and the Giants. And yeah, it is totally awesome.

Here’s a ferocious lion taking a chomp out of someone.

But don’t worry because the lion gets his.

This is part of the Market Gate.

In the next room, you’ll find the Ishtar Gate – one of the gates to Babylon.

Some Assyrian art.

After the Pergamon Museum, we walked just a little bit to visit the Neues Museum, which specializes in Egyptian and early history art. It features the famous Nefertiti bust, but they don’t allow any photos in there. It’s such a beautiful building. Apparently it was significantly damaged during WWII, but it was restored.

So many of the Egyptian figures displayed tender relationships. So sweet.

We also stopped by the Berliner Dom just to soak in the perfect weather. I succumbed to the lure of the green grass and laid down for a while. Sometimes those are just the best memories. Well, that and the adorable school kids holding hands on their way to the museum.

It’s the little things.