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  • Days 45-46:

    After an early morning, a long travel day, junk food, and surprisingly good train croissants, we finally made it back to Sweden. We were met by Jason's mom's second cousin, Lena, and her daughter Clara at the train station, who were surprised by the massive amount of items we have collected along our way. Happy to climb into a car as opposed to walking somewhere, we made it back to their flat, where we were greeted by Lena's husband, Anders. Their son, Balder, who is visiting from Göteborg came home later on. We ate delicious homemade fish soup, had long conversations, and really enjoyed the night. We went out to a trendy bar with Balder for his birthday for a drink, then realized that a 19 hour day was sufficient and headed back. Despite a crazy cat, we slept well and were ready to explore in the morning... afternoon.

    After some sorely missed Swedish coffee, we were off to see what Lund has to offer. First, we came upon the Botanical Gardens, lined with trees from all over the world. It was really interesting seeing the plants organized by relation, especially. We figured our tour of European churches wouldn't be complete without seeing the most visited cathedral in Sweden, so that was the next stop. The current, standing building was finished in 1145. The original was built sometime in the 1080s, along with the cathedral school, which is the oldest school in Sweden.

    At that time, Lund was a part of Denmark, though, which we found out has the oldest national flag. Legend has it that the Danish people were losing a war, their leader prayed, the flag fell from heaven, they kept the flag and won the war. Again, legend definitely has it better than truth, so why not. We went down to the crypt to look around and we noticed this strange figure on one of the pillars that was drawing a lot of attention. Turns out it is Finn the Giant. An old legend says that the giant troll offered his services to a man building a church with the condition that by the time the task is completed, the man must figure out his name or he'll take his heart and eyes. With just a pillar tp complete, the man was nervous, so went out to the fields and layed down. He heard a troll woman singing and mentions Finn coming home tomorrow. The man rushes back and called out to Finn. The troll got mad and grabbed the pillar to tear down the church, but was turned to stone in his attempt. It was undoubtedly carved, but trolls turning to stone make such a better story!

    From there we went to a falafel window, because literally (seriously, literally) everyone was eating food from the same place. It was incredible, but something to do with the wind and some sort of pollen we've only experienced in Europe has given Jason some serious allergies. So we went back, took a nap, picked up a pizza, and watched Euro 2016 until bedtime. It has been a good couple of recovery days.
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  • Days 43-44:

    We got to Berlin in the evening yesterday and to be honest, completely planned on taking this city pretty easy. After getting to our penthouse apartment (gross exaggeration, it was a tiny little apartment, but it IS on the top floor!) We just made pasta bolognese, pounded water, watched a little Euro 2016, and went to bed.

    In the morning, we went to make reservations for tomorrow's big journey back to the homeland. Along the way, every plaza along the way was setting up for the Germany game at night. We went to Brandenburg Tor and took pictures as the set up behind for the mayhem to come at night. Which is ironic because the gate has seen its share of crazy through the years. It was originally a gate to the city in the 18th century under Prussian rule as a sign of peace, complete with the goddess of peace, Eirene. It opened to Unter den Linden, a long street lined with Linden trees leading to the city palace, basically a peaceful open door. Then came Napoleon, who after defeating the Prussians, marched his troops through the gate, stole the peaceful Quadriga from the top, and took it to Paris. Then, open your history books to page 1814, Napoleon overextended himself, decimating his army, and allowing the Prussians to invade Paris. The Quadriga (fancy name for a sclupture with someone riding a chariot led by 4 horses, or lions like in Munich) was brought back to Berlin, but was fashioned with a lance with an eagle and the iron cross, and like that she went from the goddess of peace to Victoria, goddess of you-can-figure-it-out. The peaceful gate became a triumphal arch. Fast forward to the Nazis, who used it as a party symbol. Then in the fighting of WWII, it was damaged almost beyond repair, leaving just one horse head intact from the original Quadriga. Then after the war, it was beat up and blocked off, as the Berlin Wall was built right next to it. But strangely enough, the Berlin Wall sort of saved the gate. Media coverage showed Brandenburg Gate as the backdrop to the wall being torn down as the city was reunified. It took another 20 years for the gate to be restored, but now it again stands for peace and unity, despite the war goddess on top...

    From there we had a classic lunch of schnitzel on a pretzel roll with mustard. Yes. Then we made our way back to the apartment and took a nap. We went out for some traditional German cuisine at the local pizzeria, picked up some flags, and got ready to join in the craziness. We took the long way around the city to look at the Berliner Dom, and came upon Stiftung Neue Synagogue. That building, as one can imagine, has a sad history. It was a massive, ornate building with a beautiful hall. It actually survived Kristallnacht, which is a miracle, but then was destroyed during WWII and was demolished afterwards. The saddest part is that the current building is a reconstruction of just the front facade, with the domes and towers. The inside is basically 1 layer of rooms, lacking the main hall and the actual functioning attributes. So it is literally a front.

    Moving on, we actually came upon the Bode Museum, which Jason took for the cathedral on first glance because of its impressive size, dome, and sculptures. Its the crown of "museum island", and really is an interesting historical building. Then we saw the actual cathedral. Apparently it isn't a true Dom for reasons a Catholic person would need to explain to me. We weren't able to go inside, but it was still a nice church, situated along the water.

    Next stop was back to Brandenburg Gate. We got there, saw chain link fences, security guards, and police, and were ushered past the entrance by the gate. We continued along the Großer Tiergarten until we could enter the area to watch the game. We felt good about the situation, despite the expected 3000 people in attendance, since they had CRAZY security. We went in, adorned in red, black, and yellow. It was crazy. 4 or 5 projection screens along the stretch of road up to the gate, food and beer stands, a ferris wheel... wow. They take fußball seriously. We had a beer while watching the first half of the game, then decided to beat the crowds and go back home. On the way out a Poland fan tried to instigate Jason for reasons unknown and for some reason not in front of the police in full riot gear... hmm. But the power of ignoring prevailed. Once out of the park, the streets were eerily empty. They take their fußball VERY seriously. We made it home and will be able to sleep fairly early in preparation for our 10 hour travel day!
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  • Day 42:

    This is our first part 3 of the trip, but it was definitely needed. Today we had a little better idea of where things were and how to navigate the city. And there is so much to see here, we couldn't hope to see our fill in just a day.

    We started off the same as yesterday, heading east towards the Englischer Garten. On our way, we picked up some pastries and coffee for breakfast. Jason got an apple cinnamon roll and Danielle got what looked like a nutella croissant, but the filling turned out to be the same strange, crushed up nut paste... it doesn't sound appetizing and is really hard to describe. So we had a hit and a miss for breakfast, but we got to enjoy it in the largest intercity park in the world, which makes it special anyway. From there we headed along the park to Marienplatz to see the Glockenspiel play for noon, which is supposed to be the best time to see it.

    We figured out that the show is exactly the same, just seems to last WAY longer in the heat of the day will a million peoplw there... But its still fun to watch, even though we were too impatient yesterday and today to stay until the golden rooster called. Making it a short day, we walked around trying to find St Michaels church, but wound up at St Peters instead. It became quite apparent that the Germans are very comfortable with death... there were small cases on the sides of the church that contained bones on display. One was even assembled still, with a goblet and a crown and everything. Needing a bavarian pretzel, we went to Viktualienmarkt, which is basically a permanent farmer's market. We found a seat under a tree and had one of the largest preztels we have ever seen with some peach tea, of course.

    Realizing that our internal maps were a little off, we mapped our way to St Michaels church to see Danielle's favorite, King Ludwig II. That brought us into our second crypt in 2 days. This one wasn't nearly as creepy, as it was just one room and smelled like flowers that had been placed around, rather than a ride at Disneyland.

    On our tired way home, we stumbled upon Wolfsbrunnen, which was obviously not the biggest tourist attraction, but really caught Jason's attention. Its a fountain with 4 wolf heads around and on top of the middle column was a girl with a wolf behind her. Essentially, wolves are awesome and should be depicted on everything. Further research showed us that it is also known as Little Red Riding Hood Fountain. So the wolves weren't supposed to be nice or protecting her like it looked like, but still...

    Heading back north, we came upon St Lukas, a large Lutheran church along the Isar River. It was built at the end of the 19th century as one of the first Lutheran churches in Munich, since the royals were Catholic and only allowed Catholic churches for hundreds of years. The domes were pretty impressive, but we are still pretty ruined by the Cologne Cathedral.

    We went on our search to find the infamous river surfing and got lost for the better part of an hour. When we got there, we realized that these people are, in fact, insane. The wave is created by a bottleneck feeding the manmade Eisbach river hitting a slab of concrete, with concrete on either side. And they sure surf it!

    We headed home from there where we ate way too much so we will have to carry less tomorrow. To Berlin it is!
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  • Day 41:

    Today we finally got out of the flat and saw Munich. The first sight we were able to see was Siegestor, or the Victory Gate, a triumphal arch. On top was the female personification of Bavaria on a chariot led by 4 lions... seriously awesome. It was built in the mid 1800s to show how awesome the Bavarian army was, but in a strange twist of fate, it now stands for peace.

    We made our way to the Hofgarten, a nice park situated between the Residenz and the Englischer Garten. After a nice stroll, we went across Odeonsplatz, which was the location of the Beer Hall Putsch, where the Nazis tried to take over Munich by force. ...And failed. So long story short, we walked in a plaza where Hitler got arrested. At the southern end of the plaza is the Feldherrnhalle, which is a mid 1800s loggia about the Bavarian military again, but actually, it was to basically built cover up where the medieval Schwabinger Tor. Of course, lots of war references around, but its cool to hear the history of such a central plaza.

    On the west side of the plaza was the Theatine Church, the outside of which was of course under construction. But the inside was different than any we have seen yet on this trip. An attendant in the church explained that an Italian princess who married a Bavarian had the church commissioned and used Italian architects and artists to design it. Everything was so intricately designed! Its also where Maximilian II, who built Hohenschwangau, was buried. We're actually not sure if its called buried if there is a large, ornate casket just sitting in the church... but he's there. Then we made the interesting decision to go to the crypt underneath the church. It was creepy. It smelled like the Pirates of the Caribbean, there were twists and turns, and little rooms. And awkwardly, there were so many caskets. One would think in a royal crypt that they would be more spread out and on display, but there were 3 or 4 in every little alcove. They were made of metal, some fancy with shields, crosses, and inscriptions, and some just basic boxes. And there were baby caskets, which were super awkward to see, because they FIT the casket to the body. A lot of them were dented too, maybe from wars, maybe from something else... and they were right there. 100-300 year old bodies, just sheet metal between us... Needless to say, we got creeped out and left.

    Back in Odeonsplatz, with the knowledge that the area had been the Italian part of town for a long time, the different look of things started to make sense. We noticed locals rubbing the snout of lions on bronze sculptures in front of the Residenz as they walked by. So in true tourist style, we went across the street to get in on the action. We figured it was something to do with luck, but it turns out the most common story behind it is hilarious. The king at the time had a mistress, which was frowned upon. A student disapproved, so pinned a note to the door of the Residenz. The king didn't like it and put out a warrant for the people responsible. The student felt that the assumption that it was more than one person lessened his deed. So he wrote another note to pin to the door saying it was only one person, but he got caught. The king thought it was funny and super bold of him to try the second note, so pardoned him. On his way out, he rubbed the noses of all 4 lions as he was running by. So we got luck AND fought infidelity at the same time!

    Just around the corner was Max Joseph Platz, named after one of the million Maximilians who were king og Bavaris. We sat on the Maximilian I Joseph statue in front of the Nationaltheater München, a beautifully columned opera house, for a little bit, not realizing that we were hungry, not tired. We headed east again and crossed the Isar River, where we saw Friedensengel, a column with a golden goddess on top far north of us. On the bridge was an awesome statue of Athena. And on the other side was Maximilianeum, which we knew absolutely nothing about, but it sure stands out! Turns out its where Bavarian Parliment meets... so really not too exciting, but the backdrop, it being on a small hill, and the design made it nice to look at!

    By that time we realized we had worked up an appetite and headed to the Hofbräuhaus, which turns out to be owned by the state (should have figured that out by the name, but oh well). That was by far the most touristy thing we have done so far. We didn't hear any German, got overcharged for food an drinks, but it was completely worth it! The beer hall atmosphere is great, and the food was delicious and fattening too. We had obazda for an appetizer, which is a cheese spread with spices traditional in Bavaria. It was incredible!

    We wandered through the shops from there, then went to Marienplatz, where there is a large glockenspiel on the side of the Neues Rathaus. The building is only about 100 years old, but is designed in a very bold gothic style and the face spans the length of the whole plaza. We figured that the glockenspiel would play every hour on the hour, so we waited for a little while to see the show. Turns out it only plays 3 times a day, but we just happened to be there at the latest one. That's some good luck! While we waited, we looked at the Mariensäule, the marble column with a bronze Mary and Jesus on top. This statue was built in the late 16th century, and regarded as the center of the country, where all roads led. Then the glockenspiel did its thing, everyone oohed and aahed as life sized figures spun around in the copper cage. It apparently tells the story of a marriage, celebrated by a joust, and some dancers who were said to keep people's spirits up during a plague. Pretty morbid, but it was quite a sight to see!

    We decided to head home where we watched the Sweden - Ireland game at the bar downstairs. It was a long day so we headed back after the game. We found out that the daughter of our host is apparently a crazy person who river surfs. Tomorrow we'll try to see what that is all about!
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  • Days 39-40: *this will be a boring post*

    With a stroke of whatever the opposite of luck is, it rained... HARD on our way to the train station. So all of our items that don't fit in our massive bags got fairly well soaked. ...the morning started out a little grumpy. The train ride was a short 2 hours then we were at it again. It was only lightly sprinkling on the way to our apartment, where we could drop our things and feel human again. But humans need food and one of us is a particularly large human who needs lots of it.

    We loaded up a cart at the grocery store, which is far from the norm, meaning we had to load up bags and carry them half a mile. With some food in our bellies, living in a swanky flat for a few days, we settled in. To be honest, where last night left off is exactly where all of today took over. Euro 2016 on the TV, rain outside, and constant eating. Let's just say we won't be losing any weight on this trip...

    We really just needed time to relax, reset, and get ready for the home stretch of our vacation. Munich has so much to offer and we are excited to get out there tomorrow!
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  • Day 38:

    Today we saw castles. If you want the summary, that's it. But it was a full day for us!

    We were proud of ourselves for waking up super early (before 9) to head up to the castles (have breakfast). Apparently it wasn't quite early enough... the line was out the door to get tickets for a specific time slot for each castle, because nobody is allowed in on an unguided tour. They were definitely pumping people through. We snagged up our time slots with time to walk to and between each castle. After breakfast, of course.

    On the way to the first castle, we walked along Alpsee. We're sure everyone can figure out that it is an alpine lake, but it is crystal clear and the mountains all around really make it a destination all its own. But now to the castle. The first was Schloß Hohenschwangau, which is more fun to write because of the "ß". It was first mentioned under its original name, Schloß Schwanstein, in 1397 when it was owned by the Knights of Schwangau (swan district, real tough). The knights were forced to sell the castle to the Wittelsbach dukes of Bavaria, but lived there during the some 80 year duration. About 15 years after becoming owners again, they had to sell the land, and the castle went to a rich guy. The rich guy had an Italian architect work on the castle for the last 15 or so of his life. When he died, his kids sold it back to the Wittelbachs. Then the Austrians plundered it; then Germany basically took it and said the King of Bavaria, Maximilian I owned it. But then he sold it. Years later, his grandson was taking a walk and fell in love with the castle ruins and the surrounding area, so bought it. He had the place fixed up, had murals of the history of Schwangau, and medieval love stories painted in every room, and brought it to its current state in 1837. Under Maximilian II's ownership, the name of the castle had been changed to Hohenschwangau. "High Swan district", because of its placement atop a mountain in the region. Composer Richard Wagner would frequent the castle and even wrote operas based on paintings in the castle.

    Maximilian II, now king, had 2 sons, Otto (who doesn't matter for this story, sorry bro) and Ludwig. For some reason, Danielle had an intense interest in Ludwig from first hearing about him. But that works, because he's a main character in this story too. Long after the medieval times had passed, he and his brother grew up in a medieval castle with fantasy paintings on the walls, and even their uncle had a castle rebuilt to its original gothic styling. His whole life became a fantasy about the middle ages, which leads us to the second, more famous castle.

    On a mountain above Hohenschwangau was a 12th century fortress, originally named Schwangau. It went through the same changing of hands as the castle, but it fell into disrepair earlier, and was never fixed. Until crown prince Ludwig II wanted his own castle. He was obsessed with the middle ages and wanted to live like royalty of the time. When he was reaching adulthood, royalty had become very modern, with paperwork and limited power. So he took the original name of his father's castle, Schwanstein, to make his Neuschwanstein.

    It is a ridiculous castle, in more ways that one. First, it was built in a Romanesque style in the mid to late 1800s, when there was no real purpose for a castle. Also, it is the most iconic castle, probably in the world. When a boy is raised on fantasy and has an endless supply of money, it gets ridiculous. Walt Disney even based his Sleeping Beauty Castle on Neuschwanstein. It is really beyond words when you walk up to it, but when you get into it, it is sort of a sad place. Despite the outside looking as magical as it does, it is still missing elements in the original plan, marked by paving stones. Only a small portion of the inside was completed, but those few sections are fantastic. Paying homage to the Swans the area is named after, to Wagner, to the Knights of Schwangau, and to mythology and legends... He would visit castles all over the country to get ideas, then make them larger and more grand than the original.

    Unfortunately, Ludwig's story is a sad one. Shortly after becoming king, he was declared insane, arrested, and was murdered a few days later. His fantasy project was never to be completed.

    After being put in a state of awe, and also a subtle sadness, we walked to the second lake in the region, Schwansee. There was a grassy area where locals were laying out and playing lawn games. We layed out for a little bit, but biting flies have an affinity for Danielle, so we had to move on without taking the dip we planned on. From there it was a very long, very steep, very much hiking through the forest walk to the nearby Füssen to get food. We made it back, had dinner, and will fall asleep exhausted.

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  • Day 37:

    The rain from last night definitely carried over to the morning... It took a bit of effort to get ourselves to the train station, but after a few apricot filled donuts and coffee, everything was looking good. Our first train took us to Munich, on which we had a long conversation with a nice Indian man and got some great ideas for our next trip to Austria.

    The Munich train station was weird... there were more food places than we've seen at any others, but the only seating was at the individual tracks. Of course we had pretzels and waited for our regional train (yes, we were nervous to board another German regional train). After a flashback moment of doubt, it actually got us to our destination, only about half an hour late.

    We should have noticed what we were getting ourselves into when there were only 2 tracks at the station, but it took us walking around the corner and seeing mountains and a 2 lane road. This place is tiny. Jason turned to Danielle and said, "Uh oh, where did you bring us?" Now we have nothing against the countryside, actually prefer it, but the rain made it seem quite intimidating.

    It was only a half hour walk, along which we walked across the Lech river. Tanget coming here: we had some completely unfounded idea that the rivers we were to come across in our travels would be clear, potable, and photogenic... not so. Most of the rivers we have seen are about as opaque as milk. Lightly chocolated milk with tree branches floating in them. Interesting. Anyway, after that we walked along a field with cows in it. This seems like a boring detail, but we found their cowbells so entertaining. We can't recall ever seeing a cowbell ever really attached to a cow... but it makes so much sense. They're always grazing so the bell is going the whole time. We thought it was hilarious for some reason.

    We got to our hotel. Yes, second hotel. Which is an old house converted into a hotel in a very bed 'n breakfast way, sans breakfast. Upon grabbing our keys and finding our room, we discovered that we had apparently booked a sizeable apartment. A full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, living room, and a bedroom. Awesome. Feeling fancy, but realizing a kitchen with no food is pretty useless, we went next door to the hotel and restaurant (another converted old house). We arrived just as they were opening and as they sat us, we realized just how much of a family business this was. The family was having dinner at the first table as we were ushered into the dining area. But they always say the only way to get an authentic meal is to have it homemade, so we went for it. White asparagus, boiled potatoes, homemade spätzle, south tyrolean ham, local mushrooms, pork loins, gravy.... incredible. Also, this may come as a shock to many people, but Tyrolean speck is better than prosciutto. We genuinely didn't think that was possible, but wow.

    So about halfway through the meal, as the rainclouds started receding up the mountains,we look to the east and are awestruck. On the mountainside, in clear sight from our restaurant seats, is the Neuschwanstein Castle. We can save you the trouble of looking it up, its the "Fairytale King's" castle. The one Walt Disney based the Sleeping Beauty Castle on, so it is obviously ridiculous. After our meal, we wanted to take a walk, hoping to settle all the food. We were taken directly into the deep forest on one trail to get a better view of the castle. Then heading another way, there were beautiful grassy fields with all sorts of wild flowers. If that wasn't enough, while wandering paths around the fields, we look up to see the Hohenschwangau Castle.

    Clearly, we are so excited to see the castles tomorrow.
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  • Day 36:

    This morning we took full advantage of the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Which, of course, means Jason had a plate full of smoked salmon and eggs... After checking out, we went across town to our airbnb for the night to drop off our increasingly large collection of items.

    Free from the weight of another human on our backs, we did what we do best: semi-organized wandering. We ended up at a few souvenir shops, where Danielle had her heart broken by the lack of this little yodeler bear. But then we were on to the old buildings soon enough. On the south side of town, we came upon the Wiltener Basilika and Stift Wilten. The Basilica is the oldest church in the city, with the first being built during the 5th century. The current is from the mid 1700s, designed in a completely different style than we have seen thus far. It is apparently called rococo, a sort of subset of baroque that is seen pretty consistently throughout Innsbruck. Unfortunately, the church was closed for the day, but the outside was interesting enough to see and CLEARLY there are enough churches to see... the Stift Wilten is a monastery built on the ruins of a 4th century Roman castle. And then according to legend, get this... in 880 a giant beat another giant in a battle, then was converted to Christianity by a monk, he felt bad for killing so wanted to build a monastery. The devil didn't like that, so he sent a dragon to stop the building. The giant killed the dragon, cut out its tongue, and finished the building. In reality, it was built sometime before 1138, when it is first on record to exist. We like the legend better, so why not.

    This brings us to our next point... dragons were real. Honestly, how would different cultures all over the world somehow have made up the same exact creature to use in their myths? It would've taken months, assuming somehow they knew where to go, for them to reach each other. Then there are language boundaries, somehow showing peace, spreading your mythology with others... no way. Dragons were real.

    Moving on. We walked toward Old Town, or Altstadt, and were greeted by Triumphpforte, the giant arch we posted a picture of yesterday. It was built in the 1700s to celebrate the marriage of an Austrian archduke and a Spanish princess. Its a pretty amazing sight, and even more interesting when you find out that it was built from salvaged stone from the Roman settlement that was on the land over a millinium before. That explains a lot about the obsession with recycling here.

    We made our way into the old town along our friend the archduke's empress mama's street, Maria Theresien Straße. Its a street from the 13th century and honestly just looks cool. In the middle of the street is Annasäule, this big column erected in 1704 to commemorate kicking the Bavarian troops out of Tirol. Next was Goldenes Dachl, or Golden Roof. It is just that, a balcony at the end of Old Town with golden roof tiles. People were losing their minds over it. It was built in 1500 as medieval box seats for the emperor and his wife. They would watch festivals or whatever was going on in the city center from there, but it was really just a way to show off the wealth of the Empire.

    Next we saw the Stadtturm, or the City Tower. It had the same gothic roof shape as the churches in the area have, but instead of a place of prayer, it was used as a guard tower to protect the city against attacks. Being built in 1450, it was inpressively tall at 51 meters. Still in the small area of Old Town, a certain part of one of the buildings stuck out to us. Turns out it stands out to a lot of people as it is listed as one of the attractions of the city, The Helblinghaus. It was one of the 15th century townhouses, but it had been worked on through the following centuries, adding details of different architectual styles. It was finally completed in 1732, with a white exterior and intricate gold detailing made to catch the sunlight. Strangely, its current name comes from an owner from the early 1800s....

    Heading through an old alleyway, we stumbled upon Dom St Jakob. Yes, another church. This one was from the early 18th century, in the crazy guilded baroque style. Absolutely beautiful. And the same story that we've see so often, a church has occupied that exact spot for over 900 years. That's such a difficult number to put into perspective! Anyway, this church knew it was pretty, so they charged a euro to take pictures in it. We went for it, figuring it was just a euro and it would go to a good cause. We ASSUMED that meant that WE could take pictures... we were wrong. A man came rushing up to us and said "eine Person, eine Kamera" in that stern German way. We got the message. Therefore we don't have cellphone pictures inside...

    We went through another old alley, and side note, these alleys look like giant versions of cartoon mouse holes in the side of these buildings. Just to put a image with it. Anyway, we made it to the Imperial Gardens. Trees, ponds with lilly pads, wide lawns, ivy covered gates... amazing, of course! There were massive amounts of construction that actually made us completely miss the Hofkirche. Its a mid 1500s church that is both eerie and amazing. It would have been nice to see, but hey, we need a reason to go back anyway!

    We enjoyed our snack of pretzel rolls and peach tea sitting in Bozner Platz, admiring Rudolphsbrunnen. Its so cool to find out afterwards that the interesting looking fountain we had a cheap lunch by was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Tirol's union with Austria... over 150 years ago. This was also the location for our most recent "dragons are real" conversation, even though the sculptures were totally griffins. A little worn down from 5 weeks of travelling, we headed home early today. After threatening all day, on the way it sprinkled... we guess that's how you would describe it. There weren't very many drops, but each drop was like an ounce of liquid, so the pavement was soaked in a matter of minutes. So weird.

    And now, comfortable in bed, the rain is going crazy outside. No need for a white noise app tonight!
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  • Day 35:

    So we ended our day laying out naked on the roof of a 4 star hotel in Austria. Now let's back up and find out how we got there...

    Today was amping up to be a nice, relaxing, easy travel day on a luxury train from Switzerland to Austria. We picked up a tin of Swiss chocolates, got on the train headed east. We're excited to announce that we travelled through Liechtenstein, by the way. It is a bafflingly small country. It took less than 15 minutes to cross from a train station in Switzerland to one in Austria, not even straight across or at the most narrow point. We didn't see or pass a station inside the country, so we assume you would have to drive, or honestly walk in. Still pretty cool to know we were in the country. Chalk it up to 2 new countries for the day and 9 for the trip!

    We arrived in Innsbruck in the early afternoon after following alpine valleys all morning, being amazed at the beauty. In Innsbruck, we made a beeline to our next airbnb like usual. The host wasn't going to be there and had left a key for us in the saddle pouch of his bike. There was no key. We message him in several different ways trying figure out what happened. Meanwhile, Mother Nature had some threatening plans for us... clouds coming over the mountains, thunder rolling, and the rain started. We were without accommodations, wearing massive bags in a town we don't know anything about, in the rain. A complete 180 from the morning. We needed a place to stay, our host wasn't responding, and its a small town. We check for hotels on Kayak, everything was either booked or 350€ per night. The first few we walked up to were either booked or only had single, bathroom-less rooms available. Then we found a nice, expensive for our budget, but actually relatively inexpensive hotel with one room open. We booked it.

    By then the host had responded assuring us that the key was where he said. Just to clear our collective conscious, we walked back to check. Meanwhile, Mother Nature thought it would be funny to clear up the sky. Completely clear, with cotton candy clouds and birds singing. But we weren't very excited. We confirmed, with pictures, that the key was not there and our host refunded us. This made it a little better. Then, on our way back to the hotel, we picked up 3 giant soft pretzels, 2 roasted half chickens, 2 fancy dinner rolls, a fruity iced tea, and a sparkling lemonade. For 12€. Things were getting better.

    We got back to our hotel room, noticed that we have a mountain view, that the guy in the room next to us was smoking weed, and that there were 2 spas in the hotel. One of the spas said nude, while the other said textile. Of course, we think there's no way that's actually what it means, but Danielle wanted to check it out... then we got to the elevator and she backed out, so we went to the "textile spa". It was super relaxing with a sauna, a steamroom and a lap pool. Then curiosity crept in. So we think, we're on vacation, over 6000 miles from home, and we're still doubting that they mean THAT.

    We head up to the top floor of the hotel and are greeted by a sign basically saying "respect the fact that this is a nude spa, no swimsuits allowed". We see that no one else is there and shyly slide off our swimsuits and put them in a locker, with towels tightly wrapped around us. A quick check to make SURE no one else was there and we were able to look around at what was there... and it was way cooler than the textile spa! There was an aromatherapy steamroom, a Finnish sauna, a regular sauna, an infrared sauna, and a sun deck. We tried out the different saunas, listened to the calming soundtracks, and started to get a little more comfortable. The signs tell you weather to shower or air dry after each different type. So there we were, completely naked, warm with a cool breeze, on the roof of a hotel we shouldn't be staying in, looking up at the snow covered Karwendel Alps.

    Life is really funny sometimes.
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  • Day 34:

    Today was one of the best days of our trip thus far. Not only was the weather phenomenal, the city was beautiful, and the people were nice.

    We woke up pretty early due to some construction (we swear they are following us), and went to the grocery store to pick up our next few meals, as this is the most expensive city we're likely to be in. After eggs, bacon, and prezel buns, its difficult to bring a day down. We wandered from our small district 6 on the hill to the main part of the city in district 1. We came upon Kirche Unterstass in our little district. It was a cool little church with a red-faced clock on the tower. Turns out it was the site of a 14th century church, but since the Swiss have so many dollars at their disposal, it was instructed to be destroyed and later rebuilt. It definitely looked nice, though.

    In order to get to center city, we had to cross the Limmat. Its one of the clearest rivers we have seen in mainland Europe. We stood on the bridge for a while, just admiring the water and the fish, while avoiding bicyclists. When we made our reservations for tomorrow's train, we met the friendliest person behind the reservation desk. Can we also say that Swiss money is the coolest we have come upon so far...

    Across the street from the main station was the Schweiserisches Nationalmuseum. For Europe, it was an impressive building for a national museum, for the US, it would blow away anything we've seen. It was built just before the 20th century, in the style of a French renaissance chateau. There were towers with multicolored shingling, details around the windows, and all around just pretty awesome. Not to mention the central station itself... mid 1800s, a labrinyth of levels and tracks that has us lost for the better part of an hour...

    Next, after wandering the streets of Old Town, enjoying the sights of the river and town, we came upon St Peter Church. The site is known to have housed a temple for the Roman god Jupiter in the 8th Century. In the 11th, it was replaced by a romanesque church, before being replaced as the first Protestant church in the early 1700s. It also has a clock tower with the largest church clock face in all of Europe. It was a completely different style of church than we're used to during this trip. There were crown mouldings, bright colors, and looked surprisingly modern. It was a refreshing change, but we definitely still prefer the gothic style.

    From there, we made our way to a restaurant (AKA our easiest access to a toilet), and had some surprisingly impressive organic Swiss beers! With the toilet part out of the way, we walked up to Lindenhof hill, where we were able to get a great look at the city from above. We hung out there like some rebel teenagers until we figured we should move on.

    We somehow walked straight to the Kirche Fraumünster. This church was built on the remains of an abbey built exclusively for women in the mid 9th century. It is known for being founded by Louis the German, and its stained glass, however, we weren't allowed to take photos inside, so google needs to help out in thay aspect...

    Right across the river was the Grossmünster, the biggest church of the city. Legend had it that the site of this church was chosen by Charlemagne. The current church was built just a few hundred years later, in about 1100. Again, no pictures were allowed inside, but its still fascinating to experience being in builidngs with such history.

    From there, it was pretty much a straight shot to the apartment. We called it an early day because the amount of effort we have put in is really starting to catch up with us at this point. We had a nice dinner of sausages and veggies, and now it is bedtime. Tomorrow we are travelling on what is described as the most luxurious train in Europe. We're excited.

    Also, Zürich is crazy expensive, but also a must see. It's beautiful, filled with history, and not too touristy. It gets a big thumbs up from us.
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  • Day 33:

    Today was an interesting travel day. We were on the precipice of another crazy storm on our walk to the station, but luckily avoided it. The first leg was a bus, made for particularly small individuals. Just an hour on the road put us well out of Luxembourg, back into Germany. Then a train took us to Mannheim, Germany. At Mannheim station, we picked up some lunch for our expected 30 minute wait. Unfortunately, the signal boxes went down, so the whole station was at a standstill for an hour. We had no idea what was going on until a friendly German family told us about the malfunction. After finally boarding the train, it was SUPPOSED to be a 250 km/h straight shot to Zürich, with just a couple of stops. But of course, somehow it was our fault that the train was late, so they decided to just stop at the second to last station, leaving us to make yet another connection... so that made it 3 trains, a bus, and over 8 hours. At that point, there wasn't much left in the tank.

    Once in Zürich, it was a relatively short walk to the apartment. Almost directly uphill. It was giving us flashbacks from Bergen. But we finally got to the apartment to realize that we booked the whole place to ourselves. And more importantly, there's a pizza place right across the street. So that happened. Danielle got to try her first Peroni, so finally knows what Jason has been raving about for the past few years. And we love the fact that there is no such thing as cents, or a currency lower than the franc here. In our change, we got a coin that reads "1/2 franc". Brilliant!

    Now a little bit of TV and an early bedtime is exactly what we need.
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  • Day 32:

    It seems unnecessary at this point to mention that we had another late morning... the forecast was bad, but the trusty window check showed a beautiful day. We headed east and soon were reminded of the volatility of the weather here. A big cloud burst later, we came upon the Cimetière Militaire Américain. Fortunately, the clouds cleared for us to visit the monument and pay respects to Great Uncle Donald who lost his life in Luxembourg in the Battle of the Bulge. Its a sobering experience to see the graves of so many who were fighting on foreign soil and realizing that those over 5,000 soldiers never returned to America. And triple that number were brought back to be buried at home. Studying the battles in school just can't put into perspective the true sacrifice. The best we can do at this point is feel love for those who fought against oppression, not hatred or regret for the aggressors.

    After a moving experience at the memorial, we headed back to the city center. It was an hour walk, with google maps trying to murder us by putting us basically in the middle of the street for half a kilometer. Danielle made friends with a couple of donkeys, as we discovered a super cool program Luxembourg has that puts sheep and donkeys on government lands to use grazing to naturally keep the plants trimmed. We also saw a little piece of home with some golden poppies growing along the road.

    We finally came upon the "Gibraltar of the North" just before the sky opened up and rained like we have never experienced before. But before we get into that bedlam... the whole reason Luxembourg exists is because this guy named Siegfried bought these sheer cliffs bordering the Pétrusse River. They were partially inhabited from the 4th century on, but once Count Siegfried purchased them in 963 to defend his lands in the surrounding areas.

    The Bock is a natural defense as amazingly high rocky cliffs, three sides around a river, which were dug out to create an intricate tunnel system, as well as built upon to make one of the most impressive fortresses in Europe. What we went through are known as the casemates, essentially places where you can launch stuff at enemies, but they have little to no chance of getting back at you. So basically this place was impenetrable. It was attacked a lot, but never taken, and each time expansions were built along with the repairs. But remember the brilliant British idea to ensure neutrality? Yea, this one had to be scrapped too.

    Back to our extreme weather experiences... we feel rain starting, and being seasoned experts on rain, we throw on our waterproof jackets and we were good, right? Wrong. This rain literally made us laugh it was so extreme. The lightning looked like it could be hitting trees righr next to us, and the thunder was literally right above us. To the point where we could hear it roll over us as it was crackling and shaking the ground. We hid under small rock out-shoots to escape momentarily as we made our way to wherever we thought we were going. But even then, water would flood over our feet as it poured down the stairs, so we were forced to keep moving. Then, Danielle explained it best, we felt like Mary and Joseph. Each time there would be shelter, people were under it and we would look at them like "please let us in" and each time people would look back like "no room in the inn". So at this point, our waterproof jackets kept our upper bodies dry, but our pants... soaked. Like jumped in a pool soaked. After some time, we finally made it to the entrance of the casemates, and of course, the rain stops.

    After getting mildly lost in what felt like miles of tunnels, we visited Saint Michael's Church, which was the site of the Count's castle chapel, built in 987. But as we've seen before, little lasts through wars, and it went through the same destroy and rebuild as most other churches. The current one was built in the 17th century, and that, in and of itself is pretty awesome.

    We picked up some waters and headed home from there. After stopping in to grab groceries on the way, guess what... rain. That crazy rain again. The locals were all hanging out under the eaves waiting before they left. But being crazy Americans, and deservedly receiving some looks, we booked it for home. Booking it being relative, of course, because we had a 29 minute walk from there. Protecting our hot chicken wings like they were viable eggs of a dinosaur, we made it home competely resoaked to the bone. Luckily there was no further flooding, and we even had an apologetic note from our host, along with Luxembourg sparkling wine and Belgian chocolates. Something must have happened to the wine because the bottle is empty. But chicken wings, cup o' noodles, and some sweet tunes were exactly what we needed tonight.
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