Posted in Travel Adventures

Iceland/Germany/Czech Republic

September 2016

Hill topped medieval castles, juicy curry wurst, and frothy bier halls. All images I presented to my husband as I was trying to convince him to book a trip to Germany to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Germany and more specifically, attending Oktoberfest, was on his life list but when I pitched the idea of adding side trips to Prague and Iceland, he was sold. He’s all about biggest bang for his buck. If I can add more passport stamps to the itinerary, it increases the odds he’ll agree to go. It was settled; we’d be packing our bags for 12 days in Germany and the Czech Republic with a very short stopover in Iceland.

Itinerary

  • Day 1
    • 7:30PM departure from Minneapolis; round trip to Munich on Iceland Air. We chose to stopover first in Reykjavik for a mere 18 hours.
    • The overnight flight was just 6 hours but meant we landed at 6:30AM local time in Reykjavik.
Iceland-Beautiful, Rugged and Intense

With just 18 hours in Iceland we rented a car and drove the Golden Circle to see Thingvellir, Strokkur Geysir and Gullfoss. We ended our short adventure with a drink and a soak at the Blue Lagoon.

  • Day 2
    • By 7:00am, as the sun was rising, we had retrieved our bags and rented a car to drive the Golden Circle.
    • Our Thrifty Car Rental associate gave us a good map of the drive we planned to take and off we went.
    • Strokkur Geysir was our first stop. The geysir spews 80-100(F) degree water about 50 feet into the air almost every 10 minutes.
  • Next stop; Gullfoss or the Golden Waterfall
    • Gullfoss is Iceland’s most famous waterfall. It’s hard to capture its size and its beauty in just one picture.
    • Our lunch stop was at the cafe at Gullfoss. We had lamb stew, Skyr (like greek yogurt, but not) and a local Icelandic brew.
  • After Gullfoss, we went to Thingvellir National Park. Here the Eurasion and North American tectonic plates meet. Thingvellir is also the site of the world’s oldest parliament.
  • 4:00pm reservation at the Blue Lagoon
    • After a long flight and a day of driving the Golden Circle, we ended our time in Iceland with a dip in the Blue Lagoon. We spent three hours floating, sipping drinks and pampering our skin with algae and silica mud masks.
    • Then it was back to the airport for a midnight flight to Munich.
willkommen in Deutschland

We spent our first day in Deutschland learning of the dreadful history of the Nazis’ first concentration camp at Dachau.

  • Day 3
    • With a 7:00am arrival in Munich we didn’t attempt to check into our hotel. Instead we took the train from the airport to Munich’s central station and rented lockers. For $5 euros per locker (we only needed one large one) we thought it a steal and a big time saver.
    • We rode the SBahn to Dachau and rented the museum’s audio guide for the self directed tour. The museum and travel to and from Dachau took about five hours.

The somber tour of the camp’s grounds including; the guard tower, barracks, crematorium and gas chamber left me feeling gutted. The museum’s displays and audio were very well done and were a good combination of facts and personal stories. We had a snack at the museum cafe and then rode the SBahn back to Munich to collect our bags and check in at our hotel.

  • Hotel Litty (2 nights)
    • Location over ammenities again on this hotel choice. Our room had a shower and sink, but the toilet was shared and just down the hall. Small sacrifice for free Wi-Fi, breakfast and proximity to the sights.
  • Dinner: We rested a little at the hotel before we went to dinner at Hofbrauhaus. Hofbrauhaus is the oldest beer hall in Munich and delivered in terms for rowdy drinkers who stood on tables jugging glass boots of beer while an oompah band played. The roasted chicken and grilled bratwurst were excellent too. It was here that I discovered radlers, half beer-half lemonade. Yum.

For this trip and really all our trips to Europe we have relied heavily on Rick Steves’ Guidebooks. Purchase one, you will not be sorry.

  • Day 4
    • Munich City Walk (from Rick Steves)
      • Marienplatz/New Town Hall/Glockenspiel
      • Old Town Hall
      • Stroll through Viktualienmarkt to St. Peter’s Church
        • climb the spire for great views of the city
Prost!

After our sightseeing in the Marienplatz area, we went back to the hotel to get ready for Oktoberfest. We rode the SBahn and arrived early. Tents fill and beer drinkers are turned away from popular tents by early evening. We began at the Spatenhaus tent. It had a pleasant, laid-back vibe and attracted an older crowd. We ordered ox tail with potato salad and drank our first Oktoberfest liter.

By 4:00pm we moved to the Hofbrauhaus tent. The music was louder, the crowd was younger and we had to elbow a few people to find a table. We ended up alongside our new friends, Snoopy and Markus. It wasn’t long and we were singing German anthems and toasting Prost! to anyone who made eye-contact while eating gigantic pretzels.

Bavaria

We had to drag ourselves out of bed today so we could get to Hertz Car Rental at the central train station and head to Rothenburg ob Tauber.

  • Day 5
    • It took 2 hours at 95 mph on the autobahn to travel from Munich to Rothenburg. We stopped along the way to eat lunch at a Burger King, good for Oktoberfest hangovers.
    • Hotel: Pension Elke (1 night)
      • The small hotel is above a grocery store and just one block from marktplatz. Great location, great price. Definitely recommend.
    • Our overnight in Rothenburg was just enough time to walk the old city wall, tour the Crime and Punishment Museum, satisfy our sweet tooth with a snowball at Striffler Bakeri and have dinner at Glocke Restaurant.

We ended our evening in Rothenburg with the very popular and very well done, Night Watchman’s Tour. Highlight of our time in Rothenburg.

  • Day 6
    • Neuschwanstein Castle
      • Advance reservations are a must. Our ticket pick up time was 11:55am.
    • I loved, loved, loved Neuschwanstein. People go to Rome to see the Colosseum, they go to Paris to climb the Eiffel Tower or London to see Big Ben. I wanted to come to Bavaria to see Neuschwanstein. It was breathtaking.
    • Only 15 of the planned 80 rooms were finished as King Ludwig II died before they could be completed. The young King lived at Neuschwanstein for a mere 150 days before his untimely death, but the tour does a nice job of depicting his life in the castle.
    • Before the tour we really enjoyed sipped cups of steaming glogg. One of my favorite memories of our time in Germany.

After our tour, we drove back to Munich. We were going to catch a train to Prague the next morning. In all my planning and prepping for this trip, I neglected to make hotel reservations for this segment of the trip. By the time I did start looking, prices were sky high and every hotel near the train station was booked. Not a room to be had, except at the hostels. That’s when I discover that during Oktoberfest, Jaeger’s Hostel, lifts their age restrictions. I was finally going to live out my fantasy of backpacking through Europe, I just wasn’t in my 20s anymore. We splurged and upgraded to the 40 person room with bunk beds.

The hostel was noisy and I found sharing just close quarters with stranger a little awkward. We dropped our bags and went to MarienPlatz for an excellent dinner at Augustiner Stammhaus Beer Garden.

Prague
  • Day 7
    • 9:00am Train to Prague-we left the hostel early; just brushed our teeth and went. We ate breakfast at the train station and planned to shower when we reached Prague.
      • It was a 5.5 hour train ride through some pretty countryside to Prague.
    • Hotel: Green Garland Pension (2 nights)
      • Green Garland is very close to Old Town and the Charles Bridge. It also has breakfast included.
    • Anniversary Dinner-Certovka
      • Certovka is right on the river overlooking the Charles Bridge. We walked from our hotel to the Little Quarter and the restaurant.
      • Scott had beef with carrot sauce and roasted potatoes and I had roasted beef in mushroom sauce with dumplings.
      • We celebrated with a bottle of Czech wine and cake. Czech cake is sort of like a honey flavored tiramisu.
      • We ended our evening with a stroll over the Charles Bridge to Old Town and the Astronomical Clock. We had a second dessert of strawberry ice cream and mulled wine from the rooftop terrace at the U Prince Hotel.
  • Day 8
    • Charles Bridge- climb the tower on the old town side
    • Old Town Walk (Rick Steves)
      • Astronomical Clock
      • Powder Tower
      • Havelska Market
      • St. James Church
      • Wenceslas Square
    • Lunch-U Medvidku Beer Hall where we ate schnitzel and goulash
    • Prague Castle
      • We took the tram to the castle and did a walking tour of the Old Palace, Basilica of St. George and St. Vitus Cathedral. We walked the Golden Lane back to the Little Quarter.
      • Early dinner in the Little Quarter at Lokal Restaurant. They specialize in fried cheese and boiled butter potatoes.
      • After dinner treat: Trdelnik (pronounced chimney). A trdelnik is a sugared pastry rolled into a cyclinder shape, sometimes filled with either whipped cream or ice cream. Yum!

Our last Czech experience before heading to Berlin was a beer spa. At Spa Beerland, we basically soaked in a beer hot tub. Tubes (as they are called at Spa Beerland) are filled with hot water, hops, and brewers yeast that guests soak in for 30 minutes. While soaking, you the access to your tube’s built in beer tap. Soaking in beer, the spa claims, reduces stress and tension, improves circulation and cleanses pores and has other medicinal properties. Not sure we can attest to any of that, but it was relaxing and a unique experience we haven’t done on any of our other travels.

Berlin
  • Day 9
    • 9:00am train to Berlin-4.5 hours
    • EastSeven Hostel (2 nights)
      • We cut corners on cost here as well. We had a separate, private room, but the bathroom was communal and shared among 4-5 rooms.
    • 6:15pm Reischstag Building-dome tour reservation.
      • I found the UBahn in Berlin confusing. So confusing, that we got a little lost our first time using it and basically had to run half way across the city to make our reservation at the Reischtag.
    • I like the symbolism behind the clear dome atop the Reischtag Building. The clear dome reminds lawmakers of their pledge to be transparent.
  • After the audio tour of the Reischtag, we went to Augustiner Gendarmenmarkt. It was a very cozy, traditional German restaurant where we had very tasty pork knuckle and pork chops.
  • Day 10
    • Our agenda today was to visit the Ghost UBahn Station at Nordbahnhof and the Berlin Wall Memorial.
      • Seeing the wall was a highlight of the trip for me. The film in the visitor center was great and really helped me visualize how the wall tore the city apart.

After a morning at the memorial, we had curry wurst at Bier KuDamm which as close to our next stop; the bombed out Kaiser Wilhelm Church. Curry wurst is sausage in a curry powder and ketchup sauce. Very tasty. You can’t tell from this picture, but I ate this one and then ordered another.

After seeing Kasier Wilhelm, we walked Unter den Linden and strolled through a couple chocolate shops. We passed by the Book Burning Memorial before we ended our walk at the Berliner Dom.

  • Dinner: at this point on our trip we were craving familiar food, so we opted for pizza. We found ourselves at I Due Forni which was a short walk from EastSeven Hostel in the Prenzlauer Berg area of Berlin. There comes a point when I’ve been away from home for a bit where I just want things to be easy and comfortable. Pizza to the rescue.
  • After dinner we took the UBahn back to the Brandenburg Gate area of town to get night pictures of the gate was well as the Reichstag Building.
  • Day 11
    • This was our last day in Berlin before we boarded an overnight train bound for Munich.
    • We walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, the Topography of Terror and finally the Jewish Museum of Berlin. All were fascinating.
Memorial to the murdered jews of europe
checkpoint Charlie
Jewish Museum of Berlin

Next we were headed to the train station for a 7:50pm overnight train to Munich. We booked a private sleep car. It was pricey, but when you consider we were purchasing a train ticket and hotel stay in one, it was easier to swallow. For me, it was also worth it to arrive in Munich having slept a few hours before our transatlantic flight (I can’t sleep in planes).

  • Day 12
    • The entire day was devoted to the journey home. Our overnight train arrived in Munich at 8:00am and then we went to the airport to catch a flight to Reykjavik and then onto Minneapolis.
    • We had an amazing trip, but were so happy to be home with our boys.

Tips and Tricks

  • 18 hours in Iceland is not enough. Stay at least 24 hours if you can. Our stopover was SO short because we were trying to make the absolute most of our time away. We were relying on grandparents to care for our boys while we were gone. More time in Iceland, meant more time away for the kids and more stress for everyone.
  • Reservations are a must at the Blue Lagoon.
  • Dachau Concentration Camp will take about half a day, but SO worth it.
  • Use the official Oktoberfest App on your smart phone to learn out the atmosphere in each tent and monitor crowd sizes.
  • Get the gear! We ordered my dirndl dress and Scott’s lederhosen from German companies online months in advance. If you can’t order in advance, you’ll find vendors selling Oktoberfest garments all over the city this time of year.
  • Neuschwanstein Castle. Arrive plenty early. Take the bus to Mary’s Bridge and stop to take pictures before the walk to the top.
  • Hostel stays are for the young. It was an experience, but I don’t think I’d CHOOSE to do it again.
  • Do a beer spa. Pricey, but fun.
  • There is SO much to see and do in Berlin. You need at least 2 full days to do it.
  • Sleeper cars save time, but not necessarily money. Also, every tilt of the train while you are lying down feels like it’s about to derail. Yikes.