In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 11 of that journey (Germany, Austria and Romania).June 30th, 2010
I have had a fantastic last few days in Berchtesgaden in the far south east of Germany. A beautiful place, surrounded by the amazingly scenic Bavarian Alps, but one that has somewhat of dark past…this area was once the playground of Hitler and the senior Nazi’s.
Day 1 was spent at the Konigsee (Kings Sea), a massive lake surrounded by mountains and forest. Crystal clear water, very scenic. I took a boat to St. Bartholomai’s – a church on the edge of a national park, walked in the forest a bit and around the lake. A beautiful place.
In nearby Obersalzburg (where I headed the next day), the Nazi’s had set up a second seat of government. Most things were blown up by British bombers at the end of WW2 including the Berghof (Hitlers house – the ruins were finally destroyed in 1952), but the bunker that was under the house remains (part of a Museum now). It was quite amazing how big this bunker was (and you can only access a part of it), there were many rooms including a large bomb shelter and the intriguing archives room of Martin Bormann (Hitlers private secretary). Apparently Hitlers music records and art collection were also stored in the bunker. The museum was very interesting with lots of unique pictures, including a young Adolf relaxing in lederhosen in the 1920’s – quite a bizarre and somewhat hilarious picture really.
The other major building in this area that survived WW2 is 1800 metres up, the ‘Eagles Nest’ a tea house for meetings built for Hitlers 50th birthday – the trip up is quite spectacular – you can only go by bus up a steep and winding road, then you arrive at a long tunnel built in 1938, which you walk down to a golden brass elevator with green leather seats (original – fascinating to think of the shady characters who sat here before me – you are not supposed to take photos in the elevator) then up to the top (the entire project was quite an engineering feat). The place has spectacular views of the valleys and mountains, you can even see Salzburg in Austria. You can walk up higher to the cliffs above for even more spectacular views.
The ‘Eagles Nest’ has not changed much inside since 1945 other than it is a restaurant today. I took a few photos in the restaurant – even though you are not meant to unless you eat there….
On the way back to Munich a couple of days later, I did a day trip to Salzburg in Austria (10 minutes from the nearest German train station). Salzburg is the home of Mozart and the movie ‘The Sound Of Music’, it is a classic baroque style town, overshadowed by a huge fortress on the hill above (I did an interesting tour up there – the torture devices on display were extreme to say the least – especially the chastity belt – I wouldn’t mess with those outward pointing spikes! The other devices were designed to crush fingers, stretch bones, break feet bones and humiliate you in so many and such varied ways!).
I also visited the home where the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was born and spent his childhood, it is now a museum dedicated to him and his family (I was somewhat disappointed they did not have any Falco inspired “Rock Me Amadeus” t-shirts). There are also various churches and a cathedral in the old town to explore. St. Peters church had old catacombs within the cliff wall behind it…I expected something grim in there, but all very plain!
Made my way back to Munich, where all hell had broken loose due to Germany’s win over England in the soccer world cup. Partying was going on in the streets until the early hours (horns blaring, singing etc). Crazy!
The next day after a 3 hour delay my flight to Romania finally took off, wiped out a day, but anyway I have ended up in Sibiu, a nice small city, with a huge central square and amazing homes in varying colours, shapes and various states of disrepair…had a great traditional meal at a restaurant near where I am staying – really cheap about $10 for a massive bowl of soup and a Transylvanian goulash – very tasty!
Interestingly when I arrived at the Sibiu airport, I was advised by the tourist office there was a bus to/from the city but I could not buy a ticket at the airport(?!?!?) and would have to go by taxi! Anyway spoke with a German businessman who had a taxi booked – got a free trip into town, then just had to walk across the old town to my hostel – nicest one I have ever stayed in (Felinarul Hostel), more like someones home that you are visiting! I explored the old city of Sibiu, the main square, old cathedrals and towers, and the old fortress wall – interesting and peaceful place as cars can not rally drive through this area.
After a couple of days in Sibiu I then caught a train north to Sighisoara, in Transylvania (2.5 hour trip cost about $3! Trains here are cheap – and it was actually a modern one!). The train trip was through rolling green hills and farmland, and the most dilapidated train stations along the way – many were just concrete blocks and a sign along a section of railway!.
Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes (1431-1476 “Vlad the Impaler” prince of Wallachia, “Dracul” – the inspiration for Bram Strokers “Dracula” – Dracul basically means dragon – he and his father were members of the Order of the Dragon which protected Christianity in Europe). Vlad Tepes fought the expansion into Europe of the Islamic Ottoman Empire and he was famous for impaling his enemies amongst other gruesome and bloodthirsty practices (he was eventually killed during his third reign in Wallachia and his head was taken to the Sultan in Constantinople where it was displayed on a stake to prove he was dead)!
The house of Vlad Tepes still stands where he was born in 1431, inside is a restaurant now. I had a nice, if not slightly overpriced meal of local delights (but by western standards still relatively cheap).
Wandered around the old town of Sighisoara and the walled citadel (a UNESCO world heritage site – the only town to be so in Romania). The old town is quite a pretty one with its ancient homes and buildings, but the river flowing through town is a pretty dirty, wouldnt swim in that one! It is only a small place, will head south tomorrow for a few days in a town called Brasov – lots to do down there and in its surrounds – old towns, hiking in the Carpathian mountains, Bran (Dracula) Castle etc. Should be interesting and fun!
Observations of Romania so far: nice place, friendly people, not as many Gypsy’s as I thought there would be. Generally things seem run down (streets and buildings) but many are very ornate also. Some of the old women here look like they are 200 years old – they have lived a hard life – hunched, craggy faced – quite a sight!