Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bavaria and Salzburg

Back in Munich once again I hung out trying to take things easy and finally rest a bit more. Being back in Munich again so soon (I was there most of April) with Ena really felt like coming home too. Munich is a pretty city but is also expensive by German standards which doesn't really appeal to me. I'd been there is fall and spring before but never at the height of summer so finally having warmth and sunshine was good and I ended spending about 3 weeks in Munich.
My friend Jetti, who I'd also seen the last time I was in town, was surprisingly there again on a holiday from Afghanistan (where she works) and we spent the afternoon after I arrived sailing with a friend of hers on the nearby lake Starnberg (Stamberger See). There was a storm threatening the whole time which made for some interesting lighting on the water. The next day Jetti flew back to Kabul so I was very lucky to get to spend some time with her again.

Olympic park, Munich.

Starnberg lake.

With Jetti on the lake.

Ena had just finished her thesis and was in the process of job hunting (which means in summer vacation mode) so we managed to get out of Munich a few times of some field trips. In Germany you can get a day pass (in groups up to 5 people) on the local trains for the whole state for much cheaper than the usual tickets so we took advantage of this a few times. Bavaria is by far the largest state in Germany so there is quite a bit to see and do. So it was perhaps a little ironic that our first destination wasn't even in Germany and we took the train just across the border to Salzburg, Austria.
I'd been to Salzburg once before for a day back in 2000 so I was due another visit. The day was perfect and Salzburg is a beautiful city. It's not too big and I still think has one of the most impressive castles overlooking an old town in Europe. We made a day trip out there and spent the afternoon strolling around town, along the river, up to the castle, etc. It being the height of summer, Salzburg was very busy with tour groups. It has a bit of an overtouristed feel to it with the Sound of Music tours and Mozart souvenirs but it's impossible to not enjoy it anyway.


Salzberg castle is always in the background.

A beautiful city.

View from the castle.

Our next trip out of Munich was to Regensburg. In searching for places to visit I'd looked up the Unesco world heritage list and found a handful of sites within Bavaria and decided to go for them. Regensburg is on the list because it has a well-preserved, old medieval town. The day we went it was actually raining so it wasn't quite as nice as I'm sure it could've been. Regensburg has been settled since the stone age apparently and it's strategic position at the northern bend of the Danube river had the Romans build a fort there. Since then it's been a regional power centre and today you can see a bit of the old Roman walls, the 900-year old bridge across the Danube, a very Gothic cathedral and a few other churches as well. We ran around for a couple hours and had lunch before heading to Nuremberg to meet some of Ena's friends and stay the night.

Regensburg town hall.

Regensburg Dom.

The Danube.

Inside the church of St. Emmeram.

The next morning we went to Bayreuth to see its nearby Unesco-listed opera house. It was a beautiful sunny day and Bayreuth is a cute little town to hang out for a couple hours in. The main attraction and purpose of our visit was the Margravial Opera House. At the time it was built in the 1740's it had one of the largest stages available. This attracted Richard Wagner, who later decided it wasn't good enough but stuck around anyway to build another opera house nearby. That opera house is the site of the Bayreuth festival honoring Wagner and Wagner is buried in Bayreuth also putting the little town on the map for many, but we had limited time and were purely interested in the Margravial Opera House. It was inscribed on the Unesco list just this year because it is one of the only baroque theatres from this period left in Europe. The interior is made entirely of wood other than the light fixtures. It already looked richly-decorated and well-restored to me but we were later to learn that we were very lucky to visit when we did because later this month it will be closing for a couple of years for more extensive restoration work.


The Margravial Opera House.

Inside the opera house.

Jumping back on the train we spent that afternoon in Bamberg, another Unesco-listed town in northern Bavaria. It's also a well-preserved medieval old town that dates back 1000 years. It was still a beautiful summer day and by far the busiest with tourists but pretty nonetheless. I really like the homes along the river and the town hall, which sits on it's own island on the river connected by old stone bridges. We did it all quickly and it would be a better idea to spend more than half a day to have time to soak up the atmosphere and visit all the sites. We had to leave however and caught the last train back home to Munich.

Bamberg town hall.

The outer wall of the town hall.

Along the river.

Bamberg center.

If you have lots of time, then these are really pretty towns. There are still many others left to see just in Bavaria alone. Anyone that thinks they've seen Europe after a summer backpacking trip they are nuts. I think it's amusing that I've seen more of Germany than most of my German friends now and even Ena thinks I'm more than a little nuts by now being so excited to track down the Germany Unesco list. Still it is the arguably the best way to figure out what to do if you are in a country and don't know what to see.


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