Back to Summer

Back when I watched television, I remember a commercial of a person taking a trip from Flagstaff, Arizona to Phoenix, and how they shed their clothes along the way because of the changing weather. On my last day in Europe, I had a similar experience. I took a bunch of trains with many stops along the way from Murren, Switzerland on top of the Alps to Frankfurt, Germany where I took a plane back to Bangkok. I left at 8:30 in the morning wearing all of my warm clothes to hopping back into shorts and a t-shirt by the time I went to bed the next night. I thought I would point out the change as it happened by taking a picture at each one of the stops along the way.

Murren, Switzerland was the highest point, and the coldest. I had to bundle up and crunch across the snow.

We were still pretty high up when we arrived in Grutschlap, but did not have to leave the station as we waited for the cable car to take us down the mountain.

It was still a little cold in Lauterbrunnen because it was early in the morning, but the short wait did not make it feel that cold.

We had made it to Interlaken, Switzerland on a train and felt the constant descent from the valley we had stayed in for the last five days. The snow was still there, but reserved for the far away mountains.

We hopped on another train to Spiez in Switzerland, and we could start to see more blue sky and the need to pull off the coat.

Basel was our last town in Switzerland. We had quite the break there and it was getting really nice.

We reached the outer station of Frankfurt and had to put the coats back on and stick under the safety of shelter because of the rain that had come out of nowhere.

The rains had stopped in the twenty minutes it took us to get to Frankfurt’s main station, but it was still cool outside because the sun had dipped below the horizon.

Even though it was cold outside, I was in Frankfurt Airport, and knew my next stop would be Thailand, so I packed my coat away for the next couple of months. I would not need it where I was going.

It was fun being out in Europe for the Winter Break. Thanks for following along as I got to enjoy the cold weather for a little bit. Never take it for granted because you will miss it when it is gone.

The View from My Window

One of my favorite things to do while out on a long vacation that will take me to new and exciting place is to take a picture of the view I can see from my window of the hotel or hostel or Air B+B that I am staying at. It is surprising to see the differences of the places, and I think each place really show what certain places are really like. These are the views from the six place that I stay at.

Bad Windsheim, Germany

This was a really nice Air B+B we stayed at in Bad Windsheim, Germany. It sat above a nice pizzeria, and overlooked other people’s backyards. This feeling of being at home and comfortable in the very private surroundings that describes this quaint Germanic town.

Fussen, Germany

We only spent one night in this town that is most famous for the two big castles that sit on the mountains just outside of town. It was a small little hostel that was very crowded with only two bathrooms that I had to squeeze into if I wanted to use the shower. The building right across the street described the feeling of this place perfectly.

Salzburg, Austria

We stayed on the campus of one of the colleges in this town in a hotel chain. It was very comfortable and the staff was great. They had a nice community bar downstairs that many people visited throughout the day, and wherever you looked you saw other guests. The fact that I could look into other people’s rooms demonstrated this fact nicely. I tended to look over the building though at the mountains that surrounded the town.

Munich, Germany

I was back in the city with this hostel. We had a private room in the place, and it even had a sink in our room which made things a little more comfortable. There were a couple of shared bathrooms, and I could see during a busier time of the year it being a problem, but due to the fact that we were there at the beginning of the holiday after hangover, it wasn’t ever really a problem. I really enjoyed this place even the view could have been a little better, even though what should I have expected while staying in a city but a view of the city.

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

This was a great hostel and the views were amazing. It had a really nice kitchen and a great patio for each of the rooms. We did not use the patio because it was just a little too chilly, but that was the reason we came out here in the first place. The room was big and the people we shared the place with very friendly even though there were very few of them. It was exactly what it was like exploring this place that has easily become one of my favorite places in the world.

Murren, Switzerland

We like to splurge on one place on trips like this, and this was the place that we chose to do it at. The place was right across from the train station, but when you are in a town as small and quant as Murren, this is not something that should cause alarm. We were the only people staying at the place that night as well which made for a fun experience, and one again, the views were just spectacular. It also a a patio, and even though it was cold outside, we took advantage of it, and had a drink while enjoying the moon rise over the mountains.

To Choose a Side of the Valley – Wangen versus Murren

Wangen during the early afternoon

There are two mountain towns on either side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland that attract people to them. They both offer amazing things to do in the wintertime and summertime and if you can’t decide which one would be the perfect place for you then maybe this post will help you make that decision for you.

To start off with, both of these towns are obviously tourist towns. They both have an extensive amount of hotels and restaurants to choose from, and it would really be hard to decide which one you wish to travel to based upon this. Also both of them offer skiing, snowboarding and sledding during the winter, and hiking, biking and base jumping during the summer, and it would be hard to decide which one does this better. They both sit at the base of a mountain peak (Jungfrau in Wangen and Schilthorn in Murren) that you can travel to the top to see amazing view of the valley, and even if you do not go up these peaks, you will still get spectacular views. So the idea really comes down to the feel of the town and how that matches your tastes.

The train station in Murren

Both towns can be reached with public transportation leaving from the valley town of Lauterbrunnen. Wangan has just a short fifteen minute train ride to get to the center of town; whereas, Murren requires a transfer to a gondola from either Lauterbrunnen or a little further up the valley in Stechelberg. Because of this, Murren has a more isolated feeling to it, and not as many people make the extra effort to stay there. Depending on whether you like those crowds or not, this is a big factor in deciding which one to stay at.

A full moon rising from the vantage point of Murren

It is important to decide if you enjoy the sunrise or the sunset more. Murren gets the sunrise and it is a little after noon during the winter where the town starts to get shrouded in shadow, but if you are a morning person, the sun warms up the town quickly and it has some spectacular sunrises.

The view of Wangen from the church that overlooks the town

Wangen nestles into the other side of the valley and experiences the sun in the afternoon on clear days, making it a really pleasant place to be. It also get the sunsets and they can be amazing if the clouds are situated in the right position. But this also cause a little bit of a problem with the snow. The Murren side definitely gets more snow and it sticks around a little longer because of this movement of the sun. It does not really affect the skiing because when you go high enough up, you will be able to find the snow needed for this activity, so it may make you think about things as you decide what life will be like while you wander around the town.

Murren at night

Overall, they are both great cities that have a lot to offer. I personally enjoyed Murren a little bit more but I like the quieter towns, and I no longer look for the night time that I did when I was younger. Both towns are close enough to each other that if you are out here, you can take a day and explore both towns completely. It is also one of the most beautiful areas in the world that still holds on to those traditional ideals, so it is worth scheduling time to visit, whether that is summer or winter.

Happy traveling, folks!

 

James Bond’s Peak – Schilthorn, Switzerland

One of the many spectacular views from the top of Schilthorn Peak

Back in 1967, the James Bond franchise was taking off. They had three very successful movies starring Sean Connery, and were looking to make the fourth installment in the franchise. The only problem was they were not going to have their star for this installment. Instead, they were going to go with then unknown Australian actor, George Lazenby. In order for the franchise to sustain this change, they were going to need to up their game a bit. They decided that the best thing they could do was to film the whole movie on location instead of mostly in the movie studio like they had done in the previous three movies. So the search started to find the best location, and eventually stumbles upon Schilthorn Peak in Switzerland.

The rotating restaurant completed by the film crew of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

At the time, this tiny peak in the Swiss Alps, right outside of Murren, was building a rotating restaurant that would allow the diners to see the majestic peaks that surrounded the location while enjoying a great meal. The only problem was they had run out of money, and the project was still far from completion. It seemed like it was going to be an abandoned building sitting high up in the mountains that nobody would ever come to visit. But the production company thought it was the perfect place to tell their story and they offered to complete the project if they would be allowed to film there.

Enjoying a champaign brunch in the rotating restaurant

It was a match made it heaven and after the movie finished filming, they were able to open the restaurant and people still come here to today to enjoy a nice meal while enjoying the ever changing scenery as they rotate around the the dining room at their seats. If you find yourself in the Lauterbrunnen, it is a fun way to spend the day, and you get a nice meal out of it at the same time.

One of the many Bond themed places to take your picture

 

That is not to say that they still do not play up the James Bond angle for those who come to visit. They have many places where you can get picture with life-sized cutouts of the characters from the movie, and many other places where you can fun James Bond themed pictures. There is even a whole level of the building dedicated to this iconic character and probably one of the franchise’s easily forgotten movies, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They have a short film that tells all about the making of the movie along with set pieces and interactive games that tries to put you in the middle of the action.

The height at the summit

It costs a little bit of money and time to get up to the top of the mountain, and you do have to wriggle your way in between other tourists and skiers who have come to enjoy the mountain in a completely different way. We also had to pay attention to the weather and make a split decision to go up there on a day when it was going to be clear. Clouds can change the whole make-up of the experience. But the tickets do come with an all you can eat brunch that is actually really good, and includes all of the champaign that you can have while you are there.

The view on the left side of the train to Murren

To get there, you need to cross the street from the train station at Lauterbrunnen and grab a gondola up to the town of Grutschlap on the top of the ridge. From there you catch an old train, and take a ten minute ride to the town of Murren. I would recommend getting on the left side of the train so you can have a clear view of the scenery from across the valley.

Main Street in Murren

The next gondola that you have to hop on is not right next to the train station, and requires that you take a ten minute stroll through the town of Murren. This is a beautiful town and completely worth the walk, and during the winter you really start to feel like you a part of the ski community that is out here.

One of the features on the Thrill Walk in Berg

The next gondola will take you up to the town of Berg. It is another short little hop to reach the top of Schilthorn, but there is fun to be had in Berg before you make that last finally leap. You can also wait to enjoy it on the way back down since the only way to do that is the same way you came up but only in reverse. You can also ski down if it is winter, but then the Thrill Walk in Berg would be harder to do.

The glass bridge on the Thrill Walk in Berg

Basically the thrill walk is a series of rope bridges, and clear walkways that hang precariously over a big cliff. Everything on the walk is safe and I had to wait a few moments before I could make my way out onto each of the features as other people wanted to get their turn on them, but a lot of this was probably due to the fact that it was winter and I assume it is a lot busier during the summer months. Either way, it was free to get out there, and it was a lot of fun to play around on them.

The view from the Walk of Fame at the summit of Schilthorn Peak

I was lucky enough to have spent a clear and relatively warm day on top of the Alps and it has become one of the highlights of this trip. The food was good. The views were spectacular. It was fun pretending to be a part of a Bond movie for a little bit, and the ride up was even enjoyable. If you can afford to do it, I would highly recommend making your way up to Schilthorn Peak.

In a Valley in the Swiss Alps – Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

I woke up yesterday morning in the last area I am going to explore on this trip to Europe and it easily became my favorite. This is nothing to the holiday fun I had in the various German cities I visited or the cultural exploration I went on in Salzburg, but it was because of the dramatic landscape of the Swiss Alps is hard to beat.

This little town is none other than Lauterbrunnen, a ski town that finds itself tucked away in a valley between the impressive rocky peaks of the Bernese mountains of the Alps. It is often referred to the people who live here as the land of 72 waterfalls, and there are two with walking distance from the train station that will drop you off in this town.

Though these waterfalls are impressive to see, it is impossible to get close to them this time of the year because the paths leading up to them are closed down due to the dangers of winter weather. It does not mean that it is not a beautiful valley to take a hike through, and no matter which way I looked, there was always something to take a picture of. Many people come up here in throughout the year to enjoy the scenery, and to go biking, skiing, sledding, or paragliding. It is nature’s playground, and the sleepy town of Lauterbrunnen lives in harmony with this fact.

Tourism is basically the main industry out here, but that does not stop people from earning a living farming, ranching, and making homemade cheeses and sausages. The local brands are always for sale in the grocery stores, but there are many farm fronts that will sell these delicacies as well. My favorite was the farm house that had a vending machine in front of its house with hunks of cheese and sausage available along with tiny bottles of homemade wine.

Overall, it is a beautiful part of the world, and I am happy to have landed here for the last part of my Winter Break. Lauterbrunnen is in the center of a bunch of small mountains towns that all hold their own special charm which I am going to be able to explore over the next few days, and I am excited to see each and every one of them.

The English Gardens – Munich, Germany

I was looking for a quiet retreat away from the crowds and the usual tourist insanity on my last day in Munich, and I heard about a mile and half square plot of land right in the middle that in 1789 they built a beautiful park, and called it the English Gardens. It wasn’t that far from my home, and it had the quiet that I was look for.

Basically, it is a series of paths that wind around various rivers with a couple of structures that give people a beautiful view of the whole expanse of green or allow the ducks who hang out here a retreat from all of the dogs that people bring here to stretch their legs. I have seen pictures of the park in the summer months, and it looks like it is the favorite spot of many people, but it does not have as many people during the winter months. There was always somebody to smile to along the path, but it gave me a sense of escape in the middle of a city that is always overrun with people. It is also far enough from city streets, giving the dogs that come here the freedom to run around like a dog park. There were many times during my stroll through here that I was greeted by different dogs that thought I might have a snack or at least a ball to throw.

There is even a little treat in the middle of the park, a beer garden. It is designed off a Buddhist pagoda, and is called the Chinese Beer Garden, but for the most part the food, and beer are the same that you can find at any other beer garden in Bavaria. It was the perfect place to grab a snack and a quick beer before moving on again.

Besides beer and dogs, there are many other things available to do in the park. There were huge stretches of grass that would allow people to play soccer or throw a frisbee around, but the most interesting place came on the edge of the park. One of the rivers that runs through the park’s entry point is under a bridge that causes the water to come out as a series of rapids. People with short surf boards come to this point in the river and take turns showing off their surf moves. It was the one place where the crowds gathered because it wasn’t also a place where the surfers came, but it also a gathered a group of viewers to see these people surf these waves.

The English Gardens of Munich were the perfect place during a warm day in January to come out and visit. It offered enough quiet to feel like I had gotten away from the crowds but still offered enough to make me still feel like a tourist. It made for a really nice day in the middle of this vacation and it would easily be a place I would love to come back to again.

Never Forget Dachau – Germany

The grounds where the barracks of Dachau once stood.

I have never been one to say that you need to learn about history so we never are in danger of repeating the atrocities of the past. It seemed like a pointless way of looking at history because we can’t go in the past and repeat something that is already history. My belief was that you learned about history so you could learn about where a culture has been and where they are now. It is the mistakes and choices a country made that turned it into what it is today. It is a very existential way of looking at history, and I stuck to this belief until I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Munich, Germany.

There are a few places in the world that I think everybody should visit at least once in their lifetime, two of the bigger ones being Hiroshima and Auschwitz. Both of these places give you a perspective of the world that you have never had before, and help you understand the extent that humanity will go through to prove that they are right. It makes you wonder what they were thinking at the time, and it gives you hope that society can move forward to a greater place of peace and kindness. Even though I would not put the Dachau Concentration Camp in the same category as the other two, it still allows you to see the world in a new way, and understand how terrible the Holocaust actually was. It adds another piece to the story that a visit to Auschwitz will start.

The beds used in the barracks. They were designed to hold 52 people, but hundreds were squeezed into them instead.

To start off with Dachau was a place where they detained Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, but the people that were sent there were not brought there to die. Dachau was used more as a work camp for the thirteen years that it was in operation. It started off as a place where the Nazi party sent political prisoners, and people who spoke out against what was going on in Germany during the 1930s. The conditions were not great while there. They still got packed into dorms that were overcrowded. They were still beaten in inhumane ways in the showers. They were still killed for quick reasons to give the guards reason to hold the rest of the prisoners in fear, and maintain control over the population. They still conducted experiments about the effects of weightlessness, various gasses, and hypothermia, and the survival rate of those they experimented on was small. But the purpose of this sight was not to kill the prisoners, but to use them to help create ammunitions, and build planes for the war effort.

The stoves used at the crematorium

By the end of the war as Germany started to lose the war, and the purpose of the Dachau changed. The prisoners were no longer treated as kindly, and the Nazis were not worried it they died in the process of the harder labor that they had created at the concentration camp. Because of this, they built a whole new building next to the original crematorium that was already on the grounds, and it was used along with the original one to dispose of all the bodies of the recently deceased.

Memorial to the unknown prisoner

Dachau was the first concentration camp that the Americans had liberated on April 29th, 1945, and even though they knew that there were atrocities taking place in this country, they were not prepared for what they had found. A group of soldiers were given cameras to document the conditions of the camp, and these were the first images that the world saw about what was going on here. The film showed prisoners who were severely underfed, and piles of bodies piled outside the crematorium because of a shortage of coal did not allow the Nazis to dispose of them at that time. It demonstrated how terrible a group of people can be if they are allowed to let their ideology of hate, and nationalism go unchecked.

Nazi propaganda used to demonize any ideology that went against their own. It is a device that is being used often in modern society in order for certain groups to maintain power.

This brings me to probably the most interesting and disturbing part of the visit to this site. There was a whole room dedicated to the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and how they used the recent economic collapse of Germany to help sell their propaganda. It was disturbing how easily they were allowed to rise to power and which tactics they used in order to do this. They told half truths and used the fear of people not like them to help bring the people together under one dangerous ideology, and it all centered around the importance of the economy and the closing of the borders. There were many of the tactics that were used by the Nazis that are being used by many other leaders around the world as they push their own forms of nationalism. The idea of global cooperation is becoming smaller every year as more countries want to close their borders in order to hold on to an ideal that no longer exists.

A reproduction of the gate that was stolen from Dachau. Its message translates to “Work Sets You Free”.

Even the symbols if Nazism have been stolen over the last years in order to be used as propaganda to promote these idea of isolation. The gate of Dachau was stolen in 2014, and many people thought that it would never be recovered, but it was later found underneath a tarp in Bergen, Norway and returned to its rightful place. Around the same time the gate to Auschwitz was stolen by a Neo-Nazi organization and was split into three different sections before it was recovered.

It makes places like this even more important and people need to make the pilgrimage to these places so they don’t forget what happened here. It becomes that important lesson from history that I usually do not prescribe to. We need to make sure that these lessons are learned, so like the motto of Dachau, this atrocity will be “Never Again”.