Monday, October 14, 2013

Germany and Scotland!

Above the clouds in the Bavarian Alps
Phew!  What an amazing trip!  One of my dearest most wonderful friends in the world made the journey across the Atlantic to see me with the countries of Germany and Scotland on her wish list as well as 4th Row seats to Fleetwood Mac in Glasgow, Scotland in her hand.  Being the organization freak show that I am, once she gave me her dates I took care of all the travel details!

The day Kristin landed in London, I met her at the airport so we could fly straight to Munich from there.  Her Iceland Air itinerary told me that her flight landed at 0745, so I booked our flight to Munich at 1400, giving us plenty of time in between for any incidentals.  Little did we know, that was actually the time she took off from her layover in Reykjavik.  Balls!  After much communication via my husband sitting at home with the iPad, I found Kristin, just in time to board our flight - minus the 6 hours in between we thought we had, but in time nonetheless!

We got to the train station in Munich and had enough time to devour two giant Doner Kebabs before boarding our train to Garmisch. NOMNOMNOM.

Once we got to Edelweiss in Garmisch, we checked in and promptly passed out. 

Travel Info, Day 1:
Flight from Gatwick to Munich: $134 each on EasyJet

Train from Munich Airport to Garmisch: €28 for both of us  

**tip** Get the Bayern Pass - once you purchase for one person, you can add each additional traveler for only €4  each!  Saves you mucho money.

Ettal Monastery

A German Monk talking about the Monastery's history
The next day we had an early start and headed off on a tour to the Ettal Monastery, which sustains itself through several means, one of them being a brewery!  

Monastery from the hill of the cheese factory
After the Monastery, we headed over to the  “Schaukäserei” (cheese factory) in the beautiful Ammergauer Alps.  We ate a lot of cheese and other tasty treats, and I proceeded to shove leftover cheese cubes in my purse for later consumption.


That evening, we went on another tour and had dinner at the Griesbräu Brewery, where we met the spirited Brewmaster Wolfgang, fully decked in his best Lederhosen.  We drank Helles (light), Weissbier (Hef), and Dunkel (dark) - my favorite.  And being that it is the season, we were very privileged to sample some of the Oktoberfest brew STRAIGHT OUT OF THE VAT. DELICIOUSNESS. 

Wolfgang sharing the fresh batch of Oktoberfest with us!
They also make Bierlikor, which is essentially liquor made of beer. A tad sweet for my taste!
The beautiful brewery

After copious amount of tasty beer, we indulged in giant plates of pork belly, German potato dumplings and some other tasty mushroom sauce.  I was in joyous pain due to my new beer/food baby.  Kristin bought a Growler of the Weiss, and we headed back to the hotel for sleepy time.

Travel Info, Day 2:
Bavarian Brotzeit Tour:  $30 each through Edelweiss Resort

Brewery Tour:  $39 each through Edelweiss Resort - VERY worth it! Delicious beer, delicious food, beautiful restaurant and brewery.


The next morning was an even earlier start as we headed toward Neuschwanstein Castle, the castle built by Ludwig II and that which inspired Walt Disney and all of the preceding fantasy movies.  Once we got to the base of the mountain, the fog was SERIOUS.  Like we couldn't even see the castle serious. 

Near Neuschwanstein Castle
So somehow both of us missed the memo that once you get to the bridge over the waterfalls you're supposed to come back across the bridge and go the other direction. So once we got across the bridge, we just kept going up the mountain.  Being that we could barely see the bridge itself, there was no way that we could see where the castle was through the milk-like fog. 

So hike we did. And hike, and hike, and hike.  Until there were no other humans. 

When I started to get really suspicious...
I had the feeling that we were on the road to nowhere, and definitely not the road to the castle.  We finally came across some German hikers and I asked how far it was to the castle. 

They looked at each other and said, "Castle?". 

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO… brain explodes....

If we didn't have a designated castle tour time and the possibility of being left on the mountain by our bus, I wouldn't have cared.  But being that we did, I was a little distressed.  

So we proceeded to RUN (by run I mean jump, skid and slide) down the face of the mountain .  Once we got to the main trail, Kristin started skipping (yes, that kind of skipping) toward the castle.  She claims it is better for your joints and shins.  She wasn't sore the next day, so I believe her.  The weird looks she got were worth it I guess.  I envisioned myself skipping a tad too hard and slamming my face off a rock so I stuck with the running. 

We didn't make it for our tour time, so we got on the next English speaking one which was 30 minutes later.  I was sweating my balls off at this point, and had nearly stripped nude in the courtyard by the time our tour started.  The castle was amazing, and decorated so lavishly and intricately it was easy to see why everyone thought Ludwig was such an eccentric. 

The mural that inspired Bambi itself was incredible.  No pictures allowed inside the castle, otherwise I would share.  You'll have to journey to Bavaria yourself for that one! :)

By the time we made it off the mountain and found our tour guide, we could have eaten a small animal.  We settled for a nice slab of pork wrapped in bacon on top of a giant tasty salad.  I devoured that bitch. 

The feeling of knowing you are not going to be left behind in the Bavarian Alps is quite lovely.  Our journey back took us through the Austrian Alps - though we only saw through the window of the bus, it was absolutely stunning. 

Another of Ludwig's castles

The Austrian Alps
Back at the hotel, we had a lovely soak in the giant outdoor hot tub and dinner with some friends from England and then it was off to dream land.

Travel Info, Day 3:
Neuschwanstein Castle Tour: $43 

**tip** Don't keep going after the bridge unless you are prepared for and have time for a serious hike.  In fact, do keep going after the bridge.  Just work it into your schedule for the day.  You will be rewarded with views like this:

Sunday was our travel day, back to Munich from Garmisch, then our flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Keep in mind Kristin still had a Growler (2 Liters) of Weiss to finish before we got on the plane.  She was doing a pretty good job, and we only had to dump a couple inches of it at the airport before we went through security.  AND we had time for one more Doner Kebab before we boarded!


Since it was Oktoberfest, our flight was of course completely filled with drunken Scotsmen heading back to Edinburgh after a weekend of imbibing at the world's biggest beer fest.  The intoxicated young man next to me at the gate was enthusiastically sharing his theory about the final episode of Breaking Bad that was to air that evening.  (He was wrong but it was a good theory). 

What we believe was the drunkest Scotsman in Germany was seated one row behind and across from us in a beautiful blue kilt, had a rough time fastening his seatbelt and we were beginning to worry that the already red-eye flight was going to be delayed.  Eventually he managed, but as soon as the light went off he was jubilantly prancing up and down the aisle while he and his buddies laughed uproariously.  

He eventually stopped at our seats and was convinced that I needed to drink a cup of vodka. Straight.  I politely declined. Several times.  He forgot about the vodka as soon as he shook Kristin's hand and exclaimed to all that she had the handshake of a man and some other terminology that was so thickly accented and dripping with intoxication that we still haven't figured out what he was talking about.

We got into Edinburgh around midnight and took a cab to the room we were renting and fell into bed.

Travel Info, Day 4:
Flight from Munich to Edinburgh:  $227 each with EasyJet

Room off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, booked through (Eva Sanchez):  $75 each for 3 nights - EXCELLENT location!

In the morning (by morning I mean like 11 this time) we ventured the mile or so down to the famous and historical Royal Mile of Edinburgh, Scotland.  Here is where I proceeded to squeal for joy. 

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Our first stop was in a beautiful shop on a corner called The Woolen Mill.  The owner and his associate set the bar for this city with their beautiful and humble personalities and customer relation skills.  Seriously wonderful men, wonderful shop and absolutely beautiful wool, cashmere and other products.  We came out of there with a beautiful trove, including a shirt with a squirrel hanging out in a tartan Wellie for Kristin,  and I highly suggest that you stop in here on your journey to Edinburgh. 

They also carry the Maison Voyage line, which includes this adorable pillow that I am now obsessed with.

by Maison Voyage

We asked our lovely Woolen Mill gentlemen for a suggestion on where to eat, and we ended up at the Albanach right next door where I nutted up and ordered my first dish of Haggis and my first glass of proper Scotch.  The Haggis was delicious.  The Scotch nearly made me breathe fire.  But tasty nonetheless.  

The Haggis is on the right. And that sauce? Whiskey gravy. You heard me.
After that, we hopped on the bus to see the city from the open rooftop. It was amazing.  The architecture is so beautiful and prominent. 


Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Cathedral
That evening, we went on a walking tour of the "Darkside" of Edinburgh which took us through a couple of cemeteries, and various buildings and hills where we were regaled with stories of ghosts, vampires, cannibalism and various other interesting tales. 

Edinburgh, Scotland
The most intriguing one was of a man who was so convinced that he was a vampire at heart that he was killing animals to drink their blood...when that wasn't working, he eventually stabbed his friend 40-some times in his kitchen so he could drink his blood as well.  When that didn't work, he smashed open his head and began to eat his brains.  When the police were questioning him, he stated that he was convinced that Aaliyah's character in Queen of the Damned was his girlfriend and if he drank enough blood he would become a vampire and be reunited with her.  Yeah. Not so long ago.

Off to bed! No zombies encountered.

Travel Info, Day 5:
Edinburgh Historical Tour: £13 each - totally worth it, ticket lasts 24 hours so you can essentially use the bus as a taxi for all the great stops in the city.

The Woollen Mill: 179 High Street, Royal Mile.  Go there, ask for James.  Beautiful.

The Albanach:  Right across the street from the Woollen Mill, excellent Haggis, very extensive Scotch list. Nomnom!

Edinburgh Darkside Tour: £10 each - walking tour, meets right across from the Albanach at 9pm nightly!

The following day was designated for the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and Holyrood Palace.  We were both feeling a bit under the weather, but fortunately Kristin had packed a month's supply of Emergen-C and she was willing to share. 

I have come to discover that I LOVE Botanical Gardens, and have ended up at them in nearly every city we have visited.  The exotic plant life and floral smorgasbord that lies within provides endless inspiration for my work and joy in general.  Here are a few of my favorites from this one:

This one reminds me of Truffala Trees!

After roaming around the gardens and tropical glass houses for a few hours, we caught the bus back down to the Royal Mile and visited Holyrood Palace, where the Queen stays when she is visiting Scotland.  There also happened to be an exhibition of Da Vinci's anatomy notebooks in the Royal Gallery, which was a lovely bonus.  The café at the Palace was absolutely delicious.  Get the shortbread. Melts in your mouth. NOM.

The Abbey ruins, still attached to the Palace

A love groin vaults!

Abbey Ruins
The accessibility of the palace was understandably a bit limited, since the Royal family still utilizes the grounds.  There were some interesting and beautiful things to see though. 

The blood stain on the wood floor where the Queen Mary's secretary was murdered is still very prominent, and the tapestry and woodwork is like nothing you see in this age. 

Feeling pretty worn from all the exploring, travel and the slight illness, we headed back to our room and crawled in bed.  When we began to get hungry, we started searching for places that would deliver.  No luck.  So then we started looking for the closest food possible.  We came up with Mr. Hot Potato and began our journey.  I was really hoping to not leave the bed until the next day, but hunger won out. 

Turns out Mr. Hot Potato is a genius.  He opens up two giant baked potatoes and then fills them with whatever the hell you want.  I opted for chicken chili and a pile of cheddar.  It was just a walk-in, so we picked a nice set of cement stairs nearby to chow down.  It was the perfect comfort food for the evening.  Stuffed, we strolled back to the room and passed out.

Travel Info, Day 6:
Edinburgh Botanical Gardens:  Free Entry, £5 each for the Glass Houses. GO. So worth it.  Plan on spending a good 3 hours exploring. 

Holyrood Palace: £16 each for the Palace and the Gallery both.  Cool to see, the Abbey ruins were the best part, but wouldn't necessarily pay to go again.  
The Café, however, was delicious and you don't have to pay the entry fee to eat there.  So definitely have lunch here. 

Mr. Baked Potato: Cheap and delicious meal.  Google the location. If you're in the area, good place to stop. 

Our final day in Edinburgh was a bit misty, and we definitely would have stayed another night if it wouldn't have cost so much to cancel and change bookings. 

Having a spot o' tea where J.K. Rowling did her magic!
After a lovely breakfast of Scottish oats and tea at the comfortably warm and eclectic Spoon Café (where J.K. Rowling wrote the first manuscript!), we spent the day at Edinburgh Castle, which is holding an incredible amount of history and sights.  It is essentially a town within a stone wall, and is famous for being impenetrable back in the day.  The dungeons and prison were particularly interesting, and the Crown Jewels were very cool to see as well. (No pictures allowed of course!)

Edinburgh Castle
The Royal Mile
POW cells in Edinburgh Castle Dungeons
After the castle, we grabbed our packs from the room and headed to the train station to catch the rail to Glasgow.  Travel delirium had apparently kicked in at this point, and I tried to shove my castle ticket in the train ticket machine and couldn't figure out why it wasn't letting me through.  The nearest employee came to my rescue and did his best not to make me feel special - Kristin took care of that for me.  Need. Sleep.

Exhausted, we were looking very forward to what we thought was going to be a nice, yet budget-friendly hotel with at least a comfortable bed.  When we arrived, we were given the skeleton key (literally) to our room and headed upstairs.  The bed was right behind the door, the room was taller than it was wide, the bathroom and shower were down the hall, and the single pane window  allowed the street noise directly in our room.  Not to mention the 8" TV worked for 20 minutes before freezing on a shot of the train station for the rest of the time there.  When I plopped on the bed, I think a spring snapped and broke my rib.  BAHHHH…. Whatever.  Shower and sleepy time. 

Travel Info, Day 7:
Train ticket to Glasgow: £12 each - trains leave every 15 minutes from Edinburgh Waverley Station

Room at Smith's Hotel: $72 each for 2 nights - good location for near the Hydro, budget-friendly, but don't stay here if you're looking to relax at all. 

Our hotel also happened to be across the street from Kelvingrove Park, which was a lovely expanse of green with a huge art gallery on the edge.  The gallery was a random assortment of taxidermy, fossils, paintings, and experimental installations.  Including this one:

After we had our fill there, we hopped on the bus and headed into the Square to find some lunch.  We ended up at Elia's Greek Café, which ended up far surpassing our already high expectations since we both love Greek food so much.  My succulent leg of lamb was the size of my head, and Kristin's Pasticcio was freaking addictive. 

St. George's Square in Glasgow
After we stuffed ourselves painfully to the brim, we slowly started moseying back toward the hotel.  As we wandered through the streets, it became clear why Glasgow is known for its shopping.  I was quickly entranced by the biggest Paperchase I have ever seen, and could have spent many hours and dollars in there if we had more time. 

However, this was the night that we were in Glasgow for.  This was the night of Fleetwood Mac. 

We got back to the hotel to get ready as the sun sat and the rain began to fall on Glasgow.  No matter, I slapped on my kilt and we called a cab.  Then we ran through the rain and through the tunnel and came out right next to the merch tent. Yay! New Fleetwood Mac gear for us!

Our seats were 4th row, but Lindsey Buckingham likes his fans up close and personal, so as soon as the lights went down everyone that knew that little tidbit ran up to the stage and we ended up right here:

Seriously.  Nothing but a couple feet and a microphone between us and Stevie Nicks.  I cried. A few times. Seeing her every expression, smile, and the emotion in her face was priceless.

It was also Lindsey's birthday and the audience sang to him, which was so rad to be a part of.

It was beautiful, beyond words.  To witness such legends performing with such love and energy...what a privilege.  They played for over 2 hours and then did 2 encores on top of it.  I've seen many, many concerts in my few years, and this was by far one of the greatest. 

After the concert, we stopped in a little kebab house for a late dinner where we found another incredibly drunk Scotsman who was convinced that we should come stay at his house and attend a soccer game with him the next day.  He kept getting closer and closer to us with his saucy kebab, and I was very concerned he was going to get his saucy sauce on my sweet ass kilt.

We took our kebabs back to the room, chowed down and tried to sleep through the street noise.  At one point, an ambulance went by, sirens blaring, and Kristin shot up in bed swinging her fists like the ambulance was driving into our room.  Yeah.  Restful night.

Travel Info, Day 8:
Kelvingrove Park and Art Gallery: Free!  Exhibitions seems to rotate often, huge building, definitely worth the stop!

Glasgow Bus Tour: £12 each. Ticket lasts 2 days, so good to use as a taxi around the city.  Not much to see in Glasgow, but the bus covers what there is.  Recorded audio, so not as fun as a live guide.

Elia's Greek Café:  YES. That is all.

Shopping: Probably the best thing about this city, if that's what you're into.

Fleetwood Mac tickets: $224 each. Worth every penny.

The next day was the last day of the trip and we happily exited the 'hotel' and grabbed a cab to the airport.  Fully exhausted, we plopped down in Starbucks to wait for our gate to be announced and were promptly surrounded by the Glasgow Rugby team.  No complaints from either of us of course, go ahead and lick those espresso cups, boys. 

Once we got back to Stansted, which is about an hour from my house, we planned on taking a train up to Brandon.  Being that the UK doesn't do so well with providing thorough information on the web, I wasn't able to see the timetables or prices on the train journey before we left.  After learning that it would take over 3 hours and £40 each to get there, we opted to call my hubby to just come pick us up instead.  So we sat down and enjoyed a couple beers at the outdoor café while we waited. 

Travel Info, Day 9:
Flight from Glasgow to London Stansted:  $60 each with EasyJet

Train from Stansted to Suffolk/Norfolk: Horrible idea.  But if you have to…plan on at least 3 hours and a good $60 per person.

And then we were home!  The last few days of Kristin's trip in England were beautiful, so we took the doggies for a few frolics in the park and took Kristin to the farm shop café so she could experience the amazingness that is Cream Tea and scones. 

Scarlet and Auntie Kristin
It was a fabulous trip, with a fabulous friend, fabulous food and fabulous sights.  And of course Stevie.

This past weekend, I headed to Amsterdam to celebrate a birthday with a lovely bunch of ladies, and now it is back to the studio to prepare for the upcoming Lakenheath Holiday Bazaar and the Christmas rush!

With gratitude,