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Eating Bat and The View

Many days after my morning Muay Thai Kickboxing workout I’m left exhausted wanting to do little more than just relax with a book or have a massage.  The best remedy for my sore body (especially my feet) however is to walk.  I really have to rev myself up for the task however.  Especially since the walking includes doing so during some of the hottest hours of the day.  Usually I head to Hin Wong for a snorkel or Sairee to just hang about but this time I thought to check out a new route.

My initial plan was to head to Jim’s bar.  Located high up on one of the hills nearby, it seemed like it would be a nice ‘goal’ place to walk to and to be rewarded in the end by a cold drink and hopefully a beautiful view to boot.  Armed with my plan I headed out toward Hin Wong bay but made a turn at the top of the hill toward Jim’s bar instead of heading down to the bay.  The walk there wasn’t altogether unpleasant.  Though there were bits with a 20% or 30% grade to them, the majority was variable enough to cut the monotony of just walking uphill.  Bits of the path were concrete while other bits were only dirt and gravel cut through with erosion from storms.

Though it is possible to make the trek with a motorbike or an ATV, I prefered walking.  First because of the exercise aspect, but most importantly because of the condition of the unpaved bits of the path.  They really were quite treacherous and while during my hike up I didn’t notice any accidents, on my way back down I witnessed 2 rolled motorbike accidents (one with injuries) and heard from another person that he’d witnessed 3 as well!  But I’m getting ahead.

It felt like I had been walking for hours!  No one was in sight except the occasional random passing motorbike and the sun was beating down hard on my skin.  I took appropriate breaks here and there to chill in the shade and have some water or take pictures of the local wildlife (I spotted a water monitor!!) and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat to the point of all my clothes being soaked through, I trudged on having no idea how far or close I was, yet determined to get there.  Eventually (after going up the 30% grade bit of the path) I made it to a little bar.  It turned out to be the Butterfly Garden!  That was good news for me since Jim’s bar wasn’t too far beyond that. I stopped for a sugary tea to replenish a bit of energy then continued up the hill to Jim’s.

I was surprised that Jim’s wasn’t that far at all from the Butterfly Garden since on the map they seemed to be a bit further apart.  It literally was just up the hill from the Butterfly Garden.  While it was a cute little bar, no one was there and the views were simply of the surrounding jungle.  So instead of sitting and staying, I opted to check out a bit further along the path.  There were signs for the Mango View Bar and another place simply called The View Bar.  One was down the path to the right, the other to the left.  I chose the right path toward The View Bar and about half a km later, I’d arrived to one of the most stunning views of the island I’ve seen so far!  You could see just about the entire island including the National Park islands to the South of Koh Tao, a bit of Koh Samui to the SW and even the mainland of Thailand!

So stunned by the beauty of The View’s views, I took a seat on the patio and ordered a drink.  I learned from the owner that the place had only been open for 5 months now, the deck I was sitting on was only a month old and the bar itself is the highest bar on the island!  There was only one other couple there when I first arrived which gave the atmosphere an even more peaceful and beautiful appeal to it.  I met Suay (beautiful), the local squirrel who would pop in every time it was hungry for some fruit.  He ate out of the owners hand but unlike other squirrels I’ve seen, he didn’t live in a cage.  He simply came and went as he pleased 🙂  He did come over and sniff my toes at one point during his search for some more food, but sadly my camera didn’t reload fast enough to capture the shot 😦

I spent hours up there sipping on drinks and chatting with people as they came and went and was reminded just how international Thailand is.  Within the few hours I was there I met people from Spain, South Africa, Norway, Germany and the States.  Quite an impressive mix!  In any event, the day was moving along and it was time for me to start heading back along the 3.5km path back to my place.  As I came back into view of the Butterfly Garden however I was coaxed into staying for “just one drink”.  “Have a beer, kick up your feet!  Free view!” the Thai’s were calling to me.  And though I had been kicking up my feet for several hours I thought, why not?  So I settled in for a beer and started chatting with the locals who owned the place and a tourist from Canada.

It was then that the local said they were going to have a barbecue.  And the main meat of this barbecue??  Locally caught and freshly killed bat… Yes bat!  I LOVE bats!!!  Ok, not in the eating sense but I love those cute little critters!!  I’ve loved them since caving in college and have always adored their little furry faces!  So when he pulled out the bodies ready to be put on the barbecue, I couldn’t believe it and figured there was NO WAY I’d eat a bat!  Alas, after 2 beers (why not have 2 when you’ve already had 1??) I thought, yea, I could try some bat!  The meat was very tough and quite hard to pull off the bones but it was flavorful.  I only had one wing however as I started to feel a bit guilty for having eaten one of the cute critters, but at least I tried something new.

I ended up staying for another couple of hours at the Butterfly Garden having beers (3 in total, I promise!) chatting with people coming down or up the road, heckling them to stay for some bat, doing some Muay Thai play fighting with one of the locals who then invited me back everyday to practice with him for free, and sadly witnessing 2 motorbike rolls (one resulting in a nasty road rash injury).  After my 3 beers however, the sun was really starting to set and it was definitely time for me to head back down (I still had 3km to go!) before it became pitch black.  I thanked my new Thai friends for the bat and conversation, and headed down the quickly darkening path back toward town.  I won’t lie that I kept thinking how idiotic I was to have waited so long to go back down as the path became darker and darker.  But, all’s well that ends well, and my hike down the hill was thankfully without injury!

Sun setting
Sun setting

I made it to the bottom of the hill just in time to see one of the most stunning sunset skies I’ve seen since being on Koh Tao.  I wish the picture I took did it justice, but really it doesn’t.  Unfortunately my camera doesn’t take night shots well at all!! 😦  All in all, it was a beautiful day full of unexpected people, experiences and breathtaking views all around.  And on top of being thankful I’d made it back home in one drunken piece, I was also so very thankful that I’d made myself get off my duff that morning and make that hike in the first place.  I will definitely have to go there again!

On to Muay Thai Kickboxing Training

Back to Thailand

The Death Railway

Taking the advice of the owner of the Baan Are Gong Homestay, I headed to Kanchanaburi after several lovely days in Ayutthaya.  I opted to take the mini-bus there, which cost considerably more than the local bus, but it got us all there (other travelers included) in a fraction of the time.  By “considerably more” I mean it cost $12, which is only about $8 more than what the local bus would have cost, so really it was a teeny investment to save potentially an entire day of being on the road.

Along the way I couldn’t help but see so many similarities in the terrain that reminded me of Florida.  Were it not for passing the occasional Wat (Temple) here and there, and of course stores with names written in Thai, I would have seriously thought I was back in the Sunshine State.

Sunshine State???
Sunshine State???

After about 3 hours (with a 10 minute break half-way) we arrived in Kanchanaburi.  Kanchanaburi (among other things) is home to the Bridge on the River Kwai (part of the “Death Railway”), a war museum, and several war cemeteries.  Most people have heard of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the novel “The Bridge over the River Kwai” by Pierre Boulle published over 60 years ago now.  Though I have read the book a LONG time ago, the significance and history never really hit me until I was standing on the ground where it all happened.  You read in school about the World Wars and all the countries involved, but it just doesn’t make quite the same impact on paper.

The Railway (which the bridge is part of) runs from Bangkok to Burma (now Myanmar) and was built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 using slaves for its construction.  Slaves consisted of civilian Asians and Prisoners of War (POWs) from the Netherlands, England, Australia, America, New Zealand and Canada.  Over 100,000 slaves, just shy of 50% of the original population working on the railway, died during the project, hence it came to be known as “The Death Railway”.

Today the railway still exists and it even still runs.  Additions to Kanchanaburi due to the railway construction includes a War Cemetery dedicated to the almost 7,000 Allied prisoners who lost their lives during the project and a separate monument erected by the Japanese Army in February 1944 in honor of those who died.  Once a year in March, voluntary members of the Japanese community in Thailand assemble there for a memorial ceremony to honor those who perished.  So many lives lost again in cruel and unnecessary ways for the advancement and power of others.

There are two “main” roads in Kanchanaburi, one runs right through the center of the city providing easy in and out access and is lined with every possible business imaginable.  The second meets with the first, but veers off toward the River and runs parallel to it.  It’s the second road that dead ends at the Bridge and along this long road is where the majority of hostels, bars, Thai massage shops, and restaurants can be found.  Or in other words, it’s the main tourist strip.  Bars are a dime a dozen with several hanging signs that boast they will get you drunk for only 10 baht (about $.30).  Though I was actually smart and DIDN’T wander in myself to see if that claim was legit, I have heard from several others that yes, yes the advertisement is NOT false, lol!!

I stayed in a little hostel called the Green View Hostel right in the center of tourist-ville, but it was tucked back just enough off the road to drown out all the street noise.  For 200 baht a night I got a very large and clean private room with a private bathroom (SCORE!!!) surrounded by lush beautiful foliage.  I was practically the only one staying there during the 4 nights I was there and honestly it’s beyond me as to why because the place was absolutely lovely!!  I wouldn’t recommed any other place unless one was looking to spend at least twice what I paid so they could be on the River.

In general the feeling I got from Kanchanaburi is that it’s a “good ol’ boy’s” place.  There were so many older men from Australia or England staying year round because of their various Thai girlfriends.  I found it to be such a cliché really.  Mostly they stayed steadily drunk all day and shared personal stories about their lives and their girlfriends that I really never cared to hear about.  Unfortunately they were also somewhat unavoidable because every time I’d go to eat somewhere one or two would inevitably come to chat… whatever sign I had on my forehead that made them think I somehow cared to hear about their sob stories, I promise I tried multiple times to scrub OFF!

Luckily there were several others around who were pleasant (not from England or Australia interestingly enough) to be around and chat with.  But I will come back to that in a second…

I lingered in Kanchanaburi for 5 days, and honestly the only reason I stayed so long was because I just couldn’t decide what my next move/place to visit would actually be.  I had heard of the Erawan National Park where the famous 7 tier waterfall is and really wanted to go there, but I didn’t want to do a day trip because the earliest bus would get there at 10am and then we would have to leave again at 4pm.  It was possible to camp out there but reserving a spot was harder than doing my taxes!

The woman at Baan Are Gong recommended going to Sangkhlaburi to see the famous Mon bridge, but it was over 200 kilometers from where I was near the border with Myanmar (Burma) and the only way to get back to other places in Thailand like Chiang Mai would be to go back through Kanchanaburi (since the Myanmar border is closed currently) and that just seemed like a waste of time to me.

I just couldn’t decide.  I debated literally in my sleep and would wake nightly to conjur a new plan of where to go/what to do.  The logistics of it was killing me.  The only way to get to the Erawan National Park was from Kanchanaburi.  The only way to get to Sangkhlaburi was also from Kanchanaburi, even though the National Park is ON THE WAY TO Sangkhlaburi…. Grrr….. I was close to just saying “screw it”, I’ll skip going all the way up to Sangkhlaburi and will just show up at the Park and hope there is a place to camp available…

Then at lunch, the day before I planned to leave I met a lovely man from Germany.  We got to chatting and he told me he had just gotten back from Sangkhlaburi.  Excellent!  I can ask him if it’s worth it!  I posed the question and out came his IPad.  For the next 20 minutes he showed me picture after picture and mini-movie after, well, you get the idea.  Ok, ok.  I have to go there.  New plan (number 192): make the long haul to Sangkhlaburi first, then go to the Park (via another stop in Kanchanaburi).

For some reason, even though all the other plans just didn’t feel right, suddenly this one did.  And now I know why…

On To Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

Back to Thailand

Neuschwanstein Castle

Poor “Mad” King Ludwig II… Misunderstood; not properly trained to reign; valued peace over war; declared “mad” by his family; sent away to an asylum and therefore victim to political espionage.  The story I heard of him growing up was that he lived in a beautiful fairy tale castle.  Over the years he went mad and kept building room upon room in his castle for unexplained reasons until one day he passed away.  Though he did commission the construction of the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, it turned out the story I had heard of him wasn’t quite right…

Known as the Fairy Tale Castle (it has inspired the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland) the Neuschwanstein Castle (neu= new; schwan= swan; stein= stone) has become world famous.  September 5, 1869 was the beginning of construction on the castle and though constructions lasted 17 years, it is unfinished today according to the original plans.  It is built atop a hill above the Hohenschwangau village in place of the ruins of the Vorderhohenschwangau Castle, nestled among breathtaking natural beauty.

I rode a bike to the Hohenschwangau village where I then purchased a ticket for the castle tour and headed to an area offering horse carriage rides to the Castle.  It is the fairy tale castle, after all, so why not indulge in a little fairy tale of my own??  🙂

The castle itself is breathtaking, in my view as well.  Room after room was so lavishly decorated, ornate and detailed.  From the chapel to the wood sculptures above his 4-poster bed, the swan room, the Hall of the Singers and even the kitchen, this castle was VERY impressive!  Sadly we were not allowed to take any pictures of the interior, but then again it’s probably a blessing because I would have taken and posted a trillion of them!!

Perhaps my absolute favorite room of all however was the cave room… Yes, he had a room (which was more of a short hallway that lead from the swan room to a longer hall that passed the servants area) that he turned into an honest to goodness cave!!  It was complete with cave formations such as stalagmites/stalactites, had that slight damp feel to it as caves do and even had a little area that led onto a balcony complete with a little round table and chairs!  I could have stayed in that tiny room/hall all day just marveling at how in the world he accomplished that!  Mind you, this room is located on the second or third floor, so it’s not like it was carved on ground level.  I was awestruck!  I really wish that the tour of the castle allowed more time in each room, but alas, with so many people coming to see it it’s just not possible for them to allow longer than a 30 minute tour.

I did pick up a little book in the gift shop called “King Ludwig II: His Life- His End” before making my way to the bridge across from the castle for some pictures and for an unplanned hike up the Tegelberg hill, just on the other side of the bridge and across from the Castle.

Back to poor “mad” King Ludwig II…  to start I should mention that I got my information on him from the book as well as the tour guide and formed my own opinions about him based on both sources.  In my opinion, King Ludwig II was smart and sensible, not able to be manipulated by others, unique and way ahead of his time.  He wasn’t properly groomed to be the King of Bavaria and though the book didn’t specifically say, it’s my impression that his sexuality was questionable.  For example he broke off his only engagement to his cousin, Princess Sophie Charlotte of Bavaria and his only close friend was Richard Wagner, the famous composer.  Ludwig even had a room built in the castle specifically for him- the only room for guests in the entire castle.  Wagner, interestingly was a bit of a revolutionist and unpopular among politicians in Germany in general.

While the above may have been enough to make him an unpopular King at the time, what put the nail in the coffin for King Ludwig in my opinion was that he preferred peace over war.  This combined with the rest made those with other political motives in Bavaria (i.e. his family) unhappy and something had to be done to get him out of the way so they could pursue their wars in their quest for power.

It was true that the King had several castle constructions occurring at the same time and that he was in great debt because of them (no bank would loan him money at one point) and this was the angle that allowed his family to have him declared insane.  They convinced a doctor, who had never seen, spoken to nor treated the King to declare him insane based on him constructing several castles at once and bringing on debt.  Once the declaration of his insanity was made, the man hunt was on to capture the King and put him in an institution.

He was eventually caught at his Neuschwanstein Castle, betrayed by those he trusted most, and was sent to an asylum.  The doctor who had declared him insane (without having previously met him) oversaw his treatment at the asylum.  One day the two men went for a walk on the grounds of the asylum.  The doctor waved away the staff, who usually would accompany in case of an attempted escape, and walked with the King to Starnberger Lake.  When they didn’t return to the hospital when expected, a search party was dispatched and the bodies of the doctor and King Ludwig II were found drowned in the Lake.  The King, it was noted was a good swimmer, and what actually happened in that Lake that led to his death, well no one will ever know.  What we do know however is once King Ludwig II was declared dead, the family stopped construction on the Neuschwanstein Castle and immediately opened it as a tourist attraction to “pay off it’s debts”… Sounds rather fishy to me.

I do have to write one last little note here… On the tour a gentlemen from the States (I should have gotten his name so I could give him proper credit) made a very interesting and rather smart comparison between King Ludwig II and Michael Jackson.  It went as such:

KL.II- King of Bavaria
MJ- King of Pop
KL.II- built the fairy tale Neuschwanstein Castle
MJ- built the fairy tale home “Neverland”
KL.II & MJ- sexuality questionable
KL.II- unpopular controversial political opinions
MJ- controversial in music and life
KL.II- declared insane by his family
MJ- made insane by his family and all but abandoned by them
KL.II & MJ- died under suspicious circumstances in the presence of a doctor
KL.II & MJ- both families monetarily benefited as a result of their death

Gotta admit, it is an odd but very interesting connection!!

On to Scots in Italy??

Back to Europe

Füssen

Getting to Füssen was seriously a bit of a battle and a lesson in patience!  It is a teeny town located in the South of Germany very near the Austrian border.  I was able to book a train ticket from Heidelberg to Pfronten-Weissbach, and from there a bus to Füssen via my favorite travel site (rome2rio.com).  In total, there were 4 connections with about 5 minutes between each connection… Perhaps I should have looked into longer connection breaks between each stop, but thinking that Germans are known for their precision and timeliness, I figured 5 minutes would be no problem at all!

I was wrong.  The train from Heidelberg left on time, but when I got to Stuttgart there was a delay of 15 minutes.  Which in turn threw off my connection in Ulm… And my connection in Kempten, which made me miss the bus in Pfronten-Weissbach… Instead of arriving for the bus at 3:15 I had arrived a bit after 6.  I must say that the train from Kempten to Pfronten-Weissbach was the cutest thing I’d seen!  It only had 2 little caboose (cabooses??) and was like a commuter train for the little town in the area.  Just adorable!

The cute train to Pfronten-Weissbach dropped me and a few others off at a little bench on the side of the road.  Great, now what??  Thankfully, as mentioned a few other people had also gotten off at the stop so I was able to ask where the bus stop was.  I was shown by a very nice lady and I made my way to wait.  It was just around the corner and according to the sign I had missed the last bus by 5 minutes or so and the next one wouldn’t be coming around for another hour!  Hmmmm…. what to do….

As miracles would have it, there was a bar just across the street:)  I wasn’t about to stand out in the cold for an hour, no sir!  Plus, I had had just about enough of the “hurry up and wait” game that I had been playing all day since leaving Heidelberg!  It was time for a little unwinding with a beer.  I went across the street and walked in to find a teeny bar with the bartender and an obvious local who kept trying to speak with me, yet I kept having to shrug my shoulders and shake my head to signal that I didn’t have a clue what he was saying!

About a half hour later two more locals came in, one of which spoke a bit of English:)  I had explained I was waiting for the bus which then erupted the bar into a conversation on whether the bus would show up at all!  According to the locals, because we were in such a teeny town, buses ran whenever they felt the need to and not necessarily when they were scheduled to… Joy!!  All I could think at this point was that I really didn’t care!  I had a couple of beers in me and thought, well worst case I would find somewhere to stay for the night, then make my way to Füssen the next day.

I made it back to bus station a few minutes before it was due to arrive, and thankfully about 10 minutes after it was due, it did show:)  I was in Füssen about 20 minutes later and to Suzanne’s B&B, which was located around the corner from the train station, about 10 minutes after that.

Suzanne's B&B
Suzanne’s B&B

Suzanne’s B&B is a lovely place.  It is run by Suzanne (originally from Chicago if memory serves) and her husband.  Part of the home is their private residence and the rest has been turned into a B&B.  Suzanne had a bit of a no-nonsense edge to her but was very accommodating both with information about the area and recommending ways to get to my next destination.  I paid more than I was hoping to, but being last-minute I lucked out that I was able to find anything at all.  The room was comfortable with a private bathroom and breakfast was included, so really I’ve no complaints:)  And best of all, it was only a bike ride away from the Neuschwanstein Castle:)

I ended up spending 3 days and 4 nights in Füssen filling my days with hikes, a visit to the Neuschwanstein Castle, enjoying some Oktoberfest celebrations in the evenings and a day just relaxing/continuing to recover from the crud I’d caught.  I will say the nature surrounding Füssen is just beautiful!!  Especially with the colors changing on the trees and the color of the water in the lakes and rivers, it was just amazing!

On to Neuschwanstein

Back to Europe

 

 

Potential Controversy

Before parting from writing on Berlin, I did want to bring up a potentially controversial opinion of mine… During the tour the guide spoke about some history back in the 1910’s and 20’s when Berlin was The PLACE to be in Europe.  Rock Stars, politicians, celebrities and generally anyone who wanted to live to party flocked to Berlin.

Germany at one point in the 1910’s and 20’s was having financial troubles however , even though the party went on in Berlin!  To help the country out of trouble Germany borrowed or was given money from the U.S. and then it really became good times in Berlin.   But then the Stock market crashed in the U.S. beginning the depression and it also directly affected life in Berlin.  Times got really tough and hard there as well.  No one knew where to look or what to do.  The life that people had become accustomed to was in grave danger.

Then along came a young man who made promises that he could fix the economy and get  Berlin and Germany back to greatness once again.  And with that promise in hand everyone followed.  And Hitler came to power.

Now all of that is history.  What I wonder is whether we have really learned anything from that to prevent it from happening again.  Or are we still trapped by ourselves, in a way, of being so used to life being great that the minute it goes sideways we look to someone to fix things for us, then end up giving our power and lives away to the hands of those whose intentions are not right or good ones?

Some of my German friends have mentioned before that in their opinion Germans in general aren’t proud of their history involving one Adolf Hitler, and I feel the same in that I’m ashamed of parts of the history in the U.S… What I guess I’m getting at is that even though hindsight is 20/20 so much of the World’s negative history was preventable.  And as we are currently living in the present, creating history for the years to come, I just hope that we can look to empower ourselves or others based on what is good or right and not on what is “good enough” and “right now”.

The wrongs in our histories are there to teach us lessons.  I hope we learn from them.  And I’m not speaking here just about the history in Germany.  I’m using it as an example of things going on right now especially in the States with the “powers that be” allowing so many disgusting events to occur (GMO’s in food, scare tactics in the media, vaccinations becoming more mandatory, drones, the governments right to search and seize or even kill without just cause).  How much have we really learned from history and how much of our freedom and the freedom of others are we willing to give away to feel “warm and safe” in our own little lives?

I know the above is very off topic from my regular posts on just traveling and good times, but since it was something I thought of a lot after visiting Berlin and taking the tour, I just had to share it- whether for better or worse.

On to Amsterdam!!!!!

Back to Europe

Berlin

Ah, Berlin!!  So many things to say about Berlin!!  What an awesome energy!!  Hip, cool, a strange mix of modern and older history.  This city is just busting at the seams with a young vibe.  Of course, while it does have a history that extends hundreds of years, in a way (due to being completely destroyed during WWII) it is a new city.  Graffiti can be found on just about every surface throughout the city and there’s a wildness in the air that speaks to a freedom of “come as you are and you will be accepted”.  Such a paradox given the very recent history of the city basically being imprisoned- either during the War or the Wall.  Maybe it is only due to all the turbulence in its recent history, but Berlin also seems confused as to which direction it wants to go.  There has been so much upheaval there relatively recently and I’m curious how it will continue to grow.

I stayed in a super sketchy looking section of town in a hostel called Jetpak Alternative.  To their credit, they advertised that they are in a sketchy area complete with dog sh*t and lots and lots of graffiti.  Across the street is a park that anyone who isn’t looking for trouble or drugs should just stay out of.  The hostel itself was wonderful!  It was a little nerve-wracking walking around the neighborhood after dark at times since people would often come up to you asking if you wanted drugs.  But I felt safe enough and would stay in that hostel again.  The people were nice and informative and it once again had that fun and inviting vibe that I had recalled of hostels while traveling in Central America yet didn’t encounter at all at the hostel in England.  I really wanted to stay another night but wasn’t able to since they were fully booked.  So I took that as a sign to keep on moving!

In the time I did spend there I joined in for a “free” walking tour:)  The morning before the tour walked from the hostel to the meeting point (Parizer Platz) just taking in the sights and stopping along the way for pictures.  I took a quick tour of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (quick because I didn’t realize I was running out of time before the tour!) which was very impressive and quite moving!  The ways in which people came up with to escape Berlin while the Wall was up was amazing!

We started (as mentioned above) at Parizer Platz, then headed to the Holocaust museum, the Berlin Wall, the now parking lot where Hitler’s underground bunker was located, the real Checkpoint Charlie location, to some churches, a theater and ended in the square where Hitler ordered all books be burned (across from the University).  As I’ve done before I will share my favorite stories of the tour but not all the information below:)

At the end of the tour I took the train back with a guy that was also staying in my hostel (he was also in the tour) since I had been walking about 7 hours at this point! This does remind me though of the train situation in Germany… It really is on the honor system as to whether or not you buy tickets!!  They don’t have any gates stopping you from getting onto the train without a ticket, so while technically one could gamble by hopping on a train for free to get to their destination, I wouldn’t recommend it simply because plain-clothed cops are apparently always present and randomly checking for people aboard without tickets.  And there is a hefty fine for those who do try to ride for free…  Just sayin’ 🙂

Highlights of the tour:

Hotel Adlon: this hotel is THE MOST expensive hotel to stay in Berlin.  It is famous for 2 reasons… the first and most recent event, it is the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony railing.  The second (and more historical) is that it is only one of two buildings that was not bombed and was still standing after the war!!  Everything else was destroyed!!  However, years later a group of Russians (as part of an army if memory serves) stayed in the hotel and proceeded to engage in a pastime that is quite popular among many: drink!!  They drank and drank and drank and at some point someone, somehow started a fire that caught and burned down part of the hotel!!  So there is a joke now where the hotel was able to survive a war, but NOT a Russian party, lol!!!! 😉

Hotel Adlon
Hotel Adlon

Holocaust Memorial: it was just so moving.  There is a museum that is part of the memorial that I unfortunately was not able to make it to but certainly plan to when I make it back there!  The artist who designed the memorial did a fabulous job with it for sure!  It was thought-provoking, moving, inspiring and emotional!!  A must see for anyone who visits!  And I may add that it was probably one of the few areas that did not have any graffiti on it at all:)

Hitler’s Underground Bunker: Interesting information here that I’d never heard before about Hitler.  First that he had Parkinson’s Disease and was taking numerous drugs (LSD, liquid cocaine eye drops, etc) to try to keep even keel, so to speak.  It really shouldn’t have surprised me that he was on drugs given how absolutely loony tunes he was, but it did.  The second thing was that he got married!  Eva, his bride married him and agreed to a suicide pact with him.  She ended up killing herself before he did himself in.  Good riddance!  Oh and the underground bunker isn’t marked in any way because the government doesn’t want the crazies out there setting up some sort of memorial in his honor on the site.  Good idea!!

Standing on Hitler's Underground Bunker
Standing on Hitler’s Underground Bunker

Berlin Wall:  this whole idea just fascinated me… Why would a government build a wall then FORCE people to stay on one side or the other in order to build a “stronger” government????  I just don’t get it!!  Anyway, my favorite bit about this part was the clever escape one family succeeded in fleeing East Berlin.  The father worked in a building nearby and managed to smuggle his family in the building before it closed.  They hid in the building until everyone left for the night then changed in all black clothing and went to the roof.  They flung a line from the roof over the wall to the other side where a friend of theirs was waiting and basically zip-lined from the roof to the other side of the wall!!  What’s even funnier is that a guard of the wall saw this activity taking place but didn’t sound any alarm because he thought for sure it was an undercover op going on, lol!!!

Prophecy from 1820:  the below plaque basically translates to “wherever they burn books they burn only people at the end”.  That isn’t an exact translation but I did find it interesting that it was a statement made in 1820 by Heinrich Heine, a German poet, and it was justly posted at the site where Hitler had ordered all books to be burned, just before he really started to come into his power.  And as we all know his reign sadly and very unfortunately did end with the burning of people.

Prolific Wise Words from 1820
Prolific Wise Words from 1820

 

More Pictures from Berlin

On to Potential Controversy

Back to Europe

Munich

Munich is absolutely lovely!!!  I was very shocked on how green the city is!!  Seriously they have so many parks in the heart of the city!!  I figured it would be much like every other city: drowning in nothing but buildings with a token park here and there.  But not so with Munich!  It is individual, full of history, character and very friendly and welcoming people!  There’s the synopsis, now here are the details;)

Before going to Munich, on a whim and on a promise, I shot off an email to Nikki whom I met and traveled with through the San Blas Islands in Panama.  In fact, she was the clever woman who coined “modern day pirates” to describe our sailboat crew:)

I say on a whim because though we had exchanged a few emails, we really hadn’t kept in touch a whole lot (I don’t Facebook) and since it had been so long since I’d emailed her, I wasn’t sure first whether she even had the same email, and second whether she would respond.  I had made her a promise long ago when we parted in Colombia however that if I ever made it to Munich, I would look her up!  So, about a week or so before going to Munich I wrote her an email to let her know I would be in town for the day.

I was humbled to hear back from her and even more tickled that she too had the day off and was able to meet me!!  The good in people never ceases to amaze me and it’s a blessing to know people who, even after years of no contact, extend a hand of friendship!!

I made it to Munich early in the morning and after calling Nikki agreed to meet her at a coffee shop near the Odeonsplatz underground station.  As I made my way out from the underground I could hear the joyous music of Oktoberfest celebrations and once out on the street was greeted by a lovely parade!!  I made my way along the road trying to get somewhere to take some pictures when a very nice group of people offered me a stool to stand on so I could get above the crowd:)  Thankfully one of them spoke a little broken English and I asked where the coffee shop was (all I could see was Starbucks and we weren’t meeting there!!).  Once directed and all the pictures were taken, I headed to meet Nikki.


Seriously it was as if no time at all had ever passed between us!  She looked just the same as she did before: fabulous!  And we had a great time catching up in each other’s lives and reminiscing on the good times we had during the San Blas trip:)  We hung out for a little catching up, then she proceeded to give me the VIP walking tour of Munich!!

First stop was just nearby, a place called Feldherrnhalle, which is where Hitler began the plotting of his Nazi regime before setting up in Berlin.  What is amazing is that as he began to take on more popularity and power, it was mandatory that people walking in front of this building had to salute to the soldiers standing in front to show that they were with Hitler.  If you walked in front without saluting you would get in serious trouble!!  So, for those who opposed Hitler, they would bypass walking in front of the Feldherrnhalle by walking down the street just behind called Viscardigasse.  Down this street today you will find a golden path laid out in bronze bricks symbolizing the path of freedom.  This path was walked by all who opposed Hitler.  It was their way of rebelling Hitler and what he stood for.

Across from this building is the Residence of Munich (Residenz Munchen) where the Royal Family lives and the lions statues guarding the entrance are rubbed by passersby for good luck!

The Residence of Munich leads onto the Hofgarten where there is a lovely little building topped off with a little monument.  Here they have many musicians who come to practice their skills and even monthly they put on a formal waltz dance event!!

From there we headed past the Art Museum and headed to probably the most interesting or at least shocking part of Munich… Surfers!!!  Yes, I typed correctly: surfers!  Apparently some very clever surfers wanted a way to continue to practice their skills and keep in shape year round without “chasing the waves” so they made their own!!  In the Eisbach river, just at the start of it where it flows under a bridge, several stones were dropped to the river bottom and eventually enough were planted in to create a wave!!  And due to the natural fast current through the river, the wave is large enough to basically simulate an ocean wave!  So darn clever!!!

This little surf spot is in a way the beginning of the English Garden (Englischen Garten).  The English Garden is the largest garden in Munich and it is even LARGER than Central Park in New York City!!

We made our way past the Japanese Teahouse (Japanisches Teehaus Kanshoan)

to an area where if you choose you could sit out nude

English Garden Nude Area
English Garden Nude Area

finally to the Monopteros.  This monument was once overrun by drug addicts but thanks to an increased presence of cops wandering the streets, the momument was abandoned by the addicts and spruced up for locals and tourists to enjoy:)

From the Monopteros it was on to the Chinese Temple (Chinesischer Turm) where a little beer garden was conveniently located, so of course we had to stop for a BEER!!!!!  It was here during a bit of a passing thunderstorm where I learned the history of beer gardens… Long ago when there weren’t any refrigerators, companies cleverly decided to put kegs of produced beer under trees that provided lots of shade (hence natural refrigeration).  So much beer was being made that companies would invite people out to these “gardens “with kegs of beer under each tree to drink the beer while it was fresh and cold!  All they asked was people paid for the beer, but otherwise you could bring your own food, etc.  So these beer gardens began to gain popularity as almost a social or fun day in the park so to speak with cheap, delicious beer, your own picnic and tons of other people to socialize with:)

After a few pints we walked our way to the Siegestor, a triumphal arch that has a statue of Bavaria on top leading 4 lions!  It was originally dedicated to the glory of the Bavarian army but today it is a monument and reminder for peace.  Absolutely love it!!

On we went past the University to perhaps my favorite building of all I had seen that day: St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirche)!!  Just absolutely stunning in my opinion and so playful!!  Notice the dragon climbing up the church and the timekeeper…

I could have spent hours looking at the church just discovering new things about it but alas we were getting a bit hungry, so we headed to a great restaurant, had some delicious local food then headed to Nikki’s where she graciously allowed me to crash for the night:)  However, NOT before helping her to fix her anklet!!  We had both purchased one in the San Blas Islands from the Kuna Indigenous tribe but sadly hers had fallen off.  She kept the beads and the strand however so I helped to affix it back on:)  Good times!!!

Repaired San Blas Anklet, yay!!
Repaired San Blas Anklet, yay!!

 

On to Berlin

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