Monday, October 23, 2017

Our first visitors

After officially moving over to Germany with our trunks of clothes and some other "must-haves" from home (and our cat, Allie) in April, we stayed in a hotel for three weeks while we bought furniture and household essentials for our rental. Houses in Germany are completely bare usually, but we paid extra to "rent" the kitchen that was in the house already...usually you have to buy and install the cabinets even for rentals! Bare means not even light fixtures are included so we had a lot of work to do to get settled. It was a pretty trying time because, like I mentioned in an earlier post, most places here do not accept credit cards. They take cash or German bank card (debit). We had some trouble getting our German registration at first, and we had to have that in order to get a bank account. Without a German bank account, all we had was cash (using our US debit card) which was limited to $500 (about 450€) withdrawal per day. Looking back, I think I could have called our bank and asked for an increase, but of course, hindsight is 20/20. It made it very difficult to buy sheets, towels, kitchen essentials, living room furniture/electronics, dining room furniture, bedroom furniture, kitchen appliances, washer, dryer, and wardrobes (they don't usually have closets here, they use wardrobes in each bedroom). It was quite frustrating, but we made it through eventually. :)

The day we finally moved into our house, Tyler's brother and sister-in-law arrived for a visit. We still didn't have real beds, so we all slept on air mattresses on the floor, and our internet also wasn't hooked up yet, but everything else was basically in the house (we did put some furniture together while they were here, which was a big help). When we have guests, we like to make sure we get as much crossed off their wish list as we can. They wanted to go on the Sound of Music tour and do a KTM motorcycle factory tour which are both near Salzburg, Austria. Hitler's Eagle's Nest is also very close by to Salzburg so we added that to the itinerary. A friend from my hometown in Kansas was also in Germany, and she met us in Salzburg and toured and stayed with us for a few days. We stayed at a nice hotel with free parking and a pretty good breakfast. Service was a little slow for refilling the bacon and eggs, but the room was nice and clean and modern. Five of us stayed in one room for 184 for a night total.

The Sound of Music tour was lively and fun (though I had never seen the movie!). We took a bus through Salzburg and saw a bunch of different sites where the movie was filmed. Some fun facts from the tour are: 1) The family did not escape from the Nazis on foot through the mountains to Switzerland, but instead took a train to Italy and then on to England and finally to the US. 2) The oldest daughter's real name was also Maria but to avoid confusion in the movie, they changed her name to Liesl. 3) Austrian people don't have a clue about the movie and most have never seen it. It's definitely more of an American thing, and they get hundreds of thousands of visitors each year just for Sound of Music.

The KTM tour was kind of a bust because the only one we could get tickets for was done in German. ;) They did give us a print out with some information in English, and it was cool to see the production processes, even if we couldn't understand what they were saying. We got a "free" mug at the end which was also nice.

Kehlsteinhause (Eagle's Nest) was an interesting experience. We had to park at the bottom of the mountain and take a bus up the rest of the way. The road up was very narrow and steep, and I was glad I wasn't driving. Though, being in a huge bus hanging over the side of the cliff at every switchback turn wasn't much more comforting. :) At the top, you take an elevator up through the middle of the mountain to a building, perched at the top of the peak. There is a restaurant inside that serves decent food, but there is no history or information about the war or about Hitler. It's literally just a restaurant at the top of a mountain. The views are good, but we went in May and there was still snow on the ground and it was cloudy, so we didn't get to experience the good views. Once you're back down at the bus drop-off, there is a small museum with some good information (all the permanent fixtures are in German, but they have print outs of everything translated to English and several other languages). It also includes admission into some bunkers and underground tunnels that Hitler and the Nazis built and used during the war. 

While we were near Salzburg, we went to Konigsee and hiked around a bit. It was a cute little town, and we were hoping to take the boat tour to a little island, but we didn't have time. The area was GORGEOUS though.

Once back at the house, we did some day trips to nearby sites. One was to Dachau Concentration Camp, which was very interesting. I was expecting it to be very emotional and difficult, but to me, it felt very clinical and factual instead. There was not a lot of emotion for me personally. It seemed like they just presented what happened with very little feeling. It was hard to imagine the horrors that happened there, and how those people must have lived and felt. Dachau was a work camp vs. an extermination camp, but many thousands of Jews and POWs still lost their lives from exhaustion and starvation. I'm glad I went, though, as I think that if we don't learn from history, we will repeat it. (We have also been to Auschwitz which I will cover in a later blog, and I felt much more emotional there than at Dachau.)

Another day trip was to see Neuschwanstein Castle. It was built by Mad King Ludwig as his "fairytale castle," and he basically bankrupted the country trying to get it finished. He died under mysterious circumstances before the castle was completed, and now it's a major tourist attraction. I think only 35 rooms are finished and you can see most of them on the guided tour. My favorite is the indoor Cave Grotto, but they don't let you take pictures inside so I can't show it to you :) This is the castle that Walt Disney based his "Cinderella" castle on. I absolutely recommend booking your tickets online before you go (must be done at least 2 days in advance). Otherwise, you can find yourself standing in line for hours just to get a ticket, then waiting for hours more for your actual tour time. We combined Neuschwanstein with a tour of Hohenschwangau, which was the royal family's "hunting cottage" during the summers. I enjoyed the tour of that castle more than Neuschwanstein actually. It was neat to walk through the "lived in" castle and picture the little princes running around the grounds, the king and queen entertaining notable people (including composer Richard Wagner) in their sitting areas, and wonder what they thought and how they felt. 

We had a really great time hanging out with these guys, and it was a nice excuse to get out and explore some new places. One nice thing about Europe is that you can cross borders without border control. It does make me a little sad to not have stamps in my passport from all the places we've been to, but the ease of travel and time-saving qualities easily outweigh that negative.