First World Our last few trips were to second and third world countries: difficult flight connections, road and driving challenges, too many shanty towns, too many corrupt federales. We hadn’t had a road trip for a while… not since Croatia. So a road trip in Europe is it! A one-way trip — who has time for back tracking — across western Europe stretching from Belgium to Istria, complete with two speeding tickets thanks to Dan and the German autobahn.
Pommes Frites After a quick visit to Brussels and Bruges, complete with some authentic pommes frites, Belgian waffles and chocolate, we pick up our car — a [massive] Ford Edge SUV — and hit the road. Man, Europeans have such amazing roads especially compared to California… well, anything is better than California. Before diving into our castle route we visit our dear friend Fabienne in Luxembourg. She recently married and moved to Ectenbach, a beautiful medieval town near Germany’s border. Fortunately for us, Joseph and Gheislien are also visiting. We spend a lovely morning with the Maurer family.
Taxes Luxembourg, both the country and the city, is super adorable. If one must live in a tax-evasion haven, Luxembourg would be our choice! Our castle tour starts here with a couple of bonus castles here before continuing into Germany.
Detour Germany is criss-crossed by well kept country roads. This network, and its quality, is quite impressive. We have our share of travels on the autobahn with the cruise control set to over 100 MPH but our navi, Madge, insists on routing us via the shortest possible routes, even it means going thru people’s private roads and backyards! We experience some of the narrowest roads we have ever driven on, some literally the width of a single-car, yet with two way active traffic… and trucks! The dozens of construction detours constantly remind us of the reason for the road quality! Thanks to Dan’s skills we manage just fine.
So. Many. Burgs! Both sides of the Rhine are dotted with them. Most are perched on hilltops, a large number overlook the Rhine, some have a town of their own, others just alone. They come in various sizes and styles. Some are more in ruins that others, some are more fairytale’y that others, some have been restored, some have been left alone.
Of all the castles, our favorite is Schloß Lichtenstein, which is actually in Germany, not in Lichtenstein. One of the smallest castles we visit, it is precariously perched on top of a single rock. No need for a moat here! All you need is a drawbridge to keep the pesky intruders out.
And of course we have to stop by Burg Neuschwanstein, because we are super tourists!
Doily We do break our castle visits with a few days in the Alps, staying at two very different resorts: a Bavarian resort -- the home of doilies and ugliness -- and a resort in Bavaria where the concierge would have had an aneurism had he seen the doily resort. We wish we could have stayed longer.
Pristine The drive in Germany and Bavaria takes us thru hundreds of beautiful and extremely well kept villages. Every house is gleaming — as though it has just been painted — and every window overflowing with geraniums and petunias. What is the German government’s paint and geranium budget? The whole country is so tidy, clean, well-maintained. Even in the most remote locations everything is nicely put away and organized. You won’t see a piece of garbage, not a car on cinder blocks, not a dumpster… very impressive.
Replan Hallstatt, Austria, is every bit as scenic as promised albeit, during the day, every inch of it is covered with tourists. We spend the night, and like many such places, the tourist buses leave in the late afternoon and we are left with a beautiful empty village. It is here that the rain finally catches up with us. And for the first time in Assana’s planning history, she pulls a Sheri and course corrects in the middle of a trip! Whoa! We cut our stay short by a night and head down to Lake Bled is Slovenia. Even thought we have already visited Bled during our previous trip to Croatia we enjoy this unplanned detour. The weather is fabulous — sunny, warm, with a great breeze — and it feels great to walk around the lake after so much driving. We even get to swim in the lake as our hotel has a private lake platform. The crazy storm, once again, catches up with us, but this time it doesn’t ruin the day: sitting on our balcony overlooking the lake, we watch the lightning storm and the downpour that follows.
Club Med We had hoped to end the trip with a relaxing few days by the sea. Assana fails us! Poreč has a lot of the characteristics of other cute Croatian cities — an old town, stone streets polished to a shine by centuries of foot traffic, little teeny streets, etc. — but it has a much much larger tourist crowd than we expected. Our room, though facing the sea, is along the seaside promenade with the hordes of loud tourist and noisy yachts and sailboats. A giant Club Med-style hotel on an off-shore island faces the town and ruins part of the view. It boats its clientele into town first thing in the mornings, and they don’t ever seem to leave! No such thing as being left with a quiet town after dark. It is more like having a cruise boat that never leaves!
Olive Oil But as is the case with many over-touristed places, all you have to do is take a step outside the main path to lose them all. We spend a day driving around the beautiful Istrian countryside, through alternating vineyards and olive orchards. Seems like every hilltop has a village complete with a church with a tall pointy steeple. We visit two of these adorable villages. Grožnjan and Motovon. Grožnjan could easily be one of the cutest places we have ever visited. This meticulously maintained village is clean, tasteful and full of art galleries and kitties! We also stop by an olive orchard to do some oil tasting. You haven’t tasted olive oil until you taste it fresh off the press! So good. The two bottles we purchase make it back to CA just fine!
Good Bye Our trek back home takes us from Croatia, thru Slovenia to Italy, where we catch a flight to Munich on our way to London, and finally our flight home to San Francisco. Whew!
2 weeks, 2474 kilometers (1484 miles), 41:53 hours of driving, 8 countries, 10 castles! Whew!