Destinations for 2015

I technically have 8 months left living and working in Germany…therefore, I feel the need to make sure I take full advantage of the time I have left to do and see as much as possible. Below is a map of the places I’ve been to in the world. I plan on adding to it this year and continuing to do in the years to come!

Ann Bernard’s Travel Map

I have some plans already solidified (that is to say at least my hotel and flights are booked) which include Carnival in Venice and Mountain Biking in Morocco.

Last year I never make it to Croatia, more specifically Dubrovnik, so I’ll be making sure to go this year where it’s easy to enjoy some kayaking and snorkeling. I came across some multi-sport options in Corte France…I was oblivious the French Island of Corsica even existed before stumbling on it through my Googling. I’m in contact with Altipiani Outdoor Sports trying to make some plans for summer.

Additionally, I would really like to attend TBEX Europe in Spain…but the organization has yet to reply to my tweets and emails about their unsecure website. I refuse to provide my credit card information online unless, I know the site is secure. I’ve been very disappointed by their lack of responsiveness.

So while those are my more “planned” trips – I also aspire to make it to:

Germany: Munich, Dresden, Cologne, and Kromlau (at a minimum)

Switzerland: Zurich, Bern and Genève

Austria: Vienna

Liechtenstein

Hungary: Budapest

Netherlands: Amsterdam and The Hague

Belgium: Brussels and Burges

I plan on visiting the major cities early Spring because as soon as the weather warms up; I’m not going to be interested in being indoor.

I want to return to France as well…looking into multi-day mountain biking trip options.

I would love to explore Montenegro, Malta and Cyprus, but not sure time and money will permit.

Additionally, I’d really like to go spend a lot more quality time in Italy.

I’m going to do the best I can with the time and resources I have. Wherever I don’t get to…I’ll simply have to return to down the road.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a busy and exciting next 8 months!!

Salzburg: A Quick Gateaway

As I mentioned in my post What Traveling Means to Me, my trip to Salzburg was impromptu…must get out of town and regain some sense of balance and love for living after the insanity that is my life at work.

T20141109_144135he drive to Salzburg was nice, but when I arrived it was cold and overcast. None the less, I got settled in to my hotel and decided to start exploring. My hotel was a little farther from the center of Salzburg then I thought, but it’s not like walking bothers me. I headed into the center of town in search of Mozart’s birth place and childhood home, which is now a museum. I’ve always been a fan of classical music, so to be able to walk through Mozart’s childhood home and learn more about his early beginnings and life was quite a treat. I took my time making my way through each room, and discovered what I knew about Mozart was either false or very limited…it definitely debunked what I’d “learned” from the movie Amadeus.

Once I left Mozart’s, I simply did what I do best, I just wondered about. There are many shops to visit…some filled with Mozart and Sound of Music tokens, and many others that offer higher end shopping for clothes and other things. The cobble stone streets, baroque architecture and the massive Festung Hohensalzburg dominating the high ground make for great sightseeing; however, it was getting cold and I was hungry. I started heading back to the hotel, stopped to grab a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant, and called it a day.

The next morning, I was picked up for my Sound of Music Tour. If you go to Salzburg, I highly recommend taking this tour provided by Salzburg Panorama Tours. The day started out overcast and chilly, so it was nice to kick back in the bus and listen to the story of the von Trapp family. To my ignorance, I had no idea the Sound of Music was in fact based on a true story. The tour stops include: Mirabell Gardens, Leopoldskron Palace, Hellbrunn Palace, Gazebo, Nonnberg Abbey, Mondsee – Wedding Chapel and Salzburg Lake District Area – St Gilgen. I won’t spoil the tour for you…just be sure to take it if you find yourself in Salzburg.

Salzburg Sound of Music
Stops on Sound of Music Tour

For the afternoon, I was signed-up for another tour (of the salt mines) but the sun was out, I was yet again hungry and didn’t feel like spending more time on a bus. Instead, I thought I would get more out of heading up the steep hill to check out the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The Fortress is not like any other castle I’ve toured in Europe. It is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe; it’s very well maintained and standing strong.

20141109_155906

View from Festung Hohensalzburg
View from Festung Hohensalzburg

Once I made my way back down, I stopped in to walk around The Petersfriedhof, or St. Peter’s Cemetery, the oldest Christian graveyard in Salzburg, dating back to 1627. Another worthy stop while in Salzburg.

St. Peter's Cemetery
St. Peter’s Cemetery

Once more cold and hungry, I found a restaurant where I enjoyed a meal and a glass of wine before returning to the hotel tired, and satisfied with my day’s worth of exploring. The following day, I headed back ready to roll up my sleeves and get back to work.

Fourth Of July Adventures

A co-worker often talked about Interlaken, Switzerland and what an amazing place it is and how I really should take the time to go there so when I was trying to figure out how to spend my Fourth of July, I decided to go ahead and look into it. I knew I didn’t want to spend my Fourth of July walking around a touristy city. I wanted to be outside, I wanted to ride my bike, hike and do anything else I could find being offered. Interlaken did not disappoint! I came across the Outdoor Interlaken website and booked myself a paragliding and canyoning excursion. Additionally, I strapped my bike to the roof rack since I found a lot of information about various trails in the area. The town is located between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz – you can bike around either lakes or up the mountains.

The drive to Interlaken from Stuttgart is not bad…about 3-3.5 hours. It’s not that it’s far but rather once you enter Switzerland you have to slow down (no autobahn) and once you end up in the Swiss Alps…you have to really slow down for the sharp curves going up and down the mountains. And yes, the drive is as you would imagine, absolutely gorgeous.

NOTE: You must have a Swiss Motorway Sticker to drive on the highway or you’ll get a hefty fine. The sticker can be purchased as soon as you cross the border. It’s a little over 50 Euros and good for a year.

Interlaken

I was suffering a little from motion sickness when I got there from driving up, down and around the mountains, but I was in awe of how breathtakingly beautiful it was. My hotel room had a small balcony with a postcard view. I unloaded Little Man, my luggage, and my bike and then went for a walk down the river with LM before having to be ready for my pick-up time for my first excursion: paragliding. The river was a brilliant blue, and turquoise color…like nothing I’d ever seen before, I learned it’s because of all the various minerals that run down the Swiss Alps .

The paragliding was a blast. I don’t have a fear of height so I rode along chatting with my pilot and admiring the view. He did some tricks towards the end of the flight that brought my motion sickness back with a vengeance…so my day included a nap before going to dinner.

Paragliding_Fourth_of_July_

The following day, I awoke to rain so I got up for breakfast then was lazy in bed for a few hours. While I was out to have a weekend of adventure; I also needed some rest. I didn’t feel guilty relaxing while the rain passed. Mid-afternoon, I jumped on my bike and rode 50km around lake Thun. The sun was in and out of the clouds, it was a warm day and it was a good ride.  Although, it was a lot more on the road then in the woods on trails which is what I prefer. It included some incredible views only the mixture of sun, Swiss Alps, water and plush green landscape can offer. I passed a school yard which sat atop a hill overlooking the lake, and as I looked out, I realized this was the view the kids around here grow up seeing; I felt a ping of jealousy and a lot of sadness for inner city kids who grow up not even seeing green grass. Such a disparity between the two.

Biking Lake Thun

I was tired after my bike ride, but being that it was the 4th of July, and I felt like dinning on steak; I walked over to the restaurant Ox. My fillet mignon was prepared perfectly and was delicious. If you’re ever in Interlaken and in the mood for red meat – that’s where I recommend you go. It’s a bit pricey though.

The following day I went on my next excursion: canyoning. To be honest, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I was once more picked-up from the hotel and after picking-up another few other folks we went to the main Outdoor Interlaken office to change and pick-up the gear we needed. The guides are obviously accustomed to the process; they moved our group along pretty quickly. It was a thrilling experience. I got to rappel, jump off various cliffs and slide down a variety of nature-made water slides. I got acquainted with a couple that was on the excursion.  We went for ice cream afterwards chatting it up for a couple of hours. She was from France and he was from Switzerland. Both were fluent in French, English and German. It was great to hear their stories and I enjoyed my ice cream.

Canyoning_2014_Interlaken

I was sad to leave the next day…so before heading out, I went up into the Swiss Alps for some “hiking”. As I made my way up the Alps, I realized I needed to make sure to come back next year. There is so much more to explore and do. I could easily spend a whole summer in Interlaken and have the time of my life.

20140706_094935

Prague: Czech it Out

The first time I remember someone talking about going to Prague was 15 years ago, I was a young Second Lieutenant working in the Headquarters Battalion S-3 shop, while awaiting the start of Comm School. The Captain I was doing some work with was telling me about her perspective on life, and how it really got better for her now that she was in her mid-30s, particularly when it came to being able to travel. She had recently returned from Prague, in the Czech Republic (at the time we had the chat, I had more images of what Czechoslovakia might have been like then was she described) and she was gushing over what a fabulous mixture of history, beauty and hip, renaissance, vibrant city it was. I made a mental note to make it there someday…and also hoped my life would get better in my 30s!

Now that I’m in Germany, and that Prague is at the top of everyone’s list when discussing where to go for a long weekend, it made sense to go during Memorial weekend.

I booked a room at Hotel Hoffmeister & Spa, based on what I read about it, the location seemed good, they had parking and allowed pets. It was a good choice, I enjoyed my stay there. The day I arrived, the weather was dreadful, so I took advantage of the spa and enjoyed a delicious meal at their restaurant. Additionally, since I hadn’t made any plans for what to actually do during my stay, I grabbed many of the fliers they had available, jumped online, and started figuring out what I should do and see.

Images of Prague

I ended up only booking one thing; a concert at the Prague Castle. A violinist and pianist managed to bring me to tears as they played a selection of various classical pieces. After the moving concert, I stepped next door and enjoyed lunch, which included the most delicious tomato soup I’d ever eaten, sitting on a terrace with an amazing view and felt incredibly blessed. My day had started out exploring the Castle grounds, which are a lot bigger than I’d expected, so after lunch I continued just wondering around. Eventually I made my way into what’s considered “New Town” and explored some more, I had no specific destinations in mind. I found a restaurant for dinner and then returned to the Hotel.

Concert at Prague Castle

The following day, I got an early start to explore the “Old Town”. Just crossing the Charles Bridge takes awhile in order to fully absorb the views. The sights and views in Prague are incredible. It is so easy to see why it’s a go to destination in Europe. I enjoyed wondering around the streets of Old Town, but it quickly got crowded. By the time I made it to the Astronomical Clock, the square was full of people. I was tired, so I found a place to sit, eat and people watch.

Old Town Prage

I spent the rest of day doing more wondering about and simply taking in the essence of Prague. I stopped in a few shops to admire the glass work available for sale, and wished I had a home to bring something back to. Eventually, I went back to the hotel to get Little Man and took him to the park, so he too could enjoy what Prague had to offer. It was a beautiful sunny day, people were out walking their dogs, jogging, rollerblading and simply laying out on the grass reading. Given the opportunity, I wouldn’t hesitate to move to Prague; to me it’s that kind of place. For dinner, I found a café  and sat outside with my journal. I spent a couple of hours just sitting, writing and imaging life as a resident of Prague.

Prague

I was sad to leave…there was so much I hadn’t seen and done, but I was also extremely grateful I got to be in a city where I was able to be awed, able to relax and able to feel at home.

Lake Constance: On Bike

This trip confirmed that a day on a bike in the cold and rain is still better than any day spent at work behind a desk. My five day bike trip around Lake Constance was the first trip of its kind I’ve ever taken. I bought my mountain bike shortly after arriving to Germany. I’ve been riding pretty regularly, loving every moment of it and realizing I want to do a lot more of it. Being that I’ll be completely consumed this summer with inspection preparation for our upcoming Command Cyber Readiness Inspection in September; it made sense to escape for a week and do some exploring while pedaling.

Lake Constance came up in conversation with someone at work…so after some Googling, realizing I could book a tour that included everything I needed, and it was just a short drive away; I was sold. I had to get a roof rack installed on my car for my bike, and buy other biking gear to be ready to go, but I was super excited about this trip.Lake KonstanzThe trip took me around Lake Constance, passing through a series of towns and attractions along the way. The package that awaited me at my first hotel had directions, maps, and recommendations of where to stop along the way. Each night I ended in a new place, and each morning, all I needed to do was drop off my luggage, have breakfast and get on my bike. Most days I biked about 50km…except for the day I took a detour to go inland and stop at a monkey refuge, and the day it rained so much I skipped all attractions, but back tracked once the rain stopped.

The trip kicked off at Lake Constance, where I stayed at Hotel Trompeterschlossle. Owned by a couple, this was a cozy hotel that catered to people who did this type of trip. I stayed there my first and last night (in the same room) and left my car parked until my return. The first night, I went wondering around the town of Konstance, it seemed like a pretty happening place. In the morning, I dropped off my luggage and began my adventure. The route was a little confusing at first, but once I found my bearing I was on my way to Isle of Reichenau. The island itself was declared as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001.Isle Reichenau

After about an hour tour around the island, I caught a ferry which took me to the main route of my trip for the day. I pedaled to Stein am Rhein, where I spent the night in a basic but comfortable room. It took me a little while and some getting turned around to find where I was to spend the night, but even with those delays, I arrived about mid-afternoon. I showered and went out to explore Stein am Rhein. It was a small, colorful village where I enjoyed an impromptu concert after which, I grabbed a bite to eat then returned to my small room to rest; happy with my first day.

Stein am Rhein20140511_144846

The next day, a little sore, I saddled up on my bike after breakfast and rode into the country side with a smile on my face. Today lead me back to Konstance, where I enjoyed some lunch before doing the next leg of my journey that included another ferry ride to reach the town of Uberlingen. I located my hotel, Hotel Zum Romer, once again owned by a nice couple. I received a warm welcome, my luggage and was shown to another cozy room for the night. I took a shower, changed and headed out to explore Uberlingen and find dinner. I stopped in to a few of the attractions, the town hall (Rathaus) and the Franciscan church. After dinner, I made my way back to the hotel to rest.

20140512_10040320140512_141653Uberlingen

The next day, I was rained on quite a bit as I rode from Uberlingen to the Kressbronn region with a detour to Affenberg Salem (monkey wildlife park). I went through Meerburg, a small picturesque town where fortunately the sun came out for a bit, while I walked around. I stayed the night at the country guesthouse Dorfkrug. It was a pretty isolated location, so I didn’t do too much wondering about and I was tired from riding about 80km and fighting the weather.

20140513_09473920140513_101334Meersburg

Admittedly, the following day was cold, rainy and pretty miserable…so I rode almost straight through to my next hotel. I only made a stop at a train station to grab something to eat, and dry myself up a little in the bathroom. I arrived at the hotel frozen and disappointed. It was about 3pm, I was exhausted so I took a hot shower and then a nap. I woke up at 5pm to the sun shining outside my window. I debated my options for what to with the rest of the day; in the end I decided to backtrack and see the things I’d missed.

I’m so glad I did that. I ended up going up Pfanderbahn gondola in Bregenz and saw some amazing views. Also had one heck of a ride back down! I returned to the hotel late, tired, but happy with how my day turned out.

Overlooking Bregenz

The last day of the trip was again cold and rainy weather…but I still enjoyed my pedaling along the country side, winery and through various towns. By the time I returned to Konstance, where the trip all began, the sun was back out. I ended my trip watching a beautiful sunset, satisfied with my journey and accomplishment.Sunset Last night

 

Day Trip to Heidelberg

Sitting at home during the weekends makes absolutely no sense when there are so many places close by to go see on a day trip! It’s easy to find a destination too – I just need to talk to people at work who have been here for a few months and they are full of recommendation; one them being Heidelberg.

Heidelberg Castle Ruins

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I got there since I didn’t do any research online except to get an address for my GPS. I ended up pleasantly surprised. I love the way the German town/cities I’ve visited so far are laid out – it’s always so pretty and scenic. The castle of course sits on the high ground of the city overlooking the buildings in the old town and river Neckar below. I lucked out with another sunny and gorgeous day.

The castle is in ruins but still amazing to see. I was surprised to find a Pharmacy museum which I toured and learned quite a lot from. Did not realize how old aspirin actually was or that its creator was German. There’s a restaurant on the castle ground where I enjoyed a delicious bowl of potato soup. Starting to learn and partake more in the stable foods of pork and potatoes enjoyed by the Germans.

Heidelberg Pharmacy Museum

I went on a Sunday but none the less many restaurants were open once I made my way down to the old town. None of the shops were open, but people were starting to congregate to eat; outdoor tables were set and occupied.

I wondered around the old town and to the bridge just enjoying how pretty the scenery was but as it was starting to get more crowded, I headed back. I’ll be adding my recommendation to new people coming in to make sure they also add Heidelberg to their list of day trips.

View of Old Town Heidelberg