As we near the end of the review of our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe, our twelfth stop brought us to Berlin, Germany for a week of history, culture, food, and friends.
Berlin was everything I expected and then some. Great summertime weather, nice people, minimal crowds, easy transit, good food, all with low prices (for a major European capital city). I’d certainly rate Berlin a hidden gem on this basis. My naive hypothesis is that Berlin is still a city in transition following World War II devastation and the post-war sundering of Berlin into East and West halves by the former USSR and the western Allies.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited as one country shortly thereafter in 1990. In today’s Berlin there are ample reminders of the turbulent past century in the form of museums, memorials, and preserved segments of the Berlin Wall. Though it’s hard to imagine anything bad actually happened when you’re sitting in a placid city park or strolling down the quiet riverfront. Then you catch a glimpse of pockmarked walls and columns on old buildings and that makes you wonder if those were caused by bullets or an exploding shell that barely missed its mark.
The eleventh stop on our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe brought us to Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic.
20 years ago Prague was an up and coming budget tourism destination full of culture and history where one could escape the higher prices of western Europe. Today, it still has the charm of the good old days but with slightly higher price tags compared to much of the rest of low-cost central and eastern Europe.
While in Prague, we visited the usual mix of castles, churches, and historic town squares. I was surprised at how many tourists were jam-packed into the center of the historic center of town. Maybe it was due to our visit falling in the middle of the peak summer tourist season? Fortunately we found a quiet escape just a mile south of the historic Old Town section of Prague at the Vysehrad Fort.
Continuing on our family journey through Europe, we spent a week in Munich, Germany. This was the tenth city of our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe.
Munich is the seat of government of the German state of Bavaria. The streets are lined with buildings hundreds of years old and so full of history both recent and modern. We spent several days exploring the downtown area of Munich, the Eisbach River and English Garden, the Residenz palace, and the Nymphenburg palace grounds.
Munich also served as a home base while we took two day trips outside Munich. On the first trip we drove to Neuschwanstein Castle a couple of hours south of Munich. The next day we visited the somber Dachau concentration camp on the northern outskirts of Munich where the Nazis killed tens of thousands of victims during World War II.
Stop number nine (of fourteen) on our nine week summer vacation across Europe found us in Salzburg, Austria. In addition to touring the old town of Salzburg, we also ventured out to the lakeside village of Hallstatt, Austria and toured the nearby Dachstein Ice Cave.
Salzburg’s historic center is the classic Europe you see on postcards. Expansive town squares, a castle high up on a hill, palaces, gardens, a river running through the middle of town, and statues and plaques proclaiming the birthplace of famous cultural icons (like Mozart) and scientists (like Doppler). For those fans of 1960’s musicals, you’ll be happy to learn that The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and the surrounding countryside.
A relaxed hour and a half drive through the foothills of the Alps brought us to the village of Hallstatt. We continued driving a few minutes past Hallstatt where we visited the Dachstein Ice Cave (literally a cave filled with ice year round). After the ice cave tour we returned to Hallstatt for a stroll through town where we saw the houses, businesses, and churches climbing the hillside as if they were trying to escape from the murky depths of Lake Hallstatt.
The eighth stop on our nine week summer vacation across Europe found us in Northern Slovenia and the beautifully scenic areas of Lake Bled, Soča Valley, and the Julian Alps. While visiting these sights we spent four nights in the tiny village of Podkoren in the far northwestern corner of Slovenia.
We stumbled upon Podkoren while searching for a centrally located apartment in the northern part of Slovenia that would serve as a home base for exploring the mountains, lakes, and valleys nearby. Podkoren was perfect for all of that. Wikipedia says Podkoren has 388 residents, but they must have done the census during the winter ski season and not when we were there during the sleepy summer off season. We assumed Podkoren would be nothing more than a place to rest in between our daytime adventures across Northern Slovenia but to our surprise the village turned out to be worth exploring as a destination in itself.
The seventh stop on our nine week summer vacation across Europe brought us to Ljubljana, Slovenia. If you’ve never heard of Ljubljana or Slovenia, then you are missing out on a hidden gem of Europe. We randomly stumbled on this country while looking at pictures of Europe and decided it was a must-see destination. It did not disappoint.
While in Ljubljana, we explored the city for several days and visited the castle atop the central hill in town. We took a few day trips to two caves and a castle. In addition to the sightseeing, this was our first opportunity to take it easy since we had a full week in Ljubljana (after six previous stops on our trip with only two to five days stay in each city). We embraced the slow travel lifestyle and spent a couple of days “doing nothing” and relaxing.
Stop number six on our nine week summer vacation across Europe brings us to Venice, Italy! After a two hour train ride from Milan, we arrived in Venice’s main train station around noon. Quick trip recap leading up to Venice: we flew to Milan from Seville, Spain on a super cheap two hour Ryanair flight. Earlier in our trip, we visited Lisbon, Portugal, then flew to Malaga in southern Spain before taking a bus to Granada, Spain.
Venice is one of those cities that everyone has heard about. Mostly good stuff. Some not so great stuff. It routinely appears in articles like “Top 5 European Destinations Everyone Must Visit”, so it’s a must see if you find yourself in Europe with time to spare, right? I’ve also seen Venice on several “Most Overrated Destinations in the World” lists. How does one reconcile these two starkly contrasting ideas? Could Venice appropriately fit on both kinds of lists? I wanted to judge for myself so I made sure to book a couple nights in Venice so I could experience all the good and the bad that this canal-filled enclave has to offer.
Welcome to stop number five on our nine week trip across Europe! This post covers the four days we spent in Milan, Italy at the end of June. We flew to Milan from Seville, Spain on a super cheap two hour Ryanair flight. Earlier in our trip, we visited Lisbon, Portugal, then flew to Malaga in southern Spain before taking a bus to Granada.
This was our first time in Italy and I didn’t have a clue where to visit. I considered Rome but I figured it would be too ambitious to tackle in just four days so we decided to save Rome for later. Milan, though still a sizable city, proved a good choice to fit in a four day slot in our schedule before we headed onward to Venice.
Milan offers a great mix of the new and the historic. In a single day of sightseeing, one can take a hundred year old trolley line to go from centuries old castles and cathedrals to cutting edge ultramodern skyscrapers. Both the old and new proved interesting to me!
October was another great month for us! We had a blast, blew some money on a quick jaunt on the high seas, and enjoyed the outdoors. And grew $42,000 wealthier while having all that fun. No complaints here.
In financial terms, our net worth climbed to $1,978,000. Income remained steady at $4,573 while total spending for the month of October remained modest at $1,748. Given that we don’t even spend our current income, I’m starting to unravel the mystery of why our cash balance continues to grow month after month. Spending less than we make – an old habit we can’t kick.
We’re on the road again with installment #4 from our nine week voyage across Europe. This week we’re highlighting our last stop in Spain: Seville! Quick recap: after visiting Lisbon, Portugal, we flew to Malaga in southern Spain then took a bus to Granada. After Granada, we traveled a few hours west to Seville.
We spent four nights in central Seville in an Airbnb overlooking the Alameda de Hercules plaza. Capital of the Andalusia region of Spain, Seville overflows with history and a sense of the past. Romans first settled the area more than two millennia ago and remnants of their city remain visible today in and around Seville. Over the centuries Seville was inhabited by the Vandals, the Visigoths, then the Moors. In the 13th century the Castilians conquered the city and it has remained under Spanish rule for the past 750 years.