12 days...three countries...bustling European cities...quaint Bavarian towns...beautiful alpine villages...fairytale castles...historic fort towns...mesmerising landscapes...the mecca of driving...the land of the "Sound of Music"...the golden city of spires...barrels of beer...beer brewing monasteries...white sausage...goulash...apple struddel...schneeballens...mozart balls...salzburg knockerels...quaint,local bed and breakfasts...luxurious castle hotels...a man's dream...a woman's passion...a baby's patience...the ultimate driving machine...a journey to cherish...the joy of living...
So Raya, 'D' and I just got back from a 12 day road trip through the Bavarian region of Germany, the alpine region of Austria and the bohemian city of Prague, a city where, someone so rightly said,
"the unconventional is conventional"...
D is the ultimate car and driving enthusiast and had always nurtured the dream of revving it up on the autobahn and exploring Europe in his very own car(preferably his very own version of the ultimate driving machine)...He is also a travel enthusiast and foodie...Personally, I am not much of a car person :)...I am happy with any car that takes me safely from point A to B...I am, however, an equally, if not more, avid and passionate travel enthusiast and foodie...the opportunity to visit new places, mingle among locals, explore different cultures, food, drinks, return home with a feeling that there's so much more out there to discover, and then dream of the next stop...this just has a way of adding zest to my life like nothing else does...Given this, and the fact that D's "dhanno"(current car) has almost run past her prime, the fact that by
God's grace we were in a position to dream of buying a new car of choice( who knows when that may change given life 's vissiccitudes) and of course, the fact that our last couple of vacations, since Raya's birth, had been beach vacations and one back home to India, we realized the time was right to put on our travelling pants and get set to fulfill D's long time dream of revving it up on the autobahn in his very own ultimate driving machine...to experience the charm of driving through the "alpine strass" of Germany and Austria,and feel the pulse of the "silnice" of the Czech republic.
Of course, this time we could not afford to be carefree travellers,like we were in the past...there was an apprehension about whether we would actually be able to sail through such an ambitious 2 week roadtrip with our 20 month old Raya...The challenges of travelling with a 20 month old baby are numerous...Preceding the trip, one day I woke up with a nightmare of losing Raya in a crowd of tourists...that triggerred a prompt purchase of a child locator device from Amazon, something we didn't end up using much , but will probably still prove useful when travelling in the future...I compiled lists of hospitals, pediatricians,emergency care centres at each destination...this time I did not have the luxury of stuffing our luggage with multiple pairs of beloved shoes or bags:( ...the aim was to minimize 'D' and my stuff in the luggage while, of course, priority was given to little Raya's clothes, diapers, comfort food, books and toys...we also planned to restrict travel/drive time to 2~3 hours at a stretch...the longest drive was from Konigsee, in Germany to Prague (a five hour trip with a short break for lunch ), which Raya handled surprisingly well...there were 'n' number of other baby related stuff that needed to be taken care of, half of which I don't even remember now :)...Little Raya ,of course, had her moments of anxiety, irritability, mood swings and bouts of "meaty" food phobia during the trip...fortunately those were things we were prepared for, expecting and able to handle :)... Also it did take us a couple of days to get her into the groove of being on the road, strapped to her car seat or stroller for really long periods of time...On our third day of the trip, when 'D' was getting ready to put her in the car seat, Raya, on her own, climbed on to the car seat, saying "Baba Caw...baba caw"(as funny as it sounds, that's meant to mean baba's car:))...she then made an unsuccessful attempt to strap herself into the car seat with a smile on her face...that was, I think, the first clear indication that our little baby was all set for the following 10 days of our bohemian life on the road :)
The drive through Germany's Bavaria and the Austrian Alps was mesmerizing...this area of Europe is as pretty as the Swiss alpine countryside I would claim, if not more...it's just not as commercial, touristy, well conected by public transport or efficient as things in Switzerland....the autobahn, of course, provided the big adrenaline rush...as 'D' was pushing the pedal to drive at over 130 miles an hour on the autobahn between Germany and Prague, there was an Audi sedan that whizzed past and overtook us from the left...just as we were speculating what speed the Audi must have been driving at to be able to do that, we saw the same car flash blue lights in front of us, indicating we had been asked to pull over by the unmarked cop car...of course, we thought we had been pulled over for speeding and were extremley nervous...the cops let out a laugh of jest and ridicule when we asked them what speed the radar had caught us at..."Oh no no, there are no speeding meters or tickets here on this stretch of the autobahn", they said. " We just wanted to look at the tourist registration papers for the car since you are just 20 miles away from Czech border"....really...130 miles/hr or 210 kms/hr and no speeding ticket...that was enough to bring a big grin to D's face and make him push the pedal to the metal :)
As far as the places we visited go...Munich was like any big European city...the old town is nice and quaint and the English garden was charming...the BMW Welt is worth the hype for all car lovers, of course...The atmosphere at the biergartens(beer gardens) with the "oompah bands" (band of 4 musicians playing Bavarian music) is not to be missed ...The visit to Dachau, the oldest concentration camp in Germany,located right outside Munich, sent chills down our spine and was a very humbling experience indeed...Konigsee am Schonau and Bershtechgaden were beautiful,
laid back Bavarian villages, perfect for a few days of rejuvenating fresh air among the Alps and lake Konigsee...the village of Hallstatt in Austria seemed straight out of a fairy tale, tucked away between the Austrian Alps and lake Hallstatt...the market town of Reutte,Austria provided sweeping views of a blend of white, snow covered mountains and green, meadowed valleys....Salzburg brought back such vivid, fond memories of "Sound of Music" and the Von Trapp family that I was in total awe...As for the golden city of spires and red roofs, Prague or Praha(as they like to call it in Europe), Franz Kafka has very rightly said, "Prague never let's you go…this dear little mother has sharp claws.”...it's really difficult to resist getting engulfed in the allure, charm, aura, beauty and spirit of what is for good reason called one of the most romantic cities in the world. The residential fort towns of Rothenburg ob tauber and Dinkelsbuhl and the drive through the romantic Bavraian strass connecting them exuded a unique blend of history, romance,fairy tale homes,boutique shops and beautiful views of green valleys interspersed with long stretches of canola fields, dotted with yellow flowers . And then finally the towns of HohenSchwangau and Fussen...typical pretty , quaint alpine towns around the extravagant King Ludwig's castles of Neuschwanstein ( which inspired Disney's princess castle ) and HohenSchwangau...we got an absolutely gorgeous view of Neuschwanstein castle from the rickety Queen Mary's bridge built over a dangerous, deep gorge...the view, though, was completely
worth the risk of walking on those shaky, dilapidated, bridge planks which almost seemed to be set to give way...it was ironical though that Raya's mommy seemed more thrilled by the sight of the princess castle than little Raya herself :)
As for food, I personally loved Czech food ( goulash, bramboračka, gulasovka )...highly recommend this local pub and restaurant called Kolkovna in Prague for a typical Czech meal...German cuisine however failed to win my heart...way too much meat for my liking...I tried the Weiswurst ( Bavarian white sausage ), Fleischkäse ( Bavarian meat loaf ), Leberknödelsuppe ( Bavarian liver dumpling soup ) and Snitzel, but ended up stuffing myself with the Bavarian potato/leek soup, for the major part of the trip...loved the apple struddel though...Madam Raya feasted on "pasta", "pizza", "bread","fried rice" and "risotto" for the major part of the trip :)...Service at restaurants was slow and laid back, as is typical almost throughout Europe...they seem to want you to have laid back meals spanning hours, all with good intention but a concept that's not very kid friendly...so anyone travelling with a kid, should be prepared to keep the little one entertained for long periods of time when dining at restaurants...And do not expect any water to be served at the table, unless specifically requested...weird, but true...:)
Communicating in English was a problem in the samller Bavarian towns of Germany and also parts of alpine Austria...not so much in Prague, though...however there was nothing lacking as far as hospitality and friendliness of the people was concerned...Believe it or not, travelling with a child has the capability of earning unpleasant stares as well as warm smiles and helping hands...for the major part, the latter...that worked to our advantage:). We did not encounter too many Indian tourists, other than in Salzburg and Munich....so for the major part, we were exotic, brown Asians in the Alps and Bohemia :)
We ended the trip with a visit to and feasting on beer brewed at the Andechs beer brewing monastery in Germany...the beer was delicious, and had a non beer drinker like me gotten a chance to dabble with it's flavor for a little longer, we would have had a guaranteed beer drinking convert in me...good for my belly though that didn't happen:). More importantly though ,for some reason, I was under the illusion that alcohol and religion did not go together...so the idea of monks brewing beers was quite a revelation for me....'D' explained that Belgium, Germany and some other parts of Europe have had monks brew beer for the longest time ever...now,as to why monks brew beer...history says, in olden days there was no good mode of refrigeration and often safe food and beverages were difficult to find for everyone. As a result illness and malnutrition were rampant. Because of the brewing process and the alcohol content, the brewed beer was safer to drink than water and contained high carbohydrates and nutrients. It was nicknamed "liquid bread" by the monks. Monks also brew for barter and cash. The revenue funds the day to day expenses of running the monastery and also perhaps the local church and charities as well. Oh well, either way this was a revelation ,indeed ,for me to end the road trip with :)!!
I happened to come across this quote by Mark Twain a couple of days back and thought it would be apt to end this travelogue with a transcript of the quote:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
So as 'D', Raya and I get back to the grind and dream of our next stop and destination, we wish you luck and joy as you explore, dream and discover the world that lies beyond each one of your comfort zones...