Barvaria and Castles

Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles
Train Ride to Füssen

For the vast majority of people, a visit to the two castles of Ludwig II begins as a day trip from Munich. For the train tickets, we purchased a German Rail Pass prior to our trip, and this ticket was valid on the regional train that took us to Füssen. Another option, if you are not taking many day trips from Munich, is the Bayern Ticket, which must be purchased prior to getting on the train, but can be bought at the train station or online. There are hourly trains from Munich’s main train station to Füssen, from where you get a local bus (route 73 or 78) that takes you to the village of Hohenschwangau. You purchase your bus tickets when you get on, but make sure you get a round-trip ticket (in German, hin- und ruckfarht) This will save you money compared to buying 2 one-way tickets. The buses are timed to meet the incoming train from Munich. The day we went, 3 buses met the train.


Tickets for Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle are solely controlled by the Ticket Centre in Hohenschwangau. While day-of tickets are available for those without reservations, we would highly recommend reserving tours online before you go. The online ticketing system allows you to pick your date, language, and approximate time for the tour(s). To use this system, you must reserve your tour(s) no later than 2 days prior to visiting. After that, you must get day-of tickets. The ticket office will email you back within 24 hours with a confirmation number and the exact times of your tour(s). You must pick up your tickets at least 1 hour prior to your first tour; otherwise you will lose the reservation. The online system also requires a credit card to guarantee your reservations, but you pay for the tickets upon arrival at the ticket center. There is a discount if you get more than one tour on the same day. Check the ticket center’s website for pricing as it is will be increasing in 2017.

The day we went, people exited the bus and literally ran to the ticket center to get in the day-of ticket line. This stand-by queue gets very long, very quickly, and you can easily wait over an hour just to see if any tours are available that day in your language. The reservation line, on the other hand, had 3 people in it when we arrived. Within 5 minutes, we paid for the tickets and were on our way.


After getting our tickets for the two tours, we had time to kill before any of the village restaurants opened for lunch. So, we walked to the end of the road to Alpsee. This lake in Hohenschwangau is nestled among the mountains and provides for some amazing photographic opportunities. As it was a clear morning, we took full advantage of the sun to take some photos.

Hohenschwangau Castle

The original fortress named Schwanstein dates to 1397, but the name was changed during the 19th century. Maximillian II of Bavaria purchased Schloss Hohenschwangau, which literally translates to “Upper Swan County Palace”, in 1832 and began a 5-year renovation. Additional rooms were added until 1855. It was the childhood home of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Maximillian II’s son, who ascended to the throne after his father’s death in 1864. While Ludwig II’s mother, Marie, continued to live in Schloss Hohenschwangau, Ludwig II, who never married and disliked his mother greatly, began construction on Neuschwanstein Castle in 1869.

The wall paintings in Schloss Hohenschwangau detail the history of Schwangau (Swan District) and of the medieval German romantic stories of Parzival and Lohengrin, both of which served as inspirations for Richard Wagner’s operas Lohengrin (1848) and Parsifal (1882). Ludwig II sponsored both of Wagner’s operas. During the two World Wars, the castle did not receive any damage.

Our tour began at 1pm, which, after having lunch at a local restaurant, gave us plenty of time to hike up to the castle. As there is no other way to get to the castle, visitors must climb many sets of stairs and inclined paths to reach the castle’s courtyard. This is not an easy hike, to say the least; allot at least 20 minutes to get to the top, more if you need extra time. This is not an attraction for those with mobility challenges of any nature. Once you reach the courtyard, there is a small gift shop with various souvenirs and touristy trinkets.

Entrance to the castle itself is controlled by a pair of turnstiles. You must scan your ticket to gain access, and the turnstiles will not allow you to enter until your scheduled tour time. Once you pass through the turnstiles, there are 2 additional flights of stairs to climb before entering the actual castle. The tour, which lasts just under 30 minutes and is limited to around 20 people, is guided; self-guided tours of the castle are not permitted. Tours are available in 9 languages, with the majority in German and English. The tour guide takes you first into the main living rooms of the castle, then into the queen’s quarters. Then you climb another flight of stairs to get to the king’s quarters. After the tour, you descend several flights of stairs that the servants used and exit the castle back in the courtyard. Then comes the hike back down the path you climbed.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Commissioned by King Ludwig II in homage to Richard Wagner, construction on Schloss Neuschwanstein (New Swanstone Castle) began in 1869 on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau. Ludwig II planned the castle to be a personal refuge away from his mother, Marie, who continued to live in Hohenschwangau Castle. Architecturally, the castle is fashioned in the romantic style, a popular style in the late 1800s that involved making structures more picturesque.

In 1882, enough of the castle had been built so that Ludwig II could provisionally move in so that he could observe first-hand the construction process. Two years later, he moved into the Palas (hall), and two years after that, most of the exterior construction was complete. Dedicated to Richard Wagner, who died in 1883 without having entered the castle, Ludwig II himself only lived in the castle a total of 172 days. Six weeks after Ludwig II’s death, the local regent ordered the castle open to paying visitors. The steady flow of visitors helped to finance the castle’s construction costs. The castle survived both World Wars thanks in no small part due to its remote location. In 1945, the SS contemplated a plan to destroy the castle lest its artwork fall into Nazi enemy hands. The plan, thankfully, never came to fruition.

The journey up to the castle is not easy. Visitors either must hike uphill approximately 1 mile or pay 6 euros to go up via horse-drawn carriage. During busier months, a bus service is also available, but it was not running the day we visited. We opted for the carriage, which is well worth the money. Even after exiting the carriage, you still must hike up another quarter mile before you reach the castle’s entrance. Again, this is not an attraction for those with mobility challenges. If you are in a wheelchair and want to tour the castle, there is an elevator that allows you to partake in the tour once you actually reach the castle itself.

Parallel to the neighboring castle, the entrance into Neuschwanstein is controlled by time-sensitive turnstiles, only allowing visitors to enter at their appointed tour time. All tours are led by a tour guide, and visitors learn about the castle’s history via hand-held audio guides available in manifold languages. On very busy days, around 6,000 people visit the castle daily. While informative, the tour itself could benefit from less people per tour and better spacing. The day we went, tours began every 5 minutes.

Tips for Future Visitors

Since this was our first time to these castles, we have some tips to share that could help alleviate some of the uncertainty about this isolated village. First, make sure you have good walking shoes. This is not the time to break in your new pair of sneakers, nor the place to walk around in high heels. The terrain is too steep, and you’ll end up regretting it.

Second, reserve your tour times in advance on the ticket center’s website. Don’t wait and try for the day-of ticket line. You’ll waste time in a line that is easily avoidable. As mentioned earlier, you just have to guarantee the tickets with a credit card; you can pay however you want at the ticket center. You also must pick up your reserved tickets at least an hour prior to the first tour. The email you get confirming your tour times is very explicit about this. Don’t risk losing your place.

Third, to avoid the risk of not picking up your tickets in time, make sure you get an early train out of Munich. Remember that the trip to Füssen is 2 hours one way. At the time of writing, the first train out of Munich to Füssen leaves at 6:53am, putting you in Füssen at 8:55am. Then you have to get the bus to Hohenschwangau. So, unless you are overnighting in Füssen, don’t schedule your first tour before 11am to accommodate the one hour ticket pick up rule. Also, there is only 1 train per hour to Füssen, so plan accordingly.

Fourth, if you have the extra time and want to discover a small Bavarian town, consider staying in Füssen for a couple of nights. You are much closer to the castles (just a bus ride), and you get to explore the region, which is quite close to Austria. Also, an early tour of the castles would let you avoid the rush that begins around 10am.

Fifth, be ready to take some amazing photographs. Both castles and Alpsee afford fantastic views from which you can capture the surrounding countryside.

German Christmas Markets 2016

Christmas Markets in Germany – 2016

During the 4-5 weeks prior to Christmas, Christmas markets pop up in most German cities, both big and small. These markets are simultaneously individually unique and ubiquitously similar. Each market contains vendors whose goods can only be found at that particular market. Many of these goods are regional in nature, including local foodstuffs, toy makers, tree ornaments, and locally-made clothing. The individual nature of these markets, however, disappears after having visited more than a couple of them. In each market visitors can buy bratwursts, potato pancakes, gingerbread, mulled wine, and roasted nuts. But don’t let the markets’ similarities deter you from visiting them. Each market’s unique vendors emerge as the main attractions in each city.

During our recent 15-day trip to Germany and Austria, we visited the following markets: Frankfurt am Main, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nuremberg, Bayreuth, Munich, and Salzburg. While the larger cities had multiple markets spread out in various parts of the city (Cologne had 6 different markets), the smaller cities’ markets were concentrated in the city square and the surrounding streets. On the opening night of each market, the city usually puts on some sort of holiday show, whether it be musical, historical, or religious in nature.

The most important tip we can offer regarding these markets, aside from wearing very comfortable shoes, is to go during the day if you want to purchase things because the market will rapidly become crowded as the city’s inhabitants get off work and make their way to the market every night. We also noticed that nighttime prices for food items were higher than their daytime counterparts. Vendors frequently raise their prices for roasted nuts, bratwursts, and beverages after nightfall. Thus, going earlier not only allows you the opportunity to browse the stalls without a large, chaotic crowd, but can save you some money in the process.

Browse and subscribe Playlist at German Christmas Markets -2TravelGuys

Frankfurt Hotel Review

Frankfurt Hotel Review – Adina

This is a very new hotel, having been open only 5 weeks when we stayed there. That being said, there were a few things that still need work.

First, the positives. The newness of the hotel is always a welcome thing when staying in hotels whose beds, pillows, and towels have certainly seen better days. We had a 1 bedroom “condo”, which included a separate sitting area, kitchenette with dishwasher and washing machine/dryer,, bathroom, and bedroom. The mattress was firm, and the duvet covers (1 per person) kept us warm. The bedroom has a safe, iron, ironing board, and ample closet space. The bedroom and living areas have separate air thermostats, so you can keep it at two different temperatures if you like.

The staff was quite accommodating and all spoke German (of course) and English. A few also spoke Turkish, which is expected in Germany. We only had one issue with a front desk hostess which I’ll cover later. While the hotel does serve breakfast each morning, it was not included in our room rate, so we did not partake.

The television offers over 100 channels in manifold languages, which is nice since many travelers don’t speak the language of the country to which they travel. The English channels were all from the UK, except for CNN International.

The hotel’s location was outstanding. It is right next to a mall and two blocks from either a tram stop or an U-Bahn station. Both means of transport get you into the middle of town within 15 minutes. While the hotel is not in the middle of town, the lower price we got more than made up for the travel into town. It is also adjacent to the convention center in Frankfurt, which makes it an ideal place to stay if you’re in town for a convention.

Next, the negatives. Being a new hotel, there are always things that still need working out. While walking down the hall, we could still smell the odor of carpet glue. While unpleasant, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker. The thermostats were somewhat confusing to operate until we figured out how to set the requisite temperature. Also, even though the room has a washing machine/dryer combo in the kitchenette area, the hotel charges for detergent tabs (1,50). This is strange since the room comes with two dishwasher tabs. In addition, since the washing machine is quite energy efficient, it takes almost 2 hours to do a load of laundry, even longer if you need to dry the clothes. So plan accordingly.

One day we noticed that housekeeping had put the dirty dished in the dishwasher and sink back into the cupboard without washing them. I’m not sure why the housekeeper would do this when they were clearly dirty from coffee and cake. Also, one day we came back to the room at 4:30pm and the room had yet to be serviced for the day. I went down to the front desk and informed the hostess about this. She offered neither an apology nor an explanation, but did offer to call housekeeping to let them know to clean our room. This could have happened for many reasons (low staffing, large number of check outs, etc.), but was frustrating after having been out all day. We went to dinner, and the room had been serviced by the time we returned 90 minutes later.

Would I recommend this hotel? Absolutely. It has the potential to offer guests a wonderful stay in Frankfurt, and if I were to return, I would certainly book here again. For what you get, the rate is quite reasonable, despite the smell of wurst coming from the breakfast bar as you walk out the front door.

Public Transportation in the Netherlands

Public Transportation in the Netherlands

In addition to the trains, many people use trams and buses to get around the Netherlands. Trams can be found in the main cities, and buses travel all over the country. This post covers the public transportation options in the cities we have visited over the past 2 years.

In Amsterdam, a company called GVB is responsible for tram, metro, and bus tickets. There are four ticket offices located at main stations in Amsterdam—Amsterdam Centraal, Bijlmer ArenA, Lelylaan, and Zuid—where you can purchase tickets and get route maps and timetables. Be advised that GVB’s website states there is a 0,50 charge for counter transactions. You can also purchase tickets at many shops throughout the city; check the GVB website for a full listing. In addition, some, but not all, tickets can be bought on the tram or bus itself. Another option for travel in and around Amsterdam on GVB-operated transport is the I Amsterdam city card, which allows unlimited travel for 24, 48, or 72 hours.

Tickets for public transportation in Amsterdam come in a variety of forms to meet the needs of residents and tourists alike. You can get a ticket that is valid for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 consecutive days. GVB ticket offices and service centers sell all variations, including children’s day tickets. The GVB webshop and automatic ticket machines sell 1, 2, 3, or 4 day tickets. If you wait to purchase your tickets on the tram, tram personnel only sell 1 or 2 day tickets and children’s day tickets. If you happen to have an OV-chip card (discussed here), these are also valid on Amsterdam’s trams, buses, and metros. As for the ferries that leave from behind Amsterdam Centraal, these are free to all.

In Rotterdam, the trams, buses, and metros are run by a company called RET (Rotterdamse Elektrische Tram). RET sells 1, 2, or 3 day travel cards, valid for all three methods of transport. These are only available at metro stations, RET sales points, and information desks. Rotterdam also has its own Rotterdam Welcome Card which gives you unlimited public transportation for 1, 2, or 3 days, as well as savings on local attractions, museums, restaurants, and clubs. If you wait to buy your ticket on the tram or bus, you can only purchase a 1-hour ticket from the driver.

In Den Haag, HTM runs the public transportation for the city and the surrounding suburbs, including Delft. Like in other cities, if you have an OV-chip card, this is the easiest way to travel in Den Haag. HTM also sells 1-hour and 1 day passes for adults and children.

There are, of course, single tickets available from all of these companies. If you are renting a car or a bicycle, these may be the best option for you if you aren’t using public transport often. All day tickets in the Netherlands end at the end of the day, usually around 12:30am, and are not valid for any nighttime bus service.

If you don’t want to take the train between the main cities or if you want to travel to a city not serviced by trams, metros, or city buses, there are other bus companies that will get you where you’re going. Arriva, Connexxion, and Veolia Transport are other bus companies that service small towns and offer city to city transport.

Trains in the Netherlands

Trains in the Netherlands –

Nederlandse Spoorwegan

The principal Dutch train company is called Nederlandse Spoorwegen [Dutch Railway Company], or NS for short. For those who don’t read Dutch, most of the website is also available in English. The sections that are only in Dutch mainly apply to residents of the Netherlands and the various discounts they can purchase. These discounts are not available to tourists since they don’t have a Dutch bank account. The NS runs frequent trains between the main cities, usually every 10-15 minutes on the main routes, and a train every 30 minutes on local routes. There are two types of trains—intercity and sprinter—and contrary to its name, the sprinter is the slower of the two. Intercity trains, which are duplex trains (an upstairs and a downstairs), stop at the main rail stations, and sprinters, which are only one level, stop at all stations. On some routes it is actually quicker to connect via 2 intercity trains than to take 1 sprinter train.


In addition to the two types of trains mentioned above, there is also a special route called the Intercity Direct. This train travels from Amsterdam Centraal, via Schiphol Airport and Rotterdam, to Breda, and vice versa. There are two trains per hour in each direction, with extra trains during rush hours Monday thru Friday. This route can be classified as an express route between these stations, cutting travel time by around 30 minutes. However, if you take this route between Schiphol Airport and Rotterdam, in either direction, you have to pay a supplement (toeslag) of €2,40 for the convenience. You can take this train between Amsterdam Centraal and Schiphol Airport or between Rotterdam and Breda without paying the supplement; the cost is just the same as other trains. This supplement can be pre-purchased at automatic ticket machines or at cash desks. If you have either version of the OV-chip card (see below), just touch your card to the supplement post on the platform to pay.


Tourists can opt for one of two options when traveling by train in the Netherlands. This first option is to purchase an OV-chipkaart [OV-chip card], which is a plastic card with an electronic chip embedded inside it. These cards come in two variations—personal and anonymous—and cost €7,50. Both of these cards are valid for 5 years, after which you will have to buy a replacement card (also valid for 5 years). To purchase these types of cards, you have to go to one of the cash desks at any major station. The second option is to buy a single-use OV-chip card, which is a paper ticket with an electronic chip embedded inside it. The single-use cards have a €1 supplement in addition to the price of the trip, which can be a disadvantage to using this option. These tickets can be purchased from automated ticket machines or from cash desks. Be advised that if you use an automated ticket machine, you must have a credit card with a chip in it. Most American credit and debit cards now have these chips. Also, the automated machines do not accept American Express, which can run up your foreign transaction fees if your Visa or MasterCard charges these types of fees.


If you are planning on taking more than 7 train trips, it would be more economical to purchase an OV-chip card since you won’t have to pay the €1 supplement on each ticket, which quickly adds up. If you plan to vacation in the Netherlands at least twice within a 5 year period, it is well worth the investment to buy the OV-chip card in the long run because any value left on the ticket is valid when you return.


NS offers its customers a fantastic journey planner via its website or its free mobile app. This planner, available in Dutch and English, allows users to input their starting point and destination and when they want to travel. It will provide multiple train options, and connections if necessary, as well as from which track (spoor) the train leaves and the trip’s price. As with any mode of transportation, reconfirm all information at the station once you arrive.


There is also another travel planning service in the Netherlands called 9292. Available online and as a mobile app, this site includes not only the trains, but other modes of transport, including tram, metro, bus, and ship. Like the NS service, 9292 will show the journey’s price and train track, if applicable. If your journey is not solely on the train, I recommend this service as a one-stop site for your complete trip.