"finally some time to work on Germany" richiecdisc's Profile
Ulm sits prettily on the Baden-Württemberg side of the Donau but don't let this proximity to Bavaria fool you, it is decidedly Schwäbisch, from its cuisine to the Protestant orientation of its most famed sight, the imposing Ulmer Münster. The latter is a church that happens to be the tallest one in the world and the reason most people venture to Ulm. The former is why I went. Well, perhaps not so much for the food but for the beer at the two finest breweries in the city. But when there is beer there should be food and thankfully, in Germany that is nearly always the case. By all accounts mentioned, Ulm is a worthwhile place to visit. It's not likely you'll miss the Ulmer Münster. It is after all more than 160m tall. But do yourself a favor and check out at least one of the breweries. You'll not only get a taste of the non-tourist Ulm but a tasty meal and beer as well.
Mittenwald is a marvelous mountain town two hours south of Munich by train, nestled in the German Alps on the Austrian border. A touristy town for sure, it remains a charmer with quaint old buildings, friendly locals, and lots of amenities to make your stay pleasant. At just under 1000m with jagged peaks surrounding it like fortress walls, its setting is stunning and its obvious calling card. While the German Alps get half the press of neighboring Switzerland and Austria, they are in some ways even more spectacular as they rise from a lower plateau than their cousins, in dramatic fashion. Perhaps their biggest drawback is their accessibility making for a of lack of the solitude you might be seeking but that can be a plus too as they are an easy day trip from big city comforts. But why rush when rooms are reasonable and peaks aplenty hem you in at every turn.
Though there is not all that much to see in Radeberg, it does offer a glimpse into how fairly prosperous towns were ravaged by the Communist takeover following WWII. It does also offer a chance to tour one of the country's most successful breweries and one that managed to survive the Iron Curtain. Lastly, it offers one of the few opportunities to sample Radeberger's illusive Zwickelbier. This is one of those times when the most pleasant reason is also the best.
Hof is a nice enough town in the far north of Bavaria. It is a transit hub of sorts if traveling between Munich and Berlin and while it might not warrant a stop in and of itself, if you are hungry and like trying different beers, it can prove a good option for lunch. Meinel's is Hof's signature brewery and their restaurant tap offers great value meals and a cosy place to spend an hour or so until the next train rolls through town.
We had passed through Hof many times as we travel between our home in Munich and my wife's family's home near Dresden often. We finally stopped in at Meinel's and very glad we did.
The images of Germany the average tourist conjures is full of fairy-tale castles, verdant valleys, and pretzels and beers big enough to hoist but never quite finish off. Truth be known, 90% of all tourism surely centers around the south of the country where the “lucky” got partitioned off from the not so when after WWII the US grabbed the “Disney Castle” and Hofbrauhaus as their own. A few gazillion postcards later and it's no wonder everyone thinks the home to Goethe is full of men running around in lederhosen.
Those behind the Iron Curtain experienced a different fate and while it may not sound so promising to those from the western side of the fence, I've yet to meet anyone from the former GDR that while fully cognizant of their lack of variety and full freedom, doesn't smile and remember fondly the simpler time from which they sprang when The Wall came tumbling down. That said, there were repercussions. While they may not have been deluged by Coca Cola and McDonald's, they were stifled in two important ways. True that religious freedom was never a cornerstone in European thinking, it now became a thing of disdain to have a religion of any kind aside from allegiance to The Party. This could certainly been seen as an interesting experiment as to how man fared without his security blanket of Heaven and Hell but it also had the disastrous effect of many beautiful old religious buildings falling into disrepair and often being subject to pilferage. No matter your stand on religious thought, the monuments to such ideas are historically important and certainly things of beauty if even in a curious manner. Another important development was the suffocation of private business in an attempt to promote communism. While this may also have had an admirable motive the effect overall was a loss of variety and as time would prove, quality. One such area was in the world of brewing beer. If you've ever wondered why there are so many more breweries in Bavaria than say Saxony, look no further than The Party's attempt to thwart capitalism. Now, capitalism is not the apple of everyone's eye either. Look no further than Beck's to see how success in that sphere can lead to less variety and quality too. Still, there is no denying that in places where private business remained the norm mixed in with adherence to tradition and regional differences, brewing thrived.
Kloster St. Marienstern is an interesting example of this historical development. This was a monastery much like its Bavarian counterparts to the south. In the middle of the 1200s, a beautiful setting with a great water supply led to the gathering of monks and hence a place for them to live and practice their religion. That they would brew beer was not surprising, it was after all one of the things monks did in those days. Seven hundred years later, they were shut down though it's unlikely anyone would have called them particularly capitalistic, at least not by modern standards! The monastery fell into disrepair and of course the beers were long forgotten. With the fall of The Wall, it has been in a state of restoration and while perhaps not in as glorious shape as say Kloster Andechs in Bavaria, it has a more refined and quiet charm to it. Unfortunately, brewing has not resumed. Chances are the equipment is no longer in place and in an area of few tourists, it probably doesn't make much sense to invest in such things. A regional brewer is now making beers under the monastery's name and they are served at the restaurant which is one of the restored monastery's highlights. While it is true that the beers do not match the monk's to the south, it is a valiant effort to bring them and the monastery back to at least some of its glory. A stop here is well worth your effort and acts as a reminder that man is a creature best left unrestrained by large entities when it comes to creating things of beauty, be they buildings or beer.
Bavaria and beer are synonymous in the minds of many and though there is a great more than this to what is one of Europe's most charming areas, there is no denying the central part that this nectar of hops and malt plays in not only the history of the region but also in marketing its present. In a land full of castles and rolling verdant hills, Bavaria also has strong religious ties and monasteries dot the landscape. As chance would have it, the brothers of various orders were no less enamored with beer than their secular counterparts and often were amongst the most prolific and skilled brewers. This practice bodes well both for locals who cherish their traditions and tourists combining sightseeing with forays into regional food and drink. Traveling from one village to the next through pastoral paradise and breaking the journey in a rustic eatery of yore is all the better when you can eat local dishes and wash your meal down with a beer found nowhere else but exactly where you are sitting.
One such place is Kloster Kreuzberg . Set in the scenic Rhön Valley amongst the rolling green hills one envisions when picturing Germany, it is a throwback to another time when monks contemplation of things on and above earth included the simple beverage made of water, hops, malt and yeast. Four simple ingredients that produced beer. If that wasn't divine intervention, I'm not sure what is. Ben Franklin once said, beer is proof that God loves us. I couldn't agree more and once you sit in Kloster Kreuzberg's biergarten on a sunny day, sipping the fruits of the monks' labor, you will probably agree too.
It wasn't all that long ago that a mere mention of going to Colombia would raise more than an eyebrow. It's reputation as the kidnapping capital of the world and the home to numerous drug cartels all but made travel there forbidden, that lack of sanction reserved for dictator-run countries like Cuba. That said, even the most flag-waving US citizen would have rather taken their chances with old Fidel Castro over Pablo Escobar. To that end, Colombia remained more of a mystery and it has only been recently that glimpses into what the country is really like have really seeped out. A steady trickle of visitors have been making their way around the country since it “became safe” with not only a near unanimous proclamation that the country was full of wonderful sights but that Colombians were quite possibly the most friendly people in all of South America. However, with no marquee attraction like Machu Picchu to lure the masses, it has still remained very much under the mass tourism radar despite these praises. Even the seductive prose of Gabriel García Márquez was not powerful enough to draw them to anywhere besides Cartagena, where his most famed narrative oozes from. Of course, that is sometimes all it takes for once a few mainstream people return from the likes of Cartagena, it does not take long for their envious friends to set sail in that very direction too.
And just exactly what does Colombia have to offer those willing to take a chance on stepping outside of the confines of a novel set in the time of cholera? All too much. As it turns out, Cartagena is only one of many fine colonial gems scattered over the country's hilly topography. Those hills often turn into stunning jagged peaks, some sheathed in glaciers, many interspersed with jewel-like lakes of assorted colors. Not the alpine type? Head to the lush rolling hills of the coffee growing landscapes that are Colombia's heart. While there is no Machu Picchu, there is a Lost City that may lack the splendor of Peru's ruins but also attracts a trickle of visitors in comparison. There are beaches to rival any in terms of breathtaking vistas with a mere fraction of the sunbathers lounging on more famed ones. It may not be quite as cheap as some of South America's other noted destinations but overall its accommodation, food and transit network are a notch above the majority of them too. Add to all this the very friendly people who call Colombia home and you'll find yourself wondering how it remained “undiscovered” for so long. Of course, it wasn't an undetected so much as a forbidden fruit. Now, that it is on the menu, it will not take long for people to take a bite and after getting a taste of Colombia, they will likely come back for more. Colombia may have taken some time to garner this attention but it is much deserved and it is now perched to join the ranks of South America's top destinations. For those who have been, many will say supersede them.
Pasto may not be on the average tourist to Colombia's top agenda list but it is not without considerable charm despite a less than perfect climate and it being somewhat isolated from the rest of the country. It does however have a great position to “catch” those traveling from Ecuador to Colombia or vice-versa. It appears much of its poor reputation stems from those forced to spend a night en route to somewhere else, no doubt on a tight time schedule. If given even a cursory investigation, the town reveals itself to have quite a few stunning churches, great day trips into the stunning nature that surrounds it, and some pretty fine eating too. Let's not forget its gorgeous setting if you are lucky enough to see the sun while there. It may not be the most Colombian of towns and it definitely has some Ecuadorian overtones if the latter is not on your itinerary. Perhaps it's not worth going out of your way for but it is by the same token not something to dread if you are heading this way. Pasto will surprise you if you let it and if you find yourself there why not do exactly that?
At twenty kilometers long and five kilometers wide, Laguna de la Cocha is not only a huge but also a stunning lake. The name cocha means lagoon in the native Quechua language. With a backdrop of rolling verdant hills, this mist-enshrouded gem features an idyllic island perfect for boat excursions. That this very island is home to an evergreen cloud forest that warrants its being a national park only adds luster to an already irresistible package. The thoroughly atmospheric affair is perhaps the top attraction of nearby Pasto even though it's a good 45 minutes away by taxi, the only way to get there by “public” transportation.
If you are in the need of a miracle, look no further. Spanning one gorgeous gorge sits the neo-Gothic Santurio de Las Lajas is an other-worldly sight especially at night. Though the original church in this spectacular location was built in 1803, this lovely incarnation dates back to the early mid-1900s and took nearly 20 years to complete. Certainly, its stunning location had something to do with the lengthy construction time but make no bones about it, this is one church where setting and architecture vie for top honors in just why you came. To be honest, this is the reason why we came to the far south of Colombia in the first place and though we found a few gems along the way, we were not disappointed with Las Lajas though the “town” that is its gateway leaves a lot to be desired.
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