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Southwest Germany, May 2010

Monday, June 7th, 2010


June 7, 2010 – Every year I try to get together with my mom for a week somewhere. This year we met up in Lindau, in Southern Germany, and explored a few places in the region. It was a quick trip, the week was cut short by the day and a half I was stuck transiting through Paris (damn volcanic cloud). So it ended up being a bit of a rushed trip and we didn’t quite explore as much as we would have wanted. Anyway, here is a quick summary of places covered over 5 days:


Lindau – a pretty little town surrounded by some beautiful geography. The mountains seem to change constantly depending on the light and clouds, the lake is beautiful. The town has some pretty old buildings and is an interesting place to walk around. Attracts many elderly tourists, it’s a relaxing kind of place. Lindau was my favorite place on this holiday.



Sigmaringen – well, not much to this town (situated on the Danube) other than the castle. Suprisingly devoid of any traces of history as most of the buildings in this town look like they were build in the 1970s or 80s. Visited the castle, took a walk along the river. Saw some interesting looking birds. A few hours of sun, then the shitty weather started and basically didn’t let up the rest of the week.


Freiburg – a university city in the Black forest which is quite popular with tourists. Surrounded by hills. It also has a small river cutting through the city, so there are some nice green spaces. They’ve done a good job preserving the façade of historical buildings around a modern core (isn’t it great when you see a historical building, then, upon closer inspection, realize that it’s a McDonalds?). The Münster (church) is the highlight of the city and I climbed to the top. The views are supposed to be fabulous but they weren’t anything special on this day because of the crappy weather. Wet, cold, and just plain shitty.
Anyway, my mom and I agreed that it would probably be a nice city to live in. I wouldn’t exactly say that I was blown away as a visitor though…



Breisach – a small town on the Rhine, France just across the river. A cute little town with some nice old buildings. The highlight was the münster (no pic below, was covered in scafolding..), which is up on a hill overlooking the town. Breisach is quite nice and, although not swamped by tourists it has a good tourist infrastructure. A good place to rent a bike and do some cycling. Not such a great place that I would want to come back, but a nice town not worth avoiding (how’s that for an off-handed compliment?)


Neuf-Brisach (4 km across the river from Breisach in France). This place is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Aerial photos of Neuf-Brisach, with its octagonal fortifications surrounding the town, are very impressive.
We took the bus to Neuf-Brisach. After a nice ride in green countryside, the bus went through a brick gate (impressive we thought), into a town unlike any other. Deserted streets barren of people, no storefronts, no trees, a concrete landscape of non-descript 1 and 2 storey houses. Every street looked the same, until we reached a square in the middle of the town where we were dropped off. We were right in front of the tourist office – it was Saturday and it was closed. The square was called Place D’Armes; a large square with a fountain in the middle. Unfortunately the square was a cement parking lot and the fountain wasn’t functioning.
We walked down deserted streets half expecting to be attacked by a pack of stray dogs. Neuf-Brisach is an ugly and utterly depressing town devoid of life.
Things only changed when we got out of the town gates and walked along the outside walls of the town. The fortifications are amazingly – we circled the town, seeing nothing but these huge brick walls (below).


We got back to town, making sure to get back in time for the bus to get us out of Neuf-Brisach. The place has so much potential, the fortifications are really impressive – but honestly, the town really is a bloody armpit. I remarked to my mom that the French should just swallow their pride and hand it over to the Germans (who do a much better job of preserving their historical monuments).


That was our trip. Although we didn’t love everywhere we went, we always like discovering new places even if it sometimes means disappointment. We had lots of good food, beer, and wine, plus more importantly, we got to spend some time together which is rare these days.

Europe trip summary (2009)

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009


July 7 – I’m finally getting around to a summary of our May trip to Europe.



Everyone asks what our favorite places were on this trip and I always have a tough time with that one because it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Lauterbrunnen and the Berner Oberland (in the Swiss Alps) were the geographical highlight, Venice was incredible culturally and architecturally and we really enjoyed the way the Italians love their food and wine (we want to come back to Italy). Bacharach is a fairy tale German town with great white wines, it was almost perfection for us.

I would go back to any of the places above. I would also go back to Regensburg (where I met up with my mom). The biggest itinerary regret that I have is that we didn’t build in a couple of days in the Berchtesgaden / Lake Kognissee area, would have loved to do some hiking there. Also wish we had spent another day in Reutte exploring the castles and hiking.


Biggest disappointments: Lucerne without a doubt. The town of Fussen was nice but the castles in nearby Hohenschwangau were overrated tourist traps.


General impressions

Lissette (who had never been to Europe prior to this) commented sometime during our travels that “Europeans have a really good quality of life”, refering to the ease of travel (trains were fabulous – more on that later), overall cleanliness and organization, the natural environment, and standards (and even pricing) of food. I’ve been to Europe many times but the last time was almost 20 years ago. I don’t know if North America has slipped or if Europe (Western Europe to be precise) has progressed at a faster rate during that time, but I had the same impression – the overall standard of living in Europe has surpassed North American standards. It just seems richer.

People: Europeans have a reputation as brusque and even unfriendly. We visited 4 countries and while we noticed general differences, we never encountered “unfriendliness”. The Italians are the easiest to like; outgoing and relaxed. I found that initial contact with Germans felt like an awkward first date at times; they don’t always smile initially or make eye contact and they can be a little short. But after the initial contact we found they warmed up and were very friendly and helpful. We got to really like the Germans. I can’t really comment on the Austrians because we didn’t spend much time there (although they go to great lengths to distinguish themselfs as Austrians and not Germans). The Swiss? Hmm… they make great chocolate and must work really hard because Swiss towns/cities die after 6pm…

Below: Public toilets can be found in most places – unlike North American public toilets they’re really clean.

Train travel

In Montreal they’ve been talking about building a train line from downtown to the airport for the last 30 years (it’s 20 km from downtown to the airport). All levels of government point fingers at each other and in the end nothing ever gets done. I’m sure we won’t have any public transport out to the airport even 10 years from now…

In my first posting for this trip I wrote about planning train travel in Europe and the pros and cons of rail passes (I initially had my doubts that they were worth the hassle). My experience is that they are totally worth it; passes do save you money, plus you get to sit in 1st class.

For all that I had heard about train travel in Europe, I was still surprised by how comfortable and hassle free it was. Sitting there, in comfortable seats, watching the world going by was a pleasure in itself. Trains had restaurant carriages, clean toilets (I keep talking about clean toilets but you just don’t get very many clean toilets when traveling). First class seats even had electrical outlets so I could plug in my computer. Trains were on time, tracks were well identified at train stations, help was always there if required. We were just blown away by the ease and comfort of it all. I would never travel Europe by any other means.



I researched hotels using a mix of Lonely Planet, Rick Steve’s “Best of europe 2009” Guide, and I pre-booked all hotels which I believe was the smartest thing to do on the whirlwind kind of trip we had. All the hotels were aesthetically fine, but we were in some cases disappointed with outside noises; the most common problem we encountered was that hotels didn’t have AC (even expensive hotels) – so we’d open the windows wide and would at some point wake up to drunks yelling loudly / dropping beer bottles or cigarette smoke wafting in…We found our hotels in Heidelberg, Munich and Venice particularly loud. Next time I would bring industrial-strength earplugs. Apart from that (oh, and I shouldn’t forget the bitchy Hotel des Alpes in Lucerne) we were pretty happy with the hotels on this trip.

Planning resources

I’ve mentioned for hotels. Lonely Planet is good for logistical information but weak in recommendations (everything is “quaint” or “lovely” or “ideally nestled between majestic peaks” – you can read the whole guide and still not figure out where to go). I never bought a Rick Steve’s guide but gave it a shot and really like the detailed advice. He’s got some really good opinions and recommendations, not just on where to go but restaurants /hotels to stay at for unique experiences. I wish he would tone it down with all the self promotion though, you can’t go anywhere in Europe without seeing Rick Steve guides / videos, or “recommended by Rick Steve’s” posters or seeing the dedication to Rick Steve’s in the museum in Reutte (and is it just me or do you get sick of seeing pictures of him wearing those nerdy polo shirts? and the goofy haircut?). Nevertheless, I think his guides are a very good resource in planning any trip to europe.


We wouldn’t change much about the trip we had (the weather could have been a bit better in the first 2 weeks though..). The great thing about Europe is the great cultural and geographic diversity within a relatively small region (relatively as compared to North America). We met some nice people, saw beautiful places, and enjoyed lots of great wine and food.

Next: Some hikes in Quebec. Still looking for some recommendations!

Heidelberg, Germany

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
hi2.jpg Heidelberg was our last stop on our European trip. It’s a pretty city that actually reminded us of Salzburg - about the same size and population, a large castle with great views overlooking a ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bacharach and the Rhine, Germany

Saturday, June 6th, 2009
bac1.jpg Bacharach is a small town situated on one of the most scenic stretches of the Rhine river. It is about an hour and a half from Frankfurt, or about 15 minutes away from Bingen (the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Berchtesgaden and Lake Kognissee, Germany

Sunday, May 24th, 2009
kog4.jpg May 24, 2009 - Berchtesgaden is a small town situated in the Alps about an hour from Salzburg (it's actually across the border in Germany). It's a beautiful little village known for the Eagle's Nest, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Fussen, Germany

Sunday, May 17th, 2009
fus1.jpg May 17 - A miserable cold and rainy day. Fussen is a cute little town 2 hours by train from Munich, full of coffee shops, restaurants, and tourist shops. It's a bit touristy but still ... [Continue reading this entry]

Munich, Germany

Friday, May 15th, 2009
mun6.jpg May 15 - Munich has changed since I was here 16 years ago. I was surprised first of all by the various nationalities strolling around the Marienplatz, especially the muslim women covered head-to-foot in black ... [Continue reading this entry]

Regensburg, Germany

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
reg9.jpg May 12, 2009 - Regensgurg is one of the oldest towns in Germany and was once the capital of Bavaria. I really enjoyed it here. First of all, the Cathedral is stupendous. The French inspired ... [Continue reading this entry]