Wednesday, September 9, 2015

From Hitler to Mozart (Exploring Germany and Austria)

"These were the best times of my life. My great plans were forged here." Adolf Hitler.

Billy loves history, so for his 40th birthday this past weekend, we returned to Berchtesgaden, Germany, and were able to locate the remains of Hitler's primary residence, "The Berghof".  Hitler's retreat in the mountains of Bavaria was one of the most important centers of government in the Third Reich. Hitler spent more time in the Berghof than in his Berlin office. It was in this oversized chalet that Hitler planned the invasions of Poland, France and Russia and the events that would change the lives of millions.

Hitler's Berghof, 1936

Hitler's Berghof, Today

All that stands today is the foundation of one of the walls as well as the skeletal remains of the grand staircase leading up into the home. The residence was destroyed after WWII, and Mother Nature has reclaimed the spot. A narrow path into the woods leads up to the home; not even a sign marks it. The German government did this on purpose, not wanting to draw attention to such an ugly part of history.

It was very odd and eery to be standing in the exact spot, the exact center, of where all of these events began. The morning we were there it was very cold, raining, and the area was surrounded by mist and fog. The elements fit the place.

Hotel zum Turken (left) and The Berghof

Hotel zum Turken, today

Literally just feet from the Berghof, stands Hotel zum Turken. This is the Obersalzburg's oldest building. It dates back to 1630, hosting a number of important guests. In 1933, the Nazis seized the hotel. Not only was the hotel next-door to Hitler's personal residence, it was also used as the headquarters for his guards. After the war, the hotel's original owners finally were able to regain the property back, where to this day, it continues to function as a hotel.

We stayed at zum Turken one night and were able to tour a huge underground bunker system connecting the hotel to Hitler's home. The decor looks like its from the 60s, and there are no amenities such as TVs or hair-dryers in the rooms. I'll admit it; I'm not a fan of that, but being here truly was mind-blowing. Incredible history! The woman who runs it today is the great-granddaughter of the man who operated the hotel when the Nazis stole it from him.

 (Clockwise: stairs take you 105 feet underground to the bunker, bullet holes still remain today, a Nazi sign points to the tunnel leading to Hitler's home. That tunnel is now bricked up.)

For our second day, we traveled less than 45 minutes up the road to Salzburg, Austria.  It is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps. Tourists come here to visit the city's historic center, many palaces, and the scenic Alpine surroundings. However, its real claim to fame is being the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The city was also the setting for the musical play and film, "The Sound of Music".

We got to visit Mozart's childhood home, "The Hagenauer House" at #9 Getreidegasse. Although pictures weren't allowed inside, we were able to see some of his musical instruments and the actual room where he was born. He was a child genius who had already learned both the piano and violin at the age of 5 and soon began touring. Just amazing!

Looming over Salzburg from the Alps, is The Hohensalzburg Fortress. Built in 1077, it is the largest, fully-preserved fortress in central Europe. The more than 900-year-old citadel boasts beautiful views and old armor. We didn't spend too much time here just because we were c-c-cold! (Well, at least I was.) Believer it or not, it had already started snowing in this area, Labor Day Weekend, when most of our friends and family are still frolicking at the beach and lake! Who knew when I packed my bags to come to Italy for the summer I would need winter maternity clothes?

Next weekend we plan to explore a few more parts of Germany, and I can't wait to tell you all about it! Until then, Ciao or maybe I should say Tschuss! (German for bye)

However, it is most famous for being the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The city was also the setting for the musical play and film, "The Sound of Music".

Friday, August 28, 2015

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? (Our trip to Verona)

Last weekend we visited Verona, a city made famous in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". While much of the city is devoted to milking this famous work, the city itself has 2,000 years of history, enough to make it shine in its own right.

Our trip began with something I've always dreamed of doing, attending an opera! We saw "Romeo and Juliet" at the world-famous Roman Arena. It is the third-largest amphitheater in Italy and dates back to the first century A.D. While once home to bloody gladiator fights, it now houses the popular outdoor summer opera festival. Attending was magical. Your literally watching the opera sitting under the summer night stars. And the singers' voices were amazing! They have no mics, yet you could hear them throughout the entire stadium.

On a funny sidenote, Billy learned the hard way to pay attention to dress codes. Because our seats were in the stall, formal wear was suggested. Billy wore shorts, and we were turned away at the gate. He ended up having to buy a pair of Italian pants at the last-minute to get in. For those of you who don't know, Italians typically like very, um, snug pants. He was a trooper and hung in there the entire four-hour show in pants so tight he could hardly breathe.

I can't really say anything, though. I ended up wearing flip-flops! Yikes! When I went to put on my heels for the opera, which was the first time I've needed them in two months, I discovered something many pregnant women eventually realize; their feet have grown. There was no way my swollen feet were fitting into those cute high-heels. The flip-flops sufficed, and I just tried to hide my feet the best I could. :)

The next day we toured the actual city of Verona, which we feel is pretty under-rated. It's a great Italian city full of beautiful places and a lot less crowds. Of course, we had to check-out the "House of Juliet". This famous courtyard and balcony attract thousands of tourists looking for love. Some believe Shakespeare's love story was actually based on real-life characters, and this was the real Juliet's home; others, not so much. Regardless, it was fun to see. We even got to see a real-life proposal happen!

Some other famous sites we saw included the Porta Bosari, the original main entrance to the city. We also spotted the statue of Dante Alighiere, a famous poet who once resided in the city as well as the tombs of the Scaligeri Family, once powerful rulers of Verona.

The next day we took a side-trip to an area not really mentioned a lot, Cagno. Talk about a gorgeous area! It's full of apple vineyards, pastures, mountains, and lakes. For example, this was the view from our hotel room!

While in the area, we visited a monastery as well as a very authentic castle, complete with its original furniture. Good stuff!

The most unexpected part of the trip, though, was ordering a salad, and getting served, yes, dandelions. And no, I did not eat them.

This weekend we're off to another adventure, and I'll be sure to tell you all about it next week. Until then, Ciao!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pink soup and George Clooney??? (Our trip to the World Fair and Lake Como)

Since I'm catching up on lost time, here's another post for your viewing pleasure.

Two weeks ago we had a nice, three-day weekend, (thanks to an Italian holiday) and we took full advantage!

 For the first-half, we visited "The Lakes", Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. This is a popular vacation spot for Italians where people come to just relax. The area is beautiful, surrounded by the Alps. Beautiful, aristocratic villas and resort villages line the shores.

And yes, this is where George Clooney spends much of his time. While we didn't see Clooney, who needs him when ya got the handsome Billy Evans?

Sadly, it rained most of the time we were here, but we did manage to squeeze in a visit to Villa del Balbianello. This dreamy 18th century villa was last owned by explorer Guido Monzino. The home is full of his collections, including his memorabilia from his North Pole and Mount Everest adventures. This is also where movies such as "Casino Royale" and "Star Wars: Episode II" were filmed.

After A LOT of R&R, (thanks to the rain), we ventured off to Milan to attend "2015 Expo Milano".  The World Fair is only held once every five years, and this year it just happens to be in Milan, so we got lucky! More than 140 countries are participating, contributing to the theme, "Feeding the Planet; Energy for Life". Yes, we're talking food!

All in all, and just to keep it real, we were pretty disappointed. The fair was jam-packed with the most popular exhibits having hour-long lines. We managed to see a few, and what we did see, was nothing more than a glorified adult science fair full of advertising. Most exhibits consisted primarily of flat-screen TVs projecting images of food, no real samples to try.

With that being said, we did see a few cool things. For starters, we ate lunch in the Polish exhibit (mainly because it didn't have a line). I about gagged when I realized I had ordered cold, Pepto-Bismol-colored soup. But guess what? It ended up being scrumptious! Apparently, its called Chlodnik and is made-up of beets, giving it that color.

We also saw a beautiful village, made entirely out of chocolate, and Billy finally met his match at the nutella concept store.

And of course, we had to visit the good ol' USA exhibit. Do you know how long its been since I had a BBQ sandwich??  This one, however, ended up costing us $11, and really didn't taste much like the southern BBQ I'm used to.

After a lot of eating, we finally were ready to head home, maybe with no star-sightings to brag about but with plenty of food to tickle us "pink".

Until next time, Ciao!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beautiful Bavaria

Ciao! Sorry for the long-delay in posts, but after we moved into our new apartment, we didn't have Internet service. Many Italians take the entire month of August off, making it difficult to get repairs done. The great news is we now have WiFi, and I'm back in business!  (Or maybe that's bad news for those of you reading this...haha.)

Back to our travels... Several weeks ago we ventured much farther down the road to Bavaria, Germany. Talk about incredible beauty! This area is surrounded by the most beautiful mountains, lush pastures, and castles galore! This was the view from our hotel room!

We first visited two famous castles in southwest Bavaria, near the town of Fussen. First, we saw the Hohenschwangau Castle, built on the remains of a fortress dating back to the 12th Century. This is the castle where Ludwig (later King Ludwig II of Bavaria) grew up. While we weren't allowed to take pictures inside, we got some great shots from outside.

Built within sight of Hohenschwangau, The Neuschwanstein Castle, which means "New Swanstone Castle", is the real-life model for the Disney Castle! This is the castle Walt Disney used to design the famous castle seen in so many movies and at Disney World. Ludgwig, very reclusive, wanted a retreat and a way to honor his friend, maybe lover, the famous composer Richard Wagner. Many of the rooms pay homage to Wagner. Sadly, Ludwig only spent half-a-year here before he mysteriously died. Some believe he was assassinated. From what I can gather, he was a gay man who loved and fostered the arts. He hated politics. That combination, at that time in the world, was not accepted. People believed him to be crazy. However, had it not been for his great contributions to the arts, Bavaria would not be what it is today.

The following day we drove to the town of Berchtesgaden and saw the infamous Eagles Nest, or as its called in German, the Kehlsteinhaus. It towers on a ridge more than six-thousand feet into the clouds. Paid for by the Nazi Party, it was presented to Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday as a retreat. Talk about eerie! This place looks almost exactly like it did decades ago. Its surrounded by incredible geographic beauty. In fact, I find it to be one of the most beautiful spots in the world. How can such beauty be the plotting grounds for Hitler's incredible evil?

Hitler is said to have only visited this retreat 17 times due to his fear of heights. However, his mistress and later wife, Eva Braun, spent months here entertaining.

You can only access this sight by bus. Boy, is it a crazy, thrilling, twisty ride up there! Once you arrive, you walk through the same tunnel, dug out into the mountain Hitler used. The tunnel leads to a polished-brass elevator that shoots you up into the mountain and into the retreat. (The elevator was purposely made reflective to make it appear bigger due to Hitler's fear of small spaces.) Inside the retreat, you'll find the grand fireplace Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini gifted to Hitler as well as several other well-preserved rooms.

Outside, the view will take your breath away. We were very lucky the day went. Often, this area gets very cloudy and foggy blocking the view. However, saw nothing but blue skies and sunshine.

After the war, a cross was erected near the sight as well. A very somber and beautiful sight.

This was, by far, Billy's favorite spot we've visited on our travels. I've never seen one person take so many pictures! It truly is seeing history come alive. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this place as well. It was very surreal to be standing there.

We really hope to get the chance to return, at least one more time, before our European adventures end. Until next time, ciao!