Blue Orb Travel ‘Best Pick’ Destinations

Add These Often Overlooked Travel Gems to Your Itinerary This Year

          Check out some of John’s favorite places by visiting these Blue Orb ‘Best Picks’ when you travel this summer.  By clicking on the link it will take you to our full article on each travel destination.

Shrewsbury, England

          A charming little town straddling the River Severn near the border with Wales.  Located in County Shropshire, England Shrewsbury is only 170 miles from London.

The River Severn, Shrewsbury, England

The River Severn, Shrewsbury, England

Konigssee, Germany

          This hidden gem of Bavaria is one point on a small tourist triangle that also includes Berchtesgaden with it’s Eagle’s Nest and Salzburg, Austria.  Just 100 miles from Munich, Konigssee is easily accessible by train and you can walk to the lake from the train station.

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

          This shining gem just outside the Golden Ring is 260 miles from Moscow and one of the first stops on the Trans Siberian Railway.  Located at the confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers, Nizhny Novgorod is the third largest city in Russia and is home to a fabulous Kremlin and many splendid cathedrals.

Kremlin at Nizhny Novgorod

Kremlin at Nizhny Novgorod

Luang Prabang, Laos

          Located off the beaten path in the hill country of Laos and accessible only by bus or plane, Luang Prabang is well worth the trip!  This French colonial town on the Mekong River is full of old world charm, wonderful restaurants, great shopping and inexpensive hotels.

Konigssee…Germany’s Hidden Gem

Konigssee:  Germany’s Hidden Gem

          One of my favorite places in Central Europe is the Konigssee.  Billed as Germany’s deepest and cleanest lake, Konigsee is an alpine lake tucked away in the southeastern corner of Bavaria where it pokes into Austria.  The name, Konigssee, appropriately means King’s Lake and this little slice of Bavaria is certainly fit for a king.  Because of the steep, sheer mountain walls surrounding this long, narrow lake, it is not possible to hike around it.  But you can take a boat ride on the lake, which stops at the picturesque, much-photographed Baroque church known as St. Bartholoma.

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

Close to Salzburg and Berchtesgaden

          Konigssee is just a stone’s throw away from two additional must-see destinations in Central Europe.  Just a few miles away is the infamous, but beautiful World War Two mountaintop hangout of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun known as Berchtesgaden.  After a harrowing bus ride up the steep, winding road clinging to the mountainside you can tour the historic Eagle’s Nest.  From there you’ll enjoy a spectacular 360 degree view of the Bavarian Alps and can actually see both the Konigsse and the fabulous city of Salzburg, Austria off in the distance.

Salzburg, Austria from the Hohensalzburg Castle

Salzburg, Austria from the Hohensalzburg Castle

A Central Europe Itinerary

          Excellent train and bus service to this region make it easy to travel independently to many of the interesting tourist destinations in Central Europe.  You should plan on ten days to two weeks to explore this area and I recommend using Frankfurt, Germany as the perfect gateway city for your round trip flight.  From there you can make a circuit that includes some of the highlights of three countries, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.  Depending on how much time you have, stops along the way might include Rothenburg, Nurnberg, Munich, Konigssee, Berchtesgaden, Salzburg and Prague.  This is just one suggested itinerary for your next visit to the heart of Europe.  Be sure to check out our recent articles on each of these destinations by using the search box above.

The Medieval Walled Town of Rothenburg, Germany

The Medieval Walled Town of Rothenburg, Germany

Old Town Square at Night, Prague, Czech Republic

Old Town Square at Night, Prague, Czech Republic

Celebrating with Germany

The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

          The entire free world is celebrating with Germany this week as they commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Watching the joyful celebrations must send a chill up the spines of those who watched on TV that wonderful day in 1989 as young Germans climbed the wall and chipped away at this wretched symbol of communism.  The peaceful reunification of East and West after the wall came down is a tribute to the leaders this great country and a testament to the desire for peace by all Germans.  The people, culture, history and sights of Germany have made it one of the greatest countries in today’s world…and one of my favorite places to visit!

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall Crossing

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall Crossing

See Our Full Article on Berlin, Germany

Berlin, The Capital of a Unified Germany

Berlin, Germany

          Rounding out my three week whirlwind circuit around Europe was a quick stop in Berlin, Germany.  The enjoyable four hour train ride from Prague to Berlin took us through some beautiful country and the historic city of Dresden along the Elbe River.  Ending up in the capital of Germany would put me in a good position to complete the final leg of my trip back to Frankfurt for the flight home.  That night in Berlin I stayed at a very nice hotel called Motel One (an ingloriously named chain of budget hotels in Germany) for the equivalent of $107, including a great breakfast.

Berliner Dom, Berlin Cathedral

Berliner Dom, Berlin Cathedral

A Big, But Walkable, City

          While reunified Berlin is a huge city, it is still very possible to see a good deal of it on foot.  Berlin is actually composed of numerous boroughs or districts, each with its own distinct personality.  It is traversed by several famous avenues such as the Kurfurstendamm (known as the Ku’ Damm) and Unter den Linden, both large boulevards lined with historic buildings, chick boutiques and snazzy hotels.  Many of the most important sights lie in the Mitte or central part of Berlin, once divided by the infamous wall.  Berlin boasts a large zoo, know as a Tiergarten (animal garden), the famous Olympic Stadium of the Nazi era and numerous galleries, museums and cathedrals, such as the Berliner Dom, as well as the Charlottenburg Castle.

The River Spree, Berlin

The River Spree, Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate

          Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate, dating back to the 1700s when it was built as a symbol of victory by Friedrich Wilhelm II.  Located in the center of the city, it once formed part of the Berlin Wall, but has now been returned to its former glory as a symbol of the newly reunited Germany.  The Brandenburg Gate is also the sight of one of the most important speeches of the 20th Century.  It was there on June 12, 1987 that U. S. President Ronald Reagan implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear Down This Wall”!

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate

The Reichstag

          Originally opened in 1894, the historic Reichstag building currently houses the reunified German government or Bundestag.  A fire in this building in 1933 became the excuse for Adolph Hitler to declare a state of emergency, enabling his Nazi Party to seize control of Germany.  In 1997 a glass dome was constructed on the top of the Reichstag, providing visitors with a thrilling 360 degree view of the city below.  Best of all, entrance is free!

The Reichstag Building, Berlin

The Reichstag Building

The Berlin Wall and Check Point Charlie

          The construction of the Berlin Wall was instigated by the Soviet Union in 1961 as a way to keep ‘captives’ in East Berlin from escaping to the West.  Every student of history will want to visit the last remaining evidence of the Berlin Wall and check out ‘Check Point Charlie’, the best known crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.  Now a museum, Check Point Charlie (for Check Point ‘C’) was featured in many movies set during the Cold War.  Anyone who watched on TV as the young people of Berlin occupied the wall when it finally came down in November 1989 will experience the thrill once again as they visit the actual site.

Check Point Charlie at the Berlin Wall

Check Point Charlie at the Berlin Wall

Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe

          The abstract ‘Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe’ which occupies an entire block in the Mitte was opened in 2005.  Visitors can walk through an irregular field of concrete slabs designed to give one the feeling of uncertainty, instability and confusion, evoking some of the emotions prevalent during the time of the Holocaust.  Beneath the memorial is an information center and Holocaust museum.

Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Last Stop, Frankfurt

          I have shared some of the things I enjoyed most about Berlin, but every visitor to a ‘city of the world’ like this will come away with a different perspective and have their own list of favorites.  The morning after my visit to Berlin I ‘completed the circle’ of my 18 day train trip around Europe by returning to Frankfurt Germany.  With its central location, great shopping, interesting sights and convenient airport where I would catch my flight home the next day, Frankfurt is one of my favorite ‘gateway cities’ (see our article on Gateway Cities).  In my next article I will give a quick round up of this fantastic trip with an overview of the itinerary and total costs, showing that you, too, can see some of the best of Europe without spending a lot.

Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany

Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg, Germany

          Over the years I had passed through Nuremberg, Germany a number of times on the train, but had never stopped to check it out.  On this trip I finally disembarked for an overnight visit and found out what I had been missing all those times before.  Nuremberg is a historic city with a beautifully preserved, walled ‘old town’ (altstadt) that should not be missed.  The main entrance to the old town is just a short walk from the train station and there are numerous hotels and pensions available there, accommodating a wide range of budgets.  In a very short time I found a great little place called Pension Altstadt for the equivalent of $46 with shared bath, including a wonderful breakfast served in a quaint Fruhstuck Zimmer (breakfast room).  It was great to be back in one of my favorite countries where the friendly people always make me feel at home.

The Altstadt, Nuremberg, Germany

The Altstadt, Nuremberg, Germany

The Old Town, Nuremberg, Germany

The Old Town, Nuremberg, Germany

An Awesome Rock Festival

          As I arrived at the train station that afternoon, I was nearly trampled by hoards of young people who were leaving town after attending the ‘Rock im Park’ Festival held in Nuremberg the first week in June each year.  I had noticed as the train approached the city center that every piece of open land, whether it was a park or an empty lot, seemed to have been the recent site of a makeshift campground.  Abandoned tents and lawn chairs were everywhere and workers could be seen cleaning up after the revelers.  It must have been an awesome rock festival!  I was definitely going against the flow as I tried to get out of the train station, but I was soon at the gates of the old town, about to enter another world altogether.  Situated on the Pegnitz River, Nuremberg dates back to the 11th century.  There are many interesting sights to behold in this amazing Bavarian city, but two are essential for any student of history.

Aftermath of the Nuremberg Rock Festival

Aftermath of the Nuremberg Rock Festival

Terror

          A short ride on Tram #9 from the train station will take you to the infamous stadium (1) where the Nazi rallies were held in the 1930’s.  You can actually stand at the podium right where Hitler stood as he spoke to the assembled masses.  It was an eerie feeling to stand at that podium, which I had seen in photos and movie clips so many times before, looking down at the same place where thousands of people once stood in formation as they listened to their fist pounding leader all those years ago.  But this time, the stadium was filled with the camping debris left by the German youths of a new century who had just attended the Rock Festival.  It was gratifying to see that the purpose of the stadium had changed so dramatically for the good in the interim.

Nazi Stadium, Nuremberg

Nazi Stadium, Nuremberg

Congress Hall, the Nazi's Biggest Building

Congress Hall, the Nazi’s Biggest Building

And Justice

          A brisk walk from the old town in the other direction will take you to the Palace of Justice (2) where, in Room 600 during the Nuremberg trials, justice was meted out to the high ranking Nazis who had delivered their diatribes from the nearby stadium and who had wreaked havoc on Europe before and during World War II.  At the time of my visit the court room was not open to visitors while it was being readied for the 65th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials.  You can be sure it will be at the top of my list on my next visit to this area.  Someday I would also love to come for the annual Toy Fair held in February and for the Christmas Market held in the old town each December.  And who knows, maybe I’ll come back just for the ‘Rock im Park’ festival one of these years!

Palace of Justice, Nuremberg Trials

Palace of Justice, Nuremberg Trials

Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg, Germany