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

A Western Russia Itinerary

Timing is Everything

          Just a few months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I took a three week, independent rail and bus journey through Western Russia and Ukraine.  This fabulous trip began and ended respectively in the gateway cities of Helsinki, Finland and Kiev, Ukraine.  In between, I visited the Russian cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Saratov, Volgograd, Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea and Rostov on Don before heading west into Ukraine to visit the cities of Yalta and Odessa on the Black Sea and Kiev on the Dnieper River.

The Medieval Town of Porvoo, Finland

The Medieval Town of Porvoo, Finland

Three Countries, Three Seas, Three Rivers

          I learned that train travel in Russia, while safe and reliable, could be painfully slow.  At times I literally wanted to get out and push the train to make it go faster when there was no apparent reason for it to be going so slowly.  Fourteen hour bus trips were the norm.  But these protracted sojourns gave me a wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know the friendly folks in Finland, Russia and Ukraine.  Even with this fast paced trip covering a huge territory, there was still plenty of time to explore the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.  And I was able to check off one of my bucket list items by dipping my toes in the Volga, the Don and the Dnieper Rivers along the way.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

City by City Itinerary

1)  Helsinki, Finland (3 nights)

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  St. Petersburg, Russia (3 nights)

-arrived by train, 5 hours

3)  Moscow, Russia (3 nights)

-arrived by train, 4 hours, 45 minutes

4) Saratov, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by overnight train, 15 hours, 30 minutes

5)  Volgograd, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by train, 6 hours, 30 minutes

6)  Astrakhan, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by train, 8 hours, 30 minutes

7)  Volgograd, Russia (returned for train connection to Rostov on Don)

-arrived by overnight train, 10 hours

8)  Rostov on Don, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by bus, 8 hours

9)  Yalta, Ukraine (1 night)

-arrived by overnight bus via Simferopol, 14 hours, 20 minutes

10)  Odessa, Ukraine (transfer to train)

-arrived by overnight bus, 14 hours

11)  Kiev, Ukraine (2 nights)

-arrived by train, 8 hours, 30 minutes

Yalta on the Crimean Coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine

Yalta on the Crimean Coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine

A Whirlwind Trip!

          As you can see, this was not a trip for the faint at heart.  It required sticking to a rigorous schedule, with many long hours on trains and buses, but it enabled me to see some fabulous places that tourists may not have an opportunity to see again for quite some time.  Within months of returning from my trek through this area, Russia invaded the Crimean region of Ukraine, which it has occupied since.  Russian troops are still marshaled on the border in the Rostov region of Russia.  Within the same period of time, the train station in Volgograd, where I made several connections, was bombed by terrorists.  Yet, I would not have wanted to miss this chance to explore Russia and the Ukraine and to meet the wonderful people who reside in these two counties.  To a person, they were friendly, welcoming and interested in the American visitor traveling solo through their homeland.  Stay tuned for lots more information about traveling through Russia in future articles on your favorite travel blog, Blue Orb Travel.

Perchersk Lavra Monastery on the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine

Perchersk Lavra Monastery on the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine

Intro to Indochina

Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia

          Having made my way up the Malay Peninsula from Singapore to Bangkok, it was now time to continue my journey into uncharted territory.  Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia had long been on my bucket list of must-see destinations, but it was with some trepidation that I contemplated the logistics of traveling through the rugged countryside, crossing multiple borders into communist countries, and arranging suitable transportation and lodging, all the while grappling with several different languages.  As I was soon to discover, my concerns were all for naught.  I was able to easily navigate my way through some of the most beautiful country on earth, inhabited by some of the friendliest folks I have ever encountered in my travels throughout the world.  In upcoming articles we’ll visit the cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos; Hanoi, Hoi An and Saigon in Vietnam; and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia.  We’ll also explore two fabulous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ha Long Bay and Angkor Wat.

The Charming Colonial City of Luang Prabang, Laos

The Charming Colonial City of Luang Prabang, Laos

History and Culture

          Historically, Indochina refers to the three countries of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia on the Southeast Asian peninsula.  This region was known as French Indochina during the period when these countries were colonies of France from about 1884 to 1954.  The Kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia were granted independence from France in 1949, but Vietnam would have a much longer journey to becoming the country it is today.  The Indochina War was largely a conflict between France and the Viet Minh in the north of Vietnam and began in 1946 shortly after the end of World War II.  It ended in 1954 with the partition of Vietnam into North and South.  Enter the Americans one year later and the rest, as they say, is history!  While the peoples of Indochina are quite separate from those of both India and China, the name Indochina can be attributed to the location of this region between these two larger countries.  While each of the three countries comprising today’s Indochina is ethnically diverse, the Khmers can be identified as the majority in Cambodia and the Kinh (Viet) in Vietnam.  Laos, on the other hand, is a much more diverse conglomeration of many tribes and languages.

Hoa Lo Prison Known as the Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hoa Lo Prison Known as the Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Indochina Itinerary

          The major sights of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia can easily be covered by taking a circular route beginning and ending in the gateway city of Bangkok, Thailand.  I traveled in a clockwise direction, starting with the overnight train ride from Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos.  What I thought would be a complicated border crossing over the Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai into Laos turned out to be quite simple and went exactly according to how it was described in The Man in Seat 61.  You can purchase a visa on arrival for Laos there for $35.  After an overnight in Vientiane, I took the 11 hour bus ride through the beautiful northern hill country of Laos to the incredibly charming UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang on the Mekong River.   To save time and avoid the long, arduous bus ride over the mountains to Hanoi, I took the one hour flight from Luang Prabang to Hanoi the following day on Lao Airlines for $150.  Arriving in Vietnam by plane also enables travelers to purchase a visa on arrival rather than applying for a visa in advance which is required at land border crossings.  After two nights in Hanoi and a day trip to Ha Long Bay I took the overnight train to the ancient city of Hoi An via Da Nang for $45.  Again to save time, I took the one hour flight the following day from Da Nang to Saigon on Vietnam Airlines.  After a one day visit to Saigon I took a bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for $20 and was able to purchase a visa on arrival at the border for $25.  The following day I took the five hour bus ride to Siem Reap for $12.00.  After two days in Siem Reap with ample time to explore Ankor Wat, I completed the final leg of my circuitous journey by taking the nine and a half hour bus ride back to Bangkok for another $12.  Hopefully, these details will be helpful for those planning an independent sojourn through Indochina.

Tree Growing from Ta Prohm Temple Ruins at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Tree Growing from Ta Prohm Temple Ruins at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

  Bargain Hunter’s Paradise

          Hurry!  These prices won’t last!  At the risk of sounding like the proverbial used car salesman, I can’t stress enough that the price for everything from hotels to restaurants to transportation and shopping are incredibly low throughout Indochina, making it a true bargain hunter’s paradise.  It’s no wonder that frugal students and backpackers flock to this region every year to take advantage of the great deals.  Imagine a wonderful hotel with a pool and a fabulous breakfast for $50 or a delightful meal in a French restaurant for $7.  Or how ‘bout a comfortable minibus ride from Cambodia to Thailand for $12 or a souvenir tee shirt for $1.  As word gets out, prices are sure to go up, so if you are thinking of a trip to Indochina, now might be the time.  In future articles we will explore this region in greater detail, so be sure to check back with us here at Blue Orb Travel for some great information on what to see and where to stay during your visit.

Market in Hoi An, Vietnam

Market in Hoi An, Vietnam

British Isles Itinerary

A Good Starting Point for Planning Your British Isles Itinerary 

This summary of the itinerary for my recent 18 day trip through the British Isles will, hopefully, help jumpstart your own trip planning process.  I’ve just completed a detailed series of postings featuring each city I visited, including where I stayed, how I got there and what I saw at each stop along the way.  If you decide to follow this itinerary you’ll get a good overview of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, while keeping the travel times each day to a minimum.  For me, getting there is half the fun, so I love riding the trains and buses through the countryside from one town to the next.  This is often a great way to meet people and it’s wonderful to be able to leave the driving to someone else when you’re on vacation.  If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, however, it may be more economical to rent a car, but remember, driving a car with manual transmission on the opposite side of those narrow roads is not for the faint of heart!

London, England

London, England

Customize to Fit Your Own Schedule

A word of caution…as a solo, budget traveler, I like to squeeze as much as I can into my trips, so this pace may be a bit fast for some.   If that’s the case or if you don’t have three weeks, you can use any portion of this schedule and tailor it to fit your own timetable.  One possibility, for example, would be to separate it into two trips, the first just concentrating on England, Wales and Scotland and the second just on Ireland.  Another suggestion would be to do England and Wales in one trip and Scotland and Ireland in another.  By dividing the trip in this manner you would have time to spend two nights in some of the major cities like London, Edinburgh and Dublin and at major scenic destinations like the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

Conwy, Wales

Conwy, Wales

City by City Itinerary 

As you can see from a quick look at the list below, you will be traveling to some of the most famous and interesting destinations in the world…and getting from one place to the next will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.  Here goes!

1)  London, England

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  Bath, England         

-by train, 1 hour 45 minutes

3)  Cardiff, Wales

-by train, 1 hour

4)  Shrewsbury, England       

-by train via Swansea, 8 hours

-scenic Heart of Wales train journey

5)  Conwy, Wales                             

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

6)  York, England                                     

-by train, 5 hours

7)  Edinburgh, Scotland                            

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

8)  Inverness, Scotland                     

-by train, 4 hours

-scenic Highlands train journey through Cairngorm Mountains

-LochNess

9)  Glasgow, Scotland                      

-by train, 4 hours

10) Belfast, Northern Ireland           

-by train and ferry, 6 hours

11) Londonderry, Northern Ireland  

-by train, 2 hours

12) Sligo, Ireland                             

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

13) Galway, Ireland                         

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

-Clifden and Connemara

14) Limerick, Ireland                       

-by train, 2 hours

-Cliffs of Moher

15) Tralee, Ireland                           

-by bus, 2 hours

-Dingle Town

16) Killarney, Ireland                      

-by bus, 1 hour

-Ring of Kerry

17) Cork, Ireland                             

-by bus, 1 hour 30 minutes

-Blarney Castle

18) Dublin, Ireland                          

-by bus, 4 hours 15 minutes

Loch Ness, Scotland

Loch Ness, Scotland

Summary of Expenses

Airfare: (San Francisco to London and Dublin to San Francisco) $807.00

Land Transportation: (trains and buses) $613.00

Lodging: $1,327.00 (average $74.00 per night)

Food: $144.00 (doesn’t include breakfast which came with most hotels)

Incidentals (including entrance fees): $73.00

Total Expenses: $2,964.00

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Las Vegas or Europe?

Depending on what part of the country you’re coming from, a round trip plane ticket to Las Vegas can cost anywhere from $200 to $500.  For just a few hundred more you could fly to the British Isles and see something new and exciting.  Remember, either way you still have to eat and sleep, so the expenses once you get to either destination will be similar.  The choice was a no-brainer for me!  Considering all the fantastic things I saw, the wonderful people I met and the awesome accommodations I had on my nearly three week trek through England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, doing all this for less than $3,000 was a great value for this budget traveler.  Be sure to check out the other articles in this series for more details on planning your trip to the British Isles.  Tally Ho and Cherrio!

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Welsh Countryside

A Scenic Train Ride through the Welsh Countryside

          Swansea on the South Coast of Wales is only a one hour train ride from Cardiff, with the ticket costing a little over seven dollars.  The two and a half hour stop over there allowed me to get out and explore this interesting seaside city before getting back onboard the train for the scenic ride through the heart of Wales.  I had read about the beautiful journey between Swansea and Shrewsbury (just back across the border into England) and it was with great anticipation that I returned to the station after walking around Swansea.  The train had already pulled in by the time I got back and a friendly lady who I recognized to be the conductor was standing on the platform.  I asked her if she had any suggestions as to which side I should sit on to get the best view of the scenery and was surprised when she offered her recommendations for each leg of the trip.

Swansea, Wales...the Old and the New

Swansea, Wales…the Old and the New

Quaint Villages and Lots of Sheep

          When the conductor saw me checking out the train, she asked, “You’re not a train buff, by any chance, are you?”  When I eagerly replied that I was, she added, “Oh, then you’re really going to enjoy this ride!”  We chatted for a few moments until a young man emerged from the train who she introduced as the engineer.  They both proceeded to explain that this was going to be a beautiful ride heading north through the Welsh countryside and that we’d see lots of sheep-studded farms, green hillsides and quaint little villages along the way…so quaint that the conductor would have to get out and manually throw the switch to lower the traffic barrier.

Conductor Lowering Traffic Barrier

Conductor Lowering Traffic Barrier

A Historic Train System

          Because it was not a heavily traveled route, there would be stretches where there was only one track for trains going each way.  The engineer and conductor explained how they would have to stop and manually insert a set of keys into an antiquated set of locks to insure that no other trains came in the other direction while we were on the track.  The conductor said she would let me know when the time came and I could come along with them and see how it was done.

Engineer Explaining Old Train System

Engineer Explaining Old Train System

Tagging Along with the Engineer and Conductor

          Well, as you can imagine, I was in hog heaven for the entire four hour ride, between watching the breathtakingly beautiful scenery passing by outside my window and getting out several times with the engineer and conductor to watch them do their thing!  They were so friendly and nice and seemed to enjoy having a passenger who was interested in the operation of the trains.  These folks were typical of the entire cadre of train personnel who I encountered on my trip throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  To a person, they were friendly and helpful and went out of their way to insure that their passengers were safe, comfortable and got the correct ticket at the best price.  If you like trains and train travel, be sure to watch the video below.  Once you see the beautiful country scenery you’ll want to add this train ride (costing only $23) from Swansea, Wales to Shrewsbury, England to your itinerary!


 

How to Take a Train Trip Around Europe Without Spending a Lot

An Inexpensive Train Trip Around Europe

          Just to show that you, too, can vacation in Europe, taking in some of the most beautiful sights in the world, without spending a lot, I have summarized my itinerary and totaled the expenses for my recent train odyssey around Europe.  The details of this fantastic trip have been described in detail in the most recent postings on this website.  Looking back, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  I hope this will encourage you to take the plunge and get out there and see this interesting part of the world.

Monterosso, Italy on the Cinque Terre

Monterosso, Italy on the Cinque Terre

Itinerary

Day 1;    Fly from San Francisco, California to Frankfurt, Germany

Day 2:    Arrive Frankfurt; take train to Mannheim, Germany

Day 3:    Paris, France

Day 4:    Bordeaux, France

Day 5:    San Sabastian, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Day 6:    Barcelona, Spain

Day 7:    Marsailles, France

Day 8:    Genoa, Italy

Day 9:    Monterosso, Italy and the Cinque Terre Hike

Day 10:  Rome, Italy, including the Vatican

Day 11:  Naples, Italy and Sorrento, Positano and the Amalfi Coast

Day 12:  Bologna, Italy

Day 13:  Innsbruck, Austria

Day 14:  Nuremburg, Germany

Day 15:  Prague, Czech Republic

Day 16:  Berlin, Germany

Day 17:  Frankfurt, Germany

Day 18:  Fly from Frankfurt, Germany to San Francisco, California

          Consider substituting your own destination choices in place of Bordeaux, France, San Sabastian, Spain and Bologna, Italy…perhaps for more time in Rome and Naples, Italy.  Remember also that you must be flexible when traveling without reservations.  For example, when I couldn’t find lodging in San Sabastian, I went on to Madrid, arriving at 11 PM, and ended up staying up all night partying with the locals.  Not in my original plans, but definitely a night to remember!

Train Travel in Europe

Train Travel in Europe

All Night Party in Madrid, Spain

All Night Party in Madrid, Spain

Summary of Costs

Airfare, San Francisco to Frankfurt, roundtrip         $481.50

Found this great deal at www.Kayak.com

Eurail Pass, 15 Day                                                   $717.00

Eurail Supplements/Reservations                             $111.00

Food (most breakfasts included in lodging)             $200.00

Average $10.00 per day

Lodging (average $65.00 per night)                         $1,091.00

Total                                                                          $2600.50

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

It’s An Even Better Deal When Two Travel Together!

          For a two and a half week trip to Europe, $2600.50 for total expenses is awesome!  Remember that when two are traveling together, the second Eurail ticket is less expensive than the first.  Also, lodging for two will average less per person than for a single traveler.  With a little planning and attention to costs along the way, you, too, can have a great trip like I had without spending a lot.

Positano, Italy on the Amalfi Coast

Positano, Italy on the Amalfi Coast