Ever since I found out that Sean had family living in Germany, I have been hinting (read: bugging him) that I wanted to take a trip. I have never been to Germany before, but loved the idea of having family to help us find the best local spots, speak the language, and see new places. We finally found the time and decided to go during our break between summer and fall semesters at school. While looking at flights, we found Icelandair to be the cheapest, and obviously had to take advantage of their free stopover promotion – both ways!
(August 17 2013) Day 1. Flying out from Boston.
Sean had school the morning of the 17th and didn’t get out until 5 p.m., so we had to take a red eye flight to Keflavik airport. Once he got home we packed up, got picked up, and headed to Logan airport for our 9:30 p.m flight.
(August 18 2013) Day 2. Landing in Reykjavik.
…And then we landed in Keflavik airport at 6:30 a.m. After the shuttle ride to our hotel, we decided that there was no way we could (happily) stay awake until our check-in time of 3 p.m., so we opted to pay some extra money for early check-in. We ate some breakfast and quickly fell asleep for a nice nap.
We woke up in the early afternoon and finally had a chance to wander around Reykjavik. We were still exhausted and jet-lagged, so our first stop was at a coffee shop for some croissants and espresso. Afterwards we decided that the best first stop would be at the National Museum of Iceland, so we could feel a little more informed about this country we’ve never before visited. The museum was larger than I thought, but full of interesting information and artifacts.
Afterwards, we wandered over to the Hallgrímskirkja, but the elevator was broken so we were unable to get the view of the city from the top, which was a little disappointing. So instead we made a trip to the waterfront to see the Sun Voyager. Both structures were beautiful and impressive in very different ways. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy and rainy all day, so we only got a partial view of the mountains and fjords in the distance. But even so, we were already impressed with Iceland’s natural beauty.
We decided to go to dinner at a tapas restaurant (aptly named Tapas) that offered a variety of small-portioned Icelandic food. Between the two of us we were able to try puffin, whale, lamb, their liquor, and more things I can’t even remember! Most of it was very delicious, but we were a little sticker-shocked by their high food prices. We rationalized that they had to import most food, and the prices included tax and tip, but it was still sometimes hard to swallow paying $40 for a lunch…
After dinner we were still pretty exhausted, and knew we would be picked up early in the morning for our excursion, so after a little window shopping and a beer at a Big Lebowski-themed bar (yeah, that happened) we went to bed and fell fast asleep.
(August 19 2013) Day 3. Reykjavik.
We were picked up at our hotel at 8 a.m. for the Golden Circle Tour via Iceland Horizon. Our first stop was on the outskirts of the Pingvellir park, where we were able to get our first view of Iceland’s expansive uninhabited nature and gorgeous lakes. After taking some key pictures, we headed further into the park where we were able to see how the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are separating. Unfortunately, it started to rain pretty hard right when we exited the shuttle van (and we had not thought to pack an umbrella), so we kind of rushed through the park a bit. But even so, it was an impressive site.
Next stop was at Geysir. Geysir itself no longer erupts, but we did see a few good eruptions from nearby Strokkur instead. Again, the experience was made even more incredible due to the amazing scenery surrounding the geysirs.
The third stop on our excursion was Gullfoss. This was definitely in my top three favorite moments of the entire trip. This waterfall was unbelievably gorgeous. All of the pictures we took were beautiful, but they still don’t actually do being there in person justice. The power of the waterfall is amazing and intense, and again the skies, rainbows, and rolling mountains in the background only heighten the beauty of this area. It didn’t hurt that the rain finally stopped and allowed some sunshine while we were in this area.
After Gullfoss we were given a couple of bonus stops on the way back to Reykjavik. First we stopped at another, much smaller waterfall. And then we stopped to visit some horses hanging out on the side of a mountain. It was a bit surreal, petting these horses in the middle of Iceland. And I loved every minute of it.
After we were dropped back off at our hotel we took a quick nap and headed out for dinner. This time we decided to eat at Kopar, a place our driver recommended near the historic harbor, and we were very pleased! I had crab soup and Sean got the fish and chips. Both were unique recipes and super delicious.
We did a little shopping after dinner (I bought a pair of earrings made with volcanic glass at a great store named Woolcano) and then had a couple of Icelandic beers in our hotel room while packing before bed. We had a very early flight the next morning to take us on the second part of our adventure!
(August 20 2013) Day 4. Flying out from Reykjavik, Landing in Munich.
Our flight from Keflavik to Munich was at 7:20 a.m., so we were picked up by the shuttle very early in the morning. I fell asleep for the 45 minute ride, and then for much for the plane ride. We landed in Munich at 1:05 p.m., and we rode the S bahn to the city. However, we forgot to print out our hotel reservation, so we got a little lost after exiting the U at Sendlinger Tor, and ended up having to ask a store clerk for directions. Once we finally found the hotel, checked in, and refreshed ourselves after a morning of travel, we hit the streets in search of food.
We ended up stopping at a Hacker-Pschorr restaurant and had some amazing food and our first German beers in Germany of the trip! Feeling satiated, we continued to walk around the neighborhood for a little bit, getting our first looks at the Neues Rathaus, Marienplatz, and the Isar River. We took a late afternoon nap, and then decided to try to find out first beer garden for dinner. However, even though we got some nice views of various parts of the city, after wandering around for a couple of hours not being able to locate the beer garden listed in our guide book we finally gave up and found an alternate destination.
We decided to eat dinner at a cute little restaurant named Zum Kloster that we found in our guide book, and it was simply delicious. We even stayed for some dessert and caffeine to hold us over until we returned to Sendlinger Tor. Once at our train stop we stayed up for one final drink at the bar right next to our hotel (Kennedy’s, which was actually an Irish bar with a band playing American music) before sleeping soundly for the night.
(August 21 2013) Day 5. Munich.
The next day we relished the ability to sleep in a little bit (every other day had been full of early morning obligations). We got dressed and walked to the bakery across the street for some fresh bread and espresso for breakfast (so, so delicious). Then we got on the U and headed over to Königsplatz so that we could visit the Alte Pinakothek, where I was able to see another Da Vinci masterpiece, and the Neue Pinakothek. We also grabbed a quick lunch in the area – my first döners!
After we got in our art fix for the day, we walked over to the Englischer Garten. We were only there for a little while, but it was gorgeous and could see ourselves spending hours there if we had a longer stay in the city. The grass was so green and the trees provided ample shade. It was a nice retreat from the city life. However, our real goal for going to the Garten was to visit our first beer gardens! I had on my list of must-dos to visit all 10 of the guidebook’s ‘Top 10 Beer Gardens.’ (We only ended up visiting 5 and 1 beer hall, but I still think that’s pretty good for 3 1/2 days!) The first stop was Chinesischer Turm, which was a great introduction. They even had a live German band playing in the tower! The weather was perfect, the beer was cold (for a little while, anyway), and the crowd was fun. The only part I could’ve done without was all of the bees…I was not expecting so many yellow friends to be buzzing around.
After finishing our half litres we walked further down the river to the next beer garden: Seehaus. We were lucky enough here to grab an empty table right along the lake and watched the ducks swim by as we enjoyed our beers and pretzel, simply enjoying the weather and each other’s company.
After these most recent beers we started to get hungry, so we chose to visit Eisbach, a slightly more upscale restaurant located downtown. I drank some German white wine with my mela, but then it was on to beer garden number 3: Löwenbräu Haus! We got there just in time to enjoy a couple of half litres before the garden closed, at which time we called it a night and headed back to our hotel.
(August 22 2013) Day 6. Munich.
We ate breakfast the next morning at the same bakery as the day before, and it was again delicious (I miss that fresh summer bread). Then we walked over to Residenzmuseum. The castle was beautiful and I’m glad we stopped in – we saw a lot of amazing jewels and history. However, it was much larger than anticipated and by the end we were both a little cranky due to hunger and tiredness…and getting lost trying to find the exit! But we did finally make our escape and went to the infamous Höfbrauhaus for lunch. It did not let me down. The ceilings were painted, the people were loud, there was a live German band playing in the center of the restaurant, and the beers were quickly flowing. At this stop I finally ordered my first full litre (which I did not finish)! I also ordered some more sausage and spaetzle and it was all very tasty.
After lunch we feel rejuvenated enough to check out the Deutches Museum. Inside we saw a number of fascinating artifacts like old musical instruments (including a room full of pianos), the original Wright Brothers plane, and the enigma machine used during WWI.
Then we headed to beer garden number 4, Paulaner, only to find that it was closed. So instead we ended up at Muffathalle Beer Garden (which just happened to be the one we couldn’t find a couple of days prior!). We enjoyed some beer and pretzel and felt good enough to head to beer garden number 5: Hofbräukeller. Both of these beer gardens were beautiful and covered by trees on the outskirts of a park.
For dinner we went to Beim Sedlmayr, a pub listed in our guide book – another win on their part, because it was delicious! Afterwards we walked around Gartnerplatz and ended up at the other bar near our hotel to enjoy a couple of outdoor drinks to end of final night in Munich.
(August 23 2013) Day 7. Leaving Munich, Entering Augsburg.
We began our last day in Munich with a walk around Hofgarten, where we admired the flowers and Diana’s pavilion with ornate decorations. We followed this by enjoying the bautiful weather and strolling around Maximiliansplatz and visiting the Alter Botanischer Garten full of colorful flowers and an impressive statue/fountain of Neptune.
After a quick lunch in Sendlinger Tor we got on the DB to Augsburg, where we would be spending the remainder of our time in Germany staying with Sean’s uncle. We arrived in Augsburg with a little bbq and three of Sean’s uncles and two cousins waiting for us. After spending a few hours of introduction and catching up, the whole gang headed into the city for one uncle’s 50th birthday party at 1516 Brauhaus. At the party I met even more of Sean’s family and their friends, all of whom were super nice and spoke way more English than I did German (which is none at all). We ate more sausages, watched a photo reel, took some group photos, nailed some nails into a tree stump, and drank a couple too many beers before hailing a cab back home in the wee hours of the morning.
(August 24 2013) Day 8. Augsburg.
Sean and his uncles left early the next morning (before I woke up) to see the Munich vs Stuttgart soccer game. Unfortunately, despite the original hype, I was unable to attend. His uncle was only able to purchase four tickets – just enough for the men. I was disappointed, but didn’t want to mess with family time so instead made plans to go shopping in downtown Augsburg with Sean’s cousins Julia and Shane. However, after waiting around all morning without any sign from Shane, Julia and I decided to make our way to the train without her.
Julia wasn’t from Augsburg, either, so we kind of just wandered around doing some window shopping, grabbing a quick bite to eat, and making some small purchases (I bought a bottle of Riesling). Then we headed back to the house to take a nap and get ready to meet the boys back in town.
We ate dinner at an Irish pub/Mexican restaurant (odd combination, I know). They were all very…happy from the game. Munich won, and they all celebrated. After a few drinks and food we met up with some friends at a Tiki Bar further in town, where I got a delicious daiquiri in a cute little tiki cup. We finished the night by taking a cab back home and promptly passing out in our beds.
(August 25 2013) Day 9. Augsburg.
The next day the entire house slept in before having a leisurely breakfast. It was raining all day, so we honestly didn’t do much. However, with that said, it was nice to spend time just reading and relaxing during such an active vacation.
Julia and Sean’s uncle flew back to Northern Germany that afternoon, so we got one final drink before sending them off. The one exciting part of this bar was that we finally found some hoppy beer! We have enjoyed the German lagers and weissbiers so far, but being microbrew fans we missed the IPAs from back home. This bar happened to also be a microbrewery and their tap of the month was: Fucking Rock & Roll Pale Ale! It was delicious.
Sean actually had his fantasy football draft that evening, so he Skyped over to the U.S. to choose his team. Unfortunately, the draft started late and went much longer than anticipated, so we didn’t eat dinner until after the rest of the house went to sleep. Being on our own we just went to the same bar we had gone to earlier in the day. We enjoyed some more hoppy beers, a hamburger, and some pizza before calling it a night.
(August 26 2013) Day 10. Augsburg.
Since the beginning of my planning I knew that while in Germany I wanted to make a day trip of visiting the Schloss Neuschwanstein. Sean’s uncle graciously allowed us to borrow his car to make the two hour drive, which meant that Sean was also able to drive on the Autobahn! We were in a very tiny family car, so we weren’t able to really test the limits of speed, but we still got a kick out of seeing all of the BMWs fly by.
Even from the first glimpse far away, Neuschwanstein lived up to my expectations. The location on the side of a tree-filled mountain is just breathtaking! Very much like a fairy tale, and I could definitely see how people speculated Disney’s castle was based on Ludwig’s. Once we found parking we went over to the ticket line and were dismayed to see that the earliest tour would be in three hours, which not only meant a lot of waiting around, but also meant we would be home later than we promised Sean’s family (we had dinner and other plans with them already made). So instead we settled for a tour of the neighboring Schloss Hohenschwangau (Ludwig’s summer home) before taking a shuttle to see the exterior of the main castle.
We still had some time before the Hohenschwangau tour, so of course we visited the ground’s beer garden for sausage and half litres. And then we made the walk up the hill to the first castle. It was smaller than we anticipated, but we still got to see a lot of beautiful paintings and historic treasures – including a piano that Wagner played! After taking a million pictures we got in line for the scariest shuttle ride of my life – dangerously fast and close to the mountain’s edge. I literally shut my eyes for half of the ride because I was so nervous.
Relieved to finally be off of the bus, we walked over to the famous viewpoint of Neuschwanstein, which in itself was also pretty terrifying. We had to walk on this wooden bridge that crossed a very high creek. With so many people in constant motion the bridge was often shaking and I had to control my panic to take some pictures because this was by far the most spectacular view.
After the bridge we walked around the rest of the castle grounds that we were allowed to trespass without a tour ticket. Everything was huge and impressive, and the views from every lookout point were incredible. It was after lingering at this last lookout point that I began to get worried we would be late for getting home to Sean’s uncle and started prematurely walking away from Sean continuing to stare at the town below. Little did I know what was going to happen next: he proposed!!! I of course said yes and couldn’t believe that I was engaged surrounded by all of these magical castles! Needless to say, I grinned the entire two hour car ride back.
Still on cloud nine and trying desperately to get in touch with my family via FaceTime and/or email to share the exciting news, we were hurried back out the door by Sean’s uncle so that we could meet some more family at Augsburg’s Oktoberfest. I was sad that I didn’t have time to share my news with the world before leaving the wi-fi, but I was soon settled once I saw the ferris wheel, rotating beer garden, and had a full litre of beer in my hands. It was a great way to end our trip in Germany with Sean’s family – laughing, drinking, and staring at my shiny new ring.
(August 27 2013) Day 11. Leaving Augsburg, Flying out from Munich, Landing in Reykjavik, Entering Stykkishólmur.
Sean’s uncle drove us to Munich airport the next morning for our 2:05 p.m. flight back to Keflavik for Iceland adventure part two. We landed around 4 p.m., picked up our rental car and some snacks for the road, and then started our drive towards Stykkishólmur. We decided to take the longer route that bypassed the underwater tunnel (which I was terrified of) in order to make a stop to see Glymur, the highest waterfall in Iceland. However, once we got to the parking area we couldn’t see the waterfall anywhere. We looked at a map, couldn’t quite figure out what we were looking for, and started to walk along the path. We were very quickly reminded of Iceland’s amazing beauty and enjoyed the walk surrounded by mountains and trees and various smaller waterfalls.
After about a half hour we ran into an awesome cave, and then got our first glimpse of Glymur…which was still at least a mile away. And on top of the distance, the rest of the hike involved such activities as crossing a river over a fallen tree. We were simply unprepared (no guidebook warned us about this), and it was going to get dark soon. We love hikes, but are by no means professionals and this was unfortunately outside of our comfort realm. We were disappointed that we didn’t get close to the waterfall, but at least we got a nice hike and pretty sunset out of the experience.
After getting back to our car we became ridiculously hungry and finished all of our water, but had a bit of a drive before we finally reached the next real town, Borganes. When we finally arrived there we ate a quick sandwich at a Quiznos before starting our final leg of the drive. We reached Stykkishólmur around 9 p.m., only to realize that we forgot to print out the address for the bed and breakfast. So Sean stopped at a gas station and after asking a few different people finally received directions and we were finally able to check in with Gréta at the wonderful Bænir og Brauð, after which we promptly fell asleep.
(August 28 2013) Day 12. Stykkishólmur.
The next day we ate a fantastic breakfast made by Gréta that included homemade bread, a fresh fruit smoothie, homemade jam, granola, and more food than either of us could imagine finishing. After breakfast Gréta also helped us plan out our itinerary for the day, mapping out various stops along the snaefellsnes peninsula. We knew it was going to be an incredible day because before we even reached our first stop we saw four gorgeous rainbows along the way!
Our first official stop was Saxholar, where we saw its bright orange lighthouse, read a little history on the birds in the area, and walked along the natural black arch (which had a more romantic name that I unfortunately have since forgotten). We then moved along to the Djupalonssandur black beach, which was scattered with rusted ship remains. We were able to walk along the cliffs and get beautiful views of the coast and ocean, and met some friendly sheep along the way.
Next up we stopped at Hellnar and ate some delicious fish soup and fresh bread for lunch at a tiny restaurant down the hill: Fjoruhusio. It was getting a little chilly by then but we were thankful that the rain had held off, and that the restaurant provided some blankets that allowed us to enjoy the outdoor seating. Once we were full we drove to Búðir. We took some pictures of the town’s iconic church and then walked along the bluffs towards the orange sand beach. Our final stop before arriving back in Stykkishólmur was at a gas station at the corner of 54 and 56, which I know isn’t very exciting, but is also where I got some surprisingly delicious hot chocolate.
When we arrived back at our Bed and Breakfast we asked Greta for a dinner recommendation and ended up at Narfeyrarstofa, where we got some delicious seafood and our last Icelandic beers of the trip. Feeling incredibly full, we walked off some of our feast, enjoying the views and weather before heading back to our room to pack while drinking some of our German wine.
(August 29 2013) Day 13. Leaving Stykkishólmur, Flying out from Reykjavik, Heading Home.
Our flight back home wasn’t until 5:25 p.m. so we were in no rush on our drive back to Keflavik. After eating another breakfast made by Gréta we got on the road and stopped first at Akranes but didn’t find much open while we were there, so we just continued on the ride. This time I faced my fears and we went through the underwater tunnel. It definitely saved a lot of travel time, but it was also definitely scary and long.
We were making good time so we decided to make a final visit to Reykjavik for lunch and a little last-minute shopping. This time we ate at Café Loki, getting a last look at Hallgrímskirkja across the road. As for shopping, we finally bought some Icelandic wool – Sean bought a scarf and I got a new winter hat. I also bought a couple little trinkets for my sisters.
And then it was time for the last leg of driving. We got to the airport in comfortable time and had no issues with the plane ride, landing in Boston at 7 p.m. All in all it was amazing trip full of incredible adventures that involved castles, nature, beer, history, art, and getting engaged!! So many memories and so much to be thankful for.