Let’s be honest – not many people really look forward to facing their 5-0 birthday. 50 just always seemed sooooo old when I was growing up. I remember being in my teens and my friend David in awe of the fact that I would be 20 soon. 20! And to be honest, 20 doesn’t seem that long ago. Despite a lot more creaky joints and grey hair, I really don’t feel any older in my mind….
But I digress. Since I was in my 30s I knew I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday in a big way. At the time, I had yet to travel anywhere outside of the US, and Paris seemed so romantic and sophisticated. If I was going to turn in to an old woman, I wanted it to happen in the City of Lights. I told any sucker who would listen that on my 50th birthday, I wanted to kiss my lover beneath the Eiffel Tower. Bear in mind I was recently divorced and didn’t HAVE a lover at the time, but I figured I could work out that minor detail later.
Fast forward 15 odd years as the big day approached. Fortunately I had a husband by then, and was a seasoned traveler with a wonderful travel posse who was more than willing to help me celebrate my big day across the pond. Confined to a two-week vacation (I was still doing the 9-5 slog at that time), Dave and I mapped out an itinerary that would allow us to re-visit some of our favorite cities (Amsterdam and Paris) and explore a few places we had yet to visit
We started our trip in Munich, which was not really on our list of places we were dying to see. We ended up there because I found an affordable direct flight from Atlanta, and Salzburg, which WAS on our list, was an easy drive from Munich. We decided on 3-nights in Munich and given the short duration, booked a room at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost, which I highly recommend. We arrived in the morning by taxi, and were annoyed when the driver would only accept cash. We had some euros on us, but not enough for the fare. I hustled over to the train station which was close by to pull cash from an ATM, only to find that my bank had locked my account due to “suspicious activity”. Y’all, I always make sure to notify my bank of travel so this was super annoying and it took quite awhile to get someone on the phone to unlock my account. After that I always double check before I leave home. I left Dave with the taxi and you should have seen the relief on his face when he saw me returning with cash. Poor guy!
We checked in and spent an hour trying to de-code all the technology in our room. I have never seen so many controls. I tried to turn on the lights and instead warmed the toilet seat to a toasty temperature. I don’t know what setting I pushed to activate the electronic drapes… it was very dark in our room the rest of the trip.
After we’d had enough of our room being smarter than us, we figured we probably just needed some beer and set out for the short walk to the Altstadt to see what Munich was all about. We entered through the Karlsplatz and took in the scene, which was more commercialized than I expected… there were lots of department stores and tourist type shops, but at least there were no cars as the Neuhauser Straße is pedestrian. We followed the crowd which led us to the Marienplatz and I began to see the Munich I was hoping for. There were lots of tourists, sure, but the architecture and vibe was satisfying.
We spent three amazing days in Munich, and I fell in love. Each morning we stopped at a café for breakfast and feasted on sausages, pretzels, strong coffee with clotted cream, strudel, pastries, cheese and the occasional egg. I discovered I really, really like wiener schnitzel and I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I ate it for nearly every meal. Every place we went (thank you Yelp!) I was determined to have the best, crispiest schnitzel… I couldn’t get enough. And the beer! I am a beer girl so I was in heaven. We stopped for refreshment on the hour just to soak up the cozy atmosphere of the tavern or outdoor patio and try another brew. Of course we had to check out Hofbräuhaus, which was actually kind of fun if you can pretend you’re not surrounded by tourists in every direction.
Alas our time in Munich was over so we collected our rental car to make our way to Salzburg. Although Salzburg is just a few hours drive or train ride from Munich, we decided to drive to see more of Bavaria and we plotted a course through Dachau and Landsberg am Lech before stopping in Fussen for the night. Fussen is a couple miles from Schloss Neuschwanstein where we would visit the next day en route to Salzburg.
As you can imagine, Dachau was sobering and sad. We spent about two hours walking around in silence and disbelief. It’s not an uplifting stop on a vacation but certainly necessary and we don’t regret it. The next stop was a perfectly charming little village called Landsberg am Lech. We were so enchanted we didn’t want to leave! We sat by the river with an ice cream, enjoyed a beer in its storybook main square and wandered about taking a ridiculous number of photos. It was getting late and we still had an hour drive ahead of to get to Fussen in time to check-in to our hotel, walk around a bit and grab dinner.
I guess because of Fussen’s proximity to the Castle I assumed the town would be a tourist trap with cheap souvenir shops everywhere. Wrong! Once again, we were sucker punched by the beauty and near picture-perfect charm of the town. Everywhere we walked and looked was more adorable than before. Painted houses of bright colors, precious stone churches clinging to a ridge by the river, a square so quaint it could have been in drawn for Sleeping Beauty story… we were dying! How could we have not wanted to come to Germany??? Now that our eyes had been opened, we couldn’t wait to start our drive to Salzburg the next day to see what else Bavaria had in store!
The next day we endured the castle tour and the swarms of tourists (not to mention the very, very long walk to the castle) until it was time to start our drive. Don’t get me wrong; the castle is breathtaking. But it was a lot of build up and not much payoff. We encourage a visit, although we probably wouldn’t go again.
We mapped a course that took us along narrow, twisty roads through the Alps and adorable alpine villages. We stopped for a delicious lunch in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and explored the town, which looked much different from Landsberg and Fussen… Garmisch is a ski town that hosted the winter Olympics in 1936 and has a decidedly alpine look with timbered, painted chalets and imposing mountains as a backdrop. We loved every bit of it. Along our drive we found ourselves on a private mountain road and we had to pay a small toll to access it. It was here that we drove along a topaz blue stream that was basically begging us to dip a toe. We pulled off the road and walked in the cold water, watching the cows graze on the other side.
We arrived in Salzburg and checked in to the historic Hotel Sacher and were delighted with our large, luxurious suite. It was dinner time so we crossed the river and found some schnitzel (natch) and had a leisurely stroll before calling it a night. We had three days in Salzburg which gave us just enough time to explore the gardens and palaces and Mozart’s residences. We also found CHICKEN schnitzel that I’m still thinking about.
We departed Salzburg and took the train back to Munich where we caught a flight to Amsterdam to meet up with Julie and Kristen. We had an amazing house rental in Amsterdam right on the Amstelveld, one of the few canal houses that faces a park. Dave and I had been to Amsterdam twice before, so it was fun to visit some of our favorite haunts and work our way in to corners we had yet explored. We ate at two of our favorite restaurants, Tempo Doeloe and De Belhamel and braved the bike scene for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times the four of us got split up – we laughed until we cried it was so much fun. We shopped for art and antiques, cruised the Red Light district trying to act cool (we failed) and ate a lot of delicious food.
At last it was time to board the train to Paris to connect with the rest of our crew. We raided the bar car first thing and loaded up on some beers for the trip and rehashed some of the hilarious moments of our short time in the Dam. Can’t wait to go back! We arrived in Paris in the early afternoon and went our separate ways to get settled in to our accommodations: Julie and Kristen to a hotel on the right bank, Dave and I to an apartment on the left. Our apartment was small but clean as can be, and very comfortable. We freshened up and went to meet the gang at the Four Seasons where they had been hanging out for a few hours waiting for us.
This was our first time meeting Sean and Joey, and Laura’s friend Ramone was also in Paris and hung out with us for the night. Try to imagine 9 people who had been having happy hour for the last 4 hours and you can probably get a vision of us trying to decide on a place for dinner. It was a mess. But we managed to get fed, much to our server’s annoyance (let’s just say we were a little loud).
The next day was the BIG DAY… the day I turned 50. I woke up feeling the same age as when I went to bed, except with a slight hangover. Dave and I found a café for coffee and croissant and walked to the Louvre to meet up with the group. We had a fun day sightseeing and laughing, and finally made our way to la Tour Eiffel. It had been six years since I had been to Paris and was disappointed at the increased security and fencing around the tower. We made our best effort to get close but it was starting to look like I wasn’t going to get my kiss under the Eiffel Tower. Just as we were crossing the street, Laura spotted our moment and dropped to her knee to capture my 50th birthday kiss with my lover, helping to make my dream a reality. It was perfect!!
After a freshening up period, the group reconvened for my birthday dinner. The restaurant was quiet and we practically had the place to ourselves. Our servers were fun and wanted to make sure the night was special. However, nothing could have been more special and memorable than having these wonderful friends there to celebrate with me. It was the best birthday ever!
The gang left Paris the next morning – Bastille Day – for Nice, and Dave and I had two days alone to roam this most romantic city. We checked out the site of the Bastille and had a lovely lunch in Montmartre. We were awakened on the 15th to the news of the tragic terrorist attack in Nice, where all of our friends were. After frantic calls and texts, we were beyond relieved to hear they were all OK, although they had an incredibly close call and were only a few blocks from the site of the attack.
We spent our last day in Paris walking around Ile de la Cite, amongst a much increased military and police presence. It wasn’t the perfect end to our trip, and we reflected on the lives lost in Nice and wondered what the world was coming to. We made some wonderful memories on that trip, as well as bonding with Sean and Joey who have become dear friends to us, and an integral part of our travel crew. Not only did I fulfill my 50th birthday wish, I received the gift of amazing friends as well, which was an added bonus.
Until Next Time –