Around Munich

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Since we weren't planning on going to Germany (until we found ourselves in nearby Zurich), we had just enough time for a couple nights in Munich. The first thing we did was take a free walking tour (again), which was amazing in a city like Munich because it has so much history, especially from WWII and the Nazis' hay day in the city. The guide pointed out various places where Hitler had speeches or liked to hang out. Munich had a lot more personality than Zurich, with interesting shops and trendy cafes with young, cool people. We walked endless blocks and rested with a brat and pint in a beer garden more than once, which seemed packed and lively any time of day.

We also made a trip out to Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany's first concentration camp 10 miles outside of Munich. The camp has a few long low buildings with massive empty fields where hundreds of barracks housing prisoners used to stand (there were 30,000 prisoners at the time of liberation). Stone posts and barbed wire fence enclose the camp. I kept imagining faces behind the fence, like I'd seen in The Boy in The Striped Pajamas. We walked through the barracks, gas chambers, and crematorium, as well as the "museum" part of the camp. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and many more undocumented (thanks, Wikipedia). We flipped through a massive book that listed the names of all who had died at Dachau. Naturally I flipped to the L's to look for my last name first. I was somewhat shocked to find someone with my maiden name of Lukomsky. That made the whole experience more eery and real, imagining a relative suffering in this place. We are so blessed to live in a country and a time where we are safe no matter what we look like or where we come from. 

Coming up next: Venice, Italy.

- Julia + Yuriy

Dachau Concentration Camp
Beds inside the prisoners' barracks.
Door to a gas chamber.
The crematorium.

A Detour for Castles in Germany

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

After a week in Switzerland, we planned to drive south to Italy, which is what I was looking forward to most. But if you're married to Yuriy and he has his own car, he's going to try to squeeze in as much as possible. He convinced me that we should swing by Germany real quick, because Munich is only 5 hours away (from Zurich). He really enjoyed Munich when he visited with his brother almost ten years ago, and I'd never been to Germany, so I was pretty easily convinced to take a little side trip with the promise of a good brat and beer and some German history. 

Since we were already taking a detour to Munich, we might as well stop by and see some castles along the way, right? That's the problem with Europe... everything is so close and there's always something that's "basically on the way". One week in, and we were already feeling one month in Europe wasn't nearly enough...

We visited Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle, both belonging to King Ludwig II, who became king of Bavaria when he was just 19 years old in 1864. What else would you do as a teenage king but build a better castle? The castles are so close, you can walk from one to the other.

Unfortunately, the bridge that offers the best views of Neuschwanstein was under construction, so we missed out on that. We also arrived as the castle was ready to close for the evening, so we didn't get tickets to go inside. There were so many crowds and school groups leaving the castle as we were arriving, so we didn't feel too bad about missing the chaos, and got to walk around the castle with a little more peace and quiet. 

Munich up next!

- Yuriy and Julia

A Sunny Day in Zürich

Thursday, May 4, 2017

We said goodbye to our friends and awesome Swiss hosts, Zhanna and Gary, in Lauterbrunnen, and continued on to Zürich, our first big city and last stop in Switzerland. It was exciting to be in a big European city, even if we were paying $8 for a latte (at least it was in a beautiful cafe that made us feel fancy). We had just one day in the city, and did a free walking tour, which are available in most big cities around the world and an awesome way to get a feel for a new city and see the major attractions in just a couple hours. The city was incredibly clean and felt very sophisticated and nice.

One of the simple highlights of the day was getting pasta and salad from a deli, finding a bench by the Limmat River, and enjoying the food and sunshine amid locals on their lunch breaks.

Next stop: Germany!

- Julia

Into the Swiss Alps

Monday, May 1, 2017

From the village of Lauterbrunnen, we took a cable car up to the summit of Schilthorn (9,744 ft) to get a closer look at the Alps. From the valley floor to the summit, the weather was dramatically colder and we were surrounded by stunning, snow-covered mountain peaks. It was quite the change of scenery.

Once at the top, there are panoramic views of the Swiss Alps, some ski runs, a revolving restaurant, and a 007 James Bond Museum. The revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service. If you remember the old film where there is a gun chase on skis, that's the one. It felt silly just how much everything was branded around James Bond... we ate burgers in the restaurant with 007 stamped into the toasted buns. Before the James Bond movie, it was just a stunning place to be closer to the mountains, the real stars here, and I think I would have preferred it that way.

Either way, we loved the experience and the views and would recommend it, even though the tickets to get up there were overpriced. We wouldn't have been able to experience the Alps up close any other way within a couple hours.

- Julia & Yuriy

Lauterbrunnen — a Fairytale Swiss Village

Friday, April 28, 2017

From Lake Thun, we continued our European roadtrip to the fairytale village of Lauterbrunnen, hidden in a deep valley in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by steep rock faces dotted with waterfalls and wrapped in trees where the mountains are less steep. There are 72 waterfalls that run into the valley, some several hundred feet high. This beautiful place inspired Tolkien's mystical Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. We were here in April before everything turned green after the winter, so we can only imagine how beautiful and lush it must be in the summer.

With only one day here, we visited a place called Trümmelbach Falls, which is a group of beautiful glacier waterfalls inside a mountain and requires a small fee to visit. We’ve never seen any falls like this, running through the inside of a mountain. The waterfalls are super tall and forceful, carving amazing tunnels through the rock. There is a tunnel-lift that will give you a ride to the top of the mountain, and stairs and tunnels that descend down through the mountain, with platforms and lights illuminating the waterfalls in all the right places. There were a few areas where you had to get wet from the incredible spray to get a look at the falls, and yell to be heard over the sound of rushing water. Though it didn't feel very wild, it was pretty impressive how the waterfalls were made accessible with stairs and rails for visitors.

The Trümmelbach drains glaciers from several massive peaks in the Alps including Eiger (3970 m), Mönch (4099 m) and Jungfrau (4158 m). Up to 20,000 litres of water pass through the falls every second. No wonder it’s so beautifully carved!

If we had more time, we would have loved to do some hiking in the area. From the valley, we took a cable car up to the summit of Schilthorn to get a closer look at the Alps. Those photos in the next post.

A Date Around Seattle

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

As much as we love traveling to faraway places, we love where we live. It's been super gloomy and rainy in Seattle the past couple months (making us want to get on a plane), but when we had a sunny Friday last week, we spent the day at some of our favorite spots close to home.

Seattle was one of the first car2go cities to get their hands on the new Mercedes-Benz GLA and CLA fleet and they gave us a car to try out. car2go is is so easy—you check the app to find the closest car to you, hop in and drive anywhere, then drop it off in any legal parking spot. You're charged by the minute while driving (you can currently take out a Mercedes-Benz for only $0.41 per minute), but as soon as you park, you're off the hook and you don't have to pay for parking!! Street parking in Seattle is as high as $4.50 per hour, which is ridiculous and totally not worth it if you want to spend the day in the city. We loved driving the new wheels for our Seattle date.

If you're in Seattle for a day, try something from our ideal Seattle day... 

  1. Walk along the boardwalk and enjoy views of the water and ferries coming and going at Alki beach, just a few minutes from where we live in West Seattle.
  2. Drive to Volunteer Park and wander through the Volunteer Park Conservatory to admire all the amazing plants (and warm up in our favorite cactus room). 
  3. Park in Capitol Hill and visit some of our favorite shops—Totokaelo, Elliot Bay Bookstore, Glasswing, and Likelihood. Even if we're not buying anything, these shops leave us feeling inspired.
  4. Head to Pike Place Market before it closes. Stop by Rachel's Ginger Beer in Post Alley for the tastiest, local ginger beer with flavors like blood orange and white peach. Enjoy the live music, flowers, local goods, and lively atmosphere of the market.
  5. Since we're already parked downtown, walk to Japonessa for our favorite sushi happy hour for dinner (happy hour is all day in the bar except 8-10pm, and it's sooo good).
Seattle is not the most walkable city because of all the water, bridges, and hills separating the neighborhoods, so car2go is super handy when getting from place to place. 

This post was sponsored by car2go. All opinions are our own.

Three Swiss Cities in One Day

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It's a new year, and we hope to share our Europe travels a little more frequently or we'll never get through our photos! After Switzerland, we still have Germany, Italy, France, and Belgium to share. 

Being hosted by our friends, Zhanna and Gary, in Switzerland was amazing because we got to do activities they normally enjoy, like climbing a via ferrata and hiking to their chalet in the mountains. It also meant we did a lot of non-touristy things around home, like go soak in the local hot springs pool at night, eat their fave Thai takeout for dinner one night, and swing by Gary's mom's house to meet some of the family members we'd been hearing so much about.

Toward the end of the week, we decided we needed to venture further away from home and packed up for a short road trip. We were headed toward Lauterbrunnen, and spent a day stopping along the way in a few beautiful cities—Neuchâtel (where I did a short portrait session for Zhanna + Gary), Bern, and Thun. 

There's something so wonderful and picturesque about layers of crammed rooftops, and the Swiss landscape has done the cities a favor with it's rolling hills. There are so many good view points in hilly cities! Bern especially, was one of those cities that seemed to fit in one postcard-perfect frame from up on the hill across the river as soon as we got out of the car. No need to trek anywhere.

On our third stop in Thun, we met up with a couple of photographers we had connected with through Instagram. Gosh, the internet is crazy cool. We instantly became friends with David and Kathrin over a pasta lunch at a lovely sidewalk cafe. After lunch, the six of us wandered around Thun, casually wandering through a castle (no big deal), and taking each other's photos, because that's what photographers do when they get together. David and Kathrin have friends who own a bed and breakfast retreat of some sort on Lake Thun, and they invited us to come see their beautiful property, have a coffee, and take a row boat out on the lake. The weather was overcast and a little hazy, and the light fading over the lake at the end of the day was absolutely beautiful. We didn't see a single other person or boat out—the lake was all ours.

As we traveled northwest from Monthey, the language changed from French to Swiss German. Our hosts speak French and our new friends speak Swiss German, so it was really interesting to see that English can still be the common language even between people from one country!  

We parted ways with our new friends, and continued on to Lauterbrunnen with Zhanna and Gary, driving in the dark—such a shame! Now that we're home, I keep seeing stunning photos of Lake Thun and it hurts to think of the beautiful views we missed while driving around that lake. Never travel through Switzerland through the night! 

We'll share photos from Lauterbrunnen, the beautiful place that inspired RR Tolkien's Rivendell, in the next post. 

- Julia + Yuriy

Neuchâtel, Switzerland

(where I did a short portrait session for our hosts, Zhanna + Gary)