Image is the property of Coldcreation via Wikimedia Commons

In Search of Templar Castles

We had always thought that a driving trip in Europe would be fun & very interesting, and that it would provide us with more time to see areas that we had never seen before. So we began to discuss, based on what we wanted to see in various European countries, how long we might need to explore there, and what could be seen along the way there.

We quickly realized that what we had mapped out, would require way more time than we had previously dedicated to this trip, so we scaled back the scope and decided that we would concentrate on France, Germany and Austria. We also decided that three weeks would be adequate to allow us to visit each of these places.

The "base game plan" was that we would stay in various cities and/or villages, and perform a series of "day trips" from those locations, to visit the areas we had decided on. Our secondary goal, was to be able to make quite a bit of history "come alive" for our 14 year old son, such that he would be able to not only "be there", but to be able to understand history that much better than just seeing it on TV, or reading about it in a book.

With a game plan in place, we listed things that we wanted to accomplish, or see, in no specific priority order, but to be able to have a "hit list" of things that we knew we wanted to achieve. The list of "base camps" then became Paris , Bordeaux, Rustiques (near Carcassonne, France), Annecy and finally Munich, Germany.

With our list of "day camp Cities" complete, we sat down and spent some quality time on VRBO (and other rental web sites) and selected what we thought were good rentals, but more importantly, good rentals in good locations.

Paris France   Map
First Stop: Paris

Paris was the first stop on this trip, because we wanted our son to see the city with us, and secondly because the city has good transportation choices & is full of beautiful sites, art and areas of interest.

Paris is an easy place to get around in, we always use the Paris Metro because it goes everywhere we are interested in going to. Just about anything you might want to explore is near a Metro Station, or it is an easy walk from a station. As just an example, everyone talks about how far the Paris Catacombs are, but they are only a 3 minute walk from the Denfert-Rochereau Metro Station. As a further example, the French RER Train System connects with many Metro Stations, giving you access to RER Trains that could take you to Versailles or the Disneyland Resort Paris.

 Click here to visit our Paris Page
Bordeaux France   Map
Bordeaux, France

This was our next stop after Paris, and we selected this city because of it's proximity to wine country and the Dune du Pilat. We were not yet ready to obtain our rental car, and we knew that we could easily explore Bordeaux and the surrounding area by local train.

The principle reason for our visit to Bordeaux, was to explore Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat which is the largest sand dune in Europe. We had read about that area during our trip research, but nothing can prepare you for the enormous size of that sand dune!

 Click here to visit our Bordeaux Page
Bordeaux to Rustiques Drive
Driving through Wine Country

Our goal was to drive through "wine country" via Bergerac (Cyrano de Bergerac's birthplace) and Cahors, France. Please note that this goal was not due to our desire to avoid the French freeways ("auto routes"), but was because we knew that the country route would bring us through some beautiful wine region country and we wanted to enjoy the scenery.

We picked up our rental car (a Renault turbo diesel 5 speed sedan) at the Auto Europe rental center (AKA "EuropCar") immediately behind the Bordeaux train station. As opposed to American Auto Rental companies, the cars for rent were several blocks away in a two story parking structure. So the auto rental clerk provides you with a map, and somewhat vague description of where your car can be found in the parking structure, especially when you don't speak French very well. It was fortunate that there were three of us, because we had to split up and search the parking structure to locate the correct car!

We had acquired a Tom-Tom GPS navigation device prior to the trip, so we mounted it on the Renault, let it get synced up with the GPS satellites (needs at least 3 satellites to work properly), and then we headed off to wine country.

I won't bore you with the drive details, but allow me to point out that this was not only a beautiful country drive, and was dotted with a number of very famous French vintners, it was much more scenic than attempting to drive on any of the available auto routes. This route also allowed us to transit Toulouse during the non-rush-hour time of day!

In & Around Carcassonne, France
Above image is the property of  BrianRS1  via Wikipedia and the  CC BY-SA 3.0  license
Carcassonne area of France

After departing Bordeaux, this was our next major stop on our 2013 European Trip and our game plan was to explore several Cathar Fortresses, the Carcassonne Fortress, Trebes and the Canal du Midi and of course Rustiques, where our rental unit was located.

 Click here to visit our Carcassonne Area page
Cathar Country   Map
Exploring Cathar Country

This region of France was only 96 kilometers from our house rental in Rustiques, but because the route was two lane and was through a mountainous area, it took us two hours to reach it. Well worth the wait, as the Chateaus were part of the kind of history we were interested in exploring.

 Click here to visit our Cathar Country page
Pont du Gard, France   Map

After some further adventures in and around Carcassonne & Rustiques, we repacked the Renault, and headed off to Annecy. This was easily the longest drive so far, at 560 kilometers, we knew we had to get out on the auto route early.

The drive from Rustiques to the Pont du Gard was 227 kilometers via the A9 auto route. We had researched this destination and knew that stopping to see the Pont du Gard was well worth the time, so we made a very early departure from Rustiques.

  

Above image is the property of Armin Kübelbeck via Wikimedia Commons and the  CC BY-SA 3.0  license.

The Pont du Gard, is an amazingly well preserved Roman Aqueduct, very near the city of Remoulin, France. The aqueduct is a huge structure built in the first century AD & still carrying foot traffic today. It was constructed by the Romans to carry water to the city of Nimes over 50 kilometers away.

The main construction work lasted between 10 and 15 years, under the reigns of Claudius and Nero, with the Pont du Gard taking less than five years. The aqueduct is comprised of several hundred meters of tunnels, three basins and some twenty bridges, of which the Pont du Gard remains the most spectacular.

Click here to go to their website.

We've been to Rome, and have explored a number of Roman ruins, but this aqueduct is such a great example of Roman engineering, it just had to be seen to be believed. Each stone in the structure has the appearance of having been cut & shaped precisely for where it sits without much of a gap at all!

Obviously, we had to walk across the bridge just below the aqueduct, and as you walk along and look at how well the stones were cemented into place, you realize that the Romans were incredible engineers.

This was a beautiful day, and there were a large number of French visitors either swimming in the river below, or having a picnic on the beach.

 Click here to visit our Pont du Gard Visit Image Gallery
 Quick History Lesson 

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. The Pont du Gard, built as three tiers of archways to bring water to the city of Nîmes, is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts, and one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.

The aqueduct bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometer (31 mile) system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). Because of the uneven terrain between the two points, the mostly underground aqueduct followed a long, winding route that called for a bridge across the gorge of the Gardon River. The bridge has three tiers of arches, stands 48.8 meters (160 ft) high, and descends a mere 2.5 centimetres (1 in) – a gradient of only 1 in 18,241 – while the whole aqueduct descends in height by only 12.6 meters (41 ft) over its entire length, which is indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve using simple technology. The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 8,800,000 imperial gallons of water per day. Click here to go to the Pont du Gard Wikipedia Page, where some of this information came from.

Annecy, France   Map
Annecy, France

We had originally selected Annecy as a "stopover" because we did not want to drive non-stop to Munich from Rustiques (nearly 1,200 kilometers), and the more we researched the Annecy area the more we realized that it was not only an interesting area, but that it was a beautiful lake and that we would be close to the Chamonix area - which would give us a nice day trip to enjoy.

The Annecy area of France and the surrounding French countryside, is not only historically interesting, it is scenic beyond words. Please note that our Annecy Page also contains images and narrative for several day trips we took, ie; Annecy exploration, Gorges du Fier, Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard, as well as a boat tour around Lake Annecy.

Chamonix was another day trip we made from Annecy, as it is only a 100 kilometer drive. We rode the Cable Car to Aigulle du Midi and explored the village. Click here to view our Chamonix Page.

 Click here to visit our Annecy Page
Munich, Germany   Map
Going to Munich, Germany

From our prior Siemens Corporation employment, and numerous previous visits to Munich, adding it as one of this trip's destinations was an easy decision. From our Siemen's days we have a number of good friends who still live in Munich, and we planned a number of interesting day trips throughout Bavaria.

Munich has an efficient public transportation system, with the subway stations being connected to or serviced by buses & trams. It is very easy to get around the entire city, you just need a good transportation map and then you can easily travel to any Munich area of interest.

 Click here to visit our Munich Page
Nuremberg, Germany   Map

Nuremberg was our first day trip from Munich, as we wanted to explore some fascinating historical sites, as well as the Nazi Documentation Center. 170 kilometers from Munich via the A9 Autobahn with a pleasant view of the Bavarian countryside along the way.

 Click here to visit our Nuremberg Page
Rothenburg Germany   Map
Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Since Rothenburg ob der Tauber is essentially on the way back to Munich from Nuremberg, we decided to make that our next exploration. 112 kilometers from Nuremberg via the A-6 autobahn, however a major accident caused a horrendous traffic backup that turned what should have been an hour trip into a 2+ hour crawl.

 Click here to visit our Rothenburg Page
Neuschwanstein Castle   Map

Our next day trip was to Neuschwanstein Castle, south of Munich near the Forggensee lake. We drove south from Munich on route B472 until we merged onto the Romantic Road ("Romantische Straße" AKA route B17), which took us through some very pretty country side.

The castle is located at the western edge of the Ammergebirge Mountains and it is located not far from where King Ludwig was born and raised at Hohenschwangau Castle near the Alpsee Lake. There are tours available for both castles, however, Neuschwanstein is a very popular destination so you will need to acquire advance reservations to get into a tour - you cannot go inside unless you are in a tour group. See here or here for more information, ticket prices, etc.

 Click here to visit our Neuschwanstein Page
Andechs Monastery   Map

The route from Neuschwanstein Castle to Andechs Monastery is straight forward and takes you through some beautifl countryside. We took route 17 to Fussen, then north on route B472 to the Andechs Monastery exit. Once we got to Vorderfischen though, we discovered that the normal route to the Monastery was closed, so we had to continue along Lake Ammersee on Herrschinger Strasse until we were a bit north of Andechs (near Herrsching), and then we were able to back-track to the Monastery.

When I worked for Siemens (many years ago), I visited Andechs Monastery on a number of occasions, which provided me wit some very fond memories of the beer the monks brewed there. I was accompanied on these visits with various friends from Siemens who would take me to visit their favorite destinations in Bavaria. Since we were going to be driving back to Munich close to Andechs, and as we still had some very good German friends in Munich, we made some plans.

So our plan was for our German friends to meet us at Andechs Monastery, to have dinner with us and enjoy some of the locally brewed beer. All of us enjoyed several beers, and a good dinner, in the court yard of the monastery - sort of a mini-beer garden.

The Andechs Brewery is well-known for its high-quality beer. The beer is brewed on location and is still controlled by the monks. There are various different types of beer brewed. The most famous is the 7% alcohol "Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel", but they also brew other beers such as a Helles ("Andechser Hell"), a Dunkles ("Andechser Dunkel") and an "Andechser Weissbier". There is also a distillery producing high-quality Andechs Monastery liqueurs.

The opportunity to meet our German friends while enjoying the beer, was just too good to pass up! When I worked for Siemens, we would visit this Monastery for dinner and drinks. Obviously there are a lot of great memories about this place...

Dachau Concentration Camp   Map

From our rental location in south-central Munich, it was only a 28 kilometer drive to Dachau, which like Nuremberg, was one of our major goals to visit during this trip. This is a somber place to visit!

Click here to search Amazon for books about the Dachau Concentration Camp.

Dachau Concentration Camp

These concentration camp sites are maintained as "living museums" by German law, and in fact, students are required to visit a camp at least once during their school years. Bavaria started this law, in an attempt to deal with not only the right-wing extremists, but to improve children's knowledge of the Nazi horror years.

The number of people who died in the Dachau concentration camp is officially given as 31,951. Dachau was the first concentration camp opened in 1933 and was originally intended to house political prisoners and opponents of the Nazi government for the purpose of forced labor.

After the advent of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany's "final solution" to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, Dachau was used to house Jews and other groups who were targeted in the Holocaust, such as homosexuals, gypsies, religious minorities, communists, and prisoners from German-occupied countries.

The Nazis established approximately 110 camps (based on the Dachau "model") starting in 1933 to imprison political opponents and other undesirables. The number expanded as the Third Reich expanded and the Germans began occupying parts of Europe. When the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum first began to document all of the camps, the belief was that the list would total approximately 7,000. However, researchers found that the Nazis actually established about 42,500 camps and ghettoes between 1933 and 1945. This figure includes 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettoes, 980 concentration camps; 1,000 POW camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm; Germanizing prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers. The Berlin, Germany area alone had nearly 3,000 camps.

Click here to read further about concentration camps.

Dachau was liberated by American forces on April 29, 1945.

  

Above image is the property of Kallarakkal11 via Wikimedia Commons using a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Dachau Concentration Camp Tour

The original Nazi SS barracks were converted into a museum, filled with pictures and memorabilia from when the camp was a horrifying prison. The original prisoner barracks had been torn down after the war, but some have been re-created in order to enable camp visitors to see what living conditions were like there.

Our goal in visiting Dachau, was to reinforce our son Jeremy's understanding of what horrible things the Nazi's had done, and to insure that Jeremy could see for himself a Nazi concentration camp as it had been during the Nazi time frame.

Click here to visit a good website for more info about the Dachau Camp.

We found this visit to be a very somber experience; the museum contains hundreds and hundreds of photographs from the Nazi era. For a more complete description of Dachau, click here to to go the Wikipedia Dachau Page.

Dachau Concentration Camp

As can be seen in this picture, many of the original barracks buildings from WW2 were removed. Two of the barracks have been rebuilt and one shows a cross-section of the entire history of the camp since the original barracks had to be torn down due to their poor condition when the memorial was built. The removal of the old buildings was commenced in 1965 in order to create the Dachau Memorial Site.

Dachau Concentration Camp Barracks Area

In image # 1 you can see the barracks foundation slabs where the barracks once stood (Most of the camp's dilapidated buildings were torn down before 1965). The foundations of the old barracks remain, and beyond them are three memorials: the Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel (built in 1960), the Carmelite Holy Blood Convent (1064), the Jewish Memorial (1967) and the Protestant Church of Reconciliation (1967).

Image # 2 is the original S.S. Building which is now the Museum that contains a number of images from the WW2 era as well as various artifacts.

Salzburg, Austria & Area   Map

Our next "day trip" adventure was to drive to Salzburg, Austria just over the Germany-Austria border on the A94 autobahn. The drive from Munich was brief, but the traffic levels as we got close to Salzburg were impressive! There was an accident on the autobahn and what should have been a 90 minute drive (145 kilometers) took almost 3 hours. We had a good game plan though, and knew our destinations from previous trips.

 Click here to visit our Salzburg Page
Trip Conclusion
Back Home and our New Puppy

So, at the end of our 2,500 kilometer three country trek, we drove our rental car to the Munich International Airport and then flew back to Dulles International Airport in Washington DC.

We picked up our new puppy ("Maggie") a beautiful Australian Shepherd - and then we returned to Sarasota, FL. (Post-Edit) Maggie is still with us 9 years later, and she has been the smartest most laid-back dog we have ever owned.

Trip Summary

We had a good game plan completely researched and documented before we departed the US and we stuck close to it. Obviously when you have hotel arrangements, or flights, you have to stay on track to make those kinds of connections. But everything else, was just a matter of what we wanted to do each day. For example, we would keep a "hit list" of things that we would like to do, but we did not treat that list as a "must be done on this day". Sometimes we did things out of order, sometimes we skipped things and did something else. Or we would drive by some place and decide to stop and see it.

The key is to always be flexible!

Trip Related Pages
Trip Overview
Paris, France
Bordeaux, France
Carcassonne, France
Cathar Country, France
Canal du Midi, France
Lake Annecy, France
Chamonix, France
Munich, Germany
Rothenburg, Germany
Nuremberg, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle
Salzburg, Austria

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