Located just 20 minutes away from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, Lucky Lake Hostel was home base for our first few days in Amsterdam and boy, was it straight out of a backpacker's dream. Fantastic accommodation options to choose from including twin share Caravans and Bunk style beds for larger groups travelling together. While a considerable distance (30 mins by taxi) away from the town center (Dam Square Area), the lack of immediate access to the heart of Amsterdam life is more than made up for by the experience of soaking up the beautiful Netherlands countryside and the eclectic vibe of the Hostel itself. Also, shuttle options from the Hostel to the nearest public transport stops are frequent and operate for the major part of the day.
P.S.- In case you didn't get that already, not a family friendly place- Kids would not be allowed.
We spent the next 3 days exploring the city center and getting a taste of what life in the bustling town was really like.
The list of tourist experiences to write home about includes visiting Dam Square with its impressive view of the Monarch's palace and strolling along the famous canals and waterways in what could be a euphoric or relaxed state- depending on what kind of ‘coffee’ catches your fancy at the time.
At night, one can take in the spectacular diversity of human sexuality in all its glory at the infamous Red Light District. A Caveat- Don’t be surprised if your girlfriend seems to enjoy this attraction even more than you! It is a celebrated view of the Dutch way of life and a true reminder of the openness of their ways.
A wide range of dining options dot the area and the public transport system is cheap, easy and quick. For the culturally and historically inclined, the Van Gogh museum, Rijks Museum and Anne Frank’s house are must see attractions. Remember- per day tickets are limited and need to be pre booked atleast 2 days in advance.
We know what you’re thinking- the title says Road Trip but you haven’t seen a sign of a car anywhere. We had a plan to meet up with some old friends at Berlin, and driving through a crowded and unfamiliar city centre in various states of non-sobriety was not particularly appealing. So we decided to do the next best thing and get around using Berlin’s famed metro system. A comfortable 5 hour train journey to Berlin departs several times a day from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station and gently meanders along through the rolling hills and wide open plains that characterize the German countryside.
For our accommodation, we chose the Hamptons by Hilton, located in the suburb of Alexanderplatz- primary considerations being easy access (metro and otherwise) to the various historical attractions we wanted to cover during our stay. Being walking distance of the towering Branderburg Gate, imposing Neues and Altes museum gave this decision further impetus.
Berlin was a truly remarkable cultural and sensory experience. There is a definite energy to the city, which could possibly be unique in all of Central Europe. The city itself is a marvel given the sheer scale and precise exactness of its massive restoration efforts beginning in the aftermath of World War 2, in a time during which the city was as good as razed to the ground.
The Germans’ penchant for precision and professionalism came through even at the Hertz Car Rental office, and after completing the necessary documentation, we set off in our as-good-as-new Opel Corsa 1.6, with just around a 1000 kilometres on the dash. After a whirlwind 6 days of exploring the sights, smells and sounds of party central Amsterdam and Germany’s most important city, it was time to downshift and settle into the more relaxing but equally stunning section of our Central European holiday.
The first day of our road trip began with a bang- a mammoth 1000 kilometre day trip that took us from the centre of Berlin to Berchtesgaden- a gorgeous town in South Eastern Germany, nestled in the Bavarian Alps and right along the Austria- German border.
Being borderline petrol heads, getting the experience of driving along the impressive Autobahn system meant fulfilling a long-held dream and made for a supremely satisfying journey. Fuel is on the expensive side, so choosing a rental car known for its efficiency figures can help lighten the load on the wallet, although this would of course mean compromising on the performance component somewhat.
Worthwhile pit stops on the Berlin- Berchtesgaden route include the industrial township of Munich and Rothenburg Ob Ter Tauber, a beautiful and quaint village with an enduring legacy rural German architecture. Beer is big business in Germany (Duh!), and you can find a number of locally brewed craft beers at the town pubs, across a wide palette of flavours and price!
Berchtesgarden itself is well known throughout Europe for offering breath-taking views of some of Germany’s highest peaks and for being home to several deep glacial lakes. The National Park towards the south of the municipality is another big draw. Another tourist attraction is the Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle’s Nest, a Third Reich era building which was a hotbed of Nazi activity during the time of World War 2, including playing host to Adolf Hitler himself. The road leading to the Eagle’s Nest is closed to private vehicles and can only be accessed via chartered tour buses leaving periodically from the Obersalzburg area.
The next stop on our trip was the Republic of Austria, a country noted for having among the highest living standards in the entire European Union. The trip from Berchtesgaden to our destination took us away from the Autobahn and onto beautiful mountain roads.
Austria has a number of interesting cities and towns to explore, each with its own unique history and experiences. We chose to reside at Fuschl Am See, located an hour’s drive from Salzburg. The plan was to make Fuschl Am See our home base for the Austrian tour and drive around to explore whichever nearby town or village caught our fancy.
Located on the banks of the Lake Fuschl, the quaint town of Fuschl Am See takes your breath away. Boating, fishing and adventure sport options abound on the lake and can be availed of at reasonable prices. Food is another highlight of the area, with restaurants offering a range of delicious, flavourful and high-quality food to sample. While not exactly cheap given the town’s reputation as a hideaway for the well-heeled of Austrian society, the flavour and quality of the produce make it exceptional value indeed. The accommodation we had booked (Pension Tannhoff) was a cosy family run Bed and Breakfast option located a few metres away from the shores of Lake Fuschl. Highly recommended given the owner’s welcoming hospitality and prime location.
From our base at Fuschl Am See, the next few days were spent exploring the nearby towns of Salzburg, Hallstatt and Galling other place, all of which were located within a 2 hour drive from the area.
Hallstatt (Not to be confused the Swiss town of Alstadt) is a village on Lake Hallstatt’s western shore in Austria’s mountainous Salzkammergut region. There is limited vehicular entry into its main square- so one will have to park on designated parking spots available a few hundred metres away. Home to the world’s first known salt mine named Salzweten, the charming village can be covered in its entirety on foot within 20 minutes or so. The village is Travel Souvenir central- with shops selling authentic handmade Austrian souvenirs lining the market street. The view of Lake Hallstatt with white swans gracefully floating on the surface and set against the backdrop of the icy blue waters and rugged mountain landscape transports you to a world of fairy tales and imagination. Hallstatt is a must see if you ever decide on Austria for your next holiday.
Another hour’s drive from Hallstatt took us to the market town of Golling, in the Hallein District of Salzburg, Austria. The focal point of the attractions on offer is the Gollinger waterfall, for which one has to hike a short country path through the middle of an enchanting forest. There are bigger and more imposing waterfalls in the world, but it is the unique charm of bearing witness to this waterfall in the middle of what can only be described as an area out of a Lord of the Rings Production, that truly sets this one apart.
The Mirabel Palace and Gardens here is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and one can spend hours taking in the glorious grounds and the mythological sculpture work. Film buffs will recall how several scenes of the iconic musical ‘ The Sound of Music’ were shot on these very grounds.
While unbelievably macabre and unsettling in its pervasive detail and unflinching honesty, the visit to this Memorial is truly eye-opening; perhaps essential even, given the current state of today’s affairs.
A 3 hour drive from Salzburg took us to the town of Innsbruck. Enroute, we visited the mighty Kufstein Fortress. Built in the 11th Century, the castle houses the city museum exhibiting various artifacts and a vast taxonomy collection. By virtue of its location 500 metres above sea level, the fortress offers sweeping views of the Tyrol countryside. The fortress is linked to the city below by the Festungsbahn funicular railway.
Innsbruck again is a historically relevant and charming little town. Maria Theresa street offers an array of shopping options across a range of budgets. The hand-crafted souvenirs here are a big draw. We spent the evening shopping for souvenirs for family back home, while absent mindedly licking large chocolate Gelatos.
Our accommodation for the night was Studlerhof – a highly rated BNB set amidst acres of beautiful Austrian farmland. As ever, the hosts were lovely and even upgraded us for free to a large suite, complete with a living room, a large kitchen, a bedroom with en-suite bath, and sweeping balconies to take in the views. The domesticated livestock (rabbits, chickens, cows, ponies) owned by the farm are bound to be a sure fire hit with children and adults alike. Breakfast here is a delectable organic spread of true farm fresh produce- gorgeous cheese, fresh milk and honey, artisan breads and charcuterie products, all of which are available for purchase at very reasonable prices.
We departed the next morning bright and early for the town of Ascona, Switzerland. Being close to the border of Italy means that it is a different Swiss experience to what you might expect. Props to the wonderful Hotel Ascona and staff for their hospitality and warmth (and another free upgrade!). A sight not to be missed here is the 17th century Double arch stone bridge at Ponte Dei Saiti, over the Verzasca river in the nearby village of Lavertezzo.
Ascona and its nearby villages are a way for one to get a fairly authentic Italian experience, without even stepping foot in Italy, be it in terms of the people, the food or by virtue of Italian being the most widespread language in the region- a true cross cultural experience if ever there was one.
Post breakfast the next morning, we undertook another 250 kilometre journey to the vacation town of Gstaad. The road to Gstaad took us right through Italy (something which we had not anticipated and which caught us pleasantly by surprise) and the heart of the Swiss Alps. The driving experience here was surreal, with roads meandering between sheer snow-capped mountainsides and raging waterfalls in the distance. By this time, the little Opel had grown on us as well and the drive there turned out to be a true holiday highlight.
Situated in the Berner Oberland, Gstaad is home to one of the largest ski areas in the Alps and is a renowned luxury resort town, packed with designer fashion stores, Michelin Starred restaurants, and is the vacation favourite of Europe’s well-heeled set.
Our plan in Gstaad however, was the opposite of pampered luxury. We had chosen to spend the next 2 nights in a historic chalet, away from the hustle of the main town.
We were not disappointed!
The 400-hundred-year-old Chalet Hansifang is an erstwhile hunting chalet, placed on AirBNB by its current owners. In spite of being located just 15 minutes’ drive from the main town, the chalet is a haven away from any noise, pollution or crowds. In the middle of the hills, this tastefully done chalet has everything you want out of a rustic mountain experience. The chalet itself is located in a verdant valley full of flowering plants of every imaginable colour and offers towering vistas of the Swiss Alps from each of the rustic windows. Late evening conversations by the roaring stone fireplace, with a glass of wine and a fox coat draped around your shoulders made for a surreal and mesmerizing experience. Solar panels power the utilities and lighting so that you never forget you are on vacation. We found the lack of cellular connectivity an added bonus allowing us to really escape into the wilderness, and disconnect from the world outside this little haven. Highly recommended is an understatement given the rustic splendor of living in this beautiful Chalet.
The next few days were spent road tripping across the gorgeous Swiss landscape in our trusty Opel. We visited the de facto capital city of Bern and spent a lovely evening strolling the banks of the mighty Lake Thun, stopping at one of the many cafes for dinner and a well deserved drink.
The last pit stop on our European adventure was the city of Lucerne, which was admittedly a lot more commercial than we expected. The Chapel bridge over the river Reuss is the main tourist attraction in the area.
Our last evening was spent in the beautiful Hotel Terresse Am See in the resort town of Vitznau, located an hour away from Zurich Airport. We spent the evening relaxing in the hotels’ renowned restaurant with grand vintage windows offering among the most idyllic views of Lake Lucerne and its shimmering blue waters.
Rejuvenated but with a heavy heart, we dropped the car off at the Zurich Airport Rental parking the next morning and prepared to take the flight back home. The instruments gave us an accurate reading of the scale of the road trip. All in all, over a course of 17 days, we had covered 4 countries, 9 towns and cities, and been in the car for what turned out to be 4928 kilometres- 49 hours and 49 minutes.
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