Hallstatt – where beauty meets adventure

On a cloudy Easter Sunday morning, we began our short drive to Hallstatt. As we drove out of Salzburg, we were met with pouring rain. The snow-speckled alpine mountains surrounding Salzburg were completely hidden from view and dark clouds hung low. Several minutes into our drive, we move off the expressway and pass thru pretty little villages nestled at the foot of lush green hills. We drive past these villages and on to windy roads with the hills on one side and the gushing stream on the other. The rain had slowed down to a drizzle, the clouds were receding and finally, some spring sunshine filters thru the sky as we arrive in Hallstatt.

Our first stop in Hallstatt was the Dachstein Ice Caves and 5 Fingers Lookout. Unfortunately, this was still closed due to the cold weather (Austria was still getting its last snowfall in April!) We were a bit disappointed as the views from the 5 Fingers looked stunning and the ice caves looked simply fascinating from the pictures we’d seen. But, we knew we were not going to be able to explore some of the sights as we were still traveling during the winter period and most of the attractions would reopen only around the end of April. We didn’t despair though as we had quite an exciting adventure waiting for us!

We pulled into the parking area at the Salzwelten Hallstatt and made our way to the funicular that would take us up to the Salzberg (Salt Mountain). It’s a short scenic ride offering beautiful views of the Hallstatt lake and the Alps.

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Once you are off the funicular, you have a few things to do on the Salzberg – head up to the Skywalk or World Heritage View – it’s a viewing platform 350 metres above the Hallstatt village. Take the lookout bridge towards the Rudolf Tower to get to the Skywalk. The views from here are just jaw-dropping. You can see the Hallstatt village right below you and the nearby Obertraun village as well. The Hallstattersee looks quite magnificient from this height. Although we visited on a cloudy day and the alps were mostly hidden from view, the moody clouds added a certain charm to the views.

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And the main attraction on this Salt Mountain is the Salt Mine of course. If you’re feeling peckish before you head on over to the Salt Mine, you can grab a bite at the restaurant in the Rudolf Tower. They have a lovely patio which is right above the Skywalk deck so you can grab a pint and a bite while enjoying the beautiful views. Make sure you head on over to the salt mine in time for your tour. The walk to the Salt Mine is short but beautiful.

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Look back and you can see the Rudolf Tower in the distance..

The Salt Mine tour was the highlight of our Hallstatt trip. This is hands down one of our best tours and most fascinating experiences ever. Not only was it well-organized with informative and friendly guides but it was filled with a lot of high-tech entertainment and adventure! Before we set off on our tour through the oldest salt mine in the world, we had to don a miner’s suit which was just the beginning of making this a very real experience. We then walked thru long tunnels that had been dug up by miners a few thousands of years ago to get to the salt mine.

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And, then, it was time to take a mindblowing ride down a very long, ancient wooden miner’s slide to go further down into the mine. As you can tell from the picture, I was a bit nervous as is usually the case with rides but Steve just loves them! You could take the flight of stairs next to the slide if you don’t feel up to it. But, you really should do the slide – it’s a lot of fun! It’s quite safe for the young and old (just don’t put your arms out and follow the directions given).

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They also capture your embarassing but fun moment to take back as a prized souvenir

Once you’re further down in the mine, you’ll find lots of rock salt – on the ceiling, on the walls, everywhere… you can just pinch some off for a taste – it’s delicious!

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The tour guides are great – they give you excellent background on the salt mine and its significance. Here are some tidbits that we remember – Apparently, 250 million years ago, the entire salt mine area was covered by the ocean. The village of Hallstatt came into existence when the salt mine was discovered during the pre-historic times. And today, the Hallstatt salt mine produces 750,000 tonnes of salt per year. It is one of the first known salt mines in the world that helped uncover valuable information on the pre-historic era.

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In the salt mine, you’ll go thru several diferent sections – some like the one above where you’ll find salt blocks and some others where they display valuable finds from the pre-historic times. There’s also a little cinema room – appearing very rustic but built with advanced technology. The tour also includes a few short, interesting videos that take you deeper into the history of the salt mine and the remarkable discoveries that were made including the oldest wooden staircase in Europe and the Man in Salt (the body of a former miner was discovered in an astonishingly well-preserved condition due to all the salt he was buried under!)

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No, this isn’t him – this is just Sepp, a miner who tells the story of the Man in Salt

At the last level in the mine, you are 400 metres underground and there is a mysterious little lake that reflects an amazing light show – spectacular effects and very nicely done! The light show depicts pre-historic times and a day in the life of the miners.

And, finally, it’s time for the last ride through the mine… We hop on a miner’s railway and take another exhilirating ride thru the narrow tunnels of the mine.

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The Hallstatt Salt Mine is a sensational experience – filled with non-stop adventure from start to finish. We highy recommend a visit to the Salzberg / Salt Mountain – it takes about 3 hours to do the salt mine tour and the skywalk. If there’s only one thing you have time for in Hallstatt, do this. It’s an unforgettable, thrilling adventure! If you have more time to spare and love a hike, Salzberg offers a couple of lovely hiking options as well.

We had just a couple more hours to spare in Hallstatt and decided to ride the funicular back down and check out the little village.

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We took a stroll thru the village market place. (See how deserted it is? Definitely one of the greatest advantages of traveling off-season is to be able to explore a place without bumping shoulder to shoulder. It is just the kind of holiday we like.)

The Hallstatt village center is filled with colorful little buildings and the Evangelical Church dominates most of this little center.

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It has an impressive spire
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This other church you see perched on the hill is Hallstatt’s catholic church – St. Michael’s Chapel

This 12th century church is most popular for its Charnel House (or Bone House). The Ossuary boasts a collection of over 600 skulls, all adorned with artistic designs. Unfortunately, we got there only to find that we’d arrived a few minutes too late. The place had just been closed!

We took a walk around the lovely little cemetery at the back of the church. Much like the rest of Austria, the graves are beautifully decorated with personal effects adorning the graves. The view from the top of the church is lovely.

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We then walked up to the classic village viewpoint at the Gosaumühlstraße. This is where you can get the famous postcard view of Hallstatt.

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Although it was about 7 PM, there was still plenty of daylight and we headed down to the lake for a stroll. The views of the Hallstätter See are just delightful. We grabbed a coupla beers, plonked down on one of the benches by the lake, and sat admiring the alpine wonder that surrounds this little Austrian village.

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Of course you could do a boat tour as well and get up close to these gorgeous mountains
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It was nearing sundown and we were just content to sit there and watch the swans swim by..

There’s unbelievable beauty everywhere in this little village!

Although it can get quite crowded, just take a walk thru the village and its surounding area and you can find a cosy quiet little spot to admire the beauty that this small place packs in.

We spent a short day in Hallstatt. If you do choose to stay overnight, you could stay at the nearby, less touristy Gosau or Obertraun. They are just 10 minutes away from Hallstatt. We spent a short while in Obertraun – it’s a tiny village on the other side of this bridge.

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With it being Easter sunday, the locals were nowhere to be seen and the tourists were thronging little Hallstatt. We seemed to be the only souls in this sleepy village and it was lovely to walk through the quiet little lanes and sit by the lake.

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The beauty of Austria is in its little alpine villages – each one as breathtaking as the next. We had visited St. Gilgen and Mondsee the previous day and continued to be amazed by this incredibly beautiful country. The Salzkammergut region where all these little villages are has some of Austria’s prettiest lakes and most charming villages, all surrounded by the majestic Alps.

We plan on going back to Austria again, maybe in winter – we’d love to try some skiing and snowboarding!

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While we dream of that day and hope it comes sooner than later, here’s the ‘Salt Man’ wishing you Glück Auf or Good Luck for your Hallstatt trip!

Mondsee – a charming little place

Tucked away in the scenic Salzkammergut region, Mondsee is another one of Austria’s lesser known wonders.

After a wonderful day at St. Gilgen and the Wolfgangsee, we decided to do a quick stop at nearby Mondsee before heading back to Salzburg which was our base for our German Austrian alpine trip.

Mondsee is another little Austrian village in the Salzkammergut region that will have you fascinated by its beauty and idyllic charm in no time.

On a cloudy evening, we arrived in Mondsee. We parked in the main square of the village. It’s a small square, lined with colorful townhouses, mostly restaurants and stores selling handcrafted wares.

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Just opposite this main square is the Collegiate Church of St. Michael, which used to be the monastery church of Mondsee Abbey. The Mondsee Abbey was founded in 748 and there’s some interesting folklore around why the abbey was founded and how the name Mondsee, meaning moon lake, came about.

The church is possibly most famous for being the venue for the wedding of Maria and Captain von Trapp in the famous musical ‘Sound of Music‘. The church is quite the sought-after church for weddings in the area ever since the film was released.  Also known as the Basilica St. Michael, the church is one of the primary reasons tourists flock this little village. Even if you are not a huge Sound of Music fan, this little village will still leave a lasting impression.

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The Basilica of St. Michael
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The interiors of the church are quite impressive
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Especially impressive is its baroque style altar

Right outside the church is the city tram stop. Now, this is a tram ride we highly recommend you make part of your Mondsee itinerary. The tram ride is just lovely – the driver gives you a very informative tour (even if you are the only soul on the tram!) and takes you thru the smallest of Mondsee streets. The best part of the ride is when the tram arrives at the Mondsee promenade and takes you right in front of the Mondsee – and you are mere inches away from the lake! That was a fantastic and unique experience.

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At the promenade, you can get off the tram and enjoy a nice stroll along the lake. Take a walk around the promenade park as well… you’ll find gorgeous little streams and bridges that make you feel like you’re in a land of fairies.4836534628017574288-account_id=2 (2)

 

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The beautiful Countess Michelin Gräfin von Almeida

 

Just a few metres away is the Mondsee Pier where you can get the best views of the beautiful Salzkammergut region.

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It was just us and these ducks braving the cold, rainy evening…

We stood at the pier for a long time, just basking in the silence around us.. watching the tranquil waters of Mondsee make little magical ripples.

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We wish we’d had more time to explore this beautiful alpine village of Austria. We hope to go back to Austria someday soon during summer. Mondsee is quite popular for water sports – it is the warmest lake in the Salzkammergut region and folks from nearby towns flock this little village during the summer months.

If you are visiting the Salzkammergut region of Austria, be sure to make little Mondsee part of your Austria holiday – it is a special place!

We fell in love with Mondsee and the other little villages in the Salzkammergut region – they are filled with such incredible beauty that you’ll always want to go back for more. 

Ramsau (Berchtesgaden)

An enchanting little village where we wish we’d spent more time…

We visited Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden on a rainy evening. We’d just spent the day at nearby Königssee and wanted to visit Ramsau before heading back to Salzburg, which was our base for our week-long German Austrian road trip.

It was early spring and the clouds were lurking around and we knew it was going to pour. Through the entire day at Königssee, we fortunately escaped the rain. But, as we parked our car at Ramsau, it started raining and didn’t stop for the entire hour we were there. It was just relentless!

That didn’t stop us from getting out and exploring though. We got out our umbrellas, put on our hoodies, huddled closer and walked to the bridge near the Ramsau church where thousands of photographers have tried to capture the famous postcard view of this idyllic little village.

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Ramsau is surrounded by incredible beauty. It is set amidst the Alps and on a clear day, you can see the massive Alps right behind the little church making the view even more remarkable. Despite the heavy downpour, you can still get a small peek at a snow-covered mountain in the pic above.

With the stream by its side, the Alps behind it, and green hills with flocks of sheep surrounding it, this is the most picturesque church we’ve ever seen!

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The church is also adorned by the prettiest cemetery we’d ever seen. It was a wonderful sight of love and peace.

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Cemeteries like these around the local church appeared to be customary in this region. Many of them have intricate and unique gravestones that are surrounded by figurines and photos. These evoke a feeling of comfort and peace rather than the usual melancholy associated with cemeteries.

The interior of the Ramsau church is quite simple but lovingly decorated.

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Although we spent less than an hour in this little German village and had barely seen all that it had to offer, we left Ramsau with lovely memories knowing we’ll be back soon.

Berchtesgaden and its surrounding area is extraordinarily beautiful. It should top your list of places to see in Germany. It is our most loved place in all of Germany and we cannot wait to head back there someday soon.

St. Gilgen and the Wolfgangsee – pure wonder

Surrounded by beautiful blue lakes and stunning alpine panorama, this picturesque Austrian village will steal your heart.

We made our way to St. Gilgen on the second day of our German-Austrian alpine road trip. Situated on the northern shore of the Wolfgangsee, St. Gilgen is one of the most scenic little towns in the popular Salzkammergut region in Austria.

We had a late start to St. Gilgen after our delightful visit to Lake Chiemsee the previous day. But, located just 25 kilometers away from Salzburg, we were in this charming little town in less than 30 minutes.

We headed straight to the Zwölferhorn Cable Car station. Zwölferhorn is part of the Salzkammergut mountain range of the Eastern Alps. The eastern part of the Alps, although not as high as the western range, is blessed with plenty of lakes, most of which are in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. This is quite evident when you stand atop the Zwölferhorn. You are surrounded by numerous deep blue lakes including the Wolfgangsee, Mondsee, Fuschlsee and Attersee. It’s a pretty spectacular view!

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Wolfgangsee, the big lake at the front and Mondsee, at the back

The Zwölferhorn cable car is said to have begun operations over 65 years ago. It’s a short 15-minute breathtaking ride to the top.

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View of the magnificent Austrian Alps as we make our ascent to Zwölferhorn

Once you get to the top, there are a whole bunch of viewpoints you can walk up to, in just about 10 minutes. You get strikingly different views from each side.

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Despite a cloudy day, the beautiful mountains and valleys of Salzkammergut make for a great view
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Wolfgangsee narrows down as it flows towards the southern side

The top of Zwolferhorn is simply a little paradise. The views are insanely good. We grabbed one of these benches and just sat there, hand in hand, admiring the beauty of Austria.

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We were missing something though…

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Brew with a view

A delicious pint of one of Austria’s fine beers completes the delightful experience! Stiegl is one of Austria’s most popular, revered beers. Unfortunately, they just brew a lager style offering no ales. But, the beer is worth trying. It’s quite a refreshing easy-drinking not-too-hoppy lager. (More on our beer travels in Austria coming soon in a separate post!)

Despite the somewhat warmer temperatures, there was still some snow around. But the weather was pleasant. And, the place wasn’t too packed with tourists – one of the biggest advantages of traveling during the off-season. We found a cozy little spot and sat sipping our beers and basking in the spring sunshine – the perfect recipe for a great day!

The Salzkammergut mountain range is quite impressive. Dachstein is one of the tallest and most popular mountains in Salzkammergut and is known for its fascinating ice caves and glaciers.

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Some of the mountains of Salzkammergut

We’d planned on visiting Dachstein as well on this trip but hit some bad weather and decided to save this for our next Austrian trip. The views of the Austrian Alps from Dachstein look mind-blowing and you should definitely make it part of your itinerary if you can!

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The large mountain you see is Schafberg

Schafberg is another popular mountain around the Wolfgangsee and at the foothills of this mountain is St. Wolfgang, another charming little village. Schafberg is well-known for its historic steam cog railway that has been offering rides up the steep mountain for over 120 years! [Fun fact: The train has also featured in the hugely famous movie ‘Sound of Music’. Most of the movie was actually filmed in and around the Salzkammergut area.] The Schafbergbahn was sadly not operational in early April and we missed this exciting ride.

There’s so much to do around the Wolfgangsee and so much beauty!

But, we first needed some food! We decided to head back down to St. Gilgen and grab a bite in one of those lovely lakeside restaurants.

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The Wolfgangsee Schiffahrt takes you on a beautiful ride across the lake, meandering through crystal clear blue waters. Apart from St. Gilgen and St. Wolfgang, there are a few other little villages by the Wolfgangsee you can visit if you’d like.

Having happily stuffed ourselves with some delicious food and ales at the Fischer Wirt restaurant, we decided to wander around little St. Gilgen.

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Hidden alleyways are the best place to start
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Just love how trees look in early spring – still blossoming with the littlest of green leaves

St. Gilgen is a small village with lovely little houses dotting the lakefront. It is also sometimes referred to as Abersee. But is popularly known as ‘Mozart village’. Although Mozart never visited the place, a few of his family members lived here and there’s a Mozarthaus to commemorate the great composer and his family.

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Not too far away from the Mozarthaus is a lovely statue of Mozart himself in front of the Rathaus (town hall).

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St. Gilgen Mozartplatz

It’s not just music but wonderful art as well that adorns this quaint little village.

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A fountain dedicated to Mozart’s mother who was born here

Our last stop was the parish church of Saint Aegidius, aka Saint Giles, after whom the village gets its name.

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It is a small church done up in baroque style. While the interior of the church was splendid, the little cemetery at the back of the church was heart-warmingly beautiful. It was so endearing to see the little notes on the tombstones, the fresh bouquets of flowers, the candles and the photographs on the graves.

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It got us thinking about our own loved ones we lost in this sometimes difficult journey that is life. Our spirits weren’t dampened though. If anything, this town filled us with an overwhelming sense of love and appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us.

We simply fell in love with St. Gilgen. It is just a tiny place in the vast land of Austria but it is one of the prettiest places in this remarkable country. We made a silent promise to come back to this enchanting little village.

Memmingen – where time stands still

Sometimes, the smallest of things pack in the largest of wonders.

Memmingen is a quaint little Bavarian town, popularly known as the gateway to the Allgäu (a region across Germany and Austria that stretches across the Alps). Most tourists use Memmingen as a base when traveling to the Bavarian Alps or the Neuschwanstein (sleeping beauty) castle as this little town has an airport and it’s quicker to access the Alps from here rather than from Munich or Stuttgart.

Oh, but, this dreamy little town is more than just a gateway to the Alpine region. It is a charming, vibrant little town with colorful townhouses and cobblestoned alleys which was thankfully left unscathed by the World War II destruction that left most of Germany in shambles.

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One of the prettiest market squares we’ve seen

We visited Memmigen on a sudden whim; decided to make the slight detour on our way back home from Füssen. So, with no list of things to do and places to see, we decided to just walk around this medieval town for a few hours and see what little surprises were in store. And, we were not disappointed! At every corner, we ran into one wondrous thing or the other – a historic building, a brightly painted house, a pretty stream, an interesting sculpture, a beautiful little chapel… we were simply delighted at every turn.

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We started at the Marktplatz, the city centre, which is generally the best place to start at in any town. But this market place was unlike any others we’d seen. Colorful buildings adorn this little square and most of this little town. You’ll see these brightly painted buildings all around town.

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We just fell in love with them

This intricately painted building you see in the pictures below is Memmingen’s Steuerhaus (tax house). It takes up most of the market square.

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It was a bright sunny day and we basked in the warm spring sunshine

Right next to the Steuerhaus is the Rathaus (town hall).

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We quite liked the dome design of the Rathaus, especially the centre dome with its shuttered windows

We continued walking towards the other end of the square.. just next to the Steuerhaus is the St. Johann church.

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A closer look at the artwork on this church

And just around the corner from here, is the Blaue Saul, the blue (corner) column.

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We walked on straight ahead from the blue column, toward the Sankt Martinskirche (St. Martin’s church).

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The church was unfortunately closed.. so we walked back down the street, toward the little stream that we’d seen opposite the blue column. The Stadtbach (town brook) runs through most of this little town making the little place all the more magical.

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We just followed the stream admiring the hurriedly swimming fish
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Interesting building art at Weber am Bach, a historic 700-year old hotel
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An interesting equestrian statue of Welf VI

Welf VI was a 12th century Lord of Memmingen and Duke of Bavaria. The sculpture is quite an interesting portrayal of the Bavarian lord – you can see him riding with a globe under his horse’s hoof and his naked wife on the palm of his hand.

We continued walking around the Altstadt (old town) area. We came across an interesting historic gate. Apparently, there are ten such gates/towers and about 2 kilometers of wall around the Altstadt from several centuries ago that is still preserved.

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We then arrived at the Fischerbrunnen at the Schrannenplatz.

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The Fisher Fountain
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Bet there’s an interesting story behind the fisherman’s expression…

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The beautiful red building in the background is the Goldener Lowe (Golden Lion),
the city’s oldest wine tavern

The Schrannenplatz was brimming with locals – kids frolicking in one of the other fountains in the square, people sitting around the little cafes sipping on their evening coffees, and some others cooling off the hot day with some ice-cream.

We took a right in one of these little lanes, again just following the stream..

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It was nearly 8 PM and it was still so bright outside; just love spring!
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The little canals and the bikes around took us briefly back to Amsterdam

It is such a picturesque, fascinating little town. We walked on at a lazy pace, reveling in the beauty that surrounded us.

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Oh what we would give, to live in one of these cozy houses by the stream

Memmingen reminded us so much of Ulm (where we currently live). Little streams flow through Ulm as well and the city centres are quite similar, although more half-timbered and less colorful buildings in Ulm and definitely lesser crowds in Memmingen, even for a Saturday evening.

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The Frauenkirche, Church of our Lady

Dusk was slowly settling in and flocks of birds were headed home high above the Frauenkirche. In front of the church was a cozy little park.

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Frauenkirchplatz

After a short break in the park, we slowly traced our steps back to the town center, taking a different route.

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This fun gang of girls excitedly posed for us
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We ran into another gang of girls on our way
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Not so fun though; these girls appeared to be engrossed in some serious conversation

Now, with all that walking, we had worked up a nice appetite and were ready to check out the local food and brews. We just walked around the block that had a whole bunch of restaurants and ended up at the Moritz Memmingen. It was a lovely restaurant – good food and good local beer.

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When in Memmingen, drink a Memminger

We’d had the Memminger Weizen before, when we had first arrived in Ulm. It’s a delicious wheat beer!

We would have loved to spend more time in this charming little town but it was time to hit the road. We were so glad we had decided to make this impromptu stopover for a short few hours in Memmingen. We were thrilled to discover this little treasure not too far from home.

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Night falls over the Kreuzherrenkloster
as we say goodbye to beautiful Memmingen

The little towns of Germany continue to delight us leaving us with beautiful memories that will be lovingly cherished for a long time.