One of the benefits of living in the Balkans is that you have the rest of Europe at your fingertips. Over winter break another PCV and I decided to plan a trip to Germany, and it ended up being one of the most memorable trips of my life. Germany is a magical destination for Christmas.
Even though we traveled on a Peace Corps Volunteer’s budget, we were able to travel all over southern Germany by train and see several of the most famous sites. I included a breakdown of our spending with a total trip cost at the bottom of the post, in case you are curious. I also summarized how we spent each day, but feel free to just view the pictures!
Day 1: Arrival in Munich
Munich is considered one of the Christmas capitals of the world, largely because of the number of Christmas markets found in the city. I have always wanted to visit Germany, and the flight prices there were surprisingly cheap, so we started our trip by flying to Munich on December 21st.
We then took the train into the city center (after figuring out how to use the ticket machine) and navigated our way to the 4-You Youth Hostel. After checking-in we immediately set out to explore the city!
I was blown away by the beauty of Munich. The smell of mulled wine, gingerbread, and cinnamon saturates the air, and everywhere you look there are handcrafted ornaments and Christmas decorations. The architecture was stunning as well. We stepped into a few churches to listen to the choirs and light prayer candles. I wish I could experience Christmas in Germany every year.
Flight= 87€ or $98 (including bags)
Train= 11.15€ or $12.50 (unlimited day pass for public
transportation, including the train from the airport)
Hostel= 13€ or $14.60 (with free breakfast)
Day 2: Train to Salzburg, Austria
The next day we traveled by train to Salzburg, Austria, home of Mozart and the filming location for The Sound of Music. Before departing we took the opportunity to enjoy a Starbucks Christmas drink at the beautiful Munich train station.
The weather could not have been more beautiful, so we explored all of Salzburg on foot from morning until after dark. Between the Christmas markets, the peaceful Salzach River, the view of the Alps, and the historic castles and palaces, Salzburg did not disappoint. When we finally hopped on an evening train we realized that we had not sat down the entire day.
Train to & from Austria= 14€ or $15.70 (unlimited daily
train travel in Bavaria and select Austrian cities)
Hostel= 13€ or $14.60 (with free breakfast)
Day 3: Medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
On our third day we traveled to northern Bavaria to Germany’s most well-preserved medieval town, which is still encircled by its 14th century stone wall. I can not speak highly enough of this romantic little town. It is transformed into a Christmas wonderland for December, but with the brightly painted buildings and narrow cobblestone streets, it is worth seeing at any time of the year.
While in Rothenburg we stayed at a charming hostel, which we had almost entirely to ourselves. Naturally we explored the famous Christmas market and walked along the city walls. We also discovered a shop that sells medieval weapons, clothing, and basically anything related to Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, and Game of Thrones. We spent a decent chunk of time playing dress up and exploring the hidden dungeon in the basement.
After wandering through this Christmas-postcard town, we enjoyed an authentic German meal of pork-knuckle with dumplings and sauerkraut, served with the best German beer I have ever had. We finished with an apple strudel dessert and complimentary Christmas brandy.
Train= 14€ or $15.70 (unlimited daily train travel in Bavaria)
Hostel= 25€ or $28 (with coffee, tea, cookies, & free breakfast)
Day 4: Christmas Eve in Nuremberg
On the morning of Christmas Eve we explored Rothenburg some more, taking photos while most of the tourists slept in. We then boarded a train to Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria . The city is known for its medieval architecture as well as its significance in Nazi Germany.
On a happier note, Nuremberg is also home to one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in the world. While walking through the city I enjoyed the best bratwurst I have ever eaten. The sky was also strikingly blue, making the perfect backdrop for Nuremberg’s famous churches. Although we enjoyed Nuremberg, we were both relieved when we hopped on the train back to Munich and escaped the pushy crowds.
Train= 14€ or $15.70 (unlimited daily train travel in Bavaria & select cities in Austria)
Hostel= 21€ or $23.60 (We moved to the Wombat Hostel for Christmas Eve and Christmas, because it is the best hostel in Munich and we decided to treat ourselves for the holidays rather than stay in a cheaper hostel.)
Day 5: Christmas Day at Dachau Concentration Camp
On Christmas I took the train to Dachau to visit the first Nazi concentration camp, which is open to the public and includes a Holocaust museum. I spent hours exploring the grounds and walking through the museum located in the camp. This was easily the most sobering Christmas I have ever experienced. It prompted a lot of reflection on the problem of evil and how to reconcile that with the goodness of God. Overall it was a very contemplative Christmas.
Train= 7.40€ or $8.30 (unlimited daily train
travel within the greater Munich area)
Hostel= 21€ or $23.60
Day 6: Train to Neuschwanstein Castle
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Bavaria is Neuschwanstein Castle. After discovering that we could travel to the village near the castle with our train passes, we decided to go on our last day in Germany.
Two guys we met at the hostel were amazed that we could visit the castle for only 9€ roundtrip, so they decided to come along.
A group of Australians also wanted to join, so we made plans to take a train on Saturday morning.
That morning we rushed to get ready, checked out of the hostel, and waited for the Australians outside of our hostel. They were not showing up, and it was getting closer and closer to our train’s departure time, so finally we had to leave without them. We had to run from the hostel and sprint through the train station, jumping on the train at the last possible moment. It felt like we were on The Amazing Race.
After a couple hours on the train we arrived in the village of Füssen, took a bus to the village of Hohenschwangau (gotta love these German names, huh?) and then we began the 40 minute hike up to the castle. A lot of tourists think that you need to buy a ticket to see the castle, but the ticket is only necessary if you want a 30 minute tour of the inside of the castle. And guess what? The inside of the castle was never finished, so there is not much to see, and you are prohibited from taking pictures. On top of this, the line for tickets was over 1.5 hours long. Visitors and free to explore the castle grounds as much as they please for free.
After we walked around the castle we decided to find a different way back down. We ended up hiking through the woods for a few hours. It felt like wandering through a fairy-tale, especially when we discovered the most stunning view of the castle.
This ended up being the most picturesque day of our trip, and we only paid 9€ ($10) for it. Most tourists to Neuschwanstein Castle pay about $100 for the train and castle tour, but it is possible to do it for much less. If you ever visit Germany, seeing Neuschwanstein is a MUST. It may be touristy, but it is popular for a reason. Just don’t be afraid to do some exploratory hiking away from the crowds.
Train= 9€ or $10.15 (unlimited daily train travel in Bavaria, reduced from 14€ because we traveled with a group of four instead of two)
Day 7: Overnight bus through Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia
Yes, we took a bus through six countries instead of flying. Was it fun? No. Was it cheaper? YES.
It also saved us money on a hostel because our bus first bus departed at 11:00 PM. After a full day of hiking through Bavaria and seeing Neuschwanstein, we arrived back in Munich and went out to eat, enjoying some delicious Thai food while we had the chance. We tried making the most of every last minute in Germany, so unfortunately we had to sprint to the bus station, getting the last seats after being yelled at by the bus driver. But we made it.
The bus ride was long, uncomfortable, and involved frequent border stops, where we had to stand outside and have our documents checked repeatedly. Not fun.
Finally we arrived in Belgrade, so sleep-deprived and hungry that we both nearly passed out while trying to decipher the Cyrillic street signs and find our hostel. I guess our one-meal-a-day policy may not have mixed well with hiking all day and then staying awake all night. But it was a memorable experience.
After a shower and a short nap we decided to explore Belgrade, eating dinner at the best organic vegan restaurant I’ve ever been to! (Who would have thought it’d be in Serbia?) After returning to the hostel we slept like rocks.
Bus to Croatia= 30€ ($33), Bus to Serbia= 27€ ($30), Hostel= 10€ ($11)
Day 8: Return to Kosovo
The next afternoon it was back to Kosovo! As much as we were burnt-out on bus travel, the 6.5 hour trip seemed manageable after our previous bus marathon.
Bus back to Kosovo= 20€ ($22.50)
All told, I was able to see and do a lot in Germany on a Peace Corps Volunteer budget! The total for flights, hostels, admission tickets, trains, public transportation, and busing back to Kosovo was 336.55€ or about $379.81.
For food we kept things very cheap, generally spending 10€ per day. We cut down on food costs by booking hostels that included breakfast and by packing snacks to munch on during the day. We only ate out for dinner. We also spent about 4-6€ on treats at the Christmas markets each day, such as a glass of glühwein (mulled wine), bratwurst, or candied almonds. In total we spent less than $500 each. Forgive me for bragging, but by the end of the trip I was pretty impressed with us.
For more travel pictures and tips, check out my trip through Albania & Macedonia for spring break!