Archives for August 2014

Great Stays: Villa Park in Bran, Romania

Bran Romania

Ever since falling head over heels for the Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald, Switzerland, I’ve constantly been on the lookout for similar places around Europe. For years,  my searching had sadly come up empty-handed until I discovered a place near Bran, Romania called Villa Park.

Bran, Romania is most famous for being home to Dracula’s Castle, an alleged former haunt of Vlad The Impaler, who is supposedly the evil inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. Well, Villa Park is located in a small village above Bran, and in my opinion, is the real reason to go to this corner of Transylvania.

From the moment we made online arrangements to stay at Villa Park, it became apparent that this was just not another hostel. The owner Joseph picked us up from the train station in Brasov and drove us the hour or so to Villa Park. Along the way, we meandered through the Romanian countryside and had a chance to view some of the sights that make this part of Europe so secretly special. We passed Rasnov Fortress and of course Dracula’s Castle before scaling a series of rocky hills in his car to reach the tiny village of Magura, where Villa Park is located.

From the hot iron stoves in your room that need  to be stoked to stay warm at night to the wooden chalet architecture, Villa Park is exactly how you imagine a mountain retreat to be. In fact, it’s more farmstay than typical hostel. Now, the Transylvanian Alps aren’t quite the Swiss Alps, but for what they lack in height, they more than make up for with colorful beauty, especially if you are there in autumn like we were.

Bran Romania

It was at Villa Park that I finally got another taste of that mountain high that I experienced in Switzerland and I can’t recommend staying at this cozy Romanian retreat enough. Say Hi to Joseph and his wonderful dogs for us.

Know Before You Go:

Villa Park is located near Bran, but isn’t too far from Brasov either, only about 45 minutes or so.

Villa Park is reachable via a combination of public transportation and hiking, but you are better off being picked up by Joseph for a small fee.

You can find Villa Park listed on both Hostelworld and Hostelbookers, but like I said it’s more of a cozy farmstay.

Great Days: Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich, Germany

Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich

On the final evening of my inaugural trip to Europe, I took a walking tour of Munich and afterwards ended up having a few beers with the gregarious leader of the tour. It was from this wise gentleman that I first heard the legend of the Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich, the holy hilltop beer beacon of the Bavarian countryside.

Sadly, It took me a few more trips to Munich and a handful of other enthusiastic recommendations to finally make the trip out to the Kloster Andechs Monastery. When I did, it proved to be well worth the wait, so don’t repeat my mistake.

Kloster Andechs has been a site of religious pilgrims for centuries as its gilded Baroque church is home to a small collection of revered relics. Most importantly for most of us though, the monastery is known the world over for brewing some of the best beer anywhere and when you visit in person, you get to enjoy it freshly brewed and in a simply stunning setting.

Kloster Andechs sits atop a hill in the rolling Bavarian countryside, placed between two serene lakes and within eye shot of the Alps. Once you make it up the hill, you get the chance to drink their famous beer fresh from oak barrels and enjoy plates of traditional Bavarian cuisine. You can even arrange tastings and private tours if you’re into that kind of thing. We ordered our beer and food and hung out in the biergarten, but there is also an inside portion in case the weather isn’t idyllic.

Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich

You could easily spend an entire day feasting at Andechs and surrounds, and that’s precisely what I recommend you do. It’s the perfect place to soak up some sun and suds and take a break from sightseeing in Munich. After all, you probably came to Bavaria to see some pretty onion-domed churches and drink some amazing beer, right? Well, you can do it all at Kloster Andechs.

Know Before You Go:

Kloster Andechs Monastery is open everyday from 10-8 except for major holidays. I recommend getting there early or late on a weekday to avoid the crowds though.

You can either drive from Munich (about 30 minutes but not really recommended due to the drinking), or take the S-Bahn S8 Line to its last stop called Herrsching and then walk a couple miles from the station (could be cool on a nice day) or take a bus from the Herrsching station to Andechs when you arrive. The second option will probably take you around an hour or so.

If you feel like making it a day and night of it, there are a small amount of rooms available to stay in at Kloster Andechs, but they go fast.

The beers the Kloster Andechs Monastery brews are: Export Dunkel, Doppelbock Dunkel, Weissbier Hell (my fave), Weissbier Dunkel, Vollbier Hell, Spezial Hell, Bergbock Hell, but they will also hook you up with a Radler or a beer with apple juice too.

To read more about their beer, the history behind the monastery, and how to book a room, check out their Official Site.

Photo Credits: 1,2

 

Should I Buy a Eurail Pass / European Rail Pass?

Should I buy a Eurail Pass/European Rail Pass?

From time to time, I get asked about various aspects of travelling in Europe. A ton of questions have to do with Oktoberfest, and I addressed the majority of those over here on my Oktoberfest post. A good percentage of the rest have to do with the Eurail pass and whether or not they are a good deal. And in the first of a series of posts on the subject, today I am going to address the broad over-arching question I usually receive, and that is simply: should I buy a Eurail pass/European rail pass when I go to Europe?

My answer is almost always yes. Why? Three words: First. Class. Freedom.

I’ve purchased a Eurail pass four times now, and what I’ve discovered in my experience is that if you are willing to do your research and plan every detail of your trip ahead of time, it can be slightly cheaper to buy point-to-point train tickets online instead of buying a Eurail pass.

So, why buy a Eurail pass then Scott? Well, because buying a Eurail pass buys you freedom, and you can’t put a price on freedom. A Eurail pass buys you freedom from lines at ticket counters, freedom from hustling to internet cafes to print up tickets, and most importantly, the freedom to change your plans if you see fit.

Don’t underestimate the importance of that last one.

Should I Buy a Eurail Pass / European Rail Pass?

If you oversleep for your train because you were out late partying (not that I would know or anything), you just catch the next one. If you hear about a cute medieval village overlooking a river from another traveler and decide to see it for yourself, you massage your plans to squeeze it in. If you’re travelling through Italy, and decide you want to hop off the train in Pisa and take a selfie with the Leaning Tower, you can just go for it without getting any grief from your purchased-ahead-of-time-plans.

The bottom line is having a Eurail pass frees you from having to make decisions between chasing your travel dreams and tossing money you have already spent out the train window.

Now I understand that a lot of people will have their European travel itinerary completely planned weeks and months in advance of their trip, and aren’t going to wander around Europe all willy-nilly. So, should they still get a pass? Yes, for two main reasons. First, even if you know the exact route you want to travel, do you really want to decide months ahead of time what time you want to head to the train station? Well, the cheap fares are going to be for specific train times only. The other huge thing about Eurail passes is that you get to ride in 1st class if you are over 26, and this small little perk is worth its weight in gold. It’s just a little thing, but it can make all the difference between a decent train ride and a great one. Trust me, there is nothing more relaxing then stretching out in a nearly-empty 1st class cabin watching the European countryside glide by.

Should I Buy a Eurail Pass / European Rail Pass?

For me, a good general rule is that if you plan on travelling by train on at least half of the days your going to be in Europe, it is more than worth it to buy a pass. For example, if you are planning on being in Europe for two weeks and your itinerary will have you travelling during 6-7 of them, just buy the pass instead of booking all those tickets ahead of time. Even if the pass costs a little more than buying them ahead of time, the freedom you have at your disposal and the first class experience you’ll receive more than makes up for it.

Any hardcore online breakdown I have ever seen of the costs of Eurail pass versus buying point-to-point tickets usually shows them around the same price in the end. But it’s the intangibles that make the Eurail pass worth it. Now of course there are all kinds of exceptions but this advice is meant mostly for people who want to see a few countries in one trip over a couple weeks or longer. If that’s you, then just buy a Eurail pass, and I’ll see you in the bar car.