In Search of Templar Castles Map
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 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.
Click here to visit our Paris Page and see our images and descriptions of this beautiful & interesting city.
Train to Bordeaux
We took a train to Bordeaux from Paris, as they are fast, frequent & cost effective, and because our plans were to avoid renting a car until we were ready to depart Bordeaux. This would simplify all aspects of our visit, as we did not need a parking place nor did we have to worry about driving directions!
We eventually utilized Auto Europe which was located immediately adjacent to the Bordeaux train station.
The video is the property of "Lonely Planet" and it was included here because it provides a good overview of the city.
NOTE: Click image to launch video.
Gare de Bordeaux
Our arrival in Bordeaux from Paris was here in the Gare de Bordeaux St. Jean Station, and since we did not yet want to acquire the rental car, we took a taxi to the hotel. Turns out that all of the rental car companies have their offices just outside this train station, so we had to come back here to pickup the rental car later.
NOTE: Image # 2 is the property of PA via Wikimedia. All other images (unless otherwise noted) are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.
Adagio Bordeaux Gambetta Bordeaux
In Bordeaux we stayed at the Adagio Bordeaux Gambetta in the very heart of Bordeaux. In this picture, taken across the plaza from the hotel, you can see that it is a modern and very comfortable hotel.
The hotel was air conditioned, which was great from our perspective, as the French heat wave was still going strong.
The hotel is located in the heart of Bordeaux, just 2 minutes' walk from Place Gambetta and Bordeaux's old town, close to the Mériadeck business district. Its 111 fully equipped apartments, ranging from 2-person studios to 2-room apartments for 4 people, make this 4-star holiday residence a comfortable place to stay for a vacation or business travel.
Le Pizzaiolo Bordeaux
We spent the afternoon and evening exploring Bordeaux, walking about to get some idea of the city and it's
inhabitants - as none of us had ever been there.
We covered quite a bit of the city, and ate dinner at Le Pizzaiolo, across the plaza from the hotel, and had a very good dinner (and a great bottle of wine) for which we created a TripAdvisor review for.
This is a picture of the restaurant, taken from our hotel window.
Dune du Pilat
Situated at the entrance to Arcachon Bay and near the commune of La Teste de Buch, the Dune du Pilat (or Pyla as it is also known) is an amazing phenomenon. At 500 meters wide, almost three kilometres long and 107 meters high, it is Europe’s largest sand dune; in fact, it is still moving, up to 5 meters a year as the particles of sand – up to 60 million cubic metres – are blown by the wind.
From our "prior to the trip research", we had already planned a trip via train ride to Arcachon and then via bus to the dune itself. Trains depart Bordeaux every 30 minutes, and it is a 52 minute ride to Arcachon.
From Arcachon we hopped on a local bus for the ride to Dune du Pilat. The bus stop for the dune is immediately adjacent to the staircase to the top.
These pictures should give you just a slight idea of the height of the dune, you can see the Atlantic Ocean way below where we were sitting!
NOTE: To view some beautiful Dune du Pilat images from Google Maps, click here.
NOTE: Click image to launch video and please note that the video is the property of Video Voyage.
Off in the distance is the Atlantic Ocean, and you get a good idea of how large this pile of sand is when you see how high above the ocean we are.
We had read about this being the largest/tallest sand dune in Europe, and on any Google Map, you can see just how large it is. The dune has a volume of about 60,000,000 m³, measuring around 500 meters wide from east to west and 2.7 km in length from north to south. Its height is currently 110 metres above sea level.
Looking to the north of where we were on the top of the dune, somewhere off in the distance is the village of Arcachon. To the left is the Bay of Biscay, with the Atlantic Ocean further off to the west.
The Arcachon bus costs only one Euro (per person) for each trip to & from Dune du Pilat, so we decided to head back to Arcachon, and explore the village before our train departed for Bordeaux.
Arcachon Train Station (Gare d'Arcachon)
Arcachon is daily served by the TER Nouvelle-Aquitaine from Bordeaux and also by the TGV Atlantique from
Paris on weekends. We rode here on the train from Bordeaux, and as the bus station is just outside the
train station, we started our bus ride to the Dune du Pilat here as well.
The Train Station is only a few blocks from the beach along the bay, straight down Rue Molière.
Arcachon Harbor Area
Arcachon is a very popular vacation village, sitting on the shore of the Arcachon Bay, with a beautiful beach, docks for recreational boats, a very nice village center with quite a bit of shopping, and the train station just two blocks from the water - it was a nice interlude while waiting for our train back to Bordeaux.
There is a pedestrian walkway along the Plage d’Arcachon (the main beach) which is tree shaded and is close to a number of small shops and eateries. The pedestrian walkway is only a few blocks from the city center and the main market, Marché d’Arcachon. Like many towns in the area, Arcachon has a fantastic covered market gathering plenty of food stands with local delicacies.
Driving through Wine Country
Our goal was to drive through "wine country" via Bergerac (Cyrano de Bergerac was born there) 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!
We drove across the A61 auto route from Toulouse to Carcassonne, and as Rustiques is only a few miles east of Carcassonne, we knew that we were going to have to rely upon "Suzette" (our Tom-Tom map device voice) to get us to our house rental.
While pondering the map of Rustiques, we saw that we would not only cross the L'Aude River, but also the Canal du Midi, which is an interesting piece of history all by itself, ie; it was constructed starting in 1681, contains 65 locks and was meant to provide a navigable route from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean and thereby blocking the English from tearing up French ships.
Image # 1: With Suzette (our Tom-Tom map device) navigating, we were able to reach our Rustiques house rental, and unpacked the car. As can be seen in this picture, we had to park our car in a court yard perhaps a block away, and carry everything down this alley to our house rental. This building had to be 600 years old, however, the interior had been completely redone and was very comfortable. We had a bit of trouble getting in with an unusual locking system but we eventually worked it out. Between that and a frozen pizza that fell through the grates in the kitchen oven, we racked up two more failures for our "FAIL" list. I spent over an hour cleaning the pizza dough off the bottom of the oven before we departed.
Image # 2: Here is the other end of that alley, which opens out onto the "main street" of Rustiques. Not a lot of traffic in this little village, as it is surrounded by acres and acres of grapes. With a 2021 population of 326, traffic isn't an issue for this villages, mostly people who commute to Carcassonne, or who have a vacation house here.
Image # 3: Rustiques is located in the urban area of Carcassonne, and is located 10 km east of Carcassonne. Carcassonne is twice listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the Medieval City and the Canal du Midi.
The town of Trèbes (6,000 inhabitants) is barely 1.5 km away and provides all the local shops (supermarkets,
shops, medical centers, pharmacy, secondary school).
NOTE: Image # 3 is the property of Tylwyth Eldar via Wikimedia and the Creative Commons license.
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.
Since the Carcassonne Fortress was only 10 kilometers away from Rustiques, and it is one of the largest completely walled fortresses in Europe, we decided that a day trip there was a good idea. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.
Video is the property of the Carcassonne City Guide, and is included here because it is a good
overview of the city & fortress.
Click here to go to their website.
NOTE: Click image to launch video.
The fortified city consists essentially of a concentric design of two outer walls with 53 towers and barbicans to
prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep.
The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the
medieval walls, with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers
housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th century and is still known as "The Inquisition Tower".
NOTE: Image is the property of Chensiyuan via Wikipedia
This is an amazing castle, as it is very well preserved, and the interior is so large (city walls are 1.9 miles long), that it contains shops, stores, restaurants, and other boutiques to help you spend your money.
We drove to Carcassonne early, as we knew that tourists would be out & about early, and they would grab all the parking spots. We found an excellent spot two blocks from the castle, and hiked over and up the hill to view the castle interior.
As you can see from these images of the Carcassonne Castle, it is huge! It takes quite a while to explore the various Castle buildings, shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Because Rustiques is only 8 kilometers away, we decided to drive over to the Canal du Midi, and explore the area along the waterway.
Canal du Midi
As you can see in image # 1, the waterway had tall trees along both banks, and there were a number of people sailing up & down the waterway in various types of boats; house boats, recreational boats, as well as large cabin cruiser style boats. It's possible to rent boats and travel the Canal du Midi and it is a very popular thing for couples and families to do in the summer time.
Image # 2 is one of the many houseboats we saw on the Canal, French families enjoying a nice cruise along the shady sections. If I recall, this boat was tied up, and the family had gotten off to go fishing in the River L'Aude.
Image # 3 was taken as we walked west on the canal foot path, you can see a pedestrian bridge in the near distance.
Quick History Lesson: The Canal du Midi is a 240 kilometer (150 mile) long canal in Southern France. Originally named the Canal royal en Languedoc (Royal Canal in Languedoc) and renamed by French revolutionaries to Canal du Midi in 1789, the canal was at the time considered one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century.
The canal connects the Garonne to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean and along with the 193 kilometer (120 mile) long Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers, joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau near the Mediterranean. The Canal was constructed from 1666 to 1681.
The above information was extracted from Wikipedia, click here to view their page.
Canal du Midi
Image # 1 is a picture of the Canal du Midi, as it crossed beneath a bridge in the little town of Trebes, France.
As you can no doubt discern, Rustiques was not large enough to have grocery or other stores, so all of our provisioning came from trips to Trebes.
Image # 2 is the "other direction" from the Trebes bridge, and it shows the docking and sidewalk restaurant areas. Lots of places for people who are traveling up & down the canal, to stop, buy groceries, or have a meal.
It can easily be seen, that this was a very scenic spot, and even though it is early afternoon, there were a number of people already enjoying a glass of wine in the sidewalk cafes.
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.
The Pont du
Gard, is an amazingly well preserved Roman Aqueduct, very near the city of
France. The aqueduct is an huge structure built in the first century AD & still
carrying foot traffic. It was constructed by the Romans to carry water to the city of
Nimes over 50 kilometers away.
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.
We had originally selected Annecy as a "stopover" because we did not want to drive non-stop to Munich from Rustiques, 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 a side trip we took to Chamonix.
Click here to view our Annecy Page.
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.
Click here to view our Munich Page, and see for yourself why it is a great place to visit.
Nuremberg was our first day trip from Munich, as we wanted to see 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.
Nazi Party Rally Grounds
These are the grounds where the
Nazi Troops would march by Hitler's podium.
In fact, in the picture to the left, that is me standing in the very spot that Hitler once stood
at, as his troops would march by.
The grandstand had a speaker's platform and three tall swastika banners, designed by Albert Speer. The large eagles on either end were by the sculptor Kurt Schmid-Ehmen.
Talk about a strange feeling !! If you ever Google (or YouTube) anything about Hitler and Nuremburg, you will find a number of videos, showing Hitler standing in this exact podium spot as the Nazi Army troops marched past. For me to stand there, and know that the infamous Adolph Hitler stood there during the Nazi years, was about as strange a feeling as I've ever had!
Nazi Congress Party Hall
This is a picture of the Nazi Congress Party Hall interior court yard - A self-supporting roof construction was to have spanned this area at a height of approximately 70 metres. The monumental building would have provided space for over 50,000 people and would thus have been almost twice as big as the Coliseum in Rome. The unfinished shell (1937–1939) was put up to a height of 39 metres. Construction work was abandoned late in World War II.
Grosser Dutzendteich Lake
This lake sits between the Nazi Party Rally Center and the Nazi Documentation Center.
Prior to walking over to the area where Hitler used to review his troops, we had explored the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rallying Grounds museum. This is an incredible museum, and it utilizes video, still photography, artifacts, and documents, to display to visitors what took place during the Nazi era. This picture to the left, was taken of the area immediately behind the museum, which was originally intended to be the Nazi Congress Party Hall. Since World War Two got in the way of the construction budget, that area was never finished.
This picture was taken from across the Lake that separates the Documentation Center from the Nazi Rallying grounds area. It is a beautiful site, and it is a pity that it is associated with such a horrifying past.
Hitler's plans were to construct a much larger complex, but once WW2 started, those plans were placed into a holding pattern and never completed because the German war effort consumed all of the building materials.
NOTE: Click here to view a website with details regarding the Nazi Congress Hall building construction & plans.
Image # 1 was taken through a window in the Nazi Documentation Center Museum of the unfinished "Congress Hall" interior. The Congress Hall is the largest preserved national socialist (Nazi) building. Contruction started in 1935 but was never finished. It was planned as a congress centre for the Nazi Party with a self-supporting roof and should have provided 50,000 seats. The building reached a height of 39 meters (a maximum height of 70 metres was planned) and a diameter of 250 meters.
The Documentation Center Museum provides a comprehensive view of Nazi tyranny and the history of the Nazi Party rallies via all types of media including imagery & video. In some cases where video was available of young Germans during the Nazi rallies, they also show those same Germans years later who attempt to explain why they were enthusiastic about the Nazi party.
Image # 2 is a picture of the entrance to the Documentation Center, an impressive entrance!
Click here to go to the Museum Website.
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 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.
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.
The plan was for some 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
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. Berlin alone had nearly 3,000 camps.
Dachau was liberated by American forces on April 29, 1945.
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.
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 and read about what we visited.
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 8 years later, and she has been the smartest most laid-back dog we have ever owned.
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!
- The European Driving Adventure Overview & Guide We started in Paris, drove through France and ended in Germany, click here to read more.
- Paris, France We started in Paris because it is just so darn fun to explore, click here to read more.
- Bordeaux, France We took a train to Bordeaux and wound up having more adventure than we had planned, click here to read more.
- Carcassonne & Rustiques area of France Our base camp was a house we rented in Rustiques, click here to read more.
- Cathar Country Rustique area is close to the last strongholds of the Cathars, click here to read more.
- Canal du Midi, France The Canal du Midi was just a few kilometers from Rustique, click here to read more.
- Lake Annecy, France This was another base camp area we had selected, click here to read more.
- Chamonix, France Day trip from Annecy to see Chamonix & Mont Blanc, click here to read more.
- Munich, Germany Munich was the next & final base camp area, click here to read more.
- Rothenburg, Germany Continuation of the drive back to Munich from Nuremberg, Click here to read more.
- Nuremberg, Germany We day tripped from Munich to visit the Nazi Documentation Center, Click here to read more.
- Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany Day trip drive from Munich to see the famous castle, click here to read more.
- Salzburg, Autstria Day trip drive from Munich to visit Salzburg. Click here to read more.
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Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.