There’s more than one magic kingdom!

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Magical when describing a place – what does that bring to mind?  Fairytale castles?  Misty mornings?  Gingerbread-style houses?  Powdered sugar-covered mountain peaks? If so, places like this don’t exist only in theme parks and storybooks.  A short drive south of Munich, Germany you will find just such a place.

A wonderful destination awaits which will please everyone. During the colder months of the year, winter sports enthusiasts flock to Garmisch-

View  of Garmisch-Partenkirchen

A wonderful destination awaits which will please everyone. During the colder months of the year, winter sports enthusiasts flock to Garmisch-Partenkirken, a beautiful town in this southern area of Bavaria. During the warmer months of the year, activities abound in the surrounding area. And I do mean abound!  With careful planning, you can enjoy the best of the area in a couple of days. For those that want a slower pace or to enjoy nature more fully, one can easily fill up a week using Garmisch as a base. Thus, this picturesque vacation area offers a lot of fun for families, couples, and solo travelers.  What can you do in and around Garmisch-Partenkirchen? Let your journey begin!


Not far from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you will find the highest mountain in Germany. At its 2,962 meter summit,  breathtaking views from this imposing peak draw visitors from around the world. While there, check off your list that you visited Austria by taking a few steps over the border.

Summit of the Zugspitze


The Albspitze may not be as big as the Zugspitze, but this mountain is a favorite of many.  The striking north face with its pyramidal peak stands guard over Garmisch-Partenkirchen creating an impressive panorama.  Its formidable presence makes it one with the city and its symbol.

Especially in summer, you can hike through the idyllic landscape. With some climbing experience, one of the most popular climbing routes in all of Bavaria awaits you. Not a climber, no problem.  Several cable

cars transport summit seekers to the top. The view from the platform “Alpspix” should be a reason to call this mountain a must-see!

Partnach Gorge

Located about three kilometers to the southeast of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, you find Partnach Gorge, by far one of the most impressive works of art that Mother Nature has given southern Bavarian. Through this rocky gorge flows the Partnach River, which carved its way through the rock over millions of years.

In summer, the gorge will blow your mind with its simply breathtaking landscape. In winter, when snow covers the whole area, a much more spectacular sight awaits. Massive ice formations give the already beautiful gorge the final touch.


You’ll find the village of Oberammergau about 20 kilometers north of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Although just a very small town, it offers visitors plenty to see. Strolling the picturesque streets of this generally quiet village, you’ll notice the many murals on the houses depicting various scenes from the bible and notably the Passion of Christ.

In addition to its famous woodcarving school and shops filled with the work of these craftsmen,

Quaint restaurant in Oberammergau

Oberammergau hosts the world-renowned Passion Play which takes place every ten years during the late spring thru early autumn.  In thanks to Godfor saving the town from the bubonic plague, the play draws attendees from around the world to see the production by the citizens of the town. During other years you can still visit the Passion Theater for a tour of the theater and stories of how this event is produced that will leave you amazed.

Neuschwanstein Castle

If there is one castle known all over the world for its breathtaking beauty, the Bavarian fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein stands out. Sitting atop a hill near the base of a mountain, this castle commands the surrounding area.  One of three castles built by the so-called  Mad King Ludwig, this castle inspired the castles in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.  In addition to a visit inside the castle, allow time to walk or take a carriage ride up the hill to the castle and enjoy the views.  For those with more time, explore nearby Hohenschwangau, the childhood home of the mad king.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Keep in mind that you are not the only one who wants to enjoy the breathtaking sight. Long lines form early and last throughout the day.  With limited time and/or families with children, purchase “skip the line“ tickets in advance for a less stressful visit.

In addition to this fairytale castle, you will also find numerous other castles throughout Bavaria worth a visit. However, if you have a tight schedule, Neuschwanstein Castle, the most beautiful of them all, should be at the top of your list.

Linderhof Castle

Linderhof Castle is the smallest of Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee (located between Munich and Salzburg) castles built by Bavarian King Ludwig II. In this castle, the so-called fairy tale king stayed here most often. Why you may ask?  This castle in the Alps was the only one completed during his lifetime.

Above all, the beautiful gardens and relaxing fountain around the imposing castle will completely inspire you.  The mix of baroque and rococo styles gives this royal residence a flair that can hardly be compared to any other royal dwelling.

And that’s not all!

Of course, you will find plenty of other interesting places to visit in addition to these should you opt for an extended time to explore the area. For example, Höllental Gorge, Ettal Abbey, the Wieskirche, and the town of Fussen are just a few of the other sites in this area jam-packed with things to see and do. If you love the outdoors, literally thousands of trails can keep you challenged the entire length of your stay.

Linderhof Castle

Don’t let the small alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkircken and surrounding area known for skiing lure you into thinking you can see everything in a day or two.  With a well-planned itinerary, you can see the highlights, but to savor the area and all it has to offer, you can plan to spend 4-7 days.  Call me to help you create a perfect itinerary for you!

Pat Ogle-CollinsThere’s more than one magic kingdom!
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Rollin’ on a river, soakin’ up the culture!

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Know anyone that loves river cruising?  Probably so as river cruising continues to increase in popularity.  It’s easy to say it’s the smaller ships driving this increase.  Yes, that’s part of it.  But for those that enjoy culture, including history, food, wine, architecture, and more, these journeys put all these aspects of a destination front and center.  So if exploring the culture of a destination ranks as a primary driver for your motivation to travel, river cruising might just offer a different style of travel to satisfy that yearning.

The popularity of river cruising continues to increase.

Regionally Focused Itineraries

Rivers naturally allow for more focused itineraries.  You won’t see a river cruise ship traveling anywhere near the speed of a cruise ship.  Also, these smaller ships need only limited docking facilities, unlike their oceangoing counterparts.

Half timbered houses in Strasbourg, France similar to those found in Germany

Slower going and more available docking facilities mean these cruises travel shorter distances over the length of the cruise and between ports, concentrating the focus generally on smaller regional areas.  For example, in France you find cruises focused on Provence or Bordeaux.  Cruises of 7 days usually only cover a couple of hundred miles even when passing thru several countries and the cultures of those countries meld from one into the other.

Step Right Into the Culture

All ashore means something totally different on a river cruise.  First, when departing the ship, you step directly into a town or city rather than on the outskirts, so right from the start, you can enjoy the feeling of the destination immediately.  This access allows passengers to take full advantage of what each stop has to offer – have lunch or dinner in a local restaurant;  enjoy a coffee at a café where you can see the ship;  watch the locals play an unknown card game outside a restaurant in the afternoon; walk thru a local market and take your purchase of a fragile item back to the ship before a bike ride.

Want something more in-depth or experiential?  River cruises offer numerous excursions at each stop, many included in the price of your cruise.  Wine tours, culinary tours, and history tours as well as tours of famous monuments, landmarks, and castles.  For those more active, guided bike tours in cities and towns, along river banks and thru forests provide calorie-burning opportunities.  Hiking tours to panoramic vistas, historical landmarks, and areas of natural beauty entice many.  There are even yoga tours!

Sightseeing, scenery and winery visits can all be
done on bike tours offered on river cruises.

Cultural Exploration Doesn’t Only Happen Onshore

River cruisers enjoy culture all around them on board the ship as well as onshore.  With frequent stops in areas known for their agricultural products, chefs procure high-quality local ingredients to create exquisite meals.  These meals also frequently incorporate local dishes as well, like Hungarian goulash, Bavarian bratwurst, flaky strudels from Austria, and lusciously rich cheeses from France to enjoy at the end of your meal.

Champagne served on deck of a river cruise.

Agriculture includes grapes and from those grapes come many of the wines and spirits served on board.  Rieslings from Germany and rosés from Provence accompany your meal and you can enjoy Calvados from France, Genever from Holland, and local beers over conversation with friends and other passengers in the evening.

A slow pace and easy access to the ship allows cruise ships the opportunity to engage with people of the area to bring their local culture onboard.

Musicians, dancers, storytellers delight passengers with their onboard performances.  After a busy morning onshore, passengers can opt to enjoy a craft session or lecture onboard in the afternoon to gain additional insights into local life.

And don’t forget the other passengers joining you on your cruise.  Most river cruise passengers have traveled extensively and maintain a wide range of experiences and interests.  With the small intimate nature of the ships, interesting conversations occur naturally among passengers from the United State and countries around the world.  Cross-cultural interaction comes not only from the destination but with the passengers and the crew as well.

The World Awaits

When thinking river cruises, most think of Europe and particularly cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Saone and Seine, the Yangtze in China, and the Nile in Egypt.  Yet with civilization developing around rivers all over the world, river cruising will continue to expand.  Now you can find cruises on the Dordogne and Garonne in France, the Po in Italy, the Duoro in Portugal, the Volga in Russia, the Amazon in Peru, and the Mekong in Southeast Asia.  There’s even a river cruise on the Zambezi in Africa!

Local performers offer a view of local culture on board river cruises.

River cruising is becoming increasingly popular on the Mississippi, Colombia, and Snake Rivers in the US as well.   They’re still a significant number of rivers around the world capable of supporting river cruise ships, so that means there will be a lot of cultures left to explore going forward.

With so much to see, so much to do, and so much to enjoy, river cruising is a perfect fit for travelers who are “culture vultures”.  Ready to explore a destination differently?  Call me to float some ideas!

Pat Ogle-CollinsRollin’ on a river, soakin’ up the culture!
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Once a year there’s another happiest place on earth – Munich’s Oktoberfest!

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Talk about a party!  Oktoberfest started in Munich in 1810 as a celebration of the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria.  Today millions attend each year to celebrate the beer culture of Bavaria and share in gemütlichkeit, a feeling of friendliness and cheer. This two-week fun-filled event presents cultural travelers with delightful opportunities to celebrate the Bavarian tradition, spend time with Germans or tourists visiting Germany, and enjoy classic Bavarian food and beer.

A tent at the Oktoberfest in full swing!

I can assure you this is an intoxicating (pun intended) experience of beer drinking, food, song, dance, and care-free gaiety. It is a rare opportunity for engaging in an overwhelming carnival spirit on the expansive Theresienwiese, a large open area in the heart of Munich.

Each year the Oktoberfest starts with a parade that brings barrels of beer to the fest site, the Theresienwiese.

Knowing a few tips to help you navigate the parties in the beer tents helps maximize the fun.

  • While called the Oktoberfest, the fest always starts on the third Saturday in September and runs thru the first Sunday of October.  Tents are open daily from 9 am and continues through the day until 10:30 pm when the last song is played by the band and the lights to out at 11:30 pm.  On weekends and public holidays, tents open at 9 am.
  • The fest starts with a parade that brings barrels of beer to the fest followed by the official tapping of the first barrel by the mayor in the Schottenhamel tent.  Once the tapping ceremony ends, 12 gunshots are fired, signaling to the other tents that the fest is open!
  • Getting the best places in the tents means showing up at the festival early, particularly on weekends though the best time to go is during the weekdays. The partying goes on inside the tents where up to 8000 people drink happily.   If you are not inside, the only other place you can grab a beer is outside in the adjacent beer gardens.
  • During the 16 day fest, over 6 million people will attend, drinking over 7 million liters of beer and eating 510,000 roast chickens and 60, 000 sausages.
  • A simple way of finding an open seat at Oktoberfest is to download the official Oktoberfest app. This app will make it easy for you to find your way around the fest and to keep track of your friends.

Wurst, pretzels and roast chicken accompany the beer at the Oktoberfest.

  • Enjoying the traditional delicacies offered inside the tents is an important part of the fun. Tents are of various sizes, styles, decor, themes, and vibes with each one offering a unique experience in terms of beer, entertainment, and food. Check out the offerings in various tents prior to deciding on a tent.  While the classic chicken, wurst, and pretzels are served in all tents, each tent offers its own dishes as well.  Finding this out after you have found seats may cheat you out of the opportunity to find a new favorite dish.
  • Be polite, friendly, and ready to share tables with everyone. At the heart of Oktoberfest is the spirit of friendship. A huge part of the fun is making friends with Germans and other tourists.
  • Be forewarned that Oktoberfest beer is stronger than its deceptive light color.

Aloyisus watches over fest goers in the Hofbrau tent.

  • Lastly, but most importantly, learn the words of Ein Prosit and their meaning. This is a song you will hear throughout the day. You are expected to sing along each and every time. It is German for “A toast, a toast, to cheers and good times”, and when it is sung, raise your mugs high in the air, toast, and drink.

These few tips provide some basics for an enjoyable experience at the fest, but there is so much more.  Guidance from an “expert” can make all the difference.  Start practicing your arm curls and give Wizard of Odysseys a call, because it is never too soon to book, even when the fest is months away.

Pat Ogle-CollinsOnce a year there’s another happiest place on earth – Munich’s Oktoberfest!
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Feel Dolce Vita on the East Coast of Italy!

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You loved Italy and your time in Rome, Florence and Venice.  You ventured out into Tuscany and explored the Amalfi Coast.  You would love to experience that dolce vita (sweet life) feeling again, but where to next?  Try Apulia!

Located in the heel of Italy’s boot, the region of Puglia, or Apulia as it’s known in English, is quickly becoming the next must-see destination in Italy, and for a good reason.  Full of stunning architecture, Italian dishes not found anywhere else in the country, and some of the bluest water you’ll ever see, this region is worth exploring.

Map of Italy with Apulia highlighted.

So, what else is there to love about this hidden gem that is unknown to so many Americans?

First and foremost, Apulia is quite literally a destination off the beaten path. Most Americans flock to the regions of Tuscany and Campania. However, Apulia offers an authentic Italian experience. In Apulia, you can expect to see stunning historic Italian villages, taste cuisine full of locally grown tomatoes, olives and wheat, along with some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.

So, why should Apulia be your next Italian vacation destination?  Let’s count the reasons.

Polignano a Mare, known for its cliffs and Domenico Modugno, who wrote the song Volare.


When it comes to the scenery in Apulia, it’s quintessentially Mediterranean. With the region full of cacti, olive groves, lemon trees, and vineyards, you feel like you’re in the heart of Tuscany but without the hills, winding roads, and crowds.

Apulia also has some of the most charming historic villages in Italy. With cobblestone streets, limestone piazzas, and Baroque architecture, you will feel like you’ve just stepped out of one of the classic Italian movies.  Trullis, houses with conical-shaped roofs, line the streets of Alberobello.  These houses dating back to the 15th century are completely made of stone with no mortar temporary in nature as permanent homes were forbidden to protect the look of the landscape.

Not only does Apulia have some of the most beautiful scenery in Italy, but it also has more coastline than any other region in the country. The Salentine Peninsula (the southern end of the region) sits between two turquoise seas – the Adriatic and the Ionian, so you’re never short on the choice of beaches.

Locals know the towns of Torre Dell’Orso and Otranto, the most easterly point in Italy, where they enjoy laid-back beaches. Whereas further north, secret beaches are surrounded by towering limestone cliffs with an abundance of sea caves to explore like you find in Polignano a Mare.  And with the cliffs comes cliff diving!


In Apulia, the food is unlike any other in the country. Simple dishes with Mediterranean freshness because of the abundance of fresh produce.  Dishes like orecchiette, pasta with the shape of small ears native to the area, with fresh greens, herbs, and olive oil.  Mashed fava beans with wild chicory or puff pastry filled with a combination of tomatoes, bechamel sauce, and mozzarella are common.  With so much of the area along the coast, you will find dishes like spaghetti with sea urchins and their roe or octopus with tomato sauce and potatoes.

Orecchiette Con le Cime di Rapa, ear shaped pasta with turnip tops.

And don’t forget the bread!  Round loaves of crusty bread from durum wheat flour give Altamura its claim to fame.  The focaccia Barese topped with cherry tomatoes and olives along with a bit of salt and rosemary make everyone’s mouth water.

Locorotondo, considered to be Apulia’s prettiest town, is surrounded by vineyards.


To go with their food, the wine in Apulia evolved to produce mostly robust reds, from the Negroamaro and Primitvo grapes, that rival some of the best from Australia and South America.  Ostuni is best known for its white wine and a nice rose comes fro Ottavianello.  A few sweet Muscats are also produced.

With the rich soil, hot sun, and sea breezes in the area, tasting the local wine while vacationing here is a must.


If you’re a history buff, you will love all of the things there are to see and learn in Apulia. For starters, Lecce, the capital of the Province of Lecce, has 2,000 years worth of history and an incredible Roman theater discovered by chance.

This theater, discovered in 1929,  during excavations prior to the building of the Bank of Italy. The theater is thought to have been built in the First and Second Centuries. Today, you can only see part of it, but during its time up to 5,000 people filled the theater.

Many other notable historic towns and buildings worth seeing in Apulia include Locorotondo (the prettiest historic town in Apulia, found in Bari), the Castel del Monte (built in the 1240s) sitting atop a hill in Andria, and all of the masserias (16th century fortified farmhouses) found throughout the region with many now repurposed as small hotels many of which are elegantly restored with wonderful service.


As you’ve read so far, with so much what else could make Apulia more perfect? Its Mediterranean climate, of course!

With an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, Apulia is the perfect vacation destination. Even the cooler months of December – March are warm (50 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to the rest of Europe.  And while the winter months are also its wettest, less than 1/3 of the days each month receive rainfall.

Lecce’s Roman amphitheatr.

In the spring, you can expect temperatures to range from 64-72. In the summer months of June, July, and August, the temperatures rise to the 80s, and the Fall brings temperatures of 69-77, making it the perfect time to vacation.

The summer months are the busiest in Apulia as all the locals, and many Europeans flock to the region. The best time to visit would autumn, when the temperatures are lower but still warm, and the crowds have returned home after the summer season.

Whether you are traveling solo, as a couple, in a group, or with children, Apulia is the perfect destination that has it all. With stunning beaches, rich history, and some of Italy’s most breathtaking scenery, Apulia is the next up-and-coming destination, so visit this hidden gem before it gets too crowded.

Are you ready to fall in love with this area of Italy?  Call me so I can make it happen for you!

Pat Ogle-CollinsFeel Dolce Vita on the East Coast of Italy!
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A Total Cultural Adventure Awaits in Lyon!

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Are you a culture vulture? Do new food and the arts in different forms get you excited? If this is you, then Lyon is the perfect place!  The amazing and glorious Lyon, the French heart of gastronomy comprising world-class cuisine, rich history in silk, stunning architecture, and the birthplace of cinema, all contribute to the many reasons you should add Lyon to your travel wish list.

Overlooking Lyon from Notre Dame de Fourvière

Lyon is frequently referred to as the world’s Food Capital. Acquiring this glorious title did not just happen overnight for Lyon; it evolved with more than eight decades of perfecting the mastery of presenting amazing and scrumptious meals. Lyon is positioned on the banks of the Saone and Rhone rivers. This unique location will make you not only enjoy their food but also take in the scenery, with the foothills of the Alps near enough to accentuate that Alpine vibe, burgundy to the south and the Beaujolais to the north.

Inside a Lyon bouchon

Lyon is famous for its world’s popular Bouchons and the superior quality of its chocolatiers, patisseries, and boulangeries. When touring Lyon, you won’t want to miss the Paul Bocuse (the founder father of lyonnaise cuisines) Food Hall and the Lyonnaise signature specialties such as Rosette de Lyon (a kind of cured sausage common in the region) Coq au vin (a traditional braised chicken dish that originates from French peasantry), and pistachio sausage, served with mashed potatoes and a cream sauce.

As you stroll the street, you will be passing among the homes and restaurants of a number of the best chefs of France. While you would think world-class meals would cost more than your groceries for a week, you can experience most meals at pocket-friendly prices.

Coq au vin, a Lyonaise classic dish

Just when you thought food is the only thrill you will get from Lyon, boom! There’s more! The city is known worldwide as the birthplace of cinema, with more than a century of history. After the first cinematograph was invented by the French inventor Leon Bailey, who later sold it to Lumiere’s brother who was more financially stable.

Institut Lumière that chronicles the contributions the founders of cinematography

Your trip to Lyon would be incomplete without visiting the Institut Lumiere.  Here you can see classic photo reels with prototype cameras and a reproduction of the famous Photorama, Louis Lumière’s invention that let viewers see images projected in 360-degree panoramic images to a height of at least six meters.

While you are in the cinema history mood, make your way to the Museum of Miniature Film Sets, located in the former “Maison des Advocats” or Lawyers House, a famous sixteenth-century building currently under UNESCO protection. Two floors of at least a hundred miniature film sets that were used as scenes of actual movies before the wonders of technology were available.

Silk shopping in Lyon

It will be a shame to pass on the deep heritage of silk weaving in Lyon. Lyon’s illustrious silk industry is vivid in its industrial architecture and beautiful previous silk weavers’ homes. These remnants of Lyons’ glorious silk industry can still be found today, with several heritage locations providing insight into the silk industry’s history. The Maison des Canuts and L’Atelier de Soierie in the Croix-Rousse, are among the most popular sites to learn more about the silk industry in Lyon.

Finally, as a little extra – don’t overlook La Fresque des Lyonnais, rue de la Martinière, the home to Lyon’s most attractive murals depicting life in the city.

By TGV, the high-speed French train, you arrive in Paris in a mere 2 hours so combining with the City of Lights makes for a delightful week in France.  Or add a few days to the start or end of a river cruise on the Rhone and Saone rivers.  What are you waiting for?! Contact us today to help you perfectly plan your trip to Lyon.

Pat Ogle-CollinsA Total Cultural Adventure Awaits in Lyon!
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