Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

When discussing what to do in Munich, Germany, many travel writers wax lyrical about Octoberfest. Ah, the beer! The sing-alongs! The pretzels, bratwurst, and schnitzel! But the festival also has its drawbacks. More than 17 million visitors descend upon the city every year for two+ weeks beginning on the third Saturday of September. If, like me, you’re no fan of crowds, Octoberfest may not be the best time to visit Germany’s third largest city. Fortunately, Munich has so much more to offer than the world’s biggest beer festival.

Palaces and Castles:

Construction on Residenz Palace (Munich Residence) was begun in the 14th century. From an inconsequential castle, it grew to become a grand palace. Today the building is a museum to its patrons, the rulers from the House of Wittelsbach, who governed Bavaria from the 17th century. Located in the center of the city, its scores of rooms display lavish furniture, paintings, tapestries, treasures, and religious items.

Residenz Palace in Munich Germany

Residenz Palace in Munich, Germany

Nymphenburg Palace, located on the outskirts of Munich, was the main summer residence of the House of Wittelsbach. This magnificent Baroque structure and its stunning gardens are open to the public, however it also continues to be home to the current head of the House of Wittelsbach, Franz, Duke of Bavaria. Read More

Octoberfest is often featured in stories about what to do in Munich, Germany, but I found the city had so much more to offer than its annual beer bash.

Entrance gate at Dachau Concentration Camp features the famous Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free) slogan

We humans are fascinated by disasters. We find it impossible to look away from a car wreck. When a disaster of enormous consequence occurs, our first impulse is to tell someone. Cable news stations are acutely aware of this tendency; they capitalize upon it with round-the-clock coverage of hurricanes, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks. For the most part, I believe it would be healthier not to be quite so fascinated with such events. However, I also believe that some disasters must never be forgotten. Thus, just as I had toured Auschwitz Concentration Camp near Krakow, Poland, and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I made it a point to visit Dachau Concentration Camp during a recent trip to Munich, Germany. Read More

Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich Germany

There is no mistaking the resemblance between Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland in California. Built in 1886 by King Ludwig II, the fairy tale castle was for years rumored to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney. That rumor was finally confirmed in 2012. A Disneyland representative admitted to an Orange County Register reporter that Walt Disney and his wife had visited Neuschwanstein Castle prior to the construction of Disneyland. It was indeed the template that Disney had in mind when he was designing his Magic Kingdom. Read More

King Ludwig II built Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany in order to withdraw from public life. How ironic that it was the inspiration for Walt Disney\'s famous castle.

Oberbaumbrucke Bridge across the River Spree in Berlin, Germany

The city of Berlin is a dichotomy. It’s not particularly pretty, but I venture to say there are few cities more interesting than Berlin. It is filled with art galleries, museums, and is a magnet for creative types. Unlike Germans in the rest of the country, who tend to be more reserved, Berliners are famous for their ribald sense of humor. Of course, during the years when the Berlin Wall divided the city, East and West Berlin were a study in contrasts. The wall may be gone, but with each visit the dichotomy of Berlin reveals itself to me in myriad ways. Read More

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Tibet travel experiences as much as I have enjoyed writing about them. After my last story about how to travel overland in Tibet was published, I realized that I still had a slew of great photos that I hadn’t used. I decided to do something a little unorthodox (for me) and create a photo travelogue of my journey through Tibet, from Lhasa to the Nepal border. So, here goes. Hope you enjoy.

Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, former home to the current Dalai Lama, framed by soaring mountains

Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, former home to the current Dalai Lama, framed by soaring mountains

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A photo travelogue of my 2019 Tibet travel experience with Himalaya Journey, from Lhasa to the Nepal border, using mostly images and very few words.

I’d given up on ever traveling overland from Nepal to Tibet. Three times I had tried and failed. The first tour I booked in Kathmandu, a number of years ago, was cancelled when the Chinese government suddenly closed the border. My second try a couple of years later was much the same. When monks began setting themselves on fire to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet during the anniversary of the 1959 Chinese invasion, the government again closed the border. I eventually learned that China closes Tibet to all foreign travelers from mid-February through early April every year. Unfortunately, the Kathmandu tour companies with which I had booked were clueless (read more about those closures here).

Lesson number one was to never work with an “aggregator.” All foreign travelers going to Tibet must be on an organized tour that includes a private vehicle, a driver, and a tour guide that are approved and licensed by the Chinese government. Additionally, travelers need a Tibet Travel Permit and a set travel itinerary, both of which can only be arranged by a tour operator. There are NO exceptions. NONE of the Nepali-owned travel and tour companies in Kathmandu can provide these services. They will take your money, but then turn you over to one of a handful of Tibetan-operated tour companies in the city. Of course, their fee is tacked on, so you end up paying more.

Barbara Weibel at Geu La Pass in Tibet with Mount Everest and the Himalayan Range in the background

Spoiler alert: I did finally make it to Tibet. Here I am at Geu La Pass, with Mount Everest and the Himalayan Range in the background

Armed with the correct information about annual border closures, I scheduled my next trip to Nepal for the fall of 2016. I was determined to find a Tibetan-owned firm in Kathmandu that specialized in Tibet tours. But it was not to be. On April 25, 2015, Nepal suffered a horrific earthquake that killed more than 22,000 people and destroyed the bridge connecting Nepal’s Friendship Highway with Tibet. Overland journeys between Kathmandu and Tibet ceased while a new land crossing was constructed. The land border between Nepal and Tibet would not be reopened to foreign travelers until August 28, 2017. Read More

Everything you need to know about traveling overland from Nepal to Tibet, and my recommendation for the fabulous tour operator, Himalaya Journey.