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Trip Report Germany, May'16: Four seasons in three weeks.

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Introduction

This is a blog about our recent trip to Germany. Perhaps our experience will help somebody who is planning to visit this wonderful country.

So,

Why Germany?

Every year we alternate continents for our vacation destinations: last year was "home", the North American year (we went to Cape Cod and the Bahamas). The year before we visited Asia (Japan for vacation and India for a business trip), and in 2013 our son Daniel, our friends and I went to South America (Peru).
So, this year it was a Europe's turn, but which country? We've already been to Spain, the UK and France, we are aslo planning a trip Italy in December to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday, so what else? Well there were plenty to choose from! It was an easy pick for Dmitry. Being a neat freak and perfectionist in whatever he does, he respects Germans for the same qualities: work eithics, quality and discipline. Visitng Germnay was his long-time dream, and it was time for the dream come true.

When to go?

Last year our sone Daniel started college and we became empty-nesters, so we were no longer limited by school breaks and could go during "shoulder" season when prices are cheaper, crowds are smaller but weather is still nice: either May or September. Well, that was an easy choice: May was the month when 71 years ago one of the bloodiest and most sacred wars in the World history ended in Berlin. We are originally from Russia, where that war has a special place in everyone's heart, so we decided to pay a tribute to our grandfathers and grand uncles, who fought and lost their lives in that war.

Where to go?

3 weeks in Germany: is it too long or too short? On the one hand, everyone was asking me "What are you going to do in Germany for 3 weeks?!", and many suggested to visit neighboring Austria and France. On the other hand, when I started to do my research, I realized that 3 weeks to see everything we want to see is not enough... In the end, we decided to exclude the north of the country (with the exception of Cologne, if it can be called north) and came up with the following itinerary:

PART I: Welcome to Germany!
Day 0, Apr.29 - Night flight Lufthansa New York - Frankfurt
-- train--
Day 1, Apr.30 - Cologne

-- train--

PART II: East Germany
Day 2-5, May 1-4 - Berlin
Day 6, 5 May - Dresden
-- car--
Day 7, 6 May - Meissen, moving to Nuremberg

PART III: Romantic Road, Franconia
Day 8, 7 May - Nuremberg
Day 9, 8 May - Würzburg
Day 10, May 9 - Rothenburg

PART IV:
Day 11, 10 May - Dachau, Munich
Day 12-13, 11-12 May - Munich

PART V: German Alps
Day 14, May 13 - Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Day 15, May 14 - Fussen
Day 16, May 15 - Allgäu

PART VI: Black forest
Day 17, May 16 - Freiburg, the road through the Black Forest
Day 18, May 17 - Baden-Baden

PART VII: Mosel and the Rhine valley
Day 19, 18 May - visit to the Mercedes plant at Stuttgart, crossing in Bernkastel-Kues
Day 20, 19 May - the Moselle valley, Koblenz
-- End car --
-- Boat --
Day 21, May 20 - a river cruise along Rhine from Koblenz to Bacharach

-- a train --

PART VIII: So long, Germany!
Day 22, 21 May - Frankfurt
Day 23, May 22 - flight Frankfurt - New York

How to communicate?

There was absolutely no problem communicating. Typically, before a trip to a new country I attend the relevant language course. Not just for practicality, usually locals appreciate the attempt and help with more enthusiasm. But for whatever reasons I had more difficulties with German than I had with Japanese. At the end I memorized essential "Wo ist die toilet?" and I decided that this should be enough. Local most likely will not be too enthusiastic after this hopefully will point me to a right direction.
As it turned out, none of this is necessary. In western Germany, 95% speak good English, in the East not so much, but. to our surprise, a lot of people especially in their 40-s still remember Russian. One way or another, being fluent in both, there were almost no problem communicating.

What to bring?

As it turned out, we had to pack a lot. Weather in May can vary from region to region, plans included from hiking and biking to visiting casino and fine restaurants with a dress code. We had two big suitcases with absolutely no extra room for souvenirs in our way back.But the day before the trip Lufthansa has made a gift upgrading us to a business class for a small fee , which means we can bring 4 pieces of luggage to the plane. The problem was solved!

Everything was ready, it's time to start having fun!

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    PART I - Welcome to Germany.
    Day Zero - 29th April, Friday.

    So long, New York!
    We were ready: all bags were packed yesterday, I checked, double-checked and re-checked everything from passports to cell phones - those things that cannot be replaced if lost in a trip. Actually, one can do without a phone, but it has long since become an extension of my arm, so without it I feel amputated....
    Our flight was scheduled at 9:30PM and, because we live 20 minutes from airport JFK in New York, we planned to leave around 6:30 PM. But then we arrived at the airport and saw the line to the security check which reminded my years growing up in the USSR, standing in endless lines in the department stores: it was long, it was wide, it had multiple turns, apparently frustrated people standing there more than an hour and no end in sight. I thanked God and Lufthansa one more time for putting us to the business class so we could wait in much shorter line! Nevertheless, we still spent about an hour to get thru security check. Looking ahead I add that upon return I read a series of articles in The New York Times about the "opening of the holiday season," many hours of queuing, delays on flights, etc. Anyway, let's not talk about sad things, let's talk about three weeks of vacation ahead of us!

    Day One - 30th April, Saturday.
    Cologne.

    Out flight went well: we had a surprisingly good dinner, watched a movie and slept through the night. Our ticket was to Cologne and included one-hour trip on DB BAHN train from Frankfurt Airport to Cologne central railway station (Köln Hauptbahnhof). The first thing that caught our attention looking at the train window was unusually bright beautiful yellow fields. We immediately googled and found our it was canola fields that bloom only a few weeks in May, so that is another plus in favor of the chosen timing for our trip ! It was a good sign for a start of our journey.

    Cologne Cathedral.
    As soon as we arrived to Cologne we confirmed the right decision to make a half-day stop in this city: entering the rail station lobby you immediately can see the famous Cologne Cathedral right behind the glass on the station plaza .
    We put our luggage to the locker, and without further ado went to make a first acquaintance with Cologne, and indeed with Germany. Our plan for several hours in Cologne was to see the Cathedral, of course, walk around town, have a dinner and return to the station to get on the 11PM night train to Berlin. I must say that weather was not cooperating, it was cold and there was that pesky drizzling nasty rain, when you hesitate either to open an umbrella or not to bother.
    Therefore, after taking must-do pictures of us with the cathedral on the background, we hurried inside. Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in Germany and you can feel it: the height and power, both outside and inside cannot be described in words neither do a justice in pictures. Insanely beautiful stained glass windows (my favorite element in Gothic architecture), sculptures, details of the cathedral was the best introductory to what we should expect to see in Germany. Unfortunately we missed the English-speaking tour, and remaining tours for the rest of the day were in German, so we just walked around Cathedral, sat on benches and, finally, decided to climb the Cathedral tower.
    I would not say that the climb was easy, it was not, the steep spiral staircase was quite long, but worth the effort: a view of the Rhine River, the bridge and the city was really good.

    Padlocks of Love.
    Going down, we took the city map in the info center and went for a walk around the city. I must say that besides the Cathedral we were not impressed much with Cologne: dirty, a lot of shady characters and beggars, and it says a lot considering that we were from New York! We walked a central shopping area where but did not buy much, the prices were steep, and I repeat: it says a lot considering that we were from New York! The only thing we bought was an electrical converter for our phone chargers.
    But our first introduction to German cuisine, when we stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants, was a success: Dmitry ordered a large pork knuckle with a giant glass of beer, and I had a delicious soup with liver dumplings. But the part was a dessert named "Bavarian cream", that was super yummy: something similar to a mousse with cherry and raspberry compote.
    After such a calorie-packed dinner, we needed to walk: my ongoing battle with extra weight could not sustain Bavarian cream attack that greatly undermined my position in the war against weight gain.
    We walked to the waterfront, which was much nicer and cleaner than the area surrounding the Cathedral, and went on bridge to cross over to the other Rein river bank. Here on a bridge we learned about German tradition of 'padlocks of love" when couples confirm their feelings by chaining padlocks on the fence or a bridge. There were thousands of different padlocks on the bridge: huge and tiny, highly decorated and plain, golden, copper, wooden, you name it! If we knew we would've brought our "Lock of love" as well.

    Leaving Cologne.
    After enjoying city view from the other side of the river, we were back to the town. It was already 8PM, still a long time before our train, but there was nothing much to do anymore in Cologne. It was too cold to walk and there were even more suspicious characters than before. AS we had a first class train ticket, we decided to go to the VIP area in the railroad station. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the VIP area was open only till 9PM. There were no regular waiting areas or benches in the station, and when we asked a question where we are supposed to wait for the train, we were politely advised to visit station's cafés and hinted that this not their problem. Here for the first time we encounter what we would call "service without care": politely, according to the rules, but the stone-faced and unwillingness to go beyond to help.
    Followed advice, we went and sat in the cafe, I had a cup of hot tea, Dmitry read, but at 10PM they closed. In addition, the locker where we left luggage storage was also closing at 10, so we had our bulky luggage and nowhere to sit and wait an hour for a train. I just do not understand how everything is closed that the one of the biggest railroad stations in one of the biggest cities and passengers has no place to wait for the scheduled train going to the country's capital!
    Eventually, we have found some nook (for smoking?) with benches, where we huddled until our train arrived.
    I grew up in small town in rural Kazakhstan, and, until there were an airport built nearby, it usually took our family a 3 days trip by train to reach our vacation destinations. I have always looked with envy at the people who were riding first class sleeper cars, and dreamed that one day I will definitely take a trip in such car. This day has come! The compartment in the car was rather small, but cozy and comfortable, with shower and toilet. There was not much space for our luggage, but for one night it was OK. The train last stop was Warsaw, the conductor was a very friendly Pole, with whom we spoke on the mixture of English, Polish and Russian. In the morning he brought us hot coffee and surprisingly tasty breakfast, where we immediately fell in love with German yogurt.
    I guess, that is it for today. Tomorrow we are arriving to Berlin!

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    PART II - East Germany
    Day Two - May 1st, Sunday. Berlin by walking.

    Well, not 100% by walking, we still used a subway to reach our first destination in Berlin, but let’s not jump ahead.

    Our train arrived to Berlin on time at 6:40 am and right off the bat we were hit by the stunningly beautiful multi-level main railroad station in Berlin. At the end of our trip I became a fan of the German modern architecture, its sort of a techno style which is, in my opinion, very German - functional, efficient and beautiful.
    We took a quick 5 minutes taxi ride to our hotel Berlin Marriott Hotel (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bermc-berlin-marriott-hotel/). The hotel was an excellent choice: conveniently located on the border of the western and eastern parts of the city in a 5-minute walk from the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, next to the futuristic Potsdamer Platz and the beautiful Tiegarten park. Room was also good: spacious, corner with large windows and a French balcony.
    Last night in the train we slept very well and had a good breakfast, so after settling in the hotel we did not waste any time and went to explore Berlin. Today, our route went through the eastern part of the city and in mostly done by walking.

    Monument to Soviet soldiers in Treptower Park
    Website: http://www.berlin.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/3561249-3558930-treptower-park.html
    Free admission

    Our first stop was in Berlin Treptower Park. Like I said, it was very important to us to pay respect to the memory of Soviet people who died defending their homeland. Yes, USSR was an evil regime, ruled by an evil man, but it no way makes the sacrifice by ordinary people any less worthy. What struck us in the park is how well maintained it was. We noticed that everywhere else in Germany the number of graffiti surpassed America’s. However here, in the Treptower Park we saw no graffiti, no trash, no traces of vandalism. Big respect to Germans for honoring this monument.

    East Side Gallery
    Website: http://www.eastsidegallery-berlin.com
    Free admission

    After visiting the monument dedicated to the liberation from the Nazis, our next stop was visiting a symbol of liberation of the East German people from communism, namely the destruction of the Berlin Wall, which symbolized the end of the Cold War.
    Germans brought down the wall, but they did not completely destroy it. Instead, they gave all remaining wall blocks to artists to express what people felt that time. As a result, all these artistic works were brought to one place, an open-air gallery called the East Side Gallery. It is located near beautiful two-leveled Oberbaum Bridge (Oberbaumbrücke).
    The wall is quite long, to see it in full one needs at least an hour or even two. There's a lot of kitsch, but also some interesting paintings.

    Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom)
    Website: http://www.berlinerdom.de
    Admission: 7 € + 3 € (audioguide)

    We walked to the end of the wall, and then continued our way towards our next destination, the Museum Island (Museumsinsels). We strolled through ugly quarters of the former East Berlin along the Spree River until we reached the Nikolaiviertel, the area named after the St. Nicholai church located here. Surrounded by lovely baroque and rococo mansions, this quarter bear some atmosphere of a small town, very different from the rest of Berlin, with its new cosmopolitan futuristic buildings and the remains of socialist realism.
    Finally we got to the Museum Island, where in addition to several art museums one of the main attraction was a famous Berlin Dom. In contrast to the strict Gothic Cologne Cathedral, the Baroque of Berlin Dom combined with much better bright sunny sky made much more pleasant impression on us. The interior was stunning, simply beautiful. The same as in Cologne, we again decided to earn our dinner by climbing the Cathedral tower, but here we would’ve actually preferred the cooler weather: although climbing was not as long and steep as in Cologne, but the hot day made it worse. View of the city from the top of the tower however made all this effort worth.

    Egyptian Museum (Neues Museum)
    Website: http://www.smb.museum/museums-institutions/neues-museum/home.html
    Admission: € 12

    There are 5 excellent museums on Museum Island in Berlin: the most popular Pergamon, Neues Museum, Art Museum, Bode, Old Gallery and the Old Museum. Of course it was no possible to visit them all in one day, so we had to make a choice to see only one of them.
    From my childhood I remember a small bust of Nefertiti standing on the desk in my parents' study. My mother considered Nefertiti the standard of female beauty because of ideal head shape and graceful curve of the neck. I still remember how I stared at it and could not understand what my mom found beautiful in this bold woman with a pot on her head. So when I was thinking which museum to see in Berlin, the choice fell on Egyptian (Neues) Museum. Well, I must to see Nefertiti’s original bust and solve the mystery that tormented me since my childhood! :-)
    In addition to Nefertiti, in this museum you can find a lot of other interesting exhibits: from a collection of papyrus to Nubia’s art which I liked the most.
    Nefertiti has her own room in the museum, where unfortunately no photos allowed. Well, my childhood doubts in Nefertiti’s beauty were finally put to rest: it is impossible to take eyes from the enchanting power of this women.

    Gendarmenmarkt
    Website: http://www.berlin.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/3560277-3558930-gendarmenmarkt.html
    Free admission

    It was already five o'clock when we left a museum and started walking back to our hotel, deciding to have a dinner somewhere along the way. On the way we stopped at one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt. It is a rectangular plaza formed by classical-style buildings: Deutscher Dom, Französischer Dom and Concert Hall (Konzerthaus). Despite the neoclassicism of these buildings, the plaza looked very cozy because of its small size and many trees. By the way, Berlin in general is very clean, no trash or traces of gum on the streets, just a very clean city. Living in New York, I have to admit that we have a lot to learn from Berliners in this regard. Do not get me wrong, I love my city, where I lived the biggest part of my life, but cleanliness is not one of its best qualities.
    We found a nice-looking restaurant near Gendarmenmarkt and decided to have a dinner outdoor watching people walking at the plaza which we liked so much. Restaurant was a mixture of French and German cuisine. What could be better than a delicious meal on a sunny spring afternoon at a table with a beautiful view after such a great and eventful day!

    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas)
    Website: http://www.stiftung-denkmal.de/denkmaeler/denkmal-fuer-die-ermordeten-juden-europas.html
    Free admission

    Our day began with honoring the soldiers of the WW2, then we paid tribute to the recent past - the Cold War, then jumped in the earlier history of the Berlin Cathedral, then even further to the Egyptian prehistory, and now we were back to the days of the 2nd World War. Now we were here, at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or Holocaust Memorial, to pay respect to war victims. The tragedy of the European Jews captured in the center of Berlin in a concrete maze with walls of varying heights. This monument would look much gloomier if not many children who played, jumped and climbed on these walls, reminding us how many children could also enjoy life if they had not perished for a crazy idea in a head of the little monster. We arrived on time for a sunset and the monument looked very impressive in the last glimpse of sun.

    Back at the hotel, we decided to wash off the dirt of the first day by going to the sauna. Almost all hotels in Germany have a spa with sauna, a steam room and swimming pools, as sweating in the sauna is one of the German favorite pastime. Our Marriott had 2 saunas and a rather big nice pool, so the day ended very well.

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    Day Three - May 2, Monday. Berlin on bike.

    Germany is a cycling nation. Regardless of weather conditions, physical fitness, age of the person and his/hers place of residence (urban or rural), you can see the Germans on the bikes everywhere. Bicycles are also different: e-bicycles are preferred in rural hilly terrain that even elderly people can use them effortlessly, but in urban areas traditional bikes still prevail.
    I got an impression that for many Berliners it is the most favorite way to get around the city. Firstly, the financial factor: cost of riding a bike is much cheaper than public transportation, leave alone driving a car. Second, the safety: there are separate bike lines throughout the city for cyclists, and they are not on a road next to the cars, instead they are on the sidewalk separated from the pedestrian traffic. But beyond these two practical considerations, biking is a super fun and a great way to keep in shape.
    There is a huge number of bike rental agencies in Berlin where you can either take a guided bike tour with a group or just rent a bike for yourselves. There is a network of "city bikes" (here in Berlin it is called "Call a bike": http://www.callabike-interaktiv.de/index.php?id=389&&f=500) provided by DBAHN.
    We got lucky because our hotel provided bikes for 15 € for a day. Initially we thought to rent bikes 2 hours just to ride it in nearby park Tiegarten, but the price was the same for an hour or for a day, and therefore we decided that today we are going explore Berlin form the bike lanes.

    The itinerary for today was:

    Tiergarten Park
    Website: http://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/berlin_tipps/grosser_tiergarten/index.shtml
    Free admission

    Actually the correct name is “Big Tiergarten" (Großer Tiergarten), because it is really a very large park, which belonged to West Berlin before reunification.
    It was located right across the street from our hotel, so we decided to start our day in the park to “get familiar” with the bikes on easy roads. Also, we had a booked tour of the Reichstag at 1PM, so it did make sense to stay in the area. The weather was summer-warm, perfect for bike riding. At first we tried to follow the route recommended for cycling, but then just went where we saw something we liked: we stopped in a rose garden, sent to the Victory monument in the center of the park, rode along the Straße des 17. Juni, then just rode on a small park paths.
    We ended up at the west side of the Brandenburg Gate. It was already 12:30 PM, time to check-in for the Reichstag, so we chained our bikes to the road sign and walked to the entrance area.

    The Reichstag building
    Website: http://www.bundestag.de/kulturundgeschichte/architektur/reichstag/
    Admission: free, by appointment

    Today was May 2nd, the day when the Reichstag was fallen and Soviets soldiers Egorov and Kantaria hoisted the flag on its rooftop. So it was significant that we visited the Reichstag today.
    To see inside of the building is only possible via guided tour, better booked in advance using this official link: https // visite.bundestag.de / BAPWeb / pages / createBookingRequest.jsf? lang = en

    Tours are offered in different languages, and you provide alternative dates (up to 3). We got an e-mail confirmation in 24 hours with instructions on date and time, what to bring and what to do next. Nothing much, just come half an hour before the tour time and bring identification documents. Taking photographs inside is allowed, except security checkpoints and the building staff, including a guide.
    Our guide Tatiana spoke in clear English with unidentifiable accent, but by her looks and the name we figured she was Russian. We asked why she is guiding an English tour and not Russian one, Tatiana said that in order to be a hired as a touring guide in the Reichstag one must be fluent in at least four different languages. She was actually leading tours in for English, Russian, Italian and of course German speaking groups. Wow.
    Well, back to the Reichstag. Well, all left of the Reichstag as we knew it from the documentaries and photographs, was the exterior outside wall and internal portions of the wall with inscriptions of the Soviet soldiers who stormed it. The rest of the building is a brand new modern structure, as if designed so nothing reminds of its dark history. Everything was done so one had no feeling that I am in the same building where the worst decisions in the history of mankind were made.
    And once again my big respect and thank you to German people preserving thee walls with inscriptions left by Soviet soldiers. They are all over the building, even on the wall next to the Merkel's office. When I asked whether there were cases when somebody found the inscription made by the father or grandfather, Tatiana said that since the opening of the Reichstag for the visits, there were 25 cases when people found names of their relatives.
    During the tour, we walked around the premises of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat, four towers at the corners of the building occupied by the main parliamentary parties, and stopped by the office of Angela Merkel. Very modest door, painted in bright blue color (a homage to the European Union?).
    The tour ended and Tatiana took us to the rooftop of the building, where we continued exploring the famous Reichstag Dom on our own. Reichstag Dom is an absolutely magnificent example of modern German architecture combined with stunning views of the city, certainly a must-do when visiting Berlin.

    Checkpoint Charlie
    Website: http://www.berlin.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/3560059-3558930-checkpoint-charlie.html
    Admission: € 3 for the photo

    After leaving the Reichstag, we took the bikes and continued our ride in Berlin. Initially, we wanted to pass through the Brandenburg Gate to the Unter den Linden, but after we saw the beautiful waterfront with the new building of the Bundestag library, we changed the plan and went along the river Spree, then made a turn and rode through a small section of Unter den Linden between Mauershtrasse and Friedrichstrasse.
    It was getting hotter, the summer was pounding on the door. If I knew at that time that in about a week we would get into the real snow storm, I would have laughed.
    Our next stop was the Checkpoint Charlie, or rather what was left of it. It is more a tourist trap nowadays, but as Russian-Americans having perspective from “both sides” we certainly were interested to visit that place. For Westerners the sign "You are leaving the American sector ..." looks intimidating because this sign was the end of everything that is called Western values. My husband took a picture of me with 2 guys pretending to be GDR border guards, one of whom was a Pole, and the other Greek. They wanted me to put on some shabby Soviet army private cover, which was used before me, God knows by how many people. We laughed together when I told them that I am a daughter of the retired Soviet army colonel, and will no put on my head anything less than colonel astrakhan hat.

    Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum)
    Website: http://www.jmberlin.de
    Admission: 8 € (3 € discount) + 3 € per audio guide

    We continued our ride to the next stop , the Jewish Museum. Not being Jewish, we initially did not include this museum in the our itinerary in Berlin. However one of my friend (also not Jewish, she is Czech-Catholic) said it is a must-do. I am so grateful to her for giving me this advice. No need to be Jewish to appreciate this museum, especially how the architecture and interior design integrated into the exhibition content. We thought it would be dedicated to the tragedy of the Jews during the Nazi era, but it turned out that it is a museum dedicated to the entire history of the Jewish people in Germany. The Holocaust, of course, represented, but only as a single page in the long history.
    It starts in the basement of the museum, where there is this intimidating dark room tapering upwards to the only source of light.
    Then we continued to the museum garden, designed similar to the Holocaust memorial we visited yesterday, but smaller. When we went there, we swayed so that the first thought was “oh, we had too much beer in the heat." In fact, it was the architect's goal to make you feel uncomfortable by having the floor with visibly unnoticeable slope so you cannot stand straight. When one walks through this garden, you always tend to one side and feel nauseous.
    After the garden we went upstairs to the top floor where the main exposition starts . Each hall was impressive with both amazing interior design and exhibits. The architect somehow managed to create a space combining modern design trends with historical content.
    We learned a lot of new information, for example that the famous American brand Levy Strauss were invented by a German Jew Leib Strauss in Germany, not in the United States, as it is commonly believed, and only then he emigrated, took his invention with him and founded the famous Levi Strauss & Co.

    There are several empty rooms in the museum reserved for temporary art show and exhibitions by Jewish artists. The floor in one of such rooms was covered with hundreds of iron “faces”, and when you walk on them (if you can, my husband could not), your footsteps clatter, making it unusual sound.
    Two ours in the museum flew by like 15 minutes.

    Meeting a friend

    Tonight we met with my family friend Lilia, who was waiting for us in our hotel lobby. We returned our bikes, together went upstairs to our room and had a little wine.
    Lilia grew up in Russia, but she was an ethnic German from a religious Mennonite family, so she knew language and traditions from her upbringing. When she was in college she met a guy from East Germany, who was studying in Soviet Union, they married and she moved with him to East Berlin in 70-s.
    She was an old family friend and it was interesting to talk to someone who witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall.
    Lilia was wonderful, with a great sense of humor. For example, she said, the next day after the wall fall, she and all her friends were curious and went to the western sector to see department and grocery stores and boutique shops. In her words: "Well, we looked looked at these shops and their prices, and returned back home, to our stores". Now the difference between the east and west parts of the country almost non-existent. Lilia: "We are even better! All new construction and investments are in the East! “ She is a true Berliner who loves her city and very proud of its history and present: “We are a unique city: we have two Berlin Operas, two Berlin Zoos, two TV towers!"

    We decided to have a dinner in the restaurant, suggested by the concierge. The poor waiter did not know how to communicate with our group: one speaks German, but does not speak English, the other two speak in English, but no German, and among themselves all speak Russian. But everything was fine at the end, all were happy, including the waiter who received a generous, American-style tip.

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    >the same building where the worst decisions in the history of mankind were made.

    Thank you for your interesting report. Just a minor correction: the Reichstag was burnt down on Feb. 28, 1933, just four weeks after Hitler's accession to power, and was not in use during the nazi era. So it was not the locus of the criminal decisions of the Nazis. Even Hitlers Enabling Act of 1933 already took place in the so called Kroll opera.

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    Day Four - May 3rd, Tuesday. Berlin + Potsdam by public transportation.

    Today our plan included a day trip to Potsdam, and later in the evening we had tickets for the show in Berlin Fridrihshtadtpalas. So we took advantage of an extensive network of the Berlin public transportation: Subway (S-Bahn lines by BVG and U-Bahn lines by Deutsche Bahn), regional trains, buses, trams. There is already a lot has been written about the metro prices, but I will summarize again.
    Berlin is divided into 3 transport zones: A (within the ring metro line), B (between the ring metro line and the boundaries of the city) and C (the suburbs within 15 km), and the trip price depends within a zone or zones you want to go.

    There are multiple types of tickets and passes and if anyone interested on details I can provide. The most useful way to use Berlin public transportation for tourists is to buy a "Berlin Welcome Card", which includes not only unlimited travel within the zones purchased, but also significant discounts for museums, tours, concerts, restaurants, river cruises, and souvenir shops. It varies according to zones, the number of days and range of discounts (for example the card that includes discounts for museums on Museum Island is more expensive).

    There are cards for 48 and 72 hours (counting starts at the time of card validation and ends in exactly purchased hours) as well as 4, 5, or 6 days (counting starts at the time of card validation and ends at midnight on the last day). Prices for all the options can be found here:
    https://shop.bvg.de/index.php/group/61

    We figured that the most beneficial for us would be to buy a 48-hours "Berlin Welcome Card" eligible for zones A + B + C. It covers our trip to Potsdam and the last day in Berlin, giving a discount for all palaces and other attractions, which we were planning to visit in the remaining time in Berlin. It cost 21.50 € per person. Most importantly, it was very convenient and saved a lot of time. You can buy it in the hotel from concierge, large stations, railway stations and tourist information centers. You also can buy it in advance online and receive either by mail, or print. Unfortunately, online option only exists for zones A + B. Since we needed a zone C, we bought it from our concierge.

    Another interesting moment: in Berlin and throughout Germany, there are no check points for transportation tickets, meaning you do not have to pass through the turnstiles! You come directly to the platform, take the train and ride (similar to the railroad in US). If course, there may be controllers who can come and check your tickets, and in this case you are facing a huge fine. But for all time we used Berlin metro, we never seen a single controller. Very important not to forget to validate your ticket on the platform otherwise it will be considered the same as no ticket. I cannot even imagine such "honor system" in New York, we have so many people who would definitely take advantage, unfortunately...
    Well, enough side discussion, better get back to my journey.

    Potsdam. Palaces and buildings of the Prussian kings in Sanssouci Park.
    Website: http://www.spsg.de/en/palaces-gardens/object/schloss-sanssouci/
    Fee: 15.20 € (discounts BWC) + 3 € photo permit

    Using our Welcome Card for the first time, we got off on the "Potsdam, Park Sanssouci Bhf" station, and then took a bus # 695 to the destination. The main rule is to follow the crowd, could not go wrong. We bought tickets for the tour at 10:40 AM + photo permit and went to the entrance to the Sanssouci palace where our tour started. There were no tour guides, only audio guides, but tour time is assigned to break the visitors into manageable groups to avoid crowding.
    This ticket, in addition to the Sanssouci palace, allowed us to visit the other buildings in the Sanssouci park.

    Schloss Sanssouci

    My mom, who visited GDR with tourist group in the early '80s, was telling me about this palace a lot. Before our trip she asked me several times, "Will you be visiting Sanssouci?", "Yes, mom, we will". She made me curious.
    It was the first royal residence, which we visited in Germany, so we were completely overwhelmed with the level of luxury and decoration of the palace. Later, in our trip, we visited Dresden and the Bavarian palaces where Rococo style had reached unprecedented peak, but by that time we already were prepared for what we would see. But today were not prepared and thus experienced a cultured shock by the stunning beauty of the Sanssouci palace.
    Park Sanssouci

    After touring the palace, we walked along the park central alley passing a cascade of vineyards. Of course, in a spring time it is not looked particularly beautiful, during the fall it should be much different, better view. But the alley with its fountains, statues, and lawns was very picturesque. I especially liked (both here and in other palaces) mixed flowers of different colors and textures plated on the same bed, and it did not looked messy, but very inventive and beautiful.
    (to be continued...)

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    ... (could not publish my post in its entirety, hence the break)

    Neue Kammern Palace

    After strolling on alley we went to a small Neue Kammern Palace which was originally intended as a greenhouse, but then converted . Therefore, rooms here are larger than in the Sanssouci and decoration equally impressive. For whatever reasons, there were no many visitors here, the whole place was just for us.

    Orangerieschloss

    This palace, despite the name, intended as a guesthouse from the start. I liked this palace the most og all we've seen in Potsdam. You can only visit it with the guided tour, but unfortunately by the time we arrived there were only German-speaking tours, with the English printouts. But we were lucky because the group had a lot of English-speaking people, so the guide occasionally gave us the most interesting information in 2 languages.

    Belvedere Pavilion (Belvedere auf dem Klausberg)

    When we left Orangerieschloss we say a beautiful tree lined alley leading to the small pavilion Belvedere. From a distance, it looked very nice, but upon approach it was clear that it badly in need of restoration. I hope it will happen soon, and the pavilion will be open for visitors.
    Neues Palais

    Speaking about restoration, we noticed that there were a log of extensive work going on throughout the park. Orangerieschloss, park paths and our next destination, the New Palace, all covered with scaffolding. New Palace is the most powerful and stunning, but today, due to the restoration works it was closed to the public. Honestly, we did not regret it, because we were already overwhelmed with furnishings and decorations in other buildings, so seeing another palace would've been too much.

    Chinese Tea House (Chinesisches Haus)

    Chinese goods were in great demand in an age of rococo. Unlike today's cheap imports, in those days, China supplied expensive silks and porcelain of the highest quality that only the rich could afford, so any self-respecting king must've had a room or a hall with Chinese motifs.
    The Chinese house in Sanssouci did not have a tour or even audio guide, but the check-in lady was from Leningrad. Russian she was very happy to share her vast knowledge (she graduated history major from the best USSR university) not only about the Chinesisches Haus, but also about the park and its palaces in general.

    Picture Gallery (Bildergalerie)

    The last stop in our walk thru the park Sanssouci was a Bildergalerie built by King Frederick II next to the palace for easy access. There are two big halls where you can find paintings by Rubens and rare works of Caravaggio among others.
    This concluded our acquaintance with summer residence of Prussian kings in Potsdam. In addition to the Sanssouci, Potsdam has much more to offer: the Marble Palace, Russian village Alexandrowka and place of the Potsdam Conference, but it was very hot and we had no energy to go there. Based on my last year's experience visiting Japan, I knew when trip is packed with attractions, eventually they are all mixed together at the and seem the same. We did nto want to repeat this mistake. So we took bus # 695 and then the train back to Berlin.

    The show "The WYLD" in Berlin Friedrichstadt-Palast
    Website: https://www.palast.berlin/en/home/shows/
    Ticket price: 66 € (on the Orchestra 8th row with the discount)

    Back to the city, we first stopped by the restaurant next to Potsdamer Platz to have a dinner. It was the season of white asparagus in Germany and all menus in all restaurants included an additional section: asparagus menu. In America, at least in New York where we live, green asparagus is everywhere all year around, but the white is rare, so we were glad that we were lucky again with the chosen timing of our trip. I ordered the "Small schnitzel with asparagus hollandaise sauce." They brought a dish where the schnitzel was the size of a huge crepe. It's a small? Yes, ma'am, it's small. And what do you call a large then? That lady is having a large schnitzel . In a meantime the mentioned lady looked with horror at the plate where she had schnitzel the size of the huge vinyl disk (remember those?). OK, no questions, thank you. Looking back I can say that we had eaten enough white asparagus till next year probably.

    We freshened up in the hotel and went to see a show. Friedrichstadt-Palast Ballet was a memory flashback to my youth in Soviet Union. It was popular ballet in GDR and was considered a "communist version of Moulin Rouge." When I was creating this itinerary and came across this ballet, I was very surprised that the ballet survived the Germany reunification and actually very popular, so wanted to go and see how it adopted to new times. The show was something between a circus Du Soleil and Las Vegas show. Everything was very well-done, error-free, high quality, German-style, but something was missing. It did not have sophistication of the French Canadian's Du Soleil, and power and creativity of Las Vegas shows. At the end of the show, we were allowed to take photos in the last 5 minutes. Overall we did not regret coming here because anything that brings us back back the memories when we were younger cannot be bad.
    Tomorrow is our last day in Berlin:-(

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    Day Five - May 4th, Wednesday. Berlin by waterways.

    Here came our last day in Berlin :-( How to spend it? One of the best ways to see the sights of the city, especially if you do not have a lot of time, is a river cruise on Spree. Many travel agencies in Berlin offer a huge variety of river cruises: one-two-or three hours cruises, day and night cruises, with or without food, inside the city or beyond, basically for every preference, duration and budget. Having only 4 days to explore Berlin, it was not possible to see even half of what this city can offer, so on our last day we decided to take a river cruise.

    Sightseeing river cruise on Spree.
    Web site: http://berlincitytours.rezgo.com/details/93685/3-hour-berlin-sightseeing-cruise-including-2-course-lunch-1-drink
    Price per person (including lunch with alcoholic beverage of your choice): € 42.50

    Originally, back in New York, we bought a 2-hour river cruise, departing at 10 am from the pier in Treptow Park to Charlottenburg Palace. We planned to visit the Soviet soldiers monument, and then to take the cruise from the park's pier. However, a week before the trip, our cruise was canceled. We had to change our plans: as you know we went to the Treptow Park on the first day, and for today we booked a 3-hour cruise departing at 10:00 AM and coming back to the Charlottenburg Palace.

    Weather was cloudy in the morning, it got colder and there was a drizzling rain, OK for cruising, better then walking or biking. We decided to skip breakfast because we would have a lunch on a boat.

    We took the subway to the U-Bahn stop "Bismarckstraße", and then walked a little to the pier near the Palace Bridge (Schlossbruecke) in Charlottenburg, the district of former West Berlin.

    We were the first on a boat and chose seats with the best view. There were not many people when the boat departed, just two families and a group of senior citizens, but more people got on the boat on other stops.
    We saw many sights along the way, some we visited in previous days and others that we had not yet seen. Those we passed by:
    Former West Berlin's District Mitte
    Hansvertel
    Spreebogencenter
    House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt)
    Office of the Federal Chancellor of Germany (Bundeskanzleramt)
    Central railroad station (Berlin Haupbhanhof)
    Reichstag
    Museum Island (Museumsinsel)
    Berlin Dom
    Berlin City Center (Berliner Stadtschloß):
    TV Tower
    Märkisches Museum
    Nikolaiviertel
    Gateways Muehlendammschleuse
    Old friend Bridge Oberbaum Bridge
    TrepTowers (Molekulemen):
    Trias Towers Berlin…
    ….and other interesting beautiful (and some not much) sights.

    Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg)
    Website: http: //www.spsg.de/schloesser-gaerten/objekt/schloss-charlottenburg/
    Entrance: € 7.00 (with discount) + € 3.00 for permission to photo

    Back to the Palace Bridge, we disembarked and went to see the Charlottenburg Palace, the largest and the main palace of the Prussian kings and later German emperors in Berlin.
    What can I say? It seemed with each new palace we visited, it looked even more beautiful than the previous one. Yesterday it was impossible to imagine anything more beautiful than the palaces in Potsdam. But Rococo style in Charlottenburg Palace reached its perfection. And I do not care that half of that is not original but restored after the war as long as it recreates the style and spirit of that time. This palace is not to be missed during a visit to Berlin. The rooms interiors and décor are stunning as well as porcelain collection, collection of clocks and other treasuries.

    West Berlin. Kurfürstendamm

    After spending nearly 2 hours instead of planned one hour(which we did not regret a bit), we took the bus #109 on Kaiser Friedrich Strasse to the intersection with the main street of the former West Berlin, the Kurfürstendamm. Here we walked to the shopping center KaDeWe.
    On the way we stopped by a sculpture of two broken chain links symbolizing Berlin reunion. The Kurfürstendamm was beautiful, in parts resembling Parisian streets, with the stores on both sides of the street.
    We came to the KaDeWe, where we had the same reaction as our friend Lilia when she visited here the next day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We looked at the prices and realized how lucky we live in such a cheap place as New York (ha-ha), where prices on the same goods are 1.5-2 times lower. Wait a minute, we were able to find something cheaper - sunglasses! I just could not believe that I paid twice the price for my sunglasses in New York that the same ones here. Beside the sunglasses the lingerie of my favorite brand Primadonna were 30% cheaper. In addition, we bought our son a great Swiss Army knife and , well, I could not resist to buy hand-knit sweater of the local brand. My husband bought a very beautiful set of coasters for boiled eggs. At the end, despite the prices, we left with a lot of bags.
    Near the subway to saw the stele with a list of all the concentration camps of the World War II. I thought this was strange place to put this stele.

    Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm)
    Website: https://tv-turm.de/en/homepage/
    Entrance: € 10.00 (with BWC discount)

    Done with shopping, we decided to say goodbye to Berlin by going up to its highest point, the TV tower on Alexander Platz, heritage and a source of pride (justly in my opinion) of the GDR government. Weather improved dramatically at that time, it was much warmer and sunny.
    Initially we wanted to stop by the hotel and leave all purchases, but figured if we were going to the hotel, it is likely that we would stay there. So we put as much as possible to our backpacks, got on the subway to Alexander Platz. In addition, we calculated we would reach the tower top by the start of sunset, and views should be beautiful.
    And so it happened. The line to the ticket desk was short and in 10-15 minutes later after going through the security check we took the elevator to the top. As we correctly predicted the sun started setting and views of this great were magnificent. Suddenly our friend Lily called and asked what our plans and we want to meet again. I immediately came up with the plan. There was a rotating restaurant at the top, so we asked and got a table! Lilia lived nearby, so she arrived in 15 minutes. The rest of the evening was just wonderful. We laughed as a waiter again got confused with what language to use, we had champagne and ate asparagus.

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    Day in Dresden.

    After check-in, we did not waste any time and immediately went to explore Dresden and see the Zwinger, the city's main attraction. We were walking along StriezelMarkt street when we saw something like a street fair. It was Thursday, not a holiday, so we had no idea what that fair was about. In general, I noticed that the Germans have some kind of festivities going every weekend, when they gather on a main (usually Markt) plaza, drink beer and have a good time. Good for them!

    Curious, we stopped of course. We walked around the market, where I immediately bought a very beautiful lacy piece to hang on a wall. Then we saw something very delicious, like cinnamon breadstick twisted around a cone. Delicious!
    Anyway, it was already noon, so after having this tasty snack it was time to move on.

    Zwinger
    Web site:
    General: https://www.der-dresdner-zwinger.de/de/startseite/
    Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and other museums: http://www.skd.museum/en/homepage/index.html
    Fee: 10 (valid for the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments and Porcelain collection)

    Dresden was lovely! On our way to the Zwinger, every now and then we come across picturesque buildings, beautiful streets and landscapes ready to be placed on a postcard. Given that the city was bombed to the ground by allies, what we saw amazed us. I do not know what were Dresden's conditions under the GDR rule, but nowadays it is beautiful, well-kept and clean, lovely sight. The weather also contributed, it was sunny and warm.

    Zwinger Palace was certainly impressive. This is a huge complex of museums, galleries, gardens and fountains. You can walk free of charge on Zwinger park, but have to buy a ticket to get inside the museums. You can buy a separate ticket for each museum, or, as we did, to get a combined one for several museums.

    Old Masters Gallery (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister)

    The baroque Zwinger architecture, of course, is incredible, but the main attraction here is of course Old Masters Gallery, a treasure of European painting, that include the works by Titian, Rembrandt, Velazquez, and of course the jewel of this collection , the Sistine Madonna by Raphael. My favorite painting here was "Chocolate Girl" Lyotard.
    The gallery, by the way, was not as big as I thought, it's not the Louvre or Hermitage or Metropolitan Museum, but it does not make it less valuable. On the contrary, so many great works are together in such a small space.
    We walked thru all rooms and enjoyed stunning pieces of European art.

    Semperopera
    Website: https://www.semperoper.de

    After the gallery we went outside to the Theatre Square surrounded by a magnificent ensemble of the Semperopera, Dresden Cathedral and the residence of the Saxon kings.
    For whatever reasons we had a bad luck with Semperopera that started in New York. Before the trip I tried to book tickets for an evening performance online on our date, but could not find any tickets available. I searched all: official sites, reseller sites to no avail. We even called Lilia and asked her to assist us to get tickets by directly calling and speaking to them in German. It appeared that today's night performance was reserved for private event. Damn 1%-ers :-(

    Well, that's not all, our bad luck continued today. We thought instead of performance, let's take a day tour, but when we came to buy tickets all tours were sold out. Looks like the Semperopera did not want us for whatever reasons:-(

    I suggest whoever want to take an opera tour, book it in advance. We visited off-season, and still could not get in.

    Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments (Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon)

    Not getting any luck visiting Semperopera, we were back to the Zwinger and went to see the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments exhibiting old tools and instruments. I am an engineer myself, and since my childhood I loved all sorts of legos, puzzles, and logical games, but nothing could beat my husband's curiosity and thoroughness when he inspected each exhibit. This is a place for curious minds.

    Porcelain Collection (Porzellansammlung)

    And that was the place where I could not take my eyes off the exhibits. I love china, my dream was to buy a porcelain figurine of Meissen (where we're going tomorrow). Pieces in this museum looked absolutely incredible, you could not imagine they were made of porcelain! Dmitry was again inspecting very closely ( as far as it was permitted) to understand how such delicate details could be made. I joked "Probably using the tools from the Royal Cabinet".
    I just could not wait till tomorrow to see Meissen porcelain with my own eyes!

    After that we went up to the rooftop terrace, walked to the fountain and sit in terrace cafe cooling with local Coca-Cola, resting and watching the people walking around courtyard and listening chimes at 5PM.

    Church Frauenkirche
    Website: http: //www.frauenkirche-dresden.de/startseite/

    Rested, we left the Zwinger to visit the Frauenkirche, one of the most beautiful churches in Dresden, completely destroyed during the WW2. It was restored for the 800th city's anniversary in 2005. the church itself was beautiful as well as everything that was going on around her: crowd, living statues, street musicians. After this trip my stereotype of Germans as boring, efficient workaholics, unfamiliar with fun suffered a collapse. Germans are definitely fun-loving, cheerful people ,knowing how to have a good time. Not to the Italians degree, but close:-)

    Evening in Dresden

    We walked a little around the Dresden lovely streets and then came down to the river Elbe, and stopped by one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating. In the menu, I saw a Solyanka (Russian Hodge-Podge soup), and decided to give it a try. Before the trip we studied regional cuisine in Germany, and we learned that Solyanka, brought to East Germany from Russia, survived the eastern block divorce and frequently seen in menus in this part of the country. The one we tried was good, but not as good as made by my husband:-)

    Then we reached the Elbe bank and walked along the waterfront. Dresden is certainly a fairy tale town, I fell in love with this city with all my heart. Being destroyed, the city was revived and became even more magnificent. It became one of my best memories of Germany.

    Finally, we were back to the hotel, and immediately went to take advantage of the sauna. The pool and sauna were superb, we stayed there till closure, and then went to the bar and ended the day with a cocktail.

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    I do not know what were Dresden's conditions under the GDR rule, but nowadays it is beautiful, well-kept and clean, lovely sight. The weather also contributed, it was sunny and warm.>>

    Fentinia, from what I have learnt from my german friends, some of whom were brought up in the GDR, the GDR & Soviet government kept most of the damaged buildings as they were [and certainly in Leipzig tried to demolish the one of the oldest churches there which was amazingly left standing at the end of the war] so virtually all the rebuilding you see and all the new roads etc have been accomplished since 1989.

    we were only in Dresden for a day but we liked it a lot and would like to go back.

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    Meissen, the porcelain city.
    Website: http://www.meissen.com/en/visit-meissen/house-meissen®-world-experience
    Museum+workshop entrance fee: € 9.00

    Again, we decided to visit Meissen on my mother’s advice, who visited here during the time of the GDR. My family loved fine tableware, and my mother brought home from that trip a great porcelain dinner set from Meissen. During Soviet times, people traveling abroad were allowed to take only strictly limited amount of money, something like 500 GDR deutchmarks, and my mother spent almost all of them on that dinner set. As it turned out it was a great investment into the beautiful high-quality porcelain, the similar dinner set nowadays cost a couple thousand euros. My family still has that set.
    Meissen manufactory was founded long ago, 300 years ago, when the Saxon king August requested his alchemists to produce gold from base metals. As we know this activity was absolutely useless, but Augustus was lucky because his alchemists accidentally came across a recipe for porcelain with the quality certainly not inferior to then popular porcelain from China. That was a beginning of the famous Meissen porcelain which drove expensive Chinese off the market. That’s right: at that time cheap German goods replaced expensive Chinese ones !
    The production of porcelain in Meissen was the only import from the GDR, appreciated and in demand in the West. My mom did a good job buying that expensive (for us that time) dinner set, it's pennies compared to how much you have to pay now to have a dish with the famous trademark of crossed swords.
    There is a fine museum next to the Meissen manufactory, and they offer tours in the workshop with a demonstration, because everything in Meissen is still hand made.
    When we arrived, the next English tour was an about an hour, but the Russian was just in 15 minutes, so we took the Russian one. During the tour we went thru several shops where workers demonstrated different stages of making a porcelain dish, a vase or a figurine: pottery ring, burning, painting. Interesting that one of the demonstrators was the same one from my travel book. When I showed it to her, she was genuinely surprised.
    After the tour, we went to see a museum, where you can find really unique pieces, absolutely gorgeous vases and many more. And then we went to the museum store. Here I almost had a heart attack: the cheapest porcelain figurine was € 400 and up. I was very upset, but we did not leave empty-handed. We bought a candleholder, a small jewelry box, two mugs, and a lovely tea set for my parents.

    The road to Nuremberg.

    After Meissen we had no plans other than getting to Nürnberg before dark, about four hours drive. We were not in a hurry, we wanted to take time getting used to new car on unknown roads. However when we were in Berlin, our friend Lilia enthusiastically suggested us to visit national park Saxon Switzerland. It was around 2PM and we decided to follow her suggestion and made a detour.
    We took road 172 which led us thru the towns of Pirna, Bad Schandau and drove to the park, shared by Germany and Czech Republic (where it is called Bohemian Switzerland). Of course, we were not quite prepared, and I looked ridiculous in my summer dress and flip-flops among fully equipped hikers with backpacks. I did not care, I enjoyed the beauty of that place, especially when we discovered a bridge going among gorgeous rock formations Bastei. Going back we notices a lone girl with a huge backpack seemingly tired slowly walking. We stopped, of course and offered a ride. She was surprised , but glad. She needed to get to Bad Schandau which was along our route anyway. She barely spoke English, nothing but Thank you so much. Too bad we did not speak German, I love those spontaneous conversations, that is how I learned English. The only German phrase I learned was "Wo ist die Toilette?" hardly suited the situation, and could even be misinterpreted.
    That was a last stop in East Germany, highly recommended region to visit. It came a long way since reunification and it is beautiful full of friendly welcoming people.
    After that, Dmitry pressed the gas pedal and we were flying!!!. The autobahn all the way to Nuremberg had no speed limit almost all the way, and we completely forgotten that want to drive slowly and carefully on our first day, lol. That was a treat! It is a shame to drive slowly on such roads. We stopped once for bio-needs, and decided to refuel the same time. WOW, look at those gas prices, twice higher than in the US! I wonder how they were before gas prices fell?!
    We reached Nuremberg around 8PM. We stayed at the Sheraton (http://www.sheratonnuernberg.com/?&EM=EM_YEXT_GLOBAL_WEBSITE_SI_1407_EAME_&SWAQ=953P). We were tired to go out, so we had a dinner in the hotel restaurant, then went to the sauna to relieve stress and fatigue from the road. Walking to the sauna, I was faced with a completely naked man, but I’ll tell about German bathing traditions in the next installments.

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    Sorry, my previous post missing the whole very important section and I did not find a way to edit it. So here it is;
    Day Seven - May 6th, Friday. “Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” (Janis Joplin)
    This morning we had a very important thing to do: to pick up our rental car. It was my dream to make a road trip in Germany on its impeccable no-speed-limit autobahns driving the symbol of the German automotive industry, the one an only Mercedes-Benz. This is our favorite German make, although we have never been the owners of this pinnacle of engineering and auto design. Every three years, when we get a new car, we are going thru the same dilemma: should we get a Mercedes? And each and every time we are getting … Volkswagen. Well, our bleeding hearts just can bring us to drive such a great car on such bad roads (who has ever been in New York City, must know what I mean), and scratch its bumper on squeezing in such small parking spots (as in all big cities, parking in New York is in short supply) . Oh well, I guess when we retire and move to the suburbs somewhere in Pennsylvania, we’ll finally drive a Mercedes.
    But here and now nothing could prevent me from driving the car of my dreams.

    What you need to rent a car in Germany?
    Nothing special: valid driver license from your country, passport and a credit card. Dmitry even brought an international driver license he obtained for our trip to Japan, but it was not needed.
    Where to start our road trip?
    At first we thought to use trains till our last day in Munich and then pick-up a car for the rest of the trip. But the public transportation option was no always the most convenient between some places, for example to get from Meissen to Nuremberg (our next destination) you need to transfer at least twice and lose a lot of time. Also we wanted flexibility and not depend on schedule, cancellations, delays, etc. And after all these considerations we came to the conclusion: “Well, we are Americans, for God’s sake, we are a car-loving nation, driving is always preferable option for us (yes, even for New Yorkers!)”. So be it, we are picking our car in Dresden. It is a pity of course to pay for the 3 days of parking in Munich without using a car, but flexibility was a higher priority than money.
    Where to end our road trip?
    That was a much easier to decide. We boarded river cruise in Koblenz, so that solved the problem where to drop-off the car.

    From whom to rent?
    After a brief online search we rented a car in the European rental car company SIXT (https://www.sixt.com). First of all, they had a good price, and secondly their pickup location in Dresden was right across the street from our hotel. They are luring you with the promise to “Rent a Mercedes!” but when you actually trying to book a car it offers "Mercedes-Benz CLA or similar". But I did not want “similar”, I wanted a “Mercedes-Benz CLA”. So I called them up and ask what do I need to do to guarantee a Mercedes? The person on the other end politely explained that they do not have such service even for an extra fee. Damn "service without care” again…

    Therefore, going back to this morning, I was in a warrior mood ready to fight to get what I want. Of course, when we came to the SIXT office we were offered “similar” represented by Opel. Opel is a good car, no questions ,but it is certainly not a Mercedes. There were no Mercedes in this location, no class CLA nor the GLC, the lonely Mercedes they had on their parking lot was an enormous GLE Coupe, two upgrades higher than our original booking. The price was 30 Euro more per day expensive, but I was determined to leave this place driving a Mercedes. So after ferocious negotiation we agreed on reasonable price.
    The car was well-equipped for the long trip: a huge sunroof, GPS the size of TV, heatable seat reclining almost to flatbed, well, plenty of other things. The only thing I did not like was its color. It was black, the color I hate in cars, but we did not have a choice.

    We drove to our hotel to pickup our suitcases, and then started our first car ride to the town of Meissen, 30-40 minute drive from Dresden.

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    congrats on getting the Merc, Fetinia. I wonder how often they actually rent it out?

    very interested in what you had to say about travelling in what was East Germany - we have been there 3 times now and loved it. As you say, people are very friendly, and should you ever learn some more German, you would find it an excellent place to practice as few people speak more than rudimentary english.

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    <<Enjoying your trip report and look forward to more, THANKS!>>

    <<I'm enjoying it very much - keep it coming.>>

    Thank you for reading it, more to come!

    <<Wow, my hat is off to you -- you accomplished much more than I would have attempted my first day on the ground. I look forward to reading more.>>

    Yes, I usually plan very well. But in Cologne I would've done it differently: after visiting Cathedral, We should've taken a city bus tour, there were plenty of them offered, and had a dinner later when it was dark.

    <<rellie2 on Jul 20, 16 at 7:51am
    Love reading about your trip. We're off to Germany in about 6 weeks so it's great to read about your experiences.>>

    Thank you! I envy you, you still have your vacation in this great country ahead of you. Let me know if you have any questions. Enjoy it and be safe!

    <<Thank you for your interesting report. Just a minor correction: the Reichstag was burnt down on Feb. 28, 1933, just four weeks after Hitler's accession to power, and was not in use during the nazi era. So it was not the locus of the criminal decisions of the Nazis. Even Hitlers Enabling Act of 1933 already took place in the so called Kroll opera.>>

    Than you for clarification. Yes, that is true, I was more like a metaphor and I was trying to make a point, but you are absolutely correct.

    <<Fentinia, from what I have learnt from my german friends, some of whom were brought up in the GDR, the GDR & Soviet government kept most of the damaged buildings as they were [and certainly in Leipzig tried to demolish the one of the oldest churches there which was amazingly left standing at the end of the war] so virtually all the rebuilding you see and all the new roads etc have been accomplished since 1989. >>

    Thank you. Everything is relative. When my mom came back from her tour to East Germany, her first words were "Who won a war?! They live so much better than us!" One of my colleague was stationed in West Germany when the wall fell, and being curious , pretty similar to our east german friend LIlia, they went to see East Berlin. He said comparing West Berlin to East Berlin was like colored movie vs. black&white.

    <<congrats on getting the Merc, Fetinia. I wonder how often they actually rent it out?

    very interested in what you had to say about travelling in what was East Germany - we have been there 3 times now and loved it. As you say, people are very friendly, and should you ever learn some more German, you would find it an excellent place to practice as few people speak more than rudimentary english.>>

    Many people in East Germany still speak passable Russian, so we did have a chance communicate with many of them, but, of course, it is not the same as speaking in native language. I was even able to learn Japanese before our trip to Japan, but German, for whatever reason was so difficult for me so I gave up.

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    Enjoying your report. Especially interested in Meissen. Am thinking of doing a day trip from Dresden, on the train, maybe 4-5 hours. Would that be long enough for the factory tour and walking around? Or would I need longer?

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    travlsolo2,

    There are more in Meissen than the porcelain manufacture, there is a church and the Albrechburg castle, but 4-5 hours should be enough. Just to clarify, it is not a factory tour per se, you do not go to the factory. It is a craft demonstrations in the workshops in a museum, which does not make it any any less interesting.

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    >>the Frauenkirche, one of the most beautiful churches in Dresden, completely destroyed during the WW2. It was restored for the 800th city's anniversary in 2005

    A reconstruction, which, by the way, succedeed against the opposition of the Lutheran church of Saxony (»we don't need still another church building«), thanks to an private initiative led by the Baroque trumpet virtuoso Ludwig Güttler and thanks to the generous support of the british Dresden Trust.

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    sla019 - I cannot tell you how moved I was when we visited Dresden a few years ago. Growing up in Coventry one couldn't but be aware of the links between the two cities and just as my german friends wept in the ruins of our old cathedral, I wept to see the rebuilt Frauenkirche. Having read Erich Kaestner when I was at school, who could not be moved by seeing Dresden rebuilt?

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    > I cannot tell you how moved I was when we visited Dresden a few years ago. Growing up in Coventry one couldn't but be aware of the links between the two cities and just as my german friends wept in the ruins of our old cathedral, I wept to see the rebuilt Frauenkirche.

    annhig - I think I can understand that well. When I was a confirmand back in the sixties, I was told that the bombing of the church I was baptized in, St. Lawrence in Nuremberg, was the logical outcome of what the nazi airforce had done in England previously, and that it was an outcome according to the German proverb »Wer Wind säht, wird Sturm ernten«. At that time, I was able to understand that merely rationally; the emotional understandig followed many years later - in the cathedral of Coventry.

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    sla019 - it sounds as if we were having the same experiences from each side of the same coin, though because of the outcome of the war, the British underwent somewhat less soul-searching. To my shame I can remember children at my school marching round the playground chanting "we won the war" in the 1960s and "war films" are still pretty popular viewing on dark winter afternoons, not to mention the annual Christmas showing of "The Great Escape".

    OTOH the german film "Das Boot" was very popular here and we very much enjoyed watching "Heimat" and "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter " though I'm not sure how many others were as gripped as we were.

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    PART III. Three days in the romantic Franconia.

    Day Eight - May 7th, Saturday. Bright Sunny Day and Dark Blue Night of Nuremberg.

    Before this trip my only knowledge about this city have primarily been associated with The Nuremberg trials, the international military tribunal of Nazis leadership for their crimes during the WW2. But by doing my research during planning, I discovered that this city has a rich history beyond Nazis dark past, it has a beautiful architecture, and it was a hometown of the famous German painter Albrecht Dürer. Also, Nuremberg is situated on the so called "Romantic Road”, the route passing through picturesque amazingly beautiful Bavarian towns.
    Nuremberg is also the largest city in Franconia region. Most of this region was annexed to the Kingdom of Bavaria in the time of Napoleon, who, by allowing this, wanted to enlist the support of the King of Bavaria against Austria. We got the impression that Franconians do not consider themselves Bavarians and do not like when they are called as such. They have preserved their own culture different from the Bavarian, a different dialect of German, and a distinct local cuisine (wine here in more popular brewing).
    For the trip we chose Nuremberg as our base for exploring the region, making day trips to other Franconian towns: Würzburg, Bamberg and Rothenburg. But today our day was entirely devoted to Nuremberg.

    Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds (Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände)
    Website: http://www.museen.nuernberg.de/dokuzentrum/
    Admission: 5.00 + 3.00 for parking

    Throughout our visit to Germany, seeing hard-working people, well-maintained towns and villages, magnificent roads, the same question was coming to my mind again and again: how this nation who gave the world Bach and Beethoven, the Brothers Grimm and Thomas Mann, Albrecht Dürer and Albert Einstein, jeans Levi Strauss and Mercedes-Benz started the most terrible war in human history, that killed millions of innocent people?
    How this great nation allowed that ugly little monster to usurp power and to fool the millions of Germans brainwashing them into delusions about the world superiority of the Aryan Nation? That by exterminating the Jews, Slavs, Roma, homosexuals and other "subhumans", their life would be better?
    If you want at least partially find an answer to this question, I advise you to visit the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds (or in short DocuCenter). It’s located away from the old town but you can reach it either by public transport or, as we did, by the car. The center is located on the former property of Nazis party rallies grounds, which was built to sort of replicate the Roman Colosseum.
    This is not a museum in the true sense, there are no exhibits. There are photos, documents and film footage telling about Hitler, his early years, the birth and rise of the Nazi Party, on how he and his party democratically won the elections and conducting economic reforms, gave the Germans work and bread, but then started taking their democratic freedoms one by one, and eliminating undesirable groups of people one by one.

    “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
    (Martin Niemöller)

    ……………………………………….

    Old town walking tour.
    Website: http://tourismus.nuernberg.de/en/sightseeing/guided-tours/city-walking-tours/d/fuehrungen-in-der-altstadt-in-englischer-sprache.html
    Price: € 10.00

    Back to the hotel we parked our car and went for a walk through the old town. There is a daily 1PM English guided walking tour that starts at Hauptmarkt square , and we decided to take advantage of it. Today was Saturday, there ere crowds everywhere, local markets offered huge variety of produce in season and asparagus was presented particularly well :-)
    On our way we admired St. Lorenz Kirche situated on the square with the same name, and crossed the bridge over the river Pegnitz, on both banks of which you could see a lot of outdoor cafes crowded with people enjoying the bright sunny day.
    The tour starts from the Information Center. Our guide was originally from Slovenia, who lived in Nuremberg for several years and became its biggest fan. In general, most of our tour guides during the trip were non-Germans: Russian, Slovene, English-Italian, and a majority of the waiters we met were Czechs. I guess, it’s the European Union+ in action.
    This was our first time visiting Franconia region, we knew nothing much before the trip, so we were eager to hear about the region and its towns from the professionals. Looking ahead, all the tours we took were very informative, but not all that captivating. Honestly, by the end of the trip, after visiting all the towns, castles and palaces all Ludwigs, Heinrichs, Maximilians and other Electors and Crown Princes all mixed up in my head: who conquered whom and when it was. During the tour all of this information, of course, helps, but I usually remember interesting fun facts. Well, for example, why the famous Nuremberg sausages are so small?. Accordingly our tour guide version it was a sympathetic prison guard who helped inmates poking sausages through the small keyhole.
    Our tour went through:
    City Hall (Altes Rathaus)
    Frauenkirche
    St.Sebaldus Kirche
    The most popular bakery that makes the famous Nuremberg gingerbread (Lebkuchen).
    We also walked to the house of Albrecht Durer situated on the corner of very nice small square. Then we went to the Nuremberg’s Castle (Kaiserburg Nurnberg). On the way we stopped at the house of the Nuremberg publisher show first printer the work of Nicolaus Copernicus.

    Once we reached the Kaiserburg Nurnberg, our guide left us and we explored the castle on our own. We were walking with another couple from our group, fellow Americans from Texas who were traveling in direction, reverse to ours, heading to Berlin from Munich.

    The German National Museum (Germanisches Nationalmuseum)
    Website: http://www.gnm.de
    Entrance: € 8

    After exploring the Castle and its premises, we started walking back to the hotel. We had a reservation in the restaurant at 7PM, and wanted to freshen up and change before our dinner. On the way we stopped at the German National Museum, the largest museum of the German culture, arts and crafts in the country. We did not plan coming here, but our guide highly recommended it, saying that this museum is the only one in Nuremberg that has Durer’s paining. In addition to Durer, there were paintings of Rembrandt and Feit Stoss, but what I liked the most was the collection of musical instruments. Just great! There were are least 30 mini-pianos!

    Dinner with Dürer and walking under the blue moon

    As I said before, in each town and region we visited, we tried to sample the local delicacies. Here, IN Nuremberg, I found a highly recommended restaurant Albrecht Duerer Stube (http://www.albrecht-duerer-stube.de/welcome). Booking in this restaurant must be done very well in advance, so I phoned and booked a table about a month before the trip. When we arrived, the restaurant was packed! Out table was tiny, just for two people, but next to Dürer’s self-portrait, so it seemed there was a dinner for three of us. The waitresses were dressed in national costumes, always smiling, attentive, in general service was "with care”. I , of course, ordered the Nuremberg sausages and Dima had super delicious pork with crispy skin, yam-yam. And, you guess, asparagus :-) WE also had a dessert with the name I would never remember, but very tasty.
    The restaurant was near the Dürer house (hence the name), next to the square we liked so much during the tour. When we finished our dinner and walk there, we saw a huge number of people sitting, standing and lying on the ground, smoking and drinking. We immediately joined, Dmitry joined those sitting and drinking, I those lying and smoking.
    The reason for the festivities was the Blue Night in Nuremberg, when the streets and facades of buildings are lighted in bright blue. It happens each year in May, when the Old Town changes its color to blue with different installations reflected in castle walls and other artistic presentations. For example in the main square this year there was an installation with cubes filled with water and changing colors. The most interesting that the sculpture was interactive: everyone could connect through the app in a mobile phone and displays glowed the same colors as the installation (http://www.balestraberlin.com).
    For my husband though was the fact that local MacDonald was selling…. beer. Not sure it was only today , but who cares? The main thing is that, as it was great to be a part of this and be surrounded by happy people having super fun!

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    >We got the impression that Franconians do not consider themselves Bavarians and do not like when they are called as such.

    How true! Thank you for your support of the Freedom for Franconia movement! :)

    As for the Czech waiters: Franconia has a common border with the Czech Republic and Germans and Czechs have a long standing common share of working ethics and cultural traditions, so Czechs are much valued employees.

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    >> As for the Czech waiters: Franconia has a common border with the Czech Republic and Germans and Czechs have a long standing common share of working ethics and cultural traditions, so Czechs are much valued employees.<<

    Yes! They were all very nice ! The guy we met in our hotel restaurant in Nuremberg the first night was particularly friendly. He was younger then us but still old enough to remember our "eastern block" past so we have a very long interesting conversation with him sharing our memories. He was giving us his personal attention during the breakfast every morning.

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    The ninth day - May 8th, Sunday. Romancing the Romantic road.

    We came to the hotel after midnight last night, so today we woke up late by our standards. Our plans included visiting Würzburg and, if time permits, Bamberg. We decided to make up lost time by not having breakfast in the hotel, instead to make our first stop at the local winery Weinstuben Juliusspital (http://www.juliusspital.de/weingut/en/wine-estate/visitors-guide/index.html), where, in addition to breakfast you can taste local wines.
    If Nuremberg is a well known city, the rest of the Franconian towns were new to us and we had never heard about them until we started planning this trip. After we created the itinerary and identified all sights we wanted to see, we felt well prepared, but missed one important detail, where to park a car. We live in New York City where parking, like probably in any big city, is the biggest headache. But this problem does not exist in small american towns, you can practically park anywhere you want. In Germany it’s quite different. Free parking on the street in small towns, especially in the Altstadt (Old Town) is practically impossible. We faced this problem as soon as we arrived in Würzburg, trying to find any space to squeeze in our car. People looked at us with horror watching how we were doing U-turns on narrow streets desperate for a spot. There were no parking, period. The only spots available were for residents, or for people with disabilities, or only for a limited, usually very short, duration. To make it worse the parking signs in the US and in Europe are very different, so we frantically tried to recall the parking signs we learned for our first driver license a quarter century ago in Russia.
    We quickly learned that our only option, especially with car of the size of ours, was to park in a paid garage and going forward we always were looking for a sign “Altstadt parking” in all towns we visited.
    Resolving our parking problem, we did not have time for breakfast, only for quick wine tasting, otherwise we would’ve been late for the 11AM English tour in Würzburg Residence. But when we came we learned that the tour was cancelled, and the next was at 1:30 PM only. We bought tickets for that tour and went for a walk around a town, where were so many sights to see.

    St. Kilian Cathedral (Dom St.Killian)
    Website: http://www.dom-wuerzburg.de
    Free admission

    Our first stop was the Dom St.Killian, the Würzburg’s main cathedral. Before going inside, we stopped at a nice cafe right in front of it and finally had a bite. It was Sunday, there was a service in the cathedral and it was a completely different experience seeing it “in action”, so to speak. We stayed quiet, listen for organ music and singing, and waited until the service ended before taking a walk around. The cathedral is very beautiful, bright with stunning moldings, murals and stucco. This brought us back a good mood and we forgot about morning parking troubles and cancelled tour.

    Marktplatz, the main square of Würzburg.

    After the cathedral we strolled towards Marktplatz attracted by sounds of music, where we again found a street fair. It seems like Germans have festivities every Sunday regardless if there is any national or local holiday (Well, today was May 8th, but hardly doubt that Germans celebrated a Victory day:-) Unlike Dresden, I did not found anything interesting to buy (to my husband’s relief), so we just gathered with locals, and took pictures of buildings surrounding the square, the Rathaus and a cute Marienkapelle. Watching the people reinforced my impression of Germans as fun-loving people able to relax and enjoy the day. I always thought of them robotic and boring. Completely changed my mind, completely.
    Then we came to the Alte Mainbruke, the beautiful bridge over the river Main, but did not cross it, it was time to go back for the tour.

    Würzburger Residenz
    Website: http: //www.residenz-wuerzburg.de
    Entrance: € 7.50

    The main Würzburg attraction, the Residence, was heavily damaged in 1945, but the main staircase and the entrance hall with 2 gorgeous ceilings, painted by the Italian painter Tiepolo, survived. Destroyed rooms of the palace were restored from old paintings and photographs, but furniture was not original, but of the same period.
    I strongly advise everyone to take a tour, because only half of the palace can be seen on their own, but the most interesting rooms open only for guided tours.
    The main staircase leads to the first floor room with painted ceilings.
    Remember I said that each new palace we visited seemed more and more beautiful? This palace just made my jaw dropped from the beauty we saw. It was truly amazing. Be ready for the pain in your neck from viewing details on the ceiling frescoes featuring four continents, known at that time, with Europe as a source of enlightenment, and backward undeveloped Africa and America (well, well).
    The next hall sparkles with gold, paintings, tapestries, followed by the room with only two colors: white and gray, but due to the complexity of detail and magnificent stucco impossible not to admire. The last room commuter by the tour, the Mirror room, is just the apotheosis of luxury decoration of gilded plaster and painted mirrors wall to wall and floor to ceiling.
    Photos are not allowed in the Residence, even for a fee, but it was a blessing in disguise. I finally just enjoyed the sight without worrying of taking pictures. I suggest you to do the same, be sure to come and see with their own eyes and enjoy!
    After enjoying the Residence, we went to its park, sopping at the small but very nice Chapel (Hofkirche) on our way. The park around the Residence is absolutely worth a visit, especially in spring when a lot blooming flowers. We strolled on beautiful park alleys and paths and once again enjoy the amazing architecture of the palace! Surrounded by a large ornamental gates, statues, trees and alleys, it was a magnificent sight!

    Marienberg Fortress (Festung Marineberg)
    Website: http: //www.schloesser.bayern.de/deutsch/schloss/objekte/wu_fest.htm
    Entrance: € 6.00 (Museum)

    The fortress was our last stop in Würzburg. It is situated on a hill on the other side of the Main, and hesitated to walk or to drive. It was a terribly hot to walk, but again if we use a car we have to look for parking ... Laziness won and we decided to get there by car, so you do not have to come back to get it.
    We found parking (free!) not far from the fortress, but the spot was so tiny, but we are New Yorkers! Parking a car in the smallest tiniest places is our skill practiced to perfection by severity and ruthlessness of the New York parking police. We attracted the crowd watching the virtuosity by Dmitry squeezing our car into that spot! After leaving at half a millimeter on both sides of the car and earning applause from the crowd, we rushed to the fortress only to find a half-empty parking lot for visitors. Damn, at least we saved a few euros ...
    WE walked around the fortress can be free. It had interesting medieval architecture, but the of this sight is a magnificent view of the city from its walls. There is a museum here with a collection of tapestries, furniture and jewelry, nice stop if you have time. I especially liked the sculpture where the artist used marble and dark wood, very unusual and beautiful. Do not miss a visit to this fortress, it was a crowning moment of our acquaintance with Würzburg.

    Bamberg, the Franconian Venice.

    It was about 6 pm, and we were hungry. We decided to drive to Bamberg, take a walk in around an Old Town and then have a dinner there. Dima wanted to go back to Nuremberg, as he wanted to have dinner with a glass of beer, without worrying about driving. But I won (who would doubt :-)) On our way to Bamberg I opened my guidebook and started reading what are the local food in this region. I was surprised to find Franconia is known for fish, a perch and catfish. Before this trip I did not associated the German cuisine with fish! So here we go, we will eat fish! In addition, Bamberg is famous for its smoked beer.

    I've never been to Venice and do not know my comparison holds any water, but this is the first that came to mind when we arrived in Bamberg.
    Our first stop there was the square with the Cathedral. It was Sunday evening, and the area was completely empty and mysterious with the sun starting setting down. Then, having learned from experience, we quickly found a parking lot and went for a walk through the old town, situated on the banks of numerous branches of the river Regnitz, with overhanging houses over the water(hence the comparison with Venice).
    Walking around the half-empty town, we came to the cafe, where we finished the day with perch and Schlenkerla (Bamberg smoked beer). Just a little, allowed to drive:-)

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    >Würzburger Residenz

    Glad to read that you liked it! When I was a young junior lecturer at W. Uni in the end-seventies, my small office was in the roof above the Residenz chapel.

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    Sadly, Fetinia, the only sight we managed to take in was the Dom, but we were lucky to be there on a Friday lunchtime when it transpired that they have an organ recital, so we spent a delightful 30 mins or so listening to the wonderful playing of their organist. the website tells you all about the organ which I think is particularly fine one.

    I had clearly failed to do my research about Wuerzburg as we managed to miss both the Resident and the Festung but I'm not sure that it would have made a great deal of difference if I had as we only had a very limited time there, en route from Bamberg [where we spent 2 nights] to our friends in Landau on the other side of the Rhein. If I say that our itinerary had us crossing the Rhein from east to west on a Friday evening, and going back across it again from west to east on a Monday morning, you will see that some of my trip planning was less than stellar.

    FWIW though we liked Bamberg, any resemblance to Venice would be easily dispelled by a visit to Venice itself which I strongly recommend.

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    >FWIW though we liked Bamberg, any resemblance to Venice would be easily dispelled by a visit to Venice itself which I strongly recommend.<

    I know, I know, lol. I am actually going to Venice in December, so we'll update if my comparison is valid.

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    that's great, Fetinia, I hope you have a wonderful time in Venice - and please do come back and tell us what you think. [and whether you think that there's any resemblance!]

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    We'll go to Rome (12/24 - 12/27), Florence (12/28-12/29) and Venice (12/30 - 01/01) for my mom's 80-s birthday (she is a Christmas baby). This is my gift to her, as she always wanted to go to Italy.
    I'll probably do a trip report as well for that trip.

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    Tenth Day - May 9th, Monday. Arrive As Strangers, Leave As Friends!

    Internet suddenly stopped working that morning. I have a relatively new iMac, so I could not blame it on my hardware, and yesterday everything was just fine. Each website was taking 15 min to open, like it was 20 years ago. I called a front desk and they sent a technician. His excuse was that too many people were online this morning hence the traffic. How can it be that in the 21st century, the internet was crawling like a snail? The man asked if we tried our handy. A handy, what’s that? It turned out that is how Germans call a mobile phone. They borrowed an English word but used it in a totally different meaning.
    Internet worked OK on my "Handy", but I needed it on my Mac! Under pressure, the technician gave me the access to the faster server.
    When leaving the guy said something that sounded like “cheers”. At first we thought that was another example of the unconventional use of the English word. But then we googled (the internet was fast by then!) and found that was a word “Tschüss”, meaning “buy” in German.
    Anyway, today was our last day in Franconia and our plans included visiting another town, located nearby, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Although all Franconia towns are located very close to each other and have a lot in common, each of them has a unique charm: Nuremberg where dark medieval and Nazi past balanced by the unique atmosphere of a vibrant city, Wurzburg with its stunning and elegant Residenz, Bamberg where every other building was a candidate for a postcard. And what was unique in Rothenburg? That was what we had to find out today.
    Our quest began with a walk on a well-preserved wall surrounding the Old City. We parked near the southern tower Spital (Spitalbastei) for 3 euro for the whole day, so no parking troubles that morning. There we climbed the stairs to the tower and walked all way to the Klingenbastei. It was fun and exciting way to explore the town and its inhabitants. We were at the level of tiled roofs peering to the private patios and observing the daily life of Rothenburgers. On the other side of the wall we could see through the embrasures overlooking the fields and the modern part of the town.
    Then we came down and walked on the street toward the main square stopping at numerous small stores. I bought myself cool shoes. My husband immediate reaction was “I am not going to carry it!” Not a big deal, I threw the box, tucked shoes into my backpack and moved on. It was much worse when I bought a painting, good it was not framed. Dmitry is very resourceful, so he rolled it and tied to his backpack, so it did not bother us for the rest of a day.

    Imperial City Museum (Reichsstadtmuseum)
    Website: http://www.reichsstadtmuseum.rothenburg.de/index.php Id = 51
    Entrance fee: 4.5 € + 3.0 € for photo permit

    This museum is located in the former convent of the Dominican order, in the 700-year-old building that was very well preserved: the cells, a dining room and a kitchen. There were interesting medieval paintings and a collection of utensils, but we especially liked the huge armory hall.

    St.-Jakobs-Kirche
    Website: http://www.rothenburgtauber-evangelisch.de/jakobskirche/
    Entrance to the 2nd floor: 2 €

    This Gothic basilica would’ve been no different than many others we had seen before and after, if not for its main attraction: Altar of the Holy Blood, located on the 2nd floor. This is quite a unique example of wood carving, both in size and attention to detail. I strongly recommend spend 2 € to see this work of art.
    Here we bumped into our fellow countrymen from Texas who we met on a tour in Nuremberg. We were happy to see each other, we sat down and shared our experience in Germany so far, showed each other photos of children and dogs. We told them about Bamberg, showed them pictures and they were impressed and decided to go there tomorrow. Very nice friendly people, like indeed the majority of Americans.

    Guided walking tour
    Website: http://www.tourismus.rothenburg.de/index.php?id=517
    Price: 8 €

    The Texans went to the Museum of Torture, where we were going later today, and we rushed to the Market Square. There were a 45-minute sightseeing tour in English starting at 2PM there. Our guide was a very talkative guy, originally from the northern city of Hanover. But as often happens, such transplants are even more patriotic than the natives, and he was a very extreme case. He got offended when I ask if that was a Bavarian flag on the top of the Rathaus? Of course not, it is a Franconia flag! He ridiculed Bavarians beer lovers as low class, not being able to appreciate the delicate taste of good wine. But at the same thing he had tons of knowledge, and most importantly a lot of entertaining stories about the city and its winemaking traditions. He showed us the traditional bottle of the Rothenburg wine shaped the same as city boundaries on a map.
    He took us to the St.-Jakobs church , then to the park Byurgarten where we admired the magnificent views over the town. On our way back I overheard our guide talking to an American from Las Vegas and they discussed Baden-Baden, “where Russians, probably Mafia, bought everything." Sigh….. This is a story of my life: when I am in Russia, I defend America from those who have never been in the United States, but listen too much of the government-run TV and blame America for all their problems. In America, on the contrary, I defend Russia arguing with those who form their opinion about Russia and Russians based on Hollywood movies and outdated cold war anecdotes. Anyway, I intervened and educated both gentlemen that Baden-Baden has historically been loved and often visited by the Russian aristocracy starting more than 200 years ago, and these days, not all Russians who come there are gangsters. Surprisingly, our guide became much nicer to me, started joking and in the end gave us an advice which Franconian wine we should buy. I am not a big fan of white wine, so he suggested the good red wines and recommended a good restaurant frequented by locals. At the end we parted good friends.

    City Hall (Rathaus)
    Website: http://www.tourismus.rothenburg.de/sehenswert/tuerme_tore/rathausturm/
    Price: 4 €

    We returned to the Marktplatz, where we realized that it had been awhile since we climbed any kind of tower. Our guide suggested to go up to the Rathaus tower located here. The tower was 60 meters (196 feet) tall and the last steps are basically a ladder, comparing to our previous adventures it was a piece of cake. The top platform was so small it could fit no more than 3-4 people the most, but the weather was great and it was fun watching people below.
    After getting down, we continued our way down the Schmiedgasse, on the way again stopping in the souvenir shops, where we finally bought a beer mug exactly the way my husband was looking for. I bought another painting, this time framed, and, well, a lot of other souvenirs. The store had a shipping service to the US and we took advantage of it. The package came a week after our return.

    Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum)
    Website: http://www.kriminalmuseum.eu
    Entrance fee: 7 €

    I have to say, we found nothing particularly scary or disgusting in the Medieval Crime Museum (or also called Museum of Torture). This is a museum of criminology, where there are a lot of documents explaining how the law practiced , justice system worked and executions carried out in the Middle Ages. Of course there was a big variety of instruments of torture and the death penalty exhibited. In general, my feeling after the visiting this museum was thanks God I was not born at that time.
    After the museum, we continued walking down the street to the most visited points of this town, the Plonlein, the beautiful picturesque spot at the intersection of Untere Schmiedgass and Kobolzellerseig. There we took mandatory photos, and then went to the nearest liquor store to buy recommended Franconia wine before all stores are closed. We bought 2 bottles of Franconian wines: recommended Domina and my favorite dessert wine, though terribly expensive, Icewine.

    Eat Like Locals, With Locals!

    Following our guide advice, we found the restaurant, very popular with local Altfrankische Weinstube (http://www.altfraenkische-weinstube-rothenburg.de). We were offered a choice to seat inside at a separate table or outside in a common table where there were already six locals, both men and women. Of course , we chose the latter.
    What can I say, we were not disappointed! The service was very effecient, although our watress was very serious, not a glimpse of smile, stonefaced. It does not matter, as already mentioned, the service was very efficient. Germans at the table politely said hello, smiled, but then continued conversing in German. I’s a very big difference between the Americans and the Germans: the Americans are very sociable, and the Germans are very reserved: they are very polite and helpful when asked, but would never initiate to continue a conversation. One of the ladies advised me with my menu choice though: a very unusual German pasta, more like elongated gnocchi with mushroom sauce, Yum!
    Soon another couple joined our table, this time Americans from Wisconsin. They introduced themselves and paused waiting for a response. My thought was “nice try”. As expected the Germans said hello, smiled, …. and continued talking to each other in German. I felt sorry for the fellow countrymen, and came to the rescue by introducing myself and starting a conversation. For the first five minutes, because we have an accent , they thought we were Germans, lol. But then the conversation was around children, jobs, Donald Trump, impressions about German attractions etc. We finished like 3 bottles of wine, and after some time, the ice was broken and Germans joined our conversation and we toasted. We even managed to squeeze some sort of smile from our waitress!

    BY the way , it was Victory day in Russia, and here we are, sitting at the same table with the former allies and former foes, drinking and laughing, on the last day in a wonderful Franconia.

    Cheers, Franconia, za zdorovie!
    Tschüss, Franconia, see you next time!

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    >>a very unusual German pasta, more like elongated gnocchi<< Schupfnudeln

    >>the Germans are very reserved: they are very polite and helpful when asked, but would never initiate to continue a conversation<<
    more shy than reserved, especially when struggling with a foreign language

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    >He ridiculed Bavarians beer lovers as low class, not being able to appreciate the delicate taste of good wine

    That's a pretty original stance, since Rothenburg itself is at the periphery of Franconian viniculture, even if there are a handful of respected wine growers in the area (my favourite is Christian Stahl in Auernhofen: http://www.winzerhof-stahl.de/). Basically Rothenburg is a beer drining area, and a few km from R. there is one of the finest small Franconian breweries, Landwehrbräu at Reicheslhofen (http://www.landwehr-braeu.de/). You may have tasted it at the Duererstuben in Nuremberg, it is their standard beer brand.

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    Part IV. Just one word - Munich.
    Day Eleven - May 10, Tuesday. Unromantic roads of Bavaria.

    Today we were waken up by the rain pounding on our windows. The weather turned really bad, and the sky really cried, as if it knew where we were going today. And we going to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, the site of one of the most terrible concentration camps in Germany ...
    We wanted to be in time for the 11AM guided tour. It was about 2 hours driving, so we decided to skip breakfast and leave early not to be late. Instead we made a quick stop at Nuremberg main railroad station to exchange some cash and to buy a snack.

    Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau)
    Website: http://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/index-e.html
    2-1 / 2 hour guided tour: € 3

    The first thing we saw when we arrived to Dachau was hundreds of German schoolchildren, mainly high school students. The Germans are doing everything so their land never becomes a soil to plant a poisonous seed of fascism. Nowadays Germans have become one of the most tolerant nations to religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, all those who once was considered an outcast. They have become intolerant of any attempt to revive the Neo-Nazi ideas, ideas that led to one of the most terrible and destructive war and millions of human tragedies. And they do so by bringing and showing to younger generation what should never happen again. "Never again" is the leitmotif of the memorial.

    We arrived just on time, having bought the last ticket for the tour. Actually they had only one ticket left, but they sold us one extra, therefore our group it had 31 people, not 30 as supposed to. One of the examples of the “service with care”, when even strict Germans sometimes bend the rules.
    Our guide was a lovely woman, half-Italian, half-Brit, I would say the best guide of the entire trip. The tour lasted 2 and a half hours, but was so captivating so powerful that it was like 15 minutes.

    Dachau was one of the first camps in 1933. It began as a camp for German opposition to Hitler, communists and social democrats, later other undesirables: Roma, homosexuals, Jews, immigrants, criminals, and then, when the war began, POWs. The Nazis conducted a rigorous classification of inmates and everyone worn a triangle patch on their clothes corresponding to their category: red triangle for communists, yellow for Jews, pink for homosexuals. Some had a several if they belonged to multiple categories. Dachau was not originally intended as extermination camp, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, but the mortality rate here was one of the highest due to starvation, disease and overwork. Nazis used people like broken parts, threw them away and immediately replaced with a new batch of human "parts". The crematorium was built here, but was not regularly used, although there are two known instances when tests were conducted. REAL tests conducted, using humans as a test material.

    Our guide led thru an outstanding museum with documents, photographs and film footage. One of the documentaries showed Americans soldiers who liberated the camp, and who vomited when they saw the prisoners, that is how bad they looked.
    After the museum we went to see the barracks. Except for a few remaining most of them were demolished. ON their places currently you can see only outline of the foundation with the barrack number.
    At the end of the tour we came to the monument to the prisoners of the camp, consisting of a sculpture in the form of wire made of human bodies, as well as compositions of triangles of different colors symbolizing different groups of prisoners.

    …………………………………….
    “NEVER AGAIN”
    …………………………………….

    Nymphenburg Palace (Schloss Nymphenburg)
    Website: http://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/englisch/palace/index.htm
    Entrance: € 11.50 including Palace and all the park pavilions

    After visiting Dachau, we continued our way to Munich. The weather continued to be overcast, but the rain had stopped, there were glimpses of clear sky. It took us 20 minutes to get into a completely different era. Instead of black and gray palette of depressing Dachau we again plunged into a color and sophistication of Baroque of Age of Enlightenment in Nymphenburg Palace, located on the outskirts of Munich.

    Built as a summer residence of Bavarian rulers, the palace is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. Frankly, after already seen palaces of Potsdam, Charlottenburg and Würzburg, this palace did not impress us that much with the exception of the painted ceilings, they are really superb.
    However there is one room which is a-must for visit ,the Gallery of Beauties (Schönheitengalerie), where you can see portraits of the most beautiful women according to the King Ludwig I, a known bon vivant and ladies man. There you can see portraits of noble as well as ordinary women side by side, the main criterion for the choice of models was the appearance of these women, not the title.
    We walked through all the rooms of the palace, then went across the courtyard to one of the palace wings to visit the Museum of the Palace carriages (Marstallmuseum). It was an excellent exhibition featuring a dazzling collection of decorative gilt carriages and sleighs. there were so many beautiful coaches and wagons, and also other related stuff: harness, saddles, horse muzzles (do not know how to properly called).
    The guidebook saud there was is a pavilion with a swimming pool in a park. We got curious and decided to find it.
    OMG, we were so glad we went to the parl. The Nymphenburg Park was the most remarkable of all the parks we had seen. It was not manicured Wurzburg park, not the grandiose San Suisse park in Potsdam, no. But it was the most relaxing one with stunning scenery, ponds with swans and ducks, hiking and biking trails, and of course the amazing flower beds. And this park is popular among local: moms with strollers, joggers, elderly couples.
    Taking a walk in the park, we visited park pavilions Pagodenburg, decorated in the Chinese style, which was so fashionable in the 18th century. Then we feed the ducks with remains of our morning snack, then we crossed the park for pavilion Badenburg where we finally found and the royal swimming pool. There was no water in the pool, so we did not swim :-). Last pavilion we visited, Amalienburg was built as a hunting lodge, but was the most luxurious: its ceiling and walls were richly decorated with paintings and stucco.

    BMW Welt
    Website: http://www.bmw-welt.com/de/

    Today we had a day of contrasts. We moved from one era to another, the scenery changed from heartbreaking site in Dachau to colorful beautiful Nymphenburg, from one architectural style to a completely different, and, before arriving at the hotel, we came back to the 21th century to sample a modern hi-tech architecture of glass and steel by visiting fairgrounds of the car company BMW in Munich's Olympic park.

    Unlike Mercedes, BMW's headquarters are not in Stuttgart, but here in Munich. We were not going to go inside, we just wanted to look at this interesting structure from outside. Our “Mercedes” entered enemy’s territory and parked right in from to the building “In your face” style, and walked to see this bold dramatic structure in the shape of an hourglass with a spiral ramp leading to the entrance of the Museum. Frankly, I have not formed a clear opinion if I like me or not, but no doubt it was impressive.

    Arrival in Munich. Service with care.

    Finally, after a long, full of emotions day, we finally arrived at our hotel Munich ,The Charles Hotel (https://www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/the-charles-hotel/?ztm_source=google&utm_medium=local&utm_campaign=charles_hotel). We gave our car to valet and you forgot about it for the next 3 days.
    This was one of the best hotels where we've ever stayed at. And it's not only because of a good comfortable room overlooking the park, but mostly because everyone in this hotel did everything so that people felt at home. In this hotel, we never heard the word "no", "unfortunately, this is not possible", "we are very sorry, but that we do not have." Whatever we asked was done instantly. “Ma’m, are you tired? We’ll bring some tea in your room (of course free of charge)”, “You are hungry but you do not have a reservation in our restaurant? Do not worry, we'll call you when your table is ready, and by the an aperitif is on a house. “, “You need to do laundry? How urgent, tonight, by tomorrow or the next day?”. “ You need bikes for tomorrow? They will be ready by the morning” Well, you got the picture. Moreover, it was done like really care, as it should be.
    Before dinner, Dmitry went to the sauna, and I took a foam bath, relaxing and sipping sweet tea. My husband came back impressed with sauna and spa in general.
    We went down to the restaurant, where it was the same great service and delicious food After dinner we walked around the hotel, and then I finished the day crushing into bed.

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    Ah, the Charles! We stayed there three weeks ago. A Mercedes fits well into the hotel's garage. A Bentley even better.

    You wrote "Almost all hotels in Germany have a spa with sauna, a steam room and swimming pools". Unfortunately, this is true only for hotels in a certain class. And the Charles is among the best that you can get in München (we also like the Vier Jahreszeiten).

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    <Ah, the Charles! >

    The Charles rules!!

    <You wrote "Almost all hotels in Germany have a spa with sauna, a steam room and swimming pools". Unfortunately, this is true only for hotels in a certain class. And the Charles is among the best that you can get in München (we also like the Vier Jahreszeiten).>

    traveler 1959,
    That is true. It also depends on some other factors, like town size and location. Some hotels, while not particularly cheap, simple cannot have a spa due to historical building in old town. But when I was searching for hotel I included "spa" into the search filter and it gave us a wide range of hotels, including reasonable priced. I got an impression, sauna for Germans is essential to have even when travelling:-)

    <mmm - sadly the Charles is a little above my pay grade, but I can dream!>

    annhig,
    I usually allocate a certain budget per person/week depending on which country we travel (Germany was more expensive than Peru, but much cheaper than Japan) and try to squeeze the best possible hotels/options into this budget. I also a member of all possible reward programs, so in this trip our Nuremberg hotel was fully paid by points, the same as in Dresden Marriott, and 2 days in Berlin. This gave me some room to splurge in Munich and Baden-Baden.

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    I also a member of all possible reward programs, so in this trip our Nuremberg hotel was fully paid by points, the same as in Dresden Marriott, and 2 days in Berlin.>>

    good plan, Fetinia, but sadly I don't tend to stay in hotels like that every often anyway, apart from my favourite Best Western in Plymouth. I must try harder!

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    The twelfth day - May 11th, Wednesday. Bratwurst, blatwurst, sauerkraut and other obazda.

    To experience everything this nice hotel had to offer, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Despite the difference in class hotels during our trip, breakfast buffet was pretty much the same everywhere: assortment of sausages and cold cuts, selection of bread, variety of cheeses, dairy products and fruit, almost everywhere you can find eggs to order. The only difference for upscale hotels, besides outrageously high prices of course, was a breakfast champagne. This morning my husband ordered a boiled egg.
    “How long would you like us to boil it, sir?”
    “1 minute, 12 seconds”, My husband decided to be a smart a**.
    “Of course”, not a muscle moved on the face of the waiter, he took an order and started a timer.
    Here we came across something called "obazda" and tried to understand what it was. Is it a sort of mustard? No, it was not pretty bland and spicy. Something like cottage cheese or cream cheese? Nope. We could not figure out what was it, and going forward we called “probably obazda” any unknown we saw in Germany (not only food) .
    I really liked the German bread with pumpkin seeds (Mehrkorn-Brötchen) which was very tasty and went equally well as with cold cuts as with jams. I also discovered the German cheeses: emenhaler and another , the one with embedded dill, the name escaped me.
    Outside of Germany, its cuisine is primarily known by its Bavarian food: sausages, pork knuckle, sauerkraut and potatoes. But half way thru in our trip, we had already discovered other, less-known, but equally good food: perch, German pasta, pickled herring, plenty of dishes made of potatoes (dumplings, mashed potato, potato salad), soup with liver dumplings, and of course variety of asparagus dishes. When we read about German food we came across a very interesting dish, a stuffed pork tripe (Pfälzer Saumagen), and really wanted to try it, but so far none we did not see in on the menu in any restaurants.
    Well, back to the sausages, there are a great variety of differing in taste, type of meat and color in Bavaria: the classic pork or beef (Bratwurst), blood sausage (Blutwurst - my favorite!), white veal (Weisswurst), boiled, grilled, fried. I would say a traditional Bavarian cuisine is not for vegetarians, except , probably, a sauerkraut, strong and not very, white and red.
    Okay, enough about food for a body, let’s back to the food for the brain. In Munich we planned to visit attractions on a first day, and ride a bike in the English Garden and the adjacent streets on a second. But we looked at the forecast promising torrential rain tomorrow, so we switched days and decided to explore Munich on a bike today instead of tomorrow.

    German Museum of Science and Technology (Deutsches Museum)
    Website: http://www.deutsches-museum.de
    Entrance: € 11

    German Museum of Science and Technology is dedicated to the history and achievements of the German engineering and technology. We have read so many good reviews about this museum and really wanted to go. It was located on the museum island in the Isar River, and to get there we decided on the tram, the only form of transport in Germany, where we had not yet tried. I have not ridden a tram for 20 years since I visited my grandaunt small town in Russia, so it was interesting. Our hotel was located next to the central railway station in Munich, where we took a tram #16 going to the museum island.
    Deutsches Museum is the largest museum of its kind in the world, wow! It’s certainly not possible to see entire museum in one day, there are a wide number of exhibits representing more than 50 branches of science and industries, from mining to aeronautics. The museum is interesting for adults, but it is a must to visit if you come to Munich with a family. Many of the exhibits are interactive, there are demonstrations throughout the day, the museum has a "Kids Zone”, where children can touch and play with everything. As I said, you need more than a day to see everything in this museum, so you need to choose which section you (or your child) are the most interested in. Our son has grown, he attends the US Merchant Marine Academy, so we were interested in everything related to navigation and nautical science.
    But, following advice of the ticket lady, we started in a basement to see .... the mine. Yes, the mine built in a scale of 1: 1 with lifts, trolleys and ... miners. The museum recreated the full atmosphere being deep underground, simply amazing. The whole mining tour takes about 45 minutes.
    When we came back "Up" we went to in the Electricity hall where the demonstration just start, in German only, in English the spoke only when it was necessary to cover our ears, but it was still fun. They showed how lightning is formed, and other experiments with electricity.
    After Electrical show, we finally got to the maritime section. It was absolutely great: how did they manage to get a real submarine inside?! There las was half of the schooner, where they even planted a rat for authenticity. There were also all sorts of underwater suits, pressure chambers, and even the real cruise ship deck with lounges where you can relax under the cries of seagulls.
    After the Nautical hall we gone up to the third level see hall dedicated to ceramics and glass manufacturing. In the ceramics section my husband, the registered nurse, got stuck looking at really cool ceramic prostheses, especially for finger and leg bones. I wanted to see a glassblowing demonstration, but unfortunately, it started in the second half of the day.
    There was a DNA lab, but visiting there had to be booked in advance.
    The only downside of this museum there was not much information doubled in English. We tried to translate with Google, but it not always produced intelligible translation.

    English Garden (Englischer Garten)
    Website: http://www.muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120242.html

    After the museum we walked a couple of blocks to rent bicycles from Bike Mike shop (http://www.mikesbiketours.com/munich/), and went to the largest city park, the English Garden, which is also a very first park to be open for public use.
    Why, you might ask, the largest and most beautiful park in major German city called the English garden? This is because, unlike other straight lined manicured parks in Bavaria, it followed the English tradition to build parks close to nature. It is a place where people come just to enjoy the surroundings strolling through the winding alleys and shady paths along the streams and flowery meadows.
    At the beginning of our ride we saw a group of surfers practicing at the part of the stream, where rapids formed something like waves. I'm not a surfer, but it seemed much harder than for their ocean counterparts due to the narrowness of the stream.
    After watching a little bit of the surfers show, we moved on and just rode around the park taking different paths, with gravel crunching under the wheels. We passed several buildings: Japanese Tea House and Chinese pagoda with a huge beer garden (biergarten). We rode around the park pond and decided to stop and have a lunch in the other beer garden the Hirschau. We had an authentic bavarian food: have several varieties of sausages, sauerkraut, potato salad, and of course for a huge beer mug, Dima had some local sort, and I had my favorite Radler.

    Neue Pinakothek
    Website: https://www.pinakothek.de/besuch/neue-pinakothek
    Entrance: € 7.00

    Our next stop was one of the galleries of Munich, the New Pinakothek, with a stunning collection of paintings of the German and other European masters of the 19th century. Germans were represented the most, from the era of classicism and romanticism to the impressionism. It turned out to be my favorite museum in Germany, I love the Impressionists, and here you can see the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Turner, Pizarro, Cézanne, Goya and my favorite Renoir and many others, as well as sculptures by Rodin and Picasso (I had not known that Picasso has sculptural works). Also, many of the British landscape paintings, also my favorite. The museum is very easy to follow and the audio guide is very informative.
    After the gallery we rode on the city streets, back to Mike’s shop, from where we took a subway back to the hotel. Today decided not to go to a restaurant, an instead to buy seem groceries to have a dinner in the room. Our hotels closet subway station was at the railroad station where you could find many mini-markets, bakeries and wine shops. We bought some smoked chicken legs and pork thighs, local potato chips, some salads, strawberries and of course a magnificent dessert. We still were full from the hearty lunch, so we came to the room, changed clothes and went to the sauna. Our hotel had luxurious spa with a huge swimming pool, a sauna,a steam room, heated lounges and a relaxation room with fruit and fragrant tea. Today, we were here alone, just great, everything was just for us! For a fee you can get a massage, I made a 3o-minutes foot massage, and Dima had a scalp massage. The receptionist was very friendly, brought us tea directly to the loungers. She was delighted to learned we spoke Russian. Her mother, a native of East Germany, thought her some Russian too.
    Back to the room, we discovered that we had no coffee or tea maker. We called and asked to bring it along with tea bags. They brought a top-of-the line coffeemaker, a box of coffee capsules, a tea kettle and a box with probably 20 variety of teas, all for free. Dima jokingly asked: can you bring a microwave too? The answer? “Do you want us to bring it in your room or you prefer that we heat up your food in the kitchen?” This hotel amazed more and more. Of course, this hotel is not cheap, but we lived in hotels that were even more expensive, but nowhere we had a service with such care and attention to detail. They earned their money for sure. By the way, what is the story with the tip: we, as is customary in the United States, were leaving 2-3 € every night at the vanity, but it stayed at the same place , the did not take it. We did not understand how we could make them to accept it. When we left I write a note “Danke” and put it on the desk along with money.
    Tomorrow we had one more day in the heart of Bavaria!

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    >Here we came across something called "obazda" and tried to understand what it was. Is it a sort of mustard? No, it was not pretty bland and spicy. Something like cottage cheese or cream cheese? Nope. We could not figure out what was it, and going forward we called “probably obazda” any unknown we saw in Germany (not only food) .<

    My daughter, wo lives in Princeton NJ, once perpared obazda for a student party. Since she was asked for the repice often by colleagues, she wrote down it. Mabe you want to give it a try:

    "This is a hearty Bavarian specialty, pleasant as an appetizer or snack, or, more in the folkloristic line, as a main summer dish. Preparation time is appr. twenty minutes, and due to the genuinely unsophisticated preparation method there is absolutely nothing that can go wrong. In fact, for those of you who have been waiting for the right adults' excuse for sludging and slopping around in the kitchen (in Bavarian: bazen/batzen), this is where you can enjoy yourselves, for that's what gives "Obatzter" its name: if it's not smeary, it ain't right. :)

    Ingredients:
    200g whole-fat butter (don't even try diet! it's not gonna work)
    200g mature Camembert
    1 small red onion
    1 tsp paprika
    a few twigs of fresh parsley
    Units: Metric
    Serves: N/A

    Cooking Instructions:

    Chop the onion in tiny pieces. Let butter and cheese warm up and get soft in the meantime (they're better to process that way - but don't melt the butter). Cut butter and cheese into small lumps. Now comes the fun part - you have to mix those two. Use your hands and knead like a dough. You should get a largely homogenuous semi-soft mass with knots of Camembert crust in it. Knead in the onion and the paprika. Form a lump and chill down in the fridge. When served, it should be pretty firm. Decorate with chopped parsley and serve with pumpernickel, radishes, or horseradish. Enjoy!"

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    Thank you, sla019!
    It does look like a cream cheese, but it taste completely differently. I'll try, or rather my husband, he is a cook in a family:-)
    Do you have a recipe for Pfälzer Saumagen as well?

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    When we read about German food we came across a very interesting dish, a stuffed pork tripe (Pfälzer Saumagen), and really wanted to try it, but so far none we did not see in on the menu in any restaurants.>>

    that's because only people who live in the Pfalz will eat it! [German food can be surprisingly regional and what goes down a storm in one place is impossible to find in another]

    I've tried it once and I certainly wouldn't again.

    Here's everything about it that you were afraid to ask:

    http://blindtastingclub.net/pfalz/pigs-stomach-pfalzer-saumagen-a-specialty-from-the-pfalz/

    And here's how to make it:

    http://www.lecker.de/pfaelzer-saumagen-mit-rahmsauerkraut-und-bratkartoffeln-nach-alt-bundeskanzler-helmut-kohl-5403.html

    Take one sheep's stomach......

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    It is right that Saumagen is a regional specialty from the Pfalz and that it is hard get it outside the Pfalz.

    It is basically a bratwurst-like sausage filling together with potato cubes which is cut in slices and fried.

    The stomach is just the casing and I have to say that now, they often use a plastic wrapper as a casing (which is removed before frying).

    If you want to make it in the USA, try to get raw link sausages (the ones Americans eat for breakfast) and mix the filling with minced pork belly, breadcrumbs, eggs, potato cubes, pepper and marjoram, the defining herb of Saumagen. You may also add thyme.

    Then fill the mass into any container with a lid (metal or ceramic) or into a roasting bag or tube and cook it in the oven or in boiling water.

    The final touch is pan-frying the sliced Saumagen before serving.

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    Thanks a lot, everyone! We actually did get a chance to eat Saumagen in Germany (it will be in later installment), and I loved it. It was exactly how it traveller1959 described and looked exactly like in anhig recipe link.

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    Fetinia, I love your attitude to travelling.

    Sadly, so many travellers find their prejudices confirmed, but in every installment, you write that you have learnt something new and that you have been open to be surprised.

    I also loved how you wrote that you defend Americans when Russians have prejudices and that you defent Russian when they are prejudiced. After all, humans are all the same. That is the basic experience of travelling.

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    Day thirteen - May 12th, Thursday. Just Munich.

    As expected, there was a wall of rain outside the window. For breakfast we finished yesterday’s dinner leftovers, and by the time we were done with eating and taking a shower, the heavy rain had become just a drizzle. We took a bus no.100 right around a corner and went to....

    Munich Residence (Münchner Residenz)
    Website: http://www.residenz-muenchen.de
    Entrance: € 11 (for a combined ticket "Residence Museum / Treasury")

    We got off the bus next to the entrance to the park surrounding the residence. We went to what seemed like the main entrance door, but it was locked. Hm, was the opening hours different today? Remember, we were supposed to come here yesterday…. Checked the website.. Nope, it should’ve been opened. We walked around the building, but all doors were locked. Funny thing, thru the windows we saw people walking inside the museum, but could not find a way to join them:-) We saw a museum employee thru the window, waved, attracted attention, hand-signaled explaining what we want. He pointed us to some unclear direction. We walked to the pointed direction but ended up somewhere in the courtyard under construction. Construction workers completely ignored us, despite it was clear that two people looking at the map, speaking foreign language and looking around were lost. The same story as everywhere, until we asked nobody volunteered to assist. So we did ask for help and they actually walked with us to the museum entrance. It just the Residence was under renovation and construction was everywhere, so the main entrance was closed and the side entrance was used instead. Anyway, going back to the museum…..
    Munich residence of Bavarian kings consists of 3 parts: the actual palace (Residenz Museum), Treasury (Schatzkammer) and Theatre (Cuvilliés Theatre), but the latter was closed that day. You can buy a single tickets for each museum or combination ticket. There are audio guides available.
    We started with the palace. The first room was a grotto with, surprisingly, Indian motifs and windows facing the courtyard. And then the tours took us thru halls, rooms, chapels very different in size, style and décor: Antiquarium, the huge hall heavily decorated with marble walls and statues, Gallery of ancestors (Ahnengalerie) and the Porcelain Cabinet (Porzellankabinett), the room of Charlotte, the daughter of Bavarian King Maximilian II Josef (Charlottenzimmer), a Court room (Hofkapelle), and many, many others, stylistically very different from each other.
    After walking the museum, we continued to the Treasury, the collection of luxury goods obtained by Bavarian rulers for centuries.
    If the palace itself, after seeing Potsdam, Charlottenburg and especially Wurzburg residences did not overwhelm us (yes it was very nice, but did not have that “wow” factor), the Treasury was absolutely impressive. Exhibits were placed in different rooms based on the type and material: gold, precious and semi-precious stones, ivory, wood, crystal, jewelry, everyone was dedicated room, or even two. There was even a Russian Orthodox icon which we appreciated.

    Marienplatz
    Website: http://www.muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120347.html

    After admiring crowns and other expensive toys of Bavarian rulers, we left and walked to see the most famous Munich Square, the Marienplatz, which I wanted to visit since reading an excellent book by Russian author Kunin "Russian on the Marienplatz”, the humorous story about Russian immigrants living in Munich.

    The plaza was crowded: dozens of tourist groups, souvenir vendors, onlookers like us, the artists, "frozen" statues, and all of this surrounded by architecture from different eras: a basic simple old town hall, dazzling beautiful New Town Hall, and on the other side of the plaza the modern shops and pedestrian streets with boutique shops on both sides.
    We are big fans of Germany national soccer team and here we bought probably all available souvenirs with team’s colors. I also bought a great knitted hat with pompom , something that I would actually needed the very next hour!

    New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus)
    Website: http://www.muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120394.html
    Entrance: € 2.50 (for the rise on the tower)

    Again, it was time to have a new challenge climbing the tower, so we decided to climb the New Rathaus tower. There was not much of a challenge, because the tower had an elevator. The wind was so strong at the top, so I had to put on a new hat. But the view, the view! it was magnificent!

    Munich grocery market (Viktualienmarkt)
    Website: http://www.muenchen.de/int/en/shopping/markets/viktualienmarkt.html

    After freezing almost to death at the tower top, we needed something to warm up, like mulled wine. We went to the Viktualenmarkt, a small but famous market located close to the Marienplatz. Besides vegetables, asparagus, there was a lot of sausage, cheese products and lots of souvenirs. At one point we saw a mini-sausages of the size of a candy, we of course bought it: good snack on a road for tomorrow.
    There were a lot of Bavarian delicacies, as well as fusion of Bavarian cuisine mingling with Mexican, Japanese and many others. We did not find mulled wine, and did not want a cold beer so settled with just a hot coffee. How the local drank that ice-cold beer on such a freezing day! and were singing songs! br-r-r.

    Azam Church (Asamkirche)

    Coffee made us a little warmer, and we continued our walk to see a small but amazingly beautiful church Azam, named after the sculptor and stucco master who built it for his family. It is adjoined to his house, so it is sandwiched between the buildings, making it easy to miss.
    Although the church is dimly lit, it is impossible not to appreciate the beauty of the interior, frescoes framed by a walls painted rich red and gilded wooden sculptures. Do not miss this church, you will be pleasantly surprised.

    Frauenkirche
    Website: http://www.muenchner-dom.de/startseite.html
    Free admission

    Finally, the last stop for today was the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Der Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau), a.k.a. Frauenkirche. This is the largest church in Munich, which was the pile of smoldering rubble by the end of the war . The only thing that remained more or less unbroken were unusual for German architecture twin towers with onion domes. The reconstructed church looked majestic and dignified, although most of the closed exterior were covered by scaffolding due to extensive reconstruction. You can climb the tower and see the city from the top, but we were tired and decided to order that climbing one tower was enough for one day.

    Farewell toast to the great city of Munich!

    As soon as we left the Frauenkirche and went outside, drizzling rain turned into a real downpour. We hesitated should we go back to the hotel or to go somewhere to have a dinner? We decided after all that nothing, neither rain, nor snow, not rockfall could prevent us from spending the last night in Munich as the real Bavarians: in the pub with a beer and a huge chunk of pork. We found a great pub Augustiner Keller (http://www.augustinerkeller.de/restoran/?L=4) not far from our hotel with traditional Bavarian dishes of enormous size. Many tables were outdoor, but the rain was to heavy, so we decided to sit inside, warm and cozy. The pub was full of locals in varying degrees of intoxication, singing songs. The tavern had a hunting theme, there were heads of deers and other former animals on the walls. Our servers were Turkish/Middle Easters crew wearing German costumes, even more stone faced than regular German waiters, if it’s possible:-) My husband wanted to change the order but was shouted so we kept quiet and follow the procedure. Our hotel The Charles spoiled us, and here we were brought back to the real world. Having said that , the Turkish-Arab Germans worked very efficiently, quickly bringing all our dishes. At the end my husband made a mistake giving them 20 euros more than supposed to, but water corrected a mistake, run after us and gave us money back. My husband ordered the Breaded schnitzel stuffed with ham and cheese (Cordon bleu vom Schwein), and I had the assortment of 5 or 6 different Bavarian sausages. Plus beer. Plus pretzels. After the dinner we literally could not move, we were stuffed. The walk to the hotel was the most challengin part of the day, but necessary after such full dinner. I wanted to go to sleep right away, but after such a dinner forced to go for a swim in the pool and a sauna. There we were greeted by our friendly receptionist from yesterday. She asked where we were going next. We say to the Alps, Fussen. She made terrible eyes, "Just does get disappointed ...". "Why?" "There are so many tourists there, they ruin the atmosphere!” Well, we are tourists too….:-)

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    <Fetinia, I love your attitude to travelling.

    Sadly, so many travellers find their prejudices confirmed, but in every installment, you write that you have learnt something new and that you have been open to be surprised.>

    Yes, it is my favorite part of travel, I love to meet people, learn about new cultures and break stereotypes.

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    Chapter V. The German Alps
    Fourteenth day - May 13th, Friday. White Snow on Black Friday.

    I'll start with what we planned for that day:
    1. Drive to the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and parked our car at the train station.
    2. Take the cogwheel train to the lake Eibsee.
    3. Hike around the lake, maybe kayaking, the get on the scenic cable car at Eibsee-Seilbahn to the highest point in Germany, the Zugspitze.
    4. More hiking, admiring splendid views of Italy, Austria and Switzerland, have lunch.
    5. Take a cable car to the Gletscher, and then take a cogwheel train through the tunnel back to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
    6. Get to the Olympic ski jump stadium and hike the Partnachklamm.
    7. Drive to Fussen and check-in to a hotel.

    Great plan, right? WE just forgot about one small tiny detail: what day was that? That's right, it was Friday the 13th, or what is called Black Friday, when if anything could go wrong it certainly would. We had already been in Germany for two weeks and, in general, were lucky with the weather, but all good things eventually come to the end. Well, today was a perfect day for this, Friday the 13th ....
    Well, let's begin from the start. We got up early (big plans!), had breakfast with snacks from Viktualen market, got into our car (we missed you, baby) and hit the road. It was very foggy, then rainy, then stormy, then hail started, and then ....

    Snowflakes in the air
    Carols singing everywhere
    Santa Claus rides on the sleigh
    This is great!… just no in MAY
    (Folklore in the era of global warming)

    Despite the weather, p. 1 of our plan had been completed without any problems. We arrived to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen train station, parked our car paying the euro or two for a whole day and went to buy tickets to Zugspitze. Here was a DISAPPOINTMENT # 1: a ticket lady told me that the Partnach was closed today because of the weather conditions.
    We were disappointed, of course, but shook it off and moved on to the train. WE took the best seats right behind the driver, and the train departed. Images outside the window were not very promising in terms of improving the weather, but the clouds were low and we were hoping to see a clear sky at the mountain, above the clouds.

    Mountain lake Eib (c)
    Website: http://www.eibsee.de/?lang=en

    30 minutes later we arrived at Eibsee station, but over there we found a DISAPPOINTMENT # 2: Eibsee-Zugspitze cable car was not working. Instead we found a counteraction of the new cable car, so the current cable car runs only on Saturday and Sunday. And today, as you remember, was a Friday, and not just a Friday, it was a Black Friday.
    But we are optimists. Ebbs is very beautiful and we decided to take a stroll along the picturesque shore. Unfortunately, because of the weather kayaks and boat rental was closed, but even if it was open, we would not dare to paddle across lake ice water in such windy conditions. We were the only ones there, so we enjoyed the silence, interrupted only by birdsong, and the amazing beauty of the lake, which is lovely in any weather, mist even added some charm.
    After walking and breathing fresh mountain air, we returned to the Eibsee station and boarded the next train going up to the top of Germany.

    Zugspitze, the top of Germany
    Website: http://zugspitze.de/en/winter/mountain/zugspitze
    One day path: 43,50 € (including train and cable cars)

    We were wondering how the train will go at such a steep angle? Google cogwheel, and you’ll know how:)
    Most of the remaining ride ran through the tunnel. When we entered it, it was a just rain with small snowflakes, but when we came out of the tunnel and then went outside the Glacier station, we saw .... well, we saw absolutely nothing. Everything around us was white. When we boarded a cable car to Zugspitze we were surrounded by a solid white shroud on all sides, and only the ropes stretching into the infinite.
    And, of course, when we got to the top, we came to terms with the DISAPPOINTMENT # 3: forget about Switzerland, Austria and Italy, we could hardly see each other! No, I understand is should not be a surprise to see a snow at t an altitude of almost 3000 meters, even in May but we certainly did not expect a snowstorm. It was certainly an unusual feeling of unreality, as if you are in a vacuum and nothing around you, infinity. We were happy for an Indian family who had a really good tim playing snowballs, apparently seeing a snow for the first time. My husband found something to occupy himself inspecting construction equipment, all kinds of bulldozers and tractors. We met a Swiss photographer, who was also pleased: he comes here often to take pictures in different seasons and weather conditions, and today’s weather was the one he did not have in previous occasions. Well, at least someone was happy unlike us…. Anyway, we remember that we still had a whole week of vacation, a lot to see and, we should be happy with what we have and we’ll have more chances to see amazing vistas of the Alps. Just not today, not on Friday the 13th.
    We walked a bit, enjoying a fresh air, then got cold (not only because of the temperature but also by the piercing wind and blizzard stabbing eyes), we rushed inside to a cozy mountain cafe, where the first thing we ordered was a steaming mulled wine, followed by the hot stew.
    It was time to go back. While waiting for the train, we watched a movie showing how this all would look next year after the completion of construction work.

    How did we get to Austria.

    Well, out of 7 items scheduled for today, so far we had a tie: we successfully completed pp. 1, 2 an 5, but failed pp. 3, 4 and 6:-(
    Te remaining p. 7. (“The drive to Fussen and move into a hotel “) would determine whether to consider today a successful to not. I checked the Google to find how long till Fussen our next destination, and it seemed like the best route was going thru Germany. But 20 minutes later we suddenly pass the sign "Republik Österreich”, and then there was a warning in German and English saying that you have entered the Republic of Austria, and therefore you can say "Auf Wiedersehen “ to free roads, and if you do not pay the punishment would be .... We did not want to know what would be a punishment, so we turned to the first gas station to ask what to do and where to pay.
    When we entered the store at the gas station, a couple of local stared at us like waiting what we were going to do next.
    "Good afternoon” we said to a girl
    “Good afternoon" (Yeah, they speak English!)
    “Is this Austria?" (I could not come up with anything not so stupid, of course, to start a coverstation)
    "Austria, Austria"
    "And how can we pay a toll?"
    “Where are you going?"
    “To Fussen."
    “You pay toll only on highways, but no decent road goes to that place, so you OK"
    From the response we sensed some beef between local Austrians and local Germans, or maybe not. Maybe just this girl had some personal grievances with her German boyfriend:-)
    We decided not to get involved, refueled (by the way diesel was cheaper here than on the other side of the border) and drove through the pretty towns and villages of Austria.

    Arriving to Füssen.

    After origin for about half an hour through the "Republik Österreich" we finally returned to the "Bundesrepublik Deutschland". First, we decided to check-in to the hotel, relax a bit and then walk around the town of Fussen, our stop for the next 2 nights.
    We stayed at the hotel Sonne (http://www.hotel-sonne.de), very unusually decorated place in the style of King Ludwig’s time, where there were mannequins dressed in the outfits of those years. Our room was on the top floor with balcony overlooking the Fussen fortress.
    First, we went to get warm in the hotel’s sauna, but were a little bit disappointed. Although there were 3 different saunas: steam, dry and infrared, we did not find much difference between them. Saunas were small, could not comfortably fit more than 2 people, so we had to wait our turn. No pool, no hot tub, only a shower. Tea in a samovar was really very good, no complaints.
    After getting warm in a sauna, we changed and decided to explore the city. It was about 6PM and the city looked like a seaside port after all cruise ships departed: except a few drunken locals the streets were practically empty. Oh well, better for us. We walked through the lovely streets, went down to the lake, saw the Rathaus and The Castle, stared at the shop windows, found a couple interesting stores for souvenirs.
    For dinner, we decided to go to a nice-looking outdoor cafe in our hotel. Although the rain was still on, but not so much, and a cafe had standing heaters and umbrellas, so we sat at a table on the terrace. The menu had a lot of Swiss dishes and we took Rösti , a potato casserole with various stuffings: mushrooms, bacon, etc. Tasty, but rich in calories! So after dinner, we made a circle around our hotel and went to sleep.
    Oh yes, the seventh point of the plan had been completed, so the final score was 4: 3, and today’s day was officially called a success! Take it, Friday the 13th!

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    well at least you survived!

    I admire your planning and your adaptability not to mention your ability to smile in the face of disappointment.

    and eating outside after a day like that was beyond the call of duty.

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    >>well at least you survived!

    I admire your planning and your adaptability not to mention your ability to smile in the face of disappointment.

    and eating outside after a day like that was beyond the call of duty.<<

    Thanks! I am an optimist, I learnt to appreciate what I have, and won't be disappointed facing difficulties. This attitude helps a lot.
    Eating outside was not bad, they had really powerful heaters, it was actually nice. The snowstorm was only on a top, in Fussen it was just a light rain by that time.

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    I always keep warning here on this forum, when visiting the Alps, take weather into consideration! Most of the times, the mountain peaks are in clouds, so if you have only one special day to go into the Alps, the odds are against you!

    Actually, we arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen the day after you left. It was a bright day, sunny, extremely clear blue skies, and the glacier was perfect with the fresh-fallen snow! It is hardly to believe how the visitors from India, China, Japan, Arabian countries etc. enjoyed the sunshine and the snow! Truly wonderful.

    Sorry for Friday 13th. Saturday was much better.

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    <<I always keep warning here on this forum, when visiting the Alps, take weather into consideration! Most of the times, the mountain peaks are in clouds, so if you have only one special day to go into the Alps, the odds are against you!>>

    Yes, I knew! I was struggling with planning. We had 2 days in that area: 1 days to see Fussen castles and 1 days for Zugspitze . And honestly, I am glad we had a good (well, OK) weather next day for castles. Well, I would've preferred to have a good weather for both days:-), but if given a choice I would've chosen the good day to visit castles. Most likely I will not come back to Fussen, but I plan to come back to Alps, especially after the new cable car and mountain facilities are completed.
    And you were very lucky next day!!

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    Fifteenth day - May 14, Saturday. Precious Swanstone

    The first thing I did, when we woke up that morning, was to go to the balcony to check the weather. Sigh…. there was a thick fog. "Perfect weather for visiting Neuschwanstein Castle” was my sarcastic thought, but we did not have a choice, our tickets had been reserved in advance. Today was Saturday, and the huge number of tourists from all over the world was joined by similarly huge crowd of German families, local and from other parts of the country, coming to see the most famous castle in Germany. To avoid standing in long lines, we pre-booked tickets using this website: https://www.hohenschwangau.de/1308.0.html

    We booked the Kings Ticket, which gave the opportunity to visit both castles: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. We submitted a form online, and after a couple of days got an e-mail confirmation with times for both tours, and instructions on when to arrive and where to pick up tickets. The first tour was scheduled at 10:55, the tickets had to be picked up no later than an hour before the start time, so we left the hotel at 9:30. Today, in addition to the castles, our plan included, if time permits, visiting the Wies Church (Wieskirche).
    When we arrived to the ticket office in the small village of Hohenschwangau, we realized we did a right thing by purchasing tickets in advance. We also understood what the receptionist in Munich hotel was talking about. Despite the weather, despite the fact that it was not the peak season, there was an ocean of people. Even the line to the window for pre-purchased tickets was about 15 minutes long, but the lines to the regular ticket windows were at least 40-45 minutes and already selling tickets on afternoon tours. About 70 percent of all tourist were from China. Finally we got our tickets along with the map.

    Hohenschwangau Castle (Schloß Hohenschwangau)
    Website: https://www.hohenschwangau.de/430.html
    Entrance: € 23 (including both castles)

    Our first tour was in the castle Hohenschwangau. To get there you can either walk on the slightly steep slope for about 20 minutes, or take a horse cart pulled for an additional cost. We had about 45 minutes before the tour, so we decided to stretch our legs and walk. Along the way we stopped in numerous souvenir shops, just to look and check prices, so we knew where to buy cheaper goods on the way back. And rightly so, since the prices for the same souvenirs differed quite significantly.
    When we reached the castle we walked around while waiting for our tour. There was a a system of processing tours in place: an electronic tableau displaying the number of the tour allowed to enter. Once you number is shown, you scan your ticket and you’ll be allowed to go thru the turnstile.
    Finally out tour number came up and tour started. Our guide led us through the rooms and halls of the palace built by the Bavarian King Maximilian II , later called Hohenschwangau (“High Swan County Palace”) in honor of the main character in Wagner's opera "Lohengrin". Wagner was a great friend of King Ludwig's son Maximilian, for whom the castle was built, and who grew up here. Ludwig never married, suddenly terminating his engagement and remained single for the rest of his life. He was a big fan of Richard Wagner, and one of the most beautiful rooms of the castle was called the Hall of the Swan Knight.
    Photos were not allowed inside, but, comparing with the previously seen castles, this one was quite modest, but it was very interesting to hear the story of King Ludwig. Definitely the beauty of this castle is in its exterior integrated into surrounding landscape.
    When the tour ended, we decided to walk down the path for horse carts, and I suggest you to do the same. First, there were stand with portraits of all Bavarian kings with biographies along the way, and , secondly, there was a small vista point which offered a beautiful view of the lake Alp.

    Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloß Neuschwanstein)
    Website: http://www.neuschwanstein.de/deutsch/schloss/index.htm
    Entrance: € 23 (including both castles)

    Our tour to the next castle, Neuschwanstein, was scheduled at 13:25, there was more than enough time and, again, we decided to walk, especially all horse carts were taken by Chinese groups. The road to the castle leads through the forest, with a slight slope, and it was very nice and easy walk.
    Neuschwanstein of course was fabulous, despite the fact that we had seen its pictures everywhere in Germany and on the cover of all the guidebooks, and do not forget and exact copy in the Disney parks:-) Having said that, none of it can replace the experience of seeing it with your own eyes, even on a cloudy day. The beauty of this castle is not only and not so much in architecture and perfectly chosen proportions, and its union with the natural surroundings and the chosen place. Whatever the controversies associated with the King Ludwig: "Mad King Ludwig", as claimed by some, or "King of the dreamer”, as claimed by others, we must pay tribute to him for his contribution to the German culture and history.

    When we reached the castle, the sky finally opened for sun. It must be said that the castle look more impressive from the distance, but from there were magnificent views of the lake Forgen.

    There was the same tours control system as in Hohenschwangau.
    Today we were very lucky with our guides. Both, the girl in Hohenschwangau and the guy here were very interesting, enthusiastic, despite the fact that they do it every day, several times a day. Unlike the girl, the guy was much more direct, and just said that the cause of King Ludwig engagement break-up was his love and intimate relationship with Richard Wagner. The King was very religious, and struggled all his life trying to subdue his attraction to men, but nature prevailed and he was never able to force himself to marrying a woman.

    After seeing the castle both inside and outside, we rested, enjoying a cup of mulled wine, and then went to take a picture of it from the famous bridge Marienbrücke. To our great regret, the bridge was closed for renovation.
    We did not go back the same path, instead we boarded the shuttle bus to the village, where he visited all previously noticed souvenir shops and purchased a bunch of gifts home. I must say that the gift shops in Hohenschwangau were best in terms of price and quality.

    Lech Waterfalls (Lechfall)
    Website: http://www.lechfall.de

    We spend almost the whole day in castles, deservingly, but we would’ve liked to see the other attractions of this region. We do not plan visit Lech Falls, but we saw the sign on our way to the castles and decided to come back.
    There was a footbridge above the waterfall formed at the place where the river Lech thunderously bursts through the rocky gorge and falls from the high threshold.
    Of course, it is not Niagara, but water had some interesting clay texture. It did not look like water, more like coffee with milk, smooth. Nice place to stop if you have time.

    Wies Church (Wieskirche)
    Website: http://www.wieskirche.de/eframset.htm

    Finally, the last point of the day was a visit to the church in the village of Vis, located half an hour from Fussen. Our navigator took us along the highway at first, but then turned onto a side road, which after a certain time became a single lane. It was getting narrower and narrower, until it seemed that our car is wider than the road. We passed the farm where the owner gave us gloomy suspicious look. We thought that we were going the wrong way, but there was nobody to ask, and the farmer did not look like someone speaking English. We started thinking about turning back, but, first, we were not sure that we could do a u-turn on such a narrow road not get stuck in a mud, and, secondly, I wanted to see that church, that gave us so much troubles.
    And you know what? When we eventually arrived, parked our car on a side of a road and walked about 50 meters under the pouring rain, the first thing we saw when we finally reached the church was a bus and a huge group of Chinese tourists coming out of it, lol. I had thought that we would be alone in this solitary place, where so hard to find, but it turned out that the church is very accessible and very close to the highway. It just our GPS chose the wrong way.
    What can I say? I am very glad that we persisted and did not turn back! Located in the middle of the Alpine log, inconspicuous from the outside, this church was the most beautiful church that we had seen in Germany, it was a masterpiece of rococo. The interior of this magnificent church was just mind-blowing, it is a-must be seen with your own eyes to believe the existence of such beauty. Despite the bad weather outside the window, interior with its huge dome seems to be flooded with light that shimmered and reflected on wood carving, gilded moldings, columns, statues and colorful murals.
    We did not want to leave. He waited until the our Chinese friends finished taking photos and leave, so we could quietly sat together enjoying this astonishing creation of human hands.

    Buon appetito!

    Our embarrassed navigator was correct on our way back to Fussen and our road was much faster. We put the car on the hotel’s parking lot and went for a walk and find a cozy place to dine. The rain became heavier, so we did not do much walking, but quickly found a nice Italian restaurant. At first we did not want to go: an Italian restaurant in Germany? nonsense, the best Italian restaurants are in New York :-) But we were tired and id not want to look any further, we had not eaten since morning, except for a cup of mulled wine!. Anyway, we did not see either Switzerland or Italy on the Zugspitze. Therefore, it was necessary to fill the gap: yesterday we had Swiss specialties, and today it was a destiny that we came across an Italian restaurant.
    The restaurant was full, there were no seats, but the hostess seated us at the bar and told to wait little. Ten minutes later, we sat at a vacant table. So what do you have here? Well, pizza? nah, definitely not. Oh, yeah, branzino , that’s it!
    There was two young German couples sitting at the table next to ours, who heard our Russian, switched from German to English and began to discuss us. It was amusing to hear :-)
    “Are those the Poles?"
    “No, Russians."
    "One hell. Do Poles and Russians understand each other?"
    "Probably"

    I did not want to put those guys in an awkward situation, so before they said something to regret later, I made sure they heard us speaking English. They looked a little embarrassed, but smiled and mentioned that today is a wonderful evening.
    Thee kept quite for a while, and then.. went back to German. Now they could say whatever they think of us, we had no clue:-)
    Later in a hotel we Googled and found that that restaurant is the number in Fussen. It is called Il Pescatore (http://www.ilpescatore-fuessen.de/?lang=de)
    OH and by the way, when we were leaving the restaurant, we bumped to a group of ... well, you guessed it. My husband and I laughed “Are these guys stalking us?”, But then I said: “You and I are discussing the Chinese, which makes us no better than those German kids”.

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    Sixteenth day - May 15, Sunday. Allgau’s up and downs: from valleys to mountains, from snow to tropics.

    Today we left the hospitality of Bavaria and moved to neighboring Baden-Württemberg. We planed to cover almost 300 km, but certainly were not going to spend all that time in the car. How could we, when today we were about to see the one of the most picturesque regions of southern Germany, Allgau Alps and cross one of the most beautiful lakes in Germany, Bodensee, outside of Germany better known as Lake Constance. One day was inexcusably not enough for that region, so we got up early to do as much as possible. The final destination of today was Freiburg, and on the way we had planned to make a few stops to admire the beauty of this area, if only the weather was on our side ….
    We were so happy to see sun yesterday afternoon, secretly hoping that it would be a turning point for the weather to improve, but no. The new morning was misty and sky was teasing us switching between glimpses of sun and rain drops. While the sky was deciding our fate for today we went to have breakfast. Sitting next to our table were 2 couples of Russian-speaking locals who came here 10 years ago and settled somewhere nearby, 10 km from Fussen. Despite the proximity, today was the first time they were going to see the most famous German castles! It always happens when you live next to the objects of the world culture and history, that many people are dying to see, whether it's theaters and museums in New York, the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, or the castles of King Ludwig of Bavaria.

    Vista point Kanzel (Aussichtspunkt Oberjoch Kanzel)

    The sky finally made a decision not to our advantage, so when we checked-out and left the hotel, it burst into rain. And because we were driving higher and higher to the mountains, raindrops gradually morphed into snowflakes. We drove through the alpine village Hindelang, known for its spas, and then the most mountainous village in Germany Oberjoch, alpine center for hiking and mountaineering. One kilometer from Oberjoch, we made our first stop at the observation deck Kanzel located almost at the very top of the mountain pass. It opens up a magnificent view of the Valley Isle (Ostrach) and the surrounding mountains.
    It was very early, and besides us, there were only a couple of German teenagers, apparently hikers. Snow had already died down and we managed to do more or less decent photos, which, of course, in no way convey the beauty of this place. From the viewpoint down we could see the serpentine curve of the highway descended to the valley, and that is where we were going next.

    Hiking Oberstaufen - Paradies - Kapf
    Website: https://www.oberstaufen.de/en/experience/in-summer/hiking/suggestions-for-hiking-tours-48776.html

    We followed the serpentine road, driving for half an hour, and finally reached the town of Oberstaufen, situated at the foot of the massif Gohgrat. This small town attracts visitors not by the charm of its streets, typical for alpine villages, but also its surroundings with hiking trails of different complexity and duration along the slopes of the Allgau Alps. So we decided to hike one of short (about 2 hours) trail.

    We parked the car near the train station, benefiting by the free-of charge parking on Sunday. The weather at that time was perfect for hiking, sunny and cool. We followed the trail recommended on the above website.

    WE started at the train station, walked through the city center, past the church, and then went out of the city, following the path to Paradise point, that offered breathtaking views of the mountains of Austria, Switzerland and of course Germany. We sat on a bench at the top and could not stop looking. Our way back went through the woods, where there was a silence, so unusual for us, the urbanites. When we came out of the woods, we saw another great view, this time of Oberstaufen, from above.
    The town was almost empty (Sunday!), only a few moms strolling with babies in the park and a group of cows of different shades and colors, peacefully relaxing right there on the meadow.
    If during the summer Oberstaufen is the center of hiking, during the winter it turns into a center of winter sports: downhill and cross-country skiing, sledding, everyone can find something to enjoy.

    Lake Constance. Mainau Island (Bodensee. Insel Mainau)
    Website: http://www.mainau.de
    Log in: 19.00 € + 5.00 € for parking

    OK, back to the car, forth to new adventures! And we were going to find our next adventure at the shore of Lake Constance, more precisely in the city of Constanza, and even more precisely on the Mainau Island, the favorite place on weekend for local families.

    It was about two hours drive, and our path laid along the Alpine road (Deutsche Alpenstrasse) through the town of Lindau, and then, after crossing the Baden-Württemberg - Bavaria border, till the town of Meersburg where we were to take a ferry to go across to the other side of the lake.
    All coastal towns that we drove through had some Mediterranean flavor with their beautifully decorated flower beds, lively squares and charming promenades. Here, people do not run from one landmark to another, they walk slowly, sit in cafes sipping coffee and really relax and enjoy. There were many sailboats, yachts and boats at the lake, that made me real envy. If we had more days, I would definitely rent one of those. My dream is to own, forget about a yacht, just a boat with a small cabin. Alas, this dream is not feasible now….
    There was a large parking lot right before the bridge to the island of Mainau, to pay for it we had to buy a token together with tickets to the island, and not to lose this token until you leave.
    We purchased tickets, carefully hid a token, and went to the island. The central part of this subtropical island, where you can see the palm trees, fruit trees and blooming flowers year-round, was a baroque castle. In the 19th century one of the numerous German Fridrichs bought the island as a summer residence. Being a passionate lover of plants, he built an arboretum, a rose garden and a greenhouse, further improved by his descendants. Palm trees, citrus and fruit trees, orchids, azaleas, rhododendrons, tens of thousands of tulips and roses filled this botanical wonder. Unfortunately in May, the tulips have faded, and the roses have not yet bloomed, but apart from them there were a great many other diverse flora.
    But our favorite attraction on the island was the Butterfly House (Schmetterlingshaus), where you could see the fluttering beauties from around the world. Unfortunately, they do not like to sit still and pose for pictures, so you really need to be patient to catch the moment.
    And, of course, it is a paradise for children. There are swings, there are plenty of playgrounds, flowerbeds in the form of cartoon characters, and most importantly nurseries with animals where kids can pet them.
    And for couples like us, there were a quiet walkway along the lake where we enjoyed views of Constanza, fed swans and watched the sailboats and kayaks.
    The day that started so cold reached the heat of tropical level, seriously. We went into one of the many cafes to drink a beer to cool down.
    Hmm, my report called "The Four Seasons for 3 weeks", but looking back, I noticed that day, we have experienced all seasons: morning started with the autumn rain, then changed to winter snow, then we walked through the spring forest near Oberstaufen, and here now it was really a summer day in the shade of tropical trees.

    Arrival in Freiburg-im-Breisgau

    After a rest, we returned to the car to drove our last leg for today, a 2-hour drive to Freiburg. Of course I desperately tried to recall where I hid the token, but finally found it!
    In Freiburg we stayed for one night at the hotel Mercure Hotel Panorama (http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-1128-mercure-hotel-panorama-freiburg/index.shtml). It is not located in the city center, but on the hill with a beautiful view of the city.
    Settled in a room with a balcony where we watched a gorgeous sunset, we follow our regular routine: dinner in the hotel restaurant (good food, impeccable service, a little pricey), and then the sauna and swimming pool. Spa complex was just super, modern, spacious and there were 2 swimming pools, one of them nude. I liked it because in previous hotels where swimsuit is retried for the pool, I got tired putting wet swimsuit back and forth between sauna and swimming pool.
    The day today was eventful: long road, hiking, blizzards, storms and scorching sun. Sauna was just what we needed to rest. When we came upstair to our room we fell asleep immediately.

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    I hope I did not lose my readers:-(
    For those who are still with me, here is a next installment:

    Chapter VI. Schwarzwald.
    Day seventeen - May 16, Monday. Through the Black Forest on a black car ....

    That day was the exact copy, in terms of weather, like the previous 3 days: for in a morning, then heavy rain, snow midday, and later in a day the sky cleared up and the sun was shining bright.
    The plan for today was to get the Baden-Baden, breaking more than 200 km. This could’ve been covered quickly on the highway, even with a quick stop to France, or longer drive on local roads through a very picturesque part of Baden-Württemberg,Schwarzwald, or in Black Forest in English. We chose the latter, outlining several stops in some places of interesting in terms of history, local traditions and nature.
    But first we started with a walking around the old town of Freiburg, as we could not ignore this very nice town.

    Freiburg im Breisgau

    Initially I tried to book a guided walking tour, but there were none offered at such early hours on Monday morning, therefore we just did it ourselves. Freiburg is the largest city in Schwarzwald, located in a valley surrounded by mountains and vineyards. Ov course, there was an Alshtadt with Rathaus, the Cathedral and central platz, obligatory for all the medieval towns.
    By the way, there are two major shares in Freiburg. The first one, Rathausplatz, was a small one with chestnut trees and fountains in the center.
    The other, Cathedral Square (Münsterplatz), named after the main Freiburg’s Cathedral (Freiburger Münster), was a larger one surrounded by architecturally interesting buildings, restored after the war. Of course, a central place on the square was the cathedral, a masterpiece of German Gothic architecture with superb stained glass.
    Another interesting features distinguishing Freiburg among other medieval towns we've seen was very small (the sago of the big coin) paving stones, and the unique design of manholes, but especially the system of ditches laid along the city streets. At first I thought it was the storm water drain, and then I read in my guidebook that this system (Bächle) once served as water supply of the city, also used for fire control. In the 19th century, many of those ditches was closed as superfluous, and now the remaining ones were purely decorative. Legend says, if you step into this channel, you would marry one of the Freiburgers. I did not step on it, as my husband was right next to me and might got a wrong idea:-)

    Vista point Kandel (Der Kandel)
    Website: http://www.schwarzwald.com/landschaft/kandel.html

    After Freiburg, we took on of the small roads and plunged into the forest of the Schwarzwald. That road took us further and further away from civilization until it becalm a narrow path with tall snow-covered pine trees on both sides. When we arrived to our next stop, the vista point on the Kandel Mountain with supposedly beautiful views of the region, there were nothing and nobody there besides just one car covered with snow.
    Kandel is the one of only few hills in the Schwarzwald, allowing to see, if weather permits (big IF), a beautiful view of the surrounding open spaces and runway for gliders. Today, despite light blizzard, we still could see a valley , but there was nothing “gliding” in the air, besides snowflakes.
    There was a half of kilometer trail to the very top, but we did not dare because of the weather.

    Monastery of St. Peter (Kloster St. Peter auf dem Schwarzwald)
    Website: http://www.badische-seiten.de/st-peter/

    We got rather pretty gold at the Kandel, so we rushed back to the car and went downhill to the village of St. Peter (St. Peter auf dem Schwarzwald). Here, the main attraction was the former monastery of the Benedictine monks with a charming church built in Baroque style, and small cemetery of the founders of the city of Freiberg. The church interior was decorated with painted ceilings, high altar, and the elegant library, decorated with beautiful stucco.
    We strolled through the monastery, stope to see the cemetery. To our surprise found a big poster advertising a concert of young musicians from the eponymous city of St. Petersburg, Russia:-)

    German Clock Museum in Furtwangen (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum)
    Website: http://www.deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de/no_cache/start.html
    Entrance fee: 6,00 €

    Schwarzwald region claims to be the place where the cuckoo clock was invented, so it was not surprising that the German Clock Museum was located here, in the town of Furtwangen, the center of clock manufacturing. In addition to the world's largest collection of cuckoo clocks, you can find clocks and watches from all over the world and from different eras. Absolutely a must when travelling in this region, I had never seen anything like this museum before!
    When we were about to leave, the usher rushed after us and invited us to the Street Organ demonstration in the music room of the museum. Indeed, we did hear announcements over the loudspeaker in German, but did not understand, so the guy made sure we did not miss the show, very nice of him. He demonstrated different mechanical musical instruments from the tiny to the enormous the size of a room. He invited someone to try the hurdy-gurdy, first in German, but everyone in the room was too shy. The same cannot be said about the Americans, especially Russian-Americans! Therefore, when the calls in German were to no avail, he turned to us, and , well, I was right there:-)
    My “show”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=X8vI-3O7LiM

    Triberg
    Website: http://www.triberg.de/index.php?id=159

    Well, if Furtwangen boasted a museum, the title of the world's cuckoo clock making’s capital firmly belongs to the city of Triberg. Its main street was a paradise for clock lovers. There were a huge number of clock stores selling all imaginable and unimaginable types of watches, clocks and chronometry mechanisms.
    We went to ALL of these stores until we finally found a cuckoo clock of small size but with actual cuckoo bird that comes out of the opening sashes. I still cannot find a place in my home to put it so it does not wake us up at night:-)


    Village of Schiltach
    Website: https://www.schiltach.de/en/Home

    Do you want to see the combination of the American city of San Francisco and the Bavarian town of Rotemburg? Cannot image such place? Well, welcome to the village of Schiltach village, located in the Schwarzwald at the intersection of two rivers, Schiltach and Kintsyg. Well-preserved timbered houses are located on steep, at 45 degrees, slopes surrounding the Market Square, and believe me, they are no less impressive and picturesque than the famous Plonlein in Rotenburg!
    Initially we just wanted to drive thru this village, because of very heavy rain, but when we came and saw that beauty, we could not not to stop. My husband was running beside me holding an umbrella while I was taking millions of pictures. Absolute gem of Schwarzwald!


    Village of Alpirsbach

    WE stopped in this village just for bio-needs (sorry for details) and found ourselves in the middle of the street fair which took place throughout the entire length of the main street. There were vendors selling goods, snacks and of course tons of beer, there was a lot of singing and fraternization. There was a tent managed by a local Muslim community, next to the village Islamic Center. It was nice to see, apparently they have taken roots here and found a new home, participating in local festivities.
    There is a very pretty Romanesque basilica in this village, but we did not come inside.

    Town of Freudenstadt
    Website: http://www.freudenstadt.de/de/Freudenstadt-Portal

    Our next stop, the lovely town of Freudenstadt, is famous for Europe's largest market square, surrounded by arcaded houses and town church. City was destroyed in 1945, but had been completely restored by the 50s.


    Lake Mummel (Mummelsee)
    Website: http://mummelsee.de

    The last stop before arriving in Baden-Baden was Mummel Lake, named after the mermaids (Mummeln), who, according to legend, inhabited lake’s dark icy depths. When we reach the lake, the weather was just terrible, our windshield wiper worked non-stop and still barely coped with rain, so Dima did not even want to leave the car. But I did not make all that way just to sit in a car and bravely walked to the lake shore. The lake was very small, surrounded on all sides by firs and pines. During the warm summer (does such thing exists here?!) it is one of the favorite places for local families to spend a weekend.

    Arriving to Baden-Baden

    Well, finally today's log road ended with our triumphant entrance to the famous Baden-Baden, which greeted us with the bright sun. Seriously, the weather turned 180 degrees for the better. We stayed at the hotel Brenners (http://www.brenners.com/eng/home/) in the room with balconies and windows overlooking the famous Lichtentaler Allee!
    The hotel is old, with multiple buildings, where it was easy to get lost. When a concierge showed us the hotel, we realized that we probably need GPS to get to the pool and sauna:-)
    The staff was very friendly, but some of the guests were a little prudish, but not a big deal. There was a cigar lounge where after dinner, we finished our day with the real Cuban cigars, which still not allowed in the United States.

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    Another enjoyable read, Fetinia, had to look up some of those towns you visited. Our teens (and I) were thrilled to get a light snowfall (in July!) a few years ago in Bavaria, their first ever snow. No views, but we ran out in it like little children, so exhilarating. I know the locals were very frustrated with their cool summer that year, but that was a great memory for us.

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    Day eighteen - May 17th, Tuesday. The naked truth

    Hooray, no need to get up early today, no schedule, no obligatory sightseeing, today was officially the day of doing nothing!
    We did not have any plans of visiting castles or churches, or museums. All of this exist in Baden-Baden, of course, but today we decided to take a breath after 2 weeks of intensive cultural-historical-natural-learning marathon.
    Today we decided to rest, relax and recharge in the famous thermal baths of Baden-Baden.
    In Baden-Baden, there are two large complexes: Caracalla and Friedrichsbad. They , actually, belong to the same owner, but oriented at different audiences, so to speak. Friedrichsbad is a traditional Theremin, aimed at adults (entrance age is 16). You follow certain rituals, going through all the procedures in a specific order.
    Caracalla is more entertaining, and more focused on families with children. Unlike dimmed rooms of Friedrichsbad, Caracalla has open and bright rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and saunas. There's no need to follow any particular order visiting all rooms, tickets can be purchased separately for swimming pools or for the sauna, or both.
    And of course one big important difference: Friedrichsbad is completely nude. In Caracalla only saunas are nudist, but pools require wearing swimsuits.
    We decided: once we come into the country, we must experience its traditions in the fullest extend. We go into the Friedrichsbad.

    Lichtentaler Allee

    We had breakfast in the hotel starting with champagne :-)) For breakfast, besides the usual set, there were Russian style pancakes to order, which I terribly missed in the States. I, of course, ordered them, but they made them with syrup, not with sour cream, how I like. They ransacked the kitchen, found 8 varieties of yogurt , 5 varieties of curd cheese, obazda (!), No sour cream. “Are you kidding me?”, “No, m'am, we are extremely sorry. But tomorrow we will make sure you have your sour cream with pancakes". Ok, moving on….
    Pancakes, with or without sour cream, have a lot of calories, so after the breakfast we walked along the famous promenade Lichtentaler , which laid right in front of our windows. The alley running along the small river, rather brook, was very elegant and impeccably groomed. I suggest to take an hour or even two to walk on it, without haste, especially in June and July during the roses blooming. We were in May, for roses was still early but, as on the island of Mainau, there were many other wonderful flowers and trees such as alder, chestnut, magnolia, maple, oak, and, of course, linden. Besides us, there were joggers, couples, matrons walking their dogs, old men playing chess on the benches, gossiping old ladies or just vacationers, nursing ducks in the river. There were very beautiful and stylish houses and buildings on both sides of the alley. Unreal idyll, so far removed from our everyday reality, everyday hard working, worries and hopes for the future of our son, and for the health of our parents.

    Thermal Complex Friedrichsbad
    Website: http://www.carasana.de/en/friedrichsbad/home/
    Fee: 25.00-59.00 € (depending on the package)

    When we learned that in Germany men and women bath together naked, I was, to put it mildly, strained. In the US, a sauna and spa are separate, and we still wear a swimsuit. But after discussion my husband and decided: si fueris Rōmae, Rōmānō vīvitō mōre (When in Rome, do as the Romans do). My husband did not have problem at all, but for me it took longer until I got used to the idea. I thought about it and decided: I have nothing to be ashamed of. Most of people around us do not look like Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie either. Moreover, I see these people for the first and last time in my life, do I care what they think of me? But the most important: if you want to blend in, then be like everybody else. If all naked, and you're the only one in a bathing suit, it will draw more attention.
    Of course, when I was confronted with a male stranger in the shower for the first time, I was uneasy. But as we went to the saunas almost every day, I gradually got used to, and so we arrived to the Friedrichsbad thermal springs, I was prepared.

    By the way, there are “separate” days of these terms for those who still could not get used to the idea, but today was a regular “co-ed” day. We bought a package with a full range of services, got bracelets with bar code (the only thing that we had on our bodies for the next 3.5 hours) and went to the locker room. We were given a sheet and then we just went from room to room following the instructions posted in front of each room. The first 8 stages the body is gradually heated, and then started to cool down back to normal.
    Step 1: wash well in the shower.
    Stage 2: 15 minutes lying down on the couch in the room with hot air.
    Stage 3: 10-15 more minutes lying down in a room with very hot air. If in the previous room, I almost fell asleep, here I could hardly wait till 15 minutes pass. Here we were sweating a lot.
    Stage 4: shower to wash off all that sweat.
    Stage 5 (optional, not in all packages): brush massage with soap. You can choose a hard or a soft brush. I was massaged by a man with a soft brush, and Dima with a hard brush by a woman. By the way, here your sheet is taken away and from this point you have nothing to cover yourself.
    Stage 6: one more shower to remove the soap after brush massage
    Stage 7: 15 minutes in the steam room with hot air.
    Stage 8: the hottest room with very hot air, it is difficult even to breathe. Few can withstand required 15 minutes.
    Stage 9: swimming pool with warm water.
    Stage 10: Whirlpool. Here we probably sat for half an hour, it was that good.
    Stage 11: a large swimming pool with cool water. After all the hot procedures it was paradise!
    Stage 12: another shower.
    Stage 13: ice bath. Nobody, I mean nobody, was able to enter this pool completely except us. Everyone dipped a foot, trembled and fleed. But we are Russians, swimming in iced water in a middle of winter our national sport, lol! It was recommended to sit 3 minutes, I passed all 5!
    Stage 14: After an ice bath, you get a huge thick heated towel and relax.
    Stage 15 (optional, not in all packages): body massage
    Stage 16: the best. The steward wraps you in a warm blanket like a cocoon and leaves to sleep. I instantly fell asleep as if I was given a sedative.
    17, the last stage: relaxing in "the reading" room. You also can have a lunch here if your packages includes it. Lunch was just OK, whole wheat panini with ham and cheese and a salad, very healthy.
    It is difficult to describe the experience in words, that’s for sure. Better come and try out for yourself!

    Evening in Baden-Baden Casino
    Website: https://www.casino-baden-baden.de
    Admission: 5 € in classic room, 3 € in the slot machine hall

    After this unusual experience, we walked around the city, had a cappuccino cup and strolled back. Along the way I saw the shop with porcelain figurines, and finally found what I was looking for a reasonable price. I bought a porcelain figurine of peasant woman that brings my childhood memories in my grandmother's house….
    WE decided to visit a casino at 10PM. We had a plenty of time before that, so we decided to relax and enjoy in the swimming pool at our hotel and then to have a dinner.
    Sauna in our hotel was good but not significantly better than in other hotel we already been, but the pool was gorgeous, large, and most importantly with a view of the park. When all windows (and they are floor-to- ceiling) open, it seems you are surrounded by the forest. And nice touch was warm marble benches around the pool.

    Having swam as much as possible (there was no sauna or pool at our hotels in the next 2 days), we returned to the room to dress for a casino.
    The casino was close to our hotel on the Lichtentaler Allee, so we are again walked and enjoy it one more time. Knowing myself being a gambler, we only took the amount of cash that I was willing to loose and no card to withdraw. We had dinner in the restaurant at the casino, at a table by the window, the watched nicely dressed people walking in.

    What you say about the casino? Used to relaxed liberal traditions of Las Vegas, for us a casino in Baden-Baden was the complete opposite. Let's start with the fact that there was a dress code, unlike Las Vegas, where you can visit casino on your way from the swimming pool to a buffet wearing shorts. Secondly, here you have to have an ID and go thru the background check. This is unimaginable in LAs Vegas, where nobody cares where you were born and where you came from. But most importantly, in casinos in Las Vegas try to lure you into the casino offering a lot of perks from free drinks to free rooms in hotels. Here, in Bade-Baden you must pay an entrance fee.
    Despite all of this we still wanted to visit, because, according to the guidebooks, it is the most beautiful in the world.
    First we went to the classic room with roulette, poker and other card games. The interior was very beautiful, just splendid. Now I understood why the required dress code. I was the only woman there, and I felt less comfortable than when I was naked in the sauna. So we went to a more liberal, slot machine room. Here I sat down at my favorite video poker, Dima sat at the machine next to me. In general, there were ups and downs, we ended up playing till 2AM, lost everything. So we were stripped the second time in one day, so to speak :-)
    WE walked along the dark, completely empty alley. But we were not scared of the muggers, as we did not have a penny left :-)

    In general, a casino in Baden-Baden is a beautiful, but .... not my cup of tea. Give me Vegas any day…

    By the way, we tried hard to find where is it a notorious Russian nevou riches and mafia that occupied Baden-Baden? Besides a couple of Russian old-timers on the bench, quietly playing chess, and a couple of girls in the cafe, we did not see any Russian at all. Frankly, we on our black Mercedes SUV looked closest to what might be called the Russian mafia, lol.

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    >> we on our black Mercedes SUV looked closest to what might be called the Russian mafia <<

    Now, I know why you could afford Brenners and The Charles!

    Keep on writing, this is one of the best trip reports I have ever been reading here on Fodor's. Although it is about my own country, it is interesting to read how travellers see things.

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    Fetinia, my mother was in her 70's when we went on a mother/ daughter trip to Europe 6 years ago. She was very comfortable in her birthday suit, so to speak, in Bad Schlema and when she accidentally walked into a male sauna, she just sauntered out with a 'well, there's no George Clooney's in there'....

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    >Now, I know why you could afford Brenners and The Charles!<
    No, no :-) Hard work, savings and good planning

    >Keep on writing, this is one of the best trip reports I have ever been reading here on Fodor's. Although it is about my own country, it is interesting to read how travellers see things.<
    Will do, will do. Got sucked up by Olympics this weekend:-)

    >Fetinia, my mother was in her 70's when we went on a mother/ daughter trip to Europe 6 years ago. She was very comfortable in her birthday suit, so to speak, in Bad Schlema and when she accidentally walked into a male sauna, she just sauntered out with a 'well, there's no George Clooney's in there'....<

    Your mom rules! Great sense of humor!

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    Chapter VII - Moselle and Rhine Valleys.
    Day nineteen - May 18th, Wednesday. Ode to the German automotive industry.

    My husband Dima gave me carte blanche to create our itinerary: cities, hotels, places to visit. His only request was to visit one of the Mercedes plants. As I mentioned earlier, my husband has very "smart" hands, he is a perfectionist and likes everything done with high quality, and hates half-done, patch-up jobs, so he was eager to see how his favorite car make, “the perfect car”, is built.
    Our tour started at 13:30, so initially we planned to stop in the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, but because of yesterday’s late night gambling, we woke up super late, at 10 AM, and decided to skip the museum and go directly to the factory.
    We did a couple laps for the last time in our beautiful pool, then did another very important thing: packaged flower seeds, bought on the Mainau island, and asked at the reception to ship them to Moscow, to Dima's mother. She is passionate about flowers, before her retirement managing the flower shop in Moscow, and we wanted to please her with varieties of beautiful flowers from Germany. I hope the seeds take root in Russia.
    We decided to skip breakfast, just had nuts and fruits from the minibar, which was included in our room price. I wonder if the hotel found a sour cream for pancakes today?

    Mercedes factory tour in Sindelfingen
    Website: https://www.mercedes-benz.com/en/mercedes-benz/classic/museum/guided-tours/
    Admission: Free

    There are three Mercedes Benz factories in Germany: in Bremen, Stuttgart and Sindelfingen (an hour's drive from Stuttgart), but only Sindelfingen location offers a tour to the factory for the visitors. The tour is free and not without reason: many vehicles in this location are made to order, and the tour is carried out with a goal that the client may order the car right on the spot.
    Booking a tour is very easy. We sent an e-mail to visit50@daimler.com indicating the desired dates, language and number of people. We got a response immediately with confirmation for the English tour for specified date, at 13:30.

    We arrived early, around noon to the Customer Service Centre (Mercede-Benz Kundencenter) and exchange our vouchers for the plastic cards (tickets) with our tour start time.
    Since we did not have breakfast, we decided to have a meal here, especially since the cafe looked very nice. Besides, after the tour we had a long road trip to the Mosel valley region, and we wanted to get there as quickly and not waste time on food.
    After lunch, we visited the gift shop, bought a T-shirt for our son, and a very practical travel bag, which would come in handy very soon (more on this later).
    While waiting for the tour, we walked around a big lobby with the exhibition of historical Mercedes cars, starting with the first Benz auto, modern cars and a conceptual model.

    Finally, there was our guide Peter, who I called to myself a "dude", he was kind of all fidgety, and somewhat reminiscent of the actor Aaron Eckhart in the movie "Thank you for smoking". Anyway, first, we watched a documentary about the history of Mercedes-Benz. It is interesting that Karl Benz (founder of Mercedes-Benz) and Gottlieb Daimler (founder of Daimler) had never met, although they had been competitors for many years. Daimler died prior to the merger.

    After watching the film we were put on the bus (of course Mercedes) and was taken to the factory itself. WE visited tow workshops: press shop and assembly line. Unfortunately taking pictures was strictly forbidden,:-( While o a bus through the territory, I noticed a couple of Toyotas. Peter said that 80% of employees own Mercedes (with big employee discount!), But to drive another brand is not prohibited. It is nice that many workers can afford to own such an expensive car, it means the company takes good care of them.
    First stop: the Press shop. Here almost everything was automated, it's just amazing how a flat piece of metal takes a required shape after just a few steps. Interesting fact #1 (you I love interesting facts): there is a 30-meter-thick concrete foundation under the Press shop to withstand the pressure of constantly working of pressing machines. Interesting fact # 2” We noticed that the workers do not wear hard hats. The reason is simple and frightening: hard hats are not needed, if something falls in this shop, the hard hat is useless….

    Second stop: the Assembly line. Unlike the press shop here 75% is a manual labor. The only two operations are automated: rooftop and dashboard installation. You MUST see how the robot pushes the panel through a narrow doorway and accurately set in place , unbelievable preciseness and accuracy. Of course everything was spotlessly clean and in perfect order. Dima even grumbled that the hospital he works i not as sterilized as this shop. There are several teams working on assembly line, each has a daily goal to complete certain no. of cars, however exceeding this daily goal is not encouraged. Why? Because when one team is ahead, others will start to rush, which leads to a greater likelihood of errors. If an error occurs, the vehicle is not removed from the line. The line is programmed, and if you take one car out, then the whole line messed up in a domino effect. Therefore problematic car is brought to the end, and only then, if possible, the error is corrected.
    Workers have several breaks per shift: the first, after one hour of work, is 15 minutes, then 30 minutes after 2 hours, then lunch, and then in the second half of the shift. Everyone takes the break the same time, and the line stops.
    We did not visit a Paint shop, because visitors are not allowed there to avoid any tiny particle that can mess up a dye. Peter showed us how one grain of sand, or hair caught in the dye can destroy otherwise good car. The traditional colors of Mercedes are of black-gray-white palette, but the buyer can order any color. Peter told how they had one buyer who brought a bag of powdered gold, which was added to the dye, so his car was painted with real gold ( I have a good guess from which country this customer was , probably on his way to Baden-Baden:-)).
    This factory also makes armored vehicles with bulletproof glass for government officials (from many countries, not limited to Germans) and other VIPs.
    The last thing we saw on the tour was how so called “marriage” was done: when body is reunited (“marries”) with the engine. Everything was calibrated to the millimeter, super!

    What can I say, the tour exceeded our expectations. "Dude" was a very good tour guide, telling all with great enthusiasm and seemed very devoted to the company. My question was:
    “Who is the main Mercedes’ competitor? The Japanese, the Americans?”
    “Give me a break!”
    “ Other Europeans?”
    “Do not be ridiculous!”
    Then he added seriously that the ONLY (he emphasized) a serious competitor to the Mercedes is another German company BMW. And then he added with a smile, "But we are still the best!" Who would’ve doubt that!

    Road to the river Mosel valley.

    After the tour, we hopped in to our own product of German engineering art and continued our journey. Under the tour impression, I saw Mercedes everywhere, even in wind turbines were reminiscent of its sign:-)
    We left the land of Baden-Württemberg, and crossed the border with Rhineland-Pfalz. We did not have any particular plans for the rest of today except the long 3 hours drive and checking-in to the hotel. Oh, no! There was very important errand for tonight: we had to re-pack all our stuff in 3 bags leaving only essentials in our two backpacks.
    As there is nothing to talk about for the next 3 hours, I would tell you why. Tomorrow was the last day of our car rental and we had to say goodbye to our car dropping it off in Koblenz:-( There we were to board a boat and go down the Rhine River to the town of Bacharach. The question arose: what to do with our luggage? At first we were planning to leave it in lockers at the Bacharach rail station, but then I found out that station in Bacharach is not a station, but rather just a stop with only the ticket machine and a couple of benches for waiting. Hmm, what to do with luggage then? I had several options: (1) to leave it in Koblenz, and then take a round trip on a boat; or (2) to take luggage with us on a boat and go all way to Mainz, without disembarking in Bacharach. Neither option satisfied me, and I began to think of an alternative. I recalled that when we were in Japan, each hotel had a service of shipping luggage to the next destination. It was very convenient: in the morning our luggage was picked up, we moved to another city for the whole day of sightseeing, at the end of a day we checked-in to a new hotel where our luggage already been waiting for us in our room. We decided to google if there is such a service in Germany. It turned out there is provided by omnipotent DBahn. However, we had to arrange everything ourselves, not hotels. We booked this service using this website: https://www.bahn.com/i/view/USA/en/prices/luggage/courier-luggage-service.shtml. The only condition there was no next day shipping, therefore I booked a pick up from our hotel in Koblenz between 18:00 and 21:00 on Thursday ,May 19, and drop-off in our hotel in Frankfurt on Saturday, May 21st. I e-mailed to our hotel in Frankfurt, and they confirmed that there would not be any problems, they would deliver our luggage to our room, and we do not have to be present. The issue with the luggage had been resolved, but today we had to re-pack all our stuff, especially all the gifts and souvenirs that had accumulated in our trunk and the back seat, put it all in 3 bags (that's where the Mercedes bulk bag came in handy), and leave only essentials (change of clothes for 2 days and toiletries) in our backpacks. Knowing German punctuality we must be in Koblenz hotel at 6PM sharp, so I calculated what city in Moselle valley we had to spend the night before so we did not have to rush the next day. The choice fell on the center of the Mosel wine-making town Benkarstel-Kus.

    Coming back our trip, there was nothing special between Sindelfingen and Bernkastel-cous, as elsewhere in Germany, everything was very well maintained and looks impeccable. “The entire country looks like one great golf course” my husband joked.

    Benkarstel-Kus.

    Finally we arrived to our destination. We stayed at the hotel Märchenhotel (http://maerchenhotel.com). It is not a hotel, but more like a guest house, where each room has its own name. But here was not such a pleasant surprise waiting: our room Schneeweißchen (Snow White) was on the top fourth floor. No elevator. It means that we had to bring all our luggage walking all way up on a narrow staircase at the end turning into a spiral. The husband, who, as you may understand, took the burden was cursing at me: “ Do you always have to take the best room, could not be easier to book a basic room, but on the ground floor ?!” Well, my fault, I admit that I did not check if this hotel had an elevator .… I wanted a romantic a room with a fireplace and a jacuzzi … Instead I got an angry tired husband:-(
    Finished with our suitcases, we went to explore the town and find a place for dinner.
    There are so many things for curious tourists in Bernkastel-Kues , you can easily spend a few hours or even a day exploring the quaint old town. Of course, as in any self-respecting medieval town, there was the Market Square, where, along with numerous quaint shops and cafes there was the Town Hall built in the 17th century, and the old pillory, where criminals were executed.
    One of the most famous building in the town was a kind of local equivalent of “flatiron building" hosting a restaurant Spitzhaeuschen, which was closed at that time, so we went to another, Cafe Thiesen, and here we finally found the Pfälzer Saumagen in a menu! I must say it was fantastically tasty. I do not know what spices and herbs they put in it, but it was absolutely yummy. Even Dima, who was initially kind of disgusted to the prospect of eating someone’s stomach, eventually appreciated this dish.
    After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel, packed all things and sit by the fire with a bottle of Moselle wine. There was no saunas in this hotel , but our room had a hot tub, which was cool: illuminated with changing colors, and 3 modes: wave, wildness and a mode where the whole body has a sensation of needles tingling. I lay there with a glass of wine and read where we're going tomorrow.

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    No elevator. It means that we had to bring all our luggage walking all way up on a narrow staircase at the end turning into a spiral. The husband, who, as you may understand, took the burden was cursing at me: “ Do you always have to take the best room, could not be easier to book a basic room, but on the ground floor ?!” Well, my fault, I admit that I did not check if this hotel had an elevator .… I wanted a romantic a room with a fireplace and a jacuzzi … Instead I got an angry tired husband:>>

    what, this happens to you too? I always try to find places with lifts but somehow I get waylaid by pictures of the lovely pension or B&B, and forget about the luggage!

    Glad you eventually got to eat, and like, the Saumagen.

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    Elevators...sigh..... I booked our apartment in Florence for its' views (and the rest was pretty good, too) but views means ....height, usually. So, only 3 floors, but, morning coffee at market, then sightseeing, then grocery shopping, then dinner, meant 12 flights that day. On top of all that walking. But it was worth it :)

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    >> It means that we had to bring all our luggage walking all way up on a narrow staircase at the end turning into a spiral. <<

    For a small tip, a hotel employee would have brought your baggage on your room.

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    >For a small tip, a hotel employee would have brought your baggage on your room.<

    That is true, but there were a woman and 2 girls there (it is not a hotel per se, it was more like B&B). No way my husband would've asked them to carry our luggage even for a fee:-)

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    I booked our apartment in Florence for its' views (and the rest was pretty good, too) but views means ....height, usually. So, only 3 floors, but, morning coffee at market, then sightseeing, then grocery shopping, then dinner, meant 12 flights that day. On top of all that walking. But it was worth it>>

    adelainean - on my last trip to Venice to attend a language school, I was lodged in a very nice room in a flat on the edge of the Grand canal, very convenient for a vaporetto stop and everything I wanted to see and do. the only snag - it was up 7 flights of stairs.

    You won't be surprised when I say that i didn't go back very often during the day. perhaps once after classes and once at night. If I didn't have what I wanted, tough.

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    and I thought I had thunder thighs on my return>>

    lol, Adelaindean. I'm not sure about thunder thighs as after I had to lug my case up to the flat when I arrived, [a case which I had thought was pretty light until I got to the 3rd flight!] I limited the number of times I did the climb strictly to 2 a day - once in the late afternoon after the classes and any excursions had finished, and then at night on the way to bed.

    it certainly made me careful about making sure I had everything I needed for the day!

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    I am a little pre-occupied with guests from Russia. I have tow families to entertain: one are relatives, another are friends, both came the same time! I will resume my report in a couple days. I sent one to Miami, and spent a weekend on Jersey Shore with another:-)

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    Twentieth Day - May 19, Thursday. In vino veritas.

    We were waken before dawn with simultaneous "WTF?" by the terrible roar outside of the window, just like in the movie "My Cousin Vinny". What happened, who attacks?! We looked out the window, and saw a helicopter right in front of the windows hovering over the vineyards. We went down for breakfast and asked: what was this helicopter doing rumbling at 7 am next to our room? The answer was again like in that movie: “ It’s very strange, it usually starts to pollinate at 6…”

    Actually, it was good that we woke up that early, as today we had a lot to accomplish: our plan was to take a road (for the last time in Germany!) along the river Mosel, stopping at popular towns and places of interest on the way , planning to reach our final destination, the city Koblenz, by 6PM. But the starting point of today's itinerary was a visit to the winery for tasting of local wines.
    Long time ago I was very fond of white wines, but has gradually become “redder” and “redder": first switched to pink, loving Zinfandel, and then the taste has changed dramatically and I completely switched to red wines. And now I would never trade the Merlot for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir for Riesling or Cabernet Sauvignon for Sauvignon Blanc. Although I fancy white Muscat among dessert wines, but at any time, I still prefer well-seasoned port. I love wine to be semi-dry but not sour, tart, but sweet, especially American wines: Argentinean, Chilean and Californian.
    Germany, of course, is primarily known for its white wines, although red Franconian wines were very good.
    But today we are in the heart of the German wine country, Mosel River Valley, known for its Mosel wines of the same name, mostly white Riesling, although in the last 20 years, some red varieties began to appear. We must’ve visited one of the wineries and taste the local wines, as they say, first hand.

    Our hotel was located on the right bank of the Moselle in Bernkastel, and we drove across the bridge to the left side of the river, called Kues, the home of local wineries. Actual vineyards were right behind front row of wineries on the slopes of the hills descending to the river. It is interesting that the vineyards had huge posts with the name seen from far away who the owner is.

    S.A.Prum winery (Weingut S.A.Prum)
    Website: http://www.sapruem.com/startpage.php
    Tasting: 15 € for the 8 samples

    We stopped at one of the oldest Bernakstel Kues -based wineries, owned by Bernakstel Kusa-based Prum family since 12th century. We met the owner, Herr Raymond who took us to the tasting room, where we were helped by Miguel. Miguel himself had only recently arrived from Portugal to start the project: crossing Portuguese vines with the locals. He even did not really speak the German, so was relieved that we spoke English. I told him immediately about wine preferences, and he picked the samples for me. They were pretty good wines, some were not my cup of tea, but some I liked enough to buy a couple of bottles to take home.
    And at the end of tasting Miguel treated us with Portuguese wine he brought a from his family vineyard in Portugal. The red one:-)

    Traben-Trarbach , a town entwined with vines

    After saying GoodBye to Miguel and Herr Raymond, we continued our journey along the Mosel River. Weather finally decided to play along: it was very warm and sunny. I was a little drunk after having almost half bottle of wine, was in a good mood and expecting a wonderful day.
    People in this region travel by car, or on bicycles, RV seemed very popular as well, and of course boats.
    Next stop was the quaint little town of Traben-Trarbach, spread on both sides of the river and famous for its many old half-timbered buildings and beautiful aristocratic houses. There is an annual wine festival here in July, when connoisseurs from all Europe come here to taste fine wine from the old cellars.
    And above the city, on top of the ruins you can see the Gradenburg, an ancient castle from the 14th century.

    Cochem , the town where you can look at the Mosel from the top

    In about half an hour, we arrived in Cochem, which is considered one of the most attractive towns in the Mosel Valley. Here we were lucky to park right on the waterfront, then joined crowds of people both visitors like us and local families enjoying fine day. Cochem has all the basic features of a medieval German town: the old town (Altstadt), Market Square (Marktplatz), Church of St. Martin (St.-Martins-Kirche), but at the same time, the city impressed us with boiling modern life.
    But the main Cochem attraction is certainly Reichsburg, a massive fortress on a top of a hill, the largest in the Mosel valley, among other things, once protecting this stretch of the river. The castle was completely destroyed by the French in the past, but most of the castle was restored in the 19th century in neo-Gothic style. There was a quite steep walking path from the old town about a kilometer, but the effort is worth it: from the Reichsburg walls you could see majestic view of the Mosel river and valley.

    Churches of Treis-Karden

    Have you noticed that most of the towns along the Mosel have double name? Except Cochem. This is because Cochem is located only on one side of the river. But if a town is spread on both sides, then the name reflects this having two parts: Bernkastel-Kues, Traben-Trarbach. The small picturesque town of Treis-Karden, just one of the many “twin-cities" in the river valley, known for its bridge over the Mosel. There was a lovely post-Gothic church on one side of the town, while the other side boasted a Romanesque monastery. We had a little lunch break in this cozy small town, having freshly baked waffles with tea.

    Elegance and rigor of the Burg Eltz

    After leaving Treis-Karden, our road took us away from the river, because our next stop was the medieval Burg Eltz, perched high above the River Moselle in the small town of Wierschem. This magnificent medieval castle is still owned by the family, whose ancestors built it in the 12th century, and is one of few castles that had not been damaged during the WW2. Honestly, I was even more impressed with this castle than with the Neuschwanstein Castle, probably because, in case of famous Fussen castles, I knew what to expect, but here, Berg Eltz took us by surprise. There was a rather long walk from the parking lot leading through the woods, but when we finally made the last turn - surprise! - Berg Eltz was surrounded by green hills in all its glory. And if Neuschwanstein Castle is best viewed from a distance, the Eltz Castle became more and more beautiful the closer we approached. Walking inside the walls made me feel so comfortable here, Idid not want to leave. There was a very beautiful park around the castle, and if we had more time, I'd love to walk around longer.

    Rustic charm of Kobern-Gondorf

    Mosel Valley is famous for its many charming villages that cling to the slopes descending to the river shores. One of these villages was Kobern-Gondorf (or, based on a name, the two old villages united into one). This small village featured not one, but four castles, the most famous and interesting of which is Wasserschloss, the only castle in Germany straddling a major road with path-thru gate. And of course, we did pass through it:-)

    Koblenz: the town where the Mosel meets the Rhine

    Finally we arrived at the final destination of today's trip along the Mosel River, the city of Koblenz. This city had the honor to be based on the intersection of two most impressive rivers in Europe: the mighty Rhine and majestic Mosel. We drove on this very beautiful city to our hotel Kleiner Riesen UG (http://www.hotel-kleinerriesen.de), located right on the banks of the Rhine. Here, we had a very unpleasant moment. During check-in, we informed our receptionist about our luggage pick-up, to which he replied, "Oh, they were here already at 11 am, but left because neither you nor the luggage was there." Oops, we could not believe it, we requested pickup at 6 pm, and now was only 5:30 .... The guy called DBahn, had a long talk in German, finally he said that our luggage would be picked up tomorrow at 11am. Of course I was upset, because we had a river cruise leaving at 9 am tomorrow. I did not want to leave our suitcases, with all the gifts and souvenirs and other valuables, what is they “forget” to pick it up again? I did not expect this, where was notorious German order and punctuality ?!

    After settling in the room, we had to make one more important thing which was saying goodbye to our war-horse, our lovely Mercedes, who had served us faithfully for 2 weeks. What a sad day … Before going out we left our suitcases at the reception desk just in case if DBahn person decided to show up.
    We dropped off a Mercedes, and then returned back to the waterfront where we walked inhaling fresh river air, admiring the cruise ships, and at the same to find the kiosk to pick up tickets for a tomorrow river cruise. Here we admired the city's main attraction, the so-called German Corner (Deutsches Eck), the tip that separates the rivers Rhine and Mosel. Made in the form of a tip of the ship, there was not only a magnificent view of the city and the two rivers, but also a giant 37-meter monument to Emperor Wilhelm I.

    We walked along the waterfront back to our hotel stopping for dinner in the outdoor restaurant, where we had a glass of wonderful Mosel wine.

    When he returned to the hotel, we were told that our luggage was taken with big apologies! After the call, the DBahn employee reviewed his paperwork and found he made a mistake not arriving at the scheduled time. Well, thank God, the faith to German punctuality was restored and we could sleep peacefully. After all, tomorrow we get up early , our boat departs promptly at 9 !!!

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    Twenty-first day - May 20th, Friday. Loreley song over slow river ...

    We got up early. No car, no luggage, we just picked up our backpacks, had breakfast and checked-out at 8. There was almost nobody at that time in the morning on the waterfront, except for the joggers. We viewed the villas, the monuments and other sights overlooking the promenade and admired the flower beds.
    We got back to the Deutsches Eck, took turns climbing the monument to William, and took the pictures of each other. Being on top it looked like we were standing on the bridge of the ship. There were the flags of all the German federal lands, even those that no longer exist or do not belong to Germany, along a “ship” perimeter.
    In the morning the merge of Rhine and Moselle was visible especially well: Mosel on the left, darker, and Rhine o the right, lighter.

    Rhine river cruise "Nostalgia" from Koblenz to Bacharach.
    Website: http://www.kdrhine.com/kdrhinegoethe.htm
    Price: 31 € (all day pass on the route Koblenz-Mainz and back)

    After walking around, we came to the pier, picked up our tickets and boarded the boat early to get better seats on the upper deck. Our boat was famous "Goethe" operated by company "KD Rhine" specializing in Mosel and Rhine cruises. They have a very large fleet of ships, but "Goethe" is the only remaining steamboat. The boat had recently been renovated, so although it looked old-fashioned, but very well-maintained and stylish.
    The last stop was Rudenhaym, but we decided to disembark in Bacharach, as we heard a lot of good things about this town. First, we wanted to explore the town for couple of hours, and then take another boat to Mainz, and from there by train to Frankfurt. But after reading reviews saying that after Bacharach there is nothing interesting to see, we decided to go to Frankfurt directly from Bacharach. WE actually were flexible and thought about making a final decision on a spot, as our tickets were sort of hop off-hop on the boat between Koblenz and Mainz.
    Today we were lucky with weather again, although it was cloudy, but the sun was on and off, and it was a light breeze. In general, not cold not too hot, ideal.

    Festung Ehrenbreitstein

    This fortress was directly against the Eck across the Rhine. There was a cable car straight from Koblenz waterfront to the fortress.

    Schloss Stolzenfels

    Schloss Stolzenfels was the first castle we saw. Cream-colored walls of the castle looked very nice on the background of thick dark green foliage. Current building actually has little in common with the original one, that was completely burned. The new castle was restored in the 19th century.

    Schloss Marksburg

    Schloss Marksburg was a castle we had originally planned to visit the day before, but strained by the luggage pickup we resorted to viewing it from the river. This is the only castle on Rhine River stretch that has never been damaged and retained its original appearance. From 12th century, no less!

    City of Boppard

    The next big stop was the town of Boppard. Located on the bend of the river, Boppard seems gathered all the features of the picturesque landscape of the Rhine. There were timbered houses and elegant church surrounded by vineyards, woodlands and farms. However, this town is known primarily by the ruins of a Roman military camp Bodobrik.

    City of St.Goar

    But the biggest fortress on the river was the Burg Rheinfels in the town of St. Goar, with its 13th century runis, part of which was converted into a hotel and wellness center.
    Another St.Goar ’s attraction was the majestic Burg Katz. As turned out it did not belong to our family physician, Dr. Katz :-), rather abbreviated from Katzenelnbogen, which loosely translated to Cat's Castle, built in the counterweight of the Burg Maus in Trier.
    But what this town is famous for was certainly Lorelei Rock. According to legend, the sailors heard her song, floated and crashed on the coastal rocks. The legend is alive and is now attracting the masses of tourists, fortunately without loss of life.
    Here on in St.Goar the large group of elderly Germans boarded our ship, who immediately went to the restaurant on the lower deck, took the beer began choral singing. So the rest of our cruise was accompanied by the German songs.

    Schönburg
    Another neo-gothic castle, currently used as a hotel. I read very good reviews, but was not able to cram the night in the castle into busy schedule!

    Burg Pfalzgrafenstein

    Cruising on the Rhine, we noticed rows of trees growing right from the water. And then we saw the whole castle, standing in the middle of the river. It was built in the shape of a ship and served a custom in the past.
    Finally, we saw a first view of Bacharach and Burg Stahleck, towering over the town, surrounded by cascading vineyards. This picture reminded me very much of Peru, where the Incas also grew their crops on cascading steps.

    City Bacharach.
    Website: http: //www.bacharach.de/tourismus/

    When we landed, almost the entire boat went ashore, that is how popular Bacharach is with its unique historic housess, fortress and other interesting buildings. First we took a details map of hiking trail in the CD kiosk CD. We hiked the "yellow" route which started from the Market Square, passing the fortress walls and back to the main street of the city, the Obershtrasse.

    St.Peter Kirche

    This church cannot be missed, as it is located on the market square in the heart of the historic city center, surrounded by beautiful buildings, restaurants, cafes and hotels. The Church was built to replace the old one, which was burnt, but its remains were still there, behind the hillside. WE came to the church, and guess what: the TErman elders who were singing on a boat , actually were rehearsing. And now they performed in the church. So we unexpectedly got on a small concert.
    https://youtu.be/8SXmTwWnxWs

    Do not miss this church, be sure to go inside, and not only to enjoy a refined interior with a variety of parts and details. If you want to take a rest and hide from the noise of other tourists, this quiet oasis in the heart of the city is the place to be. It's just simply a quiet place to spend a few minutes in silence and tranquility. Of course, when there are no choral singing :-)
    After the church, we went up the Bluhershtrasse and came upon a very cozy place: a courtyard with a small stream surrounded by half-timbered houses.

    Burg Stahleck

    There we found the steps leading to the very top of the hill, to the viewing platform of the fortress. The trail up is quite steep, but no worries, for a healthy person it is not difficult to walk. We have a normal level of fitness for the 50-year-olds, and we fully enjoyed this walk. On the way we came across a road split: to take a longer but less steep path, or could climb the short but steeper. We decided to take the former, which proved to be correct. The Dutch family who decided to go on a short trail, climbed only half when we were quickly overtaken them over a longer path.
    When we got to the viewing platform, we realized that all the efforts were worth it, regardless of the path chosen. Spectacular views of the city and the river!
    We descended on the other side of the fortress and watched the locals in the courtyards of their houses. We went back to Obershtrasse and came upon a lovely cafe "Rusticana" with tables outside. After having a nice lunch we walked along a quiet street Mainzer and sat on a bench on the promenade watching the river and barges. And here was our "Goethe" going back in the opposite direction!

    Arrival to Frankfurt.

    We took a 18:30 direct train to Frankfurt. As expected, the station was just a small stop with 2 vending machines for tickets and a bench on each side. Train trip took us a little more than an hour, so we mentally said goodbye to the beautiful Rhine, sent a kiss to Lorelei and cam to our last city in Germany.
    In Frankfurt, we stayed at the hotel Jumeirah (https://www.jumeirah.com/de/hotels-resorts/frankfurt/jumeirah-frankfurt/) because of the convenient location. We did not have any plans for the next day except for shopping and this hotel was located next to the largest shopping street Zeil.

    Jumeirah Hotel Chain owned by Emirates companies, and most of its guests were from the Middle East. WE certainly did not blend well with the rest being in jeans and t-shirts unlike other women wrapped in a hijab. But the service in this hotel was excellent, we were given a beautiful room with a gorgeous view of the Frankfurt skyline and personal greeting on the screen.
    In the room everything was automated from curtains and exterior shutters to light and a TV with built-in panels, each on the table, which took us a lot of time to get used to.
    We strolled through the evening city not far from the hotel, had a dinner at a local inexpensive restaurant and returning to the hotel exhausted, did not even want to go to the sauna. The day was a long and full of memories.

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    Chapter VIII. Farewell to Germany.

    The twenty-second day - May 21st, Saturday. The loop is closed.

    Well, here we were back to Frankfurt, where exactly three weeks ago, we started our journey. On that first day, it seemed like the holiday would be endless… And although we loved Germany, today we, for the first time, realized that we want to go home, couldn’t wait to see our son and parents, we missed our apartment…
    Tomorrow we were ready to go home and the next day come back to work, but we still had one day! It was a day when we just decided to go shopping, to visit (for the last time in Germany!) the sauna and relax, and had a nice dinner on our last night, so the story today would be short.

    In the morning we went to the pool. The pool itself was great but something was missing, like little annoying details. For example, for towels we had to go to another floor (!). Lounges were set facing the huge window, seemed like a good idea, but the view outside the window was and unfinished roof of the flow below. Somehow it seemed strange for the 5-star hotel. In general, we did not like it.
    Breakfast was good, it had a set of Arabic dishes in addition to usual German food, nice touch. After hearty breakfast, we went to check out local shops.

    Shopping in Frankfurt.

    Of course, for shopping, we had chosen the right location: within one block of our hotel there were big shopping malls like MyZeil, Galeria Kaufhof, Zeilgalerie, and plenty of smaller boutiques. But first we went into the Birkenstock shoe store, specializing in shoes for the medical staff, where Dima finally picked up a comfortable shoes for the hospital. The next was Jack Wolfskin, where we got new clothes for hiking: fleece shirts and trousers. And then we came upon a store for hunters Waffen-Bock (http://www.waffen-bock.de/index.html) showcasing a great variety of firearms and knives. Of course, we did not buy any shotguns, but the knives were the perfect gifts for all male members of our family. Knives in that store were really cool, as was this store in general.
    Then we came by a bicycle shop Fahrrad Thöt, where Dima got stuck (he is a bicycle enthusiast) , so I left him there and went to the Kleinmarkthalle market (http://kleinmarkthalle.de) next foor, just for fun. Smells there certainly were amazing, a lot of Middle Eastern spices, which we love. Of course, a wide variety of meat products. At one point I noticed a long line of people for the sausages. I did not get what was so different from the same-looking sausages from other vendors, but opted not to stand in this line to find it out. I bought sweets similar to those I had in my childhood, would have them tomorrow in the plane.
    Then we went into a large mall MyZeil, Frankfurt's shopping mecca. Incidentally word "mecca" was very suitable there: big percent of shoppers were ladies from Muslim countries.
    Prices are, of course, were much higher than in New York for identical goods. The only thing I bought there was my favorite perfume Miracle from Lancome, because the European recipes is much better then US (there is some ingredient, banned in US, which makes perfume last longer), therefore I always try to buy perfumes outside the United States. Dima found a great jacket, so we did not leave empty-handed.
    Most of all in this shopping mall I liked the futuristic architecture, making me even bigger fan of German modern architecture.

    Last night in Germany.

    When we returned, we packed all purchases in suitcases. By the way, the day passed so quickly, it was already 5 pm. It was too early for dinner, so we decided to visit the sauna and spa at our hotel. Sauna was good, but separate (the only gender-separate sauna during our entire stay in Germany), probably due to the large number of Muslim guests and their cultural preferences. But it was very stylish with views of the city and insanely delicious fragrant tea we got treated with. We also decided to rejuvenate and have a massage in the spa. It was very nice, exactly what our old bodies needed.
    Where to go for dinner? We definitely wanted to have a traditional German food on our last night in Germany, but not too far from the hotel. Concierge suggested "Leib & Seele" (http://leibundseele-frankfurt.de), which was an excellent choice: close by, German food, reasonable prices, outdoor seating. WE sat there relaxed, drinking beer, ate pork with potatoes and sauerkraut, and looked at our photos, remembered the three wonderful weeks in this beautiful country.
    On our way back to the hotel, suddenly we heard the Italian songs popular during our youth. As turned out it was a day of German-Italian friendship, so today drinking beer was accompanied by the old songs of Toto Cutugno and Adriano Celentano.
    That was all for today. At that moment, all our thoughts were about home ...

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    Last Day - May 22nd, Sunday. Epilogue.

    I want to summarize and share my last thoughts and what we liked the most:
    The best city - Dresden
    The best palace - Würzburger Residenz
    The best castle - Eltz in Mosel valley
    The best park - at Nymphenburg palace
    The best cathedral - Berliner Dom
    The best church - Wieskirche near Fussen
    The best museum - Jüdisches Museum in Berlin
    The best Art Gallery - Neue Pinakothek in Munich
    The city where we felt “like locals” - Nuremberg
    The biggest surprise - the small towns in villages of Schwarcwald
    The biggest disappointment - the weather at the Zugspitze
    The most unusual experience - baths in Baden-Baden
    The most interesting tour - the Mercedes factory tour
    The best hotel - Charles Hotel in Munich
    The most delicious restaurant - Tizen in Bernkastel-Kues
    The most beautiful architecture (old) - the palaces of Potsdam
    The most interesting architecture (new) - shopping mall in Frankfurt
    The city, that remains in my heart - Berlin

    1 car
    2 people
    3 weeks
    4 seasons
    10000000000 ..... memories

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    Fetinia-your trip report has been immensely helpful in planning our trip.........in a week! Thank you!

    Would you mind elaborating on the why's for these three:

    The best museum - Jüdisches Museum in Berlin
    The best Art Gallery - Neue Pinakothek in Munich
    The best city - Dresden

    We have chosen Potsdam as our day trip from Berlin because of so many recommendations but also, if I remember correctly, this is a city not destroyed during the war?? You at least gave Potsdam the Best Architecture award.

    We will probably follow your day on the bike verbatim w/ the exception of your last stop at the Jewish Museum...how long did you spend there? We are not Jewish either, yet you went and were glad you did, so it might stay on the itinerary.

    I too was considered staying at the Marriott Potsdamer Platz but the Hilton overlooking Gendarmenmarket won out w/ price.

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    foolforfrance,

    I am jealous, you are going to Germany in a week! Enjoy!
    Regarding your questions:
    The best museum - Jüdisches Museum in Berlin
    I used to be an architect back in Russia, and even nowadays my work has nothing to do with architecture, I still appreciate the good design. This museum is a masterpiece of architecture, interior design, integrated fully with the exhibits. Besides we learned a lot of facts we did not know. We spent 2 hours in that museum.

    The best Art Gallery - Neue Pinakothek in Munich
    I liked this gallery because it was not relatively small , I liked Dresden gallery for the same reason. My opinion, visiting small galleries gives you more time to enjoy paintings, unlike huge museums, like Louvre, Hermitage ir Mtropolitan where you need several days to cover, I am getting really tired after 2-3 hours. I preferred Neue Pinakothek to Dresden gallery, because it had my favorite impressionists.

    The best city - Dresden
    I liked Dresden the most because it is almost fully renovated, it is charming and full of life. Every corner, every street opened absolutely amazing picturesque sceneries, waterfront was very beautiful. This city is vibrant. Also, all main attractions are right there in a city.
    We did not have a chance to explore Potsdam besides the Sansussi palace, which is remote to the city center and more isolated than Dresden's Zwinger.
    Some Potsdam's pavilions still in in need of serious renovation, some of them in pretty bad shape. Potsdam is absolutely a must to visit, as well as Dresden.

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    Fetinia-I guess Dresden will be our day trip on our next trip to Berlin. So I guess I am wrong about Potsdam not being damaged during the war. You visited Cologne....wasn't it spared?

    The Neue Pinakothek in now on the itinerary.

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    Thank you, all! I really glad you found my report interesting. Of course, everything is subjective, including my "awards", but I hope it helps to whoever reads my report to crate their own itinerary visiting this wonderful country.

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