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Trip Report Germany/Austria Christmas 2011

Germany/Austria Christmas Trip 2011

A more complete trip report can be found on Bavaria Ben's site - www.bensbauernhof.com

My wife and I made a trip to Germany BC (Before Children) in 1987 and I have wanted to get back ever since. We decided to go in December so we could visit the Christmas markets. We went with our two sons - 23 and 21

Airfare - I made reservations with American Airlines frequent flier miles 331 days in advnce. I was able to get all four seats at 20,000 miles per segment. By Feb. 1, we had our plane reservations.

Rooms - I made reservations over the internet. By mid-February, we had reserved all our rooms.

Weather - We had some snow in Rothenburg and just a few flurries in Salzburg. Most of the time it was just above freezing with intermittent drizzle. We had two sunny, clear days.

Internet - We took a netbook with us. There was WIFI available where we stayed in Stuttgart and Rothenburg. In Salzburg and Füssen we used internet cafes (about 2-3 euro per hour).

The Trip

On Thursday, Dec. 15 we tried to fly to Frankfurt. I say we tried because the plane accelerated down the runway and then the brakes were applied and we went back to the gate. The plane was not fixed until late in the afternoon. We were rescheduled to fly the next day - To Miami where we would take British Airways to London, and then to Frankfurt. This made the fifth time since 1977 when I have not been able to start my trip as scheduled (misplaced bicycle, British air controllers strike, bomb scare, engine repair and now faulty sensor).

In Frankfurt we had no trouble getting to the airport train station and took the ICE to Stuttgart. We stayed at the

ACHAT Comfort Hotel Stuttgart
www.achat-hotels.com
a decent businessman's style hotel not far from the Porsche Museum. We had a king room and a twin room - 76 euro per room including a nice breakfast.

Porsche Museum is very nice. Next to it is the S-bahn. We got a daily group ticket for only 10.320 euro and put it to good use. The Christmas market was nice - the best designed booths of the 4 markets we visited. Wife tried a Guhlwein - didn't like it at all and tossed half of it. The Landesmuseum Würtemberg was being renovated and so its limited displays were free. Very nice display of king's crown and jewels. We visited two special trolleys that are part of the transit system. The Standseilbahn is a cable car that climbs 285 feet over 1759 feet at a maximum grade of 28.3%. The Stuttgart Rack Railway (Zahnradbahn) climbs 673 feet over 1.36 miles at a maximum grade of 17.5%.

The Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket (60 euro for the 4 of us) took us via Würzburg and Steinach to Rothenburg. I had emailed our landlady, Frau Fröhlich, to tell her which train we expected to arrive on. She met us and drove us to the apartment.

The apartment is on the 3rd floor (as Americans count) which was a little hard for the wife because of her knee (she will need a replacement soon). A nice king bed room for the parents and a nice twin bed room for the boys. A small but adequate kitchen, a nice living room with a tv that got BBC, CNBC, CNN, and a nice bathroom with a bath. The only minus is that a couple of rooms are about 4 inches different from the others, so we had to be careful - it was no problem.

Waltraud und Wolfgang Fröhlich
www.froehlich-rothenburg.de

18.50 euro w/o breakfast. 25 w/breakfast - we chose the no breakfast option.

The nearby Christmas market was smaller that I expected, but it made up for that with a 1/2 meter bratwurst! A trip to the torture museum was tops on the boys agenda. We took the obligatory picture of them in the stocks. The museum is better that I remember from 24 years ago. It is nice to have most of the descriptions also in English. I especially like the shame masks. I wish they would have a modern reproduction for people to try on!

At the Kathe Wolfhart store I bought two ornaments similar to ones we had bought in 1987 - light gold colored metal with a 3 wise men and a star design. They still stocked the designs we had previously bought. I also bought a paper star at the Christmas market. For meals we patronized the booths at the Christmas market as well as the local butcher and baker. We are not 'foodies' and ate mainly at fast food places and also prepared our own meals where we had a kitchen.

We made a day trip to Nürnberg. We bought the Bavaria ticket (29 euro) and went via Steinach and Ansbach to Nürnburg. We passed several large fields of solar electric panels. A short walk from the Hbf (not very well marked) got us to the Deutsche Bahn Museum. It's a nice museum for 5 euro (4 for student). I should have downloaded an English guide from the internet because there are no captions in English. The highlight is the royal coach of King Ludwig II.

We then walked into the old city to the Christmas market. It was not crowded at all, but this was about noon on a Wednesday. We had the 'Drei in Weggla' sausages in a bun. They were my least favorite sausages of the trip. I had a kinderpunsch in a mug, keeping the mug (actually it was one from 2010, not 2011).

The next morning we again purchased the Bavaria ticket and went via Steinach, Treuchltingen, and Munich to Salzburg. In Munich we had to walk about 10 minutes to a different set of tracks, but we had plenty of time. Outside of Salzburg there was light snow.

At the Salzburg Hbf we found the Lokalbahn and purchased tickets. It was a short ride to Anthering where it was only a five minute walk to our bauernhof (farm apartment).

Neuwirtgut in Anthering
www.neuwirtgut.at

We had a big apartment - occupying the entire second (top) floor. Cost was 52 euro for the first two people, then 14 each for the boys - or 80 total. There was also an end cleaning fee of 50 euro. We had two very big rooms with king beds and a futon in each that converted into a bed. The living room was very big and had a TV. The frau thought that it didn't get any English channels, but we later found CNBC Europe and BBC. The kitchen was very big with a stove/oven and refrigerator (college dorm size). No microwave which would have been nice. A nice pantry, large bath and separate shower, and separate toilet room completed the floor plan. The balcony gave views in the distance of the fortress and the Untersberg as well as the farmer's fields. The farm raises prize cattle and also has goats, chickens, ducks, peacock, doves, and horses.

Since we were to be here 5 days, we bought a weekly pass for the lokalbahn.

Highlights in Salzburg included the Fortress and old town. The Christmas market is very well organized and we bought a star ornament as well as downing a bratwurst.

The day before Christmas almost everything closes at 1 PM today and doesn't re-open until the 27th. So we ended up shopping at the market 3 times to make sure we had enough food to make it through to the 27th.

Three things that do not close for the holidays are the tourist information office at the station, the Sound of Music Tour and the Hallein Salt Mines. On Christmas Day my wife and oldest son went with me on the Panorama Tours SOM tour (37 euro apiece). The tour bus was full. It was my third time, the wife's second time on the tour. I think it gets better each time. Worth it if you are a fan, otherwise probably not.

The day after Christmas we went to the Salt Mines in Hallein. In the the big field by the Anthering station, there were men cracking whips. They had spots set up several yards apart and then the 8 men or so would start cracking their whips. Sounded just like a volley of guns. The whip-cracking is a New Year's tradition to drive the winter away. I guess they were practicing. Not much of a winter so far this year.

At the Hbf in Salzburg, I went to the ÖBB office and purchased the combination ticket to the salt mines (23.80 euro each). We took the train to Hallein and then waited 30 minutes for the bus to take us to the mines. We just missed a tour and so we waited an hour for the next one. The tour was given in German and English. More walking than I remember so it was hard on Tykewife. We did two slides (in 1970, we did 7 slides!) and the boat across the salt lake. Lots of fun and interesting.

In Salzburg you can buy the Bavaria ticket for trips into Bavaria, so we again got that great bargain price of 29 euro for all four of us. Via Munich and Bissenhofen to Füssen where we took a taxi to the hotel. We could have taken a bus but we didn't want to hassle with the bags on the bus. The front desk of the hotel is closed from noon to 3:00 PM so we took trains that would get us there just after 3.

Hotel Schwangauer Hof
www.hohenschwangau.de/schwangauerhof.0.html
72 Euro per room including breakfast

We had a king room with a shower and a twin room with a bath. Both had a balcony. From the king room there was a view of Neuschwanstein. Most of the side we could see was covered with scaffolding. The view from the twin room was obscured by trees.

The bus stop by the hotel is on the route to the castles. We just missed the 9:08 bus and had to wait until 9:48 for the next bus. I think there were more frequent buses on school days. There were not many people in the visitor center and we were able to quickly get tickets for the 11:20 tour in English for Neuschwanstein (we were only doing the one castle).

Because of icy conditions, the bus to the castle was not running. There was a big line for people to ride up in the horse drawn carriages. And we saw no carriages in sight. So we decided to walk up. It was tough for the wife as it was a fairly long, uphill walk. We soon saw several carriages, each taking about 10 people so we should have waited and taken one. Oh well! There was no problem getting in the right line at the right time. I had read several places that this was somewhat complicated. I don't know what they were talking about.

The tour was very nice with a good young woman tour guide. There were a lot of stairs and the wife had a tough time but she made it. The wife and I had done a skit in German class about 'A visit to Neuschwanstein', so it was fun for her to see it in person. Especially the Throne zimmer which we have used as a euphemism for the toilet these many years!

We took the horse carriage down the hill - half price of 3 euro. It was worth it. At the bottom there was a group of 4 men blowing on alpenhorns. Fun to watch. We were hungry and went into a cafe for our only real sit down meal of the trip.

Our trip to the Rhine was to be a long day of train travel. The cheap ticket would have been the Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket but that would have gotten us to Bacharach after dark, about 5:30 and would have taken 4 transfers. I decided to bite the bullet and use the IC train for a 4 hour segment. It was 328 Euro instead of 60. Ouch! We still had 3 changes - at Kaufbeuron, Kempten, and Bingen, but there was plenty of time for unhurried transfers.

I had emailed the Tourist Information Office yesterday to inform Frau Orth of the time I expected to arrive. After we got to Bacharach, we started walking to the rooms. We just found the street and she was there to greet us. It is a small street and we almost missed it.

Privatrentroom
Family Irmgard Oth
No website or email - I used the www.bacharach.de website.

We had the entire 3rd floor - a king room and a room for each of the boys. Actually one of the rooms was a twin and we probably would have had them in the same room if we knew, but I guess the way we worded our request, they thought we wanted separate rooms. No problem as both boys were glad to have their own room after being in the same room for two weeks. We paid 38 Euro for the king room, 30 each for the others, including a nice breakfast. The king room had a shower/toilet with it - small but ok. The boys shared a bath/toilet off the hall.

We asked about internet and Frau Orth though that the Tourist Info Office had one. We found the office, but it is closed between Christmas and New Years. I had planned on eating at the Cafe Rusticana, highly recommended by Bavaria Ben, but it was closed for rennovation. Instead we found a combination pizza/kebab place where I got a big pita sandwich and two pizzas for the rest.

The next day I got the Rhineland-Pflaz pass. Unlike the Bavaria ticket, it depends on the number of people so it was 33 euro. I tried to figure out how to get to the airport the next day but the station is unmanned and there was just a ticket machine and I wasn't sure, so I decided to check at the Koblenz Hbf. We rode down to Koblenz, seeing some of the castles along the river and the Lorelei. I know some of the posters on some of the Germany travel forums say that taking the train is better or equal to taking the boat. I have never seen such wrong advice. I would much rather have been able to take the boat, but the public boats don't run this time of year. It does appear that some tour company boats do some sailing from Koblenz.

In Koblenz I went to the Deutsche Bahn office and got tickets to the airport tomorrow.

Back in Bacharach, my younger son and I walked up to the castle. My brother and I had stayed there - it is a youth hostel- 41 years ago when we were cycling through Europe. The trail is very steep. I though we would eat again at the pizza/kebab place, but it was closed until late January. Lesson to be learned - Bacharach is not the place to visit this time of year. We did find a grocery store open and we got the fixings for a picnic meal.

Last day of the year. We woke up at 5:00 and got ready, then walking to the train station for our 6:30 train. We had a change in Mainz and then the train went directly to the airport. We took the bus from the airport station to our terminal.

It was a long 11 hour flight to Dallas. In Dallas we had no problem getting through customs - they just waived us through. We did have to go through security again - no problem this time. A six hour layover before our flight to Denver. In Denver we waited about an hour for the super shuttle bus. It took us to Loveland where we transfered to a van that got us home right at midnight and the new year. 27 hours from when we woke up that day.

Some Lessons learned

For the fifth time, I have been unable to start my trip at the scheduled time. Missing bicycle, British air controller strike, bomb threat, engine repair, and this sensor problem. It reaffirms my decision to never plan anything except getting to the hotel on the first day!

The biggest lesson I learned was to use the wealth of information available on the internet. As I have sent email reports to friends, more than one was amazed at how inexpensively we were able to travel. Thanks to Bavaria Ben's site for turning me on to fewos.

The weather was warmer than I expected. It was around 35 F most days. That meant the precipitation was rain rather than snow. I would have preferred snow. I had prepared for colder weather and I took too many warm clothes. In Colorado, I have a pair of boots that I wear just when I go out in the snow. I didn't want to take them on the trip, so I bought a new pair of boots. What a mistake. They felt ok when I would walk the dog for an hour, but when I wore them all day, they started to hurt my feet. I ended up giving them away when I got home. I should have thrown them away the first day of the trip!

My oldest son had been pestering for a digital SLR camera for a year or more. When he received some money for graduation gifts, I encouraged him to get it before the trip. A great deal from Amazon.com for a Pentax KR. He took great pictures, especially under low light conditions.

I would have liked to go on the trip earlier in December, but we were constrained by the boys' final exam schedules. The two days at Bacharach were not worth the time - better in the other seasons - not winter. I also would have gone in the order of Rothenburg, Salzburg, Füssen, and Stuttgart. But since we wanted to go to the Stuttgart Christmas market, this order was not possible.

Although we went to 4 Christmas markets, we really didn't spend much time at them. They were fun to visit, but we didn't buy very much at all. Since I will probably never get to Germany at Christmas time again, I am glad I made the trip, but I a glad that we had lots of other things to do on the trip.

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