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Trip Report Our Silver Lining Tour: A German Journey & Queen's Day Too

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I'm a little late in getting to it - our trip was in April 2013 - but I would like to share my trip report for all the wonderful Fodorites who helped in the planning (Thank You, Thank You!!), for all future travellers to the areas I've already explored (feel free to ask me questions), and for all you dreamers out there who, like me, enjoy reading trip reports about places they have been or would like to go.

OUR SILVER LINING TOUR
A German Journey & Queen's Day, Too
April 17 - May 4, 2013

BACKGROUND:


You know that saying, "Every cloud has a silver lining"? For my husband, BJ, and me, it turned out to be true. Our clouds were provided by Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011, resulting in devastating damage to our property. And our silver lining was good insurance and the points we accumulated on our credit card paying to put our lives back together. We would use those points to help buy our escape to Europe when the task of destruction and reconstruction was finally finished. Now.... where to escape to? Where could we look forward to visiting? Where would the Silver Lining take us?

We flew into Amsterdam and spent 3 days getting over jet lag and meeting up with friends who were also in the city. Then we headed to Germany, to the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, where we rented a car and spent the next 8 days exploring the Neckar Valley, the Schwäbische Alb, the Grosse Lauter Valley, the Bodensee, the Black Forest and a dip into Switzerland. We returned to Amsterdam just in time for gettin' down and partying on the last Queen's Day, then chilled for a few days before flying back home to reality.

And the points we accumulated, no thanks to Tropical Storm Lee... we used them towards buying our plane tickets: regular price - $1028.50 each; price after points - $49.68. Not bad, huh?

TRAVEL ITINERARY:

Day 1 Fly from Newark Int'l to Schiphol, Amsterdam
Day 2 Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 3 Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 4 Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 5 Train to Heidelberg, Germany - Hotel Goldener Hecht
Day 6 Drive to Oberöwisheim, Eppingen, Maulbronn, Tübingen - Hotel Hospiz
Day 7 Schloss Hohenzollern, Schiltach, Alpirsbach, Baden-Baden, Tübingen - Hotel Hospiz
Day 8 Schloss Lichtenstein, Grosse Lauter Valley, Sigmaringen, Meersburg - Gasthof Zum Bären
Day 9 Meersburg - Gasthof Zum Bären
Day 10 Birnau, Schloss Hohentwiel, Stein am Rhein, Wisen,CH - Gasthof Löwen
Day 11 Heritage Tour, Münstertal, Staufen, Triberg, Gengenbach - Hotel Sonne
Day 12 Train to Titisee, Frieburg, Gengenbach - Hotel Sonne
Day 13 Train to Köln, train to Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 14 QUEEN'S DAY, Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 15 Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 16 Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 17 Amsterdam - Hotel Nadia
Day 18 Fly Schiphol to Newark

Robyn :)>-

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    Hi Robyn,

    missed you last year, (maybe next time ;) ) but I'm looking forward to reading about what you and BJ got up to.

    I hadn't realised you had had such troubles. A silver lining tour indeed by the sound of it, and a much needed one at that!

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    Day One (Wed, 17 April) TRAVEL DAY

    We're off to Newark International Airport, our friend, Rocky, at the wheel. It's over a three hour drive, so we stopped halfway in Tannersville, PA for breakfast at the Tannersville Diner. What can I say about their food?... It's mediocre diner food, but more importantly, they have a bathroom.

    We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare - it's the "hurry up and wait" game - then we found out that the flight had been delayed due to a good tail wind. The plane can't land at Schiphol until our gate time, so they intentionally pushed the departure time back a half hour, so we don't arrive in Amsterdam too early.

    When we finally board we find that we're sitting in Row 36, in two seats on the left in the back of the plane (2-3-2 configuration), and we soon realize (woo-hoo) that the plane is not filling to capacity. There are several rows of seats in the middle that are empty, so BJ asks the flight attendant if he can switch seats. Of course, as soon as he makes his move, the rest of the empty rows quickly filled up.

    Finally... we're off to Amsterdam... only 50 minutes past departure time.


    Day Two (Thurs, 18 April) AMSTERDAM

    The plane touched down two minutes before our scheduled arrival time: 7:25 am. (I guess they were spot-on with their tail wind estimates) Within a half hour we were through passport & customs, had our luggage, and were on the train to Amsterdam. Let me just say that Schiphol Airport is a pleasure to travel through.

    We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal and walked across the Stationplein to the GVB, where we bought our 3-day tram pass (€16.50 ea). We boarded the 13/17 tram to the Westermarkt and arrived at the Hotel Nadia by 9:00 am, where we were offered a complimentary drink (coffee/tea/water/juice/soda).

    This is our third stay at the Hotel Nadia (€115/night, 6% discount w/ cash, breakfast included) so it felt like we were coming home when we were greeted by the staff. We like Room #412, mostly for its covered balcony overlooking the Westermarkt, the Keizergracht and the Raadhuisstraat. It's a tiny, Amsterdam-sized hotel room, on the 4th floor (78 steps!), but they supply all the amenities that we need, including someone to schlep our bags up & down those stairs, a mini fridge, coffee/tea service and fresh cut flowers.

    Our room won't be ready until after 14:00, so we're off to start exploring and get over jet lag. Spring just didn't want to come this year, so we were bundled in our scarves, hats and gloves as we trammed down to the Dam and walked about, checking out the Palace and National Monument. We proceeded down the Damstraat, taking in all the familiar sights and sounds of the awakening city; shop owners preparing for the day's customers; bicyclists coming and going in all directions; sweet smells wafting from the bakeries; church bells tolling in the distance. It felt good to be back in Amsterdam.

    We stopped at the Bluebird Coffeeshop on Sint Antioniesbreestraat, which is our traditional first stop - our way of getting over jet lag. BJ ordered up one of those fancy coffees with the cookie on the side and I had my Strawberry Looza, which I've longed for since our last trip to Amsterdam. Looza has got to have the best fruit drinks that I've ever tasted.

    Afterwards, we walked through the Waterlooplein Flea Market, which was still setting up for the day, then meandered through the streets and alleyways until we landed at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. We purchased our Museumkaarts (€49.90 ea), but didn't feel like touring through the museum right now since we've been several times before, and the sun was shining outside. BTW, I think the National Museumkaart is one of the best deals that the Netherlands has to offer. The €49,90 that we spent bought us €89,25 in museum entrances, and we saw several museums that we wouldn't have visited otherwise.

    We continued our wander, breathing in the cool, crisp air, until we ended up at the Ons Lieve Heer op Solder /Our Lord in the Attic (Museumkaart), perhaps one of our favorite little museums in Amsterdam. The last time we were here, in 2011, they had just started renovations, and the church was pretty much gutted. Today, the church was painted back to its historical colors, some of the fixtures had been replaced, and a crew was onsite from the UK laying down woven rush floor matting. We spoke with a young man who was apprenticing with the group, www.rushmatters.com, who informed us that they use the old method of harvesting the rush, drying it, and then weaving it into various products, including floor matting.

    Afterwards, we went down the canal and around the corner to the Oude Kerk (Museumkaart), and found that their renovations had been completed. We could finally view Saskia's grave stone.

    It was now 12:30 and we had made our way over to Utopia Coffeeshop on the NZ Voorburgwaal, and met up with some friends who were also in town. Oh good... another Strawberry Looza for me. Afterwards, we trammed back to the Westermarkt and stopped at the Albert Hein (conveniently located across from the tram stop, and just down the street from our hotel), to stock up our little refrigerator. Then back to the hotel by 14:00, where our luggage, and fresh cut flowers, were waiting for us in our room. We napped and showered and were back out again by 19:00, on the prowl for some dinner.

    Since we were dealing with jet lag, and still a bit punchy, and didn't want to make any important decisions, like where to eat, we opted for something familiar... the Leidseplein and Rancho Argentina Steak House. I don't often eat beef, but I do enjoy their rib eye. In fact, it was rib eye for both of us. And when two dudes from the States, but stationed in Afghanistan, came in, sat down next to us, and "eyed" up what we were eating, it was rib eye for them too.

    After a hearty meal, we trammed back to the Dam and mooched around until we ended up on the Nieuwe Markt, so we decided to stop in at the Jolly Joker, and return the hospitality that they showed to us on a previous trip - they had helped us find our houseboat after we were given bad directions. Although it wasn't the same dude behind the counter that had helped us, he appreciated our gesture of thanks. Now here's where the karma comes in - when you do something nice it comes back to you - two young women came into the Jolly Joker while we were sitting there, who turned out to be from two small towns in Pennsylvania, maybe 15-20 miles from our home town. Now how cool was that?!

    We ended our first day in Amsterdam by strolling back down the Damstraat, and picking up some goodies from Rene's Pastries to take back to our hotel room. I'd have to say, it was a pretty good 32 hour start of our journey!

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    Hey Barbara -

    Good to hear from you. I was hoping to catch up with you on this last trip but BJ was meeting up with friends of his at different times; hard to pin down with him a specific time for you to travel in to Amsterdam to meet up with us. But yes, definitely next time. I would love to sit and chat with you again.

    At times, during the recovery from Lee, the only thing that kept us going was dreaming about travelling. It is truly good for the soul.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY THREE (Fri, 19 April) Amsterdam

    Awoke to the bells tolling at the Westerkerk, and went downstairs to the 2nd floor, to the breakfast room, which is nicely decorated with lots of house plants. Breakfast consisted of assorted breads and rolls, cheese, yogurt, jams, nutella, pound cake, some fruit, orange juice (no meat or eggs). Afterwards we spent a leisurely morning watching the different layers of traffic from our hotel balcony; the eclectic assortment of bicycles, the funky little cars, the boats on the canal, an occasional tram and the people - many walking through the Westermarkt to queue for the Anne Frank House.

    By 11:00 we had made our way over to Voyagers Coffeeshop & Hotel on the Geldersekade, across from Centraal Station, where we met up with our friend, Allen, and his daughter, Alice. After chatting up for awhile, and having my minimum daily Strawberry Looza, we strolled over to the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (public library). What a beautiful building! And the lighting inside is just spectacular. We took the escalator up the 6 stories, stopping on each floor to admire the innovative designs. Saw an interesting art installation: The Wailing Wall of Lonely Socks. We ended on the 7th floor, at the self-serve cafeteria, La Place, which looked so appetizing we had to eat something even though we weren't real hungry. We checked out the view of the eastern part of Amsterdam from the observation terrace, then said our goodbyes to Allen & Alice, who were off to the newly opened Rijksmuseum, while we continued our walk along the eastern dock.

    We crossed the bridge over to the NEMO (Museumkaart), the Science & Technology Center, which is located in that copper-clad building that looks like a ship's bow (it also doubles as the entrance to the tunnel under the River Ij). The NEMO is Amsterdam's version of a Children's Museum, done only as Amsterdam could do it. The first and second levels are geared towards the younger children, with a menagerie of hands-on experiments and exhibits. I will admit, the fourth grade nerd in me came out as I found myself among the kids, playing with the displays. Then we went to the third level, where the displays were a little more advanced, including their Teen Facts: Let's Talk About Sex, which, again, was done only as Amsterdam could do it.

    I found myself laughing when I saw the two red plastic hand "puppets" representing tongues and explaining the French Kiss, but I will admit I gasped a bit when I turned around and saw the Peepshow (accessible to kids 12 and over, luckily there weren't any kids around when we went in). It was set up, just like a peepshow, with three curtained cabins and displays on the wall, such as What is Love, Your Brain in Love, Sexual Chemistry, etc. Then there's the display made up of those wooden, bendable artists' figures, posed in various positions from the Kama Sutra. Inside the curtained cabins they dealt with issues such as the hymen myth, the penis size myth, what happens during erection, gay rights, and Le Petit Mort. We were rustling through our pockets, looking for a Euro coin to check out the peepshow, when we heard a group of kids coming in, so we quickly ducked out of the display, avoiding embarrassment for all.

    We finished the NEMO on the fifth level, where there is a cafe and a stepped roof terrace with a nice view of the city. BTW, the stepped roof terrace is open to the public, accessible off the sidewalk at the bottom right of building, which is where we exited. We continued along the docks, admiring the many old sailboats, and ended up at the Scheepvartmuseum (Museumkaart), The National Maritime Museum, which is housed in the former Arsenal, dating from 1656. The building was recently renovated, including the installation of a magnificent metal and glass roof over the inner courtyard. The barrel-vaulted rooms in the basement were real cool. But we came here to see the replica of the Amsterdam, the Indiaman ship which is docked outside of the museum (apparently the original was lost on her maiden voyage). It's a lovely tall ship, which was interesting to walk through - to envision how the men and boys lived back then. We spent some time wandering around inside the museum, but it was getting close to closing time, so we didn't have enough time to take in all the different exhibit halls.

    We mooched our way over to the Nieuwemarkt, past the Waag, and took a brief respite at the Green Place Coffeeshop before heading back to the hotel, by way of the Magna Plaza. We had to rest up for the next task, which was finding dinner. In which direction would we hunt tonight?

    We decided to walk over to the Jordaan, and cruise the streets until we found a restaurant that "felt right". We ended up at Eetcafe Sonneveld, at Egelantiersgracht 72-74 (the building was once owned by the Dutch comedian, Wim Sonneveld), which appeared to be a quiet, intimate place. We sat in the front room, which only had one other couple dining. BJ ordered their special, Spaghetti Bolognese, and I had the 1/2 chicken, said to be, "as memorable as the Westerkerk weathervane". Just as our meals arrived, so did 21 people, to celebrate someone's birthday! They took over every empty table left in the dining room, including the end of our table (which we don't mind sharing). Our quiet, relaxing dining experience has now turned into a raucous party, complete with a written quiz for all. Of course, everything was in Dutch, so we had no idea what was going on. Overall, the meal was okay, and the large group didn't really spoil our evening, it just made it a different kind of dining experience.

    We waddled our way back to the hotel, caught up with the news on TV, and crashed.... only to be awakened around 3:00 am by the couple in the next room, having sex on their balcony. All I can say was she was a loud moaner.

    http://www.oba.nl/pagina/22992.central-library.html

    http://www.laplace.com/?setLanguage=EN

    http://www.e-nemo.nl/en/

    http://www.hetscheepvaartmuseum.nl/?t=English

    http://www.cafesonneveld.nl/

    Robyn :)>-

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    Great report so far, Robyn. Saw where you stayed in several of the hotels we have also stayed in - the Hospiz, zum Baeren and Hotel Sonne. Looking forward to your reviews!

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    DAY FOUR (Sat 20 April) AMSTERDAM

    Had a slow start to the morning, due to the loud activities in the middle of the night. We skipped breakfast at the hotel because we were meeting up with friends at Barney's Uptown on the Haarlemerstraat. After breakfast we walked through the Saturday Noordermarket. and the Lindengracht Market, checking out the vendor stalls ranging from fresh fruits, vegetables, meat & seafood, to socks, pashminas, shoes, and plumbing supplies. We picked up a few things to eat on tomorrow's train journey.

    We meandered through the streets of the Jordaan, until we stumbled on Gunters & Meuser's hardware store. BJ is a tradesman, and enjoys checking out hardware stores when we travel, and buying little hand tools. Today his prize was a Schuil Holland wooden folding ruler.

    We stopped briefly at the Paradox on 1e Bloemdwarsstraat, for a coffee, a Looza, to say hi to the dude behind the counter and to check out their recent renovations. Nice new bathroom. Continuing on our way back to the hotel to drop off our purchases, we heard music in the distance. Turns out that the Velvet Record Store on the Rozengracht was having "Record Store Day", with different live bands playing every half hour on the sidewalk in front of the store. We were lucky enough to catch Maison du Malheur, a four-piece band consisting of electric guitar, banjo, saxophone and tuba. They were great.

    We took tram 14 to the Keizergracht to visit the Museum van Loon (Museumkaart) which is a period canal house dating from 1672. The original van Loon was one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company, which was reflected in the furnishings of the family home. We took the self guided tour through the first floor parlors, the second floor bedrooms, and the kitchen in the basement. We crossed through the backyard garden to the carriage house, where there was a special exhibition on Adriaen Dortsman, the architect behind the van Loon house and many of the other houses along the canals. It was interesting to see how the upper crust lived all those hundreds of years ago. BJ and I are both interested in architecture, so I'm glad we took the time to visit the house. If not for the Museumkaart, we probably never would have considered this museum.

    We were feeling hungry after our canal house experience, but we didn't have enough time to sit down and enjoy lunch. We had to meet friends in less than a half hour. So we trammed down to the Dam and picked up some Prawn Sate from Wok to Go on the Damstraat, and wolfed them down as we hustled our butts over to Voyagers.

    We had a nice get together, but we were still a bit hungry afterwards, so we walked down the Zeedijk to Wijs & Zohen, which is a tea house that has really good sandwiches, and beer. We both ordered Gerookte Kip, which was smoked chicken with cream cheese and parmesan cheese. Mmmm... delicious.

    It turned out to be a beautiful Saturday in Amsterdam, which was evident by the amount of people on the Dam and bikes parked in front of the Bijenkorf. And if it's Saturday in Amsterdam, that means it's "stag party" time. I understand the camaraderieship of hanging with your buddies, but I don't get some of the costumes; I thought the man wearing a diaper, bonnet, and sucking a pacifier was a bit weird, but tonight it was a seven foot tall penis walking around with his friends. Yikes!

    After buying some beer at the Albert Hein for tomorrow's train ride, we retired to our hotel and packed for the early morning journey to Germany. Heidelberg here we come....

    http://www.guntersenmeuser.nl/

    http://www.museumvanloon.nl/eng/home.php

    http://www.wijs-zonen.nl/index2.php

    Robyn :)>-

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    irishface - I have tried many of the different fruit Looza's, which were all very good, but I keep going back to the Strawberry. Erin go Bragh!

    bettyk - I've read many of your trip reports, so it was probably your recommendations that helped steer us towards those three hotels. Thank you! We weren't disappointed.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY FIVE (Sun 21 April) AMSTERDAM, HEIDELBERG

    No time for breakfast at the hotel this morning, we had to catch the 8:05 train to Heidelberg, Germany. With advice from the Fodor's Forum, we had purchased our train tickets 3 months in advance on the bahn.de website so we could get the discount rate. The on-line transaction went very smooth, and it was nice to be able to print out several copies of the tickets... just in case.

    We taxied to Centraal Station with a half hour to spare, but became concerned when we didn't see our train listed on the departure board. We walked up to the platform indicated on our tickets and discovered we were the only ones there. What happened to the train we had purchased tickets for?

    We inquired at the International Desk, and were told, "Oh, that train left early", of which we informed the desk lady, "That's not the way it's supposed to work!" She re-booked us on the 9:44, which means we would be getting into Heidelberg too late to visit the castle, one of the reasons we chose the city as a destination. Oh well, this is what happens when you put your plans in the hands of the German Rail system.

    So it's 7:45 on a Sunday morning, and here we are, standing in Amsterdam's Centraal Station with all our luggage, and nowhere to go for the next two hours! BJ remembers that Centraal Coffeeshop, directly across from Centraal Station, opens at 7:00 am, so that became our welcome respite until it was time to finally depart from Amsterdam.

    We arrived in Heidelberg, Germany at 16:12, only three and a half hours behind schedule. We taxied to our hotel, the Goldener Hecht (€91,00), which is located on the corner just beyond the Alte Brücke. We checked into Room #32, billed as the Mark Twain Room for its view of the Neckar River and the bridge. It was a nice size, simply decorated, clean room, although the floor was pitched, but I guess that's to be expected in some of these old buildings.

    We spent the next two hours wandering the streets of the altstadt, taking time to explore the 15th century Heiliggeistkirche, the 18th century Jesuitenkirche, and the Providenzkirche. We admired the beautifully carved facade of the Haus zum Ritter, passed by the Alte Universität, and gazed longingly at the castle on the hill, imagining what we could have explored.

    There were many dining options to choose from, with most restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk in front of their establishment. We finally decided on Vetter's alt-Heidelberger Brauhaus, (Steingasse 9), mostly because of the word Brauhaus. Not bad beer at all, we opted for their Helles Heffeweissen.... ((b)) BJ had the rump steak and I had the Schwine Schnitzel (€37,10).

    After dinner we retired back at the hotel, and watched the boat traffic on the river, and the foot traffic on the Alte Brücke from our Mark Twain window, as the sun set on the first day of our German Journey.

    http://www.hotel-goldener-hecht.de/
    http://www.brauhaus-vetter.de/

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY SIX (Mon 22 April) OBERÖWISHEIM, EPPINGEN, MAULBRONN, TÜBINGEN

    It was a cool, overcast morning as we awoke in Heidelberg. We took a final stroll of the altstadt, stopping for coffee since breakfast was not included in the hotel price. We walked across the Alte Brücke and started the switch-backed climb up the Philosophenweg, which offered a magnificent view of the city and it's (unexplored for us) castle. We would have liked to keep climbing the slopes of the Heiligenberg, and checking out all the views and greenery that was just beginning to bud, but it was time to walk back down the hill and check out of the Hotel Goldener Hecht (€91,00).

    We taxied to the Sixt Car Rental office, and picked up our wheels for the 7-day car journey through Baden-Wurttemberg. We thought we were going to get a VW Golf, so we were quite pleased when they pointed us towards an Audi A3, with a built in GPS. And let me tell you, that GPS came in handy, even if it was programmed in German. We don't own a GPS (we live in rural Pennsylvania), and have always relied on the old fashioned method of reading maps to travel across the United States and southern France, and we will continue to use maps when we travel, but we've become new converts to the value of a GPS. Okay, I know we're a little late to the game, but we still use a rotary phone for our land-line.

    Our first destination for the day is Oberöwisheim, an easy 45 minute drive south of Heidelberg. I can trace my mother's ancestral roots back to my 9th GGFather, born c.1590's, who came from this little wine-making village among the rolling hills of the Kraichtal. We first explored the outskirts of the village, driving up the hill where the former castle stood, now replaced by the Burggartenschule, and then stopped briefly at the Catholic Church. We walked around the Evang. Church, with its 14th century tower and outside pulpit dating from 1477. This is the church where my people would have come to worship. Then we drove down to the center of town and walked up and down the streets that my grandfolks would have trod upon. It was an overwhelming moment to be walking in their footsteps.

    In the 1680's my 7th GGMother hooked up with some dude from Eppingen, so that would be our second destination on my Mom's Heritage Tour. We drove 30 minutes east and arrived in this wonderfully preserved fachtwerk town, which is part of the German Fachtwerkstrasse. We parked by the train station, and walked across the street to the Fachtwerkpfad in the park. This is an excellent free display of the different types of fachtwerk that you see in the buildings, like St. Andrew's Cross, Alemanic Woman, Wilde Man or Frankish Man. Unfortunately the signage is all in German, but at least you can identify the name to the type of construction. This came in handy as we walked around the timbered streets that encircle the town, gazing at the many fine examples hidden in plain view. It was like a game of "I Spy... the Frankish Man in that building over there."

    Using the handy-dandy walking guide that I printed from Eppingen's website, we covered most of the 27 points of interest, including the oldest house, the Bäckerhaus dating from 1412 (that's 601 years old!!), and the prettiest, the Baumann'sches Haus dating from 1582, and currently housing the Hotel Wilde Rose; the Alte Universität (1494/95) which served as Heidelberg's University when theirs was shut down during the plague; the Ratsschänke (1483) which adjoined the medieval market place, perhaps where my kinfolk did their shopping; the Katholische Kirche (1435) with its ornate cemetery and macabre death march mural; the Alte Synagoge (1731), tucked into a side street, with its amazingly preserved Mikwe Jordanbad; and the 13th century Pfeifferturm, which was part of the original city wall, used as a prison in the 1800's, and today serves as a base for an abstract modern art installation.

    We stopped for sandwiches at Cafe Muller, located on the Marktplatz which was decorated with a beautiful Maypole draped in flags representing the town's different guilds/trades. The Rathaus from 1820 looked out of place and "modern" nestled between several timbered buildings. Earlier in the day I had dropped my camera and it broke open, but I was able to force it back together.... but for how long would it continue to work? So when we spotted a camera store across the street, we decided to go in and buy a second camera.... just in case. It proved to be good insurance as I'm still using my old camera, and the new one is still packed in its original box!

    It was about 15:00 when we left Eppingen and drove 20 minutes SW to Gölshausen, where my 5th GGParents were married in 1748. (Three years later they immigrated to Philadelphia.) We arrived to find the streets in the middle of town, where the only church is located, under construction. BJ pulled over long enough for me to jump out, and photograph the church, which had a date stone of 1862, long after my GGParents had left their homeland. I'll choose to believe this was a modern replacement to my ancestors house of worship.

    Back in the car we're now headed 15 minutes SE to Maulbronn Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site, founded in 1147. We had visited Maulbronn in 2007, but we arrived too late to tour the Monastery. So today we arrived in plenty of time, only to discover the monastery bathed in scaffolding. I know... scaffolding is a good thing. That means the building is being restored for future generations - but it's still a bummer, when I'm the "now" generation and have to look at everything through metal barricades. It does help that BJ is a tradesman, and we've taken to looking at the scaffolding as an intricate piece of sculpture.

    What we did get to see of the medieval monastery was hauntingly beautiful. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, except for the handful of workers milling about, so it was very quiet, much the way it might have been when the monks walked around the cloisters, meditating in silence. We explored through the Klosterkirche, with its gothic wooden-carved choir stalls and plainly decorated interior. The Brunnenkapelle and the Kalefaktorium were of special interest to my husband, the plumber. The Inner Courtyard, I'm sure would be a lovely place to sit and contemplate, but today it served as a base for some amazing scaffolding.

    We walked around Maulbronn and the farm complex (free to the public), admiring the collection of stone and half-timbered buildings clustered around the monastery, including the impressive 9-story Granary. We found an outdoor seat at Zur Kloster-Katz Weinstube-Cafe where I had a glass of their house wine and BJ had a coffee (he's driving). We bought a bottle of their Riesling for later, and then climbed the stairs of the fortification wall, to the vineyards criss-crossing the hills above Maulbronn. Following the trail, we ended up in the cemetery, which was lovingly tended to by the dead one's survivors.

    By 17:30 we were on the road to Tübingen, our final destination for the day. It was a 2 hour drive which took us through Hirsau and Calw. Our plan was to do a quick stop in one, or both places, but it began to rain en route, so we decided to drive straight through. Point of interest, or not, we passed the enormous amazon.de complex somewhere along the way. Wow!... lots of commerce.

    Arriving in Tübingen, we easily found the Hotel Hospisz, which is located right behind the Marktplatz. The hotel attendant parked our car in their garage (additional fee), while we checked into Room #213, a modernly decorated spacious room with a mini fridge, and started chilling the Kloster-Katz wine. With umbrella in hand, we did a walkabout of the center of Tubingen, on the prowl for dinner. We walked up and down the hilly medieval streets, and ended up on the Kornhausstrasse, near the Crooked Bridge, at Krumme Brücke Steakhäusle, where we dined on traditional Schwäbische Roast Beef - knives not required - washed down with a couple of Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbiers ((b)) (€36,60).

    Feeling fully sated, we slowly wandered back to the hotel and passed out, exhausted from an emotion-filled day of travelling.

    http://www.kraichtal.de/index.php?id=100
    http://www.eppingen.de/kultur-und-freizeit/stadtrundgang.html
    http://www.deutsche-fachwerkstrasse.de/uk/index.php
    http://www.kloster-maulbronn.de/en/maulbronn-monastery/
    http://www.hotel-hospiz.de/index.php?m=0&s=0&page=1&l=1
    http://www.krumme-bruecke.de/

    Robyn :)>-

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    PalenQ - Thanks for reading along. Be patient, I'll be back in Amsterdam in a week... And thanks for your thread ALL about Amsterdam, which was helpful in our planning.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY SEVEN (Tues 23 April) HOHENZOLLERN, SCHILTACH, ALPIRSBACH, BADEN-BADEN, TÜBINGEN

    Breakfast at the Hotel Hospiz was a delicious spread of your normal German design, only on steroids, with multiple options of breads, meats, cheeses, cereals, fruit, juices, etc. There was even a platter of tomato and mozzarella! We happily bulked up on enough to sustain us into the afternoon.

    Our car was ready for us by 9:00, when we made the easy 35 minute drive south to Schloss Hohenzollern, which is a restored-in-the-mid-19th-century castle majestically perched on the top of a mountain overlooking Hechingen. We drove to the parking lot (€2,00), then took the bus (€3,00 RT each) to the castle entrance, where we opted for tickets with access just to the outside grounds (€5,00 each, additional fee for inside tour in German).

    We walked up the three-story circular ramp, crossing over several draw-bridges, and passing through many gates, until we came to the Eagle Gateway, so named for the seal of the Prussian Eagle. We ascended the last incline, which opened up to the castle's vast courtyard with gardens. We walked through the protestant Christ's Chapel on one side of the courtyard, and the competing catholic St. Michael's Chapel on the opposite side. Our admission also included entrance to the 15th century casemates, which were recently rediscovered and opened to the public. We walked around the bastions encircling the castle, taking in the breathtaking, but somewhat overcast view of the Swabian countryside.

    By 11:30 we were descending the mountain back to the parking lot, along with a bus load of school kids. After a 70 minute car ride west, into the edge of the Black Forest, we came to Schiltach, another town listed on the Fachwerkstrasse. But it wasn't timbered houses that brought us to this quaint town. It was... their Bathroom Museum. Yes, we drove across Germany just to visit a museum dedicated to 700 years of bathing (remember, my husband is a plumber).

    We easily found the Hansgrohe Aquademie, but were sorely disappointed to learn that the museum was closed for renovations. However, their Shower World and Bath Design exhibits were open (free), so we spent some time playing in the water, while learning that the German's have some interesting designs when it comes to water distribution and conservation. At the end of our visit, Hansgrohe invited us to relax with a complimentary cup of coffee, tea, or fresh squeezed orange juice before we got on our way. Nice hosts!

    Afterwards, we walked through the Städtle, or old town, where the streets are lined with timber-framed homes of many colors and designs (I spy.... the Alemanic Woman over there). Because the town sits on a hill, it gives the appearance that the buildings are stacked on top of each other. The Rathaus, which sits at the highest point on the triangular Marktplatz, is adorned with paintings of the town's history, including 3 fires during the 1500's, the worst in 1590, which claimed most of the buildings in town. The Apotheke Museum and the Museum am Markt also sit on the Marktplatz, as well as the Town Well, which dates to the 15th century.

    Schiltach sits at the confluence of the Schiltach and Kinzig Rivers, and gained its wealth from trades made on the river - milling, tanning and rafting. There is a museum dedicated to these crafts which can be visited. Because of its location, the lower part of town has been flooded many times over the years, which is evidenced on the corner of one of the buildings with high water marks (we can certainly empathize with the Schiltachers).

    We could have stayed the rest of the day in Schiltach - it turned out to be an unexpected gem - but we were off to our next stop, Alpirsbach, an easy 15 minute drive north. Alpirsbach is known for its monastery and brewery. It turned out the brewery is a large plant on the edge of town, although they have a brewery museum by the monastery. I guess the town was still on winter hours because everything seemed to be closed. We walked around a while, taking pictures of the outside of the monastery and the fachwerk buildings in town.

    We proceeded north to Freudenstadt, and drove past the largest square in Germany, and then picked up Route 500, the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse, which runs 60 kilometers north to Baden-Baden, along the mountain ridge at heights exceeding 3200 feet, and offering spectacular views of the valleys below. We stopped in Mummelsee, which is a small glacial lake located at the foot of the Hornisgrinde, the highest point in the Northern Black Forest, where we had dinner at the Berghotel Mummelsee, which sits on the shoreline. It was Schweinschnitzel and Pomme Frites for both of us, and a couple of hefeweissens to quench our thirst, ((b)) while we enjoyed the lovely view overlooking the lake (€39,70).

    We continued along the Hochstrasse, where it ends in Baden-Baden (elev 500 ft). We parked the car in a garage under the Kurhaus Casino, and began our quick trek around town. We're not interested in gambling, so we much more enjoyed walking around the outside of the Kurhaus and the nearby Trinkhalle, where a newlywed couple were staging their wedding photos. We crossed over to the Langestrasse, the main pedestrian street, but found everything closing up for the night. On the way back to the garage, we stopped for a frozen yogurt from a little shop which just opened 2 weeks prior, owned by some dude from San Francisco. He was a nice guy to talk with, and he had some delicious yogurt flavors. He was giving away free samples, that's what drew my husband in. I do believe it was the first time he ever had frozen yogurt!

    Back at the garage, we tried to use our credit card to exit, but quickly learned that we didn't have the proper card. We pushed the "HELP" button, which wasn't any help at all. The voice behind the button kept telling us he didn't speak English, as BJ tried to explain the situation. You would think they would have someone who was bilingual at this site which draws international travellers. But I guess I shouldn't really complain, since we're both humbled monolingual Americans. Luckily for us, a nice German woman, who was multilingual, came up behind us and wanted to leave. She instructed BJ to park the car, and follow her to somewhere behind a door in the wall. It turned out to be the cashiers desk at the casino, where he was able to pay for the parking.

    We were finally on our way back to Tübingen, via the Autobahn. BJ was excited about the prospect of driving on the no-holds-barred highway. He gets teased back home from his guy friends because the computer on his minivan shows an average speed of 29.4 miles per hour. So he was determined to break the myth that he's an old slow-poke. He topped out at 161 kph, and I have photographic proof.

    By 20:30 we arrived back at the Hotel Hospiz, and to a basket full of clean laundry. It was about half-way through our trip, and we were running out of underware, so we opted to spring the bucks for the hotel laundry service. We were tired after a busy day and decided to settle in for the night and enjoy our nicely chilled bottle of Riesling from the Kloster-Katz in Maulbronn.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hohenzollern_Castle
    http://www.schiltach.de/en/Home
    https://pro.hansgrohe-int.com/3683.htm
    http://www.stadt-alpirsbach.de/en/Tourism+Leisure/Stadt-Info-Office
    http://www.schwarzwaldhochstrasse.de/1-1-Schwarzwaldhochstrasse---Paradise-of-nature-and-experiences.html
    http://www.mummelsee.de/en

    Robyn :)>-

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    Really enjoying your trip report, Robyn. We loved Tuebingen and Burg Hohenzollern. We also visited nearby Hechingen and Herrenberg and found them both to be delightful. Funny how there are so many charming little towns in Germany!

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    DAY EIGHT (Wed 24 April) TÜBINGEN, LICHTENSTEIN, GROSSE LAUTER, SIGMARINGEN, MEERSBURG

    Happy Birthday to me... Today is my birthday, and we're going to spend it exploring castles. It's also Market Day in Tübingen, which is where we started our morning. By 8:00 we were on the Marktplatz, checking out the vendor stalls which filled the square and adjoining medieval rolling streets. We made our way down to the Neckar River, where the punts were docked beneath a wispy weeping willow. We walked along the narrow path, the Zwingel, towards the Hölderlinturm, the yellow tower which hugs the bank of the river. The morning sun was shining, the skies were blue, and we had the riverfront all to ourselves. It was a perfect birthday morning.

    We made our way back up to the town, checking out different buildings along the way, including the ornately painted house at Neckargasse 2, St. George's Collegiate Church, the Cotta Publishing Haus, the Alte Aula (old University Assembly Hall), the University Prison, the Burse and the Protestant Seminary. We ended back on the Marktplatz, where the sun was shining bright against the magnificent Rathaus, which dates from 1435. The elaborate neo-renaissance style paintings adorning the facade, the astronomical clock from 1511, and the oriel-style covered balcony puts this Rathaus right up there with Bamberg's Rathaus. In front of the Rathaus, the fountain featuring Neptune with his trident (1617) was surrounded by vendors, as it probably has been on a regular basis for the last 400 years.

    We walked down the historic Judengasse to the Ammergasse, where the Ammer canal flows through the town and under the Krumme Brücke or Crooked Bridge. A flower market was set up on the bridge, adding to the charming beauty. We finally made our way back to the center of town, and took the narrow Burgsteige, which runs next to our hotel, up to Schloss Hohentübingen (c.16th century), which is now part of the University. From the outer fortification wall, we had an excellent view over the Neckar and Ammer valleys. We crossed through the portal, and wandered around the square courtyard. We discovered a plaque honoring Friedrich Miescher from Basel, who, in 1869, in the former kitchen of the castle, isolated Nuklein, an acidic substance from the nuclei of human cells which contains DNA. Pretty cool! And so long ago.

    We walked back down the Burgsteige to our hotel, and had another sumptuous breakfast before checking out. Overall, we enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Hospiz and would recommend it to anyone spending time in Tübingen. The room and hotel were clean and modern, the staff was friendly and helpful, breakfast was sumptuous, and they had a lift if you didn't want to climb the stairs. (€115,00/night w/ breakfast + €9,00/night parking. Laundry €32.40 and worth it).

    By 10:15 we were on our way to Schloss Lichtenstein, a 40 minute drive to the southeast. We arrived in Honau, a sliver of a valley which lays at an elevation of 1800 feet at the base of the castle. We ascended the mountain on a series of switchbacks, to an elevation of 2700 ft., and we were now on the Swabian Jura. Within minutes we arrived at the parking lot for the castle (€2,00), and paid the entrance fee (€6,00 each) which included a guided tour in German (with an English cheat sheet). We wandered around the castle grounds, waiting for the next tour, while taking lots of pictures of the castle perched precariously on its limestone outcrop, with the Lilliputian-sized valley below.

    Finally, the tour begins, and we cross the drawbridge into the castle, which dates from 1388, but was refurbished to its current state in 1842 as a man-cave for one of the Dukes of Württemberg. We tour through the usual castle rooms - the Armory, the Chapel, the Knight's Hall, the King's Room, and the most important room, the Drinking Room, complete with a huge champagne glass, nearly two meters long!

    As we were walking back to the parking lot, we discovered a really cool high-ropes Adventure Park tucked into the woods surrounding the castle. We're both way past the age to start climbing around on ropes in the trees, but we thought it would have been cool to grow up as kids, playing in the forest around the castle.

    We drove south on a series of roads through the Swabian Alb, towards the Große Lauter River Valley, which is said to have one of the highest concentration of castles and ruins in Germany (a shout out and thank you to "bigtyke" for supplying this information) . Along the way we passed by Offenhausen, where the Große Lauter River begins, and from there we continued to follow the river as it snakes through the countryside. We passed by Marbach, where they have been breeding horses for 500 years. BJ dropped me off at the stable, then circled around while I quickly cruised the grounds, taking some pictures and looking for the horses. I didn't see any. Not in the stables, not in the corral, not in the fields. I did see two very large bags of carrots, so they must have the studs hidden somewhere.

    Back in the car, we proceeded on to Route K6769 at Buttenhausen, and began the 20 km section of the river valley road with a castle around each bend...literally. The first castle we spotted was Hohenhundersingen, a ruin of its former self. Three towers and a few foundations are all that remain. Around the next mountainous hill we came to the town of Bichishausen and its Burg Ruin, which at least had several walls remaining. Sitting below the castle is the onion domed St. Gallus Kirche. We stopped for a beer/coffee at the outdoor cafe along the river, where you can rent canoes or kayaks to float on the idyllic water. ((b))

    A short drive down the road and around another mountainous hill and we're in Gundelfingen, where they have 2 castles; Niedergundelfingen, nestled in the valley on a small hill next to Burg Kapelle St. Michael, and Burg Hohengundelfingen, perched 300 feet above the town. We found the narrow road which leads up to the parking area, and then took off by foot on the forest trail to the castle ruins. BTW, almost all of the castle ruins along the Große Lauter Valley can be visited, and are free of charge. Within ten minutes we were climbing around and exploring the well preserved and maintained remains of this 13th century castle. We were excited to discover mason's marks carved in the stone, including a compass and a yin & yang symbol. The views below of the lush green valley with the river twisting and winding through it were exceptional.

    Back on the valley floor, we continued south to Junction K6750 and Burg Derneck. The parking lot has a hikers hut (all of the castles are accessible through a series of hiking trails) and a playground, including a small zip line which we took turns playing on. After a 10-15 minute hike up a dirt road, we reached this exquisite 14th century castle which has been extensively renovated to include a little cafe and hikers hostel, part of the Schwabisch Alb Wanderheim. The four outbuildings, white-washed with red tile roofs, join with the stone defensive wall and tower to form a circle with a central courtyard. After climbing the tower and spotting Hohengundelfingen across the valley, we enjoyed a snack from the cafe, then stopped at the little hikers chapel outside the castle wall on the way back to the car. Of course, we had to play on the zip line a few more times before heading off on our next adventure.

    Continuing south on K6769, we paused briefly in Weiler at the Otmarskapelle for a photo op, then turned on to Route L249, where we stopped to check out the Wimsener Hohle and Wasserfalls. The Hohle, or cave, is the only water cave in Germany, accessible only by boat. We live near Penn's Cave in Pennsylvania, America's only water cave, so we've already done that. But the waterfalls, now they were different and interesting. At Wimsener, the water erupts from many springs out of the ground, pushing up from the water cave, and flows across the land into a pool of water, which creates a creek. Downstream, the creek was dammed in the 12th century for a mill.

    Our next stop was at the Baroque Zwiefalten Abbey (1739-53), which dominates this small town on the edge of the Swabian Jura. We arrived too late for entrance to the church, which was covered in scaffolding (just the entrance), so we spent our time just walking around the Abbey and surrounding Klosterpark.

    It was another 40 minute ride through the countryside, passing the Eulogiuskappelle along the way, and then we arrived in Sigmaringen, which is dwarfed by the sprawling castle. We walked through the Alt Stadt and around the outside of the castle before we continued on to our final destination for the day, Meersburg, with its two-tiered town overlooking Lake Constance.

    Within an hour we were checking into the historical Hotel Zum Bären, Room 23, with the famous turret (it was featured on German currency). The room was tastefully decorated, with lots of room for BJ to pace. The turret had a round table and two cushioned chairs, for relaxing or watching the TV, which could be spun around so you could also watch from bed. The bathroom has a separate shower and bathtub, and up in the corner is a cornerstone dating from 1605, depicting a sun with a face.

    By 20:00 we were downstairs having dinner in one of their two dining rooms. I had Pork Medallions with Mushroom Sauce which melted in my mouth, and BJ had the Rump Steak, or what he claims to be "the best meal on the whole trip". He still gets excited when he reminisces about our dinner. Our beer for the evening was Farny Hefeweizen (€47,00). ((b))

    Having done enough hiking for one day, we decided to retire to the turret for the rest of the evening.

    http://www.schloss-lichtenstein.de/english/
    http://www.gestuet-marbach.de/pb/,Lde/Startseite/Service/English+Site
    http://www.hohen-hundersingen.de/
    http://www.burgenwelt.de/bichishausen/bichis.htm
    http://www.hohengundelfingen.de/
    http://tuerme-wanderheime.albverein.net/wanderheime/wanderheim-burg-derneck/
    http://www.alb-tourismus.de/2013/09/hayingen-wimsen-wimsener-wasserfall.html
    http://www.zwiefalten.de/servlet/PB/menu/-1_l1/index.html
    http://www.schloss-sigmaringen.de/
    http://www.baeren-meersburg.de/neu/

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY NINE (Thurs 25 April) MEERSBURG

    This was a free day in Meersburg, with no particular agenda except to sleep in, so I was annoyed when I was awaken at 6:30 to the sound of cars and trucks outside our windowed turret. Adjusting to the sound, I was able to doze off again, until 8:00, when the church bells began to ring for several minutes, like it was the towns alarm clock... get up and start your day. Which we did.

    The Hotel Zum Bären offered a nice German breakfast buffet, with various meats and cheeses, breads, rolls, yogurt, cereal, juices and boiled eggs. After breakfast we wandered around the inside of the hotel, just admiring the old architecture, furniture and art. Between the first and second floors runs a fantastic support post which is ornately carved with scenes of a vineyard.

    It was 10:30 by the time we hit the streets and hills of Meersburg, which is divided into the upper Oberstadt, where the Hotel Zum Bären is located, and the lower Seaside. We walked down the Steigstraße, which is the main pedestrian walkway that connects the Ober and Unter stadts, passing medieval charm everywhere we looked; the timbered houses lining the street, the Alte Schloss perched on a hill, cornerstones dating from the 1500's, weathervanes, fountains, sculptures, trompe l'oeil, and finally the Bodensee (or Lake Constance) right in front of us. Today was the first really warm day on our trip, and probably the first for the spring season. The sky was as blue as the lake, with the horizontal swath of Switzerland serving as the dividing line. To the east were the Alps, although we couldn't see them through the morning haze.

    We promenaded along the Seepromenade (in our own silly way), and out onto the jetty with the most bizarre statue depicting demons flying out of some dude's ass and a naked woman sitting with legs splayed on a cluster of grapes, among other thought provoking figures. It's certainly a statue you would never see in the Puritanical States of America.

    We walked back up the Steigstraße with a bit more effort than it took to walk down (100 ft elevation over .20 mile), to the 16th century Altes Schloss, Germany's oldest inhabited castle (€15.30 w/ disc for 2). Outside of the castle, nestled between the wall of the castle mill and the rock which the castle sits on, is a very large ancient waterwheel, which is still turning after all these years, fed by just a trickle of water. We crossed the drawbridge, which sits on a trestle 40 feet off the ground, and spent the next hour and a half exploring this magnificent castle steeped in history. They offered a tour in German, but we preferred to just wander through the castle on our own self-guided tour.

    Afterwards we meandered around the Oberstadt, past the Neues Schloss and the Rathaus, then back to the Marktplatz where our hotel is located. We eventually made our way back down to the Seepromenade, checked the departure times for Mainau - a boat just left - and made the decision to not visit the island. This was a hard one to make, since we both enjoy gardens, but it had been such a cold spring this year, and there was literally nothing in bloom... anywhere. No flowers, no leaves on the trees, nothing. In fact, it was so cold this spring, the Dutch had to import tulip bulbs from Spain for their annual Flower Parade! Plus, the timing for the boat launch just wasn't working out.

    Instead, we ended up at Zum Alten Fass, a little Seaside cafe, where we enjoyed a couple of Meckatzer Hefeweizens ((b)) while we watched the boat traffic on the lake. By now, the sun was shining bright in the sky, the Alps with their snowcaps were visible, and there were tourists everywhere, which meant lots of people watching.

    Needing to shed our jackets, we hiked up to our hotel for a little respite. Before I knew it, BJ was telling me to grab my camera and follow him. It turns out he got into a conversation with Michael Gilowsky, the owner of the hotel, about the heating system in this wonderful 400 year old structure. The next thing I know we were in parts of the building that most visitors never see, including the kitchen, which was impressively spotless clean. Returning to the lobby after our unique tour, Michael was greeted by an older woman carrying a very large bear skin. It seems she shot it in Romania on a hunting trip many years ago, and now she is downsizing and donating it to the Hotel Zum Bären - The Bear.

    One of the built in fees/perks of your hotel cost in Meersburg is a card which gets you a discount on admission fees plus free bus transportation. The closest bus stop from our hotel was an easy walk through the gate in the Obertor, to outside the city wall. So off we went on our bus ride, which took us through the residential area of Meersburg, then down the hill to the lake side.

    We went back to Zum Alten Fass, for more beer ((b)) and Flammkuchen, which we watched everyone else eat when we were there earlier. Unfortunately, our waitress was a bit daft, and forgot to put our order in. After a half hour, and watching others get served who came in after us, we finally said something. Totally unapologetic, it took another half hour to get our Flammkuchen, which wasn't worth the wait.

    Still a bit hungry, we walked down the street to Hotel Zum Schiff and found a table right next to the lake. I ordered a bowl of Bouillon mit Hausgemachten (beef broth with herbed pancake slices) which I had on a trip to Germany in 2007, and had been yearning for since. BJ couldn't wait to get to the Black Forest, and ordered a huge slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. We both enjoyed sharing each other's selections.

    It was 18:30 when we caught the bus back up to our hotel, where BJ took a nap and I sat in my Rapunzel tower (I do have waist length hair), glued "stuff" into my travel journal, and watched Star Trek: Deep Space 9 in German.

    By 20:20 we were back down on the Seepromenade, and watched as the sun set over Switzerland, in a glorious array of red, yellow and orange hues. It was a spectacular end to an absolutely awesome day. This time we decided to climb the stairway to the oberstadt, which switchbacks through the vineyard. Part way up, we paused to rest on a bench, and watch the full moon rise in the east.

    As we wandered around the oberstadt, we heard music coming from the church, so we decided to investigate. We slipped in the side door and discovered the community orchestra and choir rehearsing. It was such a thrill to be able to hear the church filled with such beautiful music. What a perfect way to end the evening.

    http://www.burg-meersburg.de/

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY TEN (Fri 26 April) BIRNAU, HOHENTWIEL, STEIN AM RHEIN, WISEN

    It was Market Day in Meersburg, so we did a final quick walkabout of the oberstadt, including past the Schnabelgierebrunnen, which spit water at us. Back at the Hotel Zum Bären, we had another sumptuous breakfast then checked out, but not before Michael shuffled us down the block to another building, to show off his heating system there. BJ was just thrilled. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Zum Bären, and would encourage anyone who visits Meersburg to experience this wonderful hotel and restaurant. The building and its furnishings are like a museum, and the food was excellent. Michael and his staff were both friendly and professional. In fact, when we were planning our trip, we contacted them about laundry service. They informed us that the hotel did not have a laundry service, but they would be happy to take a load home overnight and wash it for us! Such nice people! (€114/night + €6.50/night parking)

    We left Meersburg via the Bodensee shore road, and stopped 15 minutes later in Birnau at the humongous salmon-colored Bascillica. No photos allowed inside. We discovered a local artist, Norbert Sand, selling his artwork from his motor home in the parking lot. We purchased a matted and framed watercolor of Meersburg's Altes Schloss, and learned that he spent 3 months touring through North America in his motor home - he had it shipped over to the States and back.

    We continued west for 35 minutes to Festung Hohentwiel, the ruins of a mighty 10th century fortress built on top of an 800 foot high volcanic rock, which makes for an imposing location. We drove partway up the mountain to the car park, then proceeded on the path to the entrance, a 275' upward ascent, passing by the castle's farm, which is still in operation. We quickly became dismayed when we discovered that we should have purchased an entrance ticket at the car park. There was a ticket kiosk at the castle entrance, but it wasn't opened. I informed BJ that if I hiked down the hill, I wasn't going to hike back up again. Noticing our disappointment, a nice German couple told us to wait about 15 minutes, and the kiosk should open (thank you, thank you!). Within 10, we had our tickets (€3.50 each) and were inside the castle grounds, which covers 22 acres and an additional 225' elevation. The ruins are divided into the lower and upper fortresses, with a long sloping cobblestoned ramp connecting the two. We had a glorious time exploring the buildings, ramparts, casemates, and towers, finding the Mason's marks, and fantasizing about life on the hill during the last 1000 years. The ruins are well posted with signs, depicting the layout of the fortress during its heyday. BTW, a special shout-out to quokka for suggesting Hohentwiel. It has become one of our favorite ruins.

    While walking around the ruins, we came upon a Golden Retriever puppy, resting on the ground with his owner. When the pup saw BJ, he promptly got up with his leash in his mouth, and approached BJ, looking for attention. We were both thrilled to be able to get some quality puppy time, having left behind our own furry creatures; a dog who is the Center of the Universe, and two tom-cat brothers who love each other one moment, and fight like enemies the next. We also met a guy from Newtown, Pennsylvania, close to where we both grew up, who is now living in Tübingen with his German wife. He also loves to explore castles, so we told him all about the Grosse Lauter Valley, of which he never heard about before. I love sharing travel tips.

    Back at the car park, we walked through the foliage covered little cemetery, which had many old tombstones - a rarity in Germany. We also checked out the stone bank-barn, which serves as the official ticket office/gift shop/museum for Hohentwiel, and then crossed the road to the Hotel Restaurant Hohentwiel for cheesecake, and coffee for BJ and a Sanwald Hefeweizen for me. ((b))

    Continuing south for 15 minutes, we crossed the border into Switzerland and arrived in Stein am Rhein, where the Rhein River flows out of Lake Constance. We easily found the car park just outside the town's walls, and had to laugh when we saw two nicely dressed women pushing a guy in a Mercedes Benz through the lot, trying to get the car started.

    We picked up a City Map listing the many points of interest, and proceeded to do a self-guided walkabout of this charming medieval town with its abundance of oriel windows, timbered buildings and trompe l'oeil facades. Of special note is the Rathaus and the many buildings lining the Rathausplatz. We also visited the 12th century Stadtkirche, and walked about the 1000 year old Kloster St. Georgen.

    It was 15:00 when we left Stein am Rhein and Switzerland, heading west through Schaffhausen. We had planned to stop in the town known for its oriel windows, but it was drizzling, the traffic was too crazy, and we couldn't find an above ground car park (didn't want to get stuck again in a garage without the right credit card). So onward we continued to Bad Säckingen, known for its wooden bridge spanning the Rhein. By now it was pouring rain, and neither of us relished the idea of getting wet just to see a bridge, so we crossed the Rhein River, re-entering Switzerland, and then drove the back roads to Sissach and on to Wisen, a small (pop. 400+) farming village set among rolling pastures dotted with sheep and fruit trees, our final destination for the evening.

    As we've been driving through the countryside these last couple of days we have noticed many patches of blooming tulips by the side of the road. Apparently, you can just pull over and cut your own tulips, and I suppose, pay for them on the honor system. What a cool idea! If we were staying in one place for more than a night or two, I would definitely cut some tulips for my travel vases. My friend gave me a set of these flat, plastic vases; you run the vase under hot water, and then shape it and add cold water. We've used them several times; they work pretty well.

    It was 19:00 when we checked into the Gasthof Lowen, Room #3. The gasthof was recently renovated, so the room was modern and clean. Our room in the front of the hotel had a view of the town church and rolling hills, although we mostly saw grey rain clouds hanging low in the sky.

    After a short respite, and catching up on the BBC news, we went downstairs to their restaurant and dined; steak with spargle for BJ and schweinschnitzel for me. Our beer for the evening was Appenzeller Weizenbier. ((b))

    By 21:30 we were in bed, passed out, although we awoke in the middle of the night to a pounding rain storm.

    http://www.birnau.de/
    http://www.sand-bilder.de/
    http://www.festungsruine-hohentwiel.de/en/
    http://www.gasthof-loewen-wisen.ch/

    Robyn :)>-

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    Hi Robyn -
    I'm really enjoying your report. My husband is half German and his mother lived in Switzerland for many years as well, so it's nice to read about your travels. We've been to both countries many times, but not the places you mention here.

    I also see you have the same fondness for hefeweizen as my husband! I think he would move there again just for the beer. :)

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    Robyn, I'm so enjoying your trip report and reading about many of the things that we also did on our trips to that part of Germany and Switzerland.

    We loved Tuebingen and Meersburg and especially the Gasthof zum Baeren. Michael is such a nice man and proudly told us about his family's history with this hotel. Did you know he is also the Chef? And a very good one as you can attest!

    It was interesting that you mentioned the golden retriever puppy as we have had goldens the last 20 yrs and always see quite a few when we travel in Germany. We have a darling photo of one in Gengenbach on market day, standing in front of the cheese seller waiting for a sample!!

    We spent 2 nights in Stein am Rhein and while we planned to drive over to Schaffhausen, enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of SaR too much to leave.

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    Thank you, nicksgirl and bettyk, for reading along and the positive comments.

    nicksgirl - I used to be a wine drinker until our first trip to Germany in 2007. I enjoyed drinking wine when we were along the Rhine, but when we got to Bavaria I decided to try a hefeweizen, and I was hooked. It's now my choice of libation (don't forget to swirl). ((b))

    bettyk - We both thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Gasthof Zum Bären, and would go back in a heartbeat. It's on our top 5 favorite hotels. Just curious, which room did you stay in? They have so many nicely decorated rooms, it was hard to choose one.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY ELEVEN (Sat 27 April) HERITAGE TOUR, MUNSTERTAL, STAUFEN, TRIBERG, GENGENBACH

    We were awoken again at 6:00 am to the tolling of the church bells across the street - apparently Wisen's alarm clock goes off much earlier than Meersburg's. After a standard European breakfast, we did a quick walk-about Wisen, which pretty much consisted of the church, cemetery, gasthof and crossroads (with a sign pointing to Moskau - Peking). The rain had paused and we could see the many sheep dotting the hills surrounding the town. It was truly an idyllic country setting.

    I have been able to trace my father's ancestral roots back to the 1400's, from the Sissach region of Switzerland, which is what brought us to this area. So after checking out of the hotel (150.00CH, which was the most expensive on our trip, but then... we're in Switzerland) we spent the next three hours driving to, and walking through the towns of Känerkinden, Zunzgen, Sissach, Ramlinsburg and Itingen, embracing the ghosts of my father's ancestors.

    By noon we were crossing back in to Germany and heading north through the lower Black Forest. It was raining on and off, and the heavy grey clouds obscured many of the normally breathtaking views of the valleys below. Hidden in one of the valleys in Munsterhalden we discovered the Schnitzerstube, a multi-generational wood carving obsession. For a small fee, the current owner will let you wander through the house and grounds, where everything made of wood is exquisitely hand carved. The inside and outside of the house are covered with wood carvings, and the grounds are scattered with wood carved sculptures, benches, birdhouses, and the cutest little guinea pig huts I've ever seen. Definitely worth the stop.

    Continuing north a short distance, we stopped in Munstertal at St. Trudbert Monastery, primarily for the reliquary of St. Trudbert. My husband and I are hooked on reliquaries so we were looking forward to this church. But we got a second treat. Just as we arrived rehearsal began for their choir and band. It was such a thrill to sit, and listen to, and feel the voices and instruments reverberating off the walls of the church, while Trudbert stared at us through his jewel encrusted eyes.

    A short drive down the road and we arrived in the medieval and broken town of Staufen. I say broken because many of the buildings in town are literally..."broken". In the quest to heat the town hall with a geothermal system, developers unknowingly drilled and injected water into a layer of anhydrite, which converted to gypsum, swelled, and caused the town to rise up to 30 cm in places. As a result, over 260 buildings in town now have cracks running through them, with damage estimates at €50 million. It was sad to see the damage. But Staufen is a resilient town, as we soon discovered walking through the altstadt. There are several pictorial displays showing the area pre 1945 beside a picture of the same area after the bombing of February 8, 1945. The cracks in the buildings are nothing compared to the devastation suffered during WWII. Since then, most buildings have been restored back to their pre war state.

    Just about everywhere you walk in the center of town you can view the castle which rises from the hill above the terraced vineyards. And be careful where you walk - don't trip into a bächle, one of those little medieval drainage canals. Of course, a visit to Staufen wouldn't be complete without stopping by the Gasthaus zum Löwen, where Dr. Faustus is rumored to have sold his soul to the devil. Before leaving town we stopped by the Bäckerei Cafe Heitzmann for some sandwiches and Schwarzwalderkirschetorte. My beer for the afternoon was Rothaus Hochschwarzwald Hefewiezen. ((b))

    As a side oddity, it was in Staufen that we first started to notice these strange chalk markings above the entrance door to many homes, which read 20*C+M+B*13. We had no idea what they meant, but we continued to see them on many door lintels during the rest of our German Journey. Thanks to fellow Fodorite, Aramis, we have since learned that they are " a gentle reminder of God’s blessing, and a sign to all of a Christian home." The numbers represent the year, and the letters represent the names of the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, or they can also stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, the Latin words meaning, May Christ bless this home.

    We left Staufen and skirted around Freiburg, and drove B-31 through the Höllental (Hell's Valley), a 9 km stretch of road that snakes through the glacial gorge. We passed through the Hirschsprung (deer jump), which is the narrowest part of the gorge, at one time just 9 meters wide, now marked with a deer statue on a high, rocky outcrop. There was really nothing hellish about the valley, although I imagine before they built the 4 lane highway it would have been difficult to traverse.

    We soon turned north onto route 500, continuing our climb into the Black Forest. Unfortunately, the rain had returned, and it was too foggy to see any views. At times we were just happy that we could see the road. We knew we were up there, elevation wise, because of the piles of snow on the side of the road.

    We eventually arrived in Triberg, home to cuckoo clocks and a waterfall. We wanted to visit the House of 1000 Clocks, but quickly learned that it was actually located outside of town and had already closed for the day. Instead, we walked up and down the hilly street, and found a little cafe where we had coffee and orange juice. On the way out of town we did stop at the House of 1000 Clocks for a few photos of the outside of the store and the oversized clocks. We both felt Triberg was just a big tourist trap - kind of like Bushkill Falls in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, home to candles and waterfalls.

    By 19:00 we were rolling into our final destination for the day, Gengenbach, and the Hotel Sonne. We checked into Room #6, on the second floor, which was a large, very comfortably decorated room. From our window we had a view of the Town Square, the Berglekapelle perched on top of the hill surrounding the town, and the storks nest featured on the town's web cam. We did the estimate and decided we could get 3 Amsterdam hotel rooms into this one room in Gengenbach.

    After a much needed respite, and taking advantage of a little break in the rain, we set out on a quick walk about town, beginning with the town square and its salmon colored, Rococo Town Hall, which seemed a bit out of place among the medieval half-timbered buildings and fortification gates. We walked up to the Oberturm and climbed the stairs to the lower landing lookout, then followed the cobblestoned path which led us to the Färberhaus and the Schwedenturm. The gate was closed to the tower, so we kept moving on, and soon discovered Engelgasse (Angel's Alley), named for the charming half-timbered houses with their overhanging upper floors that line the street. Since winemaking was popular back in its day, most houses have an outside entrance to their wine cellars (how nice!). Along our walk we had noticed several buildings with very clever plaques or paintings depicting its history, many consumed by fire at one point in time. And, we also kept noticing the odd 20*C+M+B*13 symbols above many of the doors in town.

    It started raining, and the sun was setting, so we decided we would finish our walking tour in the morning, hopefully with better weather. We made our way back to the hotel for dinner, only to discover that the restaurant was very busy and all the tables were occupied. However, the hostess arranged for us to share a table with a lovely couple, Tom and Rita, from Great Britain, near Buckinghamnshire (where William Penn is buried), who had just finished ordering desert. BJ and I ordered the Sauerbraten (which delightfully melted in our mouths - €37.40), and then started talking about travel with Tom and Rita, waiting for our dinner to be served. Well Tom and Rita never left the table. We ended up spending the rest of the evening, right through our dinner and desert, engaged in delightful conversation with our hospitable dining partners.

    http://www.schnitzerstube.de/
    http://www.kloster-st-trudpert.de/
    http://www.dw.de/green-good-intentions-cause-chaos-in-two-german-towns/a-4473382
    http://www.blackforestinfo.com/regions/hoellental.htm
    http://sonne-gengenbach.de/
    http://www.stadt-gengenbach.de/de/Wetter_Webcam/

    Robyn :)>-

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    Robyn, I checked back in my trip reports to find the rooms we stayed in at the zum Baeren:

    From my 2010 trip report when our friend, Jeanette, accompanied us: We got to the Gasthof zum Bären around lunch time, unloaded our luggage, parked the car and checked in. The nice owner, Michael Gilowsky, upgraded Jeanette to a lovely double room (#12) on the 2nd floor for the same price as a single on the 3rd floor. We had room #11 on the 2nd floor.

    From our first stay in 2007: We were warmly greeted by Michael Gilowsky, the current owner whose family has owned and operated the hotel since 1805. We were shown to Room #10, a lovely room on the 1st floor (2nd floor to those in the US) overlooking the street below.

    Hope your weather improved in Gengenbach. It rained almost the entire time we were there but we still thought it was a most lovely little town.

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    My husband wanted to stay in Room #27, with the dark wood ceiling. I wanted to stay in Room #23, with the turret. I won because it was my birthday. But if we ever go back we'll probably request #27.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY TWELVE (Sun 28 April) SCHWARZWALDBAHN, TITISEE, FREIBURG, GENGENBACH

    We awoke to a rain free day in Gengenbach - woo hoo! The Hotel Sonne offered a very hearty European breakfast, with multiple choices of meats, cheeses, yogurt, cereals, eggs, breads, etc... including a fantastic fresh fruit salad and awesome pretzel rolls.

    By 9:15 we hit the streets of Gengenbach, this time exploring the area around the Benedictine Abbey and the Stadtkirche St. Marien. The church bells were ringing, and area residents were showing up for mass, so we only explored the grounds surrounding the cloister, where we discovered a lovely herb garden, which was just beginning to bloom, that stretched to the fortification walls and the Prälatenturm. There was also a replica of a section of the original fortification walls that use to surround the town that visitors can walk on.

    Being the consummate plumber, BJ was intrigued by the medieval mini aqueduct system which was used to power the water wheel for the Holzofenbäckerei and Klostermühle (bakery and mill). And we were both puzzled by a 50 foot pine tree, which was fallen and stripped of its bark, all except for the top 10 feet of branches, and which lay on the steps of the abbey. Hhmmm?

    We walked around the outside of the Kinzigtorturm, the main entrance into town, with its impaling type gate, then headed off to the Gengenbach train station. As part of the hotel fee, visitors are given a Konus Card, a pass for the public trains in the Black Forest, which includes the Schwarzwaldbahn, an engineering marvel including 39 tunnels and 2 viaduct crossings. We were happy to see Rita and Tom on the train platform, waiting for the 11:06 train to Donaueschingen (until our conversation last night at dinner, they were unaware of the train pass).

    We had an enjoyable 70 minute train ride through the Black Forest, at times paralleling the roads that we travelled yesterday. BJ enjoyed being a passenger for a change, and not the driver. Although it wasn't raining, the skies were still gray and cloudy, which obscured the scenery. Yeah, that, and the many tunnels. We had a 30 minute layover in Donaueschingen, where BJ and I shared a Fürstenberg Heffeweizen (since 1283). ((b)) By 12:48 we were all back on the train and heading for Titisee.

    Fifty minutes later our train was pulling into the tourist town along the See. The setting for the town and lake is lovely, nestled in between the mountains. It was a little too early in the season, and a bit too cold and windy, for anyone to take the boats out on to the lake, but that didn't stop the tourists from coming by the train and busloads to the town. Of course, we were one of those tourists, and we had Schwartzwalderkirchetort on our agenda.

    We parted ways with Rita and Tom (they were going to a cafe for a sandwich), and we headed to the Restaurant Seeblick, where we both had the most delicious trout, caught from the Titisee that morning, washed down with a couple of Rothaus Hefeweizens. ((b)) After scoping out the size of the slices of cake, we chose to share an order of Schwartzwalerkirchetort, which was light and rich at the same time.

    By 15:38 BJ and I were back on the train, heading for Freiburg, by way of the Höllental. We arrived at the bahnhof at 16:08, and then made our way across town via the Rathausgasse, passing the Neues Rathaus along the way, and a statue of Berthold Schwarz, who invented gunpowder back in 1350. We were careful to mind the Bächle along the streets as we continued on to the Münsterplatz and the impressive Münster, which dates from 1200. Standing out from the other buildings which line the Münsterplatz is the striking red Kaufhaus (buying house) and its twin turrets capped with multi-colored tiles.

    We walked down to the Martinstor, part of the 13th century fortification, which is now raped with the word "McDonald's" plastered above one of the red arches of the city gates. I'm surprised McDonald's hasn't paid to turn that arch golden. On Franziskanergasse (which is the name of our favorite beer) we found the ornately decorated bay window of the Haus zum Walfisch (Whale House), but we couldn't find a bar/cafe to sit and have a "Franzi".

    We were back at the bahnhof in time to catch the 18:03 to Offenburg, for a quick change of trains to Gengenbach. By 19:05 we were walking back to our hotel. As we approached the town square we found the tall pine tree we discovered this morning erected and decorated with May Day ribbons.

    We spent the rest of the evening packing for train travel tomorrow, which meant finishing partially eaten bags of food and a bottle of wine we had accumulated during our road trip.

    http://www.schwarzwald.de/en/information/tips/
    http://www.black-forest-travel.com/places-of-interest/black-forest-railway.html
    http://www.seeblicktitisee.de/

    Robyn :)>-

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    Sorry for the delay in posting. I got hit with the flu bug and ended up in the Emergency Room. Feeling much better now. On with the travel....

    DAY THIRTEEN (Mon 29 April) COLOGNE, AMSTERDAM

    We had a chance to say good-bye to Tom & Rita this morning at breakfast before checking out of the Hotel Sonne (€75,00/night w/ breakfast). We were VERY pleased with our choice of hotels for Gengenbach and would recommend the Sonne to anyone visiting the Black Forest. It's a multigenerational family run hotel where they take pride in everything they do, which was evident in the food, service and decor which they offered. And the location - near the town square, inside the city walls, in the middle of the Black Forest - was perfect. When you add in the Konus Card with the free public transportation, and the very affordable price, the Hotel Sonne makes an excellent base for exploring the Black Forest.

    We returned our rental car at the Sixt office in Offenburg, where we would start our rail journey for the day. Overall, we drove a total of 3381 km during our week-long road trip! We covered a lot of territory; saw a lot of old castles, churches, and towns; stayed in some great hotels; ate a lot of delicious food; drank a lot of good beer; and met a lot of nice people along the way. This was our first experience driving in Germany, and we found the road system to be well maintained and marked, and easy to follow. (We only got lost once, and that was coming into Offenburg to drop off the car.) We were very impressed with their system of tunnels and switchbacks for dealing with some mountainous regions. We live in the Pennsylvania Poconos and usually have to go 'round the mountains, but in Germany they just tunnel right through them.

    By 11:30 we were boarding the train to Mannheim, and then connecting to Cologne after an unexpected half hour delay. By 14:30 we were stashing our luggage in the lockers (€12,00), and stepping out onto the Domplatz. The cathedral is enormous, and very dirty from hundreds of years of pollution. We spent some time touring the inside, then walked over to the Ursulaplatz and visited St. Ursulakirche, and the room with the bones and sculls.

    Afterwards we walked halfway across the Hollenbrucke, over the Rhine, where lovers place a lock inscribed with their names on the bridge, then throw the key in the river. We had a little plaque made up with today's date, our first names, our wedding date, and "12,995 days and counting", and locked the plaque on to the bottom right-hand side of one of the panels, kissed each other, and then threw the key into the river.

    Since we had a train to catch, we decided to have dinner in the train station, and settled for the Schweinske (€30,60). BJ ordered a steak, which was okay. I had the Jagerschnitzel, which was tough; and I found a hair in it, which I'll pretend was mine. I enjoyed a couple Franziskaners with dinner, and BJ had to try the Gilden Kölsch, since we were in Köln. ((b))

    By 19:17 we had claimed our luggage and were on the train back to Amsterdam, arriving in time to celebrate Queen's Day tomorrow. Shortly after crossing the Germany/Netherlands border, the conductor announced that during the Queen's Holiday it is illegal to have any alcoholic beverage at the Amsterdam train station, so if you got it, you better drink it now. You could hear bottles and cans being opened throughout the train. Having just drank our way through dinner, we were glad we polished off that bottle of wine last night instead of trying to bring it back with us.

    The train arrived at 21:56, and the stationplatz and tram platforms were crowded with people dressed in various levels of orange. We decided a taxi would be the easiest way to get to the hotel, which was a good decision since, we learned later, only a few tram lines were running and ours wasn't one of them. We were returning to the Hotel Nadia, mostly because of the covered balcony overlooking the Kaizergracht and the Raadhuisstraat; great for people watching on Queen's Day.

    We were greeted at the front door by one of the assistant managers, who was busy duct-taping the sidewalk in front of the hotel entrance, marking off a space to keep the entrance free from people setting up shop along the road. Settled back into Room #412, we could easily see the stage, and hear the thumping techno music, set up on the Westerkerkplein from our balcony. People in orange were wandering everywhere. Already dressed in orange from this morning, we decided to go out and be part of the throng.

    We made our way down to the back of the Palace, which was completely surrounded by barricades. We had to walk several blocks out of our way just to get to the Dam. De Bienkorf had a huge crown erected on the top of their store, and flags and banners hung from many of the buildings in the square. The palace was glowing gold, and clusters of police officers on horseback guarded the massive barricade system. And there were people everywhere; decked out with orange hair, orange crowns, orange clothes.

    We ended up on the Nieuwmarkt, at the Green Place, to enjoy again "what Amsterdam has to offer". It was fun just to sit and watch the city go by, with splashes of orange everywhere. After a Looza for me, and an espresso for BJ, we decided to walk down the Zeedijk, which turned into a crazy mass of orange and leather, particularly around Cafe 't Mandje Bet van Beeren, which, I believe, is billed as the first gay friendly bar in the world. BJ doesn't do well in crowds to begin with, and I think he was getting a little freaked out from the mass of people, particularly the ones who were bumping and grinding in their leather thongs. Luckily, I found myself behind a tall, imposing dude, who, unbeknownst to him, happened to clear a path for both of us right down the street.

    Normally, it would have been easy to walk across town, back to our hotel, but tonight we got caught up in all the scaffolding erected, not just around the palace and Nieuwkerk, but down the NZ Voorburgwal, where generators and press were set up. We felt like mice in a maze who couldn't find their way out. The Raadhuisstraat, where our hotel is located, was lined with vans, filled with vendors, ready to open shop and sell their wares. It was well after 2:00 am before the music stopped and we were finally able to crash for the night.

    http://www.koelner-dom.de/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_St._Ursula,_Cologne
    http://www.schweinske.info/index.php?id=36
    https://www.nadia.nl/
    http://cafetmandje.nl/index.html

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY FOURTEEN (Tues 30 April) AMSTERDAM - QUEEN'S DAY!!!

    Today is Queen's Day. And not just any ordinary Queen's Day; this would be the last Queen's Day for many years. Today Queen Beatrix will abdicate the throne to her son, King Willem. Considering how late it was until we went to bed last night, we were up early, showered, dressed in orange and ready to go by 10:00 am. We were expecting to see the street in front of the hotel lined with vendors, but it was empty, except for the steady stream of people walking towards the Dam. We quickly became part of the crowd, making our way around the scaffolding, and taking up position on the Dam, just off the Rokin, at the eastern corner of the wax museum.

    The Dutch were way too tall for us to see over their heads, so we were glad we had a view of one of the many large screens erected around the Dam, which was filled to capacity in an explosion of orange. After some experimentation, I found if I held my hands in the air at the right position I could get a pretty good shot of the palace balcony for the Royal Appearance. Finally, at 10:30, the doors swung open, and the crowd began to roar as Queen Beatrix and the soon-to-be King Willem stepped on to the balcony. Speeches were made, and then the future King's wife and their 3 daughters joined them for some hand-waving. The energy of the crowd became subdued when they started singing the national anthem. You could feel the pride swelling among the people, and see it in the tears streaking down their faces while they sang. A loud roar accompanied the end of the song, the royals disappeared back into their palace, and the crowd began to disperse.

    We immediately made our way over to the Blomenmarkt, to 't Singeltje, for breakfast; banana pannekoeken for me, and chocolade poffertjes for BJ. The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived, but by the time we were served they were turning people away. We wandered back to the hotel by way of the Kaizergracht. The party was just getting started; sound systems being set up in the street, food vendors preparing their food stalls, piles of stuff for sale on blankets drug to the curbside, and kid buskers on most street corners. And let's not forget the people dressed in orange.

    After a short respite at the hotel, and some people watching from our balcony, we decided to walk around the Jordaan. By now the streets and bridges were lined with people selling just about everything and anything. We ended up at the Paradox, where we found a seat in their front window. The sun was shining on the glass in just a way that the people on the street could not see us behind the window. We had the greatest time people watching the crowds as they paraded by, many dressed in costumes accentuated in orange. It was particularly fun watching all the people primping to their reflection, not realizing we were voyeuristically peering at them from inside. It was like a two-way mirror.

    Feeling brave, we walked down the Prinsengracht, which I can only describe as a human tsunami of orange; a sort of controlled chaos. The canals were four-deep with boats filled to standing-room only; music was blaring in all directions from the dozens of sound systems; every couple of steps brought a different smell wafting from the many food vendors; and the kid buskers were great - children playing all kinds of musical instruments, dancing, or selling their artwork or old toys. Perhaps my favorite busker was the 10 year old selling cans of beer for €2,00. (On Queen's Day you can only buy one can of beer at a time, but apparently anyone can sell them, as long as they were smart enough to buy a supply ahead of time.)

    We had hoped to go up to Vondelpark, but BJ wasn't feeling too well, so we didn't want to wander too far. We eventually made our way back to the hotel by 14:30, and I watched the investiture of King Willem on the TV while BJ took a nap.

    We had noticed that the Kaisergracht didn't have near the boat traffic as the Prinsengracht, and the Herengracht didn't have any traffic at all. And what about all those vendor vans lining the street in front of the hotel last night? What happened to them? And the hotel worker-bee had duct-taped off the sidewalk, but there weren't any vendors out there. What was going on? It turned out that the area 3-4 blocks around the palace, where our hotel is located, was a high security zone this year, because of all the dignitaries coming and going for the investiture.

    Back out into the human orange tsunami, we went looking for a food stand we had seen earlier. BJ was convinced it was in the Jordaan, but I remembered it on the Prinsengracht. After an hour of endless wandering, we found it where I thought it was, only by then it didn't seem as appetizing anymore. We ended up buying the most delicious hot ham sandwiches from the vendor next door.

    We spent the rest of the day wandering up and down the streets and canals, stopping at Dolphins Coffeeshop for a break. The "Table Gods" were with us as we scored a seat by the window where we could watch the crowd on the street dance the night away. I think it's great that the Dutch government gives its citizens this one day of free enterprise and partying.

    We ended our evening back on Dam square, where they were beginning to dismantle all the equipment and scaffolding that had been put in place for Queen's Day.... the last Queen's Day until Willem's oldest daughter assumes the throne. I guess we'll have to come back to Amsterdam again, for King's Day next time. We bought a bag full of Wok-2-Go for dinner, and four different pastries from Rene's next door, and strolled through the now familiar barricades back to the hotel.

    http://www.renescroissanterie.nl/

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY FIFTEEN (Wed 1 May) AMSTERDAM, ZAANSE SCHANS

    After a simple breakfast at the hotel, and some pastry from Rene's, we walked a block up to the Albert Hein, and stocked up on some groceries for our mini fridge. Amsterdam was returning to normal after yesterday's party; the litter was gone, the stages have been taken down, roads are open and traffic is flowing again. It was a beautiful, blue-skied day for the First of May. A perfect day for visiting Zaanse Schans.

    Using our 72-hour tram passes that we bought when we were in Amsterdam 2 weeks ago, we trammed down to Centraal Station, and found the bus terminal on the east side. We easily located Section C, and waited for Connexxion Bus 391 to Zaanse Schans. We bought our tickets from the driver (€14,00 for 2), and by 11:40 we were on our way, entering the tunnel that runs under the Ij by way of the NEMO building. Within 45 minutes the bus was dropping us off at the parking lot, which was filled with cars and tourist busses.

    There is no admission for walking around the outside of the windmills and buildings, but they will charge you a few Euros each to go inside, unless it's a gift shop. There are several museums that are covered by the National Museumkaart, including the Zaanse Museum about the history of the area, the Verkade Pavillion which covers Dutch manufacturing, and the Clock Museum, which had the most incredible clock docent extraordinaire. This woman lived and breathed clocks, spouting off facts, figures and history.

    By 15:00 we were heading back to Amsterdam and Centraal Station. Since we were in the area, we walked over to the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam for a bite to eat at La Place. BJ had a ham and cheese sandwich with fries and a beer, ((b)) and I had a salad with mushrooms and a fruit smoothie (€20,00).

    BJ's friend Cisco was in town and he chose Voyagers Coffeeshop as a meet up place, so we spent the rest of the afternoon into the evening chatting it up with him. We trammed back to the hotel, past the Nieuwe Kerk which had l-o-n-g lines stretching in both directions, just for a chance to get in and see the church decorated for the new king's investiture.

    We were exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel, so we spent the rest of the evening on our balcony, enjoying the warm spring weather while we watched Amsterdam pass by.

    http://www.dezaanseschans.nl/en/

    Robyn :)>-

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    So enjoyed your wonderful trip report, Robyn. It brought back so many great memories.

    We have always found driving in Germany to be so easy but there are traffic issues on some of the Autobahns that you have to deal with from time to time. But, having driven in Houston for so many years, traffic is something I'm accustom to!

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    Hello Betty - Thanks for reading along. We really enjoyed our road trip through Baden Württemberg and would love to do another road trip in the future. The state is very much like Pennsylvania, so we were constantly making comparisons.

    The German roads are far superior in design and maintenance than our poor pot-holed Pennsylvania roads. We liked their use of switchbacks and tunnels for traveling over/through mountains, and traffic circles in the rural areas (slow down but don't stop). We also found that the roads were well signed and easy to navigate. We grew up driving on the Schuylkill Expressway around Philadelphia, which at times can be a parking lot, so my husband was thrilled that he got over 100 mph on the Autobahn around Stuttgart.

    Both PA and BW have a lot of farm land in between the towns/villages; in PA the farmers live on their "homesteads" and farm their land; however, in Germany the farmers live in town and commute to their farms, so there was a lot of open land with no one around. It was very quiet and serene. There were many equipment sheds dotting the farm fields, like a van Gogh painting, but we hardly saw any houses or people.

    We also noticed an abundance of hunting stands but NO wildlife. We drove from the south end of the Black Forest to the north and didn't see ANY wildlife, short of a few squirrels. I'm not sure what they're hunting for in Germany - seems like they already killed off everything. The only deer we saw were some Bambi's caged in at a farm.

    Overall the experience was very enjoyable, and I would encourage anyone visiting Germany to rent a car for a few days, and get out and explore the open road.

    Robyn :)>-

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    Thanks for providing so many details. I'm visiting many of the same locations in BW and I'd never heard of the Grosse Launder river valley but it's now on my to-do list, along with many more locations/sites you've listed. You've definitely made my research much easier so thank you!

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    Your welcome, Mars123. I'm happy to assist in your travels. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. My husband and I really enjoyed the Grosse Lauter valley and its many castles and ruins. While we like looking at pretty, decorated castles, we prefer exploring ruins - a lot less people, no waiting for a guided tour, and you can explore on your own. Don't forget to bring a mini flashlight and your imagination.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY SIXTEEN (Thurs 2 May) AMSTERDAM

    Today was market day for us. After breakfast we picked up the #14 tram and ran it out to the Dappermarkt, which is a daily market stretching for several blocks, featuring meats, cheeses, nuts & fruits, fish, bread, vegetables, etc. Everything fresh that you need to make tonight's dinner. Of course, the market also had the usual fare of socks, bras, pashminas, and plumbing supplies. When we got to the end of the street we spotted a familiar windmill across the way. It was Brouwerij 't Ij, which we visited on a different trip. We had no idea the Dappermarkt was so close. Unfortunately, today we are an hour too early; the brewery doesn't open until 14:00.

    We trammed and walked our way over to the Albert Cuypstraat, and did a walk up and down the Albert Cuypmarkt. If you like to cook with spices, check out the excellent spice store which can be found here. We ended up around the corner at the Katsu Coffeeshop; a Strawberry Looza for me and coffee for BJ.

    After dropping off our market purchases back at the hotel, we made our way down to Centraal Station and took the free ferry from Platform 1 to the NDSM Werf, which is a formerly abandoned ship yard turned into a cultural arts community. We spent about an hour wandering around the area, checking out the funky housing and the many boats docked there, including one of Greenpeace's ships, a partially submerged submarine, and the famous Boatel. Unfortunately, it was too cold, windy and wet today to try to wander further inland, into the community, but the area definitely deserves exploring. I would recommend the ferry to everyone who visits Amsterdam. Besides the fact that it is free, it provides a different view of the city. The architecture along the river is amazing and inspiring; many buildings reclaimed from abandoned warehouses and factories, mixed in with modern structures.

    Returning to Centraal Station, we trammed up to Dam Square, and spent an hour walking through all six floors of de Bijenkorf, Amsterdam's equivalent of NYC's Macy's. We're not shoppers, but we did enjoy checking out the Housewares Department.

    Our next stop was In De Wildeman for a long overdue cold beer; Weihenstephans for both of us. ((b)) De Wildeman has an excellent selection of 18 beers on draft and over 200 bottles, so it has become a regular stop for us when in Amsterdam.

    We were tired of walking, so we decided to get on Tram #10 at the Rozengracht and ride it to the end, to see what was there. Turned out to be the Eastern Docklands overlooking KNSM and Java Islands. This whole area is relatively new, having been reclaimed from industrial wasteland and the sea in the last decade. Unfortunately, it was too late in the afternoon for any stores to be open (including a huge Sissy-Boy Homeland), and too early in the evening for the night life.

    Back on Tram #10, we returned to the center of Amsterdam, eventually ending up in the Chinatown section along the Zeedijk, at Wing Kee, our favorite Cantonese restaurant. Their wonton is to die for; the noodles are so thin, and the stuffing so tenderly delicious. Feeling perfectly sated, we ended our evening with desert at The Green Place.

    http://www.dappermarkt.nl/
    http://www.brouwerijhetij.nl/splash-page-nl/
    http://www.albertcuypmarkt.nl/
    http://www.ndsm.nl/en/
    http://www.debijenkorf.nl/amsterdam
    http://www.indewildeman.nl/index.php?lang=en

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY SEVENTEEN (Fri 3 May) AMSTERDAM

    We awoke to a beautiful, sun shiny day in Amsterdam - the last day of our vacation. After our modest breakfast at the Hotel Nadia, we took tram #14 to the Kaisergracht, and visited the Foam Photography Museum (Museumkaart). Located in a renovated canal house, each floor features a constantly changing photographic exhibition, so you never know what you might see. Today we really enjoyed the Breukel & Villevoye photos of Ti; the second exhibition was okay, but the one on the third floor wasn't worth the climb up the steps.

    Just down the Kaisergracht from the Foam, is the entrance to the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis (Museumkaart), another period canal house. There was an interesting temporary exhibition on the Netherlands' role in the slave trade on display at the entrance, which is located in the carriage house for the main home, which is actually located on the Herengracht. We crossed the garden between the two buildings, which was blooming with beds of yellow daffodils, red tulips and purple grape hyacinths surrounding a large garden pool, said to be the largest backyard pool in Amsterdam. We did a self guided tour of the house, which had some interesting musical instruments, but quickly found ourselves back in the garden, enjoying the quiet solitude in the middle of this crazy city.

    After a quick respite at Mellow Yellow, we visited the Tassenmuseum (Museumkaart), the Museum of Bags and Purses. My husband was a bit reluctant about going to see a bunch of purses, but he ended up enjoying the museum as much as I did, perhaps even more, now that he knows that it was men that began carrying bags way back when. The museum is laid out so you chronologically walk through 500 years of the evolution of this most versatile part of our wardrobe. The purses were beautiful to look at and the signage was very informative and written in Dutch and English. I was actually able to identify the use of a mesh hanging bag handed down from a great-grandmother (never knew how it was worn).

    Had it not been for the National Museumkaart, we probably would never have visited any of these three museums today. If you are interested in seeing a variety of museums when visiting Amsterdam (and the Netherlands), then the Museumkaart has got to be one of the best buys. Overall, we used the card at 10 museums, with an entrance value of €89,25 (purchase price €49,90), which didn't include using the card at any of the expensive, popular museums, like the Rijks, van Gogh, Hermitage or Anne Frank House, since we had visited these on previous trips. But more importantly, the card took us into museums that we would normally have ignored - not because we didn't have an interest, but more because of the cost factor.

    We ended up on the Rembrandtplein, and found a table and chairs outside of The Old Bell where we ordered up a couple of Wieckse Heffewiezens ((b)) and lunch - Eggs on Beef steak for BJ and a Grilled Chicken and Sun Dried Tomato Sandwich for me. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the temperature was in the 70's (f), and the Rembrandtplein was crowded, which made for great people watching. Particularly cool was the greater than life-size statuary of Rembrandt's Night Watch, which you can literally immerse yourself into.

    We trammed our way back to the Jordaan for a final stroll around the neighborhood, making a stop at the Paradox, where we scored a restaurant recommendation for dinner tonight from the counter dude and a patron; we figured we couldn't go wrong with a local tip. Not ready for dinner yet, we continued our stroll across the Westermarkt, where we bought two pieces of framed 3-D Art from a young woman - The Westertoren and Bike with Tulips.

    After stashing our art pieces at the hotel, and taking a much needed respite, we headed back across town, through Dam Square. By now, the scaffolding was gone, the fencing was taken down and the l-o-n-g lines of people snaking in both directions around the Nieuwe Kerk had disappeared. The city was finally back to normal, whatever that may be. We walked down the Damstraat to the OZ Voorburgwal, and found seating at an outdoor bar, where we nursed our overpriced beers while watching our last day in Amsterdam slowly slip into our last night. Afterwards, we meandered back to our hotel, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of the city, trying to preserve some sense memories to take back home with us - back to reality.

    Why do we always discover the great places to eat when it's time to leave?!? On a recommendation from our friends at the Paradox, we went to de Reiger for dinner - located in the Jordaan, at Nieuwe Leliestraat 34a, and recognizable by their upside-down Amstel Bier sign. I ordered the spareribs (which were recommended by our friends), and BJ ordered the Zeeduivel, which was Monk fish wrapped in bacon. Both meals were EXCELLENT! We look forward to returning to Amsterdam in the future just to eat at this restaurant again. With a pair of Weihenstephans for each of us, our bill came to €53.00. ((b))

    Still too early to call it an evening, we wandered around the streets and canals and ended up at Amnesia, a nice little coffeeshop not far from our hotel. We had just settled into our table when a taxi pulled up and four British women stumbled in. They were in town for a Hen Party and wanted to dabble in some pot smoking, but had not a clue of what, where or how. It was funny at first, but their obnoxiousness got old real fast. So back to the hotel to finish packing, and trying to eat and drink everything left over in the refrigerator.

    http://www.foam.org/
    http://www.foam.org/press/2013/koos-breukel-roy-villevoye-t%C3%AD
    http://geelvinck.nl/english/
    http://www.tassenmuseum.nl/en
    http://www.museumkaart.nl/
    http://www.oldbell.nl/
    http://www.3dartcompany.com/amsterdam.htm
    http://www.dereigeramsterdam.nl/

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY EIGHTEEN (Sat 4 May) TRAVEL DAY

    We had the last of our Rene's Pastries for breakfast, having successfully consumed everything else in our mini-fridge the night before, except for a bottle of beer, which we should have just left for the cleaning staff, but BJ was determined to finish it off before we left Amsterdam.

    We said our good-byes to the staff of the Hotel Nadia, who have become like family by now. This was our third time staying at their hotel; last time was in 2011 when they took care of BJ and me and our 11 friends travelling with us. There are five reasons that have drawn us to the hotel time and time again; the price, the location, the room, the service and the flowers. Even though they are a budget hotel (€115/night, 6% discount w/ cash, breakfast included) they add the extra touch of fresh flowers in the room. And while the rooms are typical Amsterdam tourist-hotel small, they are clean and equipped with a mini-fridge, coffee/tea maker and room safe. We have always stayed in Room #412, because of the covered balcony which overlooks the Westerkerkplein and the Kaizergracht. Other than the size, the only other drawback to Room #412 is the 78-step climb, but there are rooms on the second floor with an uncovered balcony that we might have to concede to on our next visit, as we get older.

    The location of the Nadia on the corner of the Raadhuisstraat and the Kaizergracht can't be beat; the Westermarkt tram stop is an easy walk over the canal, directly across from the Albert Hein grocery store. The Anne Frank House is right around the corner, and when you cross the next canal you are in the Jordaan neighborhood, filled with eclectic shops and restaurants. And we have always been pleased with the service from the hotel staff who were friendly and accommodating, often offering us a free beverage (water, juice, soda, tea, coffee) as we came and went from our daily outings. They would obligingly offer to carry our luggage up and down the many stairs, or call for a taxi, or let us use their computer to print out our boarding passes. On our 2011 trip they even gave our group a tour of the hotel including their "secret garden", the Egyptian Art room, and a bird's eye view of the city from the roof (we did stay in the hotel for 8 nights). We do hope to return home to the Nadia in the future.

    By 9:15 we were on the tram to Centraal Station, then boarding a train to Schiphol. BJ had hoped to drink his beer on the train, but it was too crowded with the morning rush, and we ended up standing most of the way. Within 20 minutes we were at the airport with this damn bottle of beer that we can't take through security, so we found a deserted little corner in the huge lobby and BJ pops open the top, thinking that he can swig it down quick without anyone noticing. Out of nowhere a cop appears. Now, if this was the US, he would be face down on the floor in handcuffs, but here in Amsterdam the kindly-kop politely told BJ he could take the beer outside and drink it, but he couldn't drink it inside. So off BJ went, to finally finish his beer.

    We boarded a full plane, which took off on time and had a good tail wind, so we landed in Newark 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Then we got stalled at Passport Control, that huge room where you feel like cattle being led to slaughter. I counted 24 stations, but only 4 were open, having to process at least 4 international flights landing within the last hour! It was ridiculous!! It took over an hour to inch our way through the cattle line, while they sent the beagles up and down the rows sniffing everyone's bags (they did confiscate some lady's tulip bulbs). After another 20 minutes going through customs, then we were met by Rocky, our trusted friend and animal-sitter, who safely drove us home to reality.

    https://www.nadia.nl/

    Robyn :)>-

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