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adventurous or insane? winter driving Germany/Austria/Italy

adventurous or insane? winter driving Germany/Austria/Italy

Sep 17th, 2010, 04:15 PM
  #1  
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adventurous or insane? winter driving Germany/Austria/Italy

My Hubby said YES - so our trip is on and I will be booking flights once we make this 1 BIG decision. travelling with 2 kids - going in December for Christmas. Generally, arrive Munich, then Salzburg, Venice, Parma, Milan ---- then?

It was my thought to leave from Milan to fly home. But my husband said, "why not drive "the loop" and go back up to Munich?" No car drop fees and some great scenery - no trying to coordinate and figure out tours into the countryside to see castles and no worrying about train schedules. we'll be there 14-16 days.

Now, my kids (8 and 13) are troopers and used to longish drives. The kids and I alone took a 2500 miles drive this summer and did just fine, at times it was fun even...my 13 year old liked being the navigator. As for mountain driving, I think we'd be ok, went driving in the Rocky Mountains in June, I had white knuckles but everybody else had fun...

do you think it will be a great adventure or have you just rolled your eyes at such a stupid idea??? opinions please!
jujubean is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 04:23 PM
  #2  
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forgot to mention - we are also used to driving in snow...
jujubean is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 04:33 PM
  #3  
 
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The Europeans do a far better job of keeping their roads clear than we do. They are out plowing the second the snow starts and even have guys shoveling drainage grates clear in the middle of the storm. Be sure to get snow tires on your rental though. You can be heavily fined if you have an accident and don't have snow tires. And it ain't cheap, unfortunately.
Otzi is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 04:39 PM
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Sure, why not? Just stay informed about mountain passes and tunnels that may close, be flexible, don't commit too much money to paid-in-advance hotels in case you may not make it there.

Get a good car with good tires.

Insist on getting a car that has the Austrian road-tax sticker Vignette affixed, and if you plan on entering Switzerland, you'll need their version also - they are mandatory if you drive on expressways, and those are impossible to avoid. Fines are stiff.

It will be holiday season and you will get stuck in huge (h-u-g-e) congestions, inching your way for hours and hours. You have not seen anything like it in the US I bet.

In German the magic word for that standstill is Stau, they are used to it. There are only so many ways through or over the alps, you can count them on one hand, and quite likely one or several of them might close due to weather or accidents or both, so be prepared for a lot of frustrations, keep your tank topped up, food and drink in the car, and your fingers crossed.

Have enough cash on hand for toll booths in case your American credit or debit card is not recognized (you probably have a swipe-and-sign card, in Europe it's chip-and-pin now). And tell your credit card and debit card companies where you're going so they unblock the security safeguards.

Be prepared for total shutdown on the holidays, cities turn into ghost towns when everybody stays home with family or has left town. Just finding a place to eat something can be a challenge on days like 12/25 or 1/1, or on Xmas Eve. Your best bet are major train stations on those days, if there is anything open it will be there.

On NYE it's feast or famine - try to eat very early if you just want a regular meal, lots of places put on the festive special menu and operate only by reservation. Fast-food places like you find in the US are not the norm.

12/26 is a public holiday, but it is a Sunday so both the Sunday and the Monday will be big travel days for people returning to work.

So you'll have to be on your toes and ready for anything, but you can have a ton of fun.

Wishing you great and mild weather (which is quite likely but never guaranteed).
DalaiLlama is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 04:48 PM
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Forgot to mention the International Driving Permit - you're supposed to have one with you in Austria, Italy, and other places, as per some international agreements. It doesn't take the place of your own license, it augments it.

You'll probably never be asked for it, but if you are, by some cop, and don't have it, it could put a damper on your trip.

It's cheap, and only one source is legit - the AAA, start at

http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpapplc...d=212&secure=N
DalaiLlama is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 05:02 PM
  #6  
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Thanks! just browsing, without really trying, I can get a decent rate on an Audi A3 or VW Passat for less than 1K for the 2 weeks. The car will just sit for a couple days while we're in Venice...will get that IDP.

Am a bit concerned about things being shuttered on the 25th/26th - we are used to very large family celebrations - it will be very, very quiet...

As to the congestion, is it primarily in the mountain passes and cities? Is it comparable to New York or Chicago traffic during rush hour? Painful!! Any time of day better than others to avoid it?
jujubean is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 05:16 PM
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Not only is it not insane I don;t even think it's especially adventurous.

You will need to watch the weather on your way back to Munich - since major snow can delay things for a day. but generally roads in europe in the winter are very good - much better maintained and cleaned than in the US.
nytraveler is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 06:19 PM
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No congestions between christmas and New Year in the mountains, except for the usual "super slow motion" drivers. People stay with their families. Shopping centers downtown will be full with people returning stuff. Lots of traffic there. Most people don't work during that week.

Crazy shoppers everywhere.
logos999 is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 06:35 PM
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It will be hard to forecast which days will be busier, traffic-wise.

Many people celebrate Xmas on the eve of the 24th (then the Catholics go to Midnight Mass) and if they take off for vacation it's on the 25th.

Then again, many celebrate on the 25th and may take off on the 26th if they go on vacation. Lots of folks get that week off work alltogether, so who knows?

But basically your best bet is to move from city to city on the 25th and again on the 1st since there is nothing to do in any given city on those days, unless your research shows that some city puts on a public festivity of some kind - always possible. And chances are that fewer cars will be on the roads on those days.

As to the Stau - do this: Go to www.bund.ch - the major newspaper of Bern (the capital city of Switzerland) and on top right input the word Stau and click on Suchen (search).

I'm translating this for you - from a random Saturday in July, and here goes (my comments in parentheses):

"Already on Sat. morning there has formed a column of cars of 16 km length (that's ten miles) approaching the Gotthard-Northportal (the entrance to the Gotthard tunnel that goes through the alps south of Lucerne). Many hours of waiting time are expected."

Now that's just an ordinary Saturday morning in July, admittedly a vacation month, but so is late December...

Do the same thing with www.nzz.ch and you read about a massive Stau on both sides of the Gotthard last week, in a report from Sep. 11, the reason given is that the schools in the south of Germany are back in action and all the vacationers had to traverse Switzerland on their way home.
(See http://www.nzz.ch/nachrichten/panora...1.7525385.html)

So it doesn't take much. Holidays plus possibly snow and ice and accidents plus bad visibility with very short days (it gets dark after 4PM) make the Xmas week into a bit of a gamble.
DalaiLlama is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 06:54 PM
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Germans celebrate on the 24th, from 5pm, shopping until 1pm, noone on the road after that. Lunch on the 25th basically ends christmas. Short but havy traffic. A few people go skiing during that week, but most don't move their behind, except for shopping. Peak travel on 31st and the week after that.

It works like that year after year, rather predictable.
logos999 is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 09:48 PM
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I think there are much more worries with a car (esp. after reading DalaiLama's post) than taking the train. Although one should definitely experience driving in Germany, Austria etc., -- at least once in a lifetime, I'm not sure that winter in the mountains, during the holidays is the best time to do that. Plus, when you factor in Benzene/Diesel, it'll probably be cheaper to take the train or a bus. But, maybe I just worry too much . . .
BudgetTraveler is offline  
Sep 17th, 2010, 10:22 PM
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Hi jujubean,

I so agree with BudgetTraveler above that there are more worries with a car. And as nytraveler notes, driving isn't particularly adventurous.

First of all, you list all the times and ways you and your family have driven -- and that's the point. You can drive almost anytime, anywhere. But we Americans don't often get the chance to use a world-class rail system. Travelling by train is adding more European flavor to your European trip. And it sounds like it would be an additional adventure for you!

I know that many Americans default to using autos, but really taking the train is a whole lot of fun -- everyone gets to relax and enjoy the scenery; you can't get lost; you don't have to worry about parking or city traffic; you travel with the locals and may even make a memorable acquaintance along the way. Children are especially good about this!

And of course, you are travelling **green** yaaaay!! We Americans don't get to do that every day

Let us know if you'd like more info about the trains.

s
swandav2000 is online now  
Sep 18th, 2010, 01:37 AM
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Or you mayend up standing for hours in trains packed with people, unable to move an inch.
logos999 is offline  
Sep 18th, 2010, 01:55 AM
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Hi again,

logos999, that's only happened to me one time, on a Saturday night during Oktoberfest. And I ride the trains in Germany and Switzerland a LOT. Oh, and I did actually manage to get a seat.

If you want to be assured of having a seat, though, you can always go first class. Or make a seat reservation for a few euro.

s
swandav2000 is online now  
Sep 18th, 2010, 02:13 AM
  #15  
 
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I can tell you stories about standing and sitting on the floor for hours, commuting at 7.20am, broken down trains, computer malfuctions, forced evacuations of whole trains by federal police halfway between towns, football hooligans, extreme heat (Well not on christmas . Delays of one, two, three hours, noisy and smelly people sitting in front of you and esp. at Oktoberfest on 2nd class, people vomitting on the tray in front of them and basically everywhere.

All those delightful things ;-)
My car is my ca(r)stle. And if it is standing, I still sit and if it's cold, I switch on the heater. In if people in my car are smelly, I tell them to better have a shower now. LOL

Oktoberfest is starting today and that whole bunch of freaked out people are roaming the streets again... Prost..
logos999 is offline  
Sep 18th, 2010, 02:16 AM
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Things stay quiet here in Garmisch. Wow, I'm so glad I haven't had those horrible experiences, lol!

s
swandav2000 is online now  
Sep 18th, 2010, 02:27 AM
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Dog owners are required by law to remove the leftovers of their pets, why aren't beer abusers required to remove their leftovers on the street. Well, at least, they are requred to pay for the damage the caused on the train.
logos999 is offline  
Sep 18th, 2010, 08:05 AM
  #18  
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Friends,

you've hit on two of my primary reasons for "training" our trip - environmental and the "train" experience - some of the best travel advice is found on planes, trains and buses!

Hmmm...tough choice, but must make it today. if I don't book these tickets soon, I'm afraid rates are going up!
jujubean is offline  
Sep 18th, 2010, 09:01 AM
  #19  
 
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I'll put a word in for trains, we spent a month in Germany/Italy over there and never needed a car and only experienced a delayed train in Italy but there were several other options to take.

Munich, Salzburg, Venice, and Milan don't need cars. Venice and Milan they would even be a hinder due to parking and traffic.
lindy27 is offline  
Sep 18th, 2010, 10:58 AM
  #20  
 
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This is a family of 4 - so I can;tiamgine that trainwon;tcost more. And the potential for mobbed trains around the holidays definitely exists.

IMHO driving gives you much more freedom (if the highway is mobbed you can get off and try alternate routes)and you can stop and see small villages and countryside.

If's not that you NEED a car- it;s that a car makes the trip more fun. (Unless you hate to drive or are a timid driver- then stick to the train.)
nytraveler is offline  

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