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Trip Report Austria & Bavaria – A week-long winter getaway

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My wife and I recently returned from a delightful week-long winter trip to Austria and Bavaria, taking advantage of off-season airfares from United Airlines. We enjoyed a seven-day circuit by train and bus that included stops in Salzburg (2 nights), Innsbruck (train connection with time for lunch in the Old Town), Seefeld in Tirol (3 nights for some excellent cross-country skiing), Reutte in Tirol (train to bus connection with time for a cup of coffee), Füssen (1 night for a tour of Schloss Neuschwanstein), and finally back to Munich (1 night). I’ll append a link to our photo gallery after I’ve had a chance to sort through all my pictures.

Day 1 - Thursday, January 15 – Munich to Salzburg
We flew United #132 from Washington-Dulles to Munich, departing Tuesday evening, January 14 and arriving in Munich about an hour late, at 8:30a. After considerable online research prior to our trip, we discovered that a “Bayern Ticket” was a great deal for travel to our first day’s destination: Salzburg, Austria. For €28 for two persons, the ticket provides transport from 9:00a on the date of purchase on all S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses, streetcars, and Regional Express (RE) trains throughout Bavaria ( http://www.munich-touristinfo.de/Bavaria-Ticket.htm ).

While the Munich Tourist Information website stated that the Bayern Ticket is valid for travel to Salzburg, the DB Bahn website (http://www.bahn.com/i/view/USA/en/prices/germany-regional/bavaria-ticket.shtml ) does not confirm this. So just to be sure, we checked with a DB Bahn ticket agent at the Munich airport, and he confirmed it was (though he had to check with his supervisor as even he was not certain).

We purchased our Bayern Ticket from a ticket machine at the entrance to the S-Bahn München station at the airport at 9:01a, took the S8 train to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (Central Station), then just walked onto the 11:55a Regional Express to Salzburg (labelled “M” on the DB Bahn website schedule). Note that the Bayern Ticket is not valid on any of the ICE or fast trains to Salzburg, only the regional trains. I should add that the ticket was actually labelled “Bayern-Böhmen-Ticket” on the DB Bahn ticket machine, and that the total charge was €31.60. Our Visa credit card has a chip in it, so we had no problem using it at any of the automated ticket machines in either Germany or Austria.

After a 1h45m train ride, we arrived on time at the Salzburg Hauptbanhof. My notes from the Salzburg Tourism website on local transportation were not nearly as helpful as the Kindle edition of “Rick Steves’ Snapshot Munich, Bavaria & Salzburg”, which I had purchased for $7.99 prior to our trip. Fodors offers most of their books in Kindle format as well, but I couldn’t find anything as specific as Steves’ eBook to this area of Bavaria and Austria. Although this was my first experience with the Kindle, I can now fully endorse it as an essential travel companion. It provided quick access to travel information as we moved from town to town, and it also stored additional eBooks that my wife and I were reading while we traveled by train. It definitely helped keep our luggage just a little bit lighter.

Steves’ eBook directed us to bus platform C in front of the Salzburg Hauptbanhof and to any bus marked “Altstadt” (“Old Town”). The eBook also provided considerable information on history and trip planning aids for the primary places we planned to visit on our trip: Salzburg, Reutte in Tirol, Füssen, and of course Munich. We consulted it regularly as we completed our seven-day circuit. But this eBook is not infallible – it does not, for instance, mention that the Bayern Ticket is valid for travel to Salzburg. So conferring with multiple sources, including this Fodors Forum, is always wise.

I do want to offer kudos to Fodors for their “Travel Phrases” iPhone app, and the “favorite phrase” feature it provides. I purchased the German language add-on and used it frequently to brush up on German phrases like “Einen Stadtplan, bitte” (“A map of the city, please”) and “die Rechnung, bitte” (“The check please”). Being able to utter reasonable versions of phrases like these really helped us communicate with people in both Austria and Germany.

At the Salzburg bus platform outside the Hauptbahnhof, we saved a few cents by purchasing one-way bus tickets from the ticket machine on platform C for €1.90 each (you’ll pay €2.50 if you buy your ticket from the bus driver). Ten minutes later, after winding through town and crossing the Salzach River, we stepped off the bus at Mozartsteg and walked a long block to our hotel: Altstadthotel Weisse Taube ( Kaigasse 9, www.weissetaube.at ). This is a lovely hotel situated just a short walk from MozartPlatz in the middle of the Old Town. I pre-booked the cheapest room available, so I wasn’t too surprised at the small size of the “Double room economy including breakfast”, which totaled €208 for two nights.

After dropping off our luggage, we spent a couple of hours exploring the Old Town, including a visit to Sporer Likör & Punschmanufaktur (literally translates as “Liquer & Punch Factory”, Getreidegasse 39) where we sampled an excellent apricot brandy. We also enjoyed a hot Glühwein (mulled wine) at the winter kiosk next to the ice skating rink in the center of MozartPlatz. Of course, having a couple of drinks after a very long flight was probably not the wisest choice, and we were exhausted by 5:00p. Still, we managed a nice dinner at Wirtshaus Zwettler’s (Kaigasse 3, just two doors down from our hotel). I had the beef goulash and my wife had the mushroom goulash – warm and delicious (€47.60 including beers, dessert, and €6.50 tip). By 7:00p we were both sound asleep.

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    Just a note to clarify the train tickets...

    "I should add that the ticket was actually labelled “Bayern-Böhmen-Ticket” on the DB Bahn ticket machine, and that the total charge was €31.60."

    You bought more ticket than you needed. That's a ticket that includes Bavaria and Bohemia (part of CZ Republic) for €26 + €5.60 per additional adult up to 5 total. This map shows coverage in the CZ Republic:

    http://www.bahn.de/regional/view/mdb/pv/deutschland_erleben/bayern/regionales/mdb_129465_bayern-boehmen-ticket_uebersichtskarte.pdf

    The Bayern Ticket covers Bavaria, Salzburg, and other Austrian destinations and costs less.

    DB offers a map that shows the validity of the Bayern Ticket; besides Salzburg, certain Austrian towns near Garmisch are also accessible:

    http://www.bahn.de/regional/view/mdb/pv/deutschland_erleben/bayern/regionales/diverses/mdb_86722_streckennetz_bayern_2012.pdf

    Between Munich and Salzburg I don't think there are any ICE trains. There are some EC and Railjet (RJ) high-speed trains that you should avoid if you use a Bayern Ticket.

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    Thanks for explaining this, Fussgaenger. Makes perfect sense! I obviously selected the wrong choice on the DB Bahn touchscreen ticket machine, which was otherwise very easy to use. When we bought another Bayern Ticket for our return from Füssen to Munich (later in this trip report), we did pay the correct amount.

    Day 2 – Friday, January 16 – In Salzburg
    We were up early this morning as our internal clocks were still out of sorts. But an early start enabled us to get the most out of our one full day in Salzburg. First on our list was Festung Hohensalzburg, the 900-year-old landmark that towers above Old Town Salzburg. We caught the 9:00a FestungsBahn (funicular) up to the fortress. A standard ticket, which includes both a two-way ride on the funicular and admission to the fortress museums, was €11.30. On a clear day, which we were fortunate to have on this morning, the fortress provides magnificent views of the Alps to the west and the city of Salzburg below and to the east. We also toured the royal apartment and Fortress Museum, which we found quite interesting and well worth the time.

    After descending from the fortress, we took a few minutes to explore the grounds of St. Peter’s Abbey and Cemetery, just a few steps away from the funicular exit. Then we returned to MozartPlatz, where our hotel staff had alerted us to a 12:15p walking tour that started in front of the Information Center. For €9 per person, we joined the English tour. Reserve your spot for the tour inside the Information Center, then present your reservation to the guide and pay him the €9. We didn’t know this beforehand, but fortunately there were only six other people signed up for the English tour – four Australians and a couple from Ireland. There was also a separate German tour leaving at the same time. During the high tourist season, I’m quite sure early reservations are essential for these walking tours. Our tour guide was delightful, and we had an excellent and informative two-hour tour of the many historic sites of Old Town Salzburg, including St. Peter’s Cemetery, Salzburg Cathedral, the Festival Halls, and Mozart’s Birthplace.

    When our walking tour concluded around 2:15p, we headed across the Salzach River to tour Mirabell Gardens and have a late, light lunch near Mirabellplatz. Then we walked back across the Salzach River to our last stop of the day: Augustiner Bräu Mülln ( Brewery and Bräustübl Tavern, Lindhofstraße 7, www.augustinerbier.at ). We again have our hotel staff to thank for this recommendation, and were not disappointed. Augustiner beer is considered by many to be one of the best beers brewed in Bavaria, and we enjoyed two large steins along with a fresh and delicious pretzel. Note that the tavern does not open until 3:00p on weekdays.

    Completely exhausted, we mustered just enough energy for dinner at Zirkelwirt (Pfeifergasse 14). I came across this restaurant while researching dining spots in Salzburg before our trip, and its close proximity to our hotel was the deciding factor on this night. My wife had cheese spätzle, while I indulged in potato and spinach dumplings. Delicious and very reasonably priced (€33.70 including one beer, no dessert, and €5 tip).

    A note about the exchange rate: the Euro was in a free-fall during our trip, dropping from approximately $1.19 on January 16, to $1.17 on January 18, to $1.16 on January 21 – historic lows and great news for American tourists in Europe!

    Next: Off to Seefeld in Tirol for some cross-country skiing.

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    Day 3 – Saturday, January 17 – Salzburg to Seefeld via Innsbruck
    We finally “slept in” this morning, heading downstairs to our hotel breakfast at 8:00a (we were up before 7:00a on Friday morning!) Today we travelled to Seefeld in Tirol, one of Europe’s premier cross-country skiing resorts just a few miles above Innsbruck in the Tyrolean Alps. We took bus #3 from Mozartsteg to Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, paying the bus driver €2.50 each as there was no ticket machine at the bus stop. At the train station we purchased two tickets to Innsbruck for €85.40 total, boarded the 9:59a express train to Zurich, and arrived at Innsbruck in just 1 hour 42 minutes – reaching speeds of 215 kilometers per hour according to the video display just above our seats.

    With trains on the hour all afternoon to nearby Seefeld, we decided to explore Old Town Innsbruck and enjoy a relaxing lunch before continuing our journey. Unfortunately, not a single luggage locker was available in the entire train station! But with off-season travel comes good fortune – the information attendant at the train station suggested we inquire at the Grand Hotel Europa just across the street. With considerable kindness, the hotel clerk said we could store our luggage there while we ventured into the Old Town.

    In Old Town Innsbruck, about a ten-minute walk from the train station, we visited the Stadtturm (City Tower), Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), and had a delicious lunch at the Piano Café-Bar (Herzog-Friedrich-Straße 5). It was cold and raining in Innsbruck, with no sign of snow except high up in the surrounding mountains. In fact, we hadn’t seen snow in Munich, Salzburg or Innsbruck, and were now wondering if cross-country skiing in nearby Seefeld would be “kaput”.

    We returned to the train station, purchased two tickets for €5.20 apiece, and boarded the 2:08p train for the 36-minute ride to Seefeld in Tirol. Almost exactly 30 minutes into the trip, we saw our first snow on the ground, and by the time we arrived in Seefeld, rain had turned to snow, and the ground, rooftops, and trees were all covered in white!

    We took a short taxi ride to Hotel Schoenegg ( Speckbacherstrasse 174, www.hotelschoenegg.at ), our base for the next three nights. Taxi fare was €7, apparently the standard in-town fare. Finding reasonably priced accommodations in the ski resort town of Seefeld, particularly on a weekend, was challenging. All the reasonably priced accommodations that showed up on TripAdvisor were booked several weeks before our trip. Finally, after much searching and cross-referencing, Hotel Schoenegg showed up on Booking.com with a “discounted” rate of €135 a night. The discount was actually based on breakfast only, as most hotels in Seefeld provide “Full board” or “Half board”, which is either breakfast-lunch-dinner or breakfast-lunch.

    The hotel looked wonderful and had received several rave reviews, so we booked a “Double Room (2 Adults)” and didn’t look back. I’m happy to say we have no regrets. The hotel was lovely; the owners helpful, gracious, and fluent in English; the “Double Room” was spacious with a large bathroom; breakfast was outstanding; and the hotel was just two blocks from Seefeld’s central pedestrian area. We dropped our luggage and walked into town for the evening, the snow still falling and the streets all lit up with lovely holiday lights.

    Our first stop was the Information Center, where obtained a map of the town (“Einen Stadtplan, bitte”) and list of restaurants. After perusing the menus posted outside several restaurants lining the pedestrian area, we finally made our way into the restaurant at the Hotel Diana (Klosterstraße 97). Here we splurged on two excellent house salads (“Salat” of lettuce, carrots, German potato salad, green beans, and pickled cabbage in perfect portions), “Fondue for Two” (“Käsefondue”), two glasses of dry white house wine (“Wein Weiss”), and dessert (“Crepe Stephan” with vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate sauce). The total came to €62.40: our most expensive dinner of the week, and the best meal of our trip. Highly recommended!

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    Day 4 – Sunday, January 18 – In Seefeld
    Cross-country skiing at last! My wife and I met 30 years ago when we were both cross-country ski instructors for an outfitter in West Virginia. I had cross-country skied in Seefeld several years before I met her, so I had always wanted to take her here (and of course return here myself!) We rented two pair of skis, boots and poles at Sport Edelweiss (Klosterstraße 176) for €24, then headed out onto the region’s 279 kilometers of groomed classic and skating cross-country ski trails.

    As an unexpected bonus, we learned that the European Combined Nordic Skiing Championships were being held in Seefeld on Saturday and Sunday. So as we skied out the trail to Mösern, we stopped and watched the morning Nordic ski jumping competition at the Sportplatz for a few minutes. Then we continued for several kilometers on a long, narrow wooded loop up one side of the valley and then back down the other side, until we were back at the Langlauf Ziel (“Cross Country Ski Start”) about 3 hours later.

    Next we skied up to Pfarrhugel hill behind the Olympiabad pool and sports complex. Here we ate lunch (cheese, trail mix, and German chocolate purchased at the local grocery store) and enjoyed spectacular views of Seefeld and the Tyrolean Alps that surround the entire valley. Finally we headed back down to the Sportplatz to elbow ourselves into a ringside view of the 15km cross-country ski race that would determine the champion of the European Nordic Combined competition. As possibly the only two American spectators, we did our best to cheer on the two American competitors in the race, Taylor Fletcher (who finished 3rd) and Bryan Fletcher (who finished 8th).

    Dinner tonight was at Hotel Tiroler Weinstube ( Dorfplatz 130, www.tirolerweinstube.at/restaurant.html ). We each had the evening specials: Risotto Meeresfrüchte (seafood risotto) and Risotto Huhn (chicken risotto). With a glass of Zipfer draft beer and house Chardonnay, the total was €26.70.

    A note about tips: In Salzburg, all the restaurant credit card receipts provided a line to add on a tip, and servers all told us that “Service” was not included. However, when we travelled to Innsbruck, Seefeld, and Füssen, credit card receipts did not provide a place to add a tip, even though the servers we asked told us that “Service” was not included. So we either left some change on the table or, when we had no change or small bills in our pocket, we left no tip. This is where the language barrier was a problem for us.

    I finally sorted out my photos from the trip, posting 118 of them in a public photo gallery here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10204310273010624.1073741835.1042981399&type=1&l=cda657f09e

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    Day 5 – Monday, January 19 – In Seefeld
    Another day of cross-country skiing. We returned to Sport Edelweiss and rented skis, boots and poles again (same price, €24). The store’s website, which I had visited prior to our trip, indicates a two-day rental is a little less expensive than what we paid for two separate days, but we decided the inconvenience of carrying our equipment back and forth across town to the hotel wasn’t worth the small savings.

    Sunday had been foggy most of the morning, and we had missed much of the spectacular alpine scenery above the valley floor on the trail out to Mösern. Since today was clear and sunny, we decided to retrace the same loop. Also, because it was Monday, there were far fewer skiers on the trail, and we spent much of the morning skiing by ourselves. After another “brown bag” lunch, we turned in our skis and headed over to the spectacular Olympiabad pool complex with our swim suits. For €11.30 each (which included a 10% resort guest discount), plus €3 for a towel (bring a towel from your hotel when you go), we spent three very relaxing hours in the large heated indoor-outdoor pool complex.

    For tonight’s dinner, we returned to the restaurant at the Hotel Diana. Tonight our menu consisted of Bratwurst, Käsespätzle (cheese spätzle), two glasses of wine and dessert for exactly €37.

    Day 6 – Tuesday, January 20 –Seefeld to Füssen via Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Reutte
    After a hearty breakfast at the Hotel Schoenegg, we bid “Auf Wiedersehen” and walked two blocks to the Seefeld Bahnhof. There we caught the 9:15a train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, connecting with the 10:04a train to Reutte in Tirol (pronounced “ROY-tay”). Total fare was €13.60 per person, and both legs of the journey took us through spectacular snow-covered alpine valleys in Austria, Bavaria, and Austria again. Our connection in Garmisch was just four minutes, but the trains were both exactly on time, and we made our way from platform 1 to platform 4 with two minutes to spare!

    Reutte is a small market town in Tyrol, popular with tourists primarily as an Austrian crossroads and base from which to explore the ruins of nearby Ehrenberg Castle. We were connecting with Bus #4258 at 12:05p at the Reutte Bahnhof to Füssen, Germany. We only spent an hour here, but made the most of it by walking two blocks to the Tourist Information Center and then enjoying a cup of coffee at a small café across the street. After a 45-minute bus trip that took us through several small hamlets between Reutte and Füssen (it’s only 16km between the two towns), we arrived at the Füssen Bahnhof around 1:00p. Bus fare was €8.00 each.

    Hotel Sonne ( Prinzregentenplatz 1, www.hotel-fuessen.de/en ) is conveniently situated just a block from the Füssen Bahnhof. It’s around the corner from the Old Town, is relatively inexpensive (we paid €92.65 for a “Via Claudia Classic Doppelzimmer” or “Double”), and is rated highly on TripAdvisor. I can add that it’s a lovely hotel with an excellent restaurant, Maximilians.

    We planned to tour nearby Schloss Neuschwanstein ( Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, http://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/palace ) on Wednesday morning. But with four hours of daylight remaining, we decided to make the ten-minute trip to the castle this afternoon and familiarize ourselves with the whole area. We also wanted to reserve tickets for the first English tour the following morning. Unfortunately, we just missed the 1:05p bus, and the next bus wasn’t until 2:05p, so we opted to take a €10 taxi ride.

    For planning purposes, the 10-minute bus ride is €2.20 each way. You can obtain bus schedules for #73 and #78, which operate between Füssen Bahnhof and Hohenschwangau Neuschwanstein Castles, either at the Hotel Sonne front desk or from the Tourist Information Center across the street from the hotel ( Kaiser-Maximilian-Platz 1, www.fuessen.de/en.html ).

    Due to snow and ice, the shuttle bus up to Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge) above Neuschwanstein Castle wasn’t running. So we made the 40-minute walk from the Ticket Center at Hohenschwangau Neuschwanstein Castles up to Schloss Neuschwanstein. It was a little cloudy, but the sun occasionally peeked through the clouds, backlighting the castle against the snow-covered ridges of the Bavarian Alps behind it. We snapped several photos, then walked back down the mountain – taking probably 20 minutes to reach the bus stop for the return trip to Füssen.

    We had an outstanding dinner at Maximilians in the Hotel Sonne. My wife had flammkuchen (or tarte flambé, a delicious thin crust tart made with crème fraiche), and I had “King Ludwig’s Goulash”. With starters of soup and two glasses of white house wine, the dinner bill came to €47.

    Day 7 – Wednesday, January 21 – Schloss Neuschwanstein and Füssen to Munich
    Our tour of Schloss Neuschwanstein was scheduled for 10:50a, with instructions to be at the Ticket Center no later than 9:50a in order to collect our tickets. This ensures that you will have plenty of time to make your way up to the castle either by foot or, if you want to pay a little extra, by shuttle bus or horse-drawn carriage.

    Since we planned on purchasing another Bayern Ticket today for use both on the Füssen buses and for the train ride back to Munich, we decided to take the 9:05a bus to Hohenschwangau Neuschwanstein Castles. We purchased the Bayern Ticket from the ticket agent at the Füssen Bahnhof, paying €30 for two people this time (the correct price when you purchase from a ticket agent rather than a ticket machine, which is €28).

    We arrived at the Ticket Center around 9:20a and retrieved our tickets for the 10:50a Neuschwanstein Castle tour. Since the shuttle bus still wasn’t running up to Mary’s Bridge, and a carriage ride up the mountain was not in our budget, we chose again to walk up to the castle.

    Tickets for Schloss Neuschwanstein are €12 per person, and for advance reservations there’s a €1.80 fee for each ticket. So the total for our tour came to €27.60. The Kindle ebook, “Rick Steves’ Snapshot Munich, Bavaria & Salzburg”, goes into considerable detail on planning and touring Schloss Neuschwanstein and the adjacent Schloss Hohenschwangau. Fortunately, as off-season tourists, there were less than a dozen people on our 10:50a English tour, and getting ourselves up to and into the castle was not a problem.

    The guided castle tour was only about 30 minutes long, as only a small number of rooms were completed prior to King Ludwig II’s demise. But those rooms are splendid, and we thoroughly enjoyed the guided tour, the audiovisual presentation following the tour (showing pictures, drawings, and dimensional illustrations of Ludwig II’s various castle plans), and the large kitchen in the basement you pass through as you exit the castle.

    We made our way back down into town just in time for the 12:15p bus back to Füssen. There we boarded the 1:05p train, connecting in Kaufbeuren for the 2:03p train back to Munich. We arrived about 3:15p at the Munich Hauptbahnhof, then checked into Hotel Europäischer Hof ( Bayerstraße 31, www.heh.de/default.aspx?lang=en ), which is right across the street from the Central Station. For a “Double Classic” including breakfast, we paid €212 in advance, opting to pay a little more for the convenience of public transportation right across the street. The hotel was clean and comfortable, though the neighborhood around the train station is not particularly attractive or interesting.

    For our final evening in Germany, we took an Underground train to Sendlinger Tor, connecting with the U3 to Marienplatz. Our destination was the Hofbräuhaus in Old Town Munich (Platzl 9), one of the city’s oldest and most famous beer halls. After ordering a 1.0 liter Hofbräu Dunkel (Dark Beer) for me and a 0.5 liter Münchner Weisse for my wife, we enjoyed the lively crowd and oompah band. When our beers were finished, we walked across the street for dinner at Augustiner am Platzl (Orlandostraße 5). Here we had another beer and a traditional German meal of sauerkraut, potato salad, and sausage. The bill came to €29.30.

    Day 8 – Thursday, January 22 – Munich to Washington, DC
    It was finally time to head home. We purchased two single €10.80, 4-zone transport tickets, then boarded the S8 train at Munich Central Station for the 40-minute ride to the Munich airport. United flight #133 actually departed 10 minutes early for the trip home at 11:30a.

    Please feel free to post any questions. I’ve tried to focus on details about dining, accommodations, and transportation, along with their associated costs. This is an important part of my own trip planning process, and hopefully will help with your own planning for travel in this beautiful part of the world.

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