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Trip Report December in Deutschland

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The Plan:

Escape a year fraught with challenges, and abide by our motto, ‘travel while you still can’.

The itinerary:

Dresden – four nights
Annaberg –Buchholtz – four nights
Bamberg – four nights
Garmisch-Partenkirchen – four nights
Munich – six nights

Our interest in Dresden had been piqued some time ago, when fellow Fodorites questioned why, with all our December visits to Germany and its Christmas Markets, we’d not yet ventured to Dresden, home to the Striezelmarkt, the oldest documented Christmas Market in Germany (581 years!). Why indeed?

The Erzgebirge, i.e. the Ore Mountains, near the Germany/Czech Republic border was also suggested, as ‘Germany’s real Christmas Country’, home to authentic handcrafted Erzgebirge folk art and Europe’s earliest mining district. Much of the Erzgebirge is difficult to reach via train, hence the decision to stay in Annaberg-Buchholtz; easy train access from Dresden.

Bamberg has been on our radar for some time, and not just for the Rauchbier. Its UNESCO World Heritage status intrigued us, and this year it made logistical sense, as we wanted to wrap up our trip in Munich, meeting some friends from England the weekend before Christmas.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen has long been a favorite and was a no brainer. Even without snow!

Transport:

In July we cashed in our UA frequent flyer miles and booked December flights to Germany in Business Class. Outbound flights were purchased using 140,000 of Bill’s miles, return flights were booked using 115,000 of mine, all earned the hard way, butt-in-seat. Plus the unavoidable taxes, about $300.

We collected a one-way rental car the night before our flight from the city nearest our small mountain town, parked it at our house overnight (barely making it up the steep, snow-packed driveway), then packed up the car and drove the two hours to Denver International Airport the following day. The weather gods were in a good mood, thank goodness.

The Flights:

1) Denver to Frankfurt on Lufthansa
2) Frankfurt to Dresden on Lufthansa
3) Munich to Houston on UA
4) Houston to Colorado Springs on UA

Prior to departure, UA predictably did what they do, re-routed our flights through Chicago; as if they knew our plan all along had been to avoid Chicago at all costs. Fortunately, a phone call got us even better flights (with a single stop) without too much drama. We never did find out why they made the change.

The Trains:

About a week before departure, we purchased discounted point-to-point train tickets from Annaberg-Bucholtz to Bamberg (52 Euro for both) and from Bamberg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (48 Euro for both) via the DB Bahn website. All other train/bus transport was done on the fly.

Travel day:

We chilled in the DIA Red Carpet Club prior to our flight, the bartender laughing when I presented some old drink vouchers; seems all drinks are now free in the Red Carpet Club and have been for years. We’re a bit out of touch with UA, having actively avoided them while living in Australia.

The nine hour flight from DIA to Frankfurt on Lufthansa was excellent; we were in row 2, literally in the nose of the 747; the pilots right above us. Lay down seats, good food, three choices of appetizer and main (and enough on hand so everyone got their first choice), cheese and port for dessert, and surprisingly for me, five hours of sleep. Bill said breakfast was good too, but I took a pass.

As is so often the case, it was sunny and clear until we made our decent into Frankfurt, a thick layer of ominous cloud enveloping the city. We had a 90 minute layover, but our slightly late arrival led to a long wait on the tarmac as a seemingly endless parade of planes and vehicles crossed in front of us.

After deplaning and a quick stop in duty free for chocolate (but of course!), we made our way to the very busy Lufthansa lounge. No time for a much needed shower, so we settled for a quick slice of buttered bread and some hot chocolate, then made our way to the gate for our next flight, where we boarded...a bus. It seemed to take forever to reach our plane; I was beginning to think we were driving to Dresden.

The flight was quick and easy; we were seated in what we refer to as ‘European Business Class’, Economy with an empty seat between us. Although only a 45 minute flight, we were served a full meal of dried beef, some sort of white bean and beet concoction, rolls, apple cake and a nice chocolate cookie/candy bar, complete with real dishes and utensils.

Dresden airport was surprisingly deserted; our flight the only arrival, yet we had to wait a bit for our luggage. We enlisted the help of a woman at the Information desk who when asked, admitted to speaking ‘a little English’ (a phrase we’d hear repeatedly over the next three weeks), taking her advice to purchase an all day train/tram ticket for two at 9 Euro (we ended up only needing a 2.30 Euro one hour ticket, but who knew?). Our destination was the Dresden-Neustadt train station, the second largest in Dresden, 3-4 four stops from the airport, and strangely enough, quiet as a morgue.

With four hours to kill before we could check into our accommodation at 6pm, we left our luggage in two lockers (2 & 3 Euro), and armed with a printed Google map, set out to find the guest house (to prevent having to find it later in the dark, although it felt pretty dark at 2:30 pm).

Accommodation located, we followed the lights towards civilization, and quite by accident found ourselves at the statue of Augustus the Strong, the Goldener Reiter, the appointed spot for our meet-up with Fodorite Ingo the following day and mere steps from the Augustusmarkt (Dresden’s second largest Christmas Market). We meandered amongst the white tents, sampled our first gluhwein and bratwurst of the trip (not liking the pear so much, but the red with amaretto was a winner). Two mugs of gluhwein later I was scrambling for change, making a mental note to keep plenty of 50 cent coins on hand for the loo. We eventually walked back to the Neustadt station, collected our luggage and rolled it over to the guest house. It was an early night; we were both thoroughly tired, Bill feeling a bit punk, having come down with the creeping crud prior to leaving home.

Where we slept:

Ingo had tried to steer me in the direction of the residential areas of Loschwitz, Blasewitz and Striesen but we didn’t want to deal with trams in an unfamiliar city on our arrival day, so we took a flyer and booked here:

http://www.city-oase-dresden.de/oase/.

Interesting place this, located in a rather charmless area across from a pharmaceutical factory that was lit up well into the night, and adjoining a few sad looking apartment blocks. The walk from the Neustadt station took 10-15 minutes and wasn’t particularly pedestrian friendly, involving some car dodging at intersections without traffic lights, and walking through an underpass on one side, then crossing to walk down the other side to access the correct street. The neighborhood was... colorful... with a nearby XXX Dolly Buster shop, and plentiful trash, bottles and graffiti lining the streets. The overall feeling of neglect extended to the apartments surrounding the guest house with abandoned TVs, strollers and broken windows. I’d read the reviews, but had booked anyway, as the good seemed to outweigh the bad. I’d also given Bill fair warning, so neither of us was particularly surprised.

Despite the unappealing approach from the train station, City Oase is a quirky little gem, well located near the Elbe River, alongside which one can easily walk to both Old Town and New Town in about 15 minutes. The building dates from 1880 and consists of individually themed rooms; it’s beautifully restored, lovingly maintained and full of character. It’s also a bit of a labyrinth, the rooms accessed via long hallways and interconnecting locking doors, the ceilings impossibly high. And, it fit our #1 requirement...peaceful.

We’d gotten the last available room (named after the artist K.G. Brucke), which meant twin beds; no drama for a couple of old married people, but the nocturnal forays to the loo across the hall weren’t particularly quiet or convenient given the extensive system of locks. We were cozy and warm, quite content. The only real downside was the breakfast, which got old fast; the same basic offerings placed on our table each morning and tepid, too strong coffee.

The owner requested a deposit via bank transfer, but agreed to accept cash on arrival if I sent a deposit via check, even though it was in US funds. He returned the check when we arrived. Cost - 358 Euro for four nights inclusive of city tax, plus an additional 8 Euro each per day for breakfast.

Up next – Dresden, land of pork, quark and Schokolade

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