Discovering Germany (and Austria) Part 1

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Oct 31st, 2012, 06:32 PM
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Discovering Germany (and Austria) Part 1

Other than a few hours several years ago, when we stayed in Reutte (Austria) and visited Neuschwanstein, I had never spent any time in Germany. But on October 8th, we flew to Frankfurt from Kiev (the site of our earlier adventure – see separate trip report for Kiev info). There we were met by my travel companion's brother Jeff, who picked us up to deliver us to an apartment near his home in Herxheim.

Day 1: 100 MPH on the Autobahn. Well, there's a bucket list item checked off. 100 mph didn't really feel that fast; everyone seemed to be going that speed or faster, and the road is very, very smooth. Herxheim, a bit more than an hour from Frankfurt, is a delightful little town with tidy streets and red-tile roofed houses. We noted that almost every structure had solar panels on its roof; apparently energy savings are good policy in Germany.

We sat down to a hearty meal prepared by Jeff's wife. There was bratwurst, sauerkraut, saumegen (not even sure what that is), and for us non-German foodies, ham and mashed potatoes, and cherry cheesecake. Afterward Jeff escorted us to a lovely apartment in Herxheim which was to be ours for the next three nights.

Day 2: Lost in the Black Forest. Jeff and Daniela picked us up at 8 am, and after provisioning at a delicious-smelling bakery in town, we set off for the Black Forest. We were quickly stopped by highway construction (there's a reason why the autobahn is so smooth), and had to detour through France (!!!) to get back to the little scenic roads through the Black Forest. Jeff, Daniela and the GPS couldn't seem to agree on a route, but after wandering and backtracking quite a bit we ended up at the Black Forest Open Air Museum, near Gutach, where I hadn't even known we'd been headed. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting place; with farmhouses, barns and other buildings dating back to 1600. These are authentic buildings which have been moved to this site, not reconstructions. Unfortunately our explorations took place during a downpour, so we were very happy to repair to the on-site restaurant, for cappuccino and Black Forest cake.

Next on the agenda was Freiburg. I was expecting a village, but Freiburg is more of a small-to-medium sized city. The 13th Century cathedral there was wonderful; although we were soon to visit many larger and more famous ones. The colorfully-decorated entry, and the lacy spire were some of the highlights. Though much of Freiburg was leveled by Allied bombers in 1944; this church somehow was spared.

Next we wandered the narrow, vine-wreathed streets of the Old City...beautiful, and lined with restaurants and upscale shops. The shallow canals leading down the streets were irresistible to many children in rubber rain boots. We ended the evening at a spot popular with Freiburg University students called Tacheles. In the cave-like downstairs restaurant we had very good schnitzel with Hollandaise, spaetzle, and a nice salad; all for less than 7 euro.

Day 3: Hiking to the Hutte. Breakfast at Jeff and Daniela's consisted of a lovely spread of cheeses, meats, and more bread than I should have eaten. We toured the cute towns and learned some of the history of Herxheim and Hayna, the latter being Daniela's home town and evidently once a prime tobacco growing area. At 1 pm we joined other friends for a hike up a mountain near Neustadt. The views looking out over the valley were outstanding. After about an hour of hiking, we assembled at the Hutte Hohe Loog, which is basically a mountaintop pub. The main objective of this stop was to sample the neuerwein, which is freshly pressed, fermented grape juice...tastes like grape juice, but has a 3 to 4% alcohol content. Yes, it can sneak up on you. We stayed at the hutte for about 3 hours...joking about how hiking in Germany must mean 1 hour of walking followed by 3 hours of drinking. Just about sunset, we got back down the mountain and went back to Herxheim for leftovers, coffee and conversation.

Next: off to Munich.
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Nov 1st, 2012, 09:53 PM
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Day 4: Munich. Daniela took us to Kandel where we caught the 20 minute commuter train to Karlsruhe. At the Karlsruhe bahnhof we relaxed at McD's before hopping on the ICE train to Munich. We had a very pleasant and scenic 3 hour trip; and most of the time had four seats and a table to ourselves. We arrived at the Munich rail station and figured out how to use the U-bahn without much trouble. We only had to ride one stop, to the Sendlinger Tor station, and our hotel was right there: Motel One Sendlinger Tor, which I can recommend. Part of a chain, this hotel was only a couple of years old; furnishings were bright and modern and our room, though small, was perfectly adequate. A sumptuous breakfast buffet, and (off and on) wifi, were included in the price of 99 euro per night.

We took a walk down Sendlingerstrasse, stopping along the way to view the ridiculously ornate Asam Church. Sendlingerstrasse itself was interesting, lined with nice shops and restaurants. In about 10 minutes we found ourselves on Marienplatz, looking in awe at the huge glockenspiel spire which, though it looks ancient, is only about one hundred years old. We ate a Starbuck's-style meal of sandwiches and coffee at the cafe at the Hugendubel bookstore, which gave us a birds-eye view of busy Marienplatz. We wandered around, checked out the TI, and finally sat at one of the ubiquitous turquoise umbrella tables for a glass of wine. Then back to the hotel for sleep and a little CNN fix.
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Nov 2nd, 2012, 05:46 AM
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Great report so far. I'm looking forward to more!
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Nov 2nd, 2012, 08:23 AM
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Loving your trip report and waiting for more!
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Nov 2nd, 2012, 08:43 AM
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Herxheim, a bit more than an hour from Frankfurt, is a delightful little town with tidy streets and red-tile roofed houses. We noted that almost every structure had solar panels on its roof; apparently energy savings are good policy in Germany. >>

enjoying your report vey much, especially as we have friends who live in Herxheim. [my penfriend who I started to correspond with 40+ years ago to be exact.]

<>

SaumAgen is [as the translated name suggests] is made from the stomach of a sow, stuffed and then cooked - a speciality of the palatinate region which is called the Pfalz in german.
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Nov 2nd, 2012, 09:30 AM
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Hmmm...now that I know what saumagen is, I'm glad I didn't eat a lot of it. Sounds sort of like haggis.
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Nov 2nd, 2012, 09:54 AM
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azzure - very similar.

i have to say it's not my Teetasse either.
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Nov 2nd, 2012, 06:41 PM
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Day 5: Dachau and other sights. We set out for Marienplatz after a good breakfast at the hotel, and at the TI bought tickets to the 10:15 “Munich Walks” tour to Dachau. We had considered doing this on our own, but were a little confused by the S-bahn and bus connections. In retrospect, I wish we had not done the tour. Dachau is a site for quiet contemplation and reflection, and our particular tour guide was a bit too animated and pedantic to allow for much thought. The Dachau excursion took almost all day, and on our return at about 4 PM we visited the Viktuelienmarkt, which was lively and fun, and the Stadt (Munich City) museum. There was a great exhibit at the Museum called “Typically Munich”, and an English language brochure was provided to explain some of the items on display. I'd recommend it. After a day at Dachau, the section about National Socialism in Munich was particularly instructive.

On the way back to the hotel, my companion was not feeling well, so I grabbed a hamburger at one of the “Schnell Imbiss” (fast food takeout) along Sendlingerstrasse. A great gelato from a place across the street from our hotel satisfied my sweet tooth.


Day 6: Beer and Palaces. In the morning, my friend was still not feeling great, so I went exploring solo. I went to St. Michael's Church and observed poor Mad Ludwig's tomb, and then to the Frauenkirche where I'd hoped to go up in the tower. It was a fine, cool, sunny day and perfect for photography, but the tower was unfortunately closed for reconstruction. I returned to the hotel and my friend was up and about. We visited the Viktuelienmarkt again, and then St. Peter's Church and Dallmayr's exotic store. By then my friend was fully revived, so we made our obligatory visit to the Hofbrauhaus. It was just what I'd expected, crowded and crazy. We shared a table with two American fellows who wanted to talk politics (no thanks) and two great girls from Bath, UK. Then on to the Residenz, a Versailles-like palace with incredible architecture, and next to the Treasury, filled with lavish jewelry and ornaments.

This was quite a day! Heading back to the hotel we stopped at the Stadt Cafe, a friendly, busy place filled with students, locals and tourists. I had delicious gnocchi, topped off with more gelato.
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Nov 4th, 2012, 08:26 PM
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Day 7: To Salzburg. Hearty breakfast at the hotel, and then off to the Hauptbahnhof for our train to Salzburg. The rail trip was uneventful and the countryside was beautiful. As always, it was a bit confusing stepping out of a new-to-us railway station and looking for transport into town. But many buses leaving the train station are headed into Salzburg Altstadt, so we got there easily despite the surly, snarly attitude of our bus driver. Our hotel, the Best Western Hotel Elefant, could not have been more conveniently located, steps from the riverside bus stop and within easy walking distance of everything. I can recommend this hotel (118 euro per night including a good breakfast and wifi); the staff was very courteous and the rooms were very nice. I would also recommend staying in the Altstadt; rather than in the “New Town” across the river; it is charming and historic. After checking in we wandered the lovely cobbled streets, visited the Dom, and finally more-or-less stumbled across the funicular and rode it up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, the huge gray brooding edifice that overlooks the town. Views from up there were magnificent, and the interior of the fortress was open to explore. After many photographs, we headed down to Getreidegasse, the main shopping street, with its elaborate wrought-iron signs. (Even McDonald's has a lacy iron sign, with Golden Arches in the middle.) We ended up at Cafe Mozart, having a light dinner of omelets, before heading back to sleep.

Day 8: Do Re Mi. We had wanted to go to Hallstatt this day, but the weather was threatening so we opted for the “minibus” Sound of Music tour offered by Bob's Special Tours. The tour bus seated 8, but there were only six of us on board, all Americans and all more interested in scenery than the Sound of Music. Nevertheless, and despite the gray weather, it was an interesting trip, especially for the beautiful views in the Salzkammergut lake district (where we stopped for apple strudel). Could have done without the entire Sound of Music soundtrack blasting from the speakers on the way back though.

The tour ended at Mirabell Gardens, and from there it was a short stroll in the rain to Mozart's Residence, which contained lots of authentic Mozart artifacts and instruments, as well as an interesting film about his life and times. From there we wandered back over the river for dinner at the Gasthaus zum Wilden Mann; which we had heard was lively...we must have been early. Nevertheless, the food was good and the ambience was very old-World Salzburg, with antlers.
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Nov 4th, 2012, 08:35 PM
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My favorite stop in Austria was Hallstatt (3 nights). I hope you made it there.
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Nov 6th, 2012, 05:27 PM
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Day 9: Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzburg. The sun was out this morning, and I rose early and re-photographed scenes that had been cloudy and gray yesterday. Then we went out to the bus stop, right at the river bridge, and caught the #840 bus to Berchtesgaden. I had a reservation for Eagle's Nest Historical Tours, but when we arrived we were told that yesterday's rain in Salzburg had in fact been snow at the Eagle's Nest, and the road was closed. Our 50 euro tour price was therefore reduced to 30. Before the tour commenced, we walked uphill to the old village of Berchtesgaden; there we discovered a wonderful old cemetery with many memorials to World War I and II German soldiers. After coming down the hill, we had sandwiches at a cafe in Hitler's train depot, and then joined our bus tour to the Obersalzburg. Our guide, a young woman, was very good although frustrated by the crowds at the Documentation Center. Many, many school groups were there, and most seemed to have very little respect for the sad history they were viewing. We viewed the bunkers and the exhibits, and it was interesting though the signage is all in German. There were brochures in English, however, giving selective information.

As the cloud cover cleared, we were able to appreciate the spectacular views available from the Obersalzburg. After the tour, we returned to Salzburg and tried to have dinner at a recommended riverside fish restaurant (Fisch Krieg) but they were closing early and shooed us out. Too hungry to search any further, we crossed the street and dined at Burger King!

Day 10: Too many trains. This was our most frustrating travel day, as our IC train from Salzburg was delayed, and we had to be completely re-routed in order to reach our destination of Rothenburg. I have written elsewhere of the frustration we experienced on the circuitous route, all of it on the slow Regio trains which have NO dining cars or drinking water. The agent gave us only 4 to 5 minutes between trains so we had no opportunity to get anything to eat or drink. A lesson learned, as we traveled for about 8 hours that day and were very hungry and tired when we finally reached Rothenburg.

Rothenburg, however, was so delightful that our troubles were soon erased. To quote Rick Steves, one leaves the train station, turns right and then walks right back into the Middle Ages. Our lodging, Hotel Spitzweg, was about 10 minutes from the train station and less than that to the main square. This hotel is almost 500 years old, and is incredibly quaint and comfortable. The rate here was 85 euro per night, including breakfast (but no wifi or any internet capability at all).

We immediately sought out food and drink at a nice restaurant right on the Market Square, whose name I unfortunately didn't record, but the food (meatloaf and cheesecake) was hearty and good. We wandered through the incredibly cute Kathe Wohlfarte Christmas shop, and then turned in early, wiped out by our train ordeal.
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Nov 6th, 2012, 05:55 PM
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Keep it coming, please!
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Nov 7th, 2012, 02:28 PM
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Day 11: Rothenburg is wonderful. Up early for breakfast, and then a walk along the town wall to orient myself a bit. The wall is ancient, and protected by an ancient wooden roof that might present a problem for anyone over about 6'2”...I would imagine that all the ducking involved might dampen the experience somewhat. Our first visit of the day was to the Kriminal Museum, (Medieval Crime and Justice Museum), which features exhibits about medieval law, punishment and torture devices. Interesting (I liked the “shame masks” which people were required to wear for various offenses) but in general it was a bit too macabre for my taste! After ice cream at an outdoor cafe, I engaged in my major souvenir hunt of the trip. I bought quite a few gifts at the Friese shop, which seemed to have good quality and well-priced items, and then bought a few more at the Kathe Wohlfarte Christmas store, after which we toured the not-terribly interesting Christmas museum.

We had a good pizza dinner at the Roma Pizzeria, which seemed to be very popular with locals and tourists alike, and then we were off to meet the Night Watchman. This turned out to be a trip highlight: the droll, self-deprecating Night Watchman (Hans George Baumgartner) meets crowds every night at 8 pm in the Market Square, and manages to blend humor and history as you follow him through the moonlit town. His tour costs 7 euro (honor system) and is worth every cent.

Day 12: Winding Down and Heading Home. We left Hotel Spitzweg after another great breakfast, and took the train back to Frankfurt. This involved several changes but thankfully, no running through stations to catch the next train. At around 3 pm, we wound up in the huge train depot that is part of the Frankfurt Airport. It took us quite a bit of time to get from the train to our hotel's van, at Terminal 2 exit D/E number 8. The signage in the Frankfurt Airport seems absolutely diabolical!

We spent the night in the Meininger Airport hotel, a typical, no-frills airport hotel (our last view of Germany from the hotel room window was of a giant construction site) for 66 euro (wifi but no breakfast). We had no trouble getting to our Lufthansa flight back to Seattle at 9:50 the next morning. Auf Wiedersehen, Germany! Bis spater!!
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Nov 7th, 2012, 02:29 PM
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By the way, there is no "Part 2"! Just can't figure out how to fix the title.
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