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Dusseldorf, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii & Rome:The Good, the Bad & the Beautiful

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Oct 20th, 2012, 08:17 AM
  #1
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Dusseldorf, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii & Rome:The Good, the Bad & the Beautiful

Have you ever had this sensation: you're on the plane bound for your trip, anticipating what's in store; next thing you're there, still shaking you're head that you're really in Paris or Rome or wherever, but you've got exciting days ahead; suddenly you're on the flight back home; now you're home. Did time really pass that fast? Was the trip just a quick dream? That's the sensation I'm feeling now, still jet lagged after returning from our twelve day trip to Dusseldorf, Germany and the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii (actually a last minute change of plans to the Villa Poppaea ruins at the Pompeiian suburb of Oplontis), and Rome.

This odd hybrid of locations is the result of some last second planning and our desire to visit some close German friends in their hometown, then travel with them and their teenage sons to Italy for their fall school break. I'm usually obsessed with planning the minute details of our itineraries before we leave. This trip is different. Never have I departed for such a significant vacation with only a sketchy outline of what we intend to do in mind. But this unique opportunity to travel in Europe with Europeans on their schedule seems too good to pass up. As time permits, I'll review the results of this travel "experiment" here.
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Oct 20th, 2012, 09:02 AM
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I thought the same thing when I read your TR title - an "odd hybrid of locations". I too tend to plan minute details so I will be most interested to read about your trip at the mercy of others planning. Sounds like an interesting "experiment" and I look forward to hearing it all.
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Oct 20th, 2012, 09:29 AM
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Oct 20th, 2012, 10:57 AM
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I'm looking forward to it!
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Oct 21st, 2012, 03:51 AM
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Can't wait to read about your trip..
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Oct 21st, 2012, 05:30 AM
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We have been to all this palces; and I cannot think of anything bad or ugly; we enjoyed those places!!
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Oct 21st, 2012, 11:57 AM
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The genesis of our trip is this: twenty or twenty-five years ago we got to know a bright young German couple, a few years younger than we are, who were doing graduate studies at the university in our hometown. They had just started dating at the time, but we watched their romance progress over the year they were here and then kept in touch when they returned to Germany. To our delight, they got engaged, then married, decided to move to Dusseldorf, and during the intervening years launched parallel careers in which they’ve done very well.

Their success has allowed them to travel frequently with their two sons, including multiple trips to the U.S. On several of these, they’ve been able to stay with us for a few days. Recently, two of our college-age children have been able to visit them in Dusseldorf on summer studies abroad and raved about their time there.

My wife and I decided late this summer it was past time for us to go. We’d traveled in Germany before, but the thought of spending a longer period in a single city – especially in one as appealing as Dusseldorf -- and with knowledgeable locals (not to mention good friends) was just too good to pass up.

When we contacted our friends and disclosed our intentions, we learned that the early October time we had chosen to travel to Germany coincided with their two boys' fall school break. They were contemplating a trip to the Trentino-Alto Aldige/South Tyrol region of Italy, and wanted us to come along. That sounded good to me, as we’d only passed through that area on a couple of previous trips.

Checking our last-minute frequent flyer options, I thought flying to and from Italy without going to Germany would work best for us. Our friends would have none of it, insisting we had to visit them in Dusseldorf, THEN go with them to Italy. In the meantime, their plans had changed and they decided they would rather visit the Amalfi Coast for the first time and spend a few additional days in Rome where their sons had never been.

We’d never been to Amalfi either and can’t get enough of Rome, so that revision suited us just fine. Moreover, on our last trip to Italy, my wife was disappointed we couldn’t make time to visit Pompeii, so this would give us that opportunity too.

I was happy to just sit back and let our Dusseldorf friends guide us to their favorite spots in their hometown, because obviously they know it best and our time there would be as close as we could come to living like locals. But my work was keeping me too busy to brush up on the details of the Italian portion of the trip. I resisted a strong temptation to just post here on Fodors “Help, I’m going to Amalfi, now tell me what to do.” I instead uneasily resolved to myself that this trip mostly wasn’t about seeing new places, but was really about experiencing Europe from someone else’s perspective and let the trip unfold for us in real time, so here goes.
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Oct 22nd, 2012, 08:58 AM
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Looking forward to it!
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Oct 22nd, 2012, 09:35 AM
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Andiamo!
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Oct 22nd, 2012, 09:36 AM
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Oct 22nd, 2012, 05:59 PM
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Okay, a small correction -- I did do some ahead-of-time research, right here on Fodors.com. I learned two things:

(1) Many Fodors.com posts on Dusseldorf are from travelers anticipating an extended layover at the airport there and asking what to do. Hopefully I can help provide a few answers.

(2) I was having trouble quickly assimilating the abundant information on the Amalfi Coast, including where to stay and what to do there for four days other than enjoying the unfailingly delicious Italian food and wine. One thing I want to do for sure is to swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea, unless it's unbearably cold.

After reading a few reports, I default to always reliable Dayle's choice of Praiano, figuring if she'd chosen to stay there twice, it's good enough for us. It is a pleasant surprise that our German friends come to the same conclusion, choosing a hotel in Praiano that is a little pricier than we have in mind. They graciously defer to our choice of the Hotel Tramonto D'Oro there, while we agree to their choice of Hotel Ripa in Trastevere in Rome.

With our lodging set, but our daily itinerary totally up in the air, we pack up and fly to Dusseldorf.
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Oct 22nd, 2012, 06:16 PM
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Can't wait to read the rest. We just came back from Italy via Dusseldorf as well.
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Oct 23rd, 2012, 12:31 AM
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Bookmarking - can't wait!
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Oct 23rd, 2012, 02:18 AM
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just a note for those looking for other places to team with Dusseldorf - in the summer you can fly to Newquay in Cornwall!
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Oct 26th, 2012, 05:45 PM
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MRand,

Now I'm in suspense hoping that you enjoyed your stay in Praiano......please continue!
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Oct 27th, 2012, 09:07 AM
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A word about the title I selected for this report — the good and the beautiful certainly outweigh any bad on this trip. However, one “bad” was the surprise I received when I finalized our flight reservations and see the $396.80 in “Taxes and Carrier-Imposed Fees” ($198.20 apiece for my wife and me). I’m used some sort of fee imposed on frequent flyer mile tickets, but this seems way out of line. Maybe it’s just because it’s been a while since we've traveled to Europe on “free” tickets.

After some discussion with the American Aadvantage reps, they explain the high fee is due to the routing of our flights through the UK, and this is a tax imposed by the authorities there. Because we were booking late and have this unusual itinerary of flying in to Dusseldorf and out of Rome, we essentially have no choice. If Fodorites here know a better strategy next time I do this, I’d appreciate any suggestions.

One other difficulty was deciding what to pack for the trip, since we faced the possibility of cold, wet weather in Germany but hot, dry days in Italy. I pack a medium-weight water proof jacket that can keep me warm and dry in all but the coldest fall weather, three long-sleeve shirts, three short-sleeve shirts, two pair of slacks and a pair of jeans, and then wear some lighter weight Columbia khaki pants (convertible to shorts if needed) on the plane.

Okay — so before departure my daughter doesn’t approve of my style choices. I tell her this is a privilege of being over 50. Those Columbia pants are, by far, what I end up wearing the most.

On to Dusseldorf.

Mon. Oct. 8 - Dusseldorf

The flight over the water is uneventful and, as usual, Ireland and England are cloaked in a blanket of clouds as we descend to Heathrow. Changing from Terminal 3 to 5 for our flight to Dusseldorf is more of a hassle than we expect from previous trips. Maybe we're just tired after the cramped all-night transcontinental flight on American, but waiting for the bus between terminals seems to take forever, then we have to stand again in a dozens-deep security line only to find that the bags we carried on with ease on the American flight won’t fit in the British Airways luggage measurement contraption, so we have to check them.

The BA flight to Dusseldorf, however, is very comfortable and the late afternoon cloud cover breaks as we approach Dusseldorf, revealing deep green German countryside. Soon the modern Dusseldorf skyline — highlighted by the 800-foot Rhine Tower — appears on the horizon. We arrive on time and the weather is pleasantly cool, in the mid-50s with clearing skies.

Our friends have fixed a fantastic welcome dinner for us at their beautiful home. None too soon, we are reminiscing with them and their teenage sons — all of whom speak fluent English — over drinks and appetizers.

The next day, it takes me about a hour and a half to destroy the carbohydrate-free progress I’ve made in my diet over the summer months. But we’re in Germany for crying out loud, home of some of the best bread and beer on the planet. Next stop Italy, pasta, and wine. No way I’m letting some measly diet interfere with the really good things in life . . .
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Oct 27th, 2012, 09:38 AM
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After some discussion with the American Aadvantage reps, they explain the high fee is due to the routing of our flights through the UK, and this is a tax imposed by the authorities there. Because we were booking late and have this unusual itinerary of flying in to Dusseldorf and out of Rome, we essentially have no choice. If Fodorites here know a better strategy next time I do this, I’d appreciate any suggestions.>>

only the obvious - avoid LHR!

seriously both Schipol and Frankfurt would make equally good hubs, so long as the destinations you want are available of course. But, had you flown to Frankfurt, you could easily have got a train to Dusseldorf.
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Oct 28th, 2012, 08:12 AM
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Tues. Oct. 9 to Thurs. Oct. 11 – MRand’s Subjective Guide to Düsseldorf

Since most inquiries about Düsseldorf in this forum are asking what to do here while on layover at its great new(er) airport, here’s a quick, totally subjective guide of what we enjoy in the city with the help of our local friends over the next four days. The literal German translation of “Düsseldorf” means “village on the Düssel” river. Düsseldorf, with the umlauted “u,” is the correct German spelling. Our friends tell us that Dusseldorf’s big sports and cultural rival is nearby Cologne, about 30 miles south “up” the Rhine. Cologne soccer fans, as a taunt, apparently spell the city “Dusseldorf” without the umlaut, which in German means something like “village of fools.” Oh, those European soccer fans.

To the contrary, Düsseldorf is an active, modern city that is a leading commercial and cultural center in Germany. When he moved here in the mid-1850s, composer Robert Schumann wrote his greatest work — his Third Symphony — whose first movement was intended to evokesthe rapidly-flowing Rhine River that dominates the city. German poet Heinrich Heine was born and raised in Düsseldorf, and the major university in the city is named after him. The city center is relatively compact but bustling, and the major sites it has to offer for visitors are easily walkable or accessible with public transportation.

The city has four contiguous “districts” of interest. Three of them are on the east side of the Rhine:

(1) The Altstadt (Old City) with its great promenade along the Rhine. This is area of old-style German buildings housing shops, bars, and restaurants. It was completely restored after the devastating bombing of the city during World War II. One interesting thing you often see in the area is the statues or images of the “Radschläger” — the cartwheeling kids that our friends tell us has been a symbol of Dusseldorf since the Middle Ages, when town children allegedly celebrated a victory between locally-warring principalities.

(2) Parallel to the Alstadt is the modern downtown/shopping area that centers on the appealing half-mile long Königsallee (nicknamed the “Kö”) boulevard. This broad avenue, with a tree-lined canal running down the middle, is framed on the outside by high-end stores. Our friends call it the “Champs Elysee of Germany.”

(3) South of both the Altstadt and the Königsallee districts is the stunningly modern Mediahafen (“Media Harbor”) on the Rhine with all sorts of futuristic buildings occupied by media offices, bars, and restaurants. They line an old harbor on the Rhine that has been dramatically renovated over the last 15- 20 years, now looking like a movie set for something like Blade Runner or Minority Report. The most interesting structures (among many) include Frank Gehry’s fantastic white, gleaming silver, and red-rust trio of misshapen buildings “Der Neue Zollhof” (circa 1998) and the brand-new Hyatt Regency Dusseldorf with its own Chicago “Bean”-like structure that doubles as a bar. (See pictures at http://www.fotoausflug.de/en-germany...buildings.html .)

(4) The fourth area of interest — on the west side of the Rhine just across from the Altstadt and Mediahafen — is the old but upscale neighborhood of Oberkassel. It’s accessible by two Rhine river bridges and largely escaped the destruction wrought on central Dusseldorf by WWII, although embedded bomb shrapnel can still be seen in some of the townhomes. Today Oberkassel is full of young professionals and families and quiet streets full of interesting architecture and neighborhood cafes.

Based on our friend’s recommendations and our personal sampling over three solid days exploring the city and its environs, these are our highlights of the city:

Best pizza: Al Colosseo - Nosthoffenstrasse 32 in the Altstadt. The favorite of our friends’ teenage sons, who in my mind are the ultimate pizza critics. And inexpensive at that.

Best beer: Uerige – Berger Strasse 1 in the Altstadt. Great old German beer hall. Well, not really a hall, but a great old German beer room serving the best of Dusseldorf’s trademark Altbier. Altbier is a dark but not too heavy contrast with the blonde Kolsch lager that is the signature beer of Cologne — Dusseldorf’s rival city just a few miles south along the Rhine.

Best bakery: Tie between Pure Freude — Hohe Strasse 19 and Bäckerei Hinkel — Mittelstrasse 25. “Pure Freude” translates as “Pure Joy” and it’s easy to see why. This shop has amazing small pastries, including delicious homemade marshmallows among many other things. This is a favorite stop of our friends, and I notice all nine Yelp reviews as of Oct. 2012 are in German and give the place 5 stars, so the locals must know something. Bäckerei Hinkel at Mittelstrasse 25 is a bread-lovers’ heaven, packed with locals buying every imaginable version of bread such as football-sized Oberländer, Mürbchen sweet bread rolls, and Kümmelstange loafs, and discus-shapen Innsbrucker Roggenloab. I’d pretty much cut bread out of my diet before the trip. I give myself permission to suspend that for 12 days.

Best gummi bears: Bärenland – Berger Strasse 25 in the Altstadt. I’ve never been a huge fan of gummi bears, but this store pretty much changes my mind. Every flavor of gummi under the sun, and their peach-flavored gummis (is that a liquid center I’m tasting?) — absolutely nail it.

Best breakfast: Muggel — Dominikanerstrasse 4, in Oberkassel. Get yer eggs any way you want them, and the toast with butter and homemade strawberry jam is killer.

Best lunch: Nagaya — Klosterstrasse 42, downtown. Expensive but delicious sushi (a good dietary change of pace for us) at Michelin-award winning chef Yoshizumi Nagaya’s downtown restaurant: www.nagaya.de

Best dinner: Brasserie Hülsmann — Belsenstrasse 1 in Oberkassel. A neighborhood bistro jammed with locals at dinner, with a friendly family atmosphere. The best sausages I’ve ever had, but they’ve got everything under the sun on the menu. Reasonable prices for the six of us. The also have a creative web site: www.brasseriehuelsmann.de

Best art museums: Modern art exhibits at the K20 and K21 museums – both part of the North Rhine-Westphalia state museum of art. K20 is just north of the Alstadt and Kö areas and (in my mind) has a somewhat more interesting collection. Yet K21, just south of the Altstadt and Kö, is the more interesting building. Both worth checking out: www.kunstsammlung.de/en/home.htm

Best view: Rhein Tower (Rhein Turm) – the pinnacled 800 foot observation tower with incredible 360º view of the central Rhine region. We go up on a clear day and can see south all the way to Cologne, barely making out the spires of the famous cathedral on the horizon.

Best walk: Start at K20 art museum when it opens. Then walk along the Rhine and through the Alstadt, stopping for a beer and slice of pizza for lunch. Grab a gummi snack at Bärenland. Walk over to and down the Kö boulevard, window shopping at the fancy shops if you like, to K21, which is located in the old . Even if you don’t see the collection, just walking in the modern white atrium, set in the old parliament building, is worthwhile. Over to the Rhine Tower for the sweeping views and then check out the Mediahafen. Stroll across the Rhine and end up in Oberkassel for dinner at Brasserie Hülsmann. (Or any part of the above.)

Best park: The beautiful grounds of Schlöss Benrath (Benrath Castle) on the southern side of the city. The “castle” was actually an opulent hunting lodge built in the 1700s by the local prince of the region.

Best evening road trip: Stappen — Steinhausen 39 Korschenbroich, Mönchengladbach, Germany. Incredible food in very nice atmosphere with surrounded by locals with no tourists (other than us). There’s a nice beer garden out back too. It’s about a 15 mile drive west of Dusseldorf, so this would be a fantastic place for those travelers with a rental car, but maybe a little difficult to reach by public transportation: www.gasthaus-stappen.de

Best half day road trip: Feste Zons – a few miles south of Dusseldorf along the west bank of the Rhine is the small walled medieval town of Zons, within the larger modern community of Dormagen. Locals call Zons the “Rothenburg of the Rhine” after its more famous and much larger walled counterpart in southeastern Germany. In the Middle Ages, the Rhine flowed right along Zons’s eastern wall, thus allowing the town to be a key point for collecting tolls from ship traffic on the river. A “pig war” — a local dispute in the 1500s with the archbishop of nearby Cologne in which a Zons local recovered pigs the archbishop’s troops had claimed for his domain, is commemorated with an amusing sculpture and fountain at the walled entrance to the town. The fortress was later occupied by Napolean’s troops. (After we visit, we take a small ferry boat at Zons back to the east bank of the Rhine. It’s amazing, despite the locally flat terrain, how fast the Rhine current flows here and in Dusseldorf.)
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Nov 4th, 2012, 07:03 AM
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MRand,

Where are you? I don't remember if you live on the East Coast. I hope you are not in trouble as a result of Sandy.

Looking forward to the rest of your report! Check in!
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Nov 4th, 2012, 11:07 AM
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Dayle:

Thanks for your concern. We were not affected by Sandy (but do have friends who were). My excuse fortunately is much more mundane - just the demands of being back at work taking time and energy away from finishing trip reports. Since it's the end of the season at Amalfi, I also felt less urgency to share our experiences with potential visitors. I'll try to be more brief and pick up the pace as work permits. Our thoughts and prayers do go out to all who are still suffering or facing difficulties post-Sandy.

To other readers in this forum, although I've never met Dayle, I've found her reporting to be very accurate. Her previous trip reports about her stays in Praiano heavily influenced my decision to choose this town for our "base of operations" in Amalfi. An example of the value of the Fodors forum at its best.

Luckily, our German friends independently picked Praiano as where they wanted to stay as well. Their initial choice for a hotel was a little more expensive than we had in mind, so we compromised and chose the Tramonto D'Oro, heavily influenced not only by what seemed to be its reasonable price, but also its great views, its good reviews on Trip Advisor, and its accessibility to the beach. We love to swim on vacations and we are determined to swim in the ocean there if the water temperature permits. The fact that Tramonto also apparently has a nice swimming pool makes it attractive to us as well as the German teenage boys we have in tow.

Fri. Oct. 12 - Dusseldorf to the Amalfi Coast

We are lucky that we've had great weather for the 3+ days we've been in Dusseldorf (clear to partly cloudy with high temperatures in the 60s and 70s F), as they had a number of days of heavy rain shortly before we arrived. But we may have used up our good weather luck where we need it the most - the Amalfi Coast. The weather forecast is for rain on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday -- three of the four days we will spend there. Moreover, the heavy rain has returned to Dusseldorf on the morning we depart.

We've gotten a great one way fare on a two-and-a-half hour non-stop easyJet flight from Dusseldorf to Rome Fiumicino ($148 apiece, including checked bag and early boarding fees). Our German friends, however, are apprehensive because they've had a previous bad experience with easyJet canceling a flight from Switzerland back to Germany and leaving them to fend for themselves in making return arrangements. This flight, however, goes off without a hitch and we arrive in Rome on time at 3:10 p.m. The sunshine on the Italian countryside breaking through the clouds portends, we hope, better weather than that forecast for the next few days.
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