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Planning Trip to Germany and Surrounds

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Feb 22nd, 2012, 07:54 PM
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Planning Trip to Germany and Surrounds

Hey there guys,

Still in the very early stages of planning a roughly 1-month spring trip to Europe and looking for some advice and suggestions. I've done a decent chunk of research on Fodor's and elsewhere and I've come up with what I think is the basic roadmap for what we (my girlfriend and I) would like to do and see.

A little about us first: we're both in our early 20's (although we probably have more in common with a pair of 70 year olds), we're not much into the partying or club scene, would much rather have a quiet evening in a nice pub or cafe than spend the night out at a club. We're very much into exploring the culture, architecture, and natural beauty of a city and tend to shy away from the more typical "touristy" type attractions. Although we enjoy learning the history of our destinations, that's usually not the main focus of our trips, museums and the like usually stay off our short-list as we've found we can usually find the information we need on the internet when we get home.

A huge factor in the choice of destination for this trip is that I'm an absolute gear head. I absolutely love cars, more specifically German cars, and even more specifically, I'm a bit of an Audi nut. My girlfriend although not quite as enthralled, is still interested in the automotive world... or at least she's willing to put up with it . Her speciality seems to lie more in the art world however. She's a bit of a sucker for classical art so we're trying to find a nice balance between the two on this trip. Both of us are also very much into sports for whatever that's worth.

A couple things that we think we have pretty well set in stone are that we'd like to keep the trip to roughly a month long, we'd like to land in and take off from Frankfurt, we'd ideally be shooting to stay in roughly mid-range hotels along the way, and we'd like to be renting a car (some sort of hot German hatch) and driving for the entirety of the trip.

Here's the schedule we've mocked up thus far:

Frankfurt – 1 night
Nurburg – day stop
Cologne – 1 night
Amsterdam – 5 nights
Bruges – 3 nights
Reims – 1 night
Paris – 5 nights
Beaune - day stop
Geneva – 2 nights
Bern – day stop
Lucerne – 3 nights
Fussen – 1 night
Salzburg – 3 nights
Munich – 3 nights
Ingolstadt – 1 night
Frankfurt – 1 night
(We're also thinking the reverse may work even better)

One of the big decisions we're facing right now is whether to do this trip in March, April, or May (all of 2013). March would be nice for the lack of tourists and the possibility of making it to the Geneva Motor Show, May obviously for the warmer weather and greener landscapes, and April to sort of split the difference between the two.

We've both been to Europe a few times before but this will be our first time trying to cover a serious amount of ground so any tips, suggestions, comments would be very much appreciated. We're still very much open to switching our itinerary around, adding and dropping nights and cities off the list. I have a feeling many will tell us to cut down on the list of cities, we're open to this we're just having trouble deciding where to trim the fat. Money and timing are not too big of concerns for us so feel free to suggest at will.

I apologize for the novel I've written here and really appreciate anyone who took the time to read this and reply.

Thank you in advance,
Cam
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Feb 22nd, 2012, 08:55 PM
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Sounds like a great trip. A couple of things to think about. You can fly open jaw (into one city and out of another) so you might want to consider flying home from Munich. Also, there is a great BMW museum.and tour of the BMW factory in Munich. Porsche and Mercedes museums are in Stuttgart. For classical art check out the Alte Pinakotec in Munich. Obviously the Reichs Museum and Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam are the tops too. The Louvre an Muse de Orsay in Paris aren't bad either.
The later you schedule the trip the better the spring weather should be especially when you get to the mountains. We really enjoy staying in villages rather than cities when we can. You get a lot closer to the people.
Contact Gemutilichkeit Travel at Gemut.com for the best car rental deal.
Have fun.
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Feb 22nd, 2012, 10:02 PM
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Appreciate the reply.

I've always thought that you pay a decent chunk more flying open jaw, I suppose I'll have to look into it more now though.

I'll 100% be visiting the Audi museum and factory in Ingolstadt, and probably the BMW in Munich as well (although us Audi fans do have a little rivalry there . I'd very much like to go through Porsche and MB too but I'm wondering if it might just be too much for my girlfriend to handle, especially as we'll have already visited the Nurburgring and possibly the Geneva Motor Show earlier in the trip. Besides that, I've been told Stuttgart isn't exactly a magnificent city, am I mistaken there, is there much outside of automotives there?

The art museum recommendations are great, I'm sure my girlfriend will appreciate those.

Do you think the better weather of May would be worth having to deal with the increased number of tourists? I don't mind driving through snow as long as the car is properly equipped. We do get lots of practice at winter driving up here in Canada.
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Feb 22nd, 2012, 10:12 PM
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May is not that bad regarding number of tourists, but it is definitely better for the weather. Go in May. I would add Nuremberg and Rothenburg to the list (stay only 2 nights in Bruges and Salzburg)
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Feb 23rd, 2012, 07:06 AM
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Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris and Munich are not good places to use a car or to have it sitting idly while you pay for rental, insurance, parking. You're spending 2 weeks in those cities alone.

I would re-organize. Drop Frankfurt if you aren't going to see anything there anyway (it seems you're only there to sleep.) Fly into A'dam. Train to Bruges and Paris. Rent car there for Beaune and CH, and after Luzern drive north and drop it in in Mulhouse (or elsewhere in France) to avoid foreign drop-off charges. Then hop a train across the border into Germany and rent again for the balance of your trip. Do Munich last so you can drop the car once you arrive and fly out of MUC.
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Feb 23rd, 2012, 09:15 AM
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Seems like many are saying that later in Spring is the way to go. Besides lack of tourists, one of the reasons I wanted to go in March was to catch the Geneva Auto Show, now if I do decide to go later it kind of nixes that idea. I'm wondering now, is Geneva even worth stopping at if I decide to go later in the year or is it just another big metropolitan city? If that's the case I'd maybe even think about just heading straight east from Paris (to somewhere like Karlsruhe) and making my way down to Lucerne along the German-French border hitting things like Strasbourg/Black Forest along the way.

I have put a lot of thought into stopping at Rothenburg and Nuremburg. I took them out of this initial plan because I thought I may just be trying to squeeze in to much in to too little time on the trip. I don't want to feel too rushed or as if I'm always on the move. Are they sort of "must-sees"? If they're definitely worth the visit I'm sure I could find some time to stop in for a day or two at both.

I wouldn't be too worried about paying the extra few hundred bucks to leave a car parked for a few days in the big cities if it saves the hassle of continually dropping off and picking up cars and switching on and off of trains. Also, call me crazy, but I'm someone who really enjoys driving, even if the scenery isn't beautiful or the roads are rubbish, I still like hoping in a car to take off somewhere. It also gives the freedom to take off for short day-trips easily if that's something we decide to do.

Right now we just have Frankfurt as a take off and landing hub but I've also been thinking of making of a full stay of it, 2 or 3 days. Is it worth spending a few days there? Another reason I wanted to land there before heading to Amsterdam is that the Nurburgring (a race track in Nurburg) is right along the way and I very much want to stop in for a visit there.

I am starting to think it may be best to fly out of Munich though.

Again, thank you guys for the responses.
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Feb 23rd, 2012, 10:15 AM
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"Right now we just have Frankfurt as a take off and landing hub but I've also been thinking of making of a full stay of it, 2 or 3 days. Is it worth spending a few days there?"

Absolutely. Frankfurt has good museums. But since you aren't into them so much and the GF will get her art in A'dam Paris and Munich, I'd suggest heading straight over to the Middle Rhine Valley - it's right on the way to the Nurburgring and has great scenery and real medieval castles and wineries all over the place, and it's not full of Dutch and British tourists until the summer months:

www.marksburg.de
http://www.st-goar.de/17-1-.html

Cool Bier/food terrace at Schloß Rheinfels Hotel next to the castle in St. Goar, click on photo:

http://www.schloss-rheinfels.de/kuli...-der-landgraf/

Bacharach (south of Koblenz) and Oberwesel are very attractive villages with half-timbered buildings and old world charm. Bavaria Ben has a trip report that includes a stay in Bacharach (he actually has many pages on the Middle Rhine, this is just one) below; scroll down. This trip included a visit to Rothenburg (near top of page), which may interest you as well.


http://www.bensbauernhof.com/germanyaustria2010.html


"Also, call me crazy, but I'm someone who really enjoys driving, even if the scenery isn't beautiful or the roads are rubbish, I still like hoping in a car to take off somewhere. It also gives the freedom to take off for short day-trips easily if that's something we decide to do."

It is difficult for the auto-oriented to see the merits of European trains. I am much like you at home. But having done both in Europe, this car-only guy here is now a train-only guy over there. Daytrips from Munich can be done spontaneously to dozens of places - Salzburg, Garmisch, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Regensburg and are especially easy by train. Cheap too. Read a book, enjoy the scenery, sip a beer, and a whole day of travel for 2 costs 29€. You should try it once or twice while you're there:

http://www.munich-touristinfo.de/Bavaria-Ticket.htm

If you are into the Black Forest, Bens pages have lots of info and photos; I'd recommend a stay in Gengenbach, an old walled town not unlike Rothenburg but without the tourist horde, just across the border from Strasbourg:

www.gengenbach.de
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Feb 23rd, 2012, 10:43 AM
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Cars are pretty useless in cities like you will be spending much of your time in - lots of pedestrianized zones, parking can cost like in Amsterdam $30 a day and can be hard to find - many hotels in big cities do not offer parking or if you charge a lot for it perhaps - trains are fantastic in those countries - running everywhere all the time - and you will meet a lot of folks you age on the rails - car travel I find more isolating from locals - anyway check out these great sites for tons of stuff about European trains and also railpasses as if under 26 you can cop the bargain-basement Eurail Youthpass - and you can even take overnight trains between many cities and save the cost of an accommodation night and also again be often with many folks from all over the world your ages.

Car travel between cities is a snap - cars inside big cities can be a complete hassle - Amsterdam and Paris being two of the worst in this regard. Great sites for planning a European rail trip - www.budgeteuropetravel.com; www.seat61.com and www.ricksteves.com. Trains also go up to nearly 200 mph between cities - your OP itinerary will have you on the road perhaps more time than actually in the cities you list - trains take you right to the city centres much quicker.

Cars are great for driving in rural areas like the Mosel Valley in Germany or Tuscany's hilltowns in Italy or Normandy in France, etc but in most of the cities you list IME a complete hassle. Americans often have a mindset that only includes cars but do consider for your itinerary hopping the rails. And with a railpass in all those countries except France you can just show up at the station and hop any train anytime - complete flexibility and not even having to go to a ticket window.
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Feb 23rd, 2012, 01:48 PM
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I suppose I'll have to think more about renting a car for the entire trip. I have taken the trains before in Europe and there's no doubt they're fantastic. I've also driven through Portugal and Spain and had no troubles, even in bigger cities like Barcelona. Back to the drawing board I suppose.

Thanks again guys.
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Feb 25th, 2012, 04:54 AM
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The Altmuhl valley near Ingolstadt is a good area for hiking, cycling and general sight seeing. It is popular with German tourists but not so well known by American visitors.

Kloster Weltenburg is also nearby on the Danube and one of my all-time favorite beer gardens
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weltenburg_Abbey

You could take a night from Salzburg and add to Ingolstadt to see more of this area.
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Feb 25th, 2012, 05:38 AM
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What are you doing your 3 days in Brugges. Everyone is different, but unless you are doing a day trip from there, I would stay just one complete day.

Check out costs and if money is a concern, then I think you will find the suggestions for not keeping the car in cities make sense,
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Feb 25th, 2012, 10:39 AM
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Thanks again for the responses everyone.

I've heed the advice of you all and changed the itinerary around a bit, going to try to keep this trip a little simpler, prioritize, and not try to see too much. Just means we'll have to go back on another trip to Europe soon, not such a bad thing I suppose.

The plan now is:

(Late April to Late May)

- Fly into Frankfurt, rent a car, stay for 6 nights

- Take a few day trips by car while staying in Frankfurt giving me a chance to drive the Autobahn. Thinking Nurburg, Stuttgart, and somewhere in the middle Rhine (any suggestions there?)

- Return car in Frankfurt, take train to Amsterdam, stay for 9 nights

- Possible day trip by train to Utrecht or Delft or somewhere else entirely (again, any suggestions?)

- Take train to Bruges or Brussels (can't decide which), stay for 4 nights

- Day trip by train to whichever city we end up not staying at

- Take train to Paris, stay for 9 nights

- Possible day trip by train to Reims or Le Mans or elsewhere (?)

- Fly home out of Paris

How's this one sound? I know it's a bit of a far cry from the first but I think it'll be a much more enjoyable trip. Please, again any thoughts or suggestions are very much appreciated. You guys have been a great help thus far, I can't thank you enough.
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Feb 25th, 2012, 11:24 AM
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A couple of notes - have you checked about car rentals - often there are significant surcharges for drivers under 25 years of age. Also, you need to determine how much yuo wil hae to pay for the car yuo want - unless you pay a lot extra for a special car - there is no guarantee at all of what you will ge t- you can;t count on an Audi anything unless you pay extra.

You mention mid priced hotels - what does that mean to you? Some of the places you have picked (esp Switz) are VERY expensive. Also, be sure any hotels you pick have parking - which can be difficult in most towns - and expensive - figure $30 or more per night for a garage.

Finally, as a veteran of a lot of european road trips:

You have way too many one and two night stops - and will be spending too much time in transit versus actually sightseeing. Much better to pick a town and stay there and do day trips.

Also - be sure both of you are comfortable driving the car - on european roads - since having only one driver really isn't fair (the driver sees much less than the naviagator) and IMHO driving more than about 3 hours at a time just really isn't fun.
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Feb 25th, 2012, 11:34 AM
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The daytrips on your first 6 days sound feasible but coming and going in Frankfurt traffic doesn't sound wise, and Frankfurt isn't exactly central to your destinations. If you want to see Frankfurt, stay there for a day or two, then pick up your car and find another base for your car trips; from north to south, Bad Kreuznach, Alzey, Bad Dürkheim, and Speyer are nice places, and you'd have access to the A61. Daytrip to Worms, Speyer, Heidelberg, and Stuttgart, or north to the Middle Rhine (tour the whole area - not that far between Bingen and Koblenz) the Mosel (Cochem is nice) and the Nurburgring.

18 days for NL and Paris? Maybe. But it seems like you could borrow 3 days from each, then after or before the Frankfurt area stay, do something similar in southern Bavaria - do Salzburg, Munich, Ingolstadt, etc, over 6 days; again, you might want to avoid the big city (Munich) as a base if you're going to use a car.
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Feb 25th, 2012, 12:52 PM
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Thanks for the replies.

NY - I'm not too worried about exactly what car I get, any european hatch with some grunt will do (GTI, Golf R, A3, 1-Series, etc). Seems to be about a 100 euro surcharge to rent as 21-24 year old as oppose to 25+, not a big deal.

As far as hotel prices, I'd probably shoot for about 100-150 euros/night. That should be able to get at least a decent room in some of the bigger cities, shouldn't it?

I don't know if you read my last post (right above yours), but I've nixed a decent number of stops from the trip. The only hotel I'd have to worry about parking at is the Frankfurt hotel.

The new plan should cut down on driving but I'm comfortable doing 5+ hours driving at a time no problem. My girlfriend is also more than capable of driving if I do get tired, she can row gears with the best of em'.

Russ - Is driving in and out of these big cities really that bad? If that's the case I suppose it may be wise to find somewhere near Frankfurt to stay for 4-5 nights... although that would still leave us driving both in and out of the big city once to pick up and drop off the car.

Although I very much appreciate the suggestions, I think ideally we'd like to stay in a slightly bigger city than those four you suggested just so it can keep us occupied while we are spending time there and not out on our day trips. Would something like Heidelberg be an unwise choice? Still lots of traffic?

I'd like to see Bavaria/Austria, but I think we've decided that saving it for another trip may be best. Our two main priorities going into this were Amsterdam and Paris so I think we'd be crazy not to spend a good chunk of time there.
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Feb 25th, 2012, 05:04 PM
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"Russ - Is driving in and out of these big cities really that bad? If that's the case I suppose it may be wise to find somewhere near Frankfurt to stay for 4-5 nights... although that would still leave us driving both in and out of the big city once to pick up and drop off the car."

I've been caught a couple of times in some very bad traffic around Munich and Amsterdam. Haven't driven around Frankfurt actually but have heard it can be difficult. It's probably a hit-and-miss thing. Maybe someone else who does it often can give you the best tips for avoiding problems. Traffi is just something I want to escape when I visit Europe. I usually like a mix of smaller and larger places but you know yourself best. Heidelberg has fairly active evenings in the old town and isn't badly located for your intentions, but I don't know about traffic.

As far as dropping the car, you can usually drop it in smaller towns too for no additional charge. You can get one at FRA and drop it in Heidelberg, Bad Kreuznach, or Alzey if you rent with Autoeurope, I believe, or in dozens of other places.
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Feb 25th, 2012, 08:30 PM
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Traffic in Frankfurt is medium bad, traffic approaching Frankfurt on the autobahn is ghastly. Lots of Staus! (if you don't know that word, 'Stau' means traffic jam, and you hear it a lot on the radio.) We used to live in Wiesbaden and drove to Frankfurt often. The A3 to the airport is also intimidating (multiple lanes), although possibly not as bad as the autobahns driving through the Ruhrgebiet, where there are lots of cars all trying to change lanes quickly and get to the exits, because there are so many towns /cities there. I personally don't drive in Germany and if I were alone would never take a car, but my husband, who had to get a drivers' license for work, and could not swap his license for a German one, did driving lessons there and is consequently less afraid of driving at 140 km/hr. We normally don't go much over 140 - 150 and even that I find fast.

It's worth knowing that if you hit a traffic jam (quite likely), as you slow down on approach you must turn on your hazard lights. In Australia we virtually never use these, but where cars are travelling at such high speeds, and traffic jams involve hundreds of cars and can go for kilometres at a time, as they do on the autobahn, making sure people can see you is very important!!

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Feb 26th, 2012, 05:42 AM
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Your second schedule sounds more relaxing than the first. 9 days in Amsterdam seems a lot and I think you might be able to cut down there, but you did say this destination was one of your priorities. There are a lot of interesting side trips that are easy to take from Amsterdam with public transit.

We went to the Kröller-Müller Museum and oge Veluwe National Park in the Netherlands last fall and would really recommend this. You can get there via public transit, but it would be much easier with a car. See Day 5 of my trip report

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...etherlands.cfm
also this recent thread about how to get there without a car

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-amsterdam.cfm

We also really liked Antwerp which is a doable day trip from Amsterdam (Day 8 in my TR)

As for your time in Germany, I agree with other posters that getting in and out of Frankfurt on multiple days would be tiring.
since you don't want to do a lot of partying at night a smaller city should have plenty of cafes and restaurants.
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Feb 26th, 2012, 09:23 AM
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On autobahns if you do not maintain a certain speed you could arouse ire from others - this has happened to me when I was driving a van at top speed for the van and even though I was in the right hand lane several truck drivers who usually use that lane yelled at me when passing and one even brandished a knife - yes a knife at me from inside his cab. I was going as fast as I could - about the speed limit (about half of autobahns do have speed limits like those in urban areas)!
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Feb 29th, 2012, 12:50 PM
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and though autobahns sans speed limits would seem to offer a way to blast around Germany quickly IME keep your expectations down because IME there can often be, especially around large cities, serious traffic snarls where cars barely move for agonizingly long times at times.
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