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Trip Report - Summer 2007 Germany, Austria and Czech

Trip Report - Summer 2007 Germany, Austria and Czech

Old May 15th, 2008, 06:47 PM
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Trip Report - Summer 2007 Germany, Austria and Czech

Firstly, my apologies that it has taken me so long to post this trip report. However, as I got so much wonderful help from fellow Fodorites, I wanted to report back on our experiences - better late than never!

June / July 2007 saw us travelling to Europe for the second year in a row – this time covering Czech Republic, Germany and Austria, with a short stop in Singapore on the way home. We are a family of 4 Australians (Mum, Dad and daughters aged 13 and 15), and this year we travelled with a bachelor family friend, Andrew. We aimed to self cater as far as possible, but some stays were too short to allow this. Wherever we stayed, we always arranged separate accommodation for Andrew as this allowed us all some “time out”.
Our first challenge had been to get a car large enough to fit 5 adults plus luggage, and one that could be taken in The Czech Republic. We had booked a VW Passat Wagon, as this seemed to be the only car that matched our requirements, only to be told upon pick-up, that this definitely could not be taken into the Czech Republic. At any rate, we ended up with a Ford Wagon, which with careful loading of bags, back packs and food, suited us very well.
Day 0: Departed Sydney at 3:40pm on Singapore Airlines. We had a couple of hours stopover in Singapore before heading for Frankfurt, where we arrived in the morning about 23 hours after leaving Sydney. Our first impression of Germany was how many people smoke. This followed us throughout our trip, and being non-smokers we really missed the rules back home which preclude people from smoking in restaurants.
Day 1: Dinklesbuhl.
Collected hire car, and headed off to a local airport hotel to find Andrew who had already been travelling through Europe for 4 weeks. We could see the hotel from a nearby road, but getting there was a little more difficult. However, with a little perseverance we soon had collected Andrew and were headed for the little old walled German town of Dinklesbuhl for our first night. The trip took us about 3 hours through very pretty countryside. It took a bit of getting used to the autobahn – everyone just flies past at incredible speeds, which to us just seemed so unsafe.
We loved the day in Dinklesbuhl. We started with some of the best coffee and cakes we had anywhere in Europe, before checking into our hotel. We stayed in the centre of town at Hotel Goldenes Lamm (www.goldenes.de), which was charming and very suitable for a first night. The four of us had a large family room in which we “crashed” at about 7pm for a solid 12 hours sleep.
Dinklesbuhl was an ideal first night stop. Not too long a drive from Frankfurt, and small enough and really quaint to enjoy exploring on foot. As long as we kept walking around we kept going. If we sat down, we wanted to sleep. We were determined to get into the European time frame as soon as possible, and this strategy worked well for.
We all loved Dinklesbuhl, and will definitely return in the future!

Day 2 & 3: Prague
The drive from Dinklesbuhl to the outskirts of Prague took about 4.5 hours. It was an easy drive, not too busy, well signposted and very pretty countryside. When we reached the edge of Prague the first thing the girls commented on were the plentiful, really ugly, apartment buildings everywhere – we guess a legacy from the communist era.
We decided not to drive in the old city as we had heard how difficult this can be. Instead we had booked a suburban hotel about 15 minutes from Prague centre by train, called Hotel Svornost (www.svornost.cz). The only problem was that we did not have a detailed map of Prague and it soon became clear we had no hope of finding our way to this hotel. We finally stopped next to a large river (probably the Vlatva River) on the edge of suburbia to try and work out where we were. A quick scout around revealed that we were very close to a large station with several taxis parked outside. We found a taxi driver who spoke English, explained our predicament to him, and soon we had Andrew in the taxi while we followed behind in the hire car. I think I can safely say we would never have found our way to Hotel Svornost without our very kind taxi driver, as we soon found ourselves following the taxi through a road that had been closed for road works. Hotelo Svornost proved to be a very comfortable, affordable hotel somewhat like an “old post” hotel. It was actually quite nice staying in suburbia, and it was a very easy train trip into the city (station only 2 blocks away). As we arrived on a Saturday afternoon, it was quite interesting to find the hotel restaurant was being used for a wedding,
We spent our first afternoon exploring the old town. Some of the architecture was lovely, but we were stunned by the crowds of tourists. What really amazed us was the number of loud British youngsters wandering the streets drinking beer and generally being obnoxious. Not being a fan of crowds, we were very happy to be staying in suburbia which also allowed us a good, quiet night’s sleep. We had a pleasant dinner at the hotel restaurant that evening.
On Sunday morning we met Barbora of Prague Guides in our hotel Lobby at 8:45am. She was so interesting – not just for her knowledge of Prague and its history, but talking to her about what it was like growing up behind the iron curtain was just fascinating! She spent the entire day showing us “all the sights” including Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, the Little Quarter etc. Having only very limited time in Prague, we found using a knowledgeable private guide was a very good use of our time.
While I am pleased I have seen Prague, I am not one of those that thinks it is the best location ever. I personally think it is overrated! There was a sense of narrow winding cobblestone streets that must have a lifetime of stories hidden in them, which are now just tourist curio shop after tourist curio shop. It felt like the “soul” had been torn from the city and in its place was rampant commercialism to make up for lost time. I think if I were to return to Prague I would like to do so in winter. I can imagine it covered in snow and devoid of the crushing crowds, showing something of the magic that is surely still buried there.

Day 4: Cesky Krumlov
Driving out of Prague was not nearly as difficult as driving in, and we headed off for the 3 hour drive to Cesky Krumlov without incident. The countryside was gorgeous, and we were ever so glad we had squeezed Csesky Krumlov into our trip. It was one of the definite highlights of the holiday, and I would have enjoyed spending another day there. We stayed in The Castle Apartments (www.zameckaapartma.cz/en/) in the wall of the old town. The accommodation was fantastic and we would highly recommend it if you want charm and space.
The weather was beautiful and the town was so easy to just explore – no set purpose, just wandering around to see what one could find. After dinner we were booked on a night tour of the town. It was just us and the guide – a north American who was also a part time English teacher in a nearby school. He had arrived several years earlier, fell in love with the town and never left. He was very easy to chat to, and as the town was largely devoid of tourists, it was easy to wander around learning about the history of the place. Cesky Krumlov has been lovingly restored and is beautifully lit up at night, so it was quite magical. I don’t think I will ever forget the amazing Castle at CK, perched on the rock face above the river – an amazing site.

Day 5 - 7: Durnstein (Wachau Valley)
We couldn’t tear ourselves away from the gorgeous town of Cesky Krumlov, so we spent a few more hours wandering around town before heading off for Durnstein in the Wachau Valley. The drive was lovely, especially as we descended down towards Krems – large monastery perched on the hill with the river winding through the valley below.
In Durntein we stayed at the Stockingerhof B&B Inn (www.stockingerhof.at ), which is part of a winery. Here we had two double rooms – one for the girls and one for ourselves. Durnstein is a very small but charming village in the Wachau Valley and was a good place to be based for our three days exploring.
A highlight of the trip was when we hired some bikes from the hotel and set off to cycle along the river to the town of Melk (about 30km). It was a lovely sunny day, but very windy. We seemed to be the only people cycling towards Melk (straight into the head wind!), with most cyclists coming the other way. Was this coincidence, or did they know more about the winds than we did? We cycled through the vineyards and little villages to Spitz where we crossed on a small ferry to the other side of the Danube. The last 10 km into Melk seemed to take us forever – the winds were very strong by this stage and there were a few hills which tested our endurance. We arrived at Melk very hungry and devoured the best pizza and beer at a small restaurant in the middle of town. After this we enjoyed visiting the massive Melk Monastery. It seemed to be “dripping” with gold and most unlike any other church we had seen in Europe before.
My suggestion that we cycle back to Durnstein was met with a flat refusal. The entire family was adamant I could do it alone, so I bowed to majority rule and we returned to Durnstein by boat. The boats are well set up take cyclists, so having the bikes with us was no problem at all. It was interesting to get a different perspective of the valley from the boat and the girls identified places they wanted to explore further.
The next day we explored the valley by car. We started at the ruins of Aggstein Castle. The ruins were fantastic, the audio guide great, and the views stunning. A photographers dream! Another real highlight for us!
We then drove to Willendorf. This was a definite “must do” for us as Claire had studied Venus of Willendorf at school, and had even made her own Venus out of clay in art. We easily found the site where Venus had been discovered and took some great photos of Claire with an oversized Venus look-alike. We finally ended up in a park in Krems for a late lunch. In the afternoon we climbed the hill behind Durnstein to the ruins where Richard the Lionheart had been imprisoned – very pleasant.

Day 8 - 10: Vienna
The drive into Vienna was easy and we were able to stop along the way for great views down over the city. In Vienna we stayed in Family Walkner’s apartment (http://www.apartment.at/index_eng.ph...66/uebersicht/). It was well located and very comfortable. The owner was very helpful providing some maps and pointing out what there was to see.
We bought travel passes for the adults in Vienna, and the children travelled for free as it was school holidays. The first afternoon we explored around St Stephens Cathedral and bought some supplies for a home cooked dinner. This was really the first opportunity where we had to self-cater and we were all starting to tire of “fries” with every meal.
On Saturday we started off at the local farmers market to buy some fresh produce – (fantastic raspberries!) and then took the tram which travels around the ring-road to orientate ourselves. We spent a few hours in the Natural History museum – a very impressive display, but our ultimate objective was to see Venus of Willendorf. She was very small and kept in a darkened room, presumably for her preservation. In the afternoon we ended up at the Sacher Hotel for coffee and their famous Sacher Torte. After this reviver we caught the u-bahn to the military museum where the girls enjoyed the WW1 and WW2 displays. The displays were well done and tied in nicely with what they have been studying at school.
After a home cooked dinner we walked to the Prater amusement park. Walking around just watching people was really enjoyable. We went on the oldest ferris wheel in Europe which gave us great views over Vienna’s night sky. We then watched the girls on the dodgem cars – they were hopeless drivers and we are dreading teaching them to drive!
Sunday was a very warm day, and the day we had set aside for visiting Schloss Schonbrunn. The palace and gardens were lovely to explore and we all found the apple strudel demonstration very interesting. We spent the afternoon quietly catching our breath as being Sunday, most shops in Vienna were closed.

Day 11 - 16: St Gilgen
We travelled to St Gilgen via Mauthausen where we visited the concentration camp. Whilst certainly a very thought provoking and sad place, it was a disappointing place to visit. Large parts of the camp seemed to be under reconstruction as a recent storm had created some damage, and the audio guide seemed to not follow the layout of the camp. We met several tourists who declared they had simply “given up” on the audio guide as it did not seem to follow any pattern.
By the time we entered St Gilgen (about 30km from Salzburg) it was raining lightly, but even the inclement weather could not detract form the breathtaking beauty of the area. We all immediately fell in love with the place – the mountains, the lakes, the villages …. Just all of it! I personally think this must be one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and I loved every single day of our stay, even though the weather was not very kind to us. Once again, it was a definite highlight of the trip for us.
We had battled to find suitable self catering accommodation in St Gilgen on the internet, but what we found was absolutely lovely. We stayed in apartments run by Family Weissenbacher which are next door to the camping ground which they run in Abersee (on the outskirts of St Gilgen) (http://www.birkenstrand.at/fewo_eng.htm) . The apartments were beautifully refurbished, spacious and extremely reasonably priced. This is certainly some the nicest accommodation we have stayed at in Europe, and definitely some of the cheapest! A wonderful find and I would love to stay there again!
Our first day in the St Gilgen area was an absolutely magical day! The weather was kind to us, and we headed off for gorgeous Hallstatt. We explored the town, the church and the very pretty graveyard. The bonehouse with its beautifully decorated skulls was interesting too. From Hallstatt we drove to Dachstein where we visited the ice caves, before heading for the salt mines at Bad Aussee. This was the secret hiding place of art treasures stolen by the Nazis during WW2.
Unfortunately most of the rest of our stay in this area was wet or overcast, with very few sunny patches. However, we still had a fantastic time. We visited Salzburg one day which we enjoyed. As it was a VERY wet day, we only visited the fortress and spent most of the rest of the day sheltering in shops. Our friend Andrew spent the morning on a tour of the town and the afternoon on a sound of music bus tour. We met up with him in Mondsee (outside the church used for the wedding scene in the Sound of Music) which was the last stop of his tour before it went back to Salzburg.
When it wasn’t raining we enjoyed going up mountains on cable cars for some lovely walks, summer tobogganing down some slopes (which the girls really enjoyed!) and visiting a deer park.
We also enjoyed another special day visiting Berchtesgaden in Germany. The museum, Dokumentation Obersalzberg was a wealth of information and really worth a visit. The views from Eagles Nest over the valley and the Konigsee were also special. The highlight of the day for us was however the boat trip on the Konigsee. We went to the furthermost point and then walked across some lovely countryside to another lake. It was very pretty and we took some beautiful photos to remember it by.

Day 17 - 22: Garmisch-Partenkirchen
The day we left St Gilgen was a beautiful, clear day. We travelled to Prien where we caught the ferry to see Schloss Herrenchiemsee. We saw several of King Ludwig’s palaces over the next few days, but this was one of our favourites.
After leaving Prien we found a huge traffic jam on the autobahn so we detoured via some back roads to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, going through a big thunderstorm on the way. We finally arrived at our apartment (http://www.rent-a-holiday.com/EN/ger...tenkirchen.htm), which once again proved to be a good location which suited us very well.
Unfortunately most of our time in the Bavarian Alps was marred by rain, and as our plans all revolved around walking and going up mountains etc, this somewhat spoiled our time there. However, we still saw a lot. One day we visited Ludwig’s castles – Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein, and Linderhof, as well as going to Oberammergau. Another day we caught the train to Munich – not because we really wanted to visit Munich, but because we were so tired of the rain that we thought some retail therapy might help. One day we visited the Partnachklamm gorge - this was really amazing, and given the large amounts of rain we had had, there was a lot of water. Certainly, this was enjoyed by the whole family. We also enjoyed some cable car trips and walks at the top.
Our last day in Garmisch was perfect weather so we headed up the Zugspitz. Obviously we were not the only people waiting for the weather to clear as it was VERY busy up there, and the cable cars were very crowded. You would not say the cable car trip was done for the view – it was just a very crowded form of transport. We had seen the Eibsee Lake looking down from the top of the Zugspitz, so we decided to visit it when we went down. It was simply beautiful. We not only enjoyed doing some walks along the shore of the lake, but we also hired a peddle boat and the girls took us out on the lake for a very lazy ride! They did all the work while we lounged back and enjoyed the spectacular scenery! Once the sun came out, our entire view of the Bavarian Alps brightened considerably, and we were disappointed that we were leaving just as the newspaper headlines forecast “summer would arrive tomorrow”!

Day 23:
We left Garmisch-Partenkirchen on a lovely sunny day, stopping at Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber for lunch and a walk along the town walls. It was a very hot day so we did not feel particularly energetic. We had planned to stop at a town quite close to Frankfurt to pass the time, but somehow missed the turnoff. As it was such a hot day we decided to head straight for the airport to its air-conditioned comfort – but this unfortunately meant a 6 hour wait for our flight.

Day 24 - 26: Singapore
As the weather had been quite mild for the duration of our stay in Europe, we found the change to Singapore’s heat and humidity quite marked. Much of our time in Singapore was spent shopping, although we also visited the Bird Park and the Night Safari at the zoo.

Day 27: Sydney
Once again it was a big shock to arrive back home to some decidedly wintry weather. We had a wonderful trip, which all too quickly was just another pleasant memory of beautiful sights and fun
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Old May 15th, 2008, 11:36 PM
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Thanks for posting this PRLCH, we are in the middle of organising our trip for next year to many of the same places.Your thoughts on Prague are quite interesting, we are wrestling with the amount of time we are going to spend there.
So glad you enjoyed Cesky Krumlov and St Gilgen, we are really looking forward to those places.

Do you feel that a day trip to Salzburg was enough? After CK we have penciled in 4 nights Vienna, 2 Salzburg, 3 St Gilgen, 2 Ramsau, 4 Mittenwald, 1 Munich, 3 Lindau before flying back to Perth from Zurich. We are still trying to work out how many nights to do in each place. Any suggestions?
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Old May 16th, 2008, 03:11 AM
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Thanks for this trip report. I am very glad you enjoyed your time in Europe so much. I wholeheartedly agree on Prague. And believe me, I've been there in winter and it wasn't so much better. If it is not sunny and no snow is on the ground (which happens more and more with the climate change) it looks rather grey and can get depressing.
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Old May 16th, 2008, 05:44 AM
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Thanks for the nice report. We're planning a trip to the Austrian, Swiss, and Italian Alps, and your experiences will be added to our information pot.
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Old May 16th, 2008, 06:03 PM
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PRLCH,
Can you please give me a link for the Prague guide that you used?
Many thanks.
Maudie
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Old May 16th, 2008, 07:14 PM
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Thanks for posting. You visited many of our favorite places and I was glad to hear that you enjoyed them also.

It's a bummer that the weather didn't cooperate a lot of the time, but glad it didn't spoil your visit.
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Old May 16th, 2008, 08:37 PM
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Thanks for the report, PLRCH. Great details and it's good to read your impressions of what you visited.

We've been to Prague twice with our two daughters - when they were just a bit older than yours. Both times we went were in the winter (Christmas break in Prague, Austria and Germany) and Prague was quite crowded then (but not slammed with people as you describe). We liked the city, but the endless souvenir shops and heaps of fellow tourists do make it seem less "real" - more like a movie set, albeit a very beautiful one. At any rate, I'm in no hurry to return to Prague. We all loved Vienna and Munich. Salzburg is also diverting but not somewhere I'd return to over and over.

Bavaria is lovely - my visits have been nearly all in winter, with one in March (but wintry weather then) - and I am looking forward to a summer visit some day!

Thanks again, I'm bookmarking your report.
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Old May 17th, 2008, 03:17 AM
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Very nice. Thanks for taking the time to post your trip report, PRLCH.

Robyn >-
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Old May 18th, 2008, 03:28 PM
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Thanks everyone for the kind feedback - taking the time to write the report allowed me to re-live some of those great moments!

Maudie, you ask about the link for our Prague Guide - unfortunately we have had a BIG computer cleanup and with it went much information. I do however remember I booked it based on a Fodors recommendation for Sarka, who I gather is now so busy she has a team of guides (of which Barbora was one). I have found her website, http://www.prague-guide.info/about/index.html . I also have a summary plan of our trip where I have a mobile phone number for Barbora. Probably not wise to post that here, but if you want it give me an email address and I can send it so you.
You also ask if 1 day in Salzburg was enough. Hard to say in general. We definately did not feel we were missing out by not going back - but I would have easily spent another day at Hallstatt or Cesky Krumlov. However, having said that, I have found increasingly over the last two years, that I am not much of a city person - my favourite places are ALWAYS incredibly beautiful scenery or small villages. Also, I have visited Salzburg before - 27 years ago in winter, and I do remember it as a magical, fairytale like place.
I notice that you have 2 nights planned for Salzburg and 3 nights at St Gilgen. I am not sure if you are going to have a car or not, but if you have a car I would personally just stay in St Gilgen and drive into Salzburg as many times as you like. It is not far - only about 30km, and we found it easy to drive in. We were directed by our accommodation hosts to a carpark on the outskirts of town which was easy to find and avoided and heavy traffic. If you are using public transport, then I am not sure about how easy it is. We did however meet a fellow quite early one morning in Hallstatt who said he had travelled there from Salzburg for the day - so I am sure it can be done.

RufusTFirefly - I am SO envious of your trip to the Austrian, Swiss and Italian Alps. We visited the Italian Lakes and Lauterbrunnen Valley in 2006, and enjoyed both VERY much. We were blessed with 4 weeks of perfect weather too - I hope you strike it as lucky!
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Old May 18th, 2008, 03:54 PM
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Thanks for replying, I am sure I can get hold of Barbora from that link, there are just so many guides its nice to have a recommendation.

Funny you should say that about not being city people, we feel exactly the same, give us a day in a city and we are ready to get out into the wide open spaces. We spent 3 weeks in Switzerland last year and one of our best memories was riding the train from Pontresina to Guarda and hiking across the meadows, we only saw one other person and lots of cows, it was a magic day.

We will have a car and will take your suggestion on board, it certainly makes sense and cuts out another move.

Thank you again, best wishes
Maudie
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Old May 18th, 2008, 05:50 PM
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Maudie, there is also a bus from St. Gilgen to Salzburg if you don't want to hassle with driving.

We really loved St. Gilgen. There is so much to do in the area.
We stayed at the Schernthaner Hotel which we can highly recommend if you haven't already decided on accommodation in St. Gilgen. The owners are very nice and the hotel is clean, well located and reasonably priced.

http://www.hotel-schernthaner.at/sei...sh/index_e.htm
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Old May 19th, 2008, 12:30 AM
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Hi Betty,
Thanks for the bus info, that sounds like a plan. You were the one that sold us on St Gilgen!!! We have that hotel at #1 on the list (thanks to you again) and #2 is Pension Seeblick so at some stage we have to make a decision.
Betty, if you come back I would love your advice on whether to have our time at St Gilgen and also keep in 2 nights at Ramsau seeing as it is only an hour away, for some reason it just appeals to me to stay there. More than likely another wonderful suggestion from you.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 02:19 AM
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PRLCH,
Just checked out those apartments in St Gilgen, they look great and the price is even better, we will probably like to do a bit of self-catering by then too. Think they will be #1 now on my list.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 08:41 AM
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Maudie, we haven't been to Ramsau but Paul, who is a frequent poster on Fodor's stayed there and really enjoyed it. You could probably do a search for Ramsau and come up with his trip report.

I think you should do what feels right for you, even if it doesn't make "sense". It's YOUR vacation.

We stayed in Berchtesgaden for several days and then drove about 90 minutes to St. Gilgen for 3 days. Sometimes you just get a better feel for a place if you stay there overnight.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 08:42 AM
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PRLCH - Thank you so much for posting this. We are gong next month to Munich, Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg and Fussen with our kids ages 12 and 16.

Two questions. Do you have any contact info. for your evening tour in Cesky? I was debating on whether or not to do that, and you have convinced me it sounds like a good idea.

Also, when you did the Dokumentation center near Eagle's Nest did you do it on your own or with a guide? Did you use the audioguides? I think we have decided to do it on our own and use the audioguides but would be interested in how your kids enjoyed that.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 04:12 PM
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Hi again Betty,
Yes you are right,it is getting the feel for a place that makes me want to stay there rather than day trip, I think that is what Paul said too. It was his report on Ramsau that made me want to stay there.
Thanks for your kind words.

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Old May 19th, 2008, 04:27 PM
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Maudie - we certainbly loved the accommodation at St Gilgen, but just a word of warning if you plan on not having a car. It is not IN the town of St Gilgen, but on the outskirts - it may be 5km out. I cannot remember exactly as we had a car and drove everywhere easily. I do however think that there was a bus shelter at the end of the driveway leading in. Perhaps it may be worth an email enquiry to ask about proximity to bus.

jgg - glad you enjoyed the report. In Cesky Krumlov we simply went to the tourist bureau in town (really close to our accommodation!) and ask about an evening tour. They booked us on for that same evening. (In fact if I remember correctly, we actually picked up the keys for our apartment at the tourist information centre and booked at the same time).
As for the Dokumentation Centre, a real live guide would have been nice as there is SO MUCH informationn there, BUT we managed just fine with the audio guides. We each had our headphones and set our own pace, spending more time on those stories that interested us and skipping over others.
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Old May 20th, 2008, 05:46 AM
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PRLCH, yes we will have a car so that won't be a problem at all. I meant to ask you if the apartments have a view of the lake at all?
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Old May 20th, 2008, 12:50 PM
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Hi PRLCH,

Enjoyed reading your report! Reading about places we've been to really takes me back. Thank you for taking the time to write.
We also thought Schloss Herrenchiemsee was fantastic. Our favorite of Ludwig's castles.

Maudie:

Our trip report w/pics, which includes Ramsau, etc. is at:

http://fodors.com/forums/threadselec...p;tid=35089110

Hi bettyk!

Paul
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Old May 20th, 2008, 02:15 PM
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Maudie,
We had a 2 bedroom apartment and and no we did not have a view of the lake - not that we were home much to miss it though. I feel sure some of them must have Lake views - it is worth asking.
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