Wagner Germany and England Travelogue

Apr 6th, 2010, 11:09 PM
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Wagner Germany and England Travelogue

I will be posting some travelogue emails that I am sending back to friends and family members as we take our family vacation. Hopefully some of you will find the information helpful or interesting. The first post in particular may be a bit dry as it was a rough experience getting to Europe for a variety of reasons.

My wife also suggested that it might be of interest to Fodorites that Real seems to be one of the few grocery stores that takes Visa or Master Card here in Germany. Her sister who works for Edeka believes this as well.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 6th, 2010, 11:28 PM
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Preparing for this year’s trip started back in October, but being sick for the two weeks prior to departure still makes getting everything together a challenge. It was a very odd illness in that I only had a fever with no other symptoms. Still life was pretty miserable when my temperature would spike to 104. Luckily by two days before our departure, I seemed to be well on the road to recovery.

Heathrow is Hell on Earth

British Airways also decided to throw a curve ball at us as well. Their flight attendants were on strike through Wednesday and our flight was Friday so I thought we would be good. However on Wednesday I got an email saying that our flight had been cancelled. I called their help desk and they had already rebooked us on a flight through Dallas. We would have to depart on Friday at 11 AM rather than Friday at 9 PM. It meant one additional stop and plane change which is exactly what we were trying to avoid by choosing to fly British Airways in the first place.

The American Airlines flight to Dallas was fine, and the Dallas airport was quite nice. It was when we got ready to board the British Airways flight that things started to get fun. .. Those of you without children may not know this but a great thing that U.S. airlines do (at least Southwest, American and U.S. Air) is that they allow you to take your stroller straight up to the plane. Someone then puts this in the baggage hold and when you land they pull it back out and have it ready for you when you come off the plane. We learned that this is not the way it works with British Airways. They have a limited amount of space in the cabin for strollers. If they have lot of children on a flight (like ours did) then some stroller might need to be checked to the baggage hold and will not be returned to you until you reach your final destination. One of the counter attendants decided that both of our strollers would need to be checked to Frankfurt. I came very close to totally losing my cool. The British Airways website specifically says you can bring your stroller directly to the plane, what it fails to mention is that you may never see it again after that. The idea of running around Heathrow and Frankfurt airports without strollers had us quite worried. When we got on the plane I was able to somehow convince the stewardess at the door to let us keep one stroller. We knew we were very lucky.

The flight between Dallas and London started well. Elisabeth (now 4) slept great; Hannah (18 months) did not sleep so well but actually did pretty good compared to the many other babies on the flight. About 1/3 of the way through the flight my fever made a return which first had me freezing and then sweating like a pig. I got very limited sleep.

As we approached London the pilot came on did his normal spiel and told us we would be landing within 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes seemed to drag on and on until finally he came back on and told us there was a power problem in the control tower. After another 40 minutes or so they made the decision to go to Stanstead Airport because we needed fuel. While we waited for the plane to be refueled the pilot came back on and told us that the actual problem had been a fire and the tower had been evacuated. No major damage was done but we would need to wait our turn to fuel before we could head to Heathrow. When we finally arrived in Heathrow we were 4 hours late, turning our 9 hour flight into a 13 hour flight. But this was just the start of what Heathrow would have in store for us…

Heathrow was a madhouse of airplanes and no gate was available by the time we landed, so we had to wait for buses to come pick us up from the tarmac. Apparently many other planes were in this same predicament and so we had to wait out turn for these buses. Trying to get two tired little girls, carryon luggage, a stroller and a car seat (for Hannah) down those stairs was a challenge. Then onto an overloaded bus, where the other passengers had given no thought to other people after them needing to get on as well. Despite the fact that no airplanes had been getting into or out of Heathrow during the fire incident, our connecting flight had managed to leave for Frankfurt before we landed.

This meant we had to get re-ticketed onto a new flight. Fortunately they have a special counter to handle situations like this. Unfortunately, on this day there must have been hundreds of people in the same boat as us. I stood in line in that queue (that’s British for a line) for just under 2 hours. After being on flights or in airports for the previous 18+ hours it was a torturous experience. Deille waited with the girls on a bench, and somehow managed to keep that situation under control.

Once re-ticketed we made our way into the new British Airways Terminal 5. This terminal was a huge deal when it opened a few years ago, and I might have been somewhat impressed had I not been so exhausted. We easily made our way onto our new flight when the time came, although they did put Hannah’s stroller into the hold (we would have been doomed in London without it)… which meant she would have to be carried in Frankfurt though customs until we could retrieve it from baggage. The flight itself was fine although it was totally loaded and Hannah was fed up with her car seat.

Frankfurt Airport was fine (we did have to use stairs and ride buses again, but the buses were already waiting and were loaded with German efficiency). Clearing customs was not difficult but took a bit of time because we were at the end of the line. We got all of our bags (yes, this was the shocker for the day) and made our way to the exit and found a taxi to take us to our hotel.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I booked us a room at the Marriott Courtyard Messe not far from the airport. Courtyards are usually quite nice and comfortable in the U.S., but I was in for a surprise. The rooms were on par, or perhaps a bit nicer, with what I have come to expect, but the service was outstanding. This will be our standard place to stay when arriving into Frankfurt in the future. We are already booked to stay here again the night before we depart. The breakfast seemed very nice although only Hannah was really interested in food the next morning.

After breakfast I got a taxi to deliver me to the car rental place (Europcar). The attendant was also very nice and we got the nine passenger van we had asked for (VW Transporter). It is nothing fancy, but it will do the job. It is also diesel, which is a plus because diesel is the cheapest fuel here. My new Garmin Nuvi did a great job of getting me from the car rental place back to the hotel… Although the route was different than the taxi had taken, and I got to see some interesting areas of Frankfurt near the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). There is actually more to the car rental story (it is never straight forward with me) but I will tell that story in a future edition of this travelogue. This edition is already quite long and probably quite boring.

Once I got back to the hotel, I loaded up the bags, the family and we headed for our Ferienwohnung (vacation rental apartment) on the Rhine river near the town of Bacharach. That is where I am writing from now, at 3 AM in the morning (6 PM Phoenix time). I hope I defeat this jet-lag thing… and get rid of this fever … soon.


It has been another day since I finished writing above. I believe I am finally beating both the jet-lag and the fever (fingers crossed). Deille's parents and sister arrived yesterday and we just did a bunch of supply shopping and talking. Hopefully vacationy things will pick up shortly, and the next version of this travelogue will be full of all the life changing information you have come to expect from me!
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 7th, 2010, 03:51 AM
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I'm not bored! I will be looking forward to your trip as it unfolds. My husband has often traveled on business to Frankfurt and recently did a quick day trip (in the snow!) around the Rhine area where you are/were (and I have the 100's of pics to prove it) and we are going back to London for my third time this summer, so I can really relate to your tale. Here's hoping you've had all the glitches from your entire trip rolled into one bad travel day.
texasbookworm is online now  
Apr 7th, 2010, 04:48 AM
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I can feel your frustration and exhaustion in your description of the flight over. I would have just sat down on the pavement and cried, I think. Keep in touch. It sounds like an interesting trip!
irishface is offline  
Apr 7th, 2010, 10:00 AM
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Interesting and frightening story to say the least. Hope things turn out better as the trip progresses. It sounds like my old days of flying stand-bye with all those hours upon hours of valuable vacation time being wasted in airports. Love your idea of booking the big van. We do the same now. It gives everyone plenty of room to stretch out and nap when needed. Also a great choice getting a Nuvi. Did you buy it new or used off E-Bay?
Otzi is offline  
Apr 10th, 2010, 09:41 PM
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The last couple of days have been much better than the trip getting over here. We arrived at our Ferienwohnung in Bacharach on Easter Sunday afternoon. It is actually located in the small village of Henchhausen just up the hill from Bacharach. We stayed in this same place when we were here in 2007, and it is every bit as nice as we remember it. It is a two bedroom apartment with a fully stocked kitchen so that full meals can be prepared. From our balcony we can see across the Rhine Gorge to the hills on the other side of the river. It is a quick and winding 3 km down to the river at Bacharach or a winding 4 km down to the river at Oberwesel. Well, it is quick if you are a local who seem to be able to negotiate the curves at high speeds; me on the other hand, am lucky if I can do the curves at over 10 km an hour, which is quite an annoyance to the locals I am sure.

We chose Bacharach as a good place to meet up with Deille’s family, because it would provide everyone with opportunities to see new things and also give a vacation atmosphere for everyone. The entire area is beautiful even in this early part of spring. Bacharach is on a stretch of the Rhine River known as the Middle Rhine which is an area full of castles and small picturesque villages. The area is also famous for its vineyards and wine.

Deille’s parents and sister arrived on Tuesday and are staying in the same place, just located on the floor above ours. Her Aunt and Uncle arrived on Thursday. Everyone will be departing by Tuesday evening and then we will head to the Black Forest on Wednesday.

The Adventures Begin

On Monday, we drove to the village of St Goar located a few kilometers down the river. They had a market and we did some shopping and then took a ferry across the river to St Goarhausen and shopped in the market there as well. We did not stay out very long as we were still dealing with jet-lag.

Tuesday (prior to the arrival of Deille’s family) we drove back towards Frankfurt to shop at a large “Real” grocery store, which is one of the German chains. We stocked up on breakfast items and basic foodstuff so that we can do many of our meals in the apartment. We will shop for fresh bread (every morning I drive down to Oberwesel to get it while it is still warm), vegetables and meat on a daily basis.

Wednesday was our first day to really get out and it was a beautiful, sunny day. We headed back to St. Goar and then to the mighty fortress ruin above it called Rheinfels. I have been there many times over the years but I never grow tired of it. In my opinion it is the best castle on the Rhine, even if it is in a state of ruin. It was started in 1245 by the powerful Katzenelnbogen family and eventually became the largest and strongest fortress on the Middle Rhine. It successfully withstood a siege by 28000 French in 1692 before being taken with no resistance in 1797. The French Revolutionary Army then sacked the fortress and it was used for many years as a quarry by the locals. The ruin today is still huge, but apparently it originally covered 5 times the area it does today.

One of the great things about Rheinfels is all of the tunnels that can be explored with winding staircases, dead ends, etc. A flashlight is needed and many are not tall enough for me to stand straight in. This year I took Elisabeth, Petra (Deille’s sister) and Klaus (Deille’s father) with me on my trek through these tunnels. Elisabeth did great, and really seemed to enjoy herself. Much of this was probably because she was allowed to carry her own flashlight. Elisabeth was also very interested in the stocks… I wonder if this seemed like the ultimate timeout spot.

Swimming German Style

On Thursday we headed to a Schwimmbad called Rheinwelle (http://www.rheinwelle-wasserwelt.de). A Schwimmbad is a recreational swimming area. I believe they are usually largely indoors and may have a variety of pools and features. The one we went to was very large and had several different pools, and slides. There were also saunas, tanning booths, a massage area, snack bars and a gift shop. It was really quite impressive and also quite crowded as it is spring break for the children in this area. For around 5 Euros per adult I also thought it was quite a bargain. We spent most of our time in the toddler pool, which had a little slide, and several different water spraying/squirting devices. I did take Elisabeth and explore the lazy river and the rock climbing area, but she was not really interested in staying where she could not touch the bottom herself.

What really impressed me was the amount of cool technology that they have in this place. When you pay your entry fee you are given a wristband that is used to electronically enter the facility and also to control the locks on the lockers. You just locate an empty locker, placed your stuff in it, closed the door, and then hold your wrist band next to the lock. Once the lock flashes green, the locker is locked and only your wristband can be used to open the locker. This wristband can remain on your arm even when you in the water.

Thursday evening (after the arrival of Deille’s Aunt and Uncle) we went to dinner at a Gasthof “Zum singenden Wirt” owned by the same family who own our Ferienwohnung. The patriarch of the family was apparently a successful pop singer in his youth and is known as the singing landlord. The Gasthof is a popular establishment and groups of elderly Germans come in by the busloads to eat and listen to the owner and his son sing. There was one such group there when we arrived, and by the amount of alcohol they were consuming this business must be a mint for the family. As far as the music is concerned… well at least it was not so loud that we could not enjoy the food. If you are interested in learning more about the Gasthof you can check out the website at www.zum-singenden-wirt.de.

Wal-Mart and other deep thoughts... for me

I am always amazed by the amount of things that change each time we are here and by the things that remain the same. For instance, German radio has yet to discover how to format a station. Deille and I heard Simpy Red’s “Holding Back the Years” directly before some Donovan song the other day. There was also a Hawaiian song, a disco song and a least two hip-hop songs from the last 10 years in the same set.

On the other hand, we were quite disappointed a few years ago when we passed a Wal-Mart while on one of our trips here. Now you will not see a Wal-Mart anywhere in Germany. I wonder about the reasons behind Wal-Mart’s failure in Germany. I could probably use Google to find out the official reasons behind this failure but I would rather hypothesize on my own instead.

My sister-in-law Petra, who is here visiting us, is a cashier for Edeka (one of the local grocery chains). As a cashier she is able to pay for her own apartment, is currently in the process of buying a new car and is able to take an occasional vacation (paid at that). She is by no means wealthy, but she is able to comfortably survive. I can not see a cashier in the U.S. being able to live as comfortably. I believe that Wal-Mart is largely to blame for this. Perhaps when Wal-Mart got to Germany they were unable to find people willing to work for the salaries that they offered.

Well… it is late here and I want to get this sent. I am still battling with this reoccurring fever and need to get sleep when I can, and I guess I better Google the real reason behind Wal-Mart’s failure before I crash.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 10th, 2010, 09:47 PM
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Thank you for your replies...

The van has worked out great so far. With Deille's parents, sister and Aunt and Uncle we use everyone of the nine seats, but we are able to go places in one vehicle.

I bought the Garmin Nuvi 775T new from Amazon. I had read of some issues with it, so I spent the time to get all the system updates and the map updates as well. So far we are very happy with it. My inlaws get a kick out of the English voices pronunciation of the German names.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 11th, 2010, 09:40 PM
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The other morning on my bread run I saw a bird of prey that must have had a wingspan of at least 5 feet. The amount of wild life we see is actually pretty amazing. We have seen rabbits, squirrels, a variety of birds, a wild pig and an amazing number of hawks and eagles.


There are many reasons why I think Bacharach is such a cool little town. One is the city wall that still completely surrounds the old town and runs up the hill to include the castle into the city defenses. You can follow almost the entire length of the wall either on paths or on top of the wall itself. A second thing is the old half-timber buildings, some that date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Many of these are now restaurants and/or places to stay. A third reason I love this town is the great views you can get of the Rhine River either from the towers on the city wall, the hills near the castle or from the river bank itself. However, my favorite thing about Bacharach is that the old Templar chapter house is still in existence. It contains the tourist information center and a pub today.

Friday we spent much of the day exploring Bacharach with Deille’s family. A group of us, including 4 year old Elisabeth, followed the old wall up to the castle (which is now a youth hostel) and then down towards the center of town passing the ruined chapel of St. Werner along the way. Although I have told the history of this chapel in past travelogues of a previous trip I will remind you here as well. Werner was a small boy who was found murdered in the 13th century. Using the very scientific methods of the day, the Catholic Church determined that he had been murdered by Jews, who then used his blood for their rituals. Because he had died at the hands of Jews he became a martyr and thereby a saint. The extensive chapel was funded by the donations of pilgrims who came to Bacharach to pray with the saint. By the time the chapel was destroyed by the French in 1689, the church had reversed its stance and Werner was no longer considered a saint. The chapel was never rebuilt and today the ruin is one of the symbols of the town.

This was not an easy walk and included lots of stairs and sharply inclined stretches that had to be negotiated, but Elisabeth did a great job. By the time we were done my legs where pretty rubbery. After completing our walk we had a very nice lunch at the Bacharacher Hof very near to the center of town. I had Pike Perch fish that was served over creamy sauerkraut with boiled potatoes. It was very good and everyone else enjoyed their meals as well. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Bacharach.

After a quick visit to the local ice cream shop for Riesling Eis we went to a playground on the banks of the Rhine where Elisabeth and Hannah got to run around for a bit before we headed back up the hill to our apartment.

Rüdesheim and Kloster Eberbach

The in-laws wanted to visit Rüdesheim and Saturday was reserved for this. I was not really that interested in going to this town as I assumed it was just a bunch of tourists drinking lots of wine, but was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Considerably larger then Bacharach, it has an appropriately larger number of half-timbered buildings. I do not know if any date back as far of those in Bacharach but many were quite ornate and very beautiful. After walking through the town we took a chair lift up a hill to the Niederwalddenkmal, which is a large Prussian era memorial topped by a large statue of a god-like figure called Germania. It was built to celebrate the rebirth of the German Empire after their victories over the French during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. The statue faces east towards Germany’s eternal enemy, France.

We had been told we would find a very good family run restaurant near to the memorial. It was a bit difficult to get to with Hannah’s stroller, but we managed and we were not disappointed. The restaurant is called Rebenhaus and is perched on the side of the hill. We sat on a porch overlooking the vineyards, town (Rüdesheim) and the Rhine River. They had several classic German dishes, but made with wild pork rather than domesticated pigs. I had Wildeschweinebrautwurst (wild pig sausage) with red cabbage, bread and plum-mustard. All of it was very good.

After riding the chair lift back into town, we drove to Kloster Eberbach. This is a Cistercian Monastery established in 1136. It was very prosperous and successful for many centuries until it was secularized in 1803. After that the monastery buildings were used for a variety of things (prison, insane asylum, shelter for sheep) until the entire complex came under the ownership of the German state of Hesse after World War II. Since this time it has been carefully restored and is considered to be the best example of a medieval monastery in Germany. The site is quite impressive and beautiful. The movie “The Name of the Rose” was filmed at this monastery.

A Quieter Day (soft of)

I probably over did it on Saturday and as a result paid for it on Saturday evening. We decided that Sunday would be a day of rest and recovery and that we would stay in the area of our apartment and Bacharach. This worked well, because Deille’s Aunt and Uncle were leaving in the morning and then we were getting visits from friends who live here in Germany.

After a light breakfast and a morning nap, I got up and prepared for the day. We were waiting for the arrival of Deille’s friend Hedy, her husband Helmut and youngest daughter Johannah (now 12). We were also waiting for a call from my friend Jamaal (known in some circles as Darshan), his wife Michelle and 3 year old daughter Madison. Jamaal is a soldier stationed here in Germany and some would say that I convinced him to join the military (I got some grief for that), but after six years I can say that it appears to have been a good decision. I am very proud of the soldier that he has become and he has a beautiful family as well.

Elisabeth was so excited at the prospect of another child she could play with that she could hardly contain herself. About 12:30 I took Elisabeth down to Bacharach were we planned to meet up with Jamaal and his family and we had tea and cake. Afternoon tea and cake is a German tradition I usually look forward to when we are on vacation, but this had been the first opportunity to partake. About the time we were finishing up we got the call from Jamaal and after meeting he followed us back to our apartment where Deille’s friends had already arrived. What followed was a great afternoon of conversation, children playing (and fighting…. but I guess this is how they play) and just general hanging out.

Helmut who is a bee keeper explained to us how his hives have been decimated by a mite. He had 60 hives last year, but is now down to 5. He plans to rebuild and expand, but it sounded pretty scary to me. When we took a walk to a little play area a block from the apartment, Hedy was busy taking pictures of roofs for their oldest son who is a carpenter’s apprentice. Little Madison is attending a German pre-school and speaks German there, but her parents lamented that she was not inclined to practice her German with them. Michelle’s German seemed pretty good as well.

It turned out that it was probably a good day to stay mostly in the house. It was cooler, more windy and we had a few sprinkles on and off throughout the day. While we were at the play area it started to ice on us and we decided that was enough outdoors.

After a stressful dinner (a result of over-tired children) at the Gasthof, Hedy and her family headed home. Jamaal and his family are staying at the Youth Hostel in Burg Stahleck (the castle above Bacharach) and will join us today. The weather does not look very promising but hopefully it will surprise us.

Thinking too much… again

I have been spending many € (Euros) the last week or so and I started thinking about the symbol. It is a pretty neat symbol, but it also got me wondering about the $ sign that we use in the United Stated for the dollar. It seemed pretty logical that the € is a stylized “E” for Euro and Europe, but how the heck did we get a stylized “S” for the U.S. dollar? I thought maybe it had something to do with the time when we backed our currency with silver. However, with today’s technology everything you need to know (they should just abolish schools) is right at your fingertips online. So I went to Wikipedia, and here is what I found out:

Inspiration for the € symbol came from the Greek epsilon, and is also a reference to the cradle of European civilization. It is also the first letter of the word Europe, crossed by two parallel lines to certify the stability of the euro.

So for the most part I was correct on the Euro. Here is what it said for $:

The $ sign was seen in business correspondence between the British, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans in the 1770s, as referring to the Spanish-Mexican peso, known as "Spanish dollar" or "pieces of eight" in British North America where it was adopted as U.S. currency in 1785, together with the term "dollar" and the $ sign.

I would never have guessed that. It did go on to say that some have tried to attribute the $ sign to being an “S” as in “States” with a “U” superimposed over it, and that over time the bottom of the “U” disappeared. That sounds a bit farfetched to me though.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 11th, 2010, 10:14 PM
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Very interesting read. Hope you are feeling better...don't you just hate those "bugs" that just don't want to go away?!
klondike is offline  
Apr 12th, 2010, 06:29 AM
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Thank you for your wonderful trip report - as fascinating as a novel. Keep on posting.

I am very sorry for the nightmare that you experienced with your family in Heathrow. However, I am afraid that it was the norm and not the exception what you experienced there. And you were still lucky that you were not there in summer, because it gets awfully hot under those glass roofs in Heathrow and the airport has no air-condition...

A few more comments:

- Der singende Wirt. Well, please do not take this for German music. As you have observed, this kind of singing is geared to a certain bunch of older people. Have you seen Tim Burton's film "Mars Attacks"? Do you remember how the humans found the only remedy against the Marsian invaders? - It was one old lady's music who made the Marsians' heads explode. Probably, Dieter Bernd Sommer's singing would make my head explode too.

- Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart (like the French chain Carrefour) simply failed in Germany because they were not competitive. If the Germans can one thing, they can manage grocery chains. German grocery stores are incredibly cost-efficient - although they pay high wages. Technology helps as a lot (as you have observed in the Schwimmbad). As a consequence, German discount grocery chains are spreading all over the world. You might have noticed how the German chains Aldi and Trader Joe's (an Aldi subsidiary) are mushrooming in the U.S.

- The $ sign. Yes, it comes from Peso. The $ sign is the overlay of a "P" and a "S". Eventually, the "P" was dwarfed to two vertical lines.
Echnaton is offline  
Apr 13th, 2010, 04:13 AM
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Please keep your report coming on your visit to see Deille's family.

The American Airlines flight to Dallas was fine - where did your flight originate?

Looking forward to more.

SandyBrit is offline  
Apr 13th, 2010, 05:56 AM
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We love Trader Joe's, did not know it was part of Aldi. Don't worry about the music, I was aware what tpe of music it was... kind of like Bob Hope and Hee Haw were to American's when I was growing up (Our Grand Parent's loved those shows). Although you could explain the whole Radio format, or lack thereof, to me.


We began our trip from Phoenix, Arizona.

klondike, I still can't get this bug totally out of my system, although I usually feel good during the day, the fever returns to mess with me while I try to sleep.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 13th, 2010, 07:59 AM
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Most German radio stations are public, and IMO they are playing terrible mixes of music. From my experience with radio stations (I am often interviewed by those stations), a radio show is produced by three or four people and usually they kind of throw in their personal likings. The odd mix comes from the attempt to play something for everyone. The result is that everyone hears just one piece per hour which he/she likes. Misguided democracy.
Echnaton is offline  
Apr 13th, 2010, 08:32 AM
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Great report, my grandmother was from St. Goar, her father was the Mayor many years ago and we still have property there, love this area of Germany. Looking foward to reading more.
owlwoman is offline  
Apr 15th, 2010, 08:08 AM
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Shopping in the Rain

Monday was a dreary day, but we were determined to make it fun anyways. My friend Jamaal and his family joined us and Deille’s parents and sister as we headed down (north) the Rhine to the town of Boppard. Boppard is one of the slightly larger towns on this part of the river and we needed to do some shopping. As far as things to see, Boppard has some nice Roman ruins, Frankish graves and a bentwood furniture museum (that is more interesting than it sounds), but sightseeing was not our reason for visiting this town. Everyone found what they were looking for, and we had a very nice lunch at a little café (Café Hähn) on the main shopping strip. Mostly this place was a cake and coffee shop, but they offered a daily selection of lunches as well. Some of us (including me) had spaghetti Bolognese, Jamaal had Toast Hawaii (bread with ham, pineapple and melted cheese on top), Deille and her mother had Strammer Max (bread with ham, and an egg sunny-sid- up on top of it), and Michelle (Jamaal’s wife) had goulash soup. Everyone seemed very pleased with their meals. The prices were great and the service provided by the owner’s daughter was superb. Several of us concluded our meal with a piece of cake. There were several choices, all very sinful looking, and tasting every bit as good as they looked.

After our meal we took the auto ferry across the river and continued on to Marksburg Castle, where we took the tour. Marksburg is, in my opinion, one of the more impressive castles in Germany. It has never been captured or sacked, and is still complete. The tour is very interesting and a few of the areas they take you through include; the castle gardens, the wine cellar, the kitchen, a sleeping chamber, a knights hall, and a chapel. All of these rooms are very well done. I really think the kitchen area is interesting with all of the cooking tools, a huge cooking fireplace and even a medieval ice box.

Two other areas they take you through are a room with mannequins in armor and a room with torture devices. To me both of these leave a lot to be desired. The room with the armored mannequins contains representations of armor from Greek times through the late middle ages. With my knowledge of armor I can tell you that 75% of what they have are not even good attempts at proper representations. I believe that both the armor room and the room with torture devices are in the castle because it is what tourists expect to see in castles.
The tour guide we had was very nice and patient. Hannah had to be carried as there was no way to get a stroller into the castle. She was also quite tired and fussy by this point. The tour also included many sets of stairs, so someone with bad knees or limited mobility probably would find the tour difficult to complete. I guess they were not thinking about the disabled or families with small children when they designed and built this castle (how rude of them!).

Jamaal and his family headed home directly from Marksburg castle and we made our way back to Bacharach in a dreary late afternoon. However, in the end we had succeeded in having a fun day.

Time to Leave Bacharach

Tuesday we went back to the Schwimmbad. I had a lot more fun this time because the place was not so crowded. The local kids are back in school now. The people that were there were mostly elderly or parents with their preschool aged children. The girls both had a great time. Afterwards we did lunch at McDonalds… don’t worry, I survived, if only just barely.

After getting home Deille’s parents and sister left to go home and we started packing for our next adventure. I also did one more trip into Bacharach to grab last minute trinkets. Our ten days in Bacharach had been great and we enjoyed revisiting some great places, but we were ready for new adventures and experiences.

A New Day

Wednesday morning was beautiful on the Rhine. After a quick breakfast we finished our packing, loaded all of our bags into the van, got the kids loaded and hit the road towards Gengenbach in the Black Forest. On our agenda was a stop in Speyer to explore the city a bit and have lunch. We made it to Speyer in less than 1 ½ hours and made our way into the center of the city. We had lunch at Nordsee, which is a seafood chain restaurant here in Germany that Deille and I really like. We then did a bit of shopping.

The most famous sight to see in Speyer is the Romanesque cathedral and its imperial tombs. The cathedral was built between 1030 and 1124 and is considered to be one of the best examples of a Romanesque style cathedral in existence. All four Holy Roman Emperors of the Salian dynasty are buried in the crypt below the cathedral, and for a mere three Euros one can go down and look at the tombs. The crypt was very fascinating but our visit was brief as Hannah discovered her “echo” and we did not want to ruin the experience for everyone else.

We then headed across the street to an aquarium called Sealife. The site is a bit small, especially for the entrance price (It was over 40 Euro’s for our family) but the tanks and displays were presented very well. We knew Elisabeth would like it but I was surprised and how much Hannah enjoyed it as well. In some cases Deille had to pick up Hannah to carry here to the next tank, because she was just so into whichever tank she happened to be looking at.

From Speyer it was another 1 ½ hours to Gengenbach and to our new Ferienwohnung. Although we have yet to see much of the area, what we have seen is beautiful. Our apartment is very cute although it is up two winding stair cases (we WILL find a way to pack lighter in the future). The apartment itself is two bedrooms, with a little kitchen, living room with balcony and two-part bathroom. There is a bidet in the bathroom which Elisabeth is very curious about. Hopefully she will listen to us and not touch it.

Reflections on Differences

I often find the differences between everyday life in the United States and here in Germany interesting. Here are a few of the latest I have noticed.

- Cash and Coins: In the United States I often have no cash on hand for days at a time. I tend to use my debit or a credit card, even for small purchases. When I do have cash I almost never have change unless I have just purchased something and I got change from that purchase. When I get home I put all my change (and usually my one dollar bills) into a jar. Every few years I take that jar to the bank just to make them angry. Here in Germany it is very much different at least for me. I carry a little coin wallet with me where ever I go. For small purchases I often only need these coins, because they have coins that actually have value (1 and 2 Euros). Cash still seems to be King here. Many places do not even accept credit cards.
- Mom and Pop Merchants: There seem to be a lot more privately owned shops in Germany than there are in the U.S. Every town still has its bakery, meat market, cafés and restaurants. They also have chain grocers and such, but the smaller businesses seem to be able to thrive alongside them. Perhaps it is a reflection of where I live (a large U.S. city) but I can think of no traditional meat markets nearby. I have a good Italian deli and there are several Mexican carnecerias (sp?) but nothing like I used to visit with my dad when I was a kid. Chain restaurants are also much less common from what I have seen. The do have Nordsees as well as several American chains (McDonalds, Burger King, etc), but most places seem to be one of a kind.
- Driving: In general people seem to be better drivers in Germany than they are in the U.S. When two lanes come together Germans know how to perform the intricate zipper maneuver in a courteous and organized manner. Unlike in the U.S. where your lane is ending, you got you blinker on and no one will let you in. Related to this… we have rented some nice cars over the years, and not once do I remember renting a car with cruise control. Does anyone know if cruise control is legal in Germany? I am thinking it might not be because Germans are all about not being distracted when they drive. Cruise control allows you to not be so focused on driving. Just a thought…
- Driving #2: While I believe Germans are better drivers in general, some can also seem to be quite crazy. Mostly I am talking about those drivers, who often are driving high-end Mercedes or BMWs, that come up behind you so quickly on the Autobahn that they seem as if they are intent on sending you into cardiac arrest. This is even more evident to me on this trip than on past trips because I am driving a nine passenger diesel van… obviously not chosen for it’s speed and nimbleness. God forbid I think I can pass a truck, before one of these race car drivers runs me off the road. Also due to the antics of these drivers my wife will never let me own a Mercedes and a BMW would be a hard sale with her. I guess the drivers of these cars have a reputation here in Germany.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 15th, 2010, 10:28 AM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 338
Thumbs up for the Nuvi 775T. I just got mine and can't wait to try it out in Europe. Do you notice any lag in its display as you zip along on the Autobahn? I've heard critics claim that it doesn't redraw fast enough, but I haven't noticed that when using it here in the States.

I am really enjoying your fact-filled travelogue. I appreciate someone not trying to be too cute with clever little puns and insider jokes. I can't wait to see more. Any pictures?

Your trip sounds exactly like my plan for our retirement odysey. Nice and leisurely with plenty of time to see the everyday things many tourists miss. I lament the departure of Walmart from Germany as I often found some remarkable deals on wine and cheeses when we travelled along the Mosel.

Your decision to rent a vacation house/apartment is very appealing but don't you miss those awesome German breakfasts? I'd be too lazy to get up and head downtown for bread and rolls first thing in the morning

Your comments about German radio crack me up. I spend half my driving efforts trying to tune in a good song. As soon as it ends, a bunch of garbage follows. Back in the Good Ole Days we used to try to find the Armed Forces Radio stations knowing they would at least play music in the same genre.
Otzi is offline  
Apr 15th, 2010, 11:06 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 139

I have not noticed any issues with the Garmin lagging.

I will eventually get some pictures up on my Shutterfly site, but that will probably not happen until we get home. I will post the link here.

I think Ferienwohnung are the way to go. You get more room, you can cook your own meals and you usually pay less. For me half the fun is getting the brötchen each morning, and usually I get to know the people at the Bäckerei a bit. I prefer when I can walk to get it, but that has not been the case this trip. I also really like visiting the grocery stores and finding things to cook.

We were prepared for German radio this time. We have a loaded iPod and the cords to hook into a car aux jack as well as a tape adapter. Unfortunately the van has neither the jack nor a tape player. Like you we are constantly surfing the stations.

We are now watching the developments with the volcano. We are suppose to fly from Frankfurt to London on Monday. While that is a long way off and things will hopefully be back to normal that was what I thought about our flight a few days after the end of the B.A. strike.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Apr 15th, 2010, 12:09 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,444
hi jg, enjoying the report which I just found.

ref your flight on Monday, they are predicting at the moment that the cancellations will carry on tomorrow [friday] but then the situation should get better. Obviously it will take some time to get all those planes and people to the right places - if I were you I'd hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.

oops, i forgot, you've already had the worst on the way over! after that, it'll be a picnic.
annhig is offline  
Apr 16th, 2010, 04:47 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 2,627

Would you mind sharing links to the apartments you rented and the cost.

Cash & Carry: We use more cash when we are holiday, stopping to have a coffee/tea when we are out and about. At home we are at work and so we don't spend cash.

Mom & Pop shops: Not many where we live in the Midwest however we find many in NYC and doing well.

Hope you have a safe and uneventful flight to London on Monday.

Great journal.

SandyBrit is offline  
Apr 17th, 2010, 01:48 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 139
For the most part the Garmin Nuvi I bought has been doing a great job. On some of the winding roads on the hills above the Rhine we managed to get her pretty confused, but she usually corrected herself pretty quickly. Her pronunciation of German towns and street names was a source of considerable amusement for my in-laws. I think my pronunciations are better, but I am in no way complaining. However, our trek through a part of Alsace made me realize that her pronunciation of French names is even more horrendous (I have always loved that word) then her ability with German.

I Should Learn to Listen

Thursday morning (our first morning in the Black Forrest) was absolutely beautiful. I headed into the center of Gengenbach to find a bakery for bread and saw a limited amount of the town along the way. After breakfast we loaded the girls into the van to head across the border into France to explore the city of Strasbourg which has a great Cathedral and an area of old half timber buildings known as La Petite France. My goal was to see both of these and any other sights would be bonus. The problem with this plan was the van… You see, streets in European cities are often quite narrow, especially in the old historic quarters of the cities. They are also very crowded. Probably this is one of the reason (gas prices is probably another) why most Europeans tend to drive much smaller cars than we do in the United States. Cars like the Mini are not really that small. I saw a PT Cruiser the other day and it looked rather large! I am not saying that there are not some full size cars, a SUV here or there, or a pickup truck every now and again… but they are by far much rarer than in the U.S. Because most people are driving smaller cars, parking is setup to accommodate vehicles of this size, not a 9 passenger van like we are tooling around in.

Anyways, we headed into the center of town, Mrs Garmin (that’s what we call the Nuvi) guiding us to an underground parking facility. We made it with little trouble, and the sign said there were over 200 free spaces, but then we realized our big oversight. We are driving a vehicle over 2 meters tall. The clearance for the underground parking was considerably less. No problem, we just headed towards the signs for other parking, while looking for a place along the side of the road as well. To make a long (45 minute) story slightly shorter, every parking area we found had a height clearance of less than 2 meters, and every time we found a place we could have parked along the streets (and there we not many of these) they were too small to fit the van in. The sad thing about this whole experience was that it could have been totally avoided. I spend quite a lot of time on the Fodor travel forums prior to trips getting advice. When I had mentioned on one of the boards my plans to visit Strasbourg several of the local posters had suggested that we take public transit rather than drive. We decided to drive because we did not want to deal with the strollers getting on and off buses and trains. Plus I thought it would be quicker just to drive…

After 45 minutes of seeing Strasbourg, yet not seeing anything we decided to leave the city altogether. We did think about driving out into the suburbs to a park and ride, but by this time we wanted something quieter. I had remembered one of the posters mentioning a little town called Obernai that was not very far away. We pointed the Garmin towards this town and headed off for it.

Obernai was a great choice with the picturesque Vosges mountains just to the east. Parking was also easy in a free lot just outside the city walls. We made the easy walk into the city center, which is full of many old half timbered buildings, and took lots of pictures. When we walked past the city hall we discovered that Gengenbach (where we are staying) and Obernai are sister cities. We had lunch at a little crepe shop called Creperie La Suzette before heading back out to explore the area around Obernia.

We headed for the little village of Ottrott because our map book showed the symbols for several ruined castles in the vicinity. We did not find any of these, but after driving for several kilometers past Ottrott up into the mountains we did find an abbey called Hohenburg Abbey at the top of a mountain called Mont Sainte-Odile. Apparently the first abbey on this location was built in the 7th century, but what we saw as we drove by was much later period (according to Wikipedia it was reconstructed in the 18th century). As I drove on the narrow winding roads through the mountains I could not help but think of the American troops during World War II that fought in these mountains. I have seen some documentaries that include footage of tanks and other vehicles trying to negotiate what was at the time non-paved roads.

A Day of Walking in the Sun Without the Sun

As I went on my bread run at just before 7 AM on Friday I was very pleased with the prospects for the day. Our plan was to visit the Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof just outside the village of Gutach. The sun was shining and everything looked great. However, by the time we had completed breakfast and gotten the girls into the van things had changed. Low level clouds had rolled in with a cold wind dropping a bit of rain from time to time. We decided to head towards the museum anyways. On our drive Hannah fell asleep and so we decided to drive past Gutach to Hornberg to look for a castle there. We did find this one and Elisabeth and I checked it out while Deille stayed at the van with a sleeping Hannah. There really was not a whole lot to see. There is a mostly complete tower which was probably the main keep at the highest point, but little else other that some crumbling walls and a tunnel through a rock to tell you that a castle was ever present. We had parked at a hotel / restaurant just down from the castle and this may have been a later palace related to the castle remains, but I was unable to get any information from the site. By the time we returned to the van, Hannah was awake, the weather was starting to improve slightly and we headed for the museum.

The museum is a collection of old buildings that have been moved to this location to demonstrate how people lived in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Mostly they are rural structures. There are several different farm houses and also several water mill structures that run a variety of tools including two water powered saws. The houses have examples of the furniture and household goods that these people used. Some of the rooms have displays of various facets of life. For instance there was a section that showed how logs were moved down the various rivers in the area. On our last trip to Germany we visited a similar museum in Westphalia near the town of Detmold. The museum near Detmold is much larger but not necessarily any better. What was fascinating to me was how different the farm houses of the Black Forest are compared with those of Westphalia. In Westphalia a generic description of a farmhouse would be a large building with the animal and farm implements taking up the first three quarters of the building and the living quarters taking up the rest of the building. The cooking area would actually be in the same large section as where the animals would be. In the Black Forest the animals and the people still shared the same building but the living quarters appeared to be more separate with the kitchen being with the rest of the living area. Also the highest floor seemed to be where carts and such were stored. The buildings were built in such a way that the back of the buildings highest floor would open almost directly onto a hill or onto an earthen ramp. These differences probably had a lot to do with the difference in the landscape. Westphalia tends to be flat while the Black Forest is more mountainous with people living in the valleys.

While we were at the museum we had lunch in the museum restaurant, which served regional specialties. I had a dumpling soup and a noodle dish with pork, vegetables and cream sauce. Deille had a noodle soup with a schnitzel served with a mushroom cream sauce. Both were ok but not spectacular (everything was a bit salty). I would not necessarily recommend this restaurant. However, the restaurant in the Westphalian outdoor museum was excellent when we were there two years ago.

Watching the News

We have been keeping our eyes on the news the last couple of days. The Volcano in Iceland may add to the complexity of our return. We are supposed to fly to London on Monday and then home to Phoenix on Thursday. As of today (Saturday morning) all flights are cancelled in and out of London. We are still assuming we will fly on Monday. However, if our flight gets cancelled it will be ugly for 4 of us to try and do standby on later flights. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there. Between the impacts of the British Airways strike on the way out here and now the uncertainty of our return trip due to Mother Nature, the joy of flying is certainly considerably diminished.
jgwagner4 is offline  

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