August 26, 2017

Traveling Germany

Thought I'd summarize random thoughts/observations while still fresh in my mind.

I loved driving - memorable scenery through the Black Forest and Bavarian Alps, but also endless rolling hills and villages appearing out of nowhere of white buildings with red roofs and churches. Lots of solar farms and windmills. A lot of roundabouts!!! Learned "einbahnstrasse" means one way street quickly, not because I went wrong way but because when following directions wondered why I kept seeing the same street name (duh!).

  • Bring your own toiletries - a couple hotels had combo body/hair washer dispensers in showers and by sink, but not all
  • Towels were small and only one per person - bring your own if you have luggage space; no washcloths so pack those too 
  • Most toilets have two wall buttons for flushing, small for liquid only and large for solid
  • Totally obsessed with their use of simple toilet paper roll dispensers, none of that complicated spring stuff we have in America 
  • Some public places charge to use toilets (WC) -  € 0.50-1
  • I overpacked - wore some things twice, didn't wear makeup other than sunscreen, CC cream and mascara
  • One feather bed per person, no sheets
  • Water at restaurants is carbonated, labeled "classic" in markets; if you prefer non-carbonated then look/ask for "still" water
  • Europeans are more leisurely with meals - you have to ask for bill if you're ready to move on; tip included in most meals, else receipt will say "tip not included"
  • Beer much stronger than U.S. 
  • Not as many English speaking people as I assumed - should have learned more German though Sassy quite good at interpreting (ei sounds like long "i", ie sounds like long "e" and ß sounds like "ss")
  • Trains are THE best way to travel within large cities - my strategy of finding hotels near public transportation paid off as we could park car, check in and begin sightseeing without worrying about traffic or where to park
  • Dog lovers - on the subway, in restaurants, random
  • A LOT of walking (I averaged 20,000 steps each day) - cobblestone streets; mind bikes, traffic lights, and directions (many streets break right vs left from a central marker/monument)
  • Gelato is everywhere and amazing! Especially hazelnut with toasted nuts 😉
  • Have plenty of coins - € 1 and € 2
  • Be flexible - impromptu zoo visit and mountain gondola ride were more fun than Neuschwanstein castle 
  • Note to self - check for holidays (national, regional, religious)

August 20, 2017

Deutschland - sieben Tag

We visited two historic and very different places on our last day - Dachau and Rothenburg on der Tauber. 

Dachau has the distinction of being the first Nazi concentration camp. I wasn't sure what to expect when we arrived. You might not know it was there if you weren't looking and didn't notice barbed wire on concrete walls lining a regular city street. The site consisted of an information center with cafeteria, recreated barracks, crematorium, memorials and museum. We did the self-guided tour with audio sets. It was informative, reverent and sobering. The tragedy here serves as a reminder that we must fight hatred and discrimination of all kinds wherever it exists.

It was a two hour drive to Rothenburg, a walled city founded over 840 yrs ago. It was the inspiration for the village in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio. It was also the location for the Vulgarian village scenes in the 1968 movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was expecting a live version of a renaissance festival. It was actually more touristy than I expected and while beautiful to see, I didn't think there was much to do beyond shopping. We had our last meal here and then drove another 90 miles to Frankfurt for our departure the next morning. While Chunky was looking forward to going home, Sassy and I were melancholy as we felt like we could easily make Deutschland our new home. 

August 16, 2017

Deutschland - sechs Tag

I woke up on day six anxious to get to the viktulienmarkt. The kids wanted to visit Sea Life and Munich's only cat cafe. We decided to separate and meet up later in the day. I arrived downtown and immediately perceived a noticeable lack of people for 11am. I walked past the Marienplatz and arrived at the open market to find not one thing open. I walked across the street to a Starbucks, ordered an iced peach green tea (yum!) and inquired about the lack of activity. I was informed that it was a holiday, Assumption, only observed in Bavaria. Just my luck. I decided to enact plan b - tour churches and other landmarks
After about a two mile walk around the immediate downtown area and three scoops of the gelato (hazelnut, tiramisu and peach), I bought a subway to ticket for the English Garden, Germany's Central Park. There were a lot of sunbathers and picnickers, presumably locals. I read that there was a Japanese tea garden and headed that way when Sassy texted to say they were at the cafe. It was only a 15 minute walk away so I decided to meet them there. We only saw two of the six resident cats - one lounging on a table, another on one of the many towers. The cafe was vegan - I ordered bruschetta, Sassy a salad and Chunky had tofu eggs with bread and a smoothie.
We decided to go to the Deutsches Museum (science and technology). It was only open for another hour so it was free. Chunky enjoyed the exhibits while Sassy and I cruised through and waited outside. Next we grabbed a quick bite to eat and rolls for the next morning. Chunky and I decided to head back to the house as we were tired while Sassy explored the Englischer Garden, including a locals surfing spot.
Day 8 is our last day in Germany - we plan to get up early to visit Dachau Concentration Camp and then to Rothenburg before returning to Frankfurt.

August 15, 2017

Deutschland - fünf Tag

Day five can best be summarized in three parts. Part one was spent in the natural beauty of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After a local bistro breakfast we headed up Eckbauer by 2 person gondolas built for the 1936 Winter Olympics, Große Olympiaschanze. 
There are several hiking trails to take back down and we chose one that included Partnach Gorge (about 4 hours start to finish). This was one of the most scenic experiences I've ever had, with many waterfalls and rapids, and a favorite of this trip. We all decided that we would definitely like to come back to G-P and then head south to Austria and Italy for more passport stamps and mountain views.

Chunky had hopes of swimming, but the Eibsee was packed and it would have delayed our arrival to Munich significantly. Part two was driving, a little over two hours, and arriving at our AirBnB. It wasn't a spectacularly pretty drive, but it was interesting as the nav system had us take an odd combination of back roads and the autobahn to a metropolitan area. Our AirBnB home was just inside Munich's city limits in the southeast. We were greeted warmly by the mother of the two daughters who rent their rooms out of their family home. Cecelia could not have been any nicer and the room was actually an apartment with seating area, kitchenette, 5 beds and a huge bathroom. Perfekt!

Part three was Munich's inner city. There was a U-Bahn (subway) station just a short walk from the AirBnB with city center stations only 15 minutes away. We took the U downtown and headed for the famed viktulienmarkt. I was really looking forward to grabbing street food and buying some trinkets, but it was almost 7pm and the kids wanted to sit down to eat. We decided to go to Hofbrauhaus so Sassy could be with her people. I had bought Sassy an authentic Bavarian dirndl as an early Christmas gift in Freiburg. Cecelia lent me one of her own drindls (for photos only, I didn't dare go out in it for fear of spilling food or splitting it open) and lent Sassy a blouse for underneath as we decided to buy at a later date and make due with a tee shirt. Cecelia was excited for us to experience the culture. Hofbrauhaus did not disappoint! It was bursting at the seams with people and we thought we were out of luck when I spotted a table of five older gentlemen, most dressed in lederhosen. Sassy asked in German if the three of us could sit at one end and they welcomed us in. Little did we know what an honor this was. Only one spoke a little English. Sassy did a great job of interpreting. All had beautiful steins - some engraved, others with enamel tops.They made fun of me when I ordered Radler, half beer half lemonade (shandy in the states but this is SO much better), and when I acted hurt they all toasted me anyway. They even bought us shots before they left. I received kisses from almost every one ❤️ We were surprised when they returned, cleaning their mugs and holding small locks. Then we noticed behind them were stein "safes". Evidently these are coveted spots for regulars and these gentlemen have a standing date at their reserved table on Monday and Friday evenings. I was so touched by their generosity that I prepaid the first round for their next meeting. Hope they are pleasantly surprised :)

Tomorrow is another day in Munich. Wir lieben Deutschland ❤️🇩🇪

August 13, 2017

Deutschland - vier Tag

We began day four with another breakfast in our hotel (most included in stay). The kids wanted to take a detour to nearby Friedrichshafen on the shore of the Bodensee and home to the Zeppelin Museum. After a short walkabout we headed for the famed Neuschwanstein Castle, 2 hours further west. Another beautiful drive - the kids love the views from the car as much as the stops.

On the way we saw the opportunity to take a gondola ride up a peak near the ski village of Pfronten. I'm afraid of heights so this was big for me and I loved it. Breathtaking views, fresh air and sunshine. 

I had read enough about the castle tours to know it was a hurry up and wait game. We arrived, dropped Sassy off at the ticket booth, parked about 1/4 mile away on the side of the road (free parking!) and met Sassy back at the booth to find her still in line. We ate brats at a sidewalk cart and headed for the castle. I wanted to take a cramped, stinky bus for €2 but no ... they wanted to walk. I almost died! It was a straight incline and I did not have proper footwear nor hat and I have bad knees. Did I mention the brochure estimated it was a 40 minute walk? I should have a body like Heidi Klum tomorrow - TBD. After a cramped, stinky bus ride down (yasss!) we headed to the Museum of Kings - we skipped Hohenschwangau castle but took pics from below - Sassy and I toured while Chunky dipped his feet into the Alpsee.

We drove another hour to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, home of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games and Germany's highest peak, Zugspitze. It is stunning! The view from our balcony -

We had dinner at the resort owners' favorite restaurant, Mukkefuck Bistro. Chunky and I both had the house made cheese spaetzl with leeks (plus enormous side salad) and Sassy had schnitzel with a type of potato salad. Chunky and I thought it the best meal of the trip so far (my prosecco with rhubarb was also delicious). Sassy's favorite meal was in Weingarten the night before. G-P was intended as a temporary picturesque stop, but the kids want to hike the local gorge tomorrow before heading to Munich. The fun continues!

August 12, 2017

Deutschland - drei Tag

Day three was definitely the most laid back so far. We ate breakfast at the hotel in Karlsruhe then headed fo Freiburg. The origins of Freiburg date back to the 12th century. It has both French and Swiss influences due to this being the intersection of all three countries (they even share a local airport). I'm awestruck every time I think about the history of these places. We visited the cathedral and Munsterplatz with the largest outdoor market I've ever seen. Cobblestone streets and quaint buildings everywhere. I knew there would be cobblestone, but didn't realize it would be basically the only thing we walked on. We ate at a nice cafe in the platz - Sassy loved what she ordered until she found out it was liver ;) and got the sense that Freiburg is more of a German tourist destination vs. foreign - lots of folks walking their dogs and children who were "sailing" boats in the bächle.


Next we drove two and a half hours east through the mountains of the Black Forest. Pictures don't do this justice. We weren't even on the autobahn, only two lane roads through the countryside. We saw fields of sunflowers, corn, hay, etc. and little towns that seemed to pop up in clearings out of nowhere. It was an amazing experience.

We arrived in Weingarten about 6:30pm. This is a small suburb of Ravensburg. We walked through the most beautiful cemetery, to the Basilika, the largest Baroque church north of the Alps and approximately half as long as St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and then to a little cafe where we had yet another delicious meal.

Tomorrow is Neuschwanstein Castle and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

August 11, 2017

Deutschland - zwei Tag

Day two started out great with breakfast at our Frankfurt hotel. There were breads, jams, honey, Nutella, pastries, meats, hard boiled eggs, cheeses, vegetables, cereals, juices, yogurt, muesli, coffee (espresso machine!) and even champagne. I could get used to this :) After breakfast we headed south for Heidelberg. It was not a long drive, but it was my first driving experience outside the general airport area so definitely interesting. The roads, including autobahn lanes are VERY narrow. There is a lot of crisscrossing - you'll be on the right side of the road then cross incoming traffic to get on another street to be on the left, then switch shortly thereafter to be on the right again ... very confusing. And there is a yellow light before it turns green in addition to before it turns red.

It wasn't on the "suggested" schedule, but the kids really wanted to go to the Heidelberg zoo. I was reluctant at first, then thought "why not?" and I'm glad I did. It was larger than I expected for being in the city and was very well laid out. Rain again today so not busy at all We saw a few animals we hadn't even heard of before let alone seen - a fossa, southern ground hornbills and many other birds.

After the zoo we set out to find the castle and cable car. I found a reference to Königstuhl in the German travel app I've been using and we lucked out . This is a hill in the mountain region and though it was cloudy and rainy, the views on the way up and seriously twisty drive were well worth the trip even though we couldn't see anything once at the top. From there we sought out the castle and were rewarded with an  entrance to the cliff railway, called a funicular, which connects the top (where we'd just been), the castle (schloss), and the old town at the bottom, Kornmarkt.

We took the rail down to Kornmarkt for something to eat first. We walked cobblestone streets lined with beautiful buildings and delightful gift tents. We ate a hearty lunch of jumbo whea"t pretzel, sausages, sauerkraut, fries and beer at a quaint restaurant that caught our eye. Next we walked to the Neckar river to view the famous bridge and its monkey. Chunky is now addicted to espresso so we stopped at a cafe before making our way back to the rail. The castle was our next stop and the guided tour (in English) was well worth €10.

It was about 4pm when we headed further south to Karlsruhe for the night. It was a bit of a white knuckle drive due to pouring rain, the aforementioned narrow lanes and LOTS of traffic, but I'm rather proud of myself for getting us there without any honking or lights flashing. The kids both napped in the car, but we were all pretty tired upon arrival, but hungry so decided to take the tram from just across the street from our B&B to downtown. There are A LOT of railways / train stations and I am so impressed with their cleanliness and efficiency. I took a wrong turn once downtown so we walked quite awhile before righting ourselves to a restaurant I'd seen on wiki travel - Cafe Emaille. It did not disappoint and was close to the train stop for a quick ride back to the hotel.

Next stops are Freiburg and Weingarten.