Tag Archives: Germany

Road Trippin’ in Europe, Summer 2018!

A quaint Swiss town where we ate dinner. Wouldn’t have found it if we hadn’t been driving.

This summer Mike and I decided to visit Scandinavia and because we had never seen the scenery and thought that a road trip would enhance the journey. Using a car for travel has its advantages in that you can see more things and are not beholden to a tight schedule BUT it has it challenges as well. The driver, in this case, Mike will be tired at the end of the day. Germany must be undertaking a major infrastructure project as everyone (and we went on many) of the autobahns that we traveled were under construction adding up to two hours to our daily travel. Maintenance of European highways are funded in part by tolls and vignettes. The following in no particular order are some of my take-aways that might help if you ever plan to travel in Europe by car (or any other mode of transportation).

  1. Vignettes are a road tax that some European countries might use instead or in addition to tolls. This trip we traveled through two countries that use this type of funding. In Austria the vignette cost was about $10 and can be bought at gas stations in Italy before you enter. You place the sticker on the driver’s side of the car in the front window. It covers a particular period of time, in this case ten days. Austria also used tolls. Switzerland pulls cars over as you enter the country and charges $42.00 but it lasts a year. We bought both vignettes with credit cards which is good as Switzerland does not use Euros and we were only passing through the country, staying long enough to eat dinner.
  2. Tolls can also be paid with credit cards. Italy uses the toll system and you will pay at least $30 if you drive around on the Auto Strada much. Norway uses an electronic toll system so we aren’t sure yet what we will owe. A photo is sent to where the car is registered and in our case that would be the Europe Car rental place.
  3. All of the countries we travel through have rest stops, which include gas stations, a restaurant, bathrooms or WC as they are referred to, and some have fast food like McDonalds or Burger King. We enjoy these places as we don’t have to leave the interstate and try to locate what we need. ALL of the McDonalds in Europe have kiosks which allow you to order in English, pay for it, and pick up your food at the counter or have it delivered to your table. I really don’t understand why this hasn’t caught on in the states. Even when places are crowded we have gotten our food in a timely fashion. Their restaurants are often cafeterias that serve food that is quite good. Marche is one such chain that charges by the plate size. Using restrooms in Germany and Switzerland costs money, typically 70 cents. You will receive a 50 cent coupon to be used for in the shop if desired. You can accrue them and use more than once. They are usually very clean.

    Typical McDonalds Kiosk

    Public WC in Switzerland

  4. We stayed in a combination of hotels. To maintain our Hilton Diamond Status and receive their perks which are considerable in Europe, we use this chain wherever they exist, which is usually in large cities. In smaller towns and all of Scandinavia I used TripAdvisor to locate budget friendly hotels and after choosing the place, used Booking.com to reserve the room. TripAdvisor has begun allowing patrons to book through them but I found they wanted payment up front and I want to privilege of changing my mind. We stayed at nine different lodgings and they all met my expectations in cleanliness and comfortability.
  5. European hotels, especially those not associated with an American chain are usually smaller than American hotels. A double is two beds pushed together with a sheet and a duvet. Sometimes there is a piece of fabric that runs across the end of the bed for decoration and decorative pillows. European hotel pillows are usually filled with feather and somewhat flat. A number of the places we stayed had extra pillows available. Many of the hotels do not offer wash clothes, facial tissue, or clocks. I use one of the hand towels as a wash cloth, carry tissues with me, and look at my cell phone for the time. We stayed at a place this time that did not include a shower rug but they issued us an extra hand towel in its place. Many offer complimentary water because Europeans tend to drink bottled water instead of tap water. Internet was free at all of the places and usually good.
  6. Breakfast was part of the price at all but one of the places we stayed. A European breakfast is large having cereals, yogurt, fresh fruit, breads/pastries, deli meats and cheeses, tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as hot food like eggs, sausages, bacon, beans, etc. Many offer fresh orange juice, a selection of coffees like cappuccinos, and tea. In Norway they served reindeer meat in gravy. I declined this option but had a piece of the homemade chocolate they served instead.
  7. I have read in many places that European portions of food are smaller than in the states. I have really not found that to be true. Mike and I often share an entree and add dessert. There a NO free refills on drinks so sodas are a poor choice in Europe. Opt for water instead.
  8. Copenhagen is a very expensive place to visit. We averaged about $150-$200 a night for hotels on this trip and two of them were under a $100 but in Copenhagen we paid $400 a night with no breakfast as that cost an extra $44 a person per day. The room was lovely, in the center of everything we wanted to see, and by the water but we paid for that privilege. Oslo, Norway was just as much fun and cost way less.
  9. When traveling by car, a navigator system is a must and a European cell phone data plan a help. The navigator system chose the fastest way to get from one place to the other, even when it meant stopping in traffic jams and helped to get into and out of large cities with small streets. We used our cell phones to find shopping and dinner choices. Side note: Bicycles are very popular in Europe so you will have to watch for those when you drive as well as other hazards.
  10. Our trip to Scandinavia required two ferry rides. I learned that it is best to book ahead. One of the rides was four hours long so I paid extra for business class. I was glad to do it because we had to get up at 4:15 to get to the port on time and recliners in this area allowed for napping. Both ferries offered food and drink.

    View from Ferry – Norway to Denmark

  11. Always try to book in advance tickets for popular tourist places. We have done this in the past for art museums in Florence, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. The ticket reserves you a time and you can skip the long lines that are often in the hot sun. This trip we found that the National Art Museum in Oslo was a block away and already had a line ten minutes before opening but because it is not as famous as the places I previously listed, we got in just fine.

We are very glad we took this trip but on the ferry over to Denmark, a German couple made an accurate observation that Americans tend to spend little time in one place preferring to move on. We were living proof of that so we feel we got an overall impression which was short of details. Our next trips will involve less moving around and more exploration of one place. One of my favorite lodgings was in the countryside of Lower Saxony in Germany. It was small resort/conference center and was very peaceful and quiet. I am looking forward to staying at more places like that.

 

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The Beauty of Eastern Europe

“New Church,” the view from our hotel window in Berlin.

This year’s travels began in Berlin, specifically what was formerly East Berlin. A few blocks from our hotel is the iconic “Checkpoint Charlie,” the point where East and West Berlin met during the Cold War. The area has colored piping that helps to visualize where the Berlin Wall existed. This part of the city is a combination of the old and new, shoppes beside of old churches for example.

After a short visit that included a “Third Reich” day tour concluding with an unexpected sighting of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, we headed on to Poland. After 30 minutes of a very rough road, we merged into a nice highway and the rather flat farmlands of Northwest Poland. We stayed in Krakow more as a base to travel to Auschwitz rather than to tour the city itself. In fact our hotel was several miles away from downtown. It was quite charming though. We managed to find parking to eat in the Jewish district but were not successful when wanting to see the old section of town or the River Vistula.

Part of a street filled with Jewish restaurants and shoppes

Oskar Schindler’s enamelware and ammunitions factory

Onward to the Czech Republic, specifically Prague. The area was similar to Poland with a few more rolling hills. We stayed in the Old Town and my photos do little to show the beauty of this area, street after street of colorful old buildings.

A glimpse into the Old Town Square, site of the famous astronomical clock that unfortunately was covered for restoration

View of the Vltava (or Moldau) River from the famous Charles Bridge, built in 15th Century

We traveled from Prague two hours northwest to Dresden, Germany, the site of much bombing from the allies during WWII. I was surprised by how the German people recovered the stones and began restoration of the century years old buildings. Much of it came after the end of the Cold War and still continues today. Again, we were fortunate to find a hotel in the Old Town along the Elbe River.

View from the Elbe River

We found the people in all three countries to be friendly and helpful despite language barriers. The food was excellent. I am not a fan of some of the Eastern European gravies but that was a minor problem. ALL had delicious sweets, so dessert was always a treat.

Panoramic view of Innsbruck, Austria, a place to spend the night on our way to Italy

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A Road Trip: Destination Bavaria

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A Room With a View

One of the nice things about where we live in Italy is its closeness to many different areas. Mike has been to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, a beautiful town in the Bavaria, several times but never has had time to be a tourist. So we decided a road trip was in order.

The area is surrounded by mountains, the Zugspitz being the highest point in all of Germany. The hotel rooms were built with small balconies that afforded views of the local scenery. While we could see the Zugspitz, the Alpsptiz, was the most notable peak that appeared from our room.

Plentiful German Breakfast

Plentiful German Breakfast

Mike had been carrying some items to place in geocaches. He believed that this would be just the area to leave them. With app in hand, we proceeded to a field between Garmisch and Oberammergau. I stayed with the car as Mike traveled a path to a point to where a small chapel and bridge intersected. He spent some time looking but realized that where he thought the cache was would mean him getting wet. He took several photos and finally decided he wasn’t prepared for this particular one. Later after successfully depositing his items at another spot, he looked at his camera. Clearly shown there was the first cache, with the glare of the sun, Mike had been unable to see it but could now claim credit for “finding” it. 😀

Can you find Mike?

Where’s Waldo? I mean Mike.

The town of Oberammergau is typical of the area. Many of the houses and public buildings have frescoes that depict various religious themes. The one in this photo is a school. Look carefully and I think you can figure out what is going on. The rest of the story was on the side of the building. The town is famously known for a passion play presented every ten years with hundreds of performers as well as real animals. We are hoping to be able to see the next one in 2020.

What tale does the building tell?

What tale does the building tell?

Both days of our visit were rainy so Mike’s desire to go to the top of the Zugspitz had to be put on hold. The rain prevents the panoramic views, so we decided to visit Mittenwald, another quaint town. A difference here were small canals that ran along the side walks.

Mini Venice

Mini Venice

For the two days we drove and walked through the area, we ate our fill of Germany meats, breads, and sweets, Mike got to practice his German, and both of us enjoyed the beauty of Bavaria. We departed for home quite satiated, realizing we were back in Italy when during a lunch stop, a television in the room was showing “The Simpsons” dubbed in Italian. I mean where else is something so anachronistic going to appear?? Such is life in Italia!

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Historic Rains

The temperatures are in the nineties. Sunshine fills the crevices in the piazza and it is difficult to remember that four of our five weeks in Europe were cold, windy, and most of rainy.

June of 2013 brought record flooding to areas of Austria, Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. We spent our first day in Germany visiting a tenth century Monastery. The cavernous rooms weren’t suited to warmth. Umbrellas went up and down as we paraded in subsequent days through churches, synagogues, castles, and shopping areas.

On one of the few pleasant respites we had during this time, our host in the Rheingau invited us to a favorite place along the river to sip wine and watch the recently born goslings. When we returned to this same area two weeks later, the geese had taken residence across the street, daring vehicles to cross through the water soaked highways. The following photos show some of the effects of the unprecedented precipitation.

Closed road to the ferry on a section of the Rhein River

Closed road to the ferry on a section of the Rhein River

Water fowl taking over the streets of the Rheingau

Water fowl taking over the streets of the Rheingau

Flooding on the Danube by Passau

Flooding on the Danube by Passau

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Riesling Country

Jewish cemetery in Worms, Germany

Jewish cemetery in Worms, Germany

Visions of summer vacations have flowed through my mind for most of the last semester this year due to an unusual amount of stress that accompanied the school year. I couldn’t wait to sleep in, see some sights, and then read. Well…. it hasn’t happened in just that way.

Our first week was spent in Germany as a working trip. Mike was lucky to receive invitations to several schools in this area. I haven’t found a part of Germany yet that I didn’t like but much of this part of Europe has been challenged by excessive rain. It is also colder than what we are used to so the sun has become a rare friend at this point.

We trod forth with umbrellas. Under our protective dome, we visited a medieval monastery, a Riesling vineyard, the only intact Jewish cemetery in Germany, and the alpine village of Grainau.

Riesling comes from an area west of Frankfurt and is the pride of the people who live in the quaint looking towns of this region. To my surprise the glasses served to me were “trocken,” which means dry and are delicious! Very crisp and fruity!! I have always associated Riesling with sweet.

Riesling vineyard on the Rhein River

Riesling vineyard on the Rhein River

We are spending our vacation with another couple, who are experiencing their first trip to Europe. Artists, they are in awe of the views and their cameras are getting a work out. Merrie and I rode a cable car that led us to a walking path. We hiked for about two miles and then rode down on a ski lift. That led us into a fairy tale looking town where we sat down to local fare, and then caught a boat to tour a small section of the Rhein River back to where we started. It was a sunny day so we had a lot of fun.

Boat tour of the Rhein

Boat tour of the Rhein

The week ended in the mountains of southern Bavaria, where the temperatures were in the low forties and constant rain. This made it difficult to do much but get some great photos of the Alps and enjoy some hot chocolate.

Despite the weather, I adore my trips to Europe and have enjoyed seeing new things. Onward to Austria and Hungary!

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Returning to Some of My Favorite Places

Typical Bavarian dwelling

Typical Bavarian dwelling

After almost ten years, we finally gave our daughter her graduation trip to Europe. First stop – Munich, Germany. I discovered that the treat of visiting familiar places  is that you spend your time visiting and rediscovering favorites: a brat at the Hauptbaunhof, a stroll to the Marienplatz, and dinner at The Augustiner were just a few.

A day trip to Berchtesgaden, the site of Hitler’s retreat, known as the Eagles’ Nest, proved to be a major disappointment. I usually plan my trips down to the last detail. This was a last minute decision to visit what I thought would be a piece of history. The view is outstanding but the building is a restaurant, with tours offered only in the morning. The place was packed with diners consuming the German equivalent of fast food. It was difficult to get a sense of the places’past.

Entrance to the tunnel of that takes you to the Eagle's Nest

Entrance to the tunnel of that takes you to the Eagle's Nest

We ended this part of the trip with an overnight stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a lovely mountain retreat. I chose a local hotel and wondered if it would be possible to find the little restaurant where I had enjoyed a plate of Bavarian “mac and cheese” four years ago. It was with great surprise that as we entered Gasthof Fraundorfer, I realized that that this was it, the exact place. What a surprise that with a multitude of choices, I had accidentally wondered back to this traditional German restaurant. The mac and cheese was still good.

While I can appreciate all of the beauty of Germany, my heart belongs to Italy. Its ancient buildings, pasta, and wine beckon me. This time, I rented an apartment, wanting to experience a little of the Roman lifestyle. It did not disappoint. No working air conditioning, no dryer, a shabby exterior all combined to make it an authentic experience. I am not sure what happens when I visit this country but all of the comforts that I need in the US seem unnecessary here.

We returned for a second time to one of my favorite places, the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. This is an amazing place where volunteers accept several hundred displaced felines, vaccinate and neuter them, as well as provide any necessary medical care. Many of the pets are blind, sick, or hurt but they are all loved by the very caring staff. The cats are allowed to wander the ruins of four small temples. Visitors are welcome to pet, talk with the volunteers, and of course leave a donation for this very worthy cause.

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

Wandering the narrow, cobblestone paths, eating gnocchi quatro formaggio, enjoying a cappuccino, licking a Bacio gelato; these are a few of my favorite things.

I always throw a penny into the Trevi Fountain to ensure a return visit to Rome. Let’s hope its magic does not disappoint.

Strolling by the Castel Sant'Angelo after dinner

Strolling by the Castel Sant'Angelo after dinner

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Oberstaufen, Germany – Part Two

I signed up for a two hour Nordic Walk using walking sticks. When the time came Mike and I were the only people wanting to walk and the trip was canceled. Disappointed we asked the front desk for other options and she pointed out a nice walk across a mountain. It was short distance from our condo so I eagerly set off. After about a mile or so we arrived at the Hundle ski lift. Up the mountain was easy (considering my fear of heights) and then we began the walk. Some of it was uphill but most was very pleasant with awe inspiring scenery. The region is known for its cheese so cows are everywhere and since they need to be rounded up they wear cow bells, This tinkling sound accompanies the walkers. As we ascended a man about seventy came upon us riding his bike – what fitness some of the people have (and muscular calves)!

Soon after we started across the mountain path, it began to rain. The trees are so full in the area that they provided a nice shelter. The rain in the area quickly comes but also disappears as fast so we were able to continue on  and encountered a small forest. We felt like Hansel and Gretel being careful to watch out for the witch. Our of nowhere appeared a small restaurant with a toilet. Wonderbar!!!! A lunch of pork roast, potatoes, Kaiserschmarr (cut up pieces of pancake served with applesauce) and a Ratler (beer and sprite) energized us to begin the descent. This proved to be somewhat more difficult than climbing up. Walking slowly we made our way down and took a bus back to Oberstaufen. The trek was a total of seven miles, a pretty far distance for these southern Americans.

The next day we went on an expedition to a cheese factory. The area is known for its moutain kase (cheese). After  a breakfast of cheese (of course), fresh bread and the best marmalade I have ever tasted (red current) we walked past the cows to the cheese factory. The tour was conducted in German and translated by our guide who spoke a little English so I really don’t know the facts but figured out that the local farmers bring their milk which is poured into a large vat and stirred. I am sure other things are added and then the cheese is placed into a press to rid it of all excess water. Interestingly this collected and sold to be used as beauty and bath ingredients. The large round bundles are then dipped into a salt bath and turned on a frequent basis. After that they are transferred to a cold room to mature. Every two days the cheese is flipped to the other side. The more it ages the better. We were able to eat as much as we liked but since cheese was the main course for breakfast I was not as enthused as I should have been.

Walk and Cheese Photos

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Oberstaufen, Germany Part One

Our destination for the second week of this European vacation was Oberstaufen, Germany. This is a small town in the southwest part of Bavaria. Nestled in the mountains is a tourist destination for the local people. We stayed at Mondi-Holiday, a resort with chalet type apartments. While tiny, they had all of the things we needed to be quite comfortable.

The English speaking staff showed us the short cut into town and since our stomachs’ were grumbling we immediately set off. The short cut was all uphill and I was plenty grateful for the hours spent on a treadmill and at the track this past year. Atop of the climb was a small town filled with a beautiful church and many nice places to eat. My favorite so far has been Spatzle mit Kase (a Bavarian macaroni with cheese).

We went to Mass on Sunday to a totally German service but since the Catholic service is universal I had no problem joining in. I even sang to one song since I knew the melody. The service was accompanied by a choir with organ, violins and timpani  so it was quite lovely. The congregation was predominately older people and we were told later that the younger folk hold Christian values but do not care for a church that does not seem to fit in the 21st century.

This weekend Oberstaufen held a street market or neighborhood festival. Kiosks of food surround tables and a musical stage. We ate sausages, roasted chicken, french fries (which are huge in Europe) , roasted almonds and different kinds of cakes. I drank Apfelschorle (apple juice with fizzy water) while Mike sampled the local beers. The music was Bavarian what we might call oomph music. It made you want to swing back and forth which much of the crowd did joining in on refrains. The night ended with a five piece Alpine Horn band (think Ricolla cough drops) which was peaceful and seemed to be the same song over and over. I enjoyed mostly watching the locals enjoy a favorite past time.

Oberstaufen Photos

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Frankfurt, Germany

We stayed one night in the Frankfurt, Germany the city of banking and Apfel Wein (apple wine.) Our German friend Uschi took us around the old part of the city explaining that unfortunately most of the older buildings had been bombed in World War II. The Germans rebuilt this small area of the city that includes the town hall. Uschi explained that she had married her first husband in that building.

Michael Jackson died the day before as well as a young woman in Iran. The area was filled with people mourning their deaths through displays of pictures and candles as well as musical tributes. It was fascinating to see German teens dressed as Michael singing his most famous songs. Of course Mike joined in for a bit of the sing-a-long.

We ate dinner at Uschi’s favorite restaurant, a small place on the outskirts of downtown Frankfurt. Her friends Ziggie and Herbert awaited us with a traditional pitcher of Apple Wine. It is low in alcohol and very dry. The Germans usually mix it with fizzy mineral water or orange juice. I chose the mineral water and found it very refreshing. Germans love to eat outside (regardless of how pretty the indoors might be) perhaps because they don’t get many opportunities to do this so we sat at a long picnic type table under umbrellas in a fenced in former parking lot. It is also a custom in most European countries to value the hundes (dogs) so many canines shared our dinner atmosphere, usually politely parked under the table of their owners. I ordered the Frankfurt Schnitzel, a wonderfully crisp piece of pork and fried potatoes that came with a indescribable but delicious creamy green sauce. Dessert was fresh strawberries over Bavarian cream. It took several hours to finish the pitcher of wine but the good conversation (in German and English) made the time go fast. Another characteristic of European dinners is the length. Server only come when you need them and allow you to have a relaxed dining experience. You have to ask for the tab. We have been told that they get paid well and tips are extra not expected. Perhaps that is why.

Frankfurt Photos

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