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 Copyright ©- 2000-2015

Germany Circle Tour  
Blog by Janice Hatt
Originally posted day-by-day at http://janicedanube.blogspot.com

(ordered in day sequence)

Link to All Germany Photos

Sunday, October 03 - Munich & Oktoberfest

Early up and off to Munich.
We said goodbye to the 14 who were off to Prague, and then at the airport to the Cartwrights who fly home today.
At the airport we picked up our car - a double upgrade to a VW Passad. Wahoo! Built in GPS and everything else! 
Once we figured out the navigation system, we got to our hotel with no problem. It's the lovely Meridian Hotel in the heart of Munich. A very comfortable room and convenient location.
It's the last day of Oktoberfest and a national holiday, the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
It is a beautiful sunny, warm day so the streets are packed with lederhosen and dirndl-locals and imports.
We walked to Oktoberfest for lunch and a stroll around the grounds. It was quite the carnival scene. Like a cross between the EX and Burlington's Ribfest on steroids with overcrowded beer halls everywhere. We couldn't get into any of the beer halls, so after picking up some souvenirs, we joined the throngs leaving the grounds and worked our way back to our hotel,
In the late afternoon we asked our concierge about alternatives and he suggested a large beer garden (seats 3000) about 15 minutes walk from the hotel. We had to walk through the main train station to get there - another interesting experience. It was mobbed, but there are many interesting shops and restaurants along one wall and the trains are opposite, right in the main part of the station. No dark stairways leading up and down to other levels and tracks like Union at home.
The beer garden was immense with a small hill in one corner with kids playground very active. We had no experience about how it worked and sat at an empty table hoping to be noticed. After some time, during which several servers had yelled at us in German, the family at the next table told us in very broken English that it was a serving table, so we moved to a larger round table next to them. That got some attention, and we had 3 of the largest mugs of beer I've seen plus pork schnitzel and chicken.
By the time we walked back, stopping at a bakery for pastries, the revelry of the sidewalk crowd was beginning to leave an unpleasant edge so we thought it was time to get off the street.

 


Photos. Click for larger

 

All Photos October 03 - Munich & Oktoberfest

Monday, October 04 - Munich, Wolfrathausen,
Gamish-Partenkirchen

We had a rather poor excuse for breakfast at Le Meridian, where we stayed, but they gave us a late checkout, so it all evens out.
We caught the earliest bus tour of the oldest part of Munich, and saw lots while hearing some of its history.
We also discovered that Oktoberfest was still going on so there was lots of colour and activity on the streets. We ended our tour with a stroll around Marienplatz, and the market and then back to the hotel.
We plotted our next move over lunch in our room, and then headed out in the direction of Garmish-Partenkirchen. Once again we were very grateful for the built-in navigation system, which got us quickly to the south-bound autobahn.
The countryside is gorgeous - still very lush green on the fields, even though some trees are turning colour and dropping their leaves.
Very soon the landscape developed more contours and we could see mountains ahead.
We took a coffee break in Wolfrathausen, after a somewhat alarming trip through a rural road that seemed more like someones driveway. When the navigation system told us to turn there, we overshot because we didn't think it looked like a public road!
Wolfrathausen is a pictoresque little place and we strolled there for a while, seeing among other things a mural painting underway.
Then on to Garmish-Partenkirchen. We drove through on the main road trying to spot "Zimmer-Frei" (rooms available), but kept missing the turnoffs when we did see them. Traffic was heavy, so when we finally got turned around to work our way back, we jumped at the chance to pull in to the Best Western. It's actually very much in the Bavarian Style and we're liking it.
It's also very convenient to town, so we walked into the main square and along the pedestrian mall, drank some beer and had a delicious dinner.
Then we wandered through a grocery store, just to see what the choices are. They seem very limited.
Back at the hotel we sat on our balcony for a while enjoying the mountain view and the sound of church bells.
 

 


Photos. Click for larger

All Photos October 04 - Munich, Wolfrathausen,
Gamish-Partenkirchen

Tuesday, October 05 - Neuschwanstein Castle, Lindau
Island on Lake Constance

A very nice breakfast, followed by the disappointing realization that the cloud cover was so low, there was no point in riding the gondola to the top of the nearby mountain. So on to Plan B, which took a while to put together - a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle.
So we tried to program the navigation system, now named "Helen" (as she sounds like Helen Miron) to go there. Try as we might we couldn't get her to recognize as a point of interest or anything else, so finally we got her to take us to the nearest town. From there we thought we could see the castle, but there were no signs pointing the way. However, by an absolute fluke we ran across the parking lot for it. 
We bought tickets, found a washroom and started the trek to the castle. Signs warned us that if were late we would forfeit, others that it was a 40 minute climb at a hiker's pace or 45 if we were walking a dog. As we started we realized that our tour was starting in 42 minutes, so we started to hoof it! Couldn't sustain that uphill pace though, so moderated it a bit. Part way up it started to rain and we got quite wet [ though Larry said he was wetter from sweat than rain ].
Suddenly we were at the castle. It had taken 19 minutes so we had 23 minutes to hang around in the rain.
The castle is very different from any other we've toured. It's very Bavarian, with heavy beams, lots of wood carving, brightly painted details, and beautiful paintings on the walls representing Wagner's operas which he loved.
On the way back down the mountain we bought some deep fried cream cheese balls, covered in powdered sugar( when you're wearing black! ) I was well-dusted almost as soon as I started, but they were really good!
Back at the car we worked out a plan to get to Switzerland tomorrow. That brought us through the rain to Lindau, Germany, where we're in a hotel for the night. We're near the edge of the lake, so an interesting part of town.

 

 

 

 


Photos. Click for larger

All Photos October 05 - Neuschwanstein Castle, Lindau
Island on Lake Constance

Wednesday, October 06 - Lindau, Switzerland, Freiburg
(Munster Cathedral), Lahr

Last night we walked to the harbour, which is very cute, and found an interesting, picturesque restaurant, where we had an excellent meal and a bit of conversation with our server. This part of Lindau is an island, attached by a couple of causeways to the mainland. It's on the north-east edge of the Bodensee (which we know as Lake Constance). We had a nice walk last night and again this morning, around the area. 
After breakfast, we told Helen (ok, yes we have named the GPS - she sounds like Helen Miron) to navigate us toward Basel, Switzerland. Our maps had very unclear border markings and it turned out we had to cross a bit of Austria, so had to buy a permit. 
We stopped only once in Switzerland, to look back across Lake Constance, then followed Helen's directions back into Germany and to Freiburg. We found parking & walked around the old city centre. We admired the mosaic sidewalks, people-watched from a café, wandered around the impressive and very old Munster Cathedral, then hit the road for Lahr, Germany. 
It wasn't easy finding a place to stay, but we've ended up at a nice small hotel. Luckily, yesterday's rain has moved on and we had clear weather today. It was warm and bright. The autumn colours are really starting to show, but everywhere the farm fields are bright green & prosperous-looking. We think Swiss Air films its ads in Bavaria, because Switzerland looks more like Ontario.
 

 

 

 

 
Photos. Click for larger

All Photos October 06 - Germany Switzerland - Lindau Freiburg Lahr

Thursday, October 07 - Heidelberg (Castle), Fredrickshall,
(Schloss Lehan)

We had a late start this morning since we decided to take advantage of the excellent internet connection to check over Sunday's church service. A few hitches, but it got done.
Then a very nice breakfast at our hotel and on the road again. We asked "Helen" to find us the city centre in Heidelberg and she came back with a bunch of unintelligible options. Choosing one at random, we crossed our fingers and set out. It was a bit alarming to pass a few roads and arrows clearly pointing to Heidelberg, but we continued to follow her directions, traveling down ever-narrowing roads and up ever-steeper slopes until she announced that our destination was on the right. So our right was a cow pasture - hardly Heidelberg city centre! So we turned her off and backtracked to follow those clear signs.
Soon after entering the city we spotted Tourist Information - hooray! But where to park to get in there? We drove a bit further and spotted a big 'P', and better yet it was next to a public toilet, which I really, really needed. [bless McDonald's at home - they are really hard to find here!]. 
So we parked and looked for a machine to pay, but it became apparent that it was a permit holders lot. Next priority the toilet. Had to drop $.25 (Euros) into the slot to unlock it, then the door resisted closing, so I looked for a button to close it - chose the wrong one and the next thing I knew it was spraying, flushing and blowing hot air and Larry was outside forcing the door shut. I avoided any serious harm, did what I was there for and wondered if I was locked in. Would Larry have $.25 to release me if necessary [Larry says:"I was outside checking my change"]. However all was well. 
Larry stayed with the car while I hiked the 3 or 4 blocks to Tourist Info and got the word on tours, then we set off to find real parking and the English language tour of the city and Heidelberg Castle. 
We found both, along with 2 other couples who turned out to be from Michigan. We enjoyed their company during the tour and shared travel adventure yarns; we recommended Viking river tours.
The city is pretty and interesting with one of the oldest universities in the world.
The Castle ("Schloss")is a ruin but beautiful, huge and fascinating, and with a very interesting history.
We rode the funicular down from the schloss and walked through the old town to our car. We had missed lunch in the scramble to catch the tour, but decided to wait a bit for dinner. We told Helen [after we chastised her for the previous misadventure] to get us on the road to Rothenberg and figured we'd look for a place to stay along the way. After a piece down the autobahn, she announced that our selected route involved "traffic disruptions" but didn't suggest an alternative. Sure enough we got into backups, construction and so on, so I scanned the map and got us off the autobahn at Neckarsulm which looked promising. However we missed the turn to the hotel area and ended up in a small place called Bad Friedrickshall. Soon we spotted a sign for the Hotel Schloss Lehen and pulled in. So OMG! we're staying in a castle! We have a room that's bigger than some apartments I've lived in! Our bathroom is bigger than the room we had on the ship last week! It's really nice and the added bonus is a terrific dining room with great food. Definitely worth skipping lunch for!
There are still lovely dark red roses blooming in the garden and on every table in the restaurant. Wow!
Oh yes, and friendly, caring staff to take care of our every want.
We had a drink in the lounge before dinner and read a bit about the history of the place via wall and ceiling paintings. It dates to the 16th Century and is part of the Castle Road tour. Just terrific all around.
 

 


Photos. Click for larger

 

All Photos Fredrickshall

Friday, October 08 - Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Bamberg

It was lovely to wake up in our enormous castle chamber, and hen have a nice breakfast in the dining room.
We asked at reception for a reservation in Bamberg, and she kindly made one for us, hopefully another castle.
Then we set Helen to take us to Rothenberg ob der Tauber, a town we've been told is a must-see.
The on-ramp to Helen's autobahn route, so we proceeded trying a U-turn to get on from the opposite direction - no luck, closed. So I had to go old-school, and try to figure out a route on the map to see if that would work. We succeeded but Helen kept yammering on about U-turns, etc, etc, trying for about the next 35 minutes to get us back to the blocked highway. {Larry: I know you can turn her off but we thought she would "get it" and reroute us]. Finally it occurred to us to instruct her to avoid motorways and she suddenly LOVED the route we were on. That is until we hit another road blocked as we approached Rothenberg. Once again, as we followed detour signs ( once we figured out how to recognize them in German) se kept wanting to go back. So finally, we turned her off.
Rothenberg was everything we'd heard it would be.
We parked well-outside the walls, and enjoyed strolling the ancient cobbled streets, sitting outside enjoying lunch and generally soaking up the atmosphere. It was a bright, warm sunny day, so even better to enjoy such a place.
By mid-afternoon it was time to head out to Bamberg. Once again we crossed our fingers and programmed Helen with the address of our hotel.
This time, she did an excellent job right to the last block. She even recovered well from a wrong turn.
The hotel is not a castle [sad!], but is in the Cloisters of a Carmelite convent. It has been renovated into ultra-modern, large suites. So again we're liking the space and luxury.
Arriving, though, it was hard to figure out: small entrance, locked with intercom. I buzzed, identified myself and was buzzed in - to a large, blank hallway. What now? There was an elevator, but it was closed and no buttons. Suddenly it opened. I got on. There was a button for reception. I rode up, got off into darkness! Groped my way along a long corridor towards a light and was rewarded with the reception desk, where I got a key to everything (front door, elevator, room and a tag to open the gate to the parking lot. [Larry: meanwhile through all this I am parked in front of the powered gate, hoping Jan would arrive with the "key" before the next resident with their car.] Some people who arrived later after dark without a reservation were unable to rouse reception. I hope they got a room.
Anyway we set out on foot to get a feel for the town and found a very popular restaurant where we had a good dinner.
Nice town and we plan to walk around a bit more in the morning.
 

 


Photos. Click for larger

 

All Photos October 08 - Germany - Rothenberg ob der Tauber Bamberg

Saturday, October 09 - Dachau, Munich

Well, it's the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend and we're missing all the Canadian stuff - picturing the lake outside Nels and Marilyn's cottage, with all the brilliant colours, and seeing everyone around the dinner table. But, on the other hand, we woke up in Bamberg! We could hear church bells from every direction as we had breakfast and set out to walk around the town.
First we visited the famous Bamberg Cathedral with the four spires, but we were not able to go very far into the church as a service was underway. We stood quietly and listened for a few minutes and we could see that it is huge and relatively unadorned. The music was lovely and the priest had a nice voice.
From there we walked down to the river and over it to the Saturday morning market - colourful and busy.
Then we stopped at another church, St. Stephan's, which was virtually empty. A lovely peaceful place, with lavish decorations (likely baroque, but I didn't really study them enough to know).
When we left Bamberg, we programmed Helen to take us to Dachau because we wanted to visit the concentration camp memorial. We tried to program the camp as our destination, but failed. So we pointed her to the town centre, expecting to see signs when close. But no, we got no hint! After driving up and down narrow, cobbled streets for a while, we decided we had to give up. Larry said, "maybe we'll run across it on the way out of town". And guess what? He spotted a sign .pointing the way! We'd seen signs reading "KZ" (plus a bunch of German) several times, but he spotted one with English underneath.
Anyway we got there and spent a couple of sad hours understanding what went on there 70 or so years ago. Although it was not an extermination camp, it was still a terrible place where thousands of people suffered and died and we were told that the camp was a model for the many camps where millions were killed.
Leaving Dachau, we tried to program the address of our hotel. The GPS (Helen) didn't recognize the address as given us on our voucher. Apparently there's no such town as "Munich Airport" which was give. So Larry tried "Airport Hotel" in the vicinity of Munich and got one - not ours. Decided to go to it and work from there. It was in a town called Donstadt, quite a distance from the airport. Riding around we saw nothing! Near giving up, Larry programmed "Marriott", "near here" and it turn out to be just around the next corner! So calling these airport hotels is at the very least an exaggeration! [Larry became a hero for the second time today]
Anyway, it's comfortable and has a nice bar and good food, so we're happy to relax here this evening and it'll be an easy 20 minute hop to the airport in the morning. 
Today must have been something special, because we saw many, many trailers and RVs on the road, as well as a fair being set up in Bamberg Square. The stores in Dachau were all closed too.
Once again today I was impressed with the richness of the farmland we passed. It was rolling countryside and each town seemed to occupy the highest hill in the area.
We encountered one traffic tie-up because of an accident, but otherwise it was pretty smooth.
[Larry: At this stage I must comment on autobahn driving in Germany. Around Munich the first day it was pretty congested so pretty normal for a QEW fan. But out in the countryside the speed limits disappear; right there are non. Riding in the centre lane the survival speed is around 135-140km/hr. Regularly at 140 in the centre lane several cars (we called them Zoomers) would shoot past with their wind moving our car enough to notice - I give them at least 40-50 over the 140 we do. When you pass someone in the left of 3 you had better keep your eyes on the rear-view mirror as a small speck of a car the will be on your back bumper in seconds! Needless to say that accident we encounter was in the left lane with 3 or 4 cars mashed together. I can guess what happened. But the really scarry thing is that after a week you get used to it. I'm going to have to revise my driving back in Ontario.
Bill Shaw is always amazed by the plethora of expressways in USA. He should see it here! They cross Germany like normal highways in Ontario.]
 

 


Photos. Click for larger

 

All Photos October 09 - Germany - Dachau

Sunday, October 10 - Final comments 

It was indeed an easy hop to the airport, with very smooth car rental return. We were in plenty of time for our flight and were able to relax while we waited. 
It seems to be a very full flight, but we have a nice pair of seats so hope for a comfortable trip.
This has been a very good vacation. Trying to think of individual highlights is difficult.
Of course a very great aspect was spending two weeks with the Intrepids. Our trips are always well-planned and smoothly run. And it's a great bunch of folks to socialize with. 
Larry was a great chauffeur through Germany, and thanks to his "location charisma" we never were lost for very long, even when our GPS, Helen, let us down. I kept track of our progress on some very difficult maps, being very thankful that I wasn't solely responsible for navigation.
So many of the places were beautiful that it's hard to pick out any one, but I particularly liked Bratislava,Slovakia and Schloss Heidelberg. Neuschwanstein Castle was crazy over-the-top opulent. Vienna was wonderful and Cesky krumlov, Czech Republic was amazing. Vukovar was sad - Even after 19 years it's still a place of pain as a result of the Balkan Wars.
We ate some great food. I love schnitzel, and ate my fill of it. We enjoyed "apfelstrudel", and the most amazing hot chocolate. The "wet" muesli available everywhere at breakfast was really good and there was always nice, moist very dark rye bread. Talk about pigging out! Wow!
On board the Viking Primadonna we were so well-cared-for by all the staff. It was fun each night to see how Slavka arranged out sleep wear. [Larry: yes even my tea shirt can be made into a nice design].
Marek, the Cruise Director, kept the excursions and activities interesting and evening briefings for the following day were most helpful and entertaining as well.
We all felt sorry for the Captain, crew and staff when first one, and then the other ship engine failed. They all worked very hard keeping us entertained and comfortable for the few days it took to bring in engineers and parts from Spain to do the necessary repairs. We understand that the Captain worried off about 10 pounds over the whole situation. The Viking planning staff at headquarters did a fine job of replanning so the tour continued regardless and eventually the schedule was caught up.
Driving around Germany ( with our little loop into Austria and Switzerland ) in our super-comfortable VW Passad (+ Helen) was very interesting. There was everything from tiny cow-tracks to the super autobahns [Oh! the scary thrill of the speed-limitless autobahns], and from steep cobble village streets to wide-open countryside.
It's clear that Germany is prospering these days and we did hear some grumbling about the EU and how much better-off Germany would be without it.
In Eastern Europe we heard a lot about the Ottoman Empire, and how long and hard they'd struggled to get out from under it. For now, they seem to be OK, but we've, of course, been concerned about the huge toxic spill in Hungary that is threatening that country and the Danube River too.
And now we're tired and happy to be going home where we'll see family and friends and won't have to struggle with the language. [ However most everywhere we went we could deal in English + a little sign language ]
[In total the distance covered was 1500km, averaging about 200km/day - left lots of time for local exploring]