Our family trip of two weeks in Jun 99 began for me at least a year before the day we departed. I savor the trip planning almost as much as the adventure itself. Most of my trips to Europe have included friends and family who have never enjoyed that pleasure previously. With that in mind I feel that I must include what I consider to be many of the 'must sees' and standard highlights that a 14 day trip can comfortably allow. This year's trip included my wife Dee Dee, step-daughter Kelli (18) and daughter Amy (8). This was the first trip for both daughters.
This requires an itinerary and to be completely comfortable - pre-booked accommodations. I start plotting my next route as soon as I have the inkling that a trip is imminent. Many of the roads I travel are as familiar to me as the roads I travel to work everyday so I always feel at home when I return to Germany. Normally I will select 5 to 7 locations for possible overnight stays. Within a few weeks I will have added another pile to my already overflowing library of research material. More and more information is becoming available on the internet as even the smallest farms are coming on-line. Just hit your favorite search engines with "German farm" or "Bauernhof" and you will see what I mean.
For my trips the airfare is of utmost importance. When you are buying 4 tickets it becomes even more significant. You have to shop around to find the best deals. I could have saved a few bucks with somewhat lesser fares on two other airlines but my first choice is always Lufthansa and a straight flight from DFW without plane change.
Car rental is the next priority and there to it is important to shop around for the best deals available. I began my shopping by contacting Bob Bestor at Gemütlichkeit. We discussed my needs and he made what I considered to be a good offer. I then contacted AutoEurope who offered the same deal for about the same price. Since neither company could at that time guarantee a free upgrade upon arrival - I stayed with Herr Bestor. In hindsight that turned out to be a good decision.
My plans were moving right along and the accommodation confirmations were trickling in. I would like to be able to book and confirm by Email but with many of the small farms - that is seldom possible. With some minor adjustments to my first choices I eventually locked in all lodging.
The dollar seemed to be gaining in strength and just when it reached a point when I thought it would top out for awhile - I drove out to the DFW airport (30 minutes) and exchanged what I thought might be enough to get us through most of the trip. My wife and I both carry money belts and I hate to be constantly looking for banks or machines when traveling. That also turned out to be a good decision. For the record I also carry abit of American dollars, a Visa card and an ATM card. Boy scouts and old soldiers are always prepared. :-)
All plans running smoothly to this point. Family friend designated to check mailbox daily and feed the family critters in our absence. Suitcases packed and repacked. Assigned each traveler two (2) carry-ons each (mostly necessities in case we are separated from main luggage). No problems with two per with Lufthansa but I understand that might change.
I always enjoy the last few months leading up to a trip. The countdown begins and my shorttimer calendars go up in the house and at work. My attitude and general demeanor lightens and when we become 'double digit midgets' I seem to constantly wear a smile. As the final week approaches and we are down to single digits I seem to tighten up abit in anticipation of any last minute problems that might arise. None this trip. Everything on schedule.
The much awaited day arrives and this trip begins as it should. My Amigo (Pstuyvsant) arrives in his towncar (he only drives it on weekends) and as he has promised - all of our luggage fits perfectly. The drive to the airport is uneventful but I detect the pre-flight jitters already attacking my Frau. My wife has a serious motion sickness problem (and what we now consider anxiety attacks) that we have yet to find an answer for. She has been to specialists - takes the motion sickness pills - uses sea-bands - and wears the patches behind her ears. All to no avail. When she last accompanied me on a trip to Europe she was miserable most of the time. From start to finish she was only half with us. Her prescribed medicine appeared to be working this past year and I really thought we had her problems solved. Since she only gets car sick when she is a passenger - I made her the primary driver for this trip and that seemed to do the trick for the ground portion. If they would only let her fly the plane I think she would be completely OK. Everyone else on the plane would be sick tho. :-) The flight was on-time - smooth - the meals excellent - and the service great. Luv those German flight attendants (at least the female types). Lufthansa puts you in the perfect mood for the ground portion of your trip (except for my wife). Amy and I occupied aisle and window seats directly over the right wing (right behind DD and Kelli) and slept comfortably most of the way.
Day 1 - We arrived at Frankfurt airport early (0730) with no problems (other than the Frau filling a barf bag). :) The weather was dark, moist and forboding - (an omen of what we were to encounter the first week). Baggage claim - passport control - customs went smoothly. Luggage carts were handily everywhere. We proceeded to the Sixt Rent a Car booth (follow the overhead signs) where there was no waiting. The attendant was warm and friendly and offered a choice of three different station wagons. I selected the Ford Mondeo (standard shift with air-conditioning) which was an upgrade from the Astra I had reserved. Proceeded to elevators and 5th floor - found a sleek black diesel wagon and the luggage fit perfectly. When I later saw an Astra wagon on the autobahn I could see that we would have had trouble considering all the bags we carried.
Dee Dee was still woozy and not prepared to drive so I happily get behind the wheel and head us out of the Flughafen to Autobahn A3 in the direction of Würzburg. Within 10 minutes everyone in the car is asleep except me (which I had anticipated as autobahns and jet lag tend to do that). No problem - I'm coasting at 140 kmph when my smile and thoughts of soon being on the Romantic Road quickly turn sour. Approximately 40 km out of the airport we hit a Stau (traffic jam) that brings all lanes to a crawl. Stop and go - inching along - detours through villages to the south. After an hour and no sign of getting back on the autobahn for awhile - I can't take it anymore. The girls are still asleep - the wife has her face in a bag and I'm left to drive and navigate - so I'm out of there heading hopefully south and east. I knew eventually I would end up in the general area I wanted to be and I was in normal traffic which was moving.
My initial plans were to stay on A3 to just south of Würzburg (exit at junction #68) and wind my way down the Romantische Straße thru Tauberbischofsheim - Bad Mergentheim - visit the castle at Weikersheim and picnic along the way. My new plan was to get to the Rothenburg area anyhow-anyway prior to darkness setting in. To top it off - it had started to rain fairly hard at this point. Add to this formula the fact that I had torn out the pages of an old road atlas (that I had just about worn out) - taking only those pages which I would need for this trip. Considering that when I was finally able to pull over and review the maps and I was already off the pages and in unfamiliar territory - that turned out to be not such a wise decision. The wife didn't know where she was and the kids were still asleep so I stopped a few times to get my bearings and off I went again - just happy to be in Germany on vacation. In their condition they wouldn't have appreciated the Romantic Road anyway. Eventually I work my way over to the Main river and follow it thru Miltenberg (lovely old town I have spent time in previously) - thru Wertheim and hook back up with the A3 at junction #66. By this time it is raining quite abit and considering the situation I opt to stay with the autobahns switching to A7 south until junction #106 where I head cross country towards Creglingen and the small village of Archshofen. It is in Archshofen that we are to spend our first two nights at the Bauernhof Mantel.
I love the Tauber valley and I eased back into that tranquil state of mind as I turned onto the Romantic Road at Tauberzell with just 5 km more to our destination. Arriving in this little village to a now slight drizzle I decided to pull over and ask the first friendly face directions to our first farm. A kind elderly gentleman standing on the sidewalk seemed a likely candidate. I explained to him in my best German that I was looking for the Mantel bauernhof and with a huge grin he introduced himself as Herr Ludwig Mantel. It was as if he had been standing there waiting for some lost Americans to come along and ask him this question. He happily pointed to the hills above the town and told us to go on up - our rooms were waiting for us - which we gladly did.
The Mantel place seemed large and expansive and as we were told later it had to be in order to support the needs of the 6 family members who lived and worked there. We were met by Frau Mantel (no English) and shown to our apartment (partially below ground) which contained a kitchen, living area, large bathroom and two sleeping rooms with space for 5 easily (6 if you count the sofa).
The Mantel farm has 3 apartments (no single or double rooms) and they prefer week-long stays. Certain times of the year when there are vacancies they will rent an apartment for a few days or even overnight. Our stay fit in nicely between some regular extended-visit customers. It was cold and damp enough that a fire was already going in the wood burning stove and after unpacking a few things - the girls (having slept most of the day) were now ready to get under those great down-filled covers for a real nap (exactly what we preach not to do - but it's raining and I give in easily). So I spend the afternoon reading and organizing my cameras and such until the daughter-in-law (Gudrun) arrives. Gudrun speaks excellent English (which my wife and daughters appreciated) and she and her husband Werner handle the bulk of the more strenuous farm work. Everyone seems to have their own chores they are responsible for except the two smaller children Anja and Michael who seem to spend most of their time playing with all the critters. Gudrun recalled the visit she received from Herr Pstuyvsant last year during his annual solo trip. I had asked him to recon this farm for me and his subsequent report led to our visit. I had hoped to spend some time in Rothenburg that evening but due to the weather conditions and my wife's still precarious condition we opted for dinner at a nearby restaurant recommended by Frau Mantel. It turned out to be a do-nothing day but I don't think anyone cared except me and truthfully I was loving the cool weather. In the rain we drove to Bettwar (10 km west of Rothenburg) and had our first great schnitzel dinner at the Alte Schreinerei (Familie Würflein), 91628 Bettwar 22 (Tel-09861/1541). Friendly atmosphere but busy - good service - excellent food. Amy had her first Kinderschnitzel mit Pommes and was hooked from then on.
The girls couldn't get over seeing all the dogs in a restaurant (which were well heeled as always). And so our first day in Germany came to an end. Off to a rough start initially but except for the weather and a few detours - things smoothed out nicely.
Day 2 - While the girls slept - I was up at O-dark thirty doing my normal early snooping about taking pictures and videos of the farmers going about their routines. Gudrun was up and about in the barn cleaning stalls and feeding the cows. There were about 45 cows (all with nametags stapled to their ears). If you want to know a cow's name just check the eartag.
They generally tolerate my presence but I always stay on the proper side of a cow and that is the front end. :) The Mantels sell milk, bread and eggs if you need extra to go. An excellent typical bauernhof Frühstück was served at 0800 (soft boiled eggs, cheese, various meats, orange juice, milk, various breads and that wonderful strong German coffee).
This farm had some unique farm oriented napkins on the table which I promptly took for the girls' scrapbooks which I will hopefully get around to someday. I keep receipts, tickets, napkins, coasters, postcards - if it'll go in a scrapbook I keep it. Ziplock bags full of stuff to sort out. The girls will appreciate it someday I'm sure when they have their own book of memories of their first trip. Amy wants to know when is her next trip? :-)
Dee Dee has recovered enough to drive, the weather has cleared somewhat and we are off to Rothenburg o.d.T. for the morning. We walk around most of the Altstadt and I point out several places and points of interest that I fully expect Georg the Night Watchman will expound on later that evening (having taken his tour previously). A few standard pictures at the Plönlein, castle gardens and town hall - a visit to the Medieval Crime Museum for Amy and myself
- a walkthru of St. Jakob's Church to see Riemenschneider's masterpiece - and we're back to the farm. The girl's take another nap (against my advice) and with dark skies threatening - Amy and I take a drive to the Fränkisches Freilandmuseum in Bad Windsheim (about 30 km NE of our farm location).
One of my future projects for Ben's Bauernhof is a page showcasing the various farm museums of southern Germany and I certainly didn't want to miss this opportunity. I had it on my itinerary early on and PatBee also spoke highly of it. I had hoped to make it the day before as there was a Kinderfest going on at the museum but that didn't work out. We arrived to find a shepard (in his finest garb) and a large flock of sheep near the entrance. Between rain showers we enjoyed several hours of rural homes and farms from Franconia's past - disassembled from their original location and reconstructed at this open-air museum (like so many others similar throughout Germany).
Back to the farm for a promised pony cart ride courtesy of Gudrun. This lady was so nice to my family and went out of her way to insure everyone had a good time. Her English was very good and she made the comment that she had to think in English in order to do it as it had been years since she had spoken any. I believe we were the first Americans to stay at this bauernhof. Looking thru their guestbook I found no other comments written in English. As you make your way thru the zimmer frei, pensionen and small hotels during your travels - make an effort to look at and sign the house guestbook. Some of the comments, poems, pictures and offerings from previous guests are moving and fun to read. You never know what you might find. I was really caught off guard when I opened one to find a comment thanking 'Bavaria Ben' for recommending the place. I gotta tell ya - it gives you a real warm and fuzzy feeling. :-) Or maybe that was just the Asbach brandy burning my gut. Back to the farm - the rain let up and Gudrun had her pony cart ready to go. Off we went down the bike path with the Tauber river on our left and the Romantic Road winding along beside. As we drove along - Gudrun would point out the different crops, trees and plants growing beside the path. Excellent adventure for almost 2 hours.
Noting a nice looking outside terrace at a hidden Gasthaus we passed along the way - I made a point to return that evening for our second dinner meal. The Gasthouse Holdermühle near Tauberzell (look for a sign on the road and a sharp turn over a one lane bridge). Nice meal - cool evening - outside with the river flowing nearby.
We finished just before the rain came and spoiled our plans for a tour with Rothenburg's Nightwatchman. Oh well it was a good day - despite the weather gods. Back to the apartment - pack it up - be ready to roll after breakfast.
Day 3 - Restful night - my body seems to be in sync with German time with no problems while the girls are still slightly out of whack. Up at dawn with the cows I enjoy the brisk morning air and those pungent farm smells. Wasn't it Robert Duvall as LTC Kilgore (Apocalypse Now) who said "I love the smell of compost in the morning"? :) On the picnic table outside our door I find about 20 different leaves and plants laid out with the German and English words for each. I had asked so many questions during our cart ride that Gudrun had collected samples of local foilage for me. I was very impressed with this very nice lady. When I paid our bill that morning I asked about the charge for the extended cart ride. "No charge - Ganz mein Vergnügen!" Too nice - now I really don't want to leave. But we say Auf Wiedersehen and are off and running for Chiemsee. I feel much better knowing we had left one of my Texas coffee mugs and three beanie babies for her kids in the bedroom. Dee Dee had brought along a small bag of beanies for any farm kids we might encounter and some small Texas souvenirs to leave as tokens of appreciation for just such a stay as we had enjoyed. I will remember this farm and Gudrun's hospitality for a long time to come. But we're outta there and down the road past Rothenburg in no time. On to the Chiemgauer Alpen....