My wife and I cannot do any 'hard' planning
until vacation times are chosen where we work and that doesn't happen until after the first of the year. Dee Dee
has more flexibility since she works in a larger office and more employees can be scheduled off at any given time.
In my office - only 2 persons can be on vacation at one time. Considering my seniority and the fact that a fellow
worker (with more seniority) was also planning 3 weeks in Europe this summer - I wasn't sure we could make it work
until everything actually fell into place. We also had not planned on our eleven year old daughter Amy making the
trip but thanks to our company who in their infinite wisdom eliminated jobs and added to the workload of the rest
of us - the 'unwanted' overtime paid for Amy's ticket and lots of extra Bier and Schnitzels. I'm confident that
future mismanagement will also allow us to take additional trips to Europe. :-) So - we were able to squeeze in
the first 3 weeks of June and the trip was on.
First on the agenda is to lock-in airfare. With 3 weeks to work with I found the 15 days that afforded us the least expensive rates on our airline of choice - Lufthansa. I have found that (for me) flying into and out of Frankfurt airport offers the best chances for a good airfare deal. I prefer to fly Lufthansa and there is a direct flight from DFW every afternoon. Almost every year that I have tried - I have found the lowest fares for that Lufthansa flight through Flights.com (formerly TISS). That was also the case this year. Arriving and departing Frankfurt (with 14-15 days between) offers you the chance to plan a nice loop through Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and the Rheinland-Pfalz regions (which just happen to be my favorite areas) and to also include close-in sections of Austria. I would love to include Switzerland but it is simply too expensive for my budget.
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As with most of my trips I really enjoy the planning - where to go - what to see - where to overnight - possible things to do. I try not to set all daily activities in concrete and attempt to leave some flexibility but I do pre-reserve most accommodations. As I've said many times - I like knowing where we'll be sleeping and drinking our beer most nights. I prefer spending two nights (minimum) in each location and for a two week vacation that equates to 7 opportunities to find bargain lodging with the best possible odds for an enjoyable stay. With the growing popularity of the internet and the ease of managing websites - I have found that even some of the smallest and least expensive options can be found and taken advantage of.
This year (after some gentle prodding by certain Stammtisch members) I decided to include some time in the Fulda area (Hessen). I was also offered a free night at a castle hotel near Regensburg so I scheduled two days in that region as well. The other overnight locations included villages near Berchtesgaden, Innsbruck, Füssen, Offenburg and along the Mosel, with the final night to be somewhere along the Rhine Gorge within an hour of the airport. I'm convinced that one of the few remaining budget secrets for families traveling in Europe is the zimmer frei and apartments to be found in private homes and rural farms. They are 'for the most part' a cut above hostels and camping and provide a good opportunity to meet and befriend the host families. I enjoy an early morning coffee from the lofty perch of a flower-laden balcony overlooking a grassy green meadow or valley populated by a few cud-chewing, bell-clanking Kuh - so that's what I always search for. This year we had the pleasure of staying at six Bauernhöfe, a charming little Weingut on the Mosel and an excellent little hotel near the Rhine - all priced below what you would probably pay for an economy hotel with breakfast in an average American city. Sound good? It was great! Here's our story -
Final check - Passports - Plane tickets - Car Rental receipt - Lodging verifications - Money belt with US and Euros - Credit Card - ATM Card - Drivers License - International Driving Permit (Yes you do need one for Austria) - Bills paid - Mail on hold - House critters in good hands - Luggage packed and ready - Wife properly drugged - (Meclizine Hydrochloride for motion sickness and Xanax for anxiety work wonders) - Super shuttle bus arrives on time - No traffic, easy ride to airport - Check-in at Lufthansa faster than anticipated - Security intense but smooth (personally pulled out of line twice for body scan - must be my hat) - Exchanged a few dollars for Euros (€) near our gate (very close to 1 for 1 exchange rate) - Departure just about on time - Smooth flight - Courteous attendants - Meals OK (pre-ordered Fruit plate for Dee Dee and it was the best meal of all) - and amazingly Dee Dee completes the flight without getting airsick.
Arrived at damp and dreary Frankfurt airport
early (0745) - passport control (slow going) - customs (breezed through). This year's car rental was done online
through Nova's RentaCar-Europe. The price was good and I was comfortable with their coverage. The
only drawback to using Nova that I could see was having to deal with Alamo which requires that you go to their
booth in Terminal 2 for pick-up. Alamo and National do work as a team for the most part so you can return your
vehicle to Terminal 1 when departing.
Getting to Terminal 2 from Terminal 1 is not such a big deal except for the fact that you have to get up to the level for the Sky Line. (Not much trouble unless your wife gets caught behind a packed baggage cart on the escalator and almost breaks a leg) And then there is the hassle of loading and unloading from baggage carts at several points along the way. (Not much trouble unless your wife packed too much) Once we found the Alamo booth (Level U1) it was a smooth and friendly operation.
Loaded up the car and we were on our way. Dee Dee handled the flight very well considering past trips but she wasn't quite up to driving the first leg of this trip so I occupied the driver seat and headed us in the direction of Fulda (A3 - B45 - A66) with rain clouds looming in the distance. Within ten minutes of leaving the airport both girls were in la-la land - so without navigator and the peanut gallery I settled in to driving in the general direction of our first overnight location - the small community of Büchenberg (suburb of Eichenzell). When there is no street address or house number listed for a place - it can be a good sign that anyone in town will be able to tell you how to get there by telling them the name. A little old Oma working in her garden smiled and pointed us in the right direction and in a few minutes we were pulling up at our first Bauernhof of the trip - the Mausehof.
Tel - 06656/447 ~ Fax - 06656/6232
One apartment for 4 persons & one Studio apartment for 2 persons
(or) Three doublerooms with shower/bath/toilet, TV, balcony
Bicycles available, horse-riding possible, table-tennis, grilling area, children's play area
Cows, pigs, horses, cats and one big dog (Fico)
Warmly greeted by the very lovely lady of the house - Frau Sabine Schlag - we are shown to our apartment (for two days) on the top floor. Well maintained - nice and roomy - all the comforts of home - with a big balcony overlooking the pastures and meadows between us and the small village of Büchenberg - sehr nett. A 'Welcome to Germany' fax from PStuyvsant arrives shortly after we do.
I was very much looking forward to exploring Fulda and the surrounding Rhön as Don (Eihloha) and Nate (NBarnes503) had been pumping me full of places to go and things to see since I first mentioned I would be stopping in the area for a few days. I had hoped that we would be able to visit Fulda this first afternoon and enjoy as many sights as possible but jet lag had hit the girls hard and the weather gods were not accommodating. The day was slipping away but I eventually got the troops awake and headed towards Fulda. It had been many years since I was last in this area and back then I was mostly seeing everything through the eyes of a soldier in military convoy. The town seems large but we head for the Altstadt and hope to get a look at a few of the places recommended by FuldaDon. Parking near the Schlossgarten we arm ourselves with umbrellas and begin our walk - only to be greeted by a steady hard downpour. It's tough to get motivated for sightseeing when the weather does not cooperate - so we find a nice restaurant for our first meal.
Gaststätte Schwarzer Hahn Wirtshaus
Schnitzels for everyone - Spezi and Bier
- 27 Euro (€). We are reminded early that no matter how bad the weather while on vacation - if you can stay dry
- eat well - and have a good German Bier in front of you - it's a good trip. The rain continues into the night
and our sightseeing of Fulda is a washout. Wet and jetlagged - after our first Eis cones of the trip - we head
back to the farm and relax to the satellite TV and BBC.
I awake early but the rain dampens my enthusiasm for exploring this working farm. 0800 - Frühstück is served at the Schlag family dining table. It is a wonderful first breakfast with the full compliment of foods I associate with a good German breakfast - lots of cheese, meats, spreads, fresh Brötchen, juice, soft-boiled eggs, and a large pitcher of deliciously strong German coffee.
Today we are on a mission to see as much as we can (despite the rain and bad weather) so we head east on B294 and make our first stop at the Kloster Kreuzberg. Great looking old monastery that has been brewing beer since 1731. It's a bit slow this time of the day but it's never too early for an excellent Bier. We walked the grounds and Dee Dee found herself a nice alpine hat.
- - -
The weather is clearing so we head for the hills of the Wasserkuppe, home of gliding. Along the way we pass the Rhönhäuschen and since it has gotten so many positive reviews I have to have a picture of my own.
We continue on to the airstrip and absorb ourselves for several hours watching gliders being towed aloft, soaring endlessly and sliding in for a long landing on the grass.
As we are leaving I spot a Sommerrodelbahn sign and we make a slight detour for one good downhill trip on one of several summer luge runs in the Wasserkuppe area.
Sommerrodelbahn - Wasserkuppe
And then the hard rains come again to send us on our way back to the farm. I was very disappointed to miss out on Fulda and many of the surrounding sights due to bad weather but such is the life of a tourist. That night we drove a few kilometers to Neuhof for a nice dinner at the
Putensteak, Schnitzel, wonderful Gulaschsuppe,
great Bier - 21 Euro (€). Dee Dee experiences her first roadside radar camera flash as she fails to slow down in
time when entering a village. I yell "Gotcha" as she looks at me in dismay. Will the photo and traffic-fine
track us down and be at the car rental turn-in counter in Frankfurt in two weeks? Only time will tell but the incident
got my Frau's attention and she watches her speed closely the rest of the trip (most of the time).
Another excellent breakfast - we enjoy
chatting with Frau Schlag as she goes about her morning routine with her two cute daughters in tow. I make the
first English entry in the Haus Gästebuch and afterwards we load up for a travel day south. We really enjoyed
our time at the Mausehof and hate to say good-bye to the warm and friendly Schlag family. We exchange small gifts
- a Texas coffee mug for a Mausehof candle - and we are on our way to our next destination. Total cost - apartment
with breakfast for 3 persons - 45 € per day.
Our original schedule had us spending the next two nights at Falkenfels Castle hotel southeast of Regensburg. I had been given a free night as a gift and it was an offer I couldn't refuse. Three days prior to leaving Texas I received an email from the hotel stating that there was a new ownership, the place was being renovated and I should look elsewhere for accommodations. This news upset me but not as much as I would have been upset if I had traveled all the way to Falkenfels just to be turned away. I try to keep some flexibility in my itineraries so we made the adjustment without problem. Prior to leaving home I quickly researched the Altmühltal area west of Regensburg and printed out several Bauernhöfe possibilities.
So we head south via A7 - past Schweinfurt, Würzburg and since we are driving right by Rothenburg o.d.T. - how could we pass up a short walk-thru visit? We couldn't - and spend about 2 hours walking the rainy, wet cobblestoned streets.
After enjoying the panoramic view of Rothenburg rooftops from the town hall tower and visiting some of our favorite shops - we are off again south along A7 - then east on A3 - and south again on B13 to the Altmühltal region. We arrive in Eichstätt around noon - turn northeast and follow the Altmühl river - enjoying the tranquil scenery and in search of the perfect farm. Sometime later - after several failed attempts at places that were full - we arrive in the village of Beilngries. After a few phone calls I reach the friendly voice of Anni Schmidtner who offers an apartment at her farm for 38 € per night. Sounds good - looks good on paper - so we drive to the little village of Biberbach which is just a few km north of Beilngries on the Rhein-Main-Donau Kanal. Frau Schmidtner is a very sweet lady who happily gives us a tour of her small but tidy farm.
Pigs with lots of piglets, sheep with several newborn lambs stumbling about, big flop-ear rabbits, some beautiful horses and several tanks of trout in various stages of growth. Anni then shows us our huge ground floor apartment with two sleep rooms, a very large bathroom and a cozy kitchen area with a TV. The girls' disappointment of not being able to stay at a Castle Hotel is quickly forgotten as we relax at the Schmidtner Bauernhof for two days.
Tel - 08461/1437 ~ Fax - 08461/9425
The rain has followed us south so we drive into Beilngries and quickly settle on a nice looking restaurant specializing in Pizza and Italian dishes. We each order individual plate sized pizzas with several toppings just to see how different everything is from what we get back home. The pizza was excellent but we leave half a plate of assorted toppings that didn't quite seem to fit our appetite (artichokes, pitted olives, etc). :-) And the beer was prima... Total bill - 21.60 €
Gaststätte Restaurant Pizzeria alla Piazza
Back to the ranch to relax and enjoy our cable TV as the rain continues to fall. Several English language channels, BBC, MTV and of course full coverage of the World Cup in progress. My favorite TV program consists of one hour of early morning Webcam coverage of the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria. Two or three minutes of somewhere like the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area, then it would switch to the Tegelberg in Schwangau, Seefeld in Austria, etc with panoramic mountain views and a look at the current weather there, with regional music in the background. Now that is a program I would tune in to frequently if I could get it at home. :)
The weather is still wet and dreary but not enough to ruin our day. Frau Schmidtner offers no breakfast service (as is usually the case with an apartment). Knowing this, we had stocked up with picnic and breakfast foods the day before. The apartment kitchens are usually well supplied with plates, utensils, cooking pots and pans, toasters, coffee pots, etc so we make do without problem. Today's mission is to drive along the Altmühl valley and follow the Main-Donau canal and Danube river around to Regensburg. This is a beautiful and scenic drive and I'm sure it is even more enjoyable in clear weather. Keeping with my vow to try to avoid large cities this trip - we skirt Regensburg and head for a favorite little brewery and Bavarian inn of one of our Stammtisch members - Erskine (HHav) and family. As Erskine described the place to me - 'the brewery was formerly operated by Dominikan monks and the monastery grounds included a church for the local people. About 170 years ago the local government declared that the monks must divest their brewery interest from the monastery. The Prössl family bought the brewery and agreed to keep the church maintained. This agreement satisfied the local government and the Prösslbräu was born. Today the church and brewery stand side by side inside the walled premises. The Prössl family built a Gasthaus and later added about 20 lodging rooms.'
Tel - 09404/1822 ~ Fax - 09404/5233
We arrived at the Prösslbräu around lunchtime, found a nice outside table (finally a bit of sunshine) and quickly discovered one of the reasons why Erskine recommends this place so highly - the Bier - 'Es war Hervorragende'.
For lunch we had -
Niederbayerischer Krustenbraten in Dunkelbiersauce mit Semmelknödel und Sauerkraut - (7.60 €)
Putensteak in Pfefferrahn mit Pommes Frites und Salat - (7.60 €)
Kinderschnitzel mit Pommes Frites - (5.80 €)
I asked a waitress if the owner was available and in short order Herr Prössl is sitting at our table and we are discussing his brewery and our mutual friend - Erskine. Our appetite sated and our thirst quenched we decide to head back in the direction of the Altmühltal, but not before Herr Prössl presents us with two nice Prösslbräu mugs. A very friendly and interesting gentleman and we enjoyed spending some time with him.
Back at the farm we explore the little village of Biberbach, discovering a nice little restaurant and good beer just around the corner. Later we enjoy a local flea market, a boat show on the river and discover a picturesque little place for dinner in Beilngries.
Gaststätte Restaurant Stern Gasthaus
I try an excellent plate of Forelle Müllerin (fresh trout) for 7.10 € while the girls stick with Gulasch and Pommes. Amy is uncomfortable eating with my fish looking at her so I place a napkin over it's head. :-) Nice Helles Bier...
We finish the evening with a stroll about town and a third visit to a local Eis shop.
~ Part 2 ~
Ramsau - Mösern - Hopferau