November 29 - December 7, 2003
Cathy, Janet, Melanie, Debbie
Flights – Kuwait-Frankfurt-Zurich-Frankfurt-Munich-Frankfurt-Kuwait (Melanie)
Kuwait-Frankfurt-Munich-Frankfurt-Kuwait (Debbie, Cathy, Janet)
A word about us: We’re American expatriates living in Kuwait. Our husbands work for Chevron/Texaco; they’re at different stages in their 4-5 year assignments working for the Kuwait Oil Company.
Debbie and Cathy experienced German Christmas markets several years ago on a group grip to Germany from Aberdeen, Scotland and had been talking about returning ever since. I’m (Melanie) a frequent visitor to Switzerland and Germany, and I was all too happy to make the arrangements and play quasi tour guide. Janet had never experienced the Christmas markets, so she didn’t quite know what to expect.
Debbie, Cathy and Janet arrived in Frankfurt on the same Lufthansa flight that Bill and I had taken 9 days before. It left Kuwait at the ungodly hour of 2:30 am and arrived in Frankfurt at 6:30 am. Their plane was full of US military returning home and I understand it was an eventful flight.
The girls had arranged a day room at the Holiday Inn Express, which is a 10-minute drive from the Frankfurt Airport. This enabled them to get some sleep, shower and wait for me to catch up with them. I understand there was a bit of a glitch with the Holiday Inn Express shuttle bus, which didn’t show up at the airport for over an hour, despite several phone calls to the hotel. I’ve had similar early morning problems with this hotel, although it advertises airport pick-ups from 6 am onwards. They paid 80 Euro for a triple room.
Bill and I arrived in Frankfurt from Zurich at 3:45 pm. We had just enough time to visit the ATM, stop in duty free and collect our luggage before meeting the girls at 4:30 pm at our pre-arranged rendezvous point; the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in the Frankfurt Airport.
Much relieved to find that everyone had made it safe and sound, we then headed downstairs to the train station, where we purchased tickets to Rothenburg o.d.T. (82.50 Euro for four). Here we parted ways with Bill, who headed to the Holiday Inn Express, where he’d spend the night before catching his return flight to Kuwait the following day (he had no shuttle problems by the way).
We caught the 5:02 pm train, making train changes in Wurzburg and Steinach, arriving in Rothenburg at 7:51 pm. I was afraid that we’d inadvertently gotten on a first class car, as the seats were really nice and contained private compartments. After walking through the train and seeing the other second class seats, I was convinced we’d screwed up. All my fears were unfounded though, as a gentleman seated behind us confirmed that we were in second class; just very fancy second class.
I knew it was only a 10-minute walk from the bahnhof to our hotel, but having only been to Rothenburg one time many years ago, and arriving in the dark, it took a few minutes to get my bearings. We located a sign pointing towards the Altstadt and headed that way. Once inside the walls, we stopped at a hotel and asked directions. We were helped by an incredibly friendly man, who personally took us to our hotel, and even carried my suitcase!
As we entered the Hotel Zur Sonne, our home for the next four nights, we found ourselves in the middle of their very busy restaurant. We checked in, and our luggage vanished. I had room #17, a single, Janet had room #4, also a single, and Debbie and Cathy shared #10, a huge double that had a full sized sofa, a dining table and a the biggest bathroom I’ve seen in Europe. The single rooms were 39 Euro per night and the double was 73 Euro per night, inclusive of breakfast.
The configuration of this hotel was interesting. It had 18 rooms, 12 of which were accessed from the restaurant, and six which were accessed from the kitchen and the back alley. For rooms located in the front of the hotel (such as #4 and #10), you were given a key to the restaurant, which was locked after 9 pm. If your room was located in the back of the hotel (such as mine - #17), you were given a key to a side door and entered the hotel from the back alley after 9 pm.
I can only speak for myself, but I quite liked this hotel and wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again.
Santa was posing for photos outside the
main Käthe Wohlfahrt store. We joined the queue outside the store and paid our 1 Euro admission; although
we wondered why we were being charged to enter a store where we’d undoubtedly spend money. The store was a mob
scene. We became separated from each other and were more or less pushed through the place by the crowd. Shopping
was impossible. I immerged on the other end grateful to be alive and in dire need of some fresh air. I was joined
by Debbie and Cathy and we proceeded to wait for Janet. We still didn’t understand the 1 Euro charge. Is that business
not already a gold mine?
After 30 minutes of waiting for Janet, we gave up, thinking she must have moved on, and hoping she hadn’t been crushed by the crowd. The three of us decided to find some lunch. We saw several people wandering around with long, skinny sausages dangling from baguettes. Those babies looked and smelled really good, so we decided to seek them out. We found the booth selling the tempting wurst – Hahn’s ½ meter Feuerwurst (3.30 Euro each) a little senf, some glühwein and we were good to go.
We decided we’d better see if Janet survived
the crush at the Käthe Wohlfahrt store, so we returned to our hotel. Five minutes after we arrived she turned
up, exasperated, but unharmed.
We returned to the Altstadt, where we listened to the 2 pm brass band concert. We then decided we’d like to climb to the top of the Rathaus. Well, Debbie, Janet and I decided we’d like to – Cathy’s not big on heights, so she took a pass.
Some 220 steps and 1 Euro later, the three of us were on the top of the Rathaus overlooking Rothenburg and the Tauber Valley. The climb began with a concrete spiral staircase, which turned into narrow wooden steps, then became a tight, skinny ladder towards the top. There was a lot of traffic, so we had to wait occasionally to let others pass. There was a five minute limit on the platform, but that was plenty.
We caught up with Cathy on the ground and resumed our power shopping with the occasional glühwein break (we needed the energy, mind you). The village was crowded with holiday shoppers, there were horse drawn carriage rides, and it felt very festive.
After the tour, Debbie, Janet and I went looking for a warm beverage before heading back to the hotel. By now the entire town was deserted and nothing seemed to be open. On the advice of the night watchman, we went to a pub called “Hell” and sure enough, our tour guide was at the bar having a drink. The pub was quite busy and we were all intrigued by the building.
We were back in our hotel by 10:15, exhausted
after our busy day.
We met at “our table” in the hotel’s breakfast room at 8:30 am and had a leisurely breakfast. It was Monday, so the Christmas market didn’t open until 12:30. Our hotel suddenly seemed empty, as did the rest of the town. We spent the morning re-visiting some stores from the previous day, having considered yesterday an initial exploration and fact-finding mission.
I wanted to check the train schedule for our next stop, so we walked to the bahnhof. Oddly enough, the DB office in Rothenburg charges 2 Euro for train information. This cost is absorbed if you purchase a ticket, so we went ahead and purchased our tickets for Wednesday (Bayern Ticket – good for travel within Bavaria M-F, from 9am – 3am on regional trains, good for up to 5 people – 21 euro).
We returned to the walled city and had another one of those yummy ½ meter sausages for lunch.
We decided to return to the Käthe Wohlfahrt store, as it had been too busy the previous day to see much. Sure enough, the place was practically deserted, and there was no admission charge. We discovered that we’d been charged yesterday for admission to the Christmas Museum, but because the place was so busy, we never actually saw the museum. Apparently, the 1 Euro charge was some sort of special, because the usual cost is 4 Euro. The museum wasn’t open today though, so we have no idea what (if anything) we missed.
Later that day we tried to locate Planet Internet on Paradeisgasse, our navigating not helped by two mugs of glühwein. We finally gave up and did what most females do; asked for directions. We were directed to Hotel Roterhahn, which has four computers with Internet access set up in the bar. Of course I’d have known this had I referred to the notes I’d printed from Ken Jones’ trip report. We all checked our e-mail, sending notes to our hubbies, assuring them that we weren’t spending any money (ha, ha!). Internet access at the Hotel Roterhahn is 3 Euro per 30 minutes. Planet Internet is apparently no longer in business.
Back to the shops. The town was much quieter today and we were able to shop at a more leisurely pace.
It dawned on me that I had notes with restaurant recommendations as well, so I suggested we head to the Restaurant Rothenburger Kartoffelstube in Gasthof Rodertor which has been recommended by Ken and Ginny on Ben’s site. After joking about the potato pizza and the potato salad dressing, we each ordered a potato specialty. Three of us had the au gratin potatoes with spinach, cheese and garlic cream sauce. Delicious! Cathy opted for the au gratin potatoes with ham and cheese. The food was really good, but we could have easily split two dishes between the four of us. Cathy and I washed our dinner down with some Tucher weizen bier and Debbie sampled the Mosel reisling. Janet stuck with her expensive coke. Dinner and drinks for the four of us came to 41 Euro.
We were all pretty tired, so we made it an early evening and returned to our respective rooms.
This was our last day of shopping in Rothenburg, so we hit the streets running. We revisited many stores and made our final purchases. Debbie and I split from the others to check our e-mail, then we all met in the Altstadt for yet another ½ meter wurst (I’m telling you, they were really good…). Of course we had to also visit our favorite glühwein stand, where a very nice old guy handed out cookies with every purchase.
We also finally located a store we’d been trying to find ever since we saw their display window on another street. I think the store is called Cree International. Turns out the shop was a few streets behind our hotel. This is a great place that sells leather luggage, bags, and unusual leather coin purses that can be attached to belt loops. We all bought coin purses for ourselves and/or family members. We also bought each of our husbands a canvas bottle tote bag to transport homemade beer and wine to poker games in Kuwait.
We finally split up, Debbie and Cathy going one way, Janet and I going another. Around 4:30, I’d had enough, so I bailed on Janet and headed back to the hotel. The hotel restaurant was open, but completely empty, so I enjoyed a pint of Tucher weizen bier and a few moments of solitude.
Cathy turned up 20 minutes later carrying a massive box. My first thought was “how the heck is she gonna get that back to Kuwait?” She’d purchased a four tier Christmas pyramid, her main reason for going to Germany. She assumed the pyramid would be disassembled and then packed, but apparently, they boxed it in one piece. Yikes.
Cathy joined me for a beer, then Janet turned up with her purchases, and finally Debbie turned up with hers. We all went to our rooms to figure out how we were going to get everything packed. Debbie called requesting my spare duffel. I get an extra 20 kg allowance on Lufthansa thanks to my United Premier Executive status (Star Alliance) and I’d brought an extra bag anticipating a bit of excess baggage. I didn’t buy much, so my extra baggage allowance was up for grabs.
We agreed to try Gasthof Zum Goldener Greifen for dinner. Janet and I had perused the menu earlier and I’d seen apfelstrudel with warm vanilla sauce, so I was sold. Debbie and Janet had the goulash, which they said was really good. Cathy tried the jagersnitzel and I had a salad and pumpkin soup, all were good. Turns out they didn’t have vanilla sauce after all, just vanilla ice cream, so I passed, but Debbie said it was tasty. Dinner and drinks for four with two desserts came to just under 40 Euro.
After a nightcap in our hotel, we all headed to our rooms.
We met for breakfast at 7:30, checked out of our hotel, and then dragged our considerable luggage through the streets of Rothenburg to the bahnhof. It was quite comical given the cobblestones, the looks we got and the noise we created. We had to rest our arms a few times, but made it to the station in plenty of time, dreading our five hours and four train changes to get to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
We caught the 9:04 am train to Steinach, where we had six minutes to catch our connecting train to Treuchtlingen. After our first attempt to load and unload our luggage willy-nilly, Debbie took over and gave us assignments. “Mel, you take Cathy’s box, your backpack and Janet’s carry-on and go find our next train. Block the door with your foot so the train won’t leave until we’re all on. Janet, you grab the other carry-on, jump off the train with me and Cathy will hand us the big suitcases”, etc.
We all knew we were dealing with a veteran traveler. Debbie has lived overseas for 12 years, in three countries. During that time she’s coordinated dozens of trips for her family of five. She knows her stuff. Under her direction our luggage transfer became a carefully choreographed ballet and our considerable luggage was off each train in about 30 seconds.
Once in Treuchtlingen, we had six minutes to catch our connecting train to Augsburg. No problem.
In Augsburg we had 37 minutes before our next train, so Janet and I left Debbie and Cathy with the luggage while we sought out a WC, the DB info office and grabbed something for lunch. We then relieved Debbie and Cathy, while they did the same.
Our fourth and most dreaded train change was in München-Pasing, where we had four minutes to find our next train and transfer our luggage. Thanks to Debbie, we made it with about 20 seconds to spare and promptly collapsed.
The trip to Garmisch from München-Pasing was just over an hour, so we stayed in the bicycle car with all our stuff. We arrived in Garmisch at 1:57pm, almost five hours after leaving Rothenburg. I’d visited Garmisch before, but never stayed there, so I wasn’t sure where our gasthof was located. We hailed a taxi and somehow managed to get our luggage and the four of us into one large car (8.50 Euro).
Sure glad we didn’t walk. Turns out our lodging, Gasthof Zum Rassen was actually in Partenkirchen, a good 20 minute walk from the bahnhof.
Debbie and Cathy were given #4, a spacious double room with a HUGE bathroom on the second floor (78 Euro per night inclusive of breakfast). Janet and I shared #7, an apartment on the third floor with two double rooms and a shared bath (94 Euro per night inclusive of breakfast).
Janet’s room had three beds, a dining area, TV and a balcony with mountain views. Our unit also had a refrigerator and stovetop that we found tucked away in a closet. My room had a double bed. The four of us could have easily shared this room, except four women and one bathroom just doesn’t work.
We then walked back down the hill and checked the bus schedule back to Garmisch. We’d missed the last bus by 20 minutes and the next bus wasn’t for an hour and 40 minutes. Not to be deterred, we hopped the bus right in front of us and went into Füssen. Once in Füssen we walked around the pedestrian mall, stopping for lunch at Restaurant Ephesus at Reichenstrasse 33. Janet and I enjoyed our pizza, Deb liked her goulash soup, but Cathy wasn’t very impressed with her doner kebab. Lunch for four with drinks came to just over 33 Euro.
We knew we’d get back to Garmisch after the tourist office had closed, so we stopped at the Füssen Information Office. They couldn’t provide any information however, and seemed bewildered that we were even asking, since “Garmisch was 45 km away”. Oh well, live and learn. We caught the 3:23 pm bus, changed to a connecting bus after a 20 minute wait in the cold, and arrived back at the Garmisch Hauptbahnhof by 6 pm. It had been a long day.
We met in the restaurant of our gasthof later for a light dinner. Cathy, Debbie and Janet tried the French onion soup and I had some of the saltiest potato soup I’d ever had. None of us were impressed. There weren’t many people in the restaurant, so we settled in for the evening, drinking wine and playing cards.
Our waitress pretty much ignored us and didn’t seem bothered by us hanging out (several other people were doing the same thing). We desperately wanted water, and our waitress brought us a tiny pitcher, which wasn’t enough for the four of us. We asked for several refills and tried to explain to the waitress that we needed a bigger pitcher. She continued to bring the tiny pitcher. We became frustrated, and headed to the bathroom to fill the pitcher ourselves, but each time we were met by an employee who took the pitcher and assured us we’d get more.
When we paid our bill, we were surprised to find a 4 Euro charge for the four tiny pitchers of tap water. I questioned the waitress and she just smiled and nodded. I was annoyed, but we paid the bill – 75 Euro (soup for four, two bottles of wine, three after dinner drinks, two sodas and four pitchers of tap water). This turn of events certainly didn’t improve how I already felt about this place. We had an enjoyable evening of cards, so I just wrote the 4 Euro charge off as rent for the table.
We were blasted out of bed by the church bells at 6 am. Janet and I had an early breakfast, then wandered out to take photographs. We met up with Cathy and Debbie and discussed our strategy for the day. Cathy needed to locate a big box for her Christmas pyramid, so she could check it in as baggage at the airport. I wanted to locate an Internet station and to line up a taxi for the following day. Debbie wanted to see the Zugspitze and Janet wanted to see the Partnach Gorge. I’d found some information online regarding the Partnach Gorge, which indicated that it was open year round and during the winter months torch lit guided tours were available.
Janet and I stopped by the visitor’s center to check on Partnach Gorge. The office was closed for renovation, but a nice guy let us in anyway and tried to help. He spoke as much English as I speak German, but I think we pretty much determined that the Gorge was a no go.
The four of us then walked to the nearest post office in search of a box. On the way we happened upon an Internet station, where we stopped to check our e-mail (GAP-online Internet Zentrum – Ludwigstrasse 13). No luck at the post office, but we were directed to a paper store. We wandered around a bit, but never did find the paper store, so we decided to split up. I’d decided to accompany Debbie to the Zugspitze, while Cathy and Janet continued the search.
Debbie and I walked to the bahnhof and I arranged a pick-up for the next morning with one of the taxi drivers hanging about waiting for a fare. It was a good day for the Zugspitze – clear and sunny. Debbie had never been to the top of the Zugspitze, so she chose the longer route.
We walked to the Zahnradbahn and caught the 12:15 train to Grainau, where we changed trains and headed towards the Zugspitze. We watched the skiers and took some photos, then caught the Gletscherbahn cable car to the summit of Germany’s highest mountain.
After taking in the view from the German side, we walked
over to the Austrian side and checked out the view over Austria. We soaked up the incredible scenery for awhile,
had a pretzel and glühwein break, and then headed back down via the Eibsee cable car. Once at Eibsee, we caught
the return train to Grainau and the connecting train to Garmisch (hourly).
The cost for the entire journey came to 31.50 Euro each. We were given a 9 Euro discount with our Visitor’s Card.
We met up with Cathy and Janet at the hotel later that day. We bundled up and headed to the Garmisch pedestrian mall to make our last Käthe Wohlfahrt stop. The local Christmas market was due to open the next day and several booths were going up. An eerie fog began to roll in, giving the Christmas lights a creepy, muted look.
I wanted to take the girls to my favorite Garmisch restaurant, Pizzeria Da Renzo at Rathausplatz 6. Cathy, Debbie and I each ordered an individual pizza (5.50-7.50 Euro each) and Janet chose a vegetable platter. The food and service was excellent and we had a good time on our last night in Garmisch. We enjoyed some good Italian wine and plenty of free tap water! Dinner for the four of us came to 48 Euro.
We woke up with the bells again at 6 am. As luck would have it, just as I was taking my luggage down three flights of stairs, a man came out of the room next door and offered to carry it for me. I timed that well… Apparently, Cathy and Debbie had a really bad night in room #4 (second floor). They were unable to sleep due to the noise and smoke from the restaurant below their room. The smoke was so thick they thought the place was on fire at one point. They’d opened their window, but it wasn’t much help. Janet, who was sharing the apartment with me on the third floor, mentioned that she also smelled smoke throughout the night. I’m sensitive to smoke, but I had no problems in my room – I’d had the window open for three days though, so maybe that was a factor.
After a quick breakfast, Janet and I left for the bahnhof on foot at 7:20. The taxi I’d arranged the day before was to show up at 7:30. I didn’t know if he’d have a big car or not, so we left the luggage with Debbie and Cathy, planning to meet them at the bahnhof. Their taxi passed us as we walked, and I was relieved that the driver had shown up. The taxi came to 14 Euro and was worth every cent.
Janet and I caught up with the girls eventually, and we bought a Bayern weekend ticket for 28 Euro (good for up to five people) and caught the 8:08 am train to Munich. We headed directly for the bicycle car, as we only had a 90 minute ride ahead of us (no changes – yippee!). Shortly after getting settled on the train a large group of kids piled into the bicycle car with a ton of luggage and camping gear. They deposited their bags and their rambunctious teenage troop leaders into the bicycle car, then were seated in the next car.
At every stop between Garmisch and Munich, more kids boarded the train and it became progressively more rowdy and loud. Debbie and Cathy didn’t seem to notice.
We arrived at the Munich Hauptbahnhof at 9:30 am. We dragged our luggage across the street and checked into the Hotel Amba – . Bill and I like this hotel (location, location, location) and we’ve stayed here several times.
I’d booked single rooms for Janet and myself (80 Euro per room inclusive of breakfast) and a twin room for Debbie and Cathy (100 Euro inclusive of breakfast).
The single rooms were ready, so Janet took #117 and I took #401. We stored Cathy and Debbie’s luggage in my room, then headed to the Marienplatz via the S-bahn (also covered under the Bayern ticket). Janet was anxious to see a big Christmas market, and here it was - booths and people everywhere. We poked around the market for awhile, stopping to watch the glockenspiel, sampling the glühwein, and trying not to lose each other in the crowd. Cathy and I discovered some delicious rum balls, so we each bought some to take home to our hubbies.
Janet also wanted to see the Hofbräuhaus, so we stopped there for lunch. Cathy, Debbie and I had bratwurst with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and horseradish. Janet tried the potato soup. Cathy had discovered dunkel dopplebock by now, but I stuck with my weizen beer. The meal was pretty good, and the restaurant was packed. We wanted to visit the beer hall, but it was apparently closed for a private function. This didn’t deter Debbie, who sneaked in for a few photos.
We returned to the Marienplatz, expecting to find the Christmas market closed, but many booths were still open for business. Debbie and Cathy had their last mug of glühwein, then we caught a train back to our hotel.
* "Many thanks to Debbie for sharing her pictures."