After my solo trip and our successful ten year Stammtisch anniversary gathering last year - I had it in my mind that I would probably pack away my backpack for a few years. Surprisingly, my Frau had other ideas. She had not been to Europe for 8 years and 2010 would be our 20th anniversary year. What better anniversary present to ourselves than to spend a few weeks together in Germany and Austria. Of course it didn't take much to convince me. I'm sure she had a harder time convincing herself. Dee Dee has been to Europe with me on three other occasions and she has always had a rough time with the flying and riding parts of the trips. We once thought her problems were motion sickness related (and they may yet be) but modern medicine has given her new confidence in being able to travel. As long as she is in control of the vehicle (designated driver) she can handle the car travel OK. Trains, boats and planes however cause her extreme stress and anxiety. But, if she was willing to confront her fears for the sake of another vacation in Germany - I sure as heck would not attempt to dissuade her.
So I started planning a two weeker for the two of us with thoughts of a secluded honeymoon adventure. Just the two of us sitting on farm balconies, drinking wine, eating cheese and crackers. Romantic walks through the woods and along the meadows. It was a good idea but my Frau (being the sweet, sharing woman that she is) had other thoughts. Since her mom passed away not so long ago - she has developed a stronger relationship with her mom's brothers and sisters than ever before. Her aunt Jamie has become like a long lost sister to her and her uncle Ray has always been a favorite person in her life. And since they liked to travel and had never been to Europe before - it was only natural to invite them along. And Jamie's brother Ron and his wife Charlotte (who had traveled with Ray and Jamie on other occasions) liked the idea so the honeymoon turned into a group trip. Waahoo...
Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite things to do is planning trips to Germany. This was becoming much more of a challenge than my normal solo, train riding, mini-adventures in the Black Forest. All of a sudden I have a good excuse for renting cars, visiting castles and museums again, and getting back to the places I haven't been to in awhile. When I travel solo I try to stay on a strict budget, stay in the Schwarzwald where the ground tranportation is free with my accommodations, eat and drink modestly, and avoid the costs of castles, museums, and similar attractions. My solo trips would be basically boring for most travelers. I like to ride the trains, walk the small villages and sit and read alot. But not this year...
Ground Transportation: How to get six persons around to all the places I think they should see on their first trip to Germany? Checking all the options for ground transport it becomes a no brainer that we will need two vehicles. The cost of a 7 or 9 passenger van was prohibitive and out of line. We could rent two vehicles cheaper than a van and since I already had one dedicated driver (my Frau) - I had no problem assuming control of the lead vehicle. A GPS system seemed essential since none of my passengers were familiar with German roadways and maps and would end up stressing about navigation. But I would be the one stressing. I found a nice cheap, portable Magellean GPS on eBay with maps for Germany and Austria already pre-loaded. Considering the amount of luggage - I initially thought that two intermediate size cars would fit the bill. Knowing that the Bestor's of Gemütlichkeit travel services would provide the best service for auto rentals I contacted Andy to get his opinion on what I might need. His first offer seemed reasonable and I contracted for two VW Passat size vehicles thru Europcar. That was in April and he mentioned that I might call him later in the summer as Avis sometimes offered automatic upgrades later in the year. I did just that and he issued me two contracts for compact cars with guaranteed upgrade to intermediate size for a better rate than intitially. I wanted to go one step further and try to contract for intermediate size cars with guaranteed upgrade to full-size. Bingo! Andy came back with two contracts for intermediate size (VW Passat) with guaranteed upgrade to full-size (Mercedes Class C or Audi) for very reasonable prices. The full-size included auto-transmission which is a nice plus and guaranteed GPS (for free). Oh yeah - this is looking good... So - if you are planning a trip to Germany and need to rent a car - don't even think about it without checking with Andy Bestor of Gemütlichkeit (www.gemut.com). You can save even more if you plan to pick up your car somewhere other than the airport (Kelsterbach being one of the best options). Knowing that my wife would be lucky to be in one piece after a 9 hour flight I elected not to take an additional taxi ride to Kelsterbach. I thought that would be pushing it - and in hindsight I made the right decision... Ground transport planning complete...
Air Transportation: Airfare is a big factor in any trip and can make it or break it financially. I kept putting off committing to airfare hoping better fares would pop up before our Fall trip came about. After months of putting it off and watching the plane fill up (available seats were disappearing fast) and wanting to keep our group together as much as possible - I finally had to bite the bullet and take the best seats available. Flying out of DFW to FRA - there are of course lots of options for cheaper flights if you are willing to fly into Chicago, Detroit or other locations for a connecting flight to Frankfurt. For us that was not an option. Dee Dee would be doing good to survive one take-off and one landing. So basically it comes down to the Lufthansa direct flight or the American Airlines direct flight. I used to love flying Lufthansa because I always felt that I was half way to Germany as soon as I boarded (with all the German speaking flight attendants). But I am now in love with the in-flight entertainment options available on American Airlines. With the individual monitor on the back of most seats - you have so many choices available to keep you busy for the long flight. This trip there were at least ten new-release movies, dozens of TV shows and lots of games available (Solitare, Poker, etc). On Lufthansa you have no choice other than to watch what is on the overhead monitors, read or sleep. I was dead set on American Airlines and finally settled on purchasing tickets through aa.com. Sometimes the consolidator bucket-shop ticket companies offer the best deal but this year it was AA's own company that had the best deal. Air transport planning complete...
Itinerary: The itinerary was pretty simple to come up with. My favorite location in Germany within easy drive of Frankfurt Flughafen is Rothenburg o.d.T. or somewhere on the Rhine. I would save the Rhine for last as is my usual option. Rothenburg is perfect. Two hours of nice Autobahn (A3 and A7) - normally. Two nights to kill the effects of jet-lag and explore this wonderful old town. Then a reasonable morning's drive down part of the Romantic Road and Autobahn to an area south of Füssen and Ludwig II's castles. Three days in that area would allow everyone to see some of my favorite highlights of a trip through Bavaria. From there a two hour drive to Meersburg on the Bodensee for a lunch stopover - then two more hours into the heart of the Black Forest for three days. From there northwest for about three hours on the Autobahn to the Rhine Gorge area where we would spend our final three nights. Eleven nights - four locations - very reasonable - and the makings of a nice vacation...
Accommodations: I knew accommodations for three couples might present a challenge but September is much easier than most other times. Fewer tourists and most Europeans travel in August. The trick this year was to find places that fit my budget and still were not so rustic as to diminish the experience for my fellow travelers (who I knew were not accustomed to staying in small B&B's or farms). In Rothenburg it's a no brainer as the Haus Karin is a sparkling little B&B with several double rooms and an apartment available. I made sure to confirm those first two nights as soon as I knew my itinerary. Karin is such a wonderful hostess and her English is even better than ever. Her prices are very reasonable at 25 Euro per person per night. A 50 Euro doubleroom is an excellent deal - especially for Rothenburg. She makes everyone feel right at home, provides a travel guidebook and recommends her favorite places to eat. Haus Karin confirmed early...
Hoping to find a nice farm for my group and wanting to spend some time in Austria - I Googled the area south of Füssen near Reutte. When I found the Gintherhof I couldn't believe my luck. A small farm with Gästehaus accommodations that would put many modern hotels to shame. Doublerooms at 50 Euro and a Suite for 54 Euro per night. Looking good - at least by the looks of the pictures on their website. I discovered that an American couple had made an entry in their online Gastbuch so I wrote them inquiring about the place. Their response about the quality of the place and the family running it was very positive so I immediately confirmed the Gintherhof for three nights...
Next location would be the Black Forest and my thinking was that the Gutach area near the Vogtsbauernhof outdoor museum would be good for our group. Lots of farm accommodations in the Wald so naturally I had to try to find one. I considered going back to some old favorites but decided to try a farm I had never stayed at before. The Blumbauernhof of Gutach was large enough to accomodate my group and in a nice location not far off the B33 and just outside of the town. Frau Blum confirmed three doublerooms at 40 Euro per room for three nights. Looking good...
Final location for this trip would be on the Rhine. Bacharach is always my first choice. I have a thing for this old wine village and there is no place better for spending your last days of a trip. Wanting to end our vacation on a high note I decided to semi-splurge by staying in a nice Pension that I knew our group would appreciate. The Pension Im Malerwinkel was a perfect fit for our little party. The price is not bad at all with the amount per night affected by the number of nights you stay. One night - 65 Euro, two nights - 59, three - 56, on down to seven nights at 48 Euro per night. So I confirmed three doubles for 56 Euro per night. Very reasonable considering the nice family that operates it, the outside appearance, the clean rooms, and the location in the Altstadt. Pension Im Malerwinkel confirmed. Alles gut...
Departure day arrives. One of the benefits of having a grown daughter living at home is that we have someone to take care of the house, the pets, the plants, the yard, and a ride to the airport. We arrive a few hours early, check-in and meet up with our fellow travelers and my Frau drugs herself sufficiently (actually she started her drugs early and is feeling no pain - other than anxiety).
Flight is right on time, smooth flying (for the most part) and Dee Dee handles it well (until we prepare for landing). But that's what they make those little barf bags for... :) We arrive in FRA early, clear passport control and customs smoothly. Stop at first ATM machine we spot and immediately I feel a bit of panic set it (for myself). The ATM indicated that it did not recognize the debit cards from either of my bank accounts. Holy moly - this does not look good... After a few more attempts I discovered that it was only because I was asking for 500 Euro which turned out to be too much for my daily withdrawal. Trying again it turned out to be no problem for 200 or 300 Euro. Sighs of relief all around. We have money and at the best possible exchange rate. On to the AVIS counter to see what they have in store for us. Bummer! No Mercedes available but they have Audi's (full size - same category). I know Dee Dee has been looking forward to driving a Mercedes so I ask how long we would have to wait for one. Kein problem - they have one but just need to clean it up. We are earlier than we were expected. Nice AVIS staff put us in a large Audi diesel and a Mercedes C class (both with GPS). Later we wished we had taken two Audi's because the diesel fuel is cheaper and the Mercedes requires Super petrol. Oh well - we will know better next time. We take our time checking out the cars for any damage and I do not leave the garage until an attendant has programmed our GPS for English. German would have been OK but my passengers would appreciate understanding the directions. Love that onboard GPS. Much larger screen and more detailed than my little Magellean that I took along in case I needed it. I won't drive in Europe without a GPS from now on. She got us out of a lot of trouble spots and problems I had created by not paying close enough attention to her and turning too early or too late. She was nice because not once did she call me a dirty name for my mistakes. She would just recalculate and reprogram. "Make a U-turn if possible" - "Please turn around" - "Take the second exit at the Roundabout" - "Turn half-left and remain to the left".
The route to Rothenburg (A3 and A7) should be a breeze but construction and very narrow lanes cause slowdowns - mostly on A3 to Würzburg. I am the lead car with Audi and GPS and Ray and Ron. Dee Dee does a good job of staying right behind. Before the trip was over we were doing some pretty good 'pick and roll's' in traffic. I purchased a set of walkie-talkies on eBay and with the nice range they had we were able to stay in touch along the route. They saved us in Garmisch as we became separated in heavy traffic and Dee Dee got a little worried that we wouldn't backtrack and find her. The walkie-talkies were also handy for requesting potty stops and driving breaks.
At breakfast the next morning we met a young brother and sister couple from Thailand (Mong and Pittaya).
A-6600 Ehenbichl/Reutte (Austria)
Tel & Fax - 5672/67697
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Doublerooms and Suite
Located 2km SW of Reutte
Just below the Fortress Schlosskopf and Ehrenberg ruins
This beautiful farm and Gästehaus was without a doubt my favorite accommodation and location of our 2010 trip. Over the years I have visited this part of Austria and the areas around Füssen and Schwangau numerous times and stayed at some wonderful farms - but I would have to rate our stay in Ehenbichl at the Gintherhof as probably the 'best' of the bunch. The kindness and Gemütlichkeit shown to our group by the Ginther and Paulweber families was very much appreciated. Frau Annelies Paulweber is one of the friendliest and most hospitable hostesses it has ever been my pleasure to meet. A very gracious and elegant lady. Her mother and father were also very helpful and her daughter Lisa a real cutie. We throughly enjoyed our three day stay.
We were treated to three of the best Frühstück you could imagine. I have never seen so many meat and cheese assortments at a B & B before. And we were always encouraged to take extra for later (something I've always felt guilty about doing). You would pay quite a bit for a reichhaltige Frühstücksbuffet like this at some hotels. Prima...
My wife Dee Dee and I had the suite, which had a bedroom (and a bed piled high with plush duvets and pillows) - bath with shower - large walk-in closet - and a small entry room with TV, couch and desk, and a flower-laden balcony. The rooms were immaculate, as were all the living areas in the house. There is an excellent view of the Schlosskopf and Ehrenberg ruins from the balcony.
From this location in the Tyrol we were able to easily do day trips to the Wieskirche, Linderhof, Plansee, Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, Mittenwald, and Lermoos.
While staying at the Gintherhof - the perfect place for dinner is a restaurant located a short two minute downhill walk from the house. The staff is very courteous and allowed us to sit at the owner's family table since the restaurant was full that evening with a Rick Steves group. Excellent service - excellent food...
So if you are planning a trip to the land of Ludwig - you would be hard pressed to find accommodations better than the Gintherhof - and the price is definitely right (22-27 Euro per person - depending on length of stay and suite vs double room)
We really hated to leave but after three wonderful days it was time to head for the Bodensee and on to the Black Forest... Traveling from the Pfäffenwinkel or Reutte areas to some sections of the Black Forest can take about four hours. I like to break up this drive with a mid-way stop for lunch in Meersburg on the north shore of the Bodensee...
Back on the B31 we head northwest eventually taking the B33 to the Gutach valley in the Central Schwarzwald...
The Blumbauernhof is located in Gutach - which is close to the center of the Black Forest. This is one of my favorite villages in Germany but it is very small with no train station. When I am traveling alone or via public transportation I tend to stay in the more convenient villages along a train line but this year we were traveling by automobile so Gutach was a perfect location to homebase for a few days. There are many farms with Zimmer Frei (Privatzimmer) available in this part of the Forest and that is always my preference for lodging. I have attempted to stay at the Blumbauernhof on previous trips but it never worked out. This year I was able to secure three doublerooms for our group of three couples.
All the rooms were large and comfortable with private bathroom, TV and balcony (with a great view of the valley). Some of the rooms had a small kitchenette with refrigerator, sink and coffee pot.
The Aufenthaltsraum (lounge with TV) was large and also served as the Frühstückzimmer. Several pictures throughout attested to the history of this farm and it's ancestors.
Breakfast at the Blumbauernhof consisted of the typical foods that you would expect to find at farm in the Black Forest. Good strong coffee, juices, rolls, breads, wursts, cheeses, jams, jellies, and fruit. Frau Blum was an excellent hostess and very attentive to our group.
The most famous building in the Black Forest might be the Vogtsbauernhof - a centuries old farm that is the centerpiece of the Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum - an outdoor museum just a short drive from the Blumbauernhof. The museum has six furnished farmhouses from the past 400 years. The Vogtsbauernhof (1612) - the centerpiece - is the only farmhouse at the museum that was not moved from another location. The grounds include mills, bakehouse, distillery, chapel and blacksmith shops. Very interesting to help visualize what it must have been like to raise a family centuries ago in the Black Forest.
From Gutach it is very easy to make daytrips such as we did to -
Titisee - this beautiful lake area is a health resort and a bit touristy but well worth a visit...
And no trip to the Schwarzwald is complete without a visit to our old friend Tina at the Gasthaus zum Sternen in Urach...
An excellent restaurant located an easy 5-10 minute walk from the Blumbauernhof is the Gutacher Rössle - Very friendly wait staff and an upper tier terrace perfect for dining in good weather. The menu suited us well...
Another excellent restaurant that we enjoyed so much we dined there twice (inside and outside)
Gutach is an excellent location for a homebase in the Schwarzwald and the Blumbauernhof would always be a good choice...
Three days in the Black Forest are over and we head for Bacharach and the Rhine Gorge area. The A5 north is always crowded and slow but once you get on to A6 and A61 it is smooth sailing all the way to Bingen and Bacharach.
Just below Burg Stahleck - a few minutes walk to main market area
Large nice rooms - excellent breakfast buffet
Great location - Quiet corner
Public telephone (coin) in Aufenthaltsraum near front desk.
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Another member of our Stammtisch had previously stayed at the Im Malerwinkel so I have been aware of the pension for many years. When traveling solo I try to stick with a tight budget and stay in smaller accommodations. This trip I wanted my group to be sure to have a good experience for our last stop so I chose the Im Malerwinkel. Good decision... The rooms were immaculate, the service staff very friendly, and the Frühstück buffet excellent - not to mention that this pension is a beautiful old building that was built right into part of the old town wall. Frau Vollmer took very good care of us and assisted us with all our needs. The price per room is reduced with each additional day of your stay. If you stay a week - the price is 48 Euro per double which is excellent considering the quality of this place. All rooms with bath/shower/toilet, TV, most with balcony...
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Bacharach is still my favorite location to overnight along the Rhine Gorge (especially the final days of a trip). The train station is but a short walk from almost anywhere in town. There are plenty of shops to satisfy your souvenir shopping needs and several nice restaurants. As always I stopped by Frances Geuss's woodburning shop in the main square to say hello and see how she and her family are doing. She does good work...
Holzbrandkunst Geuß Woodburn
There is much to do and see along the Rhine. This year we put our friends on a KD boat at Bacharach and drove the cars to pick them up in St. Goar (another nice little walking town).
Some of our group had been wanting to take a cable car ride almost everywhere we went. The Sesselbahn (armchair ride) at Boppard is always a good idea when the weather is nice. At the top there is a short walk through the woods arriving at a small restaurant with awesome views of the Rhine (Vierseenblick).
One castle on the Rhine which my Frau and I have always enjoyed is Burg Reichenstein above the village of Trechtingshausen. This castle has been around since the 11th century (rebuilt several times) and is fun because you can walk through at your leisure (self guided tour).
And of course if you are staying in Bacharach - don't miss an opportunity to visit the Burg Stahleck (the castle just above the Im Malerwinkel) - great views...
Rüdesheim (across the river) is always worth a visit. The Seilbahn (cable car) up to the Niederwald monument over the vineyards is a 'must do' if the weather cooperates.
The little wine alley 'Drosselgasse' is usually fun for it's restaurants and souvenir shops.
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I can't imagine visiting Bacharach without having a meal at my favorite little Café - the Rusticana (just across from the Tourist Information Office). The owner Frau Krzywicki was her usual friendly self but her spirits were dampened this year by the passing of her loving husband this past summer. Our group ate here twice - once inside and the second night the weather was so nice we spread out to the small tables located outside. There are very few places in Europe where you can eat a full meal for less than 9 Euro. This is one of them. My first meal was a Rahmschnitzel with Salat, Pommes and Soup for 8.50 Euro. My second was the Zigeuner Hacksteak mit Champignons, Bratkartoffeln, Soup and Salat for 7 Euro. Schmeckt sehr gut... And her Apfelstrudel is awesome...
Café Restaurant Rusticana
55422 Bacharach (Rhine)
Tel - 6743/1741
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If you are in Bacharach (or just passing by) and would like a light lunch and a cold beverage - there is no better place than Wagner's Imbiss which is located in the parking area near the KD dock (between the town wall and the river). Bratwurst and Bier and a nice outside table to sit and people watch and take in the river traffic.
Our final meal of the trip was taken on the terrace of a restaurant located on the town wall next to the railroad tracks. The food was excellent, the prices very reasonable, and the passing trains fun to watch. The service was excellent thanks to the cute Fräulein Carola...
Tel - 6743/1243
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Early morning run for the airport goes smoothly until
we can't find the service station at the airport (it's near Terminal 2). Confidence in our GPS to get us where
we eventually needed to be kept me from scraping the search for the Tankstelle. The auto rental companies charge
you an arm and a leg for filling your gas tank if it is not completely full when you return the car (an absolute
scam). Finally we found it. Turn in of vehicles went smoothly. Sigh of relief when that was done. All in all -
excellent trip. Easy flight back. Even Dee Dee made it with minimum stress.
Bis zum nächsten Mal !