by - Gary (email@example.com)
After retiring in 2005 and resettling to Texas in 2006, Debby and I were ready to return to Europe for a long vacation in 2007. She told me she wanted to go back to Germany and Switzerland, and we started planning our trip in January for departure in May. The first priority was booking flights well in advance of the start date, to give us enough lead time to research and reserve everything else. Planning is always fun for us, and we like to use the internet to request information from various European tourist offices, determine how many days of train and car travel we would need, order Eurail passes, reserve rental cars, and locate accommodations in the places we wanted to visit. This trip would include some previously-visited locales, as well as two new areas that peaked our interest after receiving travel brochures from the German tourist office: the Fairy Tale Road and the Bodensee. We had a hard time deciding which places would comprise our itinerary and in which order they would occur. At first I wanted to start the trip in Berlin and we both thought about Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but they didn’t survive the selection process. The survivors would be given three or four night visits, for the most part, so we didn’t have to feel like nomads every day. We purchased four Rick Steves’ tour books for 2007: France, Germany-Austria, Switzerland, and Amsterdam-Brussels-Bruges. They were invaluable in helping us find small hotels and B&B’s.
Here’s our final plan indicating where we would spend each night:
|Tues 1 May||Fly to Frankfurt|
|Wed 2 May and Thurs 3 May||Baden-Baden, Germany|
|Fri 4 May thru Mon 7 May||Colmar, France|
|Tues 8 May thru Fri 11 May||Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland|
|Sat 12 May and Sun 13 May||Rorschach, Switzerland|
|Mon 14 May thru Wed 16 May||Rothenburg o.d.T., Germany|
|Thurs 17 May thru Sat 19 May||Kassel, Germany|
|Sun 20 May thru Tues 22 May||Cochem, Germany|
|Wed 23 May thru Fri 25 May||Bruges, Belgium|
|Sat 26 May and Sun 27 May||Frankfurt, Germany|
|Mon 28 May||Fly home|
Tues - 1 May - Depart from Austin
We took the Airport Flash from Georgetown
to the Austin airport, leaving home around 7 AM. The Flash is an excellent door-to-door limo service and was less
expensive than keeping our car at the airport for four weeks. We could have flown from Killeen, but we were unfamiliar
with that airport or the quality of service from there to DFW. Since the only way to get to Europe from Georgetown
involves a change in either Dallas or Houston, and since we thought we would prefer flying on American Airlines,
we chose to connect at DFW. We booked a flight to DFW for early in the morning – at 10:30 AM, since there is always
a great chance of weather delays from thunderstorms in our area. Our one-hour flight from Austin to DFW was about
45 minutes late, but we had plenty of time to make our connection from DFW to Frankfurt, which left at 2:45 PM.
We had a good meal while waiting for our Frankfurt flight in anticipation that the meal on the plane would not
be great, which was true! On the trip to Europe we did not check luggage. Each of us had a small suitcase with
wheels and a backpack. The suitcases fit in the overhead bins and we stored the backpacks under the seats.
I expected the Boeing 777 aircraft to be on par with British Airways, but American’s no-frills, cram-em-in practices were disappointing. We could have paid much more for business class, but I didn’t think economy would be THAT bad. Beware, fellow travelers, American’s coach seating and amenities on long-haul flights are PITIFUL. (Note: We could have flown on Lufthansa, but American had a better price. In hindsight, Lufthansa’s coach class might have provided a better experience for just a little more money.)
Wed - 2 May - Frankfurt and Baden-Baden
After an almost-sleepless night, we arrived
at the Frankfurt airport more or less on time at 7:20 AM. The first business after clearing customs was to find
an ATM machine to get Euros. Fortunately, there was a Deutsche Bank Geldautomat in the airport. I say fortunately,
because our bank at home, Bank of America, has a corresponding relationship with Deutsche Bank, allowing us to
make withdrawals at good exchange rates and without fees. I got enough money for the week and stuffed most of it
into my money belt. We then headed to the rail travel office, the Reiseburo, to get our Eurail passes validated.
I had purchased a twin 5-day Germany-Benelux Flexi pass and a separate twin 3-day Swiss Flexi pass from Rail Europe
before leaving home. (Should have bought a three country Germany-Benelux-Switzerland pass instead.) I asked the
teller at the Reiseburo to validate both of them, even though we would not be using the Swiss pass for 6 more days.
The journey from Frankfurt to Baden-Baden was very pleasant, and we arrived on time at 11:15 AM, without having to change trains. That was good, because we were very fuzzy from the lack of sleep on the overnight flight. We found Bus 201 waiting and bought 24-hour tickets from the driver for €6.80 for the two of us. We rode to the center of town and got off at Leopoldplatz, where it was a short walk (albeit uphill) to the Hotel am Markt. We were shown to room number 2, a large room with one of the largest baths of the whole trip. We resisted the urge to lie down, and instead we went out to find a grocery store, where we bought picnic supplies and toiletries to supplement the meager amounts of liquids that are allowed in carry-on bags. Prices were surprisingly good. For the most part, we could buy the same brand toiletries we use at home for the same money or even a little less.
We then strolled about a half mile down the Lichtentaler Allee, snacking along the way. It was a beautiful day, and the sunshine and exercise helped to counter the effects of jetlag, but nevertheless we were tired, so we caught a bus back to the hotel mid-afternoon and took a nap.
Thur - 3 May - Baden-Baden
We were up at 5 AM and in the breakfast room at 7. I had planned for us to spend the day in town, walking to the usual recommended attractions: casino, spa, and river.
The casino was first, and we were the only two people who showed up for the 9:30 AM tour. Our tour guide graciously but quickly showed us through the elegant rooms and we were done by 10.
Fri - 4 May - Going to Alsace
We checked out of the Hotel am Markt around
9:30 and took Bus 201 to the Avis rental car agency office at Maximilian Strasse 54-56, arriving around 10 AM.
I had called their office the previous day to reconfirm the rental, and the car and all the paperwork were ready
when we got there. We had reserved a Volkswagen Golf or equivalent, but they had a small BMW hatchback with GPS
system for us (I finally figured out how to use the GPS the next day). I asked directions to the road that would
take us to France and luckily it was just straight ahead, along the B500 highway. Our first stop was Strassbourg,
France, which was fairly easy to get to following highway signs, and the trip took about 1 hour. Finding a place
to park was a chore, but we finally got into a parking garage near the main train station and walked a few blocks
to the Strassbourg Cathedral.
The only thing to commend Strassbourg in my view was its very interesting new tram system. The cars all fit together creating a caterpillar effect as they travel along the winding streets.
We had some crepes in a sidewalk café while we waited for the cathedral to re-open at 1 PM.
We got to wander around inside for an hour
or so. The cathedral has an enormous steeple, reminiscent of Freiburg Cathedral in Germany. It is constructed of
pink sandstone, giving it a dark appearance, inside as well as outside, even though it is high gothic with lots
of stained glass. After walking back to the car park and retrieving our car, we drove to Colmar.
Leaving Strassbourg was easy by following signs to the A35 Autobahn and we were in Colmar around 3 PM. Before leaving home, I had gotten directions to our next hotel, Hotel Turenne, from their web site. The hotel was located in the Petite Venise section of Colmar on the eastern side of town, close to the A35. Hotel Turenne had small billboards along the motorway giving directions to their location, so we arrived without a wrong turn (rare for us). Our room was number 122, on the first floor (one flight up using the lift). This room was the smallest of any we had during our trip, but it was cozy and comfortable. We took a little nap (hey, we’re old and out of shape, so we’re allowed, OK?). Around 6 PM we looked for something to eat, and we found La Krutenau Winstub along the canal, which was not very busy. We sat outside and ordered wine and then some tartes flambees, which are like ham and onion pizzas with very thin crust, and some ice cream. After the meal we walked around Petite Venise and admired the canals, shops and cafes.
Sat - 5 May - Colmar and the Route des Vins
We were up fairly early and had Hotel Turenne’s
breakfast buffet. Today the weather looked iffy, but it wasn’t raining yet, so we retrieved our BMW from the hotel
garage and headed out to explore the wine road – the Route des Vins. We found the wine country delightful, with
many quaint small towns. We set out first for Eguisheim, where we saw storks and their nests on top of high spires,
such as church steeples, as we walked through a vineyard and looked back at the town framed in front of the Vosges
Mountains. The stork nests were impressive and we understood that they could weigh up to 1000 pounds. Several of
the storks had chicks, and we could see them stick up their necks to receive food from returning parents. We went
into a church that celebrated the life of the only Alsatian Pope (and later saint), Leo IX. We bought some quiches,
cheese, fruit and drinks from a little shop near the town center and enjoyed a picnic on a bench.
After Eguisheim, we drove to Kaysersberg, Albert Schweitzer’s hometown, then to Bennwihr, where we walked around a little while, trying to find a wine tasting, but did not.
On the way to Riquewihr we passed a big winery, Bestheim, and went inside. We had a good wine tasting there, starting with dry white wines and progressing to sweeter varietals. Neither of us had ever had any Pinot Gris, but we liked it so much that we bought a bottle to enjoy later.
Sun - 6 May - Touring Colmar
We decided to forego the hotel’s breakfast and go find something while on a walking tour of Colmar. Since it was Sunday, as well as election day, many of the shops and bakeries were closed.
We did find an open patisserie, interestingly named “Helmstetter’s”. Helmstetter was my grandmother’s maiden name, and we wondered if there might have been a relationship to my Prussian ancestors who had ruled Alsace some time in the misty past.
We stopped by St Martin Cathedral in time to hear the postlude from one service, and then the beginning of the next mass. Interestingly the cantor was African. We wondered if he was a missionary from a former French colony to secular France.
From the cathedral, we continued on to the
Dominican Church to see Martin Schongauer’s “Virgin in the Rosebush”, a remarkably vibrant painting from 1473,
looking like it could have been painted yesterday.
Next, we toured the Unterlinden Museum, which houses a very interesting collection of paintings from the middle ages. The price of admission included an audio guide. The main attraction is the Isenheim Altarpiece, an incredible crucifixion depiction created by Matthias Gruenewald. It is especially gruesome, designed to be viewed by people in a medieval hospital to help them endure terrible skin diseases.
Following our morning of art appreciation, we stopped for a late lunch at a sidewalk café beside the Unterlinden. We had a wonderful potato soup followed by a very nice roast chicken. Nearby we spotted an internet café, so we stopped in to catch up on e-mail for a little while. On our way back to the hotel, we bought a couple of sandwiches on baguettes for a picnic dinner in our hotel room. That evening we watched the French election returns on CNN. We found it very interesting that they were able to accurately call the election immediately after the polls closed at 7 PM. They estimated that 75% of eligible voters voted! Sarkozy, the moderate and apparent friend of the US, won with 53% of the vote.
We decided to go out for a breath of fresh air around 9 PM. Colmar is beautifully lit at night, with pastel lights washing the half timbered buildings in Petite Venise…really a delightful place.
Mon - 7 May -The Black Forest
We decided to drive into Germany’s Black Forest region, so we headed the BMW toward Freiburg, eventually getting on highway 31 in Germany. When we reached the A5 motorway we kept on going straight toward Staufen. The BMW’s GPS system and the Elsass map helped us get to Staufen easily. We parked the car near the train station in a lot that indicated we could park free for 3 hours.
We then walked around the town in the drizzle,
bought an umbrella and some detailed driving maps that we would need days later. We bought some picnic foods in
a grocery, including weisswurst, cheese, bananas, and sodas. We found a dry bench under a large tree on a pretty
but busy street and ate our lunch while watching Germany pass by. Staufen was a cute town, with several buildings
decorated with historic figures and text about them.
After lunch we drove down a scenic road to Badenweiler, where we parked and took a walk. It was hot and humid, so we didn’t stay outside long, and after driving around Badenweiler a little longer, we decided to go back to France. The weather was better across the Rhein, and we spent the rest of the afternoon back in Colmar. Upon arriving at the hotel we found that our room was being cleaned, so we went to the hotel’s small bar area on the ground floor and had a chat with a Canadian couple who were also on a month-long European trip. We then walked around town for a little while, picking up postcards and determining where we would go to dinner that evening. We had not had choucroute yet, so we found a brasserie on Cathedral Square where we could try this very traditional Alsatian dish of sausage, pork, potatoes and sauerkraut. I had the choucroute while Debby had the plat du jour – roast chicken with green salad and pommes frites. After the main meal we ordered delicious apple desserts. Back in the hotel, we packed up and prepared to head out for Switzerland the next day.
Tues - 8 May - Berner Oberland
We checked out of Hotel Turenne early and
were on the road at 7:45 AM. The plan was to return the car in Freiburg and then hop trains to Switzerland’s Berner
Oberland. Since we had driven toward Freiburg the previous day we were familiar with the route. We stopped for
gas at a service plaza at the Rhein river border crossing, and in addition to purchasing gas we found some coffee
and muffins. Coming into Freiburg on the A5 from the southwest, I exited when I saw a sign for road U11, which
I thought would take us to the Avis rental car facility at St. Georgener Strasse 7. Lo and behold we were there!
After returning the car we took a cab to Freiburg’s railroad station and hopped on the first train to Basel, which
left Freiburg at 10:02 and arrived in Basel at 10:47. In Basel I used an ATM to get some Swiss Francs, since Switzerland
has opted out of Euro-land. They seem very happy with their Swiss banking system and would have to give up their
secrecy if they joined the EU.
We split a salmon sandwich purchased in a station café and then caught a train departing at 1 PM for Interlaken. We arrived at the Interlaken Ost station at 3 PM and caught the Berner Oberland Bahn (BOB) departing at 3:20 for Lauterbrunnen, a short 20-minute ride. I was happy that I had bought the first class Eurail and Swiss passes, because second class invariably looked full or less comfortable. I had paid an additional €7 for two reserved seats on the Basel to Interlaken leg. We need not have done this, but it was a small price to pay to ensure we had seats.
We had booked the Hotel Silberhorn in Lauterbrunnen, and we checked in around 4 PM.
Our room was in the separate “chalet”, and we had a living room, bedroom, kitchenette, bath, and balcony which afforded a spectacular view of the Silberhorn Mountain, the Lauterbrunnen valley, and Staubbach Falls.
There were still 5 hours of daylight left, because at European latitudes the sun sets after 9 PM in May. Even though the sun went behind the mountains at 4:30 there was still plenty of light to keep on sightseeing. We decided to walk around Lauterbrunnen and check out the Co-op Grocery, where we bought some snacks and beer. Across the street we found the Valley Hostel’s pay Internet facility and launderette next to it. We had dinner in the Silberhorn Hotel’s restaurant, and the first night’s meal was the obligatory cheese fondue, which was very good. We went to bed early, our plan being to awaken by 6 AM in order to check out the weather, especially to enjoy the sun on the mountains before the clouds rolled in. We opened the windows, so we could hear the waterfalls and smell clean mountain air, and slept snugly under our duvets.
Wed - 9 May - Berner Oberland – Mürren and Gimmelwald
I got up at 6 AM and looked out the window to determine whether this would be the day to take the trip to the Jungfraujoch. We had three days to shuffle our schedule, depending on the weather. Looking at the clouds covering the mountaintops I made a snap decision that today would best be spent hiking and tomorrow looked more promising for the Jungfraujoch. We had been advised at the Tourist Information center in Lauterbrunnen that the weather was going to be better on Thursday. Therefore, I went back to bed for another hour. After a leisurely breakfast, around 9:30 AM or thereabouts, we took the new cable car (which replaced the funicular in January 2007) up to Grutschalp and the panorama train to Mürren. We had stayed in Mürren the first of June 2001 and liked the town, but in early May this year many shops and restaurants were closed. Apparently many locals take a break between ski season and summer hikers.
We got some picnic supplies from the Mürren Co-op, and we took off on our hike to Gimmelwald. It was labeled a 40 minute walk on the signpost, but it took us 2 hours, since we stopped along the way to have lunch, take pictures, and chat with a couple from Bangalore, India. They would be the first of many Indians we would encounter over the next couple of days. The weather turned out to be fine, and we really savored our walk. We saw three hang gliders sailing down into the valley. After reaching Gimmelwald we spent a few minutes looking around the town – not long, because we were tired from the hike. We took the cable car back up to Mürren, panorama train to Grutschalp and cable car down to Lauterbrunnen, because we had bought a roundtrip ticket from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren.
We got back to Lauterbrunnen around 3 PM and decided to catch the post bus at the TI to Trummelbach Falls. It only took a few minutes to reach the falls and we managed to summon up enough energy to walk to the entrance, take the elevator, and climb up several flights of wet stone stairs to get some good views of the water falling inside the mountain. The power of the water cutting through the rock is amazing. The walls are all smoothly rounded, looking like they had been carved by machine. Trummelbach carries runoff from the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains at a rate of 5000 gallons per second, forming one of the tributaries of a river that runs through the valley. We had to wait for almost an hour to catch the bus back to Lauterbrunnen, but thankfully the afternoon weather was delightful. Back at our chalet room around 6 PM, we soaked our tired feet for awhile and rested. The weather had cleared, and the views from our balcony of the setting sun glinting off the snow on the mountains were spectacular. Later that evening we went to the Hotel Oberland’s restaurant, a short walk down the main street. The food was all right – nothing to write home about (and I have no notes to recall what we ate!).
Thur - 10 May - Berner Oberland – Jungfraujoch
We woke up at 6 AM to find a spectacular
morning…no clouds at all! We definitely made a good decision to wait until this day for our Jungfrau trip. We dressed
in layers, as we had not brought anything really warm, and we knew the temps at the top of the Jungfrau would be
chilly. We made it to the Lauterbrunnen station by 6:40 AM and bought our tickets (157 SF from Lauterbrunnen to
the “Top of Europe”, which included a 50% discount because of our Swiss flexi pass). We caught the little green
and yellow WAB cog train to Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, which left at 6:55 AM. In Kleine Scheidegg everyone transferred
from the green and yellow train to the red Jungfraubahn train. At this point we were above the tree line, and it
was very exciting to get higher and higher, with increasingly spectacular views. After Kleine Scheidegg much of
the rest of the trip was through tunnels. The train stopped twice so that passengers were able to get out and see
the views through small windows cut into the mountain. Apparently these windows are occasionally used to rescue
wayward mountain climbers. We were quite happy to be climbing the mountain by rail!
When we reached the end of the line, at Jungfraujoch, there were many venues to explore.
We went first to the top of the observatory to get incredible views of a glacier and mountaintops all around us. It was a spectacular white wonderland. Gingerly we stepped outside, and we realized there was nothing below the metal grating we were standing on for a very long way down!
A cold breeze was blowing, but the sky was
very clear. We were told that weather this clear was pretty unusual. The outside thermometer read -6ºC. There
were still very large icicles hanging from the observatory, and signs were posted informing us that part of the
walkway around the observatory was closed, for safety reasons. It was definitely chilly, but we were warm enough
in our several layers plus windbreakers. As we stood and admired the Alps and the glacier, two Swiss military jets
screamed by quite dramatically. We were the only ones outside and then a few other people joined us for 15-20 min.
When a mob of Korean tourists invaded, we left to explore other things, like the ice palace carved into the glacier.
Long, rather slippery walkways led to a series of ice carvings…polar bears, penguins, etc. All in all, it was a
fun but chilly display. We noticed another door to the outside which allows access to walk or ski on the snow.
It was quite windy, so we didn’t stay out there too long.
We took the train down the mountain around 11 AM, deciding to get off in Wengen to explore that town before heading down to Lauterbrunnen. Wengen is much like Mürren, but with different views of the mountains. There is quite an array of hotels and restaurants, most of which seemed to be open for business. We ate lunch at Hotel Bernerhof’s café, across the street from a playground. We had rösti (like hash browns with cheese) and veal sausage. We met a couple from Fredericksburg, TX, who told us they were staying in Lauterbrunnen at the Silberhorn and that it was a favorite of theirs from previous trips. While Mürren and Lauterbrunnen have good hotels, we thought Wengen might be a nice place to stay on our next trip to the Berner Oberland. After spending about 2 hours in Wengen, we took the train back to Lauterbrunnen, where we found the weather much warmer. We quickly shed our layers, and decided to spend some of the afternoon doing our laundry. After a couple hours and 10 Swiss Francs, we had clean clothes. While doing our laundry, we met a couple from Marble Falls, TX, just 30 miles from where we live. They were part of a Rick Steves tour that was in town for a couple of days. We learned from them what one of his tours was like, and in turn we gave them tips to help them travel on their own the next time.
That evening we decided to eat in our room, having some goodies that we had bought in town, including some wonderful locally made cheese. It was great to spend some time doing “maintenance” and regrouping … necessary to keep our batteries charged on this long trip.
Fri - 11 May - Berner Oberland – Ballenberg
The day dawned rainy and we wondered if it would wash out
our planned visit to the farm museum in Ballenberg, but after breakfast the clouds parted here and there, revealing
blue sky. We decided we would chance the trip, so we purchased the RailAway combo tickets that allowed us to go
by train to Brienz, via Interlaken Ost, and then by bus to the museum site, and also covered the museum entrance
fee. Because we had the Swiss flexi passes, there was a discount on the RailAway tickets, so the tickets cost 29
SF per person, not a bad price for transportation and admission. At Interlaken Ost, we had 40 minutes to look around
town and take pictures before our train left for Brienz. We passed by several old elegant hotels, no doubt dating
from Interlaken’s heyday in the late nineteenth century. One of them had a menu posted out front featuring dinner
for 120 SF per person, a bit steep for most mortals. The train to Brienz was part of the Golden Pass scenic rail
journey that runs from Montreux to Luzern. We enjoyed the journey along Lake Brienz, made even better because the
sky was mostly clear by now, the water was an almost Caribbean blue-green color, and the view of the Alps across
the lake was gorgeous. At Brienz we switched to a bus that wound its way over hill and dale for about twenty minutes
until we got to the west entrance of the museum. In addition to buildings, there were a
few craftspeople and farm animals to complete the scene. Ballenberg was similar to the Freilichtmuseum (Vogtsbauernhof)
near Gutach in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, which we had seen in 2001.
The Ballenberg open-air farm museum was quite interesting, a look into rural Swiss life 200 to 300 years ago. A large collection of houses and farm buildings relocated from all over Switzerland was laid out over many acres, and we spent a couple of hours strolling among just a fraction of the exhibits.
We spent the late afternoon on our balcony looking at the mountains, which were now shrouded in clouds. The day had been fairly nice, but nothing compared with the beautiful day yesterday. We were grateful that our high mountain adventure to the Jungfraujoch had taken place on the best weather day of our stay in Lauterbrunnen. We took our final dinner in Lauterbrunnen at the Silberhorn Hotel’s restaurant. I had a very good steak with herb butter and vegetables, and Debby had a salad plate with greens, fruit and chicken breast, and we capped off our meal with a shared Coupe Danmark (hot fudge sundae). As we packed up in preparation for our departure in the morning, we were thankful that we could once again spend some time in the Berner Oberland, and we agreed that staying in Lauterbrunnen on this trip was a good idea, as higher altitude towns were not really open yet for the tourist season.
In addition to buildings, there were a few craftspeople and farm animals to complete the scene. Ballenberg was similar to the Freilichtmuseum (Vogtsbauernhof) near Gutach in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, which we had seen in 2001.
Sat - 12 May - Trains across Switzerland
Our destination this day was Rorschach,
in northeast Switzerland, where we had a hotel reservation for two nights. We took a train from Lauterbrunnen at
9:50 AM and after changes in Interlaken and Romanshorn we were at the Rorschach Hafen (harbor) station shortly
before 3 PM. All three trains were very convenient and the scenery was impressive during the journey. Out of Interlaken,
the tracks ran along the Thunersee (like Lake Brienz but on the west side of Interlaken), which beautifully reflected
the Alps behind it. The S-Bahn from Romanshorn to Rorschach was a sleek commuter job called the Thurbo. We found
out that several Thurbo lines serve the Bodensee area, in the Appenzell and St. Gallen regions, and we rode these
trains again on Sunday and Monday.
Our hotel, the Mozart, was within walking distance of the Rorschach Hafen station, and we checked in quickly. We had room 205, up one floor using the lift. It was a corner room looking out to the Bodensee (and to train tracks that were probably only 10 yards from the hotel, but their noise was not too bad because we had brought earplugs). We went out to scout around the harbor and found the Tourist Information office a couple of blocks away. We got the latest schedules and costs for train and Bodensee boat lines, which we needed on Sunday. The lake was really beautiful, and we could see across the water to towns in Germany, such as Friedrichshafen.
We ate dinner in the hotel dining room. I had a salad plate with chicken and Debby had bratwurst with potato salad. The very nice receptionist, who had checked us in earlier, let us use her computer terminal to look at our e-mail! We could see the reception area being transformed into a buffet for Sunday, which was going to be Muttertag (Mother’s Day), and the woman told us that our room rate included the brunch the next day, which would begin at 8 AM. That would be cutting it close, because we wanted to be on the train for St. Gallen just before 9. We were assured we could get breakfast earlier. I crashed around 9:30 PM but Debby stayed awake longer and read.
Sun - 13 May - Mother’s Day on Lake Constance
We were up early and down to breakfast around
7:30 AM. The Mother’s Day brunch was being laid out, and we were invited to take whatever we wanted. Every sort
of breakfast item was available, so we ate heartily. After breakfast, we walked a few blocks up the hill to a different
train station – Rorschach Stadt – to catch a Thurbo for St. Gallen. This would be the last day for us to use our
Swiss Passes, and they were valid for the Thurbo trains and for the boats on Lake Constance (Bodensee). We arrived
in St. Gallen at 9:20 and had planned on spending a couple of hours there. That turned out to be about the right
amount of time. We walked from the train station to the Cathedral and went inside to catch the last part of a Sunday
morning mass. The ceiling of the baroque Cathedral was unusually dark, and we weren’t sure if it was intentionally
painted that way or soiled from soot over the years. The final hymn was “All Glory, Laud and Honor”, sung in German
of course. The organ was very bright and beautiful. We then went to the Cathedral Library and paid a small entrance
fee to see their collection of very old volumes. The main room was two stories high, with books locked behind grates.
It was reminiscent of the Trinity College library in Dublin, especially since several illuminated manuscripts were
on display, some of which were Celtic in appearance. The Celtic influence was probably due to St. Gallen, who was
apparently an Irish missionary to this part of Europe around 600 AD. We had to slip felt booties over our shoes
prior to entering, and the interesting inlaid floor creaked as we shuffled through the room.
Back at the St. Gallen train station, we caught the 11:31 train to Kreuzlingen Hafen, arriving there at 12:24. We bought some things for lunch at a shop as we walked to the dock where we would find the boat for Mainau Island. The boat departed around 1 PM and passed by Konstanz as it made its way to the east side of the island. The trip lasted only about 15 or 20 minutes.
Once on Mainau, we had to pay an admission fee to visit this micro climate – a tropical paradise – with amazing vegetation, including numerous varieties of rhododendrons, dahlia gardens, palm trees, California redwoods, butterfly house – you name it they got it.
The only problem for us was the walking,
uphill to most of the attractions, and the inadequate map they provided didn’t help us get to things easily. The
Baron of Baden planted these gardens, and his castle and an interesting chapel are at the highest point of the
island. The visit to the island was fabulous and we had a beautiful sunny day, hot in fact.
Instead of taking trains back to Rorschach, we decided it was a lovely day for a cruise, so we returned to Rorschach by boat from Mainau Island. Lake Constance was absolutely delightful and the cruise was an excellent way to cap off Mother’s Day. The trip took 2-1/2 hours and we were back in Rorschach harbor at 6:30 PM. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant that we had spied the previous day, near our hotel. It was a nice change from wurst and sauerkraut. Debby had curry chicken and I had sweet and sour pork. Back in our hotel room we managed to call our daughter Robin in PA, so she was able to wish her mom a happy Mother’s Day.
Mon - 14 May - Drive to Rothenburg o.d.T.
We were awakened at 5:45 AM by the sound of a train passing by, but we needed to be up because this was going to be a very long travel day. We had to pick up our second rental car in Lindau, Germany, and then visit a few sites before getting to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for the evening. After breakfasting at the hotel and checking out, we were at the Rorschach Hafen train stop by 8 AM. We needed to buy tickets for Lindau but the automated ticket machines would not dispense to locations outside of Switzerland. A sign informed me that I could purchase train tickets at the TI, which was just a block away. It didn’t open until 8:30, but that was fine because the train we wanted was at 9:15. Two tickets cost €20. We had to change trains at the main Rorschach station, which was only one stop away, and again at St. Margarethen, Switzerland. The last train went from St. Margarethen through Bregenz, Austria, and finally into Lindau, arriving there just before 10 AM (3 trains in 3countries, in a 45 min. train ride!) We found a taxi in front of the Lindau station and the driver knew the way to the Avis rental car office at Bregenzer Strasse 27. The paperwork was ready and an Audi A3 diesel was waiting. We were on our way in short order and within 5 minutes we reached the A7 Autobahn.
The first stop of the day was Ulm. We wanted to arrive by noon to hear an organ concert at the Ulm Munster.
Tues - 15 May - Rothenburg o.d.T.
The day dawned rainy, and I awoke with a
cold. I really didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but after awhile I pulled myself together and we went to breakfast.
The breakfast room was very rustic, with big tables, but we didn’t have to share. Food was brought to the table,
and it was an ample spread of all the usual breakfast foods, including several types of cheese, meats, yogurt,
breads, rolls, cereals, and so on. We had planned on spending the day relaxing in Rothenburg, so there was no rush
to do anything. After breakfast I decided I needed some cold pills, so we went across the square to the Marien
Apotheke, where a nice lady pharmacist sold me some Grippostat (I guess that means immediate relief for the “grip”).
We also bought some aspirin, and she threw in some throat lozenges and tissues. Afterwards, we went for a walk
in the cold mist and wound up at the Käthe
Wohlfahrt store. We looked around the bottom floors
of the store and decided it was a good opportunity to buy some gifts. We purchased a pyramid for our daughter Robin,
a smoker, a cuckoo clock, and some other things. We asked the store to ship Robin’s gift and the cuckoo clock to
our home in Georgetown. Other smaller items Debby was able to pack and carry with her for the rest of the trip.
After spending over an hour in the store, I went back to the hotel to nap and try to shake off my cold, while Debby
continued to tour the town amid intermittent showers. She found an internet café with the lowest charges
we found to date -- €2.10 for 45 minutes. Debby continued to enjoy shopping for awhile longer (Rothenburg is a
great place to shop!) and returned to the hotel about 4 PM.
We both relaxed until dinner time, and I was feeling a little bit better but did not want to venture too far away, so we had dinner in the Gasthof Greifen’s restaurant. We had good food and it was relatively inexpensive. Debby had spargel soup and roast chicken, while I had chicken soup and German meatballs (Salisbury steak in brown gravy). I retired to the room after dinner, but Debby went out at 8 PM to catch the Night Watchman. We had been on his tour 6 years ago, so she didn’t bother following him around for an hour. In the square there had been a practice for the upcoming Meistertrunk Festival, and many townspeople, both kids and adults, were in the square in costume. Debby listened to the first part of the Night Watchman’s spiel and learned that he now charges each person €6. In 2001 he charged 3 deutschmarks, so he has more than quadrupled his “suggested offering” in six years. Debby guessed there were between 75 and 100 people there for the English language tour. He does a second one-hour tour in German later in the evening. If everyone contributes what he asks, he makes a darn good living! Debby found a gelato shop and had 2 scoops for €1. The price for one scoop was usually 70 Eurocents in most gelaterias that we found, which is a reasonable inflation over the charge of 1 deutschmark per scoop in 2001. Debby enjoyed the evening, as the clouds had broken and there was a beautiful sunset.
Wed - 16 May - Scratch Nürnberg
I didn’t sleep well, what with the cold
bothering me, so I told Debby after she awoke that I didn’t feel like tackling Nürnberg. I needed another
day of rest and recovery. I was disappointed, but she was fine with that decision. We went down to breakfast around
8 AM. After eating, I took a load of clothes down to the reception area, and one of the family members told me
she could wash and dry them for a charge of €8, even asking if any items needed special care. What wonderful people
in this hotel! I understand that two families, who are probably related, own and operate the establishment, and
they certainly know how to take care of their guests.
We walked over to St. Jacob’s church to see the Tilman Riemenschneider carving of the Last Supper and spend some time viewing other parts of the church as well. I was doing pretty well by mid-morning, so we walked down the Spitalgasse to the wall around Rothenburg, and then we walked the eastern side of the wall to the Rodertor, up by the Hotel Hornburg, where we had stayed in 2001. We went to a small grocery for milk and a few other supplies, and we enjoyed ice cream sundaes for lunch. After returning to the hotel in the early afternoon, we found that our clothes had already been cleaned and returned to our room. While I took a nap, Debby went back to Käthe Wohlfahrt’s to visit the Christmas Museum. Debby shopped at several other stores also, and she managed to find six small porcelain plates, each depicting a different fairy tale. We had bought Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) in 2001 and regretted not having others, so now our collection would be complete. She returned to the hotel around 5 PM, and I was up and showering, trying to revive myself. We decided to go to dinner at the Baumeister Haus, just down the street from the Gasthof Greifen (it was great to have so many good places to eat so close to the hotel). I had roast pork with potato dumplings and Debby had sausage with sauerkraut. The evening was misty and chilly, so we didn’t walk around after dinner. We went back to the hotel to get packed up for tomorrow’s trip to the Fairy Tale Road. I hoped that a good night’s sleep would help my recovery, and it did, because the next day I was feeling good enough to proceed with the rest of our adventure.
Thur - 17 May - Fairy Tale Road
The Fairy Tale Road is a collection of towns and roads connecting them, from Fulda north to Bremen. A German tourist document sent to us in the mail had an enticing description of this “road”, so we planned to include some of it on our trip. We thought we would like to spend two or three days driving from village to village, hoping to see celebrations of characters featured in tales written by the Brothers Grimm and others. After having our last breakfast in Rothenburg, we checked out of Gasthof Greifen shortly before 9 AM and drove to the town of Steinau an der Strasse, which is where the Brothers Grimm were born. We arrived about 11 AM. It was “Ascension Day”, which is a holiday in many parts of Europe, so most of the town was closed! We parked and looked around for about 45 minutes, seeing a few markers about the Brothers. We then drove on to Alsfeld, arriving there around 1 PM.
Alsfeld was an interesting town of many half-timbered buildings (Fachwerke) and cobbled streets, and we enjoyed walking around this town for a couple of hours.
Fri - 18 May - Kassel
Debby was feeling achy and tired after a restless night. We had planned to devote this day to exploring Kassel, and we plunged forward even though she was not in tip-top condition. After breakfasting in our room, which was a nice change, we drove into town on the Wilhelmshöhe Allee, the main east-west drag. At the end of this long road, there was a traffic jam and we had trouble locating a place to park, but we finally found a parking garage. We walked through the city center about 5 blocks to the Schöne Aussicht, where the Brothers Grimm Museum was located. We were informed that the upper two floors had been closed by the fire department, quite unfortunate because that was where most of the exhibits related to Grimm’s’ fairy tales were located. We toured the ground floor and the first floor for awhile, viewing some mystical paintings and drawings, undoubtedly reflecting the folklore and legends out of which emerged the fairy tales that the Brothers Grimm wrote. After leaving the museum, we looked at other buildings on the Schöne Aussicht and rested for awhile on a park bench. We then walked down a pedestrian street, the Königstrasse, and picked up some good things to eat at a grocery in the basement of a nice department store.
After retrieving our Audi, we drove back to the western suburbs by retracing our route along the Wilhelmshöhe Allee. We stopped at the Wilhelmshöhe Schloss Hotel and had a bite to eat at their terrace café. The hotel is not a castle at all, but a fairly new spa hotel. Debby was feeling very tired, so she rested on a park bench while I walked around the Wilhelmshöhe Schloss across from the hotel, taking a few photos. Up at the top of the hill, looking farther west, was the site of the statue of Hercules, but he was temporarily absent and it appeared some restoration was taking place. We had planned on driving over to Göttingen (Grimm Brothers university) and to Furstenberg (porcelain factory), but since Debby was not doing well, we went back to the room so she could take a long nap. When she awoke, we had some of the food items from the department store for dinner and spent a low-key evening watching CNN.
Sat - 19 May - Fairy Tale Road
Debby was feeling better this day. After having breakfast in the apartment, we decided we were both up to driving the Fairy Tale Road north to Hameln, passing through the towns of Trendelburg, Höxter, Polle, and Sababurg along the way. We arrived in Hameln (Hamelin) around lunchtime, and we stashed our car in a parking garage while we looked around town. Hameln did not disappoint – it was the best of the Fairy Tale Road towns by far. They were ready for tourists!
The town, of course, was famous for the Pied Piper (although this was not a Grimm’s fairy tale).
Sun - 20 May - Mosel River
After checking out of Dr. Nolle’s apartment around 8 AM, we left Kassel and drove to Cochem. The trip was supposed to take 3 to 3½ hours, and we should have arrived in Cochem by 11:30. Unfortunately, we had some difficulty leaving Kassel and getting onto the A7 Autobahn. We were on the A49 instead, but we were at least headed in the right direction – southwest. We got off the A49 near Alsfeld and took B roads until we got back to the A7. The slight detour cost us about a half-hour, and then we had a bit of road construction around Giessen, so we didn’t get to Cochem until about 12:30 PM. We had booked the Weingut Rademacher for 3 nights, and it took a few minutes to find it, once we arrived in the town. The proprietor and his wife, Hermann and Andrea Rademacher, were not there, but one of the house servants attended to us, finding our reservation and showing us where our room would be. The establishment is a small winery with 6 rooms to rent, and of course our room was not ready. So, we parked our car where the woman instructed us, and we headed off on foot to see what was happening in the town.
There was a fair underway all along the riverfront, with many rides and games for kids, so the town was fairly crowded. We had lunch at an eiscafe overlooking the Mosel. As we ate, we noticed the police preparing for “something” on the road along the river. Eventually, a bicycle race made its way past us. It was quite a party atmosphere. Following lunch, we walked down to the river and found that we could take a cruise to Beilstein at 3 PM. The boat went through a lock on the way to Beilstein, which gave some excitement to the cruise on the lazy Mosel. We were really struck with the difference in the feel of the Mosel as compared to the much busier Rhein. Beilstein was delightful. We settled down in a weinstube overlooking the river and enjoyed a glass of excellent white wine under a canopy of grapevines. It was a very relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Our return was delayed for almost an hour because the boat that we would take back to Cochem had a long wait for its turn in the lock.
We arrived back in Cochem around 7 PM, and then stopped in at the Gaststatte Nos for dinner. I had curried chicken and rice, and Debby had putenschnitzel, both excellent. As we made our way back towards Weingut Rademacher, we found an internet café and spent an hour catching up on e-mails from home. We had been out of touch while in Kassel. When we finally got to our gasthaus around 9 PM, Hermann Rademacher had returned and he checked us in. Our room was quite comfortable, with a much better bathroom and shower than we had in Kassel. It’s the little things that make a difference! The six guestrooms share a TV lounge and small kitchenette with refrigerator, and I believe we were Hermann’s only guests for the first night we were there.
Mon - 21 May - Mosel River
After having breakfast at Weingut Rademacher, Debby and I set off to find Burg Eltz about 9:30 AM. We drove to Moselkern and followed the signs to Münstermaifeld. The signs directed us on a fairly narrow road, up the side of a cliff, but there was no traffic to speak of so no worries. After reaching the top, we could look back down over the Mosel several hundred feet below. Now we were on gently rolling farmland as we passed through Münstermaifeld, and then as we neared Burg Eltz the road took a dip into a beautiful forested valley. We parked the car in the lot that was closest to the castle and took a twenty minute hike down to it.
We had a nice tour, mostly in German, but
we were able to ask the tour guide questions in English on occasion. I feel that all tours through European castles
are too short, and this tour was no exception, hardly enough time to study the building and its furnishings. The
castle was charming, still lived in by the same family for over 800 years, so it felt real and authentic. The furnishings
were elegant, but not overdone. We were amazed at the medieval paintings on walls and painted ceilings that were
plastered over for many hundreds of years and then rediscovered.
We caught a van back up to the parking lot and then drove to Münstermaifeld to look through its church, because we could see it from miles around standing tall amid the farm fields. The church dates from around 1300 and still has an active congregation. In the early afternoon we were back in Cochem. We walked through the town, picking up small souvenirs, such as postcards that Debby will use in her scrapbook. The day had turned hot, probably close to 90 degrees, and we were dehydrated, so on the way back to the hotel, we purchased some bottled water, along with milk and chocolate, at a small grocery.
For dinner, we decided to try a BavariaBen-recommended restaurant in Klotten, an easy drive from Cochem, about 3 km downriver. We had passed the Zur Linde Hotel and Restaurant on the way to Burg Eltz in the morning, and I had noticed ample parking along the river. We had a table on the front terrace, with a view of the lazy Mosel and grape vines growing along the edges of their awning. Debby had chicken cordon bleu and I had an assortment of pork products accompanied by sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. The food and atmosphere at the Zur Linde were great, and we lingered over the meal to enjoy a very peaceful evening.
Returning to the hotel, we met a woman from Wisconsin who was traveling solo. She had arrived in Germany that morning, and we chatted for about an hour. She was traveling with a Eurailpass, and her plan for the next day was to do both Burg Eltz and the city of Trier. She wasn’t any spring chicken, so she was going to have a busy and exhausting day. Debby and I were planning to do Trier ourselves, but we were going there early in the morning to turn in our car. At about 9:30 it was obvious that she was ready to crash, so Debby and I said goodnight and wished her a pleasant trip. Before hitting the sack, I reviewed the driving directions to Trier for the following day.
Tues - 22 May - Trier
After having breakfast at the Weingut, we headed for Trier about 8:45 AM. The drive took about an hour, half of it on an autobahn. Trier had a good street system on its outer fringes, and we easily found the Avis rental car agency. We would no longer need a car; instead we would use our Germany-Benelux Eurailpass or purchase tickets for whatever transportation we required. It was fortunate, and remarkable, that we never encountered a stau (traffic jam) while driving on this trip. After turning in the Audi, we took a bus from the Avis office into town, getting off at the Porta Nigra, an old Roman gate to the city, which was originally red sandstone but is now black with age. We went into the TI beside the Porta Nigra to get a map, and then we walked into Trier’s pedestrian center, a bustling marketplace surrounded by interesting buildings.
It was not too far to the Trier Cathedral, which was founded by Emperor Constantine. We were disappointed in the interior, which seemed to be dedicated to dead bishops and did not feel holy. One of the key features was the Holy Robe Chapel behind the altar – quite an elaborate reliquary built to house a robe that was apparently brought to Trier by Helena, Constantine’s mother, in about 300 AD. Looking at a photograph of it, this could not have been the “seamless” robe of Jesus. Adjacent to the cathedral was a Gothic church, which lost all its stained glass in WWII and now has contemporary replacements. We ate lunch at Zum Domstein, and we both ordered quiche Lorraine. We then had a long walk to the train station, and we bought tickets to return to Cochem by train because we didn’t want to use our Eurailpass for this short trip. The trip to Cochem cost €20 for the two of us – less expensive than using a Eurailpass day.
Back in Cochem at 4:20 PM, we had a short walk to Weingut Rademacher, which is situated just on the other side of the train station’s parking lot. This was another hot day and we were tired from walking around Trier, so we decided a nap was in order. We awoke around 6:30 and went out in search of dinner. We found an Italian café and had pizza with a good Montepulciano wine. After dinner we walked down to the river, purchasing gelato along the way, and had a lovely, relaxing evening. The days were long and there was plenty of time to sit and gaze across at the far side of the Mosel, where several large river cruise ships were moored. About 9 PM we went back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our train trip to Bruges the next morning. The packing was somewhat of a challenge since we had shopped our way through Rothenburg. We had plenty of room for our packages when we had a car, but now all our purchases had to fit into our suitcases and backpacks for train travel.
Wed - 23 May - Bruges
We had a quick breakfast when the Weingut’s
breakfast room opened at 8 AM, then walked over to the train station to wait for our 8:59 AM train to Trier. The
train was an express and much more comfortable than the slow train we rode the day before. In Trier, we walked
just across the platform to find a little two car train that took us to Luxemburg. In Luxemburg, we bought some
baguette sandwiches and drinks for lunch on the next leg of the trip, a Belgian train to Brussels. Brussels seems
to have made it as complicated as possible to make train changes. They can’t figure out which of their 3 stations
is the main one, and each of the 3 stations has 2 names (French and Flemish), so one must be careful to note which
station to use to change trains. To make our connection to Bruges, the conductor on the train told us to change
at Brussels Nord. After disembarking there, we discovered that trains were not running as scheduled and the train
to Bruges didn’t show up. A friendly female railroad employee helped us find another train that was going to Bruges,
and we arrived in Bruges only about 20 minutes later than we had planned. All these train trips were covered by
a day of the Germany-Benelux Eurailpass.
In Bruges, we decided we were tired from having dealt with the confusion of the trains, so we took a taxi (€10) to the B&B we had reserved. Like all medieval towns, the streets are narrow, winding cobblestones, so it was a good decision to leave the navigation to someone who knew the local area. The driver took us right to the Gheeraert-Vandevelde B&B, but no one answered the bell. We had received instructions in our confirmation e-mail to enter a code into their security system by the front door and let ourselves in, if no one were home. In the foyer we found an envelope with our name and a key to our room, which was room number 2 on the top floor up a very narrow, winding staircase. We huffed and puffed our way up, and found a lovely large room with a good view of the city rooftops. We stashed our bags and headed out to explore our new locale. Bruges was a very appealing town, laced with canals and very interesting architecture … somewhat reminiscent of Amsterdam.
We had read about Belgian beer, and decided that finding one was a priority on this warm afternoon. We stopped in at a nearby canal-side café, the Eulenspiegel (although I think the name of the place was spelled somewhat differently in Belgium) to remedy the situation. Although Debby is not a beer drinker, she had heard about flavored Belgian beers, so she ordered a Kriek, a cherry-flavored beer, while I had a Zot, a locally made lager. Debby decided she enjoyed the fruity beer, and tried other different brands and flavors during our stay in Belgium. The Belgians seem to take their beer very seriously, and they offer a multitude of styles.
We walked down to the very picturesque main market square and enjoyed sitting on a bench and people watching in the late afternoon sun.
We woke early and caught the sunrise out
our east-facing bedroom window. When Debby and I went downstairs for breakfast at 8:30, we met another couple seated
at the large dining room table. We introduced ourselves and learned that they were a brother and sister from Holland.
They were in Bruges for a few days to attend a seminar conducted by some American psychologist from Berkeley who
we had never heard of. Presently the lady of the house, Roos Vandevelde, came in and we finally met her. All of
the people spoke excellent English so we did not have any trouble conversing.
This was the day we had set aside to explore Bruges – on foot.
First we went east to find a couple of windmills at the town’s eastern ring canal and then retraced our steps to Market Square, where we started following the walking tour that is in Rick Steves’ Amsterdam-Bruges-Brussels guidebook.
Fri - 25 May - Bruges and Brussels
We had breakfast with the Dutch brother and sister once again. We had decided to use a Eurailpass day to take a train over to Brussels. Our breakfast companions suggested that Antwerp would be a more delightful visit. Did we listen? We caught a bus to the train station, and before leaving for Brussels, I purchased a reservation for the high-speed train from Brussels to Frankfurt for the next day. We arrived at the Brussels Central station at 11:30 AM and walked over to the Grand Place.
Brussels was very crowded, with narrow streets
and grimy but grand buildings. We checked out several chocolate shops on the north side of the Grand Place – Godiva,
Neuhaus, Galler, and Leonidas, and we purchased a few pieces at Leonidas. We enjoyed a peach beer at a sidewalk
café and then walked a few blocks to see Mannequin Pis. We were underwhelmed, by both the statue and Brussels
itself, and we caught a train back to Bruges at around 2 PM.
Back in Bruges, we caught a bus to Market Square, and we decided to take a ride around town on a horse-driven carriage. The driver pointed out sights as we covered approximately the same territory that we had explored on foot the previous day. This time the journey was more relaxing and lasted about 30 minutes. On hindsight, it probably would have been better to take the clip-clop tour first! After the ride, we sat in a café and had a drink, and then we grabbed a quick hamburger and more Belgian fries with mayo. We walked back to the B&B about 5 PM, and we spent the rest of the day reviewing e-mails, watching TV and packing for the trip to Frankfurt the following day.
Sat - 26 May - Frankfurt
We woke very early because we had a fairly lengthy trip to Frankfurt ahead of us. Paul Gheeraert, Roos’ husband, fixed breakfast for us, and told us that there was a bus stop just a block away that had recently re-opened. We said good-bye, walked to the stop, and within 10 minutes we were on a bus en route to the train station. The trip from Bruges to the Brussels Zuid (Midi) station was fine, and this station was definitely the best of the three Brussels stations. It was more modern and cleaner than the other two. From this station one can take the Eurostar train under the English Channel to London, as well as travel to other destinations all over Europe using high-speed lines, including Thalys and TGV. In our case, we were going to ride a sleek German ICE train to Frankfurt. Our ICE train was great! We had a 4-seat compartment all to ourselves, and a train attendant served us lunch at our seats. Debby noticed a speedometer in the passageway, and as the trip progressed the train’s speed got to 300 kph (185 mph). I went to the front of the train and, with the engineer’s permission, took a couple of pictures out the windshield.
When we got to Köln (Cologne), the train was supposed to keep going to Frankfurt after a short stop. However, we waited and waited, and finally there was an announcement in English that due to technical difficulties the train would not continue, but another similar train a couple of tracks away would be leaving for Frankfurt in 5 minutes. We hurriedly collected all our baggage and ran for the other train, getting on at the first door, which was second class. After the train was underway, we schlepped our stuff forward through three or four cars until we reached the same compartment that we had on the previous train. It was empty and we settled in for the remainder of the ride to Frankfurt. We surmised that since the first train was relatively empty, the Deutsche Bahn had probably decided to combine two trains meeting at Köln into one. We arrived at the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof only a few minutes late, around 3:45 PM. We weren’t sure how far it was to the Marriott on Hamburger Allee in the convention area (Messe), so we took a taxi (about €8 including tip). We had arranged to use some Marriott Rewards points to cover the room for two nights; otherwise the cost could have been almost $200 per night. We were given a fairly nice room on the 32nd floor. It didn’t have a view of the downtown area, but it was very comfortable. It was nice to have an elevator and a large bathroom at the end of a very long trip! Debby was ready to be pampered, and this American-style hotel was perfect.
After resting awhile, we went downstairs to explore the hotel and its environs. First stop was the Sports Bar, Champions, where Debby had an apple wine (a local specialty) and I had a beer. We then went out and walked a couple of blocks, noticing that Frankfurt’s tallest building, the Messe Turm, was across the street, and there was a tram stop directly across from the hotel. The tram would be convenient for traveling the next two days. For this evening, we decided to stay close by, so we found an Indian restaurant within 100 meters, where we had an exotic dinner of mango chicken curry, lentils, and lamb tandoori. After eating, we walked back to the hotel and just as we arrived a terrific wind came up and a storm looked imminent. We watched the storm clouds threaten the area from our hotel room window, and rain had started to fall. Around 9 PM we called our daughter in PA, and lights were out around 10:30.
Sun - 27 May - Frankfurt and Worms
We had planned on using the final day of our Germany-Benelux Eurailpass to take the train to Worms, trying to get there in time for a Sunday service at Worms Cathedral. We skipped the €39 brunch at the Marriott and caught the tram (S-Bahn) to the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof about 8:30 AM, where we bought breakfast. Our journey to Worms involved a train change at Biblis, and we arrived in Worms around 10:15. We followed the scant signs to the Worms DOM and arrived in time to catch the last half of the first Sunday service. It was Pentecost, Pfingstag, and the service was very formal. I thought the Cathedral was Lutheran, rather than Roman Catholic, and I had seen plaques on the walk to the DOM about Martin Luther. Therefore, when it was time for communion, we decided we would go forward to receive the elements, trusting that God would be all right with that if we were mistaken about the church’s allegiance. We took wafers from a woman, but we did not see any wine.
Worms Cathedral is high Romanesque, with a Baroque High Altar, which I was able to photograph after the service concluded. Another service began about 15 minutes after the first finished; we left after the organ prelude. We walked around the outside, taking pictures, and then it began to mist, so we hurried back to the train station area and decided to have lunch inside a small café. Our train trip back to Frankfurt was the reversal of the morning’s journey, departing Worms shortly before 2 PM and arriving in Frankfurt around 3 PM.
Since we would be flying home the next day, we had to devote some time to packing. Rather than carrying everything on the plane, we had decided that each of us would check our wheeled bags. We really didn’t care if these bags, with mostly dirty laundry, got misplaced – even for many days – somewhere between Frankfurt and Austin. We took pains to ensure that our carry-on luggage contained the essentials for the next day, plus delicate souvenirs and presents that we didn’t want to entrust to baggage handlers.
We ate dinner in the Marriott brasserie. Both of us ordered a good tenderloin filet and a glass of red wine. After a wonderful last dinner in Europe, we went to the hotel’s internet room and paid for a little time, to check e-mail and confirm our flight for the next morning.
Mon - 28 May - Fly Home
Our flight to DFW was scheduled to depart
Frankfurt at 10:55 AM, so we rose early in order to get ourselves to the airport. We took the tram across the street
from the hotel shortly after 7 AM and changed to a regional train at the Hauptbahnhof. The trip to the airport
from there took only 20 minutes, so we were at our terminal by 8. We had thought this would be plenty of time to
check our baggage, get through security, and then get some breakfast. Well, the first line – to check our baggage
– took an hour. The next line was fairly quick; this one was passport control. The third line – security – took
around a half hour. We had a little time to grab a doughnut, a sandwich, and a cup of coffee at a vendor’s cart
(how elegant), before we stood in line a fourth time to enter the departure lounge.
The plane was full, so we had no opportunity to stretch out. The flight took off more or less on schedule. The flying time back to Dallas-Ft Worth was listed at 10-1/2 hours, and we probably used every bit of that. In DFW we had to claim our baggage, go through passport control, clear customs, re-check our baggage, go through security, and find our flight to Austin. The gate that was supposed to have our Austin plane was now serving a flight to Atlanta, and there were no electronic boards or flight personnel to tell us to which gate our flight was moved. We were tired, and panic and irritation were setting in, but we finally located our gate and boarded more or less on time. There was a delay while we waited for other persons to make their connections, so we took off about 40 minutes late. We arrived in Austin about 5:15 PM, which was after midnight in Frankfurt. All of the stress of the day was wearing on us, but thankfully the Airport Flash was waiting to take us home, and we were back in Georgetown an hour later.
Debby and I were glad that the trip went as smoothly as it did. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Europe on our own once again. However, the trip was a few days too long and our clothes were very stale at the end. We probably could have compressed time here and there and tightened the trip up to 3 weeks rather than almost 4, but on the other hand we had built several slow days into the schedule, which allowed us to decompress once in awhile. If we had not visited Europe before, I don’t think that we would have been as successful as we were. It was my thirteenth trip in 35 years, and Debby’s eighth, not counting the year that we lived in Ireland and made many weekend outings around that country and to the UK. But that was 1978 and we were young. Who knows how much longer it will be possible for us to travel like this? We hope we can go back to the UK next year and to Switzerland one more time, maybe in 2009, with my sister and her husband.
Gary and Debby
Bis zum nächsten Mal !