by - Mike and Denise
Denise and I arrived in FRA at 0700 (right on schedule) from CLT, compliments of USAirways, my employer. We got our checked baggage quickly, hurried to the airport bahnhof, bought two tickets for a total of 83 Euro, and caught a direct ICE at 0754 to Baden-Baden. (Less than 50 minutes from gate arrival to train departure!) We arrived in Baden-Baden at 0915. The bahnhof in Baden-Baden is on the very northwest end of town and the AVIS downtown office is on the extreme southeast end. On other words, they couldn't be further apart! It was a 15.00 Euro cab ride. I'm beginning to re-think Erskine's (HHav) advice of not picking up a rental car at the airport because of a 20% surcharge. The surcharge on my 12-day rental cost of $402 would have been $80. I've exceeded that by spending 98 Euro on a train ride and cab! We could have gotten the train cheaper by buying a ticket before we left home, but then we probably would have missed it!
We came on this trip with no hotel reservations except for our barge cruise which begins in Strasbourg, France on Saturday October 18th. We wanted to stay in town because we have never been here and there will be few "shopping" opportunities on next week's barge cruise. We thought it would be a breeze to find a hotel in downtown Baden-Baden in the middle of October. Not! We were told that "Congress" was in town and that sounds to us like a lot of politicians were in town spending a lot of taxpayer's money. After wasting our day looking for a bed, (well, there were a few satisfying beer/wine stops in there!) and being told about 11 times, "We are full", we decided to drive a short distance out of town, just about 12 minutes west to the small suburb of Neuweier. Here we found a very nice, small, modern hotel called the Heiligenstein Hotel. (www.hotel-heiligenstein.de)
It has an excellent restaurant, wellness center, terrace, and is in the middle of a beautiful hillside neighborhood and surrounded by vineyards. The folks are nice and the food is wonderful. It's a 4-star, so somewhat pricey. (But the free wireless internet helped ease the pain.) The people here truly do live in "heaven on earth." This is a beautiful part of Germany, and the last west-facing hills for grape-growing before reaching the Rhine and French border. We could see the Rhine from our room and the taller buildings in Strasbourg, France. The grapes here are being picked now and the leaves are beginning to turn a beautiful golden color.
We both had a wonderful dinner at the hotel restaurant with Baden wine and a locally brewed pils. We crashed early and fell asleep to a gentle rain...
October 16th - Germany
We woke up late this morning to a heavier rain, one that would last all day. Hopefully we'll get this rain out of the way and have a dry trip from here on. Our breakfast in the hotel restaurant was excellent, with all of the usual German fare, and then some. We were entertained by watching an older German couple take no less that 6 large rolls from the buffet back to their table. We thought they must have someone joining them. They ate them all! I guess us Americans aren't the only ones who over do it at the buffet!
We got going late and took a short drive out to the West, South, then back to the East, making a circle back, into the Schwarzwald before coming back to Baden-Baden for the required shopping fix of Denise.
We stopped short of town, in Geroldsau for lunch at the Landgasthof Hirsch. It sits right on the E500 and is a wonderful place!
This is a typical looking Gasthof but
there is nothing typical about the interior or the food! There are a few upstairs guest rooms which we did not
see but must be beautiful also. There were three different beers on tap and an extensive wine menu from Baden area
wineries. They could not have been nicer to us! Their website is www.landgasthof-hirsch.net.
After a very successful shopping trip into Baden-Baden, (less than 30 Euro) we headed back to Neuweier to our hotel to rest up for dinner. We discovered that the restaurant is closed on Thursdays, which gave us the opportunity to visit another neighborhood Gasthof, the Traube. It's just a short 5 minute walk down the hill, into the center of Neuweier. These folks couldn't have been nicer and more helpful. The food was more about presentation than taste and somewhat pricey. We would probably would not eat there again, unless someone else was buying, but with it's location right on the E500, it's a good stopping-off point and the upstairs guestrooms looked very nice. After a climb back up the hill to our hotel, we figured out why Germans stay in such good shape; those after dinner walks! The rain has stopped, temps have cooled off and it will feel great to sleep with the window open!
October 17th - Germany/France
We woke up this morning to crisp, clear skies. After an overnite cold front passage, temps today should be only 60°F for the high. We took an early morning walk through the vineyards. There are still many grapes on the vines and we cannot believe how many grapes are grown here in Baden. Today we will visit a castle overlooking Baden-Baden before heading west, across the Rhine into France. We don't yet know where we will spend the night.
After another wonderful breakfast, we took to the side roads skipping the castle visit, opting instead for a little side trip hitting many very small towns on the way to the Rhine. We drove through Varnhalt, Steinbach, Bühl and others and saw wonderfully cared-for, picture-perfect villages which were hard to leave. Each one of them had us wanting to stay and drink in what they had to offer.
Most of these towns are located on the west facing slopes of the hills and are the main grape-growing and wine-producing towns of Baden. The white wines from this area are excellent, the reds are respectable. We drove up to the Y-Berg and climbed the tall stone tower. Reaching the top, we were treated to a view of the entire area.
It was chilly up there but very rewarding.
Back behind the wheel we continued our drive west, through small towns and advancing closer and closer to the Rhine.
Anticipating where we might cross into France, we decided to take the Ferry from the German town of Geffern across
to the French town of Drusenheim. The ferry was free and took only about 4 minutes. There were 10 vehicles on the
ferry and it was a very efficient and fast way to go.
I have always had my own ideas concerning the differences between Germany and France. How could two countries, so close to each other, be so different? The ferry crossing was a quick change in cultures, from one country to another, and was a shock for me. The homes were not as nearly well cared-for, the streets were not as clean, the road signs not as user-friendly. There were also no Gasthofs to stop at in the small towns to spend a night or have a wonderful meal. Finding a bed to sleep in at the last-minute, in a small village in France, should NOT be attempted because it ain't gonna' happen! This region of France was a tremendous disappointment from where we had been just a few minutes before. Our first stop was for lunch, (we should have packed lunch this morning before leaving Germany), and we stopped at a dingy-looking place. The only thing on the menu was fried fish and fries, or the buffet. After looking at the buffet, we were afraid to order the fish and left. We ended up stopping in the town of Haguenau and ate at a Turkish place serving doner kebab's. It was cheap and adequate but made us miss Germany even more.
We resumed our drive west, getting on the A4 and exiting at Saverne. We then followed the backroads to Lutzelbourg. This is going to be the getting-off point of our 6-day barge cruise. We want to leave our car here and take the train today to Strasbourg, where the cruise begins. This way, we will have our car waiting in Lutzelbourg when we get off the boat.
I'm a little concerned about the French train, there is only one train in the middle of the day to Strasbourg. My new skepticism of anything French has me concerned that train will even run! If it doesn't, plan "B" is to get in the car, drive to Strasbourg to meet the barge, and train back at the end of the cruise to get the car. It will work, but it's not my desire.
There is only one hotel on Lutzelbourg and it was closed until 5:30PM. It didn't look worth waiting for to open, so we headed north, just 10 minutes to Phalsbourg. This is an old town, once walled, and we ended up in a very nice, expensive hotel-restaurant. It's listed in the book. "Relias & Chateaux", so you know it's expensive, if you're familiar. The owner introduced himself, was very helpful, showed us two beautiful rooms and hooked us. The room we ended up with was much smaller than the one the owner showed us, but it was still great. The saying that our granddaughter likes to repeat, "he's a little shady", seemed to describe him. After looking at the dinner menu, decided not to spend the 30+ Euro for each entree. We walked into town and ate at a Weinstube and had a nice meal with Baden wine and Warsteiner beer from tap. It was much cheaper than our hotel would have been, and we still ate in France!
After the short walk back to our hotel, and after reading just one page of my book, I was off to dreamland...
October 18th - France
Another crystal-clear morning greeted us, although somewhat chilly. We got up and took a nice walk and ended up in a nice, small cafe for coffee and croissants. The gentleman working there was very nice, and all of the people said "bonjoir." This is something that many French seem to do when meeting them on the sidewalk, that most Germans do not. Our plan today is to take the short 10 minute drive to Lutzelbourg, and hope the 1:42PM train to Strasbourg actually runs. If it doesn't, we'll be driving to Strasbourg. Let's keep our fingers crossed!
After packing up, we headed towards Lutzelbourg, first stopping off at a small bakery for two sandwiches, ham and cheese on a baguette, typical French fare. After leaving the bakery, Mike tried to (successfully) get into the wrong car in the parking lot to continue the journey. Good thing the key didn't fit!
We got to Lutzelbourg about an hour before the scheduled train departure time, and it ran right on time! Our arrival in Strasbourg was about 2 hours before we needed to meet the cruise folks, so we stored our bags and went walking around the town. It was a beautiful day, a little cool, and lots of people were about.
We met the cruise group at 4:15PM and boarded a bus for the 45 minute ride to Kraft, just south of Strasbourg, where our 22 passenger barge was docked. We were welcomed aboard with a drink, introduced to the crew,and shown to our room, where we unpacked in the very tight quarters. It was smaller than a Paris hotel room, but we got everything stowed and joined the others for dinner at 7:00PM.
Dinner was excellent, with salmon, rice,
cauliflower, broccoli soufflé, and lots of wine! Our table mates were a very nice couple from Omaha, Nebraska
and we found lots to talk about. We retired around 9:00PM and got ready for our first night's sleep aboard the
126 ft barge called the "Lorraine".
October 19th - France
We woke up this morning to below freezing temperatures. There was ice on the outside railings of the barge. We began cruising early, just before breakfast, and were treated to the wonderful early-morning views along this beautiful canal.
Shortly after breakfast, we left the barge while tied in one of the many locks we will navigate during the trip. We boarded a small bus for a 45 minute trip to Colmar, France, a very old town with lots of history. The designer of our Statue of Liberty was from this town. There is a smaller replica of the statue in one of the town's round-abouts.
We walked through Colmar with our guide who pointed out many interesting sights. We had lunch at a typical restaurant and then spent some free time walking around. We then bussed to the wine town of Riquewihr, which is truly a gem. It really reminded me of Rüdesheim on the Rhine in Germany. This town truly revolves around the production of Alsace wines. There are many shops selling wine, fois gras, saucisson, and other specialties of the area. This is just one of many towns in this area that are well worth spending time at. They are the towns located on the "La Route du Vin", the French wine route. These towns string along the Alsace region, and all of them revolve around the production of the area wines. We have visited this area in the past, driven this route, and stayed in some of these small towns. It makes a wonderful trip! The afternoon temperature made it to about 60 degrees today.
We reboarded the bus and rode through a few more similar towns before heading back to the barge which was now docked in downtown Strasbourg.
October 20th - France
I think we are finally back on our sleeping schedule. We woke up at 6AM and took a 45 minute walk through Strasbourg. We found a Herald-Tribune and read about how much money we were loosing in the stock market. Somehow it was less painful when away on vacation. Another nice breakfast was enjoyed while we cruised along the canal through Strasbourg. Some of our shipmates walked along the canal ahead of the barge, others took the bikes for rides. It's supposed to be clear today and 70°F.
We will have lunch aboard then take a tour of the city of Strasbourg with our guide. We will then have free time until dinnertime on board at 7PM.
...Oh well, as it turns out, there is no free time before dinner. We arrived back at the barge just 10 minutes before our dinner time of 7PM. We had a full afternoon in Strasbourg, our guide was full of very interesting (sometimes too interesting) facts about the historic landmarks in Strasbourg. The Cathedral there is a real sight to see and quite impressive. Strasbourg is a beautiful city, especially the old town center and is beautifully maintained. There would be good reason to spend at least a day here on a future trip.
After lunch, we all decided to either walk along the canal or take one of the 11 bikes that were carried aboard the barge. It is a wonderful way to spend the day, walking/riding between small towns in France, stopping for a beer or wine. It is a very easy to keep up with the barge which only moves at about 5 MPH. It's almost always in sight or catching up to you in a few minutes.
We are docked directly in the town of
Saverne, in front of a beautiful palace. Most of the group walk into town and shop for the things they haven't
seen for a few days. There was a very nice chocolate shop that seemed to be popular with the crew as well.
Dinner tonight was excellent, once again. After dinner, I entertained some of our shipmates and crew with country music from my computer playlist. A few of them enjoyed it, others not so much. Oh well, the whole world cannot be as sophisticated as us!
October 22nd - France
Today we left Saverne and began the journey into the Lorraine region, a very beautiful area of France. The terrain rises here, and the locks are closer together now. There are several locks that have to be navigated on these canal cruises. Most are operated by the crew of the barge and are only a few feet change in elevation. It takes just a few minutes to go through each, and this is where passengers either get off or on the barge. The locks on this cruise were, on average 2km apart, some less, some more.
We arrived back at the barge, which was now docked for the day, just two locks from the small town of Lutzelbourg, France. Denise wanted to walk, and I needed a beer fix. We knew the bar in town had two different pils on tap, so we left for our respective exercises. It was probably only a 1½ mile walk, and was just barely raining. There were many beautiful scenes to be captured with the camera.
October 23rd - France
We awoke to a fogged-in canal, but we could tell it would clear off.
After breakfast, we bussed into Saverne to a chateau (castle) which was high on a hill overlooking the entire area. It had a restaurant/beergarden at the top and was worth the ride. (For the biergarten, of course)
The Captain is French, speaks little English,
and was raised in a boating family. The first mate is French, also a photographer, speaks some English, has many
other duties including: assisting the captain, waiter, helping with bikes, etc. The cook is French, speaks no English
and is excellent. There are 4 other ladies who guide tours, serve food, tend the small bar, clean rooms, and who
knows what else? The seven crewmembers all work together to get everything done and they do a great job.
Before dinner, Denise, Greg, and I took a walk into Lutzelbourg and stopped off at the "Meteor Bar". (We've become locals) We ran into the Captain, Terry the mate, and the tour guide. We had a few drinks with them, but because it was almost dinner time, we all had to get back to the barge after only two drinks!
The dinner is wonderful. The table is beautifully set, all of the crew is there toasting, and the ship's captain is pouring the wine! The food is fabulous and we all end up in the salon after dinner talking, drinking, and thinking about packing up for our departure tomorrow. Tonight will be our last night on the barge. We are looking forward to sleeping in a larger bed tomorrow night!
October 24th - France/Germany
We say our goodbyes to all of our new friends before leaving the barge. We have really met some nice folks, from all over the world. This has been a great experience, but one that will probably stay a memory. We enjoyed this cruise, but probably will not be doing it again. There are other rocks to turn over, other things to discover that are new to us.
Now, as we load up the car, THE RACE IS ON!!!!!!!!!! How quick can we get back to Deutschland? I need a pils and a schnitzel and now! So we hit the Autostrasse and head east at 170 km/hr. It doesn't take long and we breath a sigh of relief as we cross the Rhine at Karlsruhe. It's only then that we feel we can slow down again. We hit the yellow roads and start to enjoy once again the country we miss so much when we are not there. Where to? Who cares! We have no plans for tonight, we only have to be in Darmstadt on Saturday night to have dinner with some friends before flying home on Sunday, the 26th.
So we just put the map away and enjoy the scenery. It's only 10AM, but that schnitzel is calling. We end up driving back to the southwest, paralleling the Rhine. It was almost lunch time and we wandered into a marvelous little town, Sasbachwalden. It's just east of Achern and it's a gem! It's just the size place we like to stay, not too crowded or too large, but the streets don't roll up at night either. We decided not to stay but..... it's lunch time and my "bier-low-level" light is on! We find a cute little place, on the main street, and Paulaner on the sign. 'Nuff said?
We arrived at Zur Blume around 5PM, unpacked,
hit the sauna, steamroom, and shower and got ready to enjoy some of the best food we ever got in Germany. Oh yes,
the shower! What a treat, especially after a week on the barge! The water comes out at least eight places, hitting
your body in places you didn't know you had! Then it was off to sleep, in a double bed!
October 25th - Germany
We wake up to another beautiful day and take a long walk around Schnellingen, the actual village that Zur Blume is located in, just across the river from Haslach. The homes in Germany always impress us. The yards are usually not large, but the space is used so productively! They all have vegetable gardens, fruit trees, flowers, water collection systems, solar panels, etc. They waste nothing and personally, I have tried to incorporate much of what I have seen there. During our walk, we decide to come back in May 2009 for a week. We will alternate daily between biking, hiking, and touring small towns of the Schwarzwald. For us, this is an excellent base for our day trips, and we love the people, the food and the bier here at Zur Blume. The Moser family are wonderful hosts, and their place is first class, without the high prices. We can't wait, and hope that our good friends, Erskine and his wife Peg can join us.
After a filling breakfast, we hit the Autobahn and head north to Darmstadt. We have a wonderful evening with our friends in their home. They have so much food we cannot even keep track of it all. Cheeses, olives, salad, lamb, chicken, schwein, beef, who's going to eat it all? It took all night, but we did.
October 26th - Germany
Well, today we fly home and we arrive at FRA an hour before we planned. Yes, they changed to standard time last night, and nobody told us! We could have slept another hour, and after last night... that would have been nice.
So, fill up the rental car, check in,
head for the gate, and get on the plane last. (oh well, the price is right and we are glad to even get a seat on
this very full flight, because we already had plans on what we would do if there was not a seat available. You
see, after 30 years as an airline employee, and not getting on hundreds of flights, we always have a plan "B".
Secretly, I was wishing for another day in Germany...