The Journey Begins...Prelude
Most everyone has their own unique way of planning and preparation for a vacation. For some it's a matter of deciding which tour bus company to sign up with, for others it's the star rating and city location of the hotels along the way, and somewhere in there falls the independent traveler.
My planning usually begins in February or March as I start the search for the best airfare. We are all aware of the dozens of sites offering bargains galore and I am no different. I have searched them all, including the airlines direct.
My requirements are simple...a direct flight from DFW at an affordable price (anything under $1000), preferably on Lufthansa as I have found their service to be among the best...and I have flown on a lot of International airlines for both business and pleasure. Sure there are some horror stories but that's the case with any carrier sooner or later. Maybe I'm just lucky. I also don't have to deal with the hassle of changing airlines or planes somewhere along the way just to save a hundred bucks.
For the past 5 years I have invariably ended up going with TISS (now Flights.com) as they have always come through with fares in the $600 - $700 range (before taxes of course) for the September - October timeframe, which is when I travel. The peak season crowds have come home...the weather is just starting to turn fallish...and in many cases, depending on where you stay, prices may actually drop off a little. Since I stay mostly at Bauernhöfe I have never ran into the problem of different price levels depending on the time of year, but for those looking to stay in hotels in the cities I know this has sometimes been the case.
Next comes the car rental, which these days has gotten completely crazy IMHO. Whatever happened to the good old days when you could get a deal for two weeks for $100 - $200? I once got a deal with Kemwel for a compact for $49 a week. Oh well what are you gonna do?
Next comes the fun part as I start the search for just the right farm in the general areas I have already mapped out for the trip. That usually includes the Odenwald - Bavaria - Black Forest - the Rhine - and for the first time this year, the Mosel. You could spend a lifetime returning to these areas and never have to repeat yourself on places to stay and things to do, and so for me it never gets old.
Usually, by April or May I am done with all the reservations and all that is left is the anticipation of the buildup to departure day, which this year was Thursday September 19.
Checklist complete...Airfare $699...Car through Gemutleichkeit $390...farms, weingut, pension confirmed in the euro 15 - 30 range. We are good to go.
And so with that let's get the show on the road :0)
Day 1 ~ "This is no way to start a parade"
Thursday September 19 - Departure day has finally arrived after another long year of planning. Rather than burn up an extra vacation day I always go into the office for a few hours just to clean up last minute details, leave an out of office message on my e-mail and voice mail, and then bug out for the airport around noon.
Arriving at DFW a good three hours before departure (o.k. so I'm not the last minute type who arrives just as they are closing the plane doors) I am pleasantly surprised I am able to stroll right up to the ticket counter as there is no one else there. In two minutes I am done, and after clearing a tight security check I head over to the gate area. Unlike last year, just after 9/11, the whole place looked like a fortress with lines out to the street, but this time it goes without a hitch.
I grab a table in the lounge next to the gate area and start sipping on a cold one as I start to shift gears into the vacation mode. Work is the last thing on my mind as I have visions of that first schnitzel and the upcoming adventures ahead.
Takeoff time is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and around 2:00 the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt arrives about a half hour late due to weather. No big deal as I know they can make it up. They usually allow about 90 minutes turn time, and right on cue the ground crew kicks into action. Unload the plane...restock the kitchen...check the oil....kick the tires...clean the windshield...and at 3:00 we start boarding and I am soon seated comfortably in seat 20A and ready to go.
Unfortunately, just because Lufthansa maintains its schedules
doesn't necessarily mean this applies to the airport. Although we pull away from the gate and start to taxi out
we are soon blessed with an announcement from the pilot that due to tightened security in the air corridors within
a three state area, there will be about a ten minute gap between planes taking off. Huh!! Since we are about number
20 in line....well, you can do the math. Suffice to say we didn't get off the ground until almost 5:30 which ultimately
resulted in a late arrival in Frankfurt.
Despite the late departure the rest of the flight is uneventful. Shortly after takeoff I am nursing a couple of biers and enjoying the "oldies but goodies" channel on the headphones. The meal is served and the movie kicks in as everyone settles down for the night. Unable to sleep, I can only fidget in my seat for the next 10 hours, but knowing my suffering will be rewarded when I collapse into that comfortable bed the first night helps dull the pain.
After a very short night the sun starts to come up and out the window I have a good view as we cross over Ireland heading toward England and the Channel. About 9:00 the pilot starts his descent , and within a few minutes we are touching down in Frankfurt to a relatively clear day and pleasant temperatures...halleluyah brother :0).
Everyone files out the door as the unloading process begins. I breeze through passport control and head over to the baggage claim. The carousel starts just as I arrive, and in about ten minutes my bag is on the cart and we are heading over to Avis. Another smooth checkin and I am quickly on the elevator up to the second level where a brand new Mercedes A-class "Smart Car" is waiting for me in parking slot #1. This is the 4 passenger version, but as I load up I quickly discover there is no way two or more people could travel in this thing for two weeks. My bag alone takes up the whole trunk, and the carryon and camera bag hog the backseat. Still....it's a pretty cool car and should get great mileage even though it's not a diesel.
I start the usual walkaround to inspect for nicks, dings, etc. when it suddenly dawns on me that somebody forgot to put hubcaps on the driver's side. The other side is fine. What's the deal? I call down to the desk to report the problem and they send a guy up to see what can be done. Unfortunately, there are no other cars available and they don't carry spare parts, so the best I can do is to get it noted on the rental agreement and off I go.
Clearing the airport I am quickly on the A5 toward Heidelberg running with the big boys. About 20km from the airport I pull into the Grafenhausen rest stop and head for the cafeteria where I order up a pot of that great german coffee to get me kickstarted for the drive ahead. Shortly after 10:00 I am off toward the Rothenburg area for my first stop. I figure it should be about a two hour drive. Yeah....right!
I am soon on the A6 heading East and am sailing comfortably along when all of a sudden,
yep you guessed it, a major Stau. This one stretches as far as I can see both in front and in back. Great...this
one must be a doozie. For the next half hour it is creepy crawly until finally I can see that three lanes are merging
into one due to construction work. Just your basic tax dollars at work I guess. Welcome to Germany.
I continue along for the next hour or so, and after passing the Crailsheim exit I am glad I only have a short distance until I come to the junction of the A6 and A7. I need to pick up the A7 for about 10km over to the B25, and from there on over to the Rothenburg area. All goes well until suddenly another Stau pops up. :0(. The entire autobahn is at a standstill for this one. Suddenly, the sound of sirens breaks loose and in my rearview mirror I see the flashing lights of the police and an ambulance coming down the middle lane forcing cars to part like the Red Sea.
Finally, the traffic starts to creep along which means they must have cleared at least one of the lanes. Another half hour delay, but my turn comes to move forward and I soon see the cause of the problem. Four cars and a semi have come together in one holy mess. Car parts are scattered all over the place, and the ambulance crew is off on the side of the road tending to somebody while the cops direct traffic. Ouch...that can ruin your whole day.
It is now about 1:00 and what I thought would be about a two hour drive is now closer to four. Thankfully, I am just near the exit to the B25 so I manage to clear the traffic and am soon making my way over to the small village of Diebach, about 4km from Rothenburg. I have reservations at the Bauernhof "Mühlbuck" run by the Family Bückel. After having to stop and ask some farmer for directions (this is one of those places with no street numbers) I finally find the place and pull into what turns out to be a large dairy farm on the outskirts of town.
- - -
Frau Bückel is expecting me and greets
me with a welcome to Germany e-mail from Ben, who also informs me the Internet Cafe in Rothenburg is no more and
to use the Rotor Hahn. I soon have the car unloaded and the Frau takes me to the Aufenthaltsraum where she draws
up a large glass of excellent "Tucher" bier. It feels great to plop down and take a load off and relish
the fact this vacation is officially underway.
After unwinding for a couple of hours I hop in the car for the short drive to Rothenburg. Parking in the P4 lot next to the Zum Rappen I stroll over to the Galentor and climb the steps and start to walk the wall, always a favorite pastime.
Frau Bückel is expecting me and greets me with a welcome to Germany e-mail from Ben, who also informs me the Internet Cafe in Rothenburg is no more and to use the Rotor Hahn. I soon have the car unloaded and the Frau takes me to the Aufenthaltsraum where she draws up a large glass of excellent "Tucher" bier. It feels great to plop down and take a load off and relish the fact this vacation is officially underway.
It is now late afternoon and I know that the crowds will
soon fade away as quickly as they arrived. I have nothing on the agenda for today other than enjoy a relaxing stroll
through this bit of medieval history, trying to imagine what it must have been like back then as a citizen trying
to hold off the mongrel hordes, and just trying to survive to the ripe old age of 30. How quickly a year passes.
It seems like I was just here a few weeks ago.
Around 5:00 I end up at the Marktplatz near the Zum Greifen, a favorite hangout in times past, and head over to the side street which leads to the Rodertor. A few feet up on the left is the ever reliable imbiss "Albig", run by the same family for as long as I can remember. I am soon chowing down on a delicious halb haunchen mit pommes and a large bier vomfass. Total bill comes to € 6.
Contentedly stuffed, I head over to the garden area overlooking
the Detwang valley and come upon a minstrel playing some kind of flute while passersby throw coins on the small
table he has set up. He has probably been there all day and will no doubt be there again tomorrow. The sun is starting
to go down over the valley and the lights of the shops are coming on. It is nearing 7:00 and the crowds have all
I head back towards the carpark by way of a couple of souvenir shops, and as I am starting to feel the effects of being up some 30+ hours I decide to call it a day. The temperature is dropping sharply and I look forward to diving under those duvets. As I head back to the farm with the lights on a full moon is just coming up in the clear night skies, casting a bright glow over the meadows surrounding the little town of Diebach.
It has been a long first day, but we are officially underway and I am looking forward to the next two weeks.
Day 2 ~ " R&R in Rothenburg"
The temperatures dropped sharply during the night. I of course was buried deep under the duvets, with the window open to boot (love it after the Texas heat of a few days ago).
The only problem was I woke up several times during the night and only ended up getting about 3 or 4 hours sack time. Not quite enough to wipe away the jetlag , but we will go with it anyway. I awoke to a clear, frosty morning, with dew on the surrounding fields.
My first craving is for some of that eye opening coffee, but Frühstuck is still a couple of hours away, so I start my usual routine. Out for a morning stroll around the farm to enjoy what looks to be a beautiful day. Herr Bückel has already gotten his day started by milking the cows and I pause to say hello, and catch a good wiff of the usual farm "aromas" which some folks might find a bit too much this early in the morning :0).
The surrounding countryside is quiet as can be, and as
there are no other close neighbors there is no hustle and bustle to contend with. The morning chill quickly gets
the blood pumping and I can hear Frau Bückel starting the breakfast preparations. Oh man....my mouth is watering
for that first German Frühstuck and I am soon to not to be disappointed.
Around 8:00 I stroll into the Frühstuck room just as the Frau is setting up the table. A big pot of coffee, plate of cold cuts and cheeses, basket of rolls, and oh yes....can't forget the butter. I probably eat more of this stuff on a two week trip than I eat in two years at home, but boy it sure adds to the flavor. As an added treat, I also get one of those perfectly cooked softboiled eggs, and I am soon digging in like a champ.
After a bit of conversation with the Frau regarding my
plans for the day, and another 3 or 4 cups of coffee, I am now ready to get the day underway. This will be a fairly
light day (purposely planned that way...save the energy for later on down the road) and I crank up the Merc and
off we go.
Since I get a kick out of outdoor farm museums, and based on a recommendation from Ben, I decided to head over to Bad Windsheim, on the B470 not far from Rothenburg, to check out theirs. Arriving promptly at 9:00 I figured I would be one of the first to arrive. Not so, the lot is already half full of cars, and to add to that I count six schoolbuses unloading what must be a field trip of about 100 or so students. Uh oh...bad timing. But, no big deal. I have some of Ben's pics from his visit, and besides I still have the one in Gutach (my favorite) on the agenda a few days hence.
It's a great day for a drive in the country so I head back the way I had come intending to cruise the backroads over to Rothenburg. Entering the small town of Illesheim I am surprised to see a sign indicating a U.S. Military Installation nearby. Curiosity gets the best of me so I head over to see what is there (pause at this point...I had no idea this was where Pat and Bud were stationed back in the 70's until her recent posting, indicating she was actually sending e-mails from there. Small world). The sign indicates the place is called "Storck Barracks" and I must say that I was surprised at it's small size. Used to be that U.S. installations in Germany were pretty large affairs, but this one seems to be trying to be inconspicuous (Hmmm..wonder what they've got to hide?) The thing that caught my attention was the sand bagged machine gun bunkers manned by guards armed to the teeth...M16's, helmets, flak jackets, the whole nine yards. Ah, for the good old days :0).
Continuing on into Rothenburg I arrive around 10:00 and manage to grab a vacant spot in the P4 lot. First order of the day is to get to the Rotor Hahn and check out the 'puter facilities. I take the backstreets over to the Marktplatz and sure enough, the crowds are out in force. Street vendors are just setting up their stalls and ready for some serious wheeling and dealing I would bet.
- - - -
The Rotor Hahn is empty as I walk into the main lobby,
and a lady at the desk points me to the large parlor like backroom where four terminals are set up (€ 3 for a half
hour), so I grab #4 and proceed to hook up with the world back home. I count over 60 messages (whoa... save them
for later) which I pass over in order to check on a couple from Ben, and to send off a few of my own.
Mission accomplished, it is back on the street for some window shopping down around the Plönlein, then back up the hill to the square. The place is packed and it is easy to see why. At 11:00 sharp the Meistertrunk does its thing and for the next few minutes we are all entertained (wish I could chug that much wine at one time :0). The show soon ends amid a rousing round of applause.
As the crowds disperse I figure it's time for the first
bier of the day, and what better place to take a break but at the Zum Greifen. There are many fond memories of
stays here in past years and I am soon sipping on a big foaming mug of "Tucher" and glad to have such
great weather to kick this trip off properly.
After a relaxing break, the rest of the afternoon is spent strolling the back streets, poking into old buildings, and a couple of souvenir stops for cards and the usual stuff. After a few hours of this activity I decide it is time for another bier (is there a pattern here?) and I amble over to my favorite Imbiss. I take up a position at one of the outdoor tables and proceed to bask in the sunshine, watching the crowds stroll by,while downing another large Tucher. Now this is my idea of a vacation. :0)
By late afternoon I am pretty well Rothenburg'ed out,
and since I have a very early start in the morning for points South I decide to call it a day and head back to
the farm. After packing my stuff up for an early departure I stroll downstairs to the outdoor biergarden, which
is another great feature of the Mühlbuck, and...yep, you guessed it, another Tucher bitte!
It has truly been a great couple of days in this area but it is now time to get serious about the rest of the itinerary. Tomorrow I have a long drive to Berchtesgaden and I definitely need more than 3 hours sleep. I had stopped on the way back to the farm to pick up some "supplies", wurst, rolls, Thomy senf, and just for good measure a nice bottle of "Rotwein". Hey...I don't drink bier all the time :0). I also have along PatBee's new book "Murder in the Messhall" (great stuff Pat...keep 'em coming") and "Men in Black 2". After all, you can't expect a TV everyplace along the way.
Deciding to call it a night I tell Frau Bückel to forego the breakfast in the morning as I will be up at 0-dark early and on the road. I thought she said something like "o.k. but how about some coffee in the room" which I readily agreed to.
Time for a nice hot shower, and then take a load off while catching up on my daily journal. Around 10 p.m. it is time for lights out, and once again I snuggle under those great covers as the chilly evening air creeps into the room and I surrender to the rack monster..
Day 3 ~ "Bummer in Berchtesgaden"
After a pleasant two days at a slow pace it is now time to kick it in gear and move on. It is still dark at 6 a.m. as I get ready to go downstairs and load up the car. I open the door to the dark hallway and almost trip over something just outside the door. What the ... !!.
It turns out that what Frau Bückel had actually said the night before was that she would bring breakfast up to the room. What a surprise...there is a small table with a serving tray all laid out. Pot of coffee...cold cuts....bread and butter...now that's what I call a great hostess. :0)
I quickly make short work of the coffee, and the caffeine fix should make the long drive a little more tolerable. I left a note of thanks on the tray and crept down the stairs out into the chilly night air. Making my way back through the darkened village of Diebach I am soon on the B25 heading South.
It is a quiet Sunday morning as I drive along in the dark. The first rays of daylight are just starting to creep up on the horizon as I pass through Feuchtwangen. Coming into Dinkelsbühl there is hardly any activity on the streets. I do however, spot a couple of bakeries open and preparing for the morning rush for freshly baked bread as the locals begin their day.
By the time I get to Nördlingen it is now full daylight
and I observe the church goers walking the streets into the old walled city as they make their way to morning services.
The local McDonald's is doing a booming business from the looks of the parking lot.
The drive toward Augsburg to pick up the A8 to Munich is smooth and uneventful as the traffic is very sparse this time of day. I spot an open Esso station, and as I am just under a quarter of a tank I decide to make my first pit stop of the trip. A few minutes and 36 liters later (€ 1.03 per), I am back on the road and and in short order am exiting onto the Autobahn.
Traffic apparently doesn't care if it is a Sunday or not, and I am feeling like I am in the Indy 500, even though I hug the slow lane all the way. It is only about 50km to Munich and the plan is to skirt the city on the A99. All goes well for a few miles until suddenly...yep, a major stau.
All lanes are at a standstill and I can only wonder what the cause of this one is. As we creep along the far left and the middle lanes start to merge into mine. Up ahead I see the flashing blue lights of the polizei, and an ambulance. Uh oh... this one appears bad. A motorcycle lies demolished in the left lane and a couple of cars are all banged up. Looks like the cyclist must have gotten clipped at a high rate of speed as he has been thrown over a distance of several feet. This looks like one of those you don't walk away from.
Just outside Dachau I pick up the A99 and follow the signs to Salzburg as I circle the city. In the distance I can see the twin towers of the "Dom" and I know that in just a couple of hours the bier tents at the 'Fest will be open for business, but no time to squeeze in a visit this trip. With fond memories I recall last year's meeting with Toooobah and Bob in Heidelberg, as we did put away a few 'eine mass' that night. :0)
I am soon back on the A8 toward Chiemsee and the weather is starting to look a little questionable. By the time I reach the end of the lake, and the cutoff to Berchtesgaden, it is starting to rain. :0( The drive into B'gaden goes slowly as I encounter lots of traffic heading that way. At 11:00 I finally pull into town by the Bahnhof after a long four hour drive.
I had previously made reservations at a farm near the
Königssee, however I had left the directions at home (brilliant move!) so I figured I would just stop at the
T.I. office and get a map and directions. There are only a couple of cars in the parking lot so I breeze into the
office and ask the lady for help. I give her the name of the farm and what I think is the general location. She
pulls out a large book which turns out to contain listings of hotels, pensions, private zimmers, farms, etc., and
For some reason the farm I have chosen doesn't register with her. Hmmm...in a small town like this I would think everybody knew everybody. She does however, have a listing for a family of the same name that she thinks might be the place. Fine I say, let's give it a shot. Following the marked up map I am soon winding through a residential area (not a good sign) and I spot the place. This is definitely not a farm. But since I am here may as well check it out. I knock on the front door and proceed to state my case. Turns out this is not even close. Oh well, we tried.
I decide to wing it and just try cold calling to see if something near the lake turns up. After trying a few places that turned out to be full I decided not to waste part of the day knocking on doors, so I head over to a part of town I am familiar with. The road that leads to the Saltmine is dotted with pensions and Ferienwohnungs and I spot one that looks like a possibility. In short order I am checking into the "Gasthaus Deml".
- - -
Surprisingly I am given a small apartment complete with breakfast nook, living room with color TV, nice DZ, and even a balcony, all for only € 30. Not bad.
It is now mid-afternoon and the skies are getting really dark. It looks like we are in for it. Heading up the hill to the center of town, I park in the lot at the far end of the main street near some souvenir shops. Just as I get out of the car it starts to rain. The view back down the valley towards the Bahnhof shows low hanging clouds moving in.
The streets are crowded despite the weather and the fact that none of the shops are open. The breakfast has long since worn off and I head over to the imbiss on the main drag to take a break from the rain. I am soon scarfing down a large plate of pommes and a couple of bratwursts, along with the mandatory bier. Just your basic comfort food on a dreary day. :0)
It appears that we won't get much done this day so the plan is to just relax and hope for a break tomorrow. Back in the car and down the hill I head over to check out the Saltworks. Surprisingly, there is a line waiting to get in despite having to stand out in the rain. It is really starting to come down now.
Deciding to call it a day I head back to the cozy digs of the Deml to unpack and settle in. The long drive, combined with a couple of biers and the weather, soon have me in a most relaxing mood and I figure to lay down for a few minutes just to "rest my eyes". A couple of hours later I wake up and it is pitch dark. The window to the balcony is open and a cold breeze has the room quite chilly. There is a blowing rain with occasional flashes of lightning and there is no way I am going back out in this mess.
This day is done. Let's hope for a break tomorrow.
~ Part 2 ~