Wednesday, July 12, 2006

After leaving Dinkelsbuel, we headed towards Rothenburg ob der Tauber where we had reserved a room in case the Bates B&B didn’t work out. On the way there, we were taking the back roads and happened upon Schillingfurist, which is on the Romantic Road and surrounded by a nature park.

We stopped in at the small tourist office on the off chance we could find a nicer place to stay that was non-smoking. The women at the tourist office told us she knew of just the place and called the owner. At first the owner, who only spoke German, didn’t want to rent to us because of the language barrier. We said it didn’t matter to us, and she agreed to take us in. We drove a short distance to the house and found Gunter and Christine Rohmer standing in the street in front of their home with an English speaking neighbor. The place was huge covering the entire second floor of the home. Our room is really one big room with the bedroom in one corner, living room in the center (with recliner), and the other end the dining area and kitchen. This is by far the largest place we’ve had, and ranks right up there with the best. We agreed upon 42 Euro including breakfast. Our hosts couldn’t have been nicer, and although we didn’t speak each other’s language, we still managed to communicate.

Each morning, Christine set out a spread fit for a king and queen. We could never eat it all, but each of the four mornings we were there, she would set the table up with copious amounts of bread, meat, cheese, fruit, yogurt, butter, jams and of course juice and coffee. Both Christine and Gunter made us feel comfortable in their home. One night we took the Night Watchman tour in Rothenburg and we returned late, around 10:30. I guess they thought we suffered some misfortune as they were both waiting up worrying about us. We showed them the brochure from the tour and they were obviously relieved that we were ok. One afternoon when we returned for the day, we were met at the door and they were holding two bottles of the local wine and two bottles of beer for us.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a must see in Germany. Of course it is a must see for everyone else too. We are lucky to be traveling in the spring as we are told it gets really crowded in the summer with all the tourists. The walled city, with its museums and historic sites could take several days if you want to see everything. For a unique view of the city, you can walk on top of the wall most of the way around the old part of town.

If you are ever in Rothenburg, the Walk of the Night Watchman tour is a must. It is held every evening at 8:00 and is in English. This was by and large the best tour we took on our entire trip. You, and about 50 other tourist, walk with the watchman on his rounds as he takes you back in time to the beginnings of Rothenburg and returns you to the present day. The watchman was informative, very knowledgeable and funny. A must see!

Another must see, at least for me, was the criminal/torture museum. It had on display many of the instruments of torture used to obtain a confession from a suspected wrongdoer. Seems to me that they were pretty civilized because a confession reached through torture could not be used against the suspect unless there was other evidence pointing to his guilt. Works for me.

May 22nd and we are in Oberammergau at the foot of the Alps. This German town is know for its’ woodcarvers. The work they do on small figures is unbelievable and so is the price to buy something. Very beautiful setting with the snow covered Alps in the background and the murals painted on almost all of the buildings, including private homes. We have found a very nice B&B in town with the help of the tourist office. Our host, Christel Unruh and her husband Wolfgang, speak very good English and are both a wealth of information about the local area. We have rented their “suite” for a week. Bedroom, bathroom and a small living room with couch and TV.

We have had rain off and on for the past week, and Oberammergau is no exception. The mornings have been cold, around 48 degrees, so its sweater time. We visited two of Mad King Ludwig’s castles, which are a short drive from our base. The first, Neuschwanstien, is the castle Disney copied for its’ castle in Disneyland. The Second, Linderhof is much smaller but very ornate. All the rooms except for one were done in gold leaf. The exception was done in silver.

After a hard day of castle hopping, we ended up in a restaurant down the street from our B&B. The owner is a magician and entertains the guests with tricks. He speaks excellent English and it turns out he worked at Sea World in San Diego in the early 80’s. The food was great and I was able to try some German staples such as pigs knuckle. Not too bad.

Not far from Oberammergau, is the small town of Rottenbuch. The 900 year old abbey built by Augustinian Monks has to be admired. We visited many churches and cathedrals because they are so beautiful and full of great works of art. This one in Rottenbuch was the most elaborate with it’s’ painted stucco decorations on the ceilings and walls. What was truly amazing to me was something so grand would be located in such a small town, perhaps a population of 500. There were many small town churches we visited built 300 to 600 years ago that were beyond description with their religious icons and art.

While in Oberammergau, we managed to get in a couple of hikes in the mountains between rain showers. We took the cable gondola to the top of the local mountain and then hiked back to town. Very scenic and green countryside.

Next stop Austria.

May 29th. On our way out of Germany, we stopped to do laundry at a cost of 5 Euros a load. (About $6.50). There was a McDonald’s down the street, so as we were leaving we stopped for a soda with ice. Ice is a rarity in Europe. If you ask for it in a drink, you might get 2 cubes if you’re lucky. They just don’t serve it here and McDonald’s is about the only place you can get it in a cold drink like we are used to.

Our drive to Austria, near Salzburg, was via the autobahn. It is said the German autobahns are the best freeways in the world. It is also said if there is a pothole, they are fixing it right away. We discovered they were always fixing something on the autobahn, causing huge traffic jams. This appeared to us to be the norm. Except for the tolls, the French auto routes were far superior to the German autobahn.

Our B&B in Austria is in the town of St.Gilgen, which is situated on am Wolfgangsee (a lake) in the Salzkammergut district. This is an area in the Austrian Alps with numerous lakes. In the summertime it is a favorite vacation area for many Europeans. Our B&B sits above the town and from our balcony you have a view of the lake and town below.

It continues to rain with snow at the higher elevations, but we tried to keep up the pace and see what ever we could. We were disappointed that we were not able to do more hiking.

We toured the oldest salt mine in the world, so they say, in the small town of Hallsatt. To get to the mine, you ride a funicular up the mountain, and then walk about a kilometer in the rain to the mine entrance. Everyone has to put on coveralls before entering the mine. A very informative tour that included several slides that you slid down to lower levels. At tours end, a mine train ride back to the outside.

The town of Hallstatt itself is very picturesque, situated on a lake on a narrow strip of land between the waters edge and cliff face. Land is at such a premium that once buried in the church cemetery you are only allowed to stay for 12 years. You are then dug up to make room for the next occupant.

You might be able to tell by the photograph that it is still raining. We spent part of a day in Salzburg, but with the temperatures high 30’s and constant rain we’ve been confined to the car or short sojourns under an umbrella.

At lunch in Salzburg we were sitting next to three collage students from Tennessee. They told us they were traveling with a group of about 60 students and a professor, who each year takes a group of students to Europe. By the way they were ordering from the menu and sharing their food, it was obvious that they were on a tighter budget than we were. So we did our good deed for the day, well actually for the entire trip, and bought them lunch. They were very appreciative and we were happy for the chance to help them out.

We have decided to head back to France, where according to the weather report it is not raining. We have 10 days left before we fly home and we would really like to get out of the car and see more sites on foot. We decided to head for Colmar, France in the Alsace region, an area known for its wine production. Also Rick Steve’s in his book, Europe Through the Back Door, describes Colmar as one of his favorites. The drive there took us through the Austrian Alps. Very beautiful, but to keep from traversing the mountain passes in the snow, and it was snowing on this the 1st of June, the road passes through many tunnels, the longest of which was 14 kilometers long.

After one night in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the home of the Zeppelin Airships, we arrived in Colmar. The old center part of the city if full of timbered buildings, with narrow cobbled streets and clear skies overhead.

The tourist office would only provide us a list of B&B’s, the first time one would not actually make the calls and find us a place to stay. The first one we found we stayed only one night. It was clean, but was lacking in any amenities, such as a chair, or heat. We were planning on staying for a week and wanted something a little more comfortable. The next day we found the perfect place about 30 kilometers south of Colmar. It was actually an apartment in the upstairs of a home in the small town of Lautenbach-Zell. The price, a very reasonable 49 Euros. We had a full kitchen, living/dining area, separate bath and of course a bedroom. Each morning, breakfast was left just outside the door promptly at 8:00.

This is the downtown area of our little village and the yellow building is the only restaurant in town. We decided to go local and have dinner with the natives. Turns out they were not all native. Our Willie Nelson look-alike waiter with ponytail and all was from England, but has been living here for the past 25 years. We asked him why he moved from England, and he just shrugged. We never did get an answer. We asked Willie what was on for dinner, and he told us it was some kind of fowl, perhaps turkey. When the meal arrived, it was only fowl if pigs could fly. The pork was delicious so it didn’t really matter. There was only one other family eating when we arrived, but about halfway through our meal a large group of Italians arrived. There was much kissing of cheeks and hugging going on between the Italians and the French owners and between more Italians who kept coming. Willie explained that it was festival weekend in the village and they Italians come every year. When we asked what the festival celebrated, Willie just shrugged.

The next day we visited the festival where there were singers singing and dancers dancing. We spied some good looking pastries at one of the booths and tried to buy a couple. We were told we had to purchase a ticket from the ticket table first and use the ticket to purchase the pastry. So we took two steps to our right and purchased the tickets. We then traveled two steps back to the pastry lady and gave her the tickets in exchange for the pastries. Never did figure out what they were celebrating, but it seemed like everyone was having a good time.

We like this wine growing region so much, we’ve decided to stay here until it’s time to go home. We just need one day to drive to Lyon to catch our flight, so a week in Alsace, without rain is a welcome respite.

June 6th and we drove to Strasbourg, home of the European Union and its parliament buildings. Just across the Rhine River from Germany makes it a destination for German tourists. Most of the restaurants serve German food and is a disappointment to us because we were looking forward to some more foie gras and confit de canard. We looked everywhere and couldn’t find any. Strasbourg is a beautiful old city and was very crowded with tourist. We have encountered very few crowds since arriving in France, but the summer tourist season is starting and it looks like we will be leaving just in time to avoid most of the throngs.

We paid a couple of Euros for the privilege of climbing up the 332 steps to the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral. This photo was taken about halfway up. You can’t get to the very top, but end up just below the clock tower. The view was superb looking over the roof tops of the city.

These types of scenes were all over Europe. This photo in Strasbourg caught my eye with the different colors.

June 9th and we are up early for the drive to Lyon. We end up eating lunch at the same restaurant we ate at on our first day in Europe in the town of Perouges. We then went to the local supermarket to by some fore gras to take home with us.

We checked into our hotel, the first of the trip, next to the airport. The room was small, hot and uncomfortable. To top it off it was the most expensive room of our entire trip at 73 Euros. Tomorrow our plane leaves at 7 in the morning, returning back through London and Chicago. We are tired and ready to go home after seven weeks of living out of our suitcases. We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world except perhaps a trip to Italy and Spain, but that’s another story.


Trip prep time - about 5 months

Money spent before the trip for clothes, maps, GPS, and stuff we really
didn’t need - who knows

Total days including travel days, 49

Amount budgeted for trip (excluding air fare and car) $200 per day.

Amount actually spent per day $147 per day

Including air fare and car - $213 per day

Cheapest room per night – 39 euros or $48.80 a night, at the Bates B&B
Most expensive room, B&B type, 60 euros or $72 near Brugge, Belgium

Best B&B – Schillingfurst, Germany with Christine and Gunter Rohmer

Worst B&B – take a guess

Best food – it was all good with only 3 bad meals on the entire trip

Favorite food – confit de canard

Weight gained – Dana 4 lbs, Cathie – it’s not polite to ask a lady.

Most expensive diesel - $5.30 a gallon in Germany and Belgium

Cheapest diesel - $4.91 a gallon in Austria

Best Mileage – 54.89 MPG

Miles driven 9750 kilometers or 5850 miles

Problems with car – none – I wish I could have brought it home

Traffic laws broken – too many to count
Traffic tickets received – none – where is a cop when you need one.

Favorite place – Albas, France

Worst experience – Customs in Chicago took away my fore gras.

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