Germany, Austria, Italy

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June 22nd 2017
Published: June 22nd 2017
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Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Monday, December 9, 2013

Germany, Austria & Italy in 23 Days

Bob and I had been dreaming about a European trip for the last year. When I visited Mom in Minnesota in August and she put her wedding rings on my finger, I knew it was time. I returned to Florida and asked Bob if there was anything he wanted; he said "Maybe a new gun" and I answered “That isn't going to happen.” So we compromised and booked two flights to Munich, leaving September 18 and returning October 12.

Thursday, September 19

The KLM flight was most uncomfortable with very cramped seats; we attempted sleep and departed the first plane in Amsterdam and the second in Munich at 4:30 PM. A very helpful Hertz clerk named Michael Hoffmann provided the Hyundai I-30 diesel that would carry us on this adventure for the next 23 days. Clever Bob had purchased a Garmin GPS before we left the States; he had driven as many miles as he could on Google Earth so he had a general idea where we wanted to go. We ended at Frank Pension in Moosinning, a good choice.

Friday, September 20

Breakfast with Hildegarde Frank was a delight with the typical boiled egg, roll w/brombeere (blackberry) jam, muesli, coffee, orange juice.

Bob refused to let me leave home without a case of my calamondin marmalade, so the first jar went to Hildegarde. She reciprocated with a jar of her blackberry jam and we were on the road by 9 AM. Our goal was to see as much of Austria as possible; my dad had always spoken lovingly about the country and our good Austrian friend, Eva, had also encouraged us to travel there. We headed to Krimml Falls, the highest waterfall in Europe; there are three stages with the top one at 380 meters. Our bodies gave out before we could make it to the top, but we were impressed nevertheless. Our bed for the night was at Klockerhaus Hotel nearby (we could see the waterfall from our balcony) where we booked half-board (breakfast and dinner). The meals were sumptuous and the service impeccable!

Saturday, September 21

Our next stop was Hotel Reissenlehen in Bischofswiesen, Germany. This place was tres expensive, a virtual spa with not one, but two pools (one outdoor, one indoor) and all the extras to pamper and make one HEALTHY! Thank goodness the proprietress’ 12-yr.-old son knew some English; she and we were at a standstill! We were interested only in a bed (after a futile search most of the day), but the view of the mountains and the wonderful gardens, complete with fuzzy chickens was all a plus. After checking in, we set out for the Eagle’s Nest (which we could see from the hotel) to get a closer look. To get there, we had to park the car and take a bus through five tunnels to the top. This place was a present to the Fuhrer for his 50th birthday in 1939; it is located over 6,000 ft. on a mountaintop and one must take a brass, mirrored elevator another 407 feet to reach the “tea house.” It was called this because it only became a place to entertain and/or perform diplomatic rituals for a few hours; there are no bedrooms and Hitler spent little time here. Eva Braun, his mistress, spent more afternoons here than he did; her sister’s wedding was held at Kehlsteinhaus. When we returned to the parking lot, we investigated a building called Documentation which houses a ton of info about the war, unfortunately, all in German. Underneath this building we discovered a huge bunker which we found fascinating and wished the walls could talk!

Sunday, September 22

We woke to a sumptuous breakfast, then drove to Salt Mine Berchtesgaden, Germany’s oldest active salt mine, which we traveled through by train, boat and even two fun slides! It was a most enlightening tour; Bob and I learned that salt (salz) had provided wealth for this area since 1517. Next we took a long boat ride on the Konig See and stopped at St. Bartholoma church which dates back to 1134 when the first chapel was consecrated on the peninsula. The boats are battery-powered to ensure a clean, quiet ride; no other boat traffic is permitted. No dinner is served on Sunday at the hotel, so we walked to the local restaurant where Bob had some of the renowned boiled beef. It did not disappoint.

Monday, September 23

Today we drove to Strasswalchen (literally “street walking”), a small town with a rail stop so we could take the train to Salzburg. We found a nice room at Gastof Weichenberger; it was a struggle to communicate with these innkeepers as they know NO English, but we managed to negotiate a 65 euro room and left three jars of marmalade in the process. Next we walked to the information center and made the acquaintance of Sabrina Huber, a doll who provided us with the scoop on Salzburg. We had decided to skip the drive to the large cities in favor of train travel, thus eliminating the hassle of parking and likelihood of driving in circles. We thought we would spend a week investigating Salzburg, so we purchased week-long train passes and boarded the train. Salzburg is quaint, pretty and quite noisy; a festival called Ruperti complete with a carnival was in full swing in the old town and Bob was amazed that the cacophony of the bells never stopped. Back home we ate dinner at Kramerwirt Hotel where I finally had the wiener schnitzel and Bob had the grillteller (beef, pork, chicken); both were delicious!

Tuesday, September 24

Our second Salzburg day found us on the lift to Festung Hohensalzburg (the hilltop fortress which was begun in 1495). We spent four wonderful hours exploring various viewpoints outside (the city is even more glorious from above) and inside (the interiors with the antique furnishings, militaria, torture tools, even a marionette museum). This city is devoted to Mozart and we couldn’t help ourselves when we passed the chocolate shop; thirty euros later we had enough Mozarttafel for the whole family! The Altstadt Snack Shop was a lucky find for the hungry two and we pigged out on curry wurst, pommes frites, hamburger, grilled ham & cheese and some beers. A bus to the train station, a train to Strasswalchen and BED ended out day.

Wednesday, September 25

Bob and I were determined to share all of the history of this part of the world and, for us, that meant an examination of at least one of the concentration camps. Mauthausen was on the route to Vienna; it began in 1938 and was the last camp liberated by the Allies in May 1945. During that time 200,000 persons were deported to the camp; 100,000 inmates died there, half of them in the last four months of operation. Many of the inmates worked in armaments production; there was a stone quarry which provided building materials for the important Nazi buildings. I was amazed at the number of satellite camps (smaller camps located a distance from Mauthausen); there were almost 40 (I later learned that all the larger camps had satellite locations). It seemed unfathomable that there could be any subterfuge here—how could anyone not see what was happening? We spent four hours perusing the living and dying quarters—the barracks which became more and more crowded, the horrific gas chambers, the incredulous cremation ovens. An English audio guide helped make sense of the impossible as all was in German. Towards the end of the tour, we explored a museum where the thousands of victims became living, breathing human beings. The family pictures, bios, bits of clothing, a watch, a wedding ring and other memorabilia led into a stark room of glass panels containing 81,000 names. Work continues to identify the thousands of other victims. It was overwhelming and we will never forget that day.

Thursday, September 26

Yesterday we drove to St. Polten, a launching point for the train trip to Vienna. We found a room at Roter Hahn (red rooster) Bock Hotel and, today, after a substantial breakfast, we set out for Stift Melk, an abbey dating from the 900’s. It was gifted (stift means “gift”) by the wealthy Babenberg family (Austria’s first ruling dynasty) to the monks and today it is a working abbey with extensive gardens and a school for 900 pupils. We had a great guide from Russia named Loudmila so the tour was superb. Bob and I, the intrepid two, even managed to investigate all of the surrounding herb garden and wooded area in spite of the light rain. We meandered back to the hotel, driving through as many small towns as possible, even encountering a deer farm where we gathered pears that had dropped from trees and fed them to the deer.

Friday, September 27

We gave a jar of marmalade to a kind waitress at breakfast and set out for the train station, obtaining week-long tickets for Vienna. After a wild goose chase on umpteen trains and several attempts at directions, we finally arrived at our destination. Our friend Eva has a brother, Christoph, who lives in an apartment near the administrative sector. He greeted us warmly, fed us a wonderful lunch of cheese, meats, fresh vegetables and bread. We left him three jars of marmalade and hoped he would like it as much as his sister does. Christoph is retired from work in the television industry and has an eclectic collection of objects, mostly African. He played his dulcimer for us and then we set off for the flohmarkte (fleamarket). There we found a wide selection of foods, drinks, knick-knacks, books, clothing, shoes, you name it! We made small purchases, meandered through a huge crowd, and, unfortunately, lost Christoph! Bob and I searched for an hour or so, decided we’d better head for the train and called it a day.

Saturday, September 28

Schloss Schonbrunn was our destination today. This is the most visited Viennese attraction and we wouldn’t have missed it! It is a magnificent summer palace complete with a mile-wide and –long garden, palm house, and the world’s oldest zoo! It reminded me of Central Park with a 1,441-room palace in the mix. We were able to see 41 of these rooms and walk ourselves to death to see the Neptune fountain and gaze at the Gloriette, a stone structure at the top of a high hill where our legs refused to carry us. It was all so opulent that we left with our mouths gaping open and decided that even though we thought we had experienced great wealth in our UK travels, nothing equaled the richness of the Austrians! We concluded the day with a Greek buffet at SKOCE restaurant for only 7.5 euros.

Sunday, September 29

Today was tour the museums day (or at least as many as our old legs could handle!). The Natural History Museum was where we started and we were overwhelmed! What a collection of fish, birds, dinosaurs, sea life, insects, minerals, rocks, prehistory and anthropology! There are 39 galleries and Bob & I were delighted to find an observation beehive in one! Next we went across the street to the Neue Berg Museum and saw three exhibits: Greek and Roman sculpture, musical instruments, and suits and suits and suits and suits of armor! The building itself is a work of art with marble stairways, walls, ceilings. Just simply breathtaking! We picked up Thai food at the train station and headed home.

Monday, September 30

On our last day in Vienna, we decided to tour as many churches as possible. We began with St. Stephansdom at Stephanplatz with an organ of 10,000 pipes! This church began in 1358 and was completed in 1433—75 years of construction. It boasts Austria’s largest bell at 21 tons, and sports a tiled roof with chevrons on one end and the Austrian eagle on the other end. Next was the Schottenkirche (Scottish Church) which was reconstructed in 1638 by Scottish Benedictine monks. The last, the Votive Church, was very much under construction so we did not see the interior, but it reminded me of Notre Dame in Paris with its flying buttresses and gargoyles. We finished off the day gazing at the Rathaus (government house), Parlament (Germans leave off the i), the Burg Theater, the Bundesgarten and Volksgarten. We came back to Roter Hahn and found a beautiful, tasty surprise: a generous gift of fresh fruit, marmalade, juice, and bottled water!

Tuesday, October 1

In honor of our son’s 41st birthday today, we decided to give ourselves the unexpected, unplanned gift of a trip to Italy! We had checked the map the previous night and noticed how close Venice was and said, “Why not?” Bob drove for what seemed forever through dozens of tunnels, some construction, an expensive toll road ($22—need to pay for those tunnels) and 378 miles later, we landed in Venice! Finding a room proved to be a real trial because we wanted two nights; we finally booked one at Colors, which is a pizzeria with rooms upstairs. It was cheap because we had to share a bath but, luckily, there was no one with whom to share it. Supper was huge and tasty: peas, spinach, crab cakes, shrimp, mixed vegetables and bread.

Wednesday, October 2

On the bus to the island, we met a friendly German girl with a Pakistani boyfriend who gave us some tips; they were spending a second day here and, later, we realized we should have, too. All of our preconceptions about Venice would soon vanish: “it’s sinking into the sea, it’s dirty and crowded, it’s old and crumbling.” Well, yes, it’s old and a ton of tourists visit, but, oh, my, we were not prepared for the magic of this place! All I can say is the same feeling we had at Machu Picchu stirred us here; there are no words that are adequate except “Go!” All the pictures are not sufficient; it was a thousand times better. When we finally reached San Marco (the huge plaza that always appears in pictures), tears came to my husband’s eyes and I stood in amazement. Bella, bella, bella! After a respite of spaghetti and a huge sundae accompanied by Whitney Houston singing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” we took an elevator ride in the bell tower. This is like going up to the top of the Empire State Building and it gives a wonderful view of the whole city. We love this place and we will return.

Thursday, October 3

Today we headed back to Austria to take a drive up the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. The charge was 23 euros to climb high up in the Hohe Tauern National Park to Grossglockner at 3798 meters. We were amazed at the variety of transportation making the pilgrimage: bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, busses all snaking their way up the winding road. We ended the day at Renate Hollin Pension in Fusch, only 60 euros with breakfast. We enjoyed dinner that evening at the Landgasthof Hotel Romerhof complete with boisterous bar patrons singing to the accompaniment of an accordion!

Friday, October 4

We left yet one more jar of marmalade with Renate, then set out to find Fussen, Germany and Mad King Ludwig’s castle along with his father Max’s castle. A traffic jam held us up for two hours, but eventually we found our way to the Waldmann Hotel, a great choice with views of both castles from our balcony.

Saturday, October 5

In spite of the rain, half of Germany accompanied us on our tours of the castles! (Our timing of a weekend probably was not helpful!) The first castle, Hohenschwangau, belonged to King Maximillian, and is the older, more historic one. These were used primarily as summer homes; Max’s castle grounds date back to the 12th century, but he began building it in 1832. Original paintings depicting heroic German battles placed directly on the walls adorn the castle. At only 18, Ludwig succeeded his father upon his death in 1864. He began construction on his castle, Neuschwanstein, in 1869, as well as two other castles, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee. He died under suspicious circumstances at 41 after he was declared unfit to rule. Swans are prominent in the décor of Neuschwanstein as well as operatic themes, especially those of Richard Wagner, Ludwig’s friend. Disney’s castles are modeled after Neuschwanstein. Hint to future visitors: take the bus to Lugwig’s castle, both ways. It will save your body!

Sunday, October 6

We had thought that getting a room near Munich would not be a problem because Octoberfest was long over—wrong! We tried every town from Ismaning to Moosinning (where we started this trip 18 days ago!) and, gratefully, Hildegarde Frank contacted her friend in Erding and we were able to book two nights at Pension Zweck. Erding is a town of 34,000 with Therme Erding, a huge spa/indoor waterpark that attracts thousands every year. Its history goes back to 6,000 B.C.; the town was founded in 1228. Bob and I decided to take a walk and investigate the town and stopped at a restaurant called King Du. The food was scrumptious and the hostess/waitress most charming.

Monday, October 7

Fog greeted us today and it seemed appropriate as we were on our way to Dachau, sad weather for a sad destination. We thought we had arrived early, but not before busloads of students appeared. Bob and I figured that their presence would definitely educate them about their history, but we were disappointed with the loud chatter and laughter. Perhaps their demeanor and attitude became more respectful by day’s end. A tip for future visits: skip the audio guide and wait for a live English speaking guide. This camp was in operation from 1933 until liberation in 1945, the longest of all the camps and over 206,000 prisoners are listed on the roll. In the last five months before liberation, more than 15,000 died. The total death count will likely never be tabulated; only 32,000 are documented. Horrible medical experiments were common; inmates were subjected to subzero temperatures in freezing water, injected with typhus and mosquito venom, not to mention all sorts of surgical procedures without aid of anesthetic. The residents of the town of Dachau revolted with the help of escaped prisoners at one point but were quickly crushed. Bob purchased a book of photo portraits taken by a nun who lives in the nunnery just outside the walls of the camp. There are 30 photos complete with bios of former prisoners. It emphasizes the scope of nationalities that were interned here: Italian, Polish, Russian, Czech, Prussian, Austrian, French, Ukrainian, Belgian, Lithuanian, Luxembourger, Dutch, Slovenian, Moravian, Romanian, Hungarian, even German! “Never Again” is inscribed on a wall; as long as we remember, hopefully, that will be sustained.

Tuesday, October 8

Before we jumped on the train for Munich, we booked one night at the City Pension, the only available room we could find. Not only did we have to walk down a long hall for a toilet, we were charged 40%!m(MISSING)ore than we were told the room would be! In Munich we had to see the Glockenspiel, a marionette show high up on the Rathaus in two parts, the first about marriage and the second concerning the plague (both are from the 16th century). It’s in the Marienplatz, the main pedestrian sector which dates from 1158, and, though a bit tedious to watch, the show entrances hundreds of spectators each day. There are 43 bells and it is the largest in Germany. This began a very full day of drinking in the ambiance of this huge cityscape: window shopping, people watching, tasting new foods—wonderful! Next we spent the best 23.5 euros so far on a 3-way ticket to see the Residenz Museum (royal chambers), the Schatzkammer (royal treasury) and the Cuvillies Theatre (1751-1755, named for the architect). The Residenz was home to royalty until 1918; the rooms were furnished and decorated according to the residents’ tastes and were filled with art collections. I especially loved the priceless enamel, crowns and goldsmith work from a span of nine centuries. We thought nothing could top the Schonbrunn in Vienna and it took us three hours to view it all. An English audio guide is recommended to give much more info than what is provided on signage.

Wednesday, October 9

More examination of Munich was on the agenda today, so one more train ride, then on to the Theatinerkirche, the church which was built in 1663-1690 by Elector (second to king) Ferdinand and his wife in gratitude for the birth of their son. It is in the Rococo style, very Mediterranean in appearance, with a yellow, ornate façade and equally as gorgeous inside. Next we toured Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) where mass was going on and, not wanting to disturb, we didn’t stay long. This is the cathedral of the archdiocese; it took 20 years to build, beginning in 1468, and can hold 20,000 parishioners. Unlike the Theatinerkirche, it is in the gothic style with two onion domes; the interior was destroyed by Allied bombs in WW II. Believing ourselves to be much younger than 70 and 59, we struck out for the Englisher Gardens, a huge green space in the middle of Munich complete with a lake, river and waterfalls. We savored a bit, then we headed back to Erding and a terrific room at the Best Western. That night we ate a delicious meal at Café Leonardo and retrieved our luggage that had been stored in the Hyundai for three weeks. Time to organize!

Thursday, October 10

We spent the morning at the Erding market among the locals. A friendly honey vendor sold us four jars of honey (we came home with a suitcase full to take the place of the marmalade which I’d given away!). I was determined to see Nymphenburg Palace, another King Ludwig home far away from the Marianplatz train station where we had been landing. Like all other German and Austrian palaces we had visited, this one went on for blocks as well; the garden alone comprises 490 acres with five pavilions, some two stories, some with ballrooms! Unfortunately, it began to rain so we could only appreciate the gardens and lovely fountains from a dry perspective. Very little of the palace was available for our perusal, but the Marstallmuseum (coach, sleigh, riding equipment and exquisite porcelain collection) made the whole trip worth the long walk from the train station. We treated ourselves to a room service pizza back at the hotel and started packing for the trip home.

Friday, October 11

Today we slept in—almost until 10!—something unheard of for the Hampton uber-travelers! It was raining still, but we ventured out at noon and explored the Erding Museum. The walls, both outside and inside, are covered with old photos which tell the story of the town, at least the last 100 years or so. The displays are full of Roman artifacts, weapons and human bones because Erding’s history goes back that far. Upstairs a display of a local bell-maker takes prominence along with a loom and wool exhibit. The only suggestion that would make it a better museum would be to list more signs, etc. in English! We made a return trip to Café Leonardo, lasagna for me and another great burger for Bob. Back at the hotel, more packing (hoping we aren’t overweight!) and anticipation for tomorrow’s flight home. (Plus plans to sell the boat and return to Italy next year!)

Travel Tips

Carry cloth bags, especially if you plan to grocery shop

Keep tissue handy for bathroom stops and 50 cent euro to pay

(We paid 1.5 euro in Venice to pee!)

Never pass up a bathroom as they are not as plentiful as in the US

Be prepared to pay 50 cent euro for a small packet of ketchup or mayo at McDonald’s or Burger King

Wear tight-fitting shoes or you will be emptying gravel out of footwear constantly

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