A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Day 1 (May 18): Frankfurt -> Heidelberg

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Take the overnight flight from Newark. Land in Frankfurt around 9am.

Rent a car.

SIXT is a great car rental service. We rented an Audi Q5 (brand new, only 120 kms on it) for 9 days, for 630 Euros all told (2 drivers, roadside protection. The SIXT agent recommended the diesel version, because diesel cost less than regular gas. Diesel seems to be very popular in Germany, but might be on its way out.

Unless you have some serious financial business to conduct in Frankfurt, skedaddle and motor down to lovely Heidelberg, just about an hour's drive south. Take a nap to shake off that jet lag (the Crowne Plaza in the old town is a great place to stay), then go over to Hauptstrasse and amble down the length of what's considered to be the longest shopping street in Germany.

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Stop at one of the many bakeries along the way and treat yourself to a delectable pastry and coffee.

Then wander over to the bank of the Neckar river and head in the direction of Schloss Heidelberg.

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To get to the castle you need to climb a few hundred steps, so brace yourself. But it's well worth the exertion - the castle is fetching (you can do a tour of the inside for a nominal charge), and offers great views of the town from up high.

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Back at ground level, dinner at a traditional German restaurant is a fitting finale to your first day in Germany.

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No German dinner (especially your first of the trip) would be complete without a German beer - "Dachsenfranz" has a nice ring to it, so I had one.

Posted by sesh 11:06 Archived in Germany Tagged landscapes buildings castles rivers Comments (0)

Day 2 (May 19): Heidelberg -> Black Forest -> Munich

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If you want the total driving experience in Germany, (fahrvergnugen), you want to sally through the Black Forest ("Schwarzwal"). It covers a fairy big expanse in southwest Germany, so if you are heading to Munich, which is the east, you want to drive southward half way through, then change course toward Bavaria. We picked the town of Freudenstadt in the black forest as our next destination, which would give us a good feel for the black forest area without taking us too far off our route.

You drive on windy roads through lush hilly terrain dotted with pretty hamlets, like pictures out of a fairy tale.

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The weather in May is tailormade for the experience--it was in the low 60s that day.

In Freudenstadt--a small, neat town in the heart of the black forest--we were thrilled to find a bakery. I was dying to eat black forest cake in the black forest, and almost didn't make it. The bakery was just about to close (1:30 pm on a Saturday), but the crew took pity on us and let us sit down for some pastries and coffee. But there was no black forest cake on display, and the staff didn't speak English. So I stumbled through an approximation of "black forest cake" in what little German I could muster ("schwarzwal torte"), but apparently it was good enough. Out came a cake from the kitchen, out of which a generous piece was sliced out. I had my schawrzwalde kirschtorte after all, in the black forest. Checked that off my bucket list!

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On the road from Fruedenstadt to Munich (roughly four hours), sitting in solitary splendor high upon a hill is the Hohenzollern castle.

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Plan to set aside an hour or two to tour the inside of the castle and the grounds.

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And take in the breathtaking views of the countryside from the high perch.

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Speaking of total experience, one of the unalloyed pleasures of driving in Germany is tearing down the autobahn on the stretches that don't have speed limits. We routinely hit 160 kmph (try pushing that speedometer close to the 100 mph mark in the US and see where that gets you!) on the straightaways, and still had to move over to the right lane to let cars pass us. And more often that not, these were innocuous station wagons and family sedans. The roads were clear for the most part, and on the rare occasion that we encountered backed up traffic ("queueing traffic" as the navigation system put it), it cleared in 5-10 minutes.

We got into Munich late in the evening, 7-ish, under ominous clouds. The Marriot property on Berliner Strasse, in a residential neighborhood, served as a quiet base from where we could get to the city center in 15-20 minutes. It started raining just before we went looking for the restaurant that the hotel had recommended (Brunnwart) when we asked for an establishment ) that served traditional Bavarian fare.

The Munchner Schnitzel they served up was a delicious ambassador of such fare, and arguably even better than its famous cousin, the Weiner schnitzel. You've just got to try it!

Posted by sesh 06:35 Archived in Germany Tagged landscapes buildings castles forests Comments (0)

Day 3 (May 20): Munich

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On top of its prosperity, Munich is blessed with great weather, and its spaces are green and clean-in short, a lovely livable city.

Get to the city center, and walk through this archway to all the action beyond

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which originates at Marienplatz

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where home soccer team Bayern Munich was being felicitated that day for winning the German league.

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Marienplatz is the hub around which there are various points of interest within walking distance.

One such attraction is the Hofbrauhaus

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a legendary beer hall that offers great beer, traditional Bavarian food,

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and live regional music.

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Treat yourself to some of this good life, then meander through the streets to get a dose of the laid back vibe

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and you will find yourself slowing down to take in all the rich sights that surround you

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And if you are interested in more formal establishments such as museums, you can get on to Maximilian Strasse

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and eventually come upon the grand Maximilianeum

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At some point of the day, when you have had your fill of the Marienplatz and surroundings, and you want a change of pace, try the BMW World.
This BMW museum/exhibition center is across town, so you will need to give yourself a good half hour to get there.

While you enjoy the exhibit of stupendous ultimate driving machines, and concept cars

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you will be surprised to find out how many models they make. (A great many more than I have ever seen at a BMW dealership.)

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End of day, with fatigue setting in, what you want most is a hearty meal. If you in the mood for some traditional Bavarian food, try the highly regarded Spatenhaus--great food in a friendly family atmosphere, within walking distance of Marienplatz.

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Posted by sesh 06:32 Archived in Germany Tagged buildings museums restaurants cafes Comments (0)

Day 4 (May 21): Munich -> Salzburg -> Vienna

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While driving in Europe, we discovered with some delight that seemingly long distances are actually not that long at all. Since distances are measured in kilometers, and you can drive a lot faster, you feel like you can get from anywhere to anywhere in Europe with a snap of your fingers. At an average speed of around 120 kmph, what seems like a long road of 480 kms can be covered in just 4 hours - this is actually less than the distance from Munich to Vienna, which is about 440 kms. (Imagine driving a distance of 480 miles, at an average speed of 60mph. It would take 8 hours!)

It also helps if you have interesting stops you can make in between, such as Salzburg, which is about a third of the way from Munich to Vienna. And because it is pretty much directly in the path, you have little reason to not stop there--it's really almost like a rest area right off the highway. Oh, and did I mention that it is the birthplace of Mozart?

Clearly, a lot of people had arrived at the same conclusion. The town was fetching, and teeming with tourists.

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The main attraction, Mozart's birthplace, now functions as a museum which you can tour for a fee.

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One of the secondary attractions is Mirabelle Palace.

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The palace gardens appeared to be a huge draw with the tourists, much more than Mozart's house.

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It helped that the weather was just about perfect, sunny, in the low 70s.

Now that you are in Austria, after all that activity, you should treat yourself to some Sachertorte, the famed Austrian chocolate cake.

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By the way, to drive in Austria, you need a permit sticker that you stick on the windshield. You can get one for around 10 euros at any highway gas station on the German side of the border. (We were told that if you are caught without one, you could be fined as much as 1000 Euros. Disturbing.)

The drive to Vienna continued to be wonderfully scenic, with glimpses of the majestic Alps.

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Dusk was falling as we entered Vienna. It was immediately apparent that this was a much bigger city than Munich--a longer windup to get to
the downtown area (we stayed at the Marriott on Park Ring), more traffic, and a lot more bustle.

It was too late to do any sightseeing, but we could tell the next day was going to be action packed.

Posted by sesh 06:54 Archived in Austria Tagged landscapes mountains buildings museums palaces Comments (0)

Day 5 (May22): Vienna

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How many things can you do in Vienna in one day?

A whole lot, as it turned out. And even then you wouldn't have gotten to it all, not by a long shot. But let's see how much ground you can cover without rushing too much.

I suggest you start at very heart of the city, Stephansplatz, which is the site of the St. Stephen's cathedral.

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Step inside the cathedral

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and take it all in...

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Ride (for a fee) to the roof and get a breathtaking bird's eye view of Vienna.

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Back on the ground, it's just a couple of minutes walk from the sacred to the (enticingly) mundane--just saunter over to the Karntner Strasse, one of the many spokes that radiate out from the cathedral.

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Walk down Karntner, and test your resolve against the pull of the numerous shopping and eating establishments that line the street. One of the more interesting stores here carries merchandise themed on Gustav Klimt's paintings. (The movie, "Woman in Gold", is the story of how a woman fought the Austrian government to reclaim Klimt's painting of her aunt.)

Like the neighborhood of the Marienplatz in Munich, some of the most interesting sights in Vienna are within walking distance of Stephansplatz.
You can get a lot of bang for buck by simply doing a walking tour, admiring the various museums, libraries, and other impressive
historic and cultural edifices from the outside, as for instance, the historic library.

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Heading out a little farther from Stephansplatz, down Karntner Strasse all the way to Karntner ring, turn right onto Opern ring - you can't miss the opera house.

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As you walk on, Opern ring changes name to Burg ring, and puts you right into Museumsplatz, where you can easily spend a couple of hours.

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When you're done, you can cross the street to the Hofburg palace - more on that tomorrow!

Back on the street, you might return the way you came, pass Karntner ring which then changes to Schubert ring. This almost immediately gives way to
Park ring, which borders the lovely Stadt park, an oasis of green and peace that instantaneously shuts out the bustle and din of the surrounding streets.

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Amble about, and if you get tired, rest your feet at one of the benches by the lake and watch the swans glide around without a care in the world.

Eventually, early or late afternoon depending on how much time you spent on your walking tour, you can head out of the downtown area to the Schonbrunn palace. (It's about 20-25 minutes by car, depending on traffic.)

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This was the summer residence of the ruling Hapsburgs, and is a must see in Vienna. Do the audio tour of the palace. (If you can, make an advance reservation for a specific tour time.)

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The "Mirrors room" bears a special story. It is here that the 6 year old Mozart gave his first performance to the queen, Maria Theresa. According to Mozart's father, at the end of the performance, little Mozart jumped onto the queen's lap, hugged her, and planted a big kiss on her cheek.

Eventually, back in downtown Vienna as dinner time rolls in, finish your day with the eponymous classic, the Wiener Schnitzel.

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Posted by sesh 08:30 Archived in Austria Tagged landscapes churches buildings museums palaces Comments (0)

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