My Frau has put her foot down and she will no longer support my solo jaunts to Europe. She rightly points out my advancing age (70) and possible health problems. She doesn't want me to fall and not be able to get up so this year I came to an agreement with one of my Stammtisch friends - Len (the pot stirer - the traveling Jew - the King of the road - the speed demon with little care for our rented car and my aging nerves) - that he would rent the car and be the dedicated driver for the duration of the trip - and we would split all costs relating to ground transportation (petrol, parking, etc). Len arranged for the car rental via Andy of Gemutlichkeit to be picked up from Hertz at the Frankfurt airport. He had a great deal from Andy that got even better when we arrived at Hertz. I arrived at FRA from DFW via Lufthansa almost two hours ahead of Len arriving from Orlando and JFK via Singapore airlines. My Lufthansa flight was unexceptional with the bonus of having no one sitting beside my aisle seat and an on-board entertainment center that has to be rated excellent. Met Len outside of customs and hit the ATM machine on the way to Hertz. Excellent exchange rate for U.S. travelers this year and the ATMs almost always provide the best rate especially if you have a bank or credit union card that doesn't charge for foreign transactions or ATM fees. A pleasant surprise was awaiting us at Hertz in the form of a free upgrade. We came away with a brand new Opel Insignia with a large, detailed, never-wrong GPS, back-up camera, individual seat warmers, 8km on the Odometer and Diesel to boot. Sweet!!!
Len's only requirement as related to the trip itinerary was that we reside at the Haus Pfaff in Urach, Germany (Schwarzwald) for the first four days. Easily agreed to as the Haus Pfaff is owned and operated by old friends of the Stammtisch - is excellently cared for - spotlessly clean - and a bargain at 20 Euro per person per day with an awesome Frühstück provided in the cost. On top of that Luzia and Reinhard Pfaff are excellent hosts and have housed many members of our Stammtisch in the past.
I assumed responsibility for the itinerary for the remainder of the two weeks. During our planning phase I secured reservations at three farms (one in the mountains south of Innsbruck, one in the mountains south of Salzburg, and one southeast of Munich on the train line for access to the Oktoberfest) and a large hotel near Aschaffenburg for the final night (less than 30 minutes to the airport).
We had the Hertz attendant in the garage program our GPS to English (so Len might understand her :)) and made our way to the A5 heading south to the Schwarzwald. I can't remember a time when the autobahn from Frankfurt south to the Black Forest didn't involve several Stau and this trip was no exception. Thankfully the worst Stau were stacked in the northbound lanes. One perk of our excellent GPS was that she constantly updated us on the status of Stau, usually recommended an alternate route and told how much time we would save if we took the alternate way.
After a pause for the cause at Grafenhausen reststop we arrived Urach late afternoon. I can't say enough good things about the Haus Pfaff. We had an upper floor apartment with two double sleep rooms, a large kitchen, large bath and balcony. Frühstück was included and the per night cost was 20 Euro for each of us. Double rooms for a single person are rarely found nowadays for 20 Euro or less. The breakfast served here alone would cost 8-10 Euro in some hotels and restaurants.
Reinhard and Luzia Pfaff
Alte Straße 13
Tel - 7657/1018
That first night we paid our first visit to the Gasthof Zum Sternen to see Rudi, Tina and Marina and have our first schnitzels of the trip. For you Stammtisch members who do not know - Marina is now living at the Sternen with her boyfriend and their 10 month old son - Malik. Marina is also working at the Hexenstuble in Furtwangen. Our last day in the Schwarzwald included attending one of Rudi's Grillfest (every Friday at 1830). Wow that is a great meal with all the different meats and veggies you can eat.
While in the Forest we visited Titisee, Wolfach, Schiltach, Alpirsbach, Schramberg and several other small villages of worth. All quaint and enjoyable and even Titisee was not too touristy when we visited the lake.
Saturday was a full travel day. Len had indicated early on that he was interested in visiting a few towns in Italy so I found us a nice old mountain farm south of Innsbruck along the Brenner Pass. Isolated yes - but as with all good GPS systems - all that is required is an address.
It took much of the day to get there but we took several breaks along the way. One break of significance was for lunch in Meersburg (north shore of the Bodensee). The day was nice but windy and you could just make out Switzerland across the lake. Len hiked up to the upper tier of the village to find some specific souvenirs for Shari and a friend. His search was successful and we met and moved on to Austria.
Our Bauernhof for the next three nights was the -
Family Heidi und Rudolf Gatt
6154 St. Jodok, Austria
Tel - 5279/5341
This is a nice old farm located in a beautiful mountain valley. Flower boxes with overflowing flowers hanging from balconies overlooking scenic farm lands. Cows grazing in the plush green meadows with overhead clouds just skimming the mountain tops. The farm family Gatt was very warm and friendly. Excellent location from which to visit Innsbruck and Italy.
Our first daytrip was south to Vipiteno-Sterzing, Italy and from there we took the Jaufenpass (SS 44) up and over beautiful mountain terrain to Merano, Italy. Len handled the Opel and open roads well and I had no cause for complaint. I was surprised however at the lack of guardrails on some of those deep dropoffs. Here are two YouTube offerings that will give you a sense of the journey.
Our final daytrip from Vals was an easy drive to Innsbruck. We toured the Altstadt for several hours before heading back south.
An excellent restaurant in this area is the - Trinserhof - A-6152 Trins - where Len found a most excellent Frische Forelle mit Petersilkartoffeln 'ohne' Salat or is it 'kein' Salat? We received a German lesson from the Chef... Len was like a fine surgeon as he carefully peeled the skin and bones with his scalpel. A forensics lab would have been proud of him.
After three nights we then moved to a farm favorite of myself and PStuyvsant in the village of Piesenkam near Holzkirchen - which is at the end of an S line running into Munich.
Waakirchner Weg 10
Tel - 8021/505348
This farm is located in Waakirchen (a small farming community) which is what I would call a suburb of Piesenkam. This year was my second visit to this farm. Larry was to stay here also but had no idea that I had booked myself and Len here also. Larry thought we were staying near Mittenwald and would train in to the Fest. The morning we arrived Larry had gotten there about 15 minutes before us and was upstairs in the hallway when the Frau took us up to our rooms. Surprise - surprise. Fortunately I had asked for specific rooms when I wrote the Frau and asked about vacancies.
My room was a large doubleroom with a nice big TV and a private balcony. A refrigerator and private bathroom and shower were just down the hallway. Breakfast here is always excellent and served in an immaculate Frühstückzimmer. Michaela and Georg Schwaighofer are extremely friendly and engaging. We always seemed to have some interesting conversations during breakfast.
This is one of the best locations to stay anytime you are visiting Munich (especially for Oktoberfest). The Woidhauserhof is near Holzkirchen which is the final stop of the S-bahn 3 coming from Munich. Essentially this means you will usually have no trouble finding a seat when traveling to Munich. You might have a problem finding a parking spot at the Bahnhof however. Just plan to travel a bit earlier during Oktoberfest and be sure to park in an authorized parking lot to avoid a possible parking fine. The day we took the train to Munich Larry drove his own car to the Bahnhof - left it there - and unhappily found a ticket on his windshield after enjoying the Fest (cost him about 35 Euro). The drive from the farm to Holzkirchen is quick and easy and a day ticket is approx 10 Euro.
We had plenty of time to walk around before meeting Larry and Jim (Tooooobah) at the Augustiner-Brau tent at noon. As in the past we had no problem finding a table next to the bandstand that was not reserved until 5pm that afternoon. We would be long gone before then. I nursed one Ein Mass, Larry had a few, Jim finished off many and Len sticks to mineral wasser. A concerned and thoughtful designated driver at all times. Larry on the other hand I always worry about as he still has the drive from Holzkirchen to the farm that evening. Jim was his typical Bavarian character. I think he lives for his time at the Fest each year. And why shouldn't he? His Bavarian dialect is perfect - his dress and appearance even more so. No person seeing or talking to Jim at the Fest would ever think him to be an American from Vermont. For a month every year he lives with his friends in the Schwarzwald and Wallgau near Mittenwald - hikes the lofty peaks of the local mountains - and plays a Tuba with any local band lucky enough to invite him. I always think I am in a part of heaven when I visit Germany but Jim is for sure there and when he passes on to a real heaven I'm sure he will occupy a spot reserved for amiable friendly Bavarians... :)
From the Woidhauserhof a short drive south will take you to Gmund am Tegernsee where this very nice restaurant sits on a hill overlooking the lake. Excellent food and if the weather is good - do yourself a favor and sit outside in the Biergarten.
Gasthof am Gasteig
Münchner Str. 14
83703 Gmund am Tegernsee
After an enjoyable two days at the Woidhauser farm we headed southeast towards Abtenau and a new organic farm in the mountains south of Salzburg. A Stau on the A8 convinced us to take the B305 south via Reit im Winkl and Berchtesgaden. It of course took somewhat longer but we had plenty of time and the scenery was too nice not to enjoy.
Biohof Haus Wieser
Tel - 6243/41068
The Haus Wieser is a little off the beaten path but many places worth finding usually are. This farm with Gasthaus is located high in the hills above Abtenau up a winding mountain road. The location is awesome with great views all around. The primary hostess Barbara is very hospitable along with her mother and a daughter who is in physiotherapist training. She is not a licensed masseuse but is almost there and gives a great massage (according to Len) for the price of a tip. Len took advantage of her services for about an hour and he's still feeling good.
This is a most excellent place to stay - clean, spacious rooms - great breakfast - swimming pool - easy access to tourist attractions. The views from my balcony of the surrounding mountains were awesome. We found nothing lacking and highly recommend the Biohof Haus Wieser to anyone interesting in staying in this area of Austria.
We took daytrips to Hallstatt and Salzburg from here.
Two nice restaurants in the area -
Gasthof Goldener Stern
5441 Abtenau, Austria
During my travels in Germany and Austria - one of my favorite events to attend is the Erntedankfest. They normally take in September or October. Several times I have scheduled my time in the Schwarzwald to include the first Sunday in October to witness the Fest in Gutach. This is a Thanksgiving harvest celebration held in autumn in most German speaking countries normally consisting of church services, a parade, music and sometimes a country fair. As we were departing Abtenau for the Frankfurt area and our final day in-country we were fortunately stopped by a police officer in the middle of town and were able to witness the parade portion of the Abtenau Fest. Many of the locals were dressed up in their traditional outfits and paraded with the local band. Love surprises like this...
The drive from Abtenau back up through Germany - around Munich - to the Frankfurt Airport is a long one. But Len was a trooper and hung in there even though we encountered several long Stau. Our GPS kept giving us alternate routes but for the most part we stayed the route. We made it to the Aschaffenburg area on the A3 with plenty of daylight left. Our final stop of the trip was a large hotel located in the suburb of Hösbach-Winzenhohl which is about 30 minutes from the airport.
Am Hügel 7
Tel - 6021/6460
A nice modern facility with everything we needed for the final night - WiFi - large TV - comfortable beds - large bathrooms - and a great view of the local countryside. The attached restaurant was excellent. Nice indoor swimming pool with saunas. I found a nice booking discount online so this turned out to be very reasonable and convenient.
An early exit the next morning and Len and I were at the airport petrol station in no time at all. The car rental turn-in was smooth and without problem. The Hertz staff were very nice and even friendly. I sent Len towards the Singapore check-in and I headed for Lufthansa. A smooth uneventful flight for me with an aisle seat and the one next to me unoccupied which made for a very comfortable trip back to Dallas. The in-flight entertainment center is still my favorite thing about Lufthansa. I wish I could say something nice about their food service but there was not one on-board meal going or coming that would rate a compliment. But I still love Lufthansa - overall...
Lessons Learned - Words of Wisdom
Never pass up a free toilet. Before exiting a train or a restaurant always take advantage of the toilet. When looking for a free toilet - check the Tourist Information office or the Rathaus (sometimes the same location). Bahnhofs usually have a toilet but not always free. Some of the larger Bahnhofs have those fancy new toilets that charge up to one Euro ($1.30). The Rest areas off the Autobahn usually have nice toilets. They now cost .70 Euro cents but you get a voucher for .50 Euro cents that you can use to purchase anything at the Rest area cafe or restaurant.
If you enter a parking garage - be sure to note where you exit and where you pay for the parking - and the stall number where you parked...
Always carry an umbrella in your daypack or car - you never know...
When walking along paths stay to the inside and pay attention for bikers.
Stopping to take pictures or read a bus schedule - don't back up into the path without looking around...
Internet cafes can usually be found near or in the larger train stations. Many use coin fed systems. Mp3 players and camera batteries can usually be charged using the computer's USB ports. Don't forget your charging cords.
Earlier riser? Most villages have at least one bakery that opens early. Good strong coffee and a pastry always jump start my day and I don't like waiting until 0800 or later for my coffee.
Traveling in the Schwarzwald - make sure you get that Gästekarte from your lodging hostess. The trains (except IC and ICE) and busses are free by showing the card to the bus driver or train conductor. Avoid trains and busses during rush hours or when the Kinder go to or get out of school (if you can)...
Use ATMs for your best exchange rate. Make sure your bank knows you are going to Europe and will be making withdrawals. Check your card (four digit pin number) before you leave home. Sparkasses will not exchange currency (unless you have an account) - use Banks (Volksbanks are great). Always carry small currency bills for stores, restaurants and paying for accommodations (most small places will not accept credit cards)...
When you check-in to your room - look for extra blankets. If one is not in clothes closet - ask hostess for one. Most of the pillows are flimsy (light weight) so I usually fold up the duvet and use it for a pillow and use a blanket for cover. This may only apply to older travelers like myself who have back problems...
When you check-in to a room with a TV - always make sure you can use the remote controls before the hostess leaves. There are sometimes two remotes - one for TV and one for Satellite or Cable box. Think you are an electronics wizard and won't have a problem? Remember that I warned you...
Same thing with a rental car - make sure you know how to turn on the lights, windshield wipers, how the radio operates, and how to open the gas cap - before you get on the road. And if you are lucky enough to have a vehicle with GPS - make sure it is programmed for English (unless you are comfortable with the German language)...
Bis zum nächsten Mal !