Germany 2011 ~ Intexa2

Bill and Susan by Bill and Susan

We flew Delta into Munich from GSP (Greenville Spartanburg [SC] International) to Atlanta and then over the pond. Not an especially memorable trip except the plane was flat out full. (Is it me or has Delta gotten very customer oriented these days. Second long trip on Delta in 2 months – to LV in March and now to/from Germany. Seems they couldn’t do enough for us.) Susan and I had aisle seats in a 3 seat configuration. We seemed set, with no one in the middle, until they had to wait for connecting flights, etc, and lots of families traveling with infants that they spent many minutes rearranging folks to accommodate them (I guess part of Delta’s trying to help folks). Our empty middle was filled at the very last minute by a hefty guy who had been moved twice before. Now my wife and I are both on the corpulent side, so the heavy in the middle made for a crammed seating. Our seatmate held his arms in and never left the seat during the whole 9+ hour flight. Having the aisle seats make it a bit better. Don’t remember it being that long to Munich, but it was. Even had a surprisingly good dinner – some great chicken dish, and in economy, unusual for airline food!
Landed in Munich, got bags, and sought out an ATM machine to get Euros. Lurking near to the machine was a taxi driver. Could have sworn he said he took credit cards, so we chose him to take us to Erding where I had arranged via Andy of Gemütlichkeit to pickup a “VW Passat or similar” with automatic transmission and GPS. Well, the taxi driver got to Erding all right but he could not find Europcar. Made several phone calls (the number for them on the voucher was in Hamburg)! And they didn’t seem to know where the rental spot was. He FINALLY did find it – by default, it was the only road we didn’t try before. He turned off the meter at 37 Euros since he was wandering, trying to find the place, but it turned out to be Euro 40 cab ride including baggage charges. And he didn’t take credit cards!! Knew things were not going to go well as Stammtisch members had told me “$15-20 cab ride” and that would save me $100 Airport tax. Must have been a long time for them when they last did it. At current rate of exchange, and the nearly $60 cab ride, that meant I only “saved” about $35 (worthwhile but never again). But the real aggravation was yet to come.

Europcar did not have the car I ordered, and paid for, an automatic transmission Passat or similar, with GPS and diesel. Now for 25 years going I had always done the manual route, but getting slower on the shifting so, since going up into the mountains, I decided to do auto this time, paying $100 more. Well, they didn’t have a car for me, yet I was right on the time specified – offered to put me in nice Mercedes wagon – but no automatic. Said it would be 30 minutes or so to get one. Turned out to be an hour.

Got a Mercedes all right, the G350 Bluetec Mercedes version of the Land Rover. More like the Hummer to me.

We call it the Tank. Yes it had auto, diesel, and GPS (which proved fantastic). But for two older folks with bad backs and bad knees, almost 2 feet off the ground, climbing (literally) into the thing with no step must have given the rental agent a big laugh – “fat old Americans getting what they deserved” type thing. Yes, we COULD have declined it but he said he didn’t know where he could get another, at least another hour minimum wait. Feeling stranded, we took it, thinking it might come in handy in the mountains (ha!). Got 15-17 mpg. The damned thing eats diesel at $8 per gallon – YES, that was the conversion number then (BTW, regular gas was $8.75 at writing. Filled up at half full mark twice $135 and $105, and another day to go (to Frankfurt). Yes, I complained to Andy but he essentially said “s***t happens, the poor car companies struggle to keep up with fewer cars and autos, specific cars often not readily available (I had made reservations more than a month ahead so even he said they SHOULD have had plenty of time to get the right car there, one that gave me 30 mpg or better), plus I did get upgraded. I once was upgraded to a Mercedes wagon with auto and diesel with SIXT and it did get that kind of mileage) and that I should have rented at the airport if I want a specific car. NOW he tells me. I have subsequently told him a few things and suggested he give them hell, but we shall see. He also pointed out that he had a toll-free number for AutoEurope to call if any problems. He preferred to tell clients all about what they should do and he prefers to avoid confrontation with the rental agencies since he rents so much for them and they usually are not very responsive to criticism. BTW – he says he is the lowest, I figured it out, he saved me $29 renting from him rather than AutoEurope. Disappointed in his reaction. I was not asking for a refund but for him to go to bat for me and read them the riot act. He chose not to. So there.

Our destination was Ramsau in the Berchtesgaden area but we planned to stop at Bernau at Chiemsee to get over jet lag.

Had reserved Seiserhof hotel high up on a hill outside town with magnificent view of the lake.

Room was about average but view was something. Next day, we went into Bernau and took the boat over to Herrenchiemsee to see Ludwig’s big Versailles type palace – never finished. We had been there before but the boat ride was nice and the few rooms they show you (basically hall with big staircase, a “business” bedroom and office, and actual bedroom and office, and hall of mirrors (no pictures, naturally) were really something. While it looked stunning, I said “no wonder he ran out of money” and was told it took less than 3 kg of gold since it was pounded into gold leaf. Labor for that must have been humongous.

BTW, the GPS in the Tank was really good. Got us to hotel without a hitch and right on the money afterward. Almost made the Tank worth it. And yes, I will say here, it did so for the entire trip. Great system Mercedes has.

Jumped in the Tank and headed for Ramsau. As I said, the GPS was flawless with wonderfully soothing and articulate woman’s voice with clear English (read somewhere that when the Germans first put GPS devices in cars, they had a serious problem and had to reprogram them – seems the German men did not like taking directions from a woman) led us spot on to the Waxenlehen farm’s driveway. Ben and a few others had recommended it and we were not disappointed. No one spoke English (the son did but we only saw him about 30 minutes - he had worked for Mercedes so he was interested in the Tank), but we managed to communicate. The Siegers, mostly the younger daughter-in-law (don’t recall name), were very helpful, even going into Ramsau one day while we were gone to get a bunch of literature in English (didn’t have the heart to tell we had already done it). The elder Mrs. Sieger floated around all over the place and was very friendly but she spoke no English, did her best to help us, but deferred to the d-i-l. Saw the older Mr. Seiger only a couple of times but he was working the farm, cutting the grass for silage for the cattle so didn’t have much time to socialize.

The gasthaus building has a lot of rooms but if you stay there, try and get room 1, 2, 3, or 4 where the views of the mountains are magnificent, truly, one of the most majestic views I had ever had from a hotel.

We were in room 3; a fellow in room 2 was German and lived in Thailand where he ran a hotel, but he came back to Germany for a month or two every year. He spoke good English and we used him when possible as interpreter. He had stayed there several times and described it as paradise. I have to agree, it was very close to paradise. Ben said that, well even if I don’t ever get to heaven, at least I will have had a taste of paradise in the Berchtesgaden area. True.

First day there we went into Ramsau and took lots of pictures of the church.

Loved the marked picture spots. Went into the graveyard and amazed at the variety of headstones (wooden carvings mainly) and inside the church. It was getting late in day so went back next morning to get pics in a better light.

We later drove over to Hintersee. Nice lake but not much after Chiemsee and Königssee.

Since no one had wi-fi but dial-up, nor could we find an internet café in Ramsau, only pay-to-use access but only with their computer, we went into Berchtesgaden to an internet café. Found one, unattended, coin fed, and only in German, but after a few false starts, got some basic work done. Had a marvelous lunch across the street at a bakery café on the river – perfect spot. Walked round the commerce/old part of B’gaden – great views of the mountains behind the National Park building,

nice churches, but not a lot more than shopping, lot of it high end. Nice village tho, but views everywhere – THAT was reason to be in the B’gaden area. After visiting the churches and a lot of walking around taking things in, we tried to get back to our Tank and leave, but a good part of the town center/entrance had been closed down by police due to some kind of accident with a huge crane at a construction site in the area – closed the main road into and out of town. We looked for and found an alternate route only to find the police leading folks into town that way as the alternate entry so the incoming traffic was monstrous and backed up for miles.

Did I mention the weather was PERFECT with clear and good sun all days we were there. Lucked out as I had heard of clouds, fog, and rain – but not on this trip.

Went to Kehlstein (Eagle’s nest) next day. Drove the Tank up the hill to the connecting bus to the top – well up to the entrance to the tunnel that leads to the elevator that takes you to the top, UNBELIEVABLE views.

Talk of paradise, these views were close: mountains, valleys, farmlands, etc., below and all around. I climbed all the way out to the top and must have taken 300 pictures.

After a great visit at Eagle’s Nest, went to Lake Königssee and took the boat ride, which included a stop at St. Bartholomä church, and took dozens more pictures.

Great spot and great ride. As we were coming back into the dock, it sprinkled a bit but not much (the boat was all enclosed) and when we docked, it had stopped, so weather held for us.

Had some really good meals at a gasthaus/restaurant across the street from Waxenlehen – Gasthof Baltran (best spargel soup of the trip) and further down to a larger hotel/restaurant (Hotel-Gasthof Hindenburglinde) and their beer (yes, I took in ALL the local beers). So you may know, I am diabetic. In spite of all the beer, my numbers were perfect the whole trip – I am convinced a bit of beer or wine helps – don’t overdo, tho.

Joan Karr had raved about Schwäbisch Hall so we took off for there. 5 hours later (!!) we arrived (had no idea it would take that long) without a place to stay. Visited the church, nice, and walked the town center, crossed the stone bridge, took pictures,

wandered along the river and crossed the wooden covered bridge and, took more pictures, worked our way back up to where we had parked the car and left. Only a couple or three hours there, decided we had seen what we needed to see. Nice town, Joan, and no offense, but this town did not draw us in. Took the road back about 5 km and stayed at Hotel Rossi about 5 KM back toward the way we had come. Nice spot, $113. But everything is expensive. Had dinner there and I had a ragout of deer meat. I sent my compliments to the chef, and I am convinced they DID have a chef not just a cook, as this was one of the top 5 meals I have ever had in Germany: rich sauce, intense flavor, extremely tender deer meet, with vegetables and a large ball of flavored dough they called a noodle. And the beer was one of the best I’ve had in Germany. Said it was brewed in Schwäbisch Hall but it was a Hofbräuhaus beer. Had two grosse steins.

Here is a good time to talk about credit cards. NEVER have I had as much trouble getting people to take credit cards as on this trip. At the Rossi, we asked the server if they took credit cards, Yes she said, 3 times, “no problem” she said, Visa or MC. When I went to check out I pulled out credit card and the older woman who signed me in said “NO”. I discussed with her how the server at dinner had said no problems. Finally, not happy, she relented and pulled out the credit card machine from under the counter and processed it. Many DO take them but they say no unless you insist. So be aware in your planning many do NOT take them and carry sufficient money with you. Ask ahead of time if it is going to be a significant amount so you won’t be caught without enough if they truly do not take them. The Baltran did not take them, the Hindenburglinde did. I understand the “mom and pop” type places not taking them as it costs them money, but tourist attractions like the boat ride at Königssee, the ride and ticket to Herrenchiemsee, the ride to Hitler’s Eagle Nest all insisted on cash only. BTW – I am 73, but when I asked for a seniors discount (at age 65) she refused to give me a discount – said I was NOT 73 and I was too young – I didn’t catch it at the time. I suppose it was flattering but it cost me about €3 more.

The next day was May 21 when the world was supposed to end, guess God didn’t get the message. Watching CNN, I learned it had been apparently called off. Since the world was still functioning, for now, we went on to Rothenburg o.d.T.. Susan and I have visited several times but she wanted to go to Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas stores, so to Rothenburg we went. We very quickly scanned the hotels while had internet connections at the Rossi and picked out the Hotel Lamm. I guess I thought it was the GoldenerLamm in the market square.

Turned out it was it was the Hotel-Gasthof Schwarzes Lamm about 3 km outside the walls of Rothenburg in Detwang, apparently a very famous place and, first built in before 1604 when it was used as a HQ for one of the warring forces of the 30 year war.

The hotel room was fine, a bit narrow with a bed equivalent of a king pushing for room at bed’s end and the desk, but with an enclosed balcony. Nice spot but, like the others, was a little stiff, about $97 with breakfast – and they DID take credit cards, Visa and MC, and have wi-fi. In the morning, we had breakfast – it turned out to be the best we have had in Germany in a long time outside the 4-5 star hotels. I’d recommend it highly, especially if you don’t mind being outside the walled town and hike or take your car to the old walled town. Peaceful and serene are good words to describe it. Very friendly staff and they speak English. Surprised to see it so filled. Glad we went there.

Turns out Detwang was the FIRST village settlement in the area, going back to 960. Their church St. Peter and Paul was consecrated in 968 and has a very famous altar piece carved by Tilman Riemanschnider,

who also did an even more famous one for St. Jacobs church in Rothenburg.

Toured Rothenburg again like the first time, including St. Jacobs church, and, of course, Käthe Wohlfahrt and various other shops to get things for souvenirs and gifts.

The next morning, we went back to the fortress church St. Wolfgang, built on the wall itself with shooting holes all around, and tunnels under the church for soldiers, others, to keep out invaders – and, I was told, a dungeon (why would a church have a dungeon?)

Made a B-Line to Frankfurt.Traffic VERY heavy on Sunday afternoon, seemed endless construction and staus everywhere, and one serious accident involving an Airstream trailer and several cars near the airport, so we were about an hour later than planned getting here. Had planned to check into the TRYP hotel and take the Tank to the train station to turn in, after searching for a gas station. Didn’t listen to the GPS and took a wrong turnin a round-about near the hotel and missed the hotel (we went right but was looking for it on the other side of the street) and went right by it. Luckily, we found a Europcar spot about two blocks down the “wrong” street and pulled in for directions. They told us how to get to the hotel, and an Esso station about a mile away. We did find the hotel and checked in. A wonderful suite (but couldn’t get the free cabled internet connection to work and the only English channel BBC – it was the next one before the porno channels and it kept coming on for a while then showed blocked – they never could get it to work right). After dumping our luggage at the hotel, we went and got diesel, $40 worth, giving us a grand total of about $300 in diesel for 1000 Km (600 miles). TURNED IN THE TANK!!! Asked the agent if he saw many, this was only the second one, and the other one was on his lot – no one wanted to rent it. We then walked back to the hotel, and got caught in a downpour – drenched to the bone. Took refuge under a bridge but got to the room soaked. So now finishing the trip report waiting for our clothes to dry.

Now to business for rest of week before returning home on Saturday the 28th. But thus ends the tale of the Smith’s travels in Gods beautiful Berchtesgaden and other parts of Germany --- and the saga with the Tank!

We DID get home uneventfully after a tiring week of business.

Bill and Susan Smith (Intexa2)

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