Lump and Lisa (Oldgybe) - (Photo by Lenox862)

by - Oldgybe and BunsAway

(Music on/off)

After the holidays and during the dark, cold and rainy nights in the Pacific NW, there comes the time to begin planning the next trip to our favorite places in Germany and nearby countries. Since 9/11, flying has become a royal pain the rear, but this year brings a meeting of Bavaria Ben's merry gang of nutcases known as
The Stammtisch in the little valley of Urach in the Black Forest. It has been 3 years since the last meeting, although some of us had been stumbling across others on later trips. I shopped for air fares every time I was near a computer and one day a very low price jumped out on US Airways. I'm not a big fan of this airline, but with a RT fare of $396 offered, it was just too much to pass on. As a long time flyer of Lufthansa, I try to book on them or their Star Alliance partners to keep up ff miles, I checked with the Big Kahuna (BunsAway), and we agreed we could put up with any inconveniences for that price.

That settled, now came car hunting. Our first choice was thru Gemütlichkeit Travel Guide and the Bestor family in Oregon. They beat everybody's price, even Auto Europe, which brokered the car through Europcar. We were locking in prices when available to get the best price as the USD began to fall in value against the Euro. OK, now we had the plane and car, so we started on an itinerary for the trip and we would be spending 18 days. Our flight was thru Pittsburgh and plane change to arrive in Frankfurt at 0700 hrs. This, we felt was great, because we could take a leisurely drive to a destination not too far away and just relax and get rid of jet lag.

We threw out the darts and decide we would spend the night in Saverne,France, a small town we have stayed at several times before on the Rhein-Marne Kanal Welcome in Saverne, Alsace, France. From there we would take a short drive to the Black Forest, spend the night and be well rested for the meeting in Urach. Our very good friends live in the nearby village of Wölterdingen and teach English in local schools. Luitgard teaches at the grade school level and Paul in the high school level. They casually mentioned in an e-mail that perhaps we might like to attend Luitgard's school and have the students ask questions about America. Our trip then would go to Vianden in Luxembourg, Brugge in Belgium, Haarlem in the Netherlands, then back to Germany for a stay in the Harz Mountain area of the former DDR. A final nights stay in Rüdesheim am Rhein and a midmorning departure back to the USA. Sounds like a great time to me and so now starts the long wait.

Finally the 17th of Sept. arrives and Lisa stays up all night packing that last item and I stagger out at 0300 and we finally depart to catch our USAir flight to Frankfurt. Arriving at SeaTac we check in 2 hours early and there is no line. Thru security and now what do we do with 1½ hours till the flight? We had been informed about USAir not serving meals and trying to hawk their own version of gourmet delight so we packed sandwiches and snacks so we were set. Not too fond of the $5 headsets, but we didn't pay attention that it was a one time price to buy them and use on later flights without charge. Nice flight to Pittsburgh on an AB320 and probably the smoothest landing I've ever experienced. Things are going quite well and we have a 2 hour wait till the big bird, an AB330, flaps it's wings over the North Atlantic. Into the terminal, find the monitor and then things go downhill. The flight is delayed 4 hours due to mechanical problems in Frankfurt as the same plane will turn right back to Germany. OK, now we've got 6 hours to kill and I call Andrew Bestor and let him know about the flight being late and make sure our car isn't given away, but get an answering machine and so I leave a message. Very boring day, although the Pittsburgh airport is quite nice and they have a law that says the shops have to charge local prices and can't gouge like most shops do. Finallyyyyyyyyyyyy we get this dog and pony show on the road. Free headsets are offered but booze is not free. First time on an international flight I've come across that, but I pass and read and nap as we fly through the night.

At 1200 hours we touch down and have to park on the tarmac and be bussed to the terminal. Clear, sunny and very warm temperatures await us and away we go to Passport control, pickup baggage and go thru customs in a quick time and off to the car rental counter. We get the old "you are late and we don't have a car for you" and I give the counter person my best "well I can't fly the damn plane and make up the 5 hours it was late". He offers a turbo diesel Audi A4 for 5 more Euros a day, but we decline and insist on a car. He says come back in 45 minutes and we do, but now counter-dork has been replaced by a very nice looking blonde and she tells us that our car is ready and gives us our keys. Up the elevator and off to the car and then my jaw hits the ground. We had rented an Opel Vectra or similar and they have given us a VW Passat turbo diesel station wagon.

VW Passat turbo diesel station wagon

Wow, we've hit the jackpot and away we go. Jump on the A5 and this puppy runs right up to 150 kph. Just for the fun of it I push to 160 kph and now this is the fastest I've ever been and there is still plenty of pedal left. All of the previous cars we have rented just don't have the guts this wagon does, but 140 kph is my comfort zone and it even had air conditioning. This is the first diesel I've ever had and glancing at the gas station prices, diesel appears to be .20 cheaper per liter than gas and this turns out to be a substantial savings during the trip. We stop in Landstuhl and grab some booze from one of our old stops and away we go towards Zweibrücken and head for the back roads towards Saverne. We had been this way before the previous year and had seen some old estates and small castle-like areas we wanted to check out so we decided to rerun the route.

But with the late start we didn't get to dink around too much and proceeded to Saverne. When we arrive the town is packed with tourists and the temperature is in the low 90's and quite humid. We lug our stuff off to the hotel, Chez Jean, Hotel-restaurant ** - Saverne, Alsace, France, which is very comfortable and reasonably priced. We hang out for a while and watch the self-drive holiday barges go thru the locks and then head out for dinner. Kinda tired and not too enthused about a big dinner, we just hit a sidewalk bistro and have a light meal, then it's off to beddy bye.

Up the next morning and after having a very nice buffet breakfast, we're off to the Black Forest. We have booked into a Gasthaus in Mühlenbach, Willkommen Mühlenbach, on a road off the beaten path and find what looks to be a nice place at a reasonable price. For some reason we miss the turn in Haslach, but we have plenty of time so we wander thru Wolfach and Oberwolfach. It's a very pretty area with plenty of Zimmers and Ferienwohnung and perhaps warrants a visit at another time. There is a Saturday market in Wolfach, so we stop and have a beer and wander thru the town, but soon it's off to our room in Mühlenbach. We have booked on the web and are staying at the Gasthaus Zum Ochsen. The photo on the website was not too flattering, but the price was good and it turned out to be one of the nicer places we've ever stayed in. We stumble in and catch Konrad and Petra Schmider having their lunch, but we are shown to our room and decide to have a power nap before walking the small village. This is turning out to be a great choice as the room is large and has cable tv and has a larger than normal bathroom which pleases us to no end.

Then comes a banging on the door and I thought that I had parked the car in a wrong place. Stumbling out of bed I opened the door and behold the smiling face of Bavaria Ben. He says Larry is in the car waiting so get our butts in gear as we going for a drive. Who can argue with the leader of the pack, so away we go to a place they found in the past. Off we go to Schuttertal, which Ben and Larry reported on in earlier trip reports. Larry is at the wheel and thank God he knows where we're going cause this is all new country to us and I have no idea where we are. He zips into the parking lot of the Gasthaus Schutterblick and we head for the terrace restaurant. The lady who waits on us looks at Ben and Larry like she kinda knows them, but doesn't say much. They ask her if she remembers them and now it's old home week. We order up a beer and a meal while Ben and Larry have a visit with Marion and Agi.

Lisa - Ben - Larry

Marion (Schutterblick waitress) - Ben

After feeding like pigs at the trough, we say our goodbyes and head back to Mühlenbach. We tell Ben and Larry we'll see them the next day in Urach and they describe a scenic route to get to Urach. As we enter the Gasthaus, we decide to have a beer as food is out of the question. What a surprise as the place is packed and certainly does a booming dinner business. In fact, I don't believe I've ever seen a Gasthaus do this amount of business. Since we are not eating, they seat us at the family table as it is not set up for dinner. Another couple staying at the Gasthaus are from the Netherlands on a holiday and we have a nice conversation in Dutch, German and English. Then the only unpleasant time of the trip happened when one of the locals came in already painted up with a load of beer and in drunken German told us about his political beliefs and the Iraq situation and our government. It became rather unpleasant and the Dutch couple says good night. The drunk muttered in his beer and his displeasure of sitting with Americans was a bit too much and he staggered out the door. With this burden out of the way, Lisa and I toasted ourselves with a big bowl of ice cream dessert, mine with hot rasberry sauce and Lisa's with hot caramel. Nuff of this and up to bed we go for a good nights sleep.

Up in the morning, we pack and head down for one of those great German breakfasts. We are the only ones eating and we are asked by the Schmiders where are we from and how did we find out about their Gasthaus. I told them about the internet site and then we depart for our rendezvous with destiny. We head south from Mühlenbach towards Waldkirch, but make the recommended route thru Simonswälder valley. It's a really winding road and there is a bicycle road race going on so we have a challenge navigating this route. It is a stunningly beautiful drive and I would recommend it to everyone who travels in this area. The road comes out in Furtwangen and now it's just a short drive to Urach. We pull up in front of the infamous Gasthaus Zum Sternen about 1100 and it looks kinda quiet. We're just hoping Tooooobah has not emptied the beer keller as he has been here for over a week.

~ Part II ~

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