Joan's Trip Report - September 2000

About a year ago, someone in BavariaBen's Stammtisch group decided it would be fun to get together and meet face to face. The plan developed and a date of September 19 was decided and the location was the tiny village of Urach in the Black Forest.

My lament was that I already had tickets to see the Passion Play on May 22 and while I would love to remain in Germany from May through September, earning a living got in the way. So regretfully, I told Ben I would be unable to attend. However, as I watched the plans grow and develop I just couldn't stand being left out. Then I managed to get bumped off an American flight and received a $500 travel voucher for my "trouble". That clinched it. I would use the $500 toward a ticket back to Germany in September. The only problem is, I kept waiting for the fares to go down so I could get a really low price after my $500 voucher. Well, the fares kept going up and up and in June I decided I'd better buy the ticket. Roger, my traveling companion for the trip, was vacationing in Switzerland and I didn't want to charge $1,000 (the price of the ticket - ouch) on his credit card without telling him first. (Yes, he trusted me with his credit card number.) I decided to wait until he returned and buy the tickets then.

The tickets on American were $1,000 on the day he returned and when I went to buy them the next day, they had gone up to $1,500 over night. Major ouch!! I immediately called a friend who is an excellent travel agent and put her to work finding something cheaper. She did find a cheaper fare, but it was still $1,000 and it would mean leaving a day earlier (no problem for me to spend an extra day in Germany). I told her to hold the reservations overnight and I would confirm them the following day. When I called the next day to confirm, she told me they, too, had gone up to $1,500 overnight. However, she volunteered to back date the tickets to the previous day so we could get them at only $1,000, so I said yes. I forgot about the labor problems United was having at the time and only later realized we were flying most of the way (3 of the 4 legs) on United, though the tickets were written as Lufthansa.

After weeks of worrying that United would cancel our flights or be so late we missed our connection, with reissued tickets in hand (reissued because the originals were lost in the mail and the new ones only arrived a few days before we were to leave), we settled down in our seats as the plane took off right on time for the first leg of our trip. I'm not sure Roger really believed we were on the way because for days he had been saying, "I just don't think this trip is going to happen." However, it was Friday afternoon, September 15 and we were really making it happen.

We arrived in Frankfurt about 2:00 on Saturday afternoon, and, after collecting our luggage, found the Avis desk to pick up the Mercedes we had reserved. Unfortunately they were out of Mercedes, so they offered us two other options, an Opel Omega station wagon or a Mercedes convertible. Normally, that would be a no-brainer. However, the station wagon would be no extra charge even though it was a higher class than the C180 we had reserved. The convertible would be approximately $30 a day in additional cost, so we opted for the wagon; not quite the same prestige as the Mercedes, but it saved money and had tons of luggage space.

Opel Omega Wagon

It was dreary and rainy as we headed south on the A-5 in the direction of Heidelberg. We had planned to stay there the first two nights, but just a few days before we were to leave, my phone rang at 4:00 in the morning (they forgot about the time difference). It was the hotel apologizing for the error, but they were completely sold out for a seminar. Since we were not part of the seminar, they had no rooms for us. They were kind enough to arrange another hotel for us. I wasn't too excited about the other hotel, so I made reservations in Schwetzingen, which is about 5 or 10 minutes outside of Heidelberg.

We found our hotel immediately and checked in. I had been able to sleep on the flight over, thanks to Ambien sleeping pills. Roger, not believing in taking pills, got no sleep and was exhausted. We walked around for a short time, then had a very good dinner at a restaurant next door to the hotel. (Sorry, I will usually only remember the food was good without remembering exactly what I had.) After dinner, we returned to the hotel and crashed for the night.

The beds in our rooms were just about like sleeping on the floor. Unfortunately this would continue to be a pattern throughout the trip. However, I do believe this was the worst of the trip. They had wonderful down comforters, but that's where the "wonderful" ended. Even the pillows were hard with absolutely nothing fluffy about them at all. It actually appeared they had taken an old blanket and folded it over and put it inside a pillow case. Both of us complained about backaches for a couple of days, thanks to the hard beds.

I woke up early on Sunday morning only to discover it was raining rather hard. After getting dressed, I went upstairs to Roger's room and knocked quietly on his door to see if he was awake. Since there was no response and it was only about 8:00, I assumed correctly that he was still asleep. At 8:45 every church bell in town began chiming and continued for 15 full minutes. You would have to be deaf or dead to sleep through that. Knowing Roger was not deaf and hoping he was not dead, I went back to his room, knocked on the door and with a bright cheery smile asked, "Did you hear the church bells?" He didn't respond with exactly the same cheery smile.

After breakfast, we went out with umbrellas
in hand to walk around for a while. The rain had stopped, but the clouds were low, dark and very threatening. Bob (BobinHeidelberg) had said the castle gardens are spectacular, but the castle is nothing special. He is right. The castle is just kind of blah, but the gardens are absolutely phenomenal. They are huge and you could easily spend a whole day wandering around in them. Roger, not being too much on gardens, politely walked around with me for a couple of hours.

Schwetzingen Castle Gardens - Castle Gardens

We had planned to drive to Heidelberg and spend the afternoon before meeting Bob at 6:00 for dinner. However, still suffering from severe jet lag, I knew Roger would really like to take a nap. (It's probably important to note here that he had just returned from a trade show in Indianapolis only 3 days prior to the time we left for this trip. His trade shows are always very exhausting and a lot of hard work. Therefore, he had not recuperated from that before we left for this trip.) So it was back to the hotel for a Sunday afternoon nap on a dreary rainy day before going into Heidelberg.

Later when we went to town to meet Bob, we arrived early and walked around for a while. Roger bought a much-needed umbrella since he had not brought one with him. I visited Kathe Wohlfhart's shop to hunt a music box requested by a friend. I made the mistake of showing Roger a hotel where I had originally made reservations for us when we thought we would only be spending one night in the Heidelberg area. It's a very nice hotel and a little expensive, but I thought I could swing it for one night. When we extended our stay to two nights, I canceled out of deference to my budget. He just about killed me when he saw the hotel. He would have much preferred staying there than in the "Rock-Hard-Mattress" Hotel. He kept showing me all the places I could have been shopping rather than wandering around in Schwetzingen. I thought I would never live that one down.

Then it was off to meet Bob. He was right on time and it was on to dinner. He had planned to take us to a little town nearby, but his car had been incarcerated overnight, so he was without transportation. He had taken the train to Munich for the weekend to attend the opening of Oktoberfest with some friends. He left his car parked in a little-known lot located behind station. When he returned, the gate to the lot was padlocked and there was no way to get his car out before Monday.

Roger - Joan - Bob in Heidelberg

We really enjoyed meeting Bob and sharing an evening with him. He was a delightful host and our dinner was excellent. After dinner we walked around town, got an ice cream, and drove him home so he wouldn't have to take a taxi. It was then back to the "Rock Hard " and sleep.

The next morning (Monday) after breakfast, we loaded up the station wagon and headed south on the A-5. As we drove south, we would hit patches of fog, and then sunshine. Eventually we left the fog and only had sun. Hooray!

Let me digress long enough to explain something. Before we left the States, Roger had volunteered to do all the driving and said he didn't mind driving a manual transmission to save expenses. Since I refuse to drive a manual (though I am very capable of doing so), the plan was that he would drive and I would navigate. He had made several comments about my navigating abilities, or lack of, and if you read my trip report from May, you will know that there were several times when I proved Bill and Suzie Hickox's theory of "no turn is a wrong turn" to be false. Usually when I give Roger directions to get somewhere, he will go in the exact opposite direction of what I say and arrives in record time. I am proud to say, on this trip we did not get lost one single time, not even when Austria changed a road number and neglected to tell Michelin maps about it. (More about that later.)

We exited the A-5 near Offenburg and began a lovely scenic drive through the Black Forest. Our first stop was in Zell am Harmersbach. When I was there in May, I had purchased some stoneware dishes and had a crystal company ship them back with some goblets I had purchased. Unfortunately, the crystal company did not repack the dishes for shipping and half of them were broken. Since they were doing me a favor by shipping them, I had no recourse for getting them replaced other than to go back to the factory in Zell and purchase new pieces. On my earlier trip, I had become acquainted with the manager of the export division on the porcelain company and they were expecting our visit on that day.

Zell am Harmersbach

We drove into the parking lot of the factory and I was shocked to see that the shop was closed. I couldn't understand it since I had just had a letter from Klaus Koeller, the head of export, about my visit and no mention had been made about the factory shop closing. As I looked around, it soon became apparent that they had opened a large new shop on the other side of the building. What a difference the new shop made. The old one was very small and had almost no customers. The new one was large, lovely and packed with people.

I selected the replacement pieces for my stone ware and also began selecting several other pieces in a new pattern. Roger had patiently been waiting for me during this time, but when he saw me gather up additional plates, bowls, etc., he quickly informed me that I could buy them if I wanted, but he would NOT help me carry them. What can you do with a man?! He's such an old poop. So regretfully, I returned the pieces that were not replacements, knowing also this would give me an excellent reason to return (like I really need a reason).

Unfortunately Herr Koeller had to be in Switzerland for a few days, so we were unable to visit with him, but he had sent word that I was to visit with his assistant in the event of his absence. After a short, but pleasant visit with her, it was back in the wagon and on to Wolfach and the crystal factory. Roger is such a dear to put up with my shopping. I had wanted to buy two more goblets and a water pitcher. However, they didn't have a pitcher and I couldn't see having them ship just 2 goblets. Therefore, we wound up not buying anything.

After having a salad in the crystal shop's over-priced, reasonably good restaurant it was back on the road again.

We decided to stop in Gengenbach, but they were doing road construction and the traffic was so bad, we just kept going only to get caught in the same bad road construction/traffic jam further south in Triberg. We had thought of going to the water falls in Triberg, but with the traffic so bad, once again we kept going.

We finally arrived at Kalte Herbege in Urach around 4:00 in the afternoon. Back in March, I had reserved two single rooms with shower and toilet. When they showed us to our rooms, we saw neither one had a shower or a toilet. I was not a happy camper since they had confirmed my request. I went back downstairs to complain and luckily Bob, who was staying in the same hotel, walked up about that time and acted as translator.

BobinHeidelberg at Kalte Herberge

The hotel said our rooms did have shower and toilet down the hall. I don't know about you, but that isn't my idea of a room with facilities. They kept insisting that was for our use only. Well, that didn't matter to me, I wasn't about to go down the hall every time I needed to use the bathroom. I had not brought a robe with me which would mean I would have to get dressed anytime nature called or I wanted to bathe. They finally said they had a single room on the top floor with a bath and shower right across the hall and I agreed to accept that. I went to get my luggage from the car and as I came back in, Bob was in the entry area and told me to wait a minute. They had screwed up his reservations and had assigned him a single room with a private bathroom AND a double room with private bathroom. Therefore, that left the single room available. So they put me in there and poor Roger still had to use a shower and w/c down the hall. This was not the last time he was to get the bad end of the deal while I got the better one. However, I did at other times let him have the better room at other places. (am I a nice person or what)

After settling in and freshening up, it was time to head off to the Zum Sternen to meet my fellow members of the Stammtisch group.

Gasthaus zum Sternen - Urach

We arrived right at 5:00, the planned time of the gathering, only to find we were the last ones to get there. Wow, they must have all been really eager to meet. What a delightful bunch of people they are. This was an evening of getting to know each other on a face-to-face basis rather than just via the internet. You might think that a group of people who had never met before would find it somewhat difficult to talk, but not this group. We visited as if we had all known each other for years. It was really a special occasion. Others have already written reports about the meeting and I can only add my amen to everything they said. It was great.

The next morning, after breakfast with Jane (
JRLVR1), Jerry and Bob, we headed out to explore the region. We drove leisurely through the Black Forest and found it to be just beautiful. The weather was warm and the sun was shinning. Wonderful old farm houses sit on the side of mountains, the leaves were changing colors, and everything was just out of a picture book. Roger said in another 2 or 3 days the fall leaves would be at their peak color.

We drove to Titisee and walked around the lake for a few minutes. We didn't, or rather Roger didn't, want to shop. I always want to shop, but wouldn't put him through that. We continued on our drive, stopping at Audi and BMW dealers along the way. Roger is a car nut and just wanted to check prices of the new cars in Germany as opposed to the prices he has seen in the States. Let's face it; he just likes to car shop and I don't mind so I go along with him.

Later in the morning we stopped and got soft drinks and continued along our way. Soon, the soft drink meant the need for a pit stop. I have become very adept while traveling at brazenly walking into a restaurant, hotel or any place as if I owned it and head straight to the ladies room without ever buying anything there. We finally saw a group of buildings and decided to see if there was a restaurant or someplace where I could pull my brazen pit stop routine. We both spotted a very nice gasthaus and pulled into their parking lot. I walked in and there were absolutely no customers in their dining room and the only one I ran into was a waitress. I was a little embarrassed at being so bold (well, maybe not too embarrassed) but just kept going. When I left the ladies room, I happened to look out the back of the building and noticed a very nice outdoor eating area and decided this might be a good place for lunch.

When I got back to the car, and before I could say a word, Roger asked if it looked as if it would be a good place to eat. So we went back to their patio/biergarten. It turned out to be a most delightful decision. The view was just beautiful overlooking a peaceful pasture and small stream. The weather was warm, but not hot and it was the perfect place to relax. The owner, Thorsten Voss, came out to greet us and talk with us. He had just fired his cook a couple of days before and was doing the cooking himself. It turned out he is a retired pilot from the German Air Force. Roger's dad was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force so they struck up a fast friendship. Roger also discovered the man loves cars, so that gave him an even greater means of communication. The young lady, Linda, who was our waitress had been a foreign exchange student in Texas so she was eager to talk with us also.

The owner told us his biergarten was the third best in the country. The first one was next door to the governor's house and the second one is on the Bodensee and actually extends out over the water. He doesn't see that his will ever overtake those two, but he is very proud of what he has, and rightfully so.

Owner of Zur Birke

We wound up spending about 2 hours or more just leisurely eating and talking with the owner and waitress. Unfortunately, we finally had to leave and head back toward Urach and the big gathering for the evening. In the event you are interested, this great gasthaus/biergarten is Hotel-Restaurant Zur Birke, Höllentalstraße 48, D-79199 Kirchzarten-Burg.

The drive back to Urach was once again just beautiful and we stopped along the way for Kodak moments.

Church at Urach - - - - - Rolling hills of Black Forest

When we arrived at the Sternen a little after 5:00, only a few of the group had arrived, but they were sitting on the patio. It was quite chilly with a stiff wind blowing, so we didn't last very long outside. Roger had forgotten to bring a jacket, so he was getting really uncomfortable. Soon everyone migrated indoors and once again the fun began.
I'm sure you've read the other reports which told about the band entertaining us; Jim (Tooooobah) and Bess playing with the band; Jim and Len (Lenox862) leading the band (Jim was leading, Len was waving his arms around); the local choir singing for us; the trio performing traditional songs; and the wonderful camaraderie that existed among all who were there. It was really an unforgettable evening. Roger commented several times later about how nice everyone was. He knew nothing about any of them prior to arriving in Urach, but he enjoyed it as much as I.

We finally left around midnight and returned to the hotel to settle in for the evening. The funny thing is, the hotel only gave Jane and Jerry a key to get in the front door of the building at night. Therefore, if you wanted to go back to your room, you'd better be darned sure Jane and Jerry were ready to go back, too. That night, we thought Bob was right behind us only to discover he was no where in sight. So we propped the front door open a little and left the key in the lock - on the outside - so he wouldn't have to sleep in his car for the night. What the owners don't know won't hurt them!

Urach to Wengen

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