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Trip List by StrandsDanville

Central Europe "J Route" In 17 Days

Jun 10, 2009  Share our experiences to possibily improve other travelers insights before leaving.
4.5 of 5 stars based on 12 votes

Our trip in late May, early June, followed a J route shape starting in Berlin, then Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Vienna, Lake Bled, Bovec, Salzburg, Wolfgangsee, Tirol Castles and finally Munich!

  • 1. Europe
    Europe

    OVERVIEW
    This go list is focused on Central Europe to include a route that forms a letter J, taking in major cities of Germany (Berlin & Munich), Czech Republic (Prague & Cesky Krumlov) Austria (Vienna & Salzburg) and Triglav National Park in Slovenia (Julian Alps).

    Google Map of 17-Day J Route (paste into browser):
    tinyurl.com/J-ROUTE

    OUR PROFILE AND LIKES
    We are an independent couple in our early fifties who are active and very inquisitive about culture and history (past and present). My wife is fluent in German. I can ask for another beer, please. Our vacations typically involve a lot of preplanning, walking/trekking, staying in a wide range of accommodations (i.e. staying in a corner room, hotel suite overlooking Charles Bridge, Vltava River, Castle and mini Eiffel Tower in Prague to bumping our heads in our pension in Cesky Krumlov), we utilize an entire array of transportation for a Disneyland affect (jet, train, buses, ferries, subways, personal car rentals, bicycles, kayaks and canoes) and food/wine (this trip beer, also) being a major part of our daily enjoyment (again the entire spectrum from 5-Star restaurants to curbside tacos)

    PLANNING
    We highly recommend Rick Steve's travel guides for Germany and Central Europe with supplements from Fodors Central Europe. We really like his narratives for suggested walking and driving tours. Also new for us, we used Rick Steve's recommended private guides in Prague (8 hours with Milan from Sarka Kacabova's Personal Prague Guide Tours (Milan is her father) saraguide@gmail.com) and Cesky Krumlov (2 hours with Oldriska Balouskova oldriskab@hotmail.com) We found this experience to be well worthwhile and we will utilize private guides in our future travels. Going in I had some logistical uncertainty, especially in the Lake Bled/Bohinj area adjacent to the Triglav National Park in Slovenia. But it turned out alright in this very challenging drive through Park. Especially fun was the unique mountain car train where you drive onto a flatcar and sit in your car, like a drive-in movie, while the locomotive pulls you literally through the mountain tunnels! All in all we found our pacing to be very, very good for the number of preplanned days in each location.

    THIS TRIP
    The one thing out of everyone's control is the weather. We started out with beautiful weather for 5 days followed by much cooler temperatures interspersed with some rain showers and mostly cloudy skies. This prevented us from maximizing our enjoyment on this trip. For instance, our preplanned river canoe/bike ride trip in Cesky Krumlov, our bike rides around Forggensee in Schwangau and Bovec (bow-VETS) in the Julian Alps were canceled. The weather also impacted our ability to thoroughly enjoy the outdoor cafes/beer gardens while dining along the way. Plus the vistas were not up to convention bureau status. But all in all the weather was a 7 on a scale of 10.

    TRANSPORTATION
    Every form of transportation ran frequently and on schedule. Every city (Berlin, Prague, Vienna & Munich) were a breeze to use the trams, S-Bahn (schnel or fast train), U-Bahn (underground or slower train) and buses. We only took one taxi ride, in Berlin (airport to West Berlin hotel), which in hindsight we should of taken the public transportation. But after a long flight from San Francisco we typically like to start out with less strain. Taking your luggage on public transportation is very easy everywhere!

    CAR RENTAL
    After pricing several rental agencies (Avis, Hertz, etc) I found Economy Car Rental to offer the best competitive price which also included mandatory vehicle damage insurance. The actual agency they contract through is SIXT which is an European company. The added cost of multi-country fees was resolved by renting the German car next door to Salzburg in Freilassing and then returning the Austrian car to the Salzburg Airport. This took about a half hour. We bought the Slovenia ripoff 6 month vignette for the windshield at the Austria/Slovenia border crossing for 40 euros. Do not drive a sedan in Slovenia, keep to the intermediate with manual transmission for negotiating the many narrow and hairpin laden roads in Triglav National Park. Our Germany car was upgraded to an E-Series new Mercedes with GPS at no additional cost, except for Senor Stupido's $250 speeding ticket on the autobahn!

    DINING
    Typically we will go out for fine dining a couple nights on our trips. But for some reason, could be the market, we did not do this this time. Beer, especially in the Czech Republic ($1.50 1/2 Liter), was inexpensive and the regional dishes all seemed to be the same (pork, parsley potatoes, dumplings, sauerkraut, mixed salads, game meats, some fresh fish and a variety of good value wines) Portion sizes were large and meals very hearty. You will not lose weight in these countries!

    OVERALL
    Unique to us during this trip is we have friends in Vienna and my wife has an aunt and cousins also in Vienna and Salzburg/St Wolfgangsee who graciously entertained us. But my list includes "tourist" suggestions for Vienna and Salzburg because we have been to these areas a few times.

    So Ja (hence the J reference!), dieser Reise war sehr gut! Yes, this trip was very good!

  • 2. Berlin
    Berlin, Germany

    Berlin, like most of Northern Germany, is very flat, since it rose from swamp lands. Even though it is a major city, there are very, very few tall buildings (mostly 5 story) and its development since the fall of the Wall was further behind our expectations going into our tour. The two things about the landscape that stand out are the constant encounters with the Spree River, quite nice, which wends throughout the city and the beauty of the 400 acre Tiergarten park.

    Since the city for the most part was destroyed during WWII, I would label the tours as Rod Serling like, meaning...."imagine if you will"! The location of Hitler's bunker is a parking lot adjacent to some of the "nicer" apartment buildings in East Berlin because the bunker was completely demolished by the Russians at the end of the war. Checkpoint Charley is a construction site with billboard pictures of the old no man's land. There is one city block remaining of the original wall with stones laid into the street tracing the irregular pattern of the prior wall throughout the city. Since it is flat and a good story tellers stage, we highly recommend Fat Tire Bike tours for exploring and gaining historic insights into its history.

    Since this was our first stay on our trip, we stayed in a more corporate style hotel in the West side, Swissotel, to best transition into trip "mode". We took a taxi from Tegel airport. There are very few attractions on the West side and we found ourselves constantly just returning to the hotel from the East side. IF we could redo, then I would take the public transportation, either tram or S-Bahn, to a pension or hotel in East side fairly close to the Tiergarten park. Another suggestion is to stay in the Prenzlauer Berg area which is a more Eastern bloc style neighborhood populated with many restaurants to choose from. Hackescher Markt, S-Bahn, stop is another lively people watching locale with several restaurants.

    Here is a Google Map giving you a feel for the attractions on the east side and there proximity to Hotel Pension Kastanienhof where we would stay on our next trip:

    tinyurl.com/BERLIN-EAST (paste into browser)

    There is a very nice biergarten, Cafe am Neuen See, in the Tiergarten with many outdoor tables overlooking a small lake with families/couples rowing rental boats!

    We did not take a river cruise on the Spree. But I would recommend it after seeing how far it travels within the city.

    The hauptbahnhof (main train station) is very new and quite an architectural wonder. We took a train from it to Prague, but I would suggest a look around the glass interior even if you are not taking a train from the station. The glass tube elevators and crisscross platforms passing through the interior are really something.

    The Radisson hotel lobby has a unique Fish Tank elevator about 2 stories high. The price to ride in it did not meet our threshold of value but a look in the lobby while passing by the hotel might also be of interest.

    We also toured the History, Egyptian and Greek museums. We had limited time so I would definitely recommend two full days which I believe is plenty. My wife wanted to see the Egyptian and Greek museums (impressive artifacts but we have been to Egypt and Greece) so I was more interested in the History and Checkpoint Charley museums. Could be a girl thing, guy thing!

    Berlin is a very worthwhile visit but do not miss the bike tour!

  • 3. Fat Tire Bike Tours
    Fat Tire Bike Tours, Berlin, Germany

    See review StrandsDanville

    Berlin Is Ideal For A Bike Tour

  • 4. Swissotel Berlin
    Swissotel Berlin, Berlin, Germany
    Show Prices
    Avg price: $187

    See review StrandsDanville

    Nice Hotel, Great Staff, Questionable Location

  • 5. Prague
    Prague, Bohemia

    Arriving in Prague from Berlin at the Praha-Holesovice station on the outskirts of the city we were unsure of how to get to our hotel and what to do for currency. There is an ATM machine on the street level of the station and public transportation to our hotel was quite easy. We took the subway which only has 3 lines (A,B & C) with 2 main transfer stations. The tickets are inexpensive but the Czech station names present a little challenge! Note: Our guidebooks as well as our private guide all warned to watch out for the taxi drivers trying to overcharge, so the wonderful public transportation system made avoiding taxi's easy.

    Transportation advice from train station...Before your trip, print out the Prague subway map and locate the closest station to your hotel plus transfer station if necessary. We asked at the TI for help on what line, etc and they sent us to the second closest station by mistake. With luggage it is important to minimize the walking distances along the cobble streets. So some advance strategy would guarantee good results!

    We decided to splurge in Prague since it will probably be our first and only time in this great "fairy tale" city. Our luxuries were an upgraded room #305 in Mamaison Pachtuv Palace hotel which was a corner suite overlooking the Charles Bridge, Vltava River, Castle and mini Eiffel Tower on the hill and the hiring of a private guide.

    We did save on meals. For real value, we do highly recommend U Knihovny - www.uknihovny.cz which is fairly close to the entrance of the Charles Bridge and down the street from the Four Seasons where a beer costs as much as a dinner at Knihovny!

    The first night we had beautiful weather so we walked 10 minutes to the Tesco supermarket and purchased picnic type food and a bottle of wine. We then walked across the Charles Bridge with a news crew staging a live broadcast and strolled to the left along the river. There we found a nice park bench to enjoy our meal and wine for a great start to our 3 nights in Praha.

    Our first and second mornings of site seeing were with a private guide named Milan. His daughter, Sarka, runs a tour company named Personal Prague Tours. The first day we spent 7 hours and the second 3.5 with him. We would recommend Milan to those primarily interested in in-depth details and stories beyond the standard guidebooks. It is extremely rare that I would describe anybody as an intellectual but I believe Milan is! He was active as a journalist in the 1989 communist revolt. He played his fife-like instrument to demonstrate the small amphitheater acoustics adjacent to St Vitus Cathedral. He was very well versed in the Jewish faith, spoke some Hebrew and knew endless details about the many synagogues in Prague from the subterranean cemeteries on up. He also sang in the subway station a few lines from O Sole Mio. But can he play golf? Although, sometimes his very good English was difficult to understand and some of his explanations became a little opaque as the details compounded. But who am I to talk since I struggled with just please and thank you in Czech! Again, a private guide is something to really consider!

    One suggestion if you set out to tour the hillside castle area: Take the efficient trams to the top and tour as you walk back towards the river via "coronation" avenue.

    Also, it is an easy walk to the base of the funicular for a ride up to visit the mini-Eiffel Tower on the hill. The path back down is very circuitous but there is a nice restaurant at the halfway point.

    When leaving Prague to catch the very inexpensive ($8) Student Agency bus to Cesky Krumlov we boarded a tram across from our hotel and reached the train/bus station in 20 minutes. So if you plan to visit Cesky Krumlov the bus ride is 3 hours and very comfortable.

    From Golem to Jara Cimrman to the mocking artist David Cerny, it is difficult to really understand the essence of Prague and the Czech people. But fairy tales are for the imagination!

  • 6. Mamaison Pachtuv Palace
    Mamaison Suite Hotel Pachtuv Palace Prague, Prague, Bohemia
    Show Prices
    Avg price: $261

    See review StrandsDanville

    Room With A View!

  • 7. Cesky Krumlov
    Cesky Krumlov, South Bohemian Region

    Cesky Krumlov is worth staying two nights. We came into town from Prague on the very inexpensive ($8) Student Agency bus. It drops you off not very far from the center of Old Town and it is an easy walk to the town center and your accommodation. The town is rich in medieval architecture and its well maintained castle offers several tours to learn more about its history.

    We actually booked a private tour with a great guide Oldriska Balouskova oldriskab@hotmail.com. She grew up in Cesky Krumlov but attended UC Berkeley for her undergraduate and San Francisco State for her masters degrees. She met us at our pension at 6PM in order to avoid the tourist crowds for a walking tour throughout the town and castle grounds. After a couple of hours, per her recommendation, we enjoyed a nice dinner at U Dwau Maryi (review below). Her English is excellent and she possesses a high energy personality. We highly recommend you consider Oldriska!

    We stayed at Penzionek Olsakovsky (review below). The location is absolutely fabulous with a terrace/backyard where one can enjoy their morning breakfast adjacent to the river. However, there is a major caveot for taller people. The building is old, so the door passage in the breakfast room and lower floor arched bedrooms are not high enough to avoid bumping your head. I tattooed mine 3X. So definitely request the upper floor or be prepared to duck!

    The weather gods were not kind to us here in Cesky Krumlov. We were really looking forward to our 3 hour canoe trip to the Abbey and bike ride back. But the temperature dropped and we had some rain. Instead we hiked to the top of Klet Mountain where the weather gods would not allow us to see the Austrian Alps. But they could not prevent me from enjoying another $1.50 per 1/2 liter fine Czech beer at the service hut on top of the mountain. So take that weather gods!!!

    If you like grilled meats then definitely dine at Tavern (Krcma) in Satlavska Street (review below)

    We departed Cesky Krumlov on Pension Lobo's expensive ($55) 9AM shuttle to Vienna. So the average Student Agency in and Lobo out seemed about right.

    All in all a very nice town. If you are traveling from Salzburg and juggling your time, I would try and stay one night in Krumlov. 3 nights is plenty for Prague if that is part of your debate.

  • 8. Penzionek Olsakovsky
    Penzionek Olsakovsky, Cesky Krumlov, South Bohemian Region

    See review StrandsDanville

    Enjoy the Breakfast Setting But Watch Your Head!

  • 9. U Dwau Maryi (The 2 Marys)
    U Dwau Maryi (The 2 Marys), Cesky Krumlov, South Bohemian Region

    See review StrandsDanville

    Unique Medieval!

  • 10. Tavern in Satlavska Street
    Krcma v Satlavske, Cesky Krumlov, South Bohemian Region

    See review StrandsDanville

    Fantastic Grilled Meats

  • 11. Vienna
    Vienna

    Vienna is a very interesting city with its ornate large buildings and boom/bust history. Today its people are sophisticated in their lifestyles with time honored traditions of enjoying fine desserts, drinking exotic coffees, listening to classical music and spending time to read about current events around the globe.

    I thought Rick Steve's approach of riding the tram around the ringstrasse was quite a good idea. I would utilize his book for ideas on where to get off and tour the many museums, Stephansdom and the 2 main palaces. Then budget time for the Konditorei and Kaffeehaus!

    What is very insightful is our visit to Vienna involved meeting friends one day and relatives the next. Each visit was independent but both involved a walk around the city within the Ringstrasse and more importantly a stop at a coffee house. We went and thoroughly enjoyed coffee at Cafe Central and Cafe Griensteindl. In between, we enjoyed homemade Sacher Torte and champagne before going to a Heurigen and then the next day a mixed grill barbecue at one of the Teich's (a small lake) cabins in the outskirts of the city to naturally include pastries from Cafe Landtmann!

    So enjoy the architecture, see the art, listen to the music but make sure to smell the coffee and taste the sweets!

  • 12. Slovenia
    Slovenia, Europe

    Our time in Slovenia was limited to 3 nights, so it made planning a little bit constrained. After researching several locales and modes of transportation, we concluded that renting a car was the only way to properly explore the country. After returning from our trip, it is unequivocally the only way to travel without losing countless hours of time and probably missing great settings!

    We focused exclusively on Triglav National Park and its surrounding environs, to include, Lake Bled, Bohinj, Vrsic Pass and the encompassing Emerald Trail with Kobarid (WWI museum), Most na Soci (mountain car train, quite a fun ride) and Bovec (bow-VETS) (Soca river). The Emerald Trail (name given in tourist pamphlet) also includes a more southern winery region which, given more time, we would have enjoyed exploring. Also, we passed on Ljubljana and I could not fit in a round of golf in Bled at what appeared to be a very nice course!

    We discovered a very challenging logistical terrain. In all our travels, we have never encountered such a condensed dramatic series of ascending and descending peaks (1,800 meters) separated by valley floors of clear, rapidly running, turquoise rivers. How this unlikely treacherous geography became the 1,000,000 human offense/defense lines between the Italians and Austrians at the start of WWI is mind boggling. You add in the alpine beauty of Lakes Bled and Bohinj and you have quite a place.

    The main thrust of Triglav National Park is outdoor trekking, biking and river rafting. The Soca River rafting is in the extreme sports category meaning guide, full wet suit, life jacket and lifeline tether. In Bovec there are several outfits offering "extreme" guided outings. The trekking is everywhere. So in advance I would research the possibilities on the internet and choose what fits ones desires. Our experiences were very tame due to weather and time. See below for what we did in Bled and Bovec.

    SO IF I could wave my magic wand and redo the trip, here is what I would do:

    3 Nights-Lake Bled = I would like to play golf but my wife would be content with the location as well.
    2 Nights-Bovec = We would do some mountain treks one day and the "extreme" river rafting the next.

    1/2 DAY 1=Check into Penzion Mayer in Lake Bled (review below), walk around lake, take man-powered boat ride to central island, enjoy dinner at Okarina (review below)
    DAY 2= Full day driving tour doing a southern route through Ljubjana, wine country, visiting Kobarid WWI museum and returning on early evening mountain car train from Most na Soci to Bohinj. Dinner at Penzion Mayer
    DAY 3 = Play golf in Bled. Ride bike (provided free by Penzion Mayer) around lake and explore Bohinj doing waterfall short hike, gondola ride to summit for vistas and trek on selected route(s). Dinner in Bohinj. Stay in Bled.
    DAY 4 = Drive north over Vrsic Pass (18 hairpin turns up, 15 down), check out world's highest ski jump on way, check into Dobra Villa, book river trip for next day, choose one trek for afternoon, dinner at Dobra Villa
    DAY 5 = River rafting and then relax with a book, enjoy some refreshments and play keep away with Missi the boxer! Dinner at Dobra Villa

    There you go!

    Note: This suggested itinerary avoids a not too fun drive from Bohinj to Tomlin, which we did do.

  • 13. Bled
    Bled, Upper Carniola Region

    Lake Bled is a very nice Alpine setting. Naturally the commercial area is very congested with cars but the walking/bike path around the lake is flat and very scenic. The golf course is 4KM down the main road from the highway as you approach the town. It has a nice grass driving range and it appears to be in very good condition with lots of tree lined fairways.

    The passenger boats going to the center island are interestingly non-motorized. Quite a row for the driver with 15 people aboard! There is a path leading up to the castle type fortress (grad) on the hill overlooking the lake and town.

    There are several restaurants. We dined at and enjoyed Okarina, see review below.
    Our tour consisted of a morning drive to Bohinj where we parked at the fee based trail leading up to the waterfall. It was a nice staircase climb with some vistas of the lake and an impressive waterfall at the end. We then drove (4KM) to the ski gondola for a lift to the upper peaks. The weather was okay but very cool so the vistas did not qualify for a convention bureau postcard. But we recommend a trip to the top for the views.

    We then took a very windy, steep, hard to follow the signs road to Tomlin. Please see our suggested itinerary above which attempts to avoid this drive. We had no choice due to limited days. Tomlin is beautifully situated along the turquoise Soca River where a nice bier garten is situated next to a "lake" area which is a nice resting point. Our main goal was to drive to Kobarid for the WWI museum (see review below)

    Our return trip from Most Na Soci was highlighted by a fun ride on the mountain train. You actually sit in your car, perched on a flatcar while the locomotive tows you through the mountain tunnels back to Bohinj! Try to get the schedule before you go. The train does not leave until early evening but get there a 1/2 hour ahead to make sure you get on. There is a price for missing it!

  • 14. Okarina
    Okarina, Bled, Upper Carniola Region

    Okarina is an ancient small flute type instrument.
    See review StrandsDanville

    Interesting Art, Very Good Food & Solid Service

  • 15. Penzion Mayer
    Penzion Mayer, Bled, Upper Carniola Region

    See review StrandsDanville

    Super Clean, Great Hospitality & Very Good Food

  • 16. Kobarid Museum (Kobariski muzej)
    Kobarid Museum (Kobariski muzej), Kobarid, Slovenian Littoral Region

    This WWI museum contains a well done presentation of the conflict between the Italians and Austrians from the start of the war in 1914 through 1918. Ernest Hemingway actually was part of the war effort in Slovenia which inspired him to write Farewell To Arms. Unfortunately the Farewell part has not come true.

    What really made a major impression on me, not so much my wife, could be a guy vs girl thing, was the relief map of the Triglav region showing the "human" fortification lines where the two sides dug in and converged. 1,000,000 people were killed and/or wounded in this conflict. Just the thought of armies perched on one mile high craggy peaks stretching for many kilometers in extreme cold, harsh conditions is truly mind boggling.

    This museum's topography maps give a meaningful visualization of the Triglav area and a pretty sobering portrayal of extraordinaryly difficult times. Our hardships of slow traffic and sometimes slow table service do not even find there way onto the chart. Be thankful for our gifts to travel and learn and not travel and fight!

  • 17. Bovec
    Bovec, Slovenian Littoral Region

    Bovec (bow-VETS) is a fairly nondescript town. It is a good starting off point for doing local treks into the nearby mountains or traveling by car to other trail heads around the beautiful Soca River valley. In town there are a few extreme sport agencies that I would book my river rafting trip through or inquire about bike rentals and trekking paths.

    We enjoyed our stay and dining at Dobra Villa (first building when entering town).See our review below.

    Jet Set Anyone? - Our drive to Freilassing/Salzburg from Bovec to exchange our Austrian car for our German car covered 4 countries (Slovenia, Italy, Germany and Austria) in 5 hours! If it's lunchtime, then this must be Italy!

  • 18. Dobra Vila Bovec

    See review StrandsDanville

    A Sanctuary After The Great Outdoors!

  • 19. Salzburg
    Salzburg

    Salzburg (salt mountain) is situated in a beautiful area of Austria. It is surrounded by Tyrolean peaks and beautiful lakes (see). We have been very fortunate to visit this area on a few occasions. My wife's aunt has a condo in Reid along the shores of Wolfgangsee.

    If your trip includes Munich either before or after Salzburg, then I would highly recommend renting a car in only Germany for use in in the Salzburg area by picking up and/or returning it in Munich or Freilassing (10KM from Salzburg). This way you avoid the multi-country drop charges and you have it available for site seeing around the Salzburg area and Neuschwanstein / HohenSchwangau Castles heading to/from Munich.

    If I were to spend 3 nights in the Salzburg area, I would spend 1 full day/night in the old town, visiting the Castle, shops, Mozart museum, possibly taking in the Sound of Music tour (I was shocked my wife's aunt has never seen the movie...hmm) or booking a concert. But the other nights I would choose to locate in St Wolfgangsee to take advantage of the hiking trails and unique beauty of the these Tyrolean landscapes.

    Here are the sites I would see:

    Berchtesgaden - Take the historical Eagle's Nest tour and enjoy the aerie views.
    Salzbergwerks - Take a Salt Mine tour. Either near Berchtesgaden (preferable) or Hallstatt
    Hallstatt - Walk along trail adjacent to Hallstattsee and take ferry across to town
    Bad Ischl - Enjoy a pastry at the Konditerei Zauner
    Ice Caves - Dachstein Mountain (preferable), accessible from the village of Obertraun near Hallstatt or Eisriesenwelt the largest ice caves outside of Werfen
    Hellbrunn Palace (South of Salzburg via bus or car) - Tour the "trick" fountains and the Palace interior. See the famed Sound of Music gazebo (Going on 17) Kind of fun.

    St Wolfgangsee - Stay 2 nights, hike "The Pilgrim's Way" trail to St Gilgen and return by ferry. Select other nearby trail for day hike to summit peaks or ride up The Schafberg on the steam cog wheel railway for expansive views of the region. Enjoy evening meal on a terrace of Gasthof Falkensteiner right next to the lake (see)

    I realize these are general ideas but I would time my visit to Berchtesgaden for the Eagle's Nest and preferable Salt Mine Tour as I was leaving towards Neuschwanstein (Fussen/Schwangau) or arriving from Munich. Either way I would visit Linderhof Castle and stay in or around Fussen for the various castle tours. Note: The multi-country drop fees are significant enough in my book to justify this car swapping.

    The Austrians and Germans love to hike. Their trails always seem to have a Hutte (hut) at the end for a meal and a refreshment. It is actually a cultural activity that I have really learned to appreciate through the decades. Gruss Gott! It's well worth the experience!

  • 20. Fussen, Schwangau & Hohenschwangau
    Fussen, Swabia

    Language note: gau is actually a German word unique to Bavaria meaning valley.

    Fussen is only 6KM from Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau Castles. The town as well as the entire area (Schwangau, Hohenschwangau) have many, many hotels. We stayed at Alpenhotel Meier, review below, close to the castles but any hotel to your liking is fine for getting an early (8:45) start the next day. The Forggensee (lake) next to Schwangau has a 20 mile bike path around its perimeter.

    I would time my visit to spend one night in the Fussen area and tour the castles in the mornings first group. (See recommended castle strategy below) I would also rent a bike for an early evening ride around the lake with a picnic (jause) style dinner in tow!

    Then after the castle tours I would head to Munich and drop off the car which is not needed in any city with excellent public transportation.

  • 21. Schloss Neuschwanstein & Schloss Hohenschwangau

    The castle tours are actually quite the walking bonanza! Hohenschwangau's tour ascends at least 3-4 stories with a return staircase as well. Then a fairly steep climb for 30-40 minutes to Marienbruke (bridge over waterfall), then the Neuschwanstein tour and finally a descent through the Pollatschlucht or Pollat Gorge following the waterfall runoff back to the main ticket area.

    The ticket office assigns the start time for Neuschwanstein once you choose the Hohenschwangau start time. They give you 2 hours between tours to make your way up the hill to Neuschwanstein. I tried very hard to move up the time before we left for Germany and again at the ticket center. Nein can do.......tacitly meaning....we want you to shop and eat more while you wait! Regardless the area is in a beautiful setting so the wait is fine!

    STRATEGY FOR WALKERS - After the Hohenschwangau tour follow the signs up the tree lined asphalt road towards Neuschwanstein. Walk all the way to Marienbruke (bridge over a waterfall with view down towards the scaffolding side of castle). My wife and I took only about 30 minutes to reach the bridge. When you reach the area near Neuschwanstein look for a stone stairway path with a sign for Pollatschlucht /Pollat Gorge. Be sure and return to the base via this path. It descends along the waterfall all the way down the gorge. It is very safe and very special!

    STRATEGY FOR NON-WALKERS - Take the shuttle bus to the top. It drops you off very close to Marienbruke and it is down hill to Neuschwanstein from there. I still highly recommend returning via the Pollatschlucht /Pollat Gorge.

    For the old time Disney goers, these castles are an E ticket!

  • 22. Alpenhotel Meier
    Alpenhotel Allgaeu, Hohenschwangau, Swabia

    See review StrandsDanville

    Pick A Card Any Card

  • 23. Munich
    Munich, Upper Bavaria

    Munich was really just a departure city back home to Danville for us because we have visited it before. We stayed at the number one rated hotel (review below) in Munich based on trip advisor ratings. Not quite number one in our book but it was very good!

    We enjoyed our last ration of potatoes and sausages in the Old Town and marveled at the Viktualienmarkt with its wonderful presentations of food. We enjoyed strolling through the famous deli Dallmayr where gifts of chocolate were acquired. On our last day we toured the Castle of the Nymphs or Nymphenberg Schloss. The castle tour, to include the carriage house, the Queens hunting residence where she shot lame ducks from atop her residence on the belvedere and the castle apartments, was very entertaining. But the contrast of the Versailles-like grounds and ugly piles of brown boulders they called fountains just made me shake my head and laugh!

    We then took the S-Bahn directly to the most quiet International airport in the world for our non-stop flight back to SF. Since I missed the HofBrauHaus (Frau Strand preferred Rococo architecture), it was poetic that a HB branch was actually at the airport. I used up our remaining euros for ein liter von bier but the oom-pah-pah was missing!

    So its once again, Auf Wiedersehen, na shledanou and na svidenje to wonderful countries and wonderful people! Danke, díky, hvala for all the hospitality and fond memories!

  • 24. Hotel Laimer Hof
    Hotel Laimer Hof, Munich, Upper Bavaria
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    Avg price: $140

    See review StrandsDanville

    Expectations vs Reality