European Driving Tour
7/2/15 to 7/17/15
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1: Farchant, Germany, days 1-3
Page 2: Farchant, Germany, days 4-7
Page 3: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, days 1-3
Page 4: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, day4; Colmar, France, days 1-3
Our friends and across the street neighbors Hans and Barbara have vacationed in Germany for many years. Hans was born in Germany and Barbara lived there when she was young. They are both fluent in German and enjoy spending part of the summer each year in beautiful Bavaria. They have shared so many gorgeous photos of that part of Germany with us that it has made us want to visit Bavaria, especially since they would be there to show us their favorite places. While I was still working, I was not able to take time off during the months they were in Germany due to our quarter end closing activities. But now that I was retired, I couldn’t wait to finally experience this beautiful part of the world with our friends.
Since we decided that one week in Germany would be enough time there to see the highlights of the area, we needed to find some other places to visit that were within a reasonable driving distance. One country that Carol and I had always wanted to visit was Switzerland. We had driven through Lugano, Switzerland several years ago after a Mediterranean cruise when we stayed in Bellagio on Lake Como. But that area wasn’t the Switzerland we wanted to see. We wanted to see the gorgeous snow-capped mountains. We decided to spend four nights in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland; which is located in a valley surrounded by some of the largest mountains in the Swiss Alps.
We still needed to find one more place to visit to make the vacation a full two weeks. A friend of mine recommended that we visit the Alsace area of France. She had raved about it, so we picked the city of Colmar to visit for three nights.
We were looking forward to spending a couple of weeks in what we expected to be a cooler part of the world than summer in south Florida. I should know better than to make assumptions about the weather.
Carol had arthroscopic knee surgery in January; but was still having a lot of pain in her knee. A week before our flight to Europe, her orthopedic surgeon recommended that Carol would need a complete knee replacement, since she was one of only 5% of patients whose knees got worse after repair surgery. It was to be done ten days after our return from this vacation, so we knew that she would be somewhat limited in the activities she could do.
Fortunately, we had purchased a very portable scooter, called the TravelScoot the prior year, since she couldn’t walk for very long on her knee. It had worked marvelously for her on two prior cruises, so we hoped it would help her to enjoy this vacation too. With it being easily collapsible and only weighing 35 pounds, it is very easy to deal with while on vacation. Below is a photo of it before and after being collapsed.
We booked a round trip non-stop flight to Zurich, Switzerland, since it was only an hour and a half drive from our final destination of Colmar. We would be flying on Swiss Airlines. The plane was a fairly new Airbus A330. Both Carol and I were able to get Aisle seats; but not next to each other. With most flights, the planes are very cold, so we both wore jeans for the flight. Not so on Swiss. Not long after we got in the air, we had to get down our carry on and switch to our shorts. We were really surprised that the plane was not kept cooler, plus there were no separate air vents above the seat that you could control.
The service was quite good, especially the very friendly and efficient attendants; and we did eventually get used to the temperature in the plane. It helped us to acclimate to the hot weather that was being forecast in Germany for our visit. We had brought along clothing mostly for cooler weather, since we were going to be staying in the mountains most of the time. We hadn’t expected a major heat wave in Europe.
After landing in Zurich we passed through immigration and were pleasantly surprised that there was no customs to go through. We have always had to fill out customs forms on international flights; but not in Zurich.
We had rented a Thrifty car for the two weeks. We had booked a small SUV so that we would have room for our luggage and Carol’s TravelScoot. With an SUV, we hoped that we would get by not having to collapse the scooter, but just take off the seat. The car we got was a Subaru Boxer. It is the European version of the Crosstrek. Fortunately it was a diesel vehicle, since diesel is cheaper than regular gasoline in Europe; and diesels get better mileage. With fuel costing around $6.00 a gallon, good mileage is very important there. The car had standard transmission, which is much more common in Europe than automatic. I don’t mind driving standard; but I had never driven a six-speed standard. It was different; but it worked out quite well.
One of the things I was concerned about was how to pay tolls, since we would be on toll roads in some of the countries we would drive through. At the counter, we were told that since we were renting the car in Switzerland, we wouldn’t have to worry about tolls because the car had a sticker that covered all the tolls. That was most desirable, since we did pass through several toll booths in Switzerland. She also told us that Germany and France didn’t have any toll roads; but that Austria did. She said that we would need to purchase the daily toll pass at the first gas station we came to in Austria to prevent getting a ticket. It turned out that when we passed through Austria, we never saw a gas station and we weren’t on their toll roads for very long before we were in Germany. So we never had to pay any tolls.
While planning the trip, I was quite frustrated with trying to determine how to travel between the different cities we would be going to, since the maps were very complicated. With so many small towns with long and unusual names; and so many different roads, it was difficult to even see where the roads went on the maps. I had printed out simpler maps from Google Maps; as well as a TripTik from AAA; but my main driving tool would be my iPhone GPS. Since we have a T-Mobile cellular plan, it includes unlimited international data, which allowed the GPS to get updated on the fly. It was truly a life saver. There would have been no way to be able to have gotten to our destinations in a reasonable time frame without the GPS. With all the roundabouts and short stretches of roads that had to be navigated to finally get to a real highway, it was very challenging. Thank goodness I had an able navigator with me in Carol.
Farchant, Germany – Day 1
The drive to Farchant took a little over 4 hours with our lunch break. It took us through the flatter northern route, rather than through the mountains; which I was most grateful for. After not getting much sleep on the flight, I preferred easier driving conditions. As we got into Bavaria, the scenery became more mountainous and quite pretty. The town of Farchant adjoins the very popular tourist town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The highest mountains in Germany are located in this area; which makes the area both a summer and winter resort.
The closer we got to Farchant, the more oohs and aahs we were expressing. It was a gorgeous place. We finally arrived at our hotel for the week, the Hotel Garni Foehrenhof (http://www.hotel-foehrenhof.com/en/index.php). Hans and Barbara used to stay there when they visited; before they found an apartment close by. They highly recommended it. I had booked it last year, since it is quite popular and I didn’t want it to be sold out. The exterior was just lovely and so German.
The reception area was most comfortable looking. Hans and Barbara had been waiting for us to arrive and assisted us with check in. We had requested a room on the lowest floor, since Carol is not able to climb stairs easily. They do have some apartments on the ground floor, but the lowest hotel rooms are on the first floor. There were 21 stairs to the first floor, so we would try to arrange our meals and touring so that Carol would only have to come down and go back up once each day. She had to go very slowly; but she was a trooper and was able to handle it. Luckily, the hotel let us leave the scooter downstairs until we needed it. That saved me from having to carry a 35 lbs. scooter up those 21 steps each day!
The very sweet receptionist asked if we wanted coffee and cake before going to our room. Each afternoon between 3:00 and 5:00 they serve several different types of desserts and small snacks along with coffee. With us normally eating early, we didn’t get to take advantage of it most days; but what we did sample was quite good.
Before going upstairs we asked if they had an oscillating fan we could use, since like most places in the area, they did not have air conditioning. It was going to be in the 90’s for a few days and we were quite worried that it would be difficult to sleep in the warmth. Fortunately they did have a fan and it was delivered to our room. It did make all the difference in the world. We were surprised at how comfortable we were at night with just the fan and open windows. Although, we did worry about insects coming in, since Germans don’t use screens anywhere. At night, we did keep the lights off most of the time to not attract insects into the room. With the sun not setting until around 9:30 PM and it still being light until around 10:00 PM, we never had an insect problem.
Our room, number 21, was very nice and large. It wasn’t just wood paneled, it was enclosed in wood with a wood panel ceiling. The two twin beds were pushed together, but made up separately, and quite comfortable. After our experience in other parts of Europe, we were worried that the beds might be too firm, but they were good. There was lots of closet space. Much more than we needed.
The bathroom was a reasonable size with a large shower. Of course, since we are used to cruising, we are used to very small bathrooms; so this one was quite adequate.
We were very lucky to have a room with a large balcony that looked out to the mountains. Since it faced north, we never had the sun shining directly into the room. We spent a lot of time on the balcony in the evening because it was most pleasant; and because all of the TV stations were in German. It was a great place to look at my photos for the day on my MacBook.
We had planned on it being an early night, so we went to dinner around 6:00 PM at one of Hans and Barbara’s favorite restaurants. They recommended that I try the schweinshaxe; which is a roasted ham hock. It is very popular in Bavaria. Carol ordered the schweinsbraten, which is sliced pork. We also each got a huge plate of delicious sauerkraut. Everything was so good and tasty.
Had we realized how large the schweinshaxe was, we could have just ordered the one to share. There was no way I could eat the whole thing; and we didn’t have a refrigerator in the room to take a doggy bag.
At home in Florida, I help Hans and Barbara with their computer problems. As luck would have it, they were having internet issues at their apartment, so I told them that I would check it out. We dropped Carol off first, since she needed to get back to our room and she had no desire to climb more stairs up to the apartment. It turned out to just be a router issue which I was able to fix. They had a lovely apartment with a beautiful view toward the mountains. We could see the Zugspitze, which is the highest mountain in Germany at 9,718 ft.
When I got back to our room, it was still warmer than we are used to; but the fan cooled us down enough to sleep well. During the night it became quite cool and refreshing.
Farchant, Germany – Day 2
As usual, I woke up very early on the first full day of a vacation. I can’t sleep late, since I am too excited about what we will be seeing. I was outside in the cool fresh air by 6:30 AM. It was going to be a beautiful clear day. I wanted to walk around the hotel property and take some photos; as well as go into town. The hotel had some nice decorations on the grounds.
With breakfast being served between 7:00 and 10:00, I didn’t have a lot of time to walk around; since I was going to go for a morning walk with Hans and Barbara at 9:00. I just loved seeing mountains in the distance, since that is something that does not exist in Florida.
I was enjoying the walk, when I heard bells ringing. Hans and Barbara had told us that cows are brought through town to go into fields to graze early in the morning and then return in the afternoon. I was lucky that I happened to be outside at the right time. I could see them down the road, so I had to run toward them so I could get a photo. At my age, I don’t run that often; so I really wanted to get some cow photos. It was interesting to watch the woman coax them to go where she wanted them to go with her stick while she was yelling instructions in German to them. She also had her husband and dog helping; but she did most of cow management functions.
I then headed back to the hotel to have their included breakfast. The restaurant itself is very large because they used to also serve dinner there. They no longer do and have a lot of excess space in some back rooms.
The breakfast spread itself is quite nice, with lots of cold meats, cheeses, fruits, cereals and milk products. They also had a very nice coffee machine that made individual cups with fresh coffee beans. The button that we normally pushed was for cappuccino. It was very good and quite popular with the guests.
They also had a nice selection of baked goods, including rolls, cake, croissants and breads.
The only eggs they had were medium boiled ones that were kept in a large pewter hen. Since they were fresh eggs, they were especially good. I was surprised at how the eggs remained very warm without being overcooked in the container.
After breakfast I headed up the road to meet up with Hans and Barbara to take their normal morning walk with them. It was so different to see sheep in the backyards of houses and mountains close by.
When I got to their apartment, they gave me a walking stick to use for the walk. It really made a difference during the walk. I would have to get one myself for later in the trip. Hans pointed out snails that were on the path we were taking. I had never seen snails that didn’t have shells or were that big. There were quite a few of them. I had to watch where I walked, since I could see myself sliding down if I stepped on one of them. They would have made the path quite slippery.
The path we took through a park was quite lovely and is also educational for kids. Every so often, there was a sign in German with a nature question. If the sign is lifted up, the answer is revealed.
There were benches and little pavilions every so often along the trail for resting. One of the pavilions had rocks on top of it. I saw that in other places around town also. I didn’t know why they put rocks on the roof. I Googled it and there was an explanation about the rocks absorbing heat and making the building cooler at night as the heat rises from the rocks and pulls the heat out of the building. That didn’t make much sense to me; but it did give an interesting look to the buildings. Maybe it just helped to hold down the roof and make it more stable. Who knows!
Hans took a photo of Barbara and me sitting in an unusual looking pavilion.
Near the end of the path, there was some construction going on where they were making improvements to the park.
When I returned to the hotel, I realized that I had lost my camera lens hood. It isn’t an expensive part; but it does protect the lens from damage and keeps off sun glare to improve photos. After Hans and Barbara picked us up to begin the tour for the day, they took me back to the trail, so I could see if I could find it. I walked over half of it; but finally gave up and did without for the rest of the vacation. I guess I knocked it off with the walking stick.
Our first stop was going to be in the town of Garmish. We kept driving around trying to find a parking space; but there were none to be found. There was a BMW motorcycle rally in Garmish that weekend and there were motorcycles everywhere and in lots of the parking spaces. Both Hans and Carol have handicap tags; but all those places were full of motorcycles too. We decided to change plans and return to Garmish during the week after the rally ended.
Outside of the town of Garmish is a site that was used for the 1936 winter Olympics. The ski jump was huge. The facility itself is rather old, but is still being used.
The reason we were there was so Hans and I could visit the Partnachklamm or Partnach Gorge. The gorge was cut out by a mountain stream. The gorge itself is almost a half mile long and 260 ft. deep. We took a horse carriage ride to the starting point. It would have been a long walk up to the entrance. We did enjoy looking at the rushing waters along the path. I was glad that we took the carriage up to that point or I would have been worn out before we even started the gorge walk.
We were basically entering a cave that was open in large areas along the rushing waters. With the weather rapidly warming up, it was most refreshing to feel the frigid air as we entered the cave. The cold water is nature’s best air conditioning. We walked along the narrow path gazing at the steep rock cliffs and rapidly moving water. It was quite a site.
In one section was a small waterfall. I was surprised how few people were doing this walk. I would have expected it to be much more popular, especially on a weekend.
In some areas, I had to duck down, since the space was not high enough for me to walk and stand up straight. But it was a minor inconvenience to be able to see the magnificent display. I was just loving it. It was too beautiful.
Near the end of the path, there were a lot of steps and a steep incline. I was getting worn out when we finally came out of the gorge and met the hot weather again. Hans pointed out a beach area not far away just up the river. I wasn’t surprised that no one was swimming in what must have been very frigid mountain water. They looked like they were just cooling off their feet.
It was now time to head back down the same path we had come from, which was fine with me. I was looking forward to the cooler environment and seeing it all over again from a different direction. When we started into the gorge, I couldn’t believe how many people were coming out. On the way back the pathway was quite crowded and we had to wait while people were taking photos. I guess that we had really lucked out that we entered the gorge during a lull. This is a very popular tourist attraction and well worth visiting. I just loved it and would happily go back again. We found the horse carriage for the trip down the mountain to meet back up with the girls who were relaxing in the shops and café.
On the way to our next destination, we stopped at the town of Ettal to see their gorgeous monastery. The original abbey was established in 1330. The monastery’s massive exterior is most impressive. I couldn’t get the whole building in a photo from directly in front of it.
But the real beauty is inside. I have always been a fan of ornate churches in white and gold. This one was a winner! It was covered in beautiful statues and artwork.
It was such eye candy. I had to take a panorama photo to help take it all in.
Our next stop was to another gorgeous town, Oberammergau. We enjoyed the beautifully decorated and painted buildings and lovely flowers all over.
But the main attraction in this town is their passion play. It is performed in their playhouse. It has been performed every ten years since 1634. It was started after the inhabitants made a vow with God that they would perform the play if they were spared from the bubonic plague that had recently been brought into the town and was killing people. It is said that once the vow was made, no one else died from the plague. Since it is only put on once a decade, the tickets are in high demand and sell out quickly.
We couldn’t enter the building to see the large open area where the play is performed, since it is only open for the various shows that are performed there. Romeo and Juliet was the current production.
After returning back to the hotel, we rested a bit before we headed for our evening activity, a local German festival. The town of Farchant has a festival twice a month in the summer on Saturday night if it isn’t raining. We had lucked out and the weather was perfect for it. While getting ready to leave, we heard music coming from outside. When we went out to our balcony, we saw a parade of performers marching up the street next to our hotel and up to the festival grounds. It was nice to have a preview of coming attractions. The grounds were very close and Carol was able to ride her scooter there. By the time we arrived the place was packed. It was a very nice setting for a festival.
We were glad that Hans and Barbara had arrived earlier with their friends Walter and Annie, who also live in Boynton Beach where we live, and vacation in Farchant every year. They had gotten a table right next to the stage where the dancers would perform. They had already gotten their large liter mugs of beer; and I would get one as soon as I could.
The large mugs are quite heavy, especially when they are full of almost 34 ounces of beer. I was surprised to see some of the women waitresses carrying as many as nine mugs at a time. Especially since they had to carry the mugs so far through the large crowd.
In addition to beer, there were several items available for dinner, including chicken, bratwurst and some other German food items. We were going to get some chicken for dinner; but by the time the line had shortened, they were sold out of them. So we got bratwurst instead. Not a problem for me, since it went very well with the beer. The sides were potato salad and fries.
It was fun to watch the children playing on the stage in their traditional German clothes. They were so cute. Some of them were dancing like their older siblings would be doing when the performances started, while others were just playing on the stage.
When the music and dancing began, it started with the youngest performers and each group after got progressively older. They were quite entertaining.
They even did a May Pole type dance. I felt sorry for the youngster trying to hold onto the pole! I’ve included a very short video.
One of the young performers played the accordion along with a guitarist. It was a very good show.
The crowd was enjoying themselves and it didn’t seem like people were leaving. When we saw a pretty sunset over the mountains, we knew it was time for us to leave. I was enjoying my beer a little too much, and Carol was fading fast after the busy touring day, so we headed out for the night. We had another big day planned tomorrow.
Farchant, Germany – Day 3
This was a day I had been waiting for a long time. We were going to see Neuschwanstein Castle. It is the castle that was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. On the way there, Hans pulled over at a gorgeous mountain lake. What a sight!
As we pulled into the town of Hohenschwangau, we saw the castle named after the city on a hill above the city. It is the castle where King Maximillian II lived and raised his son who would become King Ludwig II.
Ludwig II would build the Neuschwanstein Castle on the mountain across from it that we could just barely see.
Later in the day when we looked up at the castle, the sun was shining on it, plus there were a bunch of base jumpers who parachutes we could see. There were actually thirteen parachutes in the below photo; which can be seen in the original size of the photo.
There were many other beautiful buildings in town. What there also was, were hordes of people visiting there to see the castle we wanted to see. With it being a Sunday with sunny weather, people were everywhere.
We passed by the large maypole, which would be the first of many we would see on this trip.
We walked toward the ticket booth to see what we would have to do to visit the castle. There was a very long line of people waiting to get into the ticket office to buy tickets for some time later in the day to visit the castle. The line itself would probably have taken at least an hour to get to buy the tickets; and we might not have been able to even get into the castle that day after waiting. If we could have gotten tickets, they probably would have been for several hours later. My main goal was to see the famous beautiful castle exterior. It wasn’t worth it to me to go through all the hassle to see the interior, especially with the temperature in the 90’s with no AC in the castle. Plus Carol wouldn’t have been able to go inside anyway due to lots of stairs. So we decided to just take the bus up to get photos of the castle. There was a long line for that also; but it moved much faster. While waiting, I walked over to see the lake nearby. It was quite peaceful and people were feeding the swans.
Within about 45 minutes we were on the bus headed to the castle. When we exited the bus, there was a sign telling us to go up to a bridge for a view or go down to the castle for a tour. We were heading up to the bridge.
We were concerned if Carol’s TravelScoot would make it up the hill, since it was pretty steep. If it couldn’t, I would have helped push; but it did great all by itself. When we got to the top, we could see that the bridge was packed with people. Carol stayed back while we went out and got photos. We were so lucky that it was a beautiful sunny day.
After I got photos, I came back to get Carol, since I didn’t want her to miss this sight. The crowd had thinned out a bit, since it was between busses. Barbara stayed with the scooter while Carol walked out on the bridge. I got to get a photo of her with the castle over her shoulder.
After returning from the bridge, I decided to walk down the other path toward the castle entrance for some other shots and to see the view looking down the mountain. I was rewarded with a fantastic view of the Hohenschwangau Castle and the surrounding area.
A little further down the road, I got basically the same view of the castle as from ground level. The bridge was by far the best place to take photos. It is sad to think that Ludwig II never got to see the finished castle and only lived in it for 172 days before he died.
The walk back up the hill was not pleasant. It was really steep and a pretty long way. I was beat when I finally met up with the rest of the crew. We were all ready to get back on the bus and get out of town away from the crowds.
Our last destination for the day was to the small town of Wies. We would be visiting the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 1738 tears were seen on a wooden statue of Jesus near the site. A small church was built for it so that the pilgrims could visit the sculpture. The church was too small for the crowds and the current church was originally constructed between 1745 and 1754. Our drive to the church took us through a lot of back country roads and we weren’t sure that the GPS knew where it was going. But we finally came to the church. It was hard to believe that this large famous church was out in the middle of nowhere. The exterior didn’t hint at the interior beauty.
The interior is a work of art. So many beautiful statues, decorations and paintings.
Even the organ loft was encrusted with such ornate decorations.
Close to the church was a restaurant and we were hungry, since it was well past lunchtime. We had a delicious German lunch; but the highlight was dessert. It was called kucherl, which is a Bavarian donut. Quite yummy!
Since we had eaten a late lunch, we had a very light dinner that night. Although a hot and hectic day, it had been another great touring day. We were thoroughly enjoying our Bavarian adventure.
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