4th June 2007

About the last trip …

… I didn’t give much details, so here it goes.

Taking advantage of cheap flight tickets from Tampere to Franfurt-Hahn with Ryanair, and of good deals with rental cars, we decided to spend a week visiting “South Germany and around”. We didn’t have actual well-defined plans, but we knew we’d stop on Sunday at my grand-parents, living in Alsace, since they were celebrating their 75th birthday. We thought about visiting Schwarzwald, perhaps Luxembourg (canceled, not enough time), and after the weekend, going as far as Salzburg. Looking on the Internet what we shouldn’t miss in South Germany, we realized that the famous Neuschwanstein castle was kind of on the way, so we decided to include it in our plans.

We took off on the Friday, and got in Hahn in about 2H of flight. As always with Ryanair, airport is far from civilization, and we knew Frankfurt would be too far (100Km), and in the wrong direction (NE), since we were heading SSE. We finally arrived in Kaiserslautern late in the evening, but got a hotel, held by a charming couple with whom we tried our German (I mean especially Netta, since I didn’t study German), and even some food in a pub close by. First German beer ! good to be on holidays !
Note: directions were not clear along the roads … signs were often hidden behind trees, and shown once, ahead of the crossing. So that when you are to turn, nothing helps you with what to do …

On Saturday, we didn’t spend time visiting the city. Just an hour in the pedestrian city center to buy water, chocolate, and other necessary things for the trip. It smelled good food around, but sorry, no time. We then drove towards Schwarzwald, and stopped first in Baden-Baden, since I knew the name from history books, and military sources. We stopped mainly because there was a Tourism Office and we wanted to know what not to miss in the Black Forest. We had no idea how nice this city was ! Very much impressed, we probably spent over half a day there, passing the fountain, walking down the clean and pedestrian city center. The smell of trees was omnipresent. We also took on the hill, until we reached the old castle, across a cute park (quite steep though !). Once there, we found the newer castle, and a panoramic view over the city, especially its baths and churches. Coming down, we chose to walk down the old stairs, instead of the newer road. Nice houses and gardens to be found ! We decided to have a typical German bite, and went for some kind of pretzel-sandwich and a delicious ice-cream. Once rested, we went on, to the river, nicely bordered with trees, and took more pictures before going back to the car.
Note: prices there are sensibly over the German average, but still competitive compare to Finland. Cars were almost all very fancy and new (cabriolets everywhere, Mercedes and BMW of course, but also Ferrari and Porsche), streets and parks were clean. I guess living here must be really expensive.
From Baden-Baden, we took the panoramic route to Freudenstadt, and from there, to Freiburg. Schwarzwald is really nice ! and Germans have made a lot of those places to stop by the road, so you can take pictures. Good those roads aren’t too long, we would spend our day just driving 1 km, stopping, taking picture, driving 1 km, … :)
Note: houses are soooo nice ! not too much of modern buildings, a lot of ancient style ones, and pubs and guest houses were very decorated ! It’s a pleasure to drive through !
We finally headed toward Colmar, in France, and from there, to my aunt’s village. That part of the trip was also very interesting. The “route des vins” (vineyards road) is something to see, and if it wasn’t already late (and if I didn’t have to drive), we would have stopped to taste a few :)
Note: houses are very nice there too, and gardens are so well-maintained ! And directions, much easier to follow !

On Sunday, we celebrated my grandparents birthday in a convent, famous for receiving pilgrims and hosting events. We chose to end the trip by walking an hour, to enjoy the sun, the landscape and the forest. And the company of my aunt and her 3 children ;) Since we didn’t tell anybody else of our arrival, surprise was total, and brought a lot of joy and happiness to the rest of my family, especially my grandparents and parents. Excellent food, excellent wines and various aperitifs, digestifs, etc., we probably spent 4 hours to eat. View from the convent was amazing, as weather was clear and allowed us to see as far as Germany, and its Black Forest. On the way back, necessary stop at my grandparents house, with still a lot of my family, for more drinks and cakes. We’ll spend the night at my aunt again. Her boys are very attaching …

Monday, time for the “Au Revoir”, and to move eastward, through the Schwarzwald again, to visit the Titisee. We spend quite some time in the souvenir shops there, since it was quite cheap. We also appreciated typical Alsatian food that my aunt gave us before we left. People are nice there, but I guess one of the shops will hate French for eternity … I was dressed like typical Frenchman, with a beret Basque and a baguette in my hand, a Camembert in the other, and stayed quite some time in front of their meat-products, wines, and other delicacies, without entering/buying anything :) Sorry guys, it was just too good !
We then pursued our travel, trying to escape the rain, and made another break at Konstanz, near the lake Bodensee (or lake Constance), where the Rhine downstreams. Konstanz is an old medieval city just next to the Swiss border. Nice old buildings there, but poorly organized pedestrian and cycle tracks, especially around the bridge. Directions are a nightmare, and parking aren’t free anywhere. About the directions, part of the problem comes from us : understanding the location of the city compare to the lake and the Swiss border ; but a big part comes from them also : how are you supposed to understand “Parking SomeName (CH)” when you don’t plan to park in Switzerland ? Simply, after turning back quite few times, and studied the messy and randomly placed signs : “This way : the parking SomeName AND the Swiss border”. I liked very much also seeing such sign in some round about, turning where I was supposed too, but not getting any indication whatsoever afterwards about the location of this parking, until we got our noses on it, by accident.
A coffee, and some time to relax. We crossed the border to Switzerland, following the south coast of the lake, until Bregenz, in Austria.
Note: directions are suddenly much clearer ! people drive too slooooowww … Houses are horrible, gardens not taken care of, a lot of modern building … where is the Swiss high standard of life ??? Prices seem quite high.
Austria. I had no clue what to expect. At first, it didn’t look very different from Switzerland, from a village point of view. Same bad taste for the building. Prices were quite good though, so we bought more food (Tirol meat products), and gas, since it was MUCH cheaper than anywhere else (25% at least). It got better when driving south : houses looked nice again, and mountains started to show themselves (remember, weather was gray since lake Titisee, so it wasn’t easy to see them before).
It is already late when we reach Vaduz, Liechtenstein. It’s actually dark now, so we can’t see much. There seem to be a castle on top of the hill. Everything seems to be closed (22H). Since one guest house was well-indicated, we ask for prices (given in Swiss Francs, since the Principality shares the currency and some other things with the Helvetic confederation). “Between 350 and 500€”. Damn, this is not for us … we tried quite a few, and finally ended in what seemed to be the cheapest : 190€ for the night ! wow, I never spent so much money for a hotel night. It’s not even a suite ! well, it has a balcony with view over the city, but that’s quite an expensive view … whatever, we were not in position to negotiate : damn tired, too late to find anything else, and too hungry to think. The Tirol food was good, and we finished the French food too.
Wow, if you count, that was 4 countries in one day !

Tuesday … we visited Liechtenstein. It’s not big. And that’s an understatement. And we were having bad luck : most of the official buildings were being renovated, so our pictures of the castle, parliament, etc. weren’t the best. But we found around Vaduz very nice landscapes, and very nice and helpful people too. After a nice cheese fondue, and a rush on a souvenir shop, we left for Austria.
Austria again … and the Tirol. Wonderful ! Amazing landscapes, beautiful places ! The Alps were all around us as we decided to take smaller roads, typical cutes villages were to be enjoyed, alternating with almost empty ski resorts (of course, it’s off-season). Temperature was close to 0 degree Celsius when we passed St Christof, small ski station, almost on top of a mountain.
Evening, rain and fog were starting to settle down when we got close to the lake Heiterwang, so we decided to stop. The hotel restaurant (Fisher Am See, if I remember well) served some very tasty fishes, with adequate Austrian wine.

Wednesday started well, with a very complete and varied breakfast (brown and white bread, croissant, eggs, meat-products, nuts, etc), and a refreshing walk along the lake. There also, we were surrounded by mountains, and the landscape was breathtaking. Water was clear and we could even see some fishes.
Objective of the day : Neuschwanstein castle ! and even if again, directions in Germany sucked, the fantastic piece of art soon had us forget about it. And it doesn’t come alone. The Königschlösser, “King’s castles”, are both worth seeing (but we couldn’t visit the Hohenschwangau, lack of time again), and we took many pictures. Located aside a mountain, the Neuschwanstein Schloss is very impressive, and look like a fairy tale castle, one of those you could almost see an endangered princess at the dungeon’s window, and a dragon at the gates. We got to visit the inside (short visit to be honest, they show only the finished rooms, and there are only 14 out of over 300!). The whole building is a tribute to Wagner’s music, and swans are painted or sculpted everywhere.
We then walked further up, passed a very nice bridge over waterfalls, and escalated a bit the mountain behind the castle. The view over the castle, the towns close by and the lakes, was wonderful, and we decided to have a break there, since we had some food with us (but we still bought some Weisswurst on the way back).
More was to be seen further. We then drove towards Salzburg, along the AlpenStrasse. Truly amazing places, beautiful mountains, green rivers and lakes (yes, not blue, green !), cute houses again, with the decorated GästHauser (guest houses) and bars. We really loved it ! Unfortunately, night fell upon us, and there was nothing to be enjoyed, so we took the motorway for the remaining part (only for few dozen km). That one was horrible … speed limits that don’t make sense, hell a lot of people on it (we realized afterwards, that the reason for that, was the Ascension Thursday and the long weekend it brings). We finally arrived in Salzburg and got well-deserved dinner and night of rest.

Thursday we visited Mozart’s birth house and his museum (in the apartment he actually lived, the other one being too small). Although disappointed by the first one, I was pleased with the second, full of informations about the genius. We also walked through most of the city center, passing by a great number of nice buildings (churches, universities, etc.). There also, it is possible to walk up the local hill, and have a panoramic view over the city. We stopped for lunch in a medieval-style bar-restaurant that had good beer and huge portion of meat dishes !
Weather wasn’t with us that day, and time either. We still tried to get a few souvenirs, and got back to the car. Mission : reaching the airport of Hahn the following day, with luggages ready … kinda hard when you’re in Salzburg, with all those souvenirs and most of your stuff spread over the car …
First things first. Today, we’ll get as far as we can, sleep somewhere, and while at a hotel, try to organize our luggages. Luckily, if Germans are good at one thing, it is making motorways : driving up to 200km/h sometimes feels great (but quite tiring, since it was evening). And in spite of recurrent road works and poor directions again (but we didn’t need much of those), we reached Karlsruhe (400 Km from Salzburg) before it got too late to get a hotel (22H usually). Still, finding a not too expensive hotel in that city was quite a challenge, but we discovered that asking room without breakfast made it 30€ cheaper, and we could finally sleep.
Note: about Germany. Great things: good motorways, cheap supermarkets like Lidl and Norma, nice and ready to help people, even if they don’t always handle English. Much more nice places to see than one would expect. Bad things: directions (I know, i said it already !), and a lack of cheap hotel chains (or we didn’t find them), like you can find so easily in France, for example. A very harsh language to my ears : can’t you guys speak French like everybody ? just kidding, I even learnt to ask for a room in German. Gas was more expensive than in Austria or France, but still, cheaper than in Finland or even Switzerland, so it is neither a good or bad thing.

Friday was easy trip to Hahn, and we got there early enough to relax while waiting for the plane, but we were stressed about the weight of our luggages, filled with souvenirs. Flight was quite short since we slept for most of it. Trip was almost finished : we still had to drive from Tampere to Helsinki ; but we had the weekend to recover and dream again about those nice places we’ve seen.

It was such a wonderful one ! and so different from the previous ones … We did want to visit more places : Luxembourg and Munich were in our minds, but time was short, so we left it to later trips. I hope I didn’t make too many mistakes, and made you want to visit those places, and also that you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

Bon voyage !

This entry was posted on Monday, June 4th, 2007 at 1:59 and is filed under in English please !, news, voyages. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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