One day in late May we drove youngest son Andy, 25, and Margaret, his 'significant other,' to the San Francisco Airport. They were headed for Frankfurt to begin a 16-day camping tour of Germany and Switzerland. Andy had been to Europe with us for a few days when he was 15 and Margaret had not been at all. As we said good-bye at the security checkpoint I'm not sure which couple was more excited, Andy and Margaret or Liz and me.
In addition to being his first 'solo' European trip, it was to be Andy's first travel writing assignment. Camping is a way of seeing our three countries which Gemütlichkeit has never addressed so it was logical that he would scout out the territory. His credentials consisted of a short tour of duty as a reservations agent for Southwest Airlines, numerous hiking and camping trips in California and the Pacific Northwest, two years of high school German and three years of working in the Gemütlichkeit offices.
So, herewith the debut of Andy Bestor as a Gemütlichkeit contributor. His report not only provides insights into what it's like to see Europe from a tent, it also provokes memories of being young and experiencing the wonder and excitement of one's own first European trip. There's useful information here along with a lot of pizza, beer and fun. RHB
After the on-time arrival of our Lufthansa flight from San Francisco, we followed the Mietwagen signs to the Sixt-Budget counter. There, the courteous agent made clear all the conditions of the rental, gave us directions to the car and handed us the keys. We were off.
Happy to be underway, we hit the Autobahn in our black 1996 VW Golf. To our delight it was equipped with a sunroof and tape deck, an upgrade from the Opel Corsa we had expected and paid for.
Since we planned to sleep virtually every night in a tent, my father and mother had arranged for our first night at one of their favorite hotels, one way out of our budget league. So, exhausted from the flight, we set out for Marktheidenfeld and our first-night's accommodations at the Hotel Anker (tel. 09391/60040, fax 09391/600477, rooms 108 DM/$72 to 320 DM/$213).
After a short drive east on the A3 Autobahn we arrived at the town and had no trouble finding the Anker. A hotel staff member opened the front gate to let us through, closed it behind us, then led the car through the courtyard to a private parking lot. Next, we were shown to a bi-level SUITE! With its tower entry, spiral staircase, elegant antique furniture and balcony overlooking the quiet courtyard, it is probably the best room in town. After a walk around town and something to eat we returned to our fine room and slept well. Breakfast, too, was great. The staff and accommodations at this fine hotel combined to kickoff our trip with a bang.
After being spoiled by the Anker, it was back to the real world. In Wertheim early the next morning the grey sky contrasted beautifully with the deep green trees and grasses. The castle at Wertheim was very peaceful at 8:00 a.m. and we hiked up, strolled the grounds and took a few photos. On our descent to the town we wandered into the church and gasped at the beauty of the woodwork all around, and the enormity of the pipe organ. Following our short visit to Wertheim we headed to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, where we planned to camp.
We were pleased with our first European camp site; flat grassy areas with plenty of room to park the car next to the tent. All campgrounds on our trip had a small store and laundry facilities. They were also equipped with very clean toilets and showers. Showers in some places are free, in others you must pay 1 DM ($.67) for hot water. This campground, Romantik Tauber, nestles between the Tauber River and the Romantik Road, less than a kilometer from a parking lot outside the Altstadt. For two persons in a tent of their own, plus parking, the price per night was 23 DM ($15.33), a sweet deal!
Next morning the weather was perfect and we went to town early in search of breakfast pastry. We stopped at the first Bäckerei we saw. Then, armed with a bag of sweet delights such as Schoko-Croissants and assorted fruit-filled pastries, we meandered through the historic walled city before the tour buses arrived. The town was calm and quiet, the locals went about their morning routines, sweeping sidewalks and shopping at the Metzgerei and Bäckerei. Most had a smile and a Guten Morgen for us as we passed.
After our morning walk and breakfast, we decided on a day trip to Dinkelsbühl via the Romantik Road. We were amazed at the close proximity of the small towns along this road and discussed the possibility of biking or walking the Romantik Road from town to town. At Dinkelsbühl we parked the car and toured the city on foot until the call of hunger took over. We stopped at a Metzgerei for the first time, not sure what to expect. We found sandwiches of fresh sunflower seed rolls with fresh ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato and cucumber. No mayo or mustard to make the wonderful bread turn to mush. Margaret and I found this to be the best way to have lunch and save money for an evening of good German food and beer. For two sandwiches and some juice we usually paid around 10 DM ($6.67).
Just outside the wall is a lovely pond with benches under shady trees. We sat under one such tree, on one such bench, and watched an older German man work in his garden on the opposite shore. We watched ducks and swans glide across the glass-like pond, and ate our lunch. After that we explored the cobblestone streets and poked our heads into countless little shops. The Romantik Road and the town of Dinkelsbühl made a great day-trip.
On our return, we found that the campground, nearly empty when we left that morning, was now almost full. What appeared to be a church group was moving in next to us. With a mess tent, five or six vehicles and several sleeping tents, they took several hours to set up. We spent the late afternoon lying in the sun on a blanket, observing the massive move-in operation.
That evening we dined at Pizzeria Roma, Galgengasse 19, which serves large helpings of pasta, good pizzas and traditional dishes like Wienerschnitzel. Dinner here was about 40 DM ($27) including a salad and two beers apiece. After dinner it was more strolling the town.
Rain on the Roof
At camp that night we enjoyed a game of scrabble. At bedtime it was still clear and warm, but that would not last long. Around midnight we awoke to the sound of thunder. It was in the distance but moving closer. By 1:00 a.m. "it" had arrived. With wind, heavy rain and "Donner und Blitzen," it was one exciting night. The group next to us, despite all their equipment, could not stay dry. We sat calmly in our tent listening to the sound of feet splashing in the puddles that the rain had so quickly created. At one point the thunder seemed to shake the earth beneath us.
Next morning we woke to a soaked campground and many campers had been forced to abandon their tents for their cars. Thanks to our Eureka! brand tent we were dry inside and ready to pack up and go. We paid the 46 DM ($31) for the two night stay and headed for our next destination.
After one last breakfast in Rothenburg, we were off to Heidelberg and around noon arrived at the campground Haide Heidelberg. With cabin rentals available and skies threatening, we rented a cabin for the night. This proved to be another fantastic bargain. Our unit was about eight feet by 10 feet with two bunks (four beds) and a table and cost 15 DM ($10) per person per night plus 2 DM ($1.33) to park the car. Haide Heidelberg is located on the north bank of the Neckar River, about a 15-minute drive east of Heidelberg.
We drove into the city to explore and walk the famous Hauptstrasse where we noticed many of the same stores we see in San Francisco.
For dinner we chose Gaststätte Essighaus, Plöck 97. The guidebook Lets Go Germany recommends it and we echo their sentiments. The service was quick and friendly and the food was traditional German fare: soup, salad and entrée for about 12 DM ($8)! At the bar were several German men who consumed beer after beer while watching the German First Division football (soccer) teams Karlsruhe vs. Kaiserslautern on the TV. We were fortunate enough to be sitting within eyeshot ourselves. Our meal consisted of noodle soup and an enormous green salad followed by main dishes. Margaret had Wienerschnitzel mit Pommes Frites and I savored a pork Cordon Bleu with a cold potato salad, it was all very good. After dinner we remained for more beer, coffee and the end of the Füssball match. The total for dinner and drinks was 53 DM ($35). We then cruised the Hauptstrasse under light drizzle, had a little ice cream and returned to camp.
On day five we left Heidelberg for Freiburg via the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse (Black Forest Crest Road) which traversed some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip. However, as pointed out in Lets Go Germany, the corrosion of the forest from acid rain is very evident.
In Freiburg we had trouble finding a place to camp. Signs for campgrounds can usually be seen exiting the Autobahn, but in Freiburg this was not the case. By the time we found a place and set up camp we were starving for dinner. Without the patience to be choosy we consulted our Lets Go 'bible' which had come through on previous occasions. Not this time. Laubfrosch (Kaiser-Josefstrasse 273) was recommended for pizza and pasta and the guide claims "the goods are served up with a flair in a half-timbered dining room." We would have to disagree. We found the service cold and inattentive and more importantly the pizza was an unappetizing mash of cheese and uncooked dough.
Camping at Freiburg was only 10 DM ($6.67) per person and 2 DM ($1.33) per car.
Fed up with three straight days of rain, we decided to head for Interlaken, Switzerland, in hopes of better weather. We arrived to find warm sunny weather which soon turned cloudless and hot. With its jaw-dropping beauty, Interlaken is the most scenic place I have ever visited. The mountains plunge from the sky to form the banks of the two lakes, the Thunersee and Brienzersee.
Our home for the next three days was Camping Jungfraublick, a five-minute bus ride from town and the best of the trip; flat, soft, green grass like a park. Our host was a nice man who worked hard to keep his campground in good shape. He has no help, he does it all. Because of this, his store is only open a few hours a day, or when he can be flagged down from his riding mower. There were many showers and toilets and all were extremely clean. There was never a wait for a shower and hot water was free. We paid 7.70 Sfr. per person per night and 4 Sfr. for the tent, a total of 19.4 Sfr. ($16).
Our only Interlaken restaurant meal was at Pizza Horn on Reckweg, which was a bit pricey for a pizza restaurant. Pizzas were cooked in a brick oven in the dining room. Despite its name, Pizza Horn also serves such delicacies as lamb chops broiled in the brick oven. We watched as friends of the owner were served the lamb and each plate was piled high with four juicy chops cooked to perfection. We paid 64 Sfr. ($51) for two very good pizzas, salad and two beers each. Since we were on a tight budget, we decided this would be our last dinner "out" in Interlaken. For the next two nights we purchased whole roasted chickens from the Co-op market. This was a key discovery, we enjoyed delicious roasted chicken and beer for one-third the cost of dinner at Pizza Horn!
After dinner we took a breathtaking drive west along the north shore of the Thunersee. As the sun set over the mountains we drove through the tunnels and under the rocks as the road snaked its way to Thun.
Next day we validated our Swiss Passes and rode the train up to Wengen. With a picnic lunch in our backpack, we hiked our way down from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen. The peaceful quiet of a mountain town with no cars, combined with awe-inspiring views of the valley below make Wengen a special mountain getaway. After the short one-hour hike down the mountain and experiencing the Swiss trail system, we wished we had more time to explore the Jungfrau Region.
On day nine we awoke, showered, wrote a few post cards and shopped for breakfast and lunch (under 20 Sfr/$16). Our pack was stocked for the day, we walked to Interlaken West station and caught a train to Lausanne via Bern. The trip was about 3.5 hours, the beautiful scenery whizzed by and the first-class cars were quite comfortable.
In Lausanne, we walked to the park at the edge of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) where we ate lunch and were deceived by the ice cream man! When we asked for two small cones the man running the stand gave us a choice by holding up two empty cones. I pointed at the smaller of the two and he filled our order. When I plunked down 5 Sfr. ($4), the price shown on his sign, he asked for seven francs. "Aren't these 2.50 francs each?," I replied. He then pulled out an even smaller cone and proclaimed, "this one is 2.50 francs." With a smile and shake of the head we paid the two additional francs a total of $5.60 for two tiny cones and went on our way.
On the grounds of the Olympic Museum we were fortunate to view a free gymnastics demonstration. Perhaps a dozen Olympic gymnasts, both women and men, performed three to four minute exercises on the trampoline. Watch out Air Jordan! Back in Interlaken, we hit the Co-op, bought a bird and then rushed to the only store in town which sells cold beer to go, a souvenir shop on Hoheweg. It has a cold-box on the sidewalk containing, yes, COLD BEER! We had five minutes to catch the bus back to camp if we wanted hot chicken and cold beer rather than cold chicken and hot beer. We made it and enjoyed our dinner on a blanket while watching parachutists fall from the sky.
On day 10, we left Interlaken for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, another town with few signs to campgrounds but which makes up for it with other delights.
Camping Zugspitze, Griesenerstrasse 4, in Grainau very near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, occupies a scenic spot at the foot of the Zugspitze and is the most expensive campground we visited. We paid 7.50 DM ($5) per person, 10 DM ($6.67) per site, 5 DM ($3.33) per car, plus an additional 1.70 DM ($1.13) Grainau Kurtax for a total of 31.70 DM ($21) per night. Still, it's a good deal, especially when compared to prices of pensions in the GAP area. Youth hostels are priced about the same as Camping Zugspitze but the campground folks will wash your clothes for a mere 10 DM ($6.67), a small price for the time saved!
Our first dinner in GAP was at Flüsserstuben, Schmiedstrasse 2. The service was pleasant, the food plentiful and very good. The wood-trimmed dining room with wooden booths is comfortable and intimate. Margaret had pasta with mushroom sauce, while I enjoyed a tender pork chop smothered in a sauce of sautéed mushrooms. Dinner was 62 DM ($41), including several beers.
On Saturday morning, since stores would be closed until Monday, we shopped. Later we visited in the Olympic Ski Stadium and then took a short but sweet hike through the Partnachklamm. The big event of the day, however, was dinner at Gasthof Fraundorfer, which we had heard so much about for so many years. We were seated at a small table for four with a local couple. Everyone was a bit self-conscious while we dined, but once the dinner plates had been cleared the smiles and glances became conversation and laughter. We discussed beer, cars, holidays, Füssball and other important issues of the world. We bought each other beer and Schnaps and sang and danced until the last beer was poured and the Fraundorfer went to sleep for the night.
Day 12 was one of recovery from the "Fraundorfer Hangover." That night we ate in a restaurant a few doors down from the Fraundorfer. It paled in comparison. The greeter/server/bartender had so much to do it was nearly impossible to get his attention. The food was decent but the service failed.
Next morning we packed up our camp, made a quick stop at the Bäckerei for breakfast, and set out for Munich and the Pension am Kaiserplatz, Kaiserplatz 12. Recommended by Lets Go Germany, this hotel was perfect for us. Located just three blocks from Leopoldstrasse and the underground, we were able to park the car free for the duration of our stay. Our room at the pension had a large window facing a courtyard which made for peaceful, quiet nights. The rooms had high ceilings, down comforters and pillows, a sink and a place to sit and enjoy breakfast which was delivered to the room. Shower and toilet are down the hall and kept in immaculate condition. After camping for 14 consecutive days walking down the hall to the bathroom is no problem. At least you don't need an umbrella! A double room here was 79 DM ($53) per night including breakfast.
After an indifferent dinner at Café Italian on Leopoldstr. we had a hankerin' for some heapin' helpings of Bavarian food. We chose the Augustiner Bräustuben, Landsbergerstrasse 19 (not to be confused with the famous Augustiner Gastätten on Neuhauser Str., near the Marienplatz). Food and service were excellent and the price of dinner for two is unbeatable. Margaret had a roast pork dish and I inhaled a delicious grilled steak with an enormous green salad. Beer was 3.90 DM ($2.60) per half litre and the total for our dinner, including beer, was a reasonable 51 DM ($33).
Day 14 began with breakfast in our room consisting of soft boiled eggs, rolls with butter and jam and coffee. Then, at the nearby U-Bahn station, we purchased a 24-hour companion ticket which cost 12 DM ($8) and is good for two persons until 6 a.m. the following day.
On our last day in Munich we visited the BMW Museum, a great deal at 5.50 DM ($3.65). Headphones with English narration are included in the admission fee. The bargain at the BMW Museum was put into perspective when we walked to the nearby Olympic Complex where one must pay 3 DM ($2) just to walk into the stadium! No tour, no narration, just 50,000 empty seats. I wanted to snap a photo of the soccer field where Bayern München plays its home matches but decided to save my marks.
That night, at a small café a few blocks from our hotel, we ate pasta and raised our glasses in celebration of a great trip.
Day 16 started early with the packing of bags and the car. At Munich's Franz-Josef-Strauss Airport we pulled into the rental car drop-off garage, took care of the paperwork and headed to the terminal to catch our plane. A short 15 hours later, we were home. -Andy Bestor