In 11 years of Gemütlichkeit, the story which has drawn the most reader comment is Andy Bestor's recounting of his 1996 summer camping tour of Germany and Switzerland. This year he and his fiance, Margaret Landeros, made their second European trip, this time spending more time in inexpensive hotels than in a tent.
Their tale, which will be told in two parts, contains several noteworthy discoveries and recommendations for budget-conscious travelers. RHB
Who says a sequel never is as good as the original? Spielberg failed to match Jaws, but his success with Indiana Jones and Star Wars inspired us to make this trip... BETTER THAN THE FIRST.
Lessons learned in '96 were used in planning for this year. We were better map readers and better at simply planning a vacation day in Europe. Preparation also involved some physical training in hopes of building stamina for those long sight-seeing days. Using these strategies we planned an exciting and aggressive itinerary.
We flew the charter carrier Martinair and thus started at Amsterdam's Schipol airport where we picked up a red Alpha Romeo 146 equipped with cassette player, four doors, a large trunk and a sporty look.
Having read so much about Bamberg we were anxious to get to this well-preserved jewel of a town. So after an overnight in Haarlem, we pointed the Alpha in that direction. Amsterdam to Bamberg, however, was too much driving for jet-lagged tourists so we decided on Kassel for a one-night stopover.
At the Hotel Palmenbad, just outside Schlosspark Wilhelmshöhe, our room was a bit dark but clean and comfortable. Traditional breakfast was served and the staff was courteous. The double room rate, including breakfast, was 98 DM ($56). Recommended to travelers on a tight budget.
After breakfast we charted a course for Bamberg that included a detour to Schloss Spangenberg, a hotel-castle out of our price range, but worth a detour just to walk its grounds. With its deep moat, pointy towers and even shaggy-haired goats, Spangenberg felt like a time-warp, which is why we had come.
Then on to Bamberg for a couple of lazy days camping on the Regnitz. Campingplatz Insel has an excellent riverside location. From the shady meadow you can relax and watch boaters paddling the calm river. But with so much to see in Bamberg who has time to relax?
Thanks to the Park & Ride system we never had to drive to town and find parking. It's just one DM ($.57) to park all day and the same to ride the bus to the center.
If you enjoy a good long stroll and can tackle some low hills, Bamberg is the town to explore. We seemed to never run out of charming little alleyways or beautiful architecture and around each corner was something worthwhile.
In addition to its beauty, Bamberg is known for its unique Rauchbier or smoked beer. And unique it is! We visited Schlenkerla (Dominikanerstr. 6), Rauchbier's traditional home, for a taste. We also ordered food which may have been a mistake. Rauchbier is not a thirst quencher. It has a sharpness that does not marry well with salty food. After a bite of pork came extreme thirst, and sticking my nose in a glass that smelled like smoked salmon was not the solution. This beer is popular and Schlenkerla is a lively place, but Rauchbier is not for us.
One short excursion (7.5 km/4.7 miles) was to Pommersfelden Castle, also known as Weissenstein Castle, a baroque palace built between 1711 and 1718. The one-hour tour is in German (English brochures) and costs 7 DM ($4). The art we saw was as beautiful as the castle in which it resides.
We also made a day-trip to Coburg, the hometown of Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert. The road from Bamberg is scenic and the drive relatively short. We parked below the Veste and hiked up about 15 minutes. After taking a few pictures and speculating on the purpose of the retractable iron and wood beam gate (we decided it was used to impale unwanted guests trying to enter the fortress) we were approached by a polite young man who spoke English, but not well. Through hand gestures and each of us speaking a bit of the other's language, it became apparent his friend wanted to buy my hat, a very purple University of Washington baseball-style cap. His friend Stefan loved it. I explained I couldn't sell because the hat was needed for the trip, but that I had another just like it at home which I would give him. He was very excited and gave me his address. Stefan got the hat with a copy of this story.
Below the Veste is the modest looking Schloss Ehrenberg - Prince Albert's boyhood home - where we waited in the creaky old entry for someone to open the ticket booth. After about 15 minutes, a man appeared, sold tickets (8 DM/$4.50 per person) to us and another couple and then stepped out of the booth and introduced himself as our tour guide. Though neither he nor the other couple spoke English, this was one of the best castle tours of the trip. It is not difficult to understand dates and names, but the history behind each room or artifact has a hard time getting through the language barrier. Both our charming guide and the German couple made every attempt to help us understand these fascinating stories and we did our best to comprehend them.
That night, our last in Bamberg, a dinner of Bratwurst and Pommes Frites was from an Imbiss on the market square. The weather was warm and clear, so we returned to camp and sat for awhile on the river's edge.
After the short, pleasant trip via back roads from Bamberg to Regensburg we rolled in to the Hotel Peterhof for a short siesta.
Rooms in this decaying old hotel are barely adequate for young low-budget travelers and we do not recommend it to the average Gemütlichkeit reader. Double rooms range from 86 to 114 DM ($49-$65), depending on facilities.
The Peterhof does have a few appealing features, such as large rooms, a central location and proximity to parking, but our experience at breakfast negated them all.
Though we don't smoke we understand about smokers in European restaurants. This, however, was off the chart. The hotel manager, plus friends and family, sat at one table collectively blowing smoke like a broken Yugo. There were at least 10 cigarettes burning right next to the food! The buffet had been raided and never replenished. The milk was warm and the bread tasted like an ashtray. Afterward, we had to return to the room for a shower and a change of clothes. We passed on breakfast the next day.
Like Bamberg, Regensburg is ideal for walkers. Michelin (Green) suggests an excellent route that starts at the Domplatz and leads toward the Donau, past the Historische Wurstküche and the Steinerne Brücke. The Altes Rathaus and seven different churches or chapels also highlight this excellent tour of Regensburg's center.
Bistro Rosarium (Hopperstr. 3a), our choice for dinner that night, has a beautiful rose garden setting with umbrella tables and is adjacent to the lush Dörnbergpark, perfect for an after-dinner stroll. Unfortunately, the spaghetti we ordered tasted like it came from a bottle. The menu is extensive and other dishes appeared to be better prepared. In fairness, we would try this restaurant again, it had a lot of appeal and spaghetti is probably not the house specialty.
For very casual dining we enjoyed Pizzeria Datino, (Haidplatz 4). During summer the lively Haidplatz has many restaurants with outdoor seating, and Datino was bustling the night we visited. The evening was warm, we'd walked all day and pizza and beer was what the doctor ordered. (This began a streak of nine consecutive evenings of outdoor dinners!)
Leaving Regensburg, we stopped at Walhalla. This imitation Greek temple stands on a prominent spot, high above the Danube's north bank. Modeled after the Parthenon, it was built in the mid-19th century by Ludwig I of Bavaria to pay homage to the greatest Germans. A look around costs only the hike up the steep steps.
Since we missed it in '96, Austria was a country we were eager to visit. Salzburg, a world-renowned city with a fascinating history and stunning appearance, was our destination.
Based on recommendations by Gemütlichkeit staff and positive reports from readers, we chose the Hotel Trumer Stube, located on a quiet street just across the river from the old town and a big step up in class for us. Marianne and Hermann Hirschbichler, the owners, were very kind and helpful. Each morning, Mrs. Hirschbichler prepares a lovely breakfast served at the table with eggs to order. Her husband is quite a man-about-town, with the inside track to concert tickets or any of the theme tours (Sound of Music, Eagles Nest, salt mines etc.). The pair provides comfort and service, all with a great deal of care.
Each of the hotel's 22 rooms has television (with 24-hr CNN), radio, sitting area, toilet and shower. The Mirabell garage is the best place to park, though the hotel has a few permits for street parking.
The Hirschbichler's explained how they are constantly renovating rooms. Each year several are selected for updating. This progressive style keeps the hotel immaculate with comfortable and modern amenities. Trumer Stube was worth the extra money, truly the best hotel of the trip and not just its comfort but for the warm hospitality.
For inexpensive food we recommend Zum Fidelen Affen (Jolly Monkey), just around the corner from Trumer Stube, with outdoor picnic benches. Main course, salad, pretzels, bread and lots of beer cost a mere 443 AS ($40). Our two delicious main dishes were spinach Spätzle in cream sauce topped with crusted cheese, and risotto with vegetables. The Funny Monkey draws a youthful crowd and service is very friendly.
We returned two nights later and were remembered by the wait staff. The food was just as good. This night we met Horst and Thomas, two friendly locals. As Zum Fidelen Affen regulars, they made us feel like regulars, too. For hours we discussed everything from cars to American sitcoms. Married With Children is their favorite and they think writing funny TV shows is the best thing Americans do. We bought each other countless beers until the place closed, then had a few more with the waitress who joined us after closing. The fun extended deep into the night and in that time we made some new friends.
The hills are alive with the sound of Mozart! His music is the soundtrack for this scenic city. We chose to experience one of his works in a very romantic setting, the Princess Chamber of the Hohensalzburg fortress, where a string quartet from the Munich Philharmonic performed Eine Kleine Nachtmusik before an intimate gathering of about 150 people. As we watched and listened to this beautiful piece of music, lightning lit up the sky through the windows behind the musicians.
On Monday, fortunately, we had to do laundry. I say fortunately because next to the laundromat we found Café Kafka which serves Budvar. So many years and so many stories about this near-perfect Czech beer made this a discovery to celebrate and we immediately made plans to return later that day. When we did, we found the beer as advertised and a friendly owner partial to funky 70s music instead of Mozart.
That day we also took a day-trip to the Königsee where we strolled through the small village of hotels, restaurants and souvenir stands. I don't know why anyone would stay in one of these hotels. The Königsee is very beautiful, but this little strip of businesses is more like "Germanytown" in your local amusement park.
The boat ride on the lake is breathtaking. The water is clear and the mountains rise straight out of it in some places. Electric boats carry passengers to either or both of two destinations. We only went as far as St. Bartholoma, a pretty little spot between the edge of the lake and the jagged mountain side. We followed a trail along the edge of the lake, then up through a lovely meadow where we discovered a wood fence, a faded barn, long green grasses, the gray mountains and a bright blue sky with puffy white clouds - a perfect photo opportunity.
Returning to Salzburg, we stopped along the road for our usual lunch of fresh bread, cheese, sandwich meat and fruit. So simple, yet each day it was an anticipated meal. We also took this time to write the folks back home a note.
Next month: Reutte, the Mosel Valley and Heidelberg.
Hotels & Restaurants
Hotel-Restaurant Palmenbad, Kurhausstr. 27, D-34117 Kassel, tel./fax: +49/0561/326 91, doubles rooms 98 DM ($56)
Campingplatz Insel, Am Campingplatz 1, Bamberg D-96047, tel. +49/0951/563 20
Hotel Peterhof, Fröhliche-Türken Str. 12, Regensburg D-93047, tel. +49/0941/575 14., doubles rooms 97 DM ($55)
Pizzeria Datino, Haidplatz 4, Regensburg
Hotel Trumer Stube, Bergstrasse 6, A-5020 Salzburg, tel. +43/0662/87 47 76 or 87 51 68, fax: 87 43 26, singles 520-720 AS ($42-$58), doubles 880-1250 AS ($70-$100)
Zum Fidelen Affen, Priesterhausgasse 8, A-5020 Salzburg, dinner for two with beverages about $40
Café Kafka, Paris-Lodron-Str., Salzburg.