Sunday, September 8, 2013

Germany Part I - The Rhine

Yesterday we got back from 2 weeks in Germany with our 12 week old son, Max.  We had a great time!  We visited the Rhine Valley, Füssen, Salzburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and Munich.

People often would stop and ask us if it was hard traveling with an infant or if we were crazy for taking such a young kid overseas for vacation.  So let me address that first.  

No, we are not crazy, and yes it was different, but it was still awesome, and I wouldn't have done it any other way.  Max is part of this family and this family was going to Germany for vacation, so of course he was coming with us.  And he did amazing!  He's such a great traveler.

Travel to Bacharach

We flew to Germany on a direct redeye flight from Houston to Frankfurt.  We specifically chose to fly Luftansa because of its great customer service and amenities; one of which is the bassinet for infants that attached to the wall right in front of us.  Aside from take off and landing, Max had his own place to lay that was not our lap.  This definitely made the 9 hour flight more enjoyable.  (What also helped was the unlimited supply of free wine, beer, and baileys.  Did I mention I love luftansa)

After arriving in Frankfurt we picked up our bags (1 standard luggage shared between Jeremy & I, 1 medium wheeled/backpack duffel for Max, 1 brica bag for the carseat, 1 stroller, 2 backpacks) and headed down to the connecting train station.  With the help of the folks at the TI we got our tickets for the regional train to Bacharach.  I can only assume that there were elevators somewhere in the airport that led down to the tracks but after looking for a while, and not wanting to miss our train, we used the escalator.  Turns out I got pretty good taking a stroller down an escalator on this trip.  No, I don't recommend it.  It's scary as all crap.

Throughout the vacation we used a combination of trains, planes, boats, and cars. We started with the train because we knew we wouldn't need a car in the Rhine Valley, plus it was pretty easy once we got going.  The folks at the TI in the airport printed us our tickets and pointed us to the platform and the upcoming trains are printed pretty clearly on the overhead signs.  Note that for German trains you have to press the button on the doors to make them open (in and out).  Not like the subways in the states where the doors automatically open.   Also, you have like 2 minutes to get on/off before it leaves again.  So don't mess around!

Once on the first train we looked at the overhead map and just followed along until our stop.  We changed trains in Mainz from Track (Gleis) 1 to 11 which for some reason were right next to each other (bonus for us).  This was the confusing part.  Our ticket had this long fancy train number on it, but the train itself only had like 3 letters showing.  Fortunately there were enough people milling about that we were able to confirm with someone that it was in fact our train and we quickly hopped on.  Most trains in Germany run very much on schedule, so if there is a train on your track at the time you expect, it's probably your train.  The trains also usually only display the last stop on the route to indicate direction, so it is helpful to have a map.  (ie - the regional train we were on stopped at Bacharach, but was labeled something else, whatever its last stop was)  And the time on the ticket is the time it leaves, not arrives, so get on!  Also, the regional trains in this area, while useful and safe, not so nice.  Think NY subway.


For our stay in the Rhine Valley we choose to stay in Bacharach.  A cute little town with 2 main streets known for their white wine production, which is what made them quite famous and profitable back in the day.  

In Bacharach we stayed at the Bacharacher Hotel which was just fine for us.  They we able to provide us with a baby "crib" (pack and play) which is what we used in all the hotels that we stayed.  The room was clean and nice enough and the breakfast was pretty good.  Standard German breakfast is breads, lunch meats and cheeses, cereal, and soft boiled eggs.  The bread is so good!  It wasn't our best hotel, but there was nothing wrong with it. 

After taking a short nap we walked around the town for a bit and grabbed some dinner.  Unfortunately our two days in the Rhine, as well as our first 2 days in Füssen, were a bit rainy and overcast, but it could have been worse and we did get a few hours without rain each morning.

Our first night we choose to eat at this little place called Bastian's Weingut zum Grüner Baum.  It was... um... interesting.  The wines we sampled were pretty good, but the food wasn't exactly what we had expected when ordering.  Jeremy ordered a boar sausage of some type and I ordered a 3 sausage plate.  What came was this...

Jeremy thought it was good, but I was disgusted.  I couldn't do it.  Especially considering that "boar sausage" on the bottom clearly came out of a can suspended in some kind of weird gelatin.  The homemade potato salad in the background was pretty good though.  If you are here, really enjoy white wine, and have the liver for it, you can order a 15 wine sample tasting.

After dinner the rain cleared and we spent the evening walking the town and then having our first german beer in a small courtyard that housed the old post office.  German beer really is better in Germany.  Delicious!  

(side note: watch out for the Radler - 1/2 lemonade, 1/2 beer known for being a sports drink (?!?!) its quite bad)

(second side note: what the hell is with Europeans and smoking?!?!  Especially when the weather turned nice, it was our one big problem with sitting outside.  You couldn't get away from it.  Easily 75% of the people would be smoking.)

St. Goar & Rheinfels Castle

Our only full day in the Rhine valley we spent mostly in St. Goar.  Around 10am we hopped on the K-D boat which made several stops along the river.  Rick Steves has a very nice writeup in his Germany book explaining different points along the river, easily identified by mile markers on the river bank.  Between Bacharach and St. Goar there are several very cute little towns and we could have easily spent time exploring all of them.  With a single boat ticket you can get on/off as many times as you'd like but you can only go as far down river as you specified at the time of purchase.

The Rhine used to be a very profitable area and is still one of the worlds busiest shipping rivers.  Dotted along the river banks are "robber-baron" castles all owned by rulers who levied taxes on the boats passing downstream.   In the small stretch from Bacharach to St. Goar there must have been at least 5 castles, all with owners levying their own taxes on the barges that passed by.   For our single day in the area we decided to check out one of the greatest castles of the area, the Rheinfels in St. Goar.

Now by "greatest castle" I mean, one of the largest and one of the most foreboding of its time.  During the Thirty Years War it was said to hold thousands of people and earned the nickname the "unconquerable fortress".  Today only an empty ruined shell is left, but it was still very interesting to explore.  From the boat station we took the nature trail up to the castle and just walked the road back down.  I would recommend the trail; follow the notes in Rick Steves book to start then follow the markers painted on the trees. 

A quick note about the castle.  There is still an in tacked cellar that they use for events.  Vow renewals anyone?!?!  

After touring the castle we ate lunch at the Rheinfels restaurant overlooking the town.

Of course beer was involved.  On tap was Krombacher.  I tended to stick to the Weiße beers, while Jeremy went more traditional.  

After returning on the last boat to Bacharach, we ate a wonderful dinner at the Altes Haus.  One thing we noticed in Germany was that most of the restaurants use benches to line the walls instead of chairs.  This worked out really well for Max.  

The next day we headed out to Füssen.  We split up the journey by taking the train from Bacharach to Stuttgart then picking up the car at the station and driving 3 hours to our apartment.  While I'll cover that in the next post, I should mentioned here that we only purchased our tickets a day in advance for this longer, high speed train.  Turns out we would have saved like 40 euro if we would have purchased the tickets at least 3 days in advance (  We wanted to have flexibility but in reality the room checkout was at 10am so it made sense for us to grab the 10:30 train.  

(continue to part II HERE)

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