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Our visit to Germany and Austria took us from Frankfurt to Munich (and a side visit to Shloss (castle) Neuschwanstein) and then to Austria visiting Salzburg and Vienna. We had our travel expertly organized and managed to stay in the center of the old town in all of our city visits. Thank you Kayla! That was a real plus in seeing the cities on foot. We did take part in walking tours in every city except Salzburg, where we took a bus tour.
We expected the countryside in Germany and Austria to look like farmland and the towns and cities only to have old historic buildings.
We did not expect sand and surfing. We now think that parts of Germany and Austria want to live on a tropical island. In Frankfurt we visited the Palm tree (Palmen Garten) garden; in Vienna we noticed several biergartens along the Danube Canal had sand and beach chairs for their guests. In Munich we watched kids surf in the English Garden.
Frankfurt or as it calls itself, Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurt Germany was the first and last stop on our travels. We arrived early for our bike boat adventure and got acclimated to the time zone and the culture prior to the bike ride. We really enjoyed walking along the Main River and noticed that the people of Frankfurt do as well.
Our walking tour guide shared that apple cider was the drink of Frankfurt; the ones we tried were very good. I also had beer; it was Germany!
We were surprised to learn that many of the “old” buildings in Frankfurt were rebuilt in the 1980’s in the old style, replacing buildings destroyed in WWII. The buildings did not look new and we were happy they were rebuilt to look as we expected. Of course some of the buildings were modern; Frankfurt had many skyscrapers, in contrast to many of the cities we visited. Frankfurt is the financial capital of Germany so it was nice that as a part of the walking tour we stopped by the stock exchange, one of the largest in the world.
When we visited the Palmen Garten we were surprised to see an extensive palm garden inside the city known mostly for banking. We did not know that you could grow palm trees in Germany, let alone all of the uses for palm trees we learned about on our tour. We enjoyed the variety of trees and flowers in addition to the palm trees. It is worth a visit if you are in Frankfurt.
Munich or München
After our bike tour we took the train to Munich. For us, Munich had a “big city feel.” Of course we had just spent a week biking through small towns. We recalled our visit to Frankfurt, and the city of Munich appeared to us as a more urban setting. We loved the statues and the plazas. A lot of history in a small area.
We spent several hours walking around Munich and discovered the English Garden and did see people surfing. On our walk we visited the place where the Octoberfest takes place as well as taking in several great looking buildings and local scenery.
A big part of our being in Munich was the proximity (about 110 KM) to Schloss (castle) Neuschwanstein. Our bus included Neuschwanstein, a visit to the town of Oberammergau, and Linderhof Palace where King Ludwig II lived prior to moving into Neuschwanstein.
The view from a nearby footbridge on the way to the castle does not begin to tell of the beauty of castle Neuschwanstein. We enjoyed the hike up to the grounds, and even with scaffolding on the main entrance the castle was breathtaking.
Neuschwanstein was impressive on the inside as well. Of course the castle only housed the king, and he lived there for less than one year. The inside was impressive and well worth the visit. No photography was allowed inside the castle. I guess it takes a king to build a fairytale castle.
We enjoyed the surrounding property of the castle and had great views from the walk up as well as from inside the castle itself. The “old” castle that the king grew up at is also on the grounds.
We enjoyed the stop at Oberammergau. They have been putting on a Passion play for almost 400 years, with the next one coming in 2020. You can buy tickets now. The town began the plays in 1634. All of the actors and actresses are members of the town. The town puts on the play as a result of a vow made by the inhabitants of the village when they were spared from the effects of the plague. We had fun visiting this town and trying on some traditional head wear and, of course, eating some ice cream. We were pleased to walk around the theater. I am sure the Passion play will be a great production in 2020.
Linderhof Palace was our third stop on the tour. This was a smaller place than Neuschwanstein and almost as impressive. I am really glad we stopped here for a visit. I especially liked the magic table and the fountains outside. You will have to see it for yourselves. No photography was allowed inside; take my word for it, the inside was impressive.
Our international travel from Munich to Salzburg was just another train ride. There was no pre-check of passports prior to boarding or a checkpoint along the way. The Europen Union has no restrictions on travel between countries once you are in one of the countries. One of the tenets of the EU is people traveling freely throughout most of the continent.
We learned that Mozart was not Austrian; he was from Salzburg, which was an independent (non-EU member…) country when he was born. We enjoyed eating chocolate here; Mozart balls are a favorite. We also enjoyed staying in a 700-year-old hotel in old town Salzburg.
Yes, we did take the Sound of Music tour. We sang, we laughed and we loved it! Now that we are back home, we are watching the movie and excited to see the places we visited on our tour. We also noted that our tour guide in Austria was in one of the anniversary shots about the tour groups in Salzburg.
We left Salzburg all too quickly and headed by rail to Vienna.
As Vienna is so much bigger than Salzburg, with about 25% of the population of Austria in its borders, we rented bikes to explore more of the city. It did rain on us on the way back to the bike rental location, but we had a great time riding the streets anyway. There are over 1000 KM of bike trails in Vienna; as a result, it was easy to ride in the city. The highlight for me was riding along the Danube Canal and seeing the Danube River.
We enjoyed the music of Vienna, the churches, the palaces and the monuments. We enjoyed running across Mozart references as well as statutes of other composers.
Our hotel was centrally located in the heart of Vienna’s district 1 on the Stephansplatz. We could view the church and square during our breakfast. I miss that view.
We managed to walk to the Riesenrad (German for Giant Wheel), the 212 foot tall Ferris wheel at the entrance of the Prater amusement park in Leopoldstadt. We saw that it is one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions. It symbolises the second district in Vienna as well as the city for many people who live there. We did not take a ride on the Ferris wheel, although it looked like fun. When we walked by we noted several people riding in the wheel.
- I received my MBA from Webster University, way back when…seeing a Webster University building in Vienna was fun and not expected.
- We were impressed by the trains and the speeds. We noticed the one from Salzburg to Vienna went almost 200 KPH (124 MPH). Trains were a great way to get around.
- Learn to linger over dinner or any meal, especially when you are with someone. We enjoyed the Vienna coffee house and lingered as long as we could. This was the only spot we found you could get a “free water and refills.”
- Beer in Germany and Austria is less expensive than soda or water … lesson: drink beer with meals!
- When we went to Vienna we learned a lot about the ruling families. The one lesson that struck me was that the Habsburg dynasty won territory by winning hearts through intermarrying its family across Europe and not wars. A marriage to Napoleon was also accomplished by the dynasty. Unfortunately, they took more care with the Lipizzan stallion’s blood lines then their own. A visit to the stables housing the stallions was interesting as well.
- The city of Vienna earns money by renting rose bushes to inhabitants for five years in their beautiful Volksgarten (Peoples’ Garden). This sounded to me like a cool idea raising money for the city as well as keeping the gardens beautiful.
- Try the local favorites. I loved the Schnitzel.
- Pay attention to the train numbers and not the destination city. On one of our first train trips, we sat by the area that had the city of our final destination listed on the board. We discovered when the train left an “hour early,” that we needed to re-think what we focused on in order to board the correct train. All of the information we needed was on our tickets and the signboards, once we knew what information was important.
- Ask locals where to eat. Our walking tour guide in Vienna suggested we try Manner chocolate. We found it to be delicious. We also enjoyed eating the rich Demel chocolate.
We found the best place to have a sausage was at the “ Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina.” The sausage was awesome. We enjoyed the Käsekrainer sausage, which they assured us was the most popular and we agreed after we tasted it! We are thankful for our guide steering us to places we may have otherwise passed over.
Our travel followed these three simple rules:
- Move and exercise. Each day we hiked in the cities.
- Find peaceful, beautiful surroundings. We stopped and smelled the roses, admired artwork, enjoyed singing and watching the river flow by.
- Meet different, interesting people. We enjoyed all of the people we met and were amazed at how similar and different we all are. Singing with a group of strangers on the Sound of Music tour was a highlight.
- We rented bikes one afternoon. It was a great way to see more of Vienna. We rode about 11 miles.
- Hiking/walking totaled about 7-10 miles on most days around town. We managed over 25 in two days of walking in Vienna.
We biked along the Rhine and Neckar Rivers in June on a Bike and Boat Tour, and it was an unforgettable experience. The tour we decided to join was a beautiful cycling and cruise tour which explored the famous valleys of the German Rhine and Neckar Rivers. I have heard that on a cruise ship you gain about 10 pounds in a week. I get it; the food was great! If you are able to combine the cruising with bike riding in Germany, you may stay about the same weight, although it will be a close run thing.
We left the boat each morning on our seven-day cruise for a ride up the river bike paths. The boat then sailed upstream to meet us at the next planned stop. The boat was a floating hotel where we slept, had breakfast and dinner as well ask some fun. The boat did not travel on the river at night as we were at a dock. Being docked at night allowed us to explore the quaint towns and villages after dinner. The barge, or cruise ship, had 61 bike riders and was pretty full (seven open riding spots) as we went on our way. The boat was clean and comfortable; we enjoyed our time on board.
Castle Watching—don’t blink and miss one along the river…
We began our first riding day with a two-hour boat ride from Koblenz along the Rhine passing through the beginning of one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We then rode on the trail and saw more than 40 castles and fortresses and many wine villages along the way. There were too many castles for me to even attempt to photograph.
You have to see it in person to understand just how impressive each view is as you stop or ride by. We did walk up to a few castles and explore the ruins. Being on top of the castles, we realized why they looked so imposing from the river as we had a great views from the top and could easily make out people, cars and boats along the river.
Vineyards on the Rhine River—we passed several vineyards and took an evening tour.
This was much different than our trip to Napa Valley and biking. The vines are on a hill from the top to the river. We learned that the wine that comes from the plantings at the bottom is the cheapest in quality and the wine at the top is the best. Makes sense! We enjoyed magnificent views. The wine was excellent, along with the grape juice that they began our tour with.
Quaint Towns and Villages
Each town reminded us of why we wanted to come to Germany. We took advantage of walking tours and our stay at all of the towns along the way.
One of our fun stops was spending the night at Heidelberg. In Heidelberg we managed to climb to the top of the Heidelberg Castle and walk along the Old Bridge. We also walked the end-to-end mile long pedestrian shopping street. The university dominates the old town and was fascinating to view and experience.
The variety of flowers, shops and museums was fun to experience. Like the castles, it is too much to show here, you need to go see it for yourselves.
Each town along the way had several characteristics that made them unique as well as part of what we expected to see along the river. We saw a variety of architectural styles of churches; most were massive and ornate, and we wondered how the local people could afford such a building or buildings as well as build them so long ago.
We ate at several ice cream shops, and spent time looking at the souvenirs (crafts) along with sampling some of the local food and beer. We even went by the Dr. Carl Benz Museum.
Rivers and Locks
With its many castles lined up on the hill tops, our tour along the river was full of Rhine romanticism. Our guide told us the story of the river bend and how it inspired the famous poem “Lorelei.” Kim tested the waters at the point mentioned in the poem.
We enjoyed the peaceful river and views from the banks of the rivers and the towns. These made for great spots for a break or to eat a picnic lunch. Next time we will bring a blanket or rug with us.
The Neckar River had several locks; we rode over some and saw ships, including our barge, go through the locks. It was a fun experience. The locks have apparently prevented some of the flooding that was prevalent in the area along the Neckar River.
- Stop and enjoy the scenery.
- We were not in a race, and with a seven-speed bike we were not breaking any speed records.
- The initial part of our journey from Koblenz on the Rhine was loaded with castles; almost every bend or turn on the river had one and sometimes two. I do not know about you, but I do not see castles daily on my normal bike rides.
- At each stop we would walk and explore the town where we were parked for the night. Dinner ended on board about 8 PM and it was light until about 10 PM. We needed the walk after so many good dinners.
- Anyone can ride along the Rhine. Of the 61 riders, we were on the young end age wise. The route was mostly flat, with some inclines that were easily overtaken with the e-bikes. The e-bikes were a popular option with the travelers on the barge. We did not ride e-bikes.
- Trail riding is a good way to get outside and see the countryside. Some of the views were hidden from the road and others were a short bike ride into town for an Eis (ice cream) or a Bier (no translation needed).
- Make friends. We sat each evening with the same group — a couple from Argentina and a couple from Australia. We enjoyed the conversation with our table companions as well as those from the group that we met on board and along the way.
We ran across a new WWII monument noting the American army crossing the Rhine River—just put up in 2017.
- We rode for six days, about 150 miles total. The planned mileage for the bike tour was less, as we explored and enjoyed the area.
- In the towns at night we walked between 5-7 miles and enjoyed exploring the towns.
I have been asked if we would do the bike tour again. Of course, yes! We would likely pick another tour to explore a new area. We really enjoyed the support and the tour. Thank you to Lyn and John who shared their bike adventure in Europe with us prior to our booking the trip in December.