Sunday, October 22, 2006

Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland

The following is an account of a four-day trip I took to southern Germany (Bavaria), Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland with my daughter and my son, and two of my wife’s friends – Mike and JoLynn Rudick. My wife had the flu and stayed home.

On Top of the Zugspitze

Day 1, Thursday, March 23, 2000 – We left home at 7:30 a.m. We tried to talk my wife into coming, but she said she would be better off at home resting. I asked Mike to drive the first leg, so I could sit in the back with the kids and keep them entertained. After starting a movie and feeding them breakfast, we had an uneventful couple of hours. At lunch, we could not find a place to stop and eat. That is so often the case on the Autobahn. You may see a restaurant, but you often have a tough time getting to it. We exited three times trying to get to a restaurant before we were successful.

After lunch, I drove. When we got to Bavaria, in southern Germany, the weather was still very nice. It was sunny and about 60 degrees. I didn’t think we were going to see any snow, but then I came around a curve and the snow-covered Alps appeared out of nowhere. It was an amazing sight to see. We drove up into the mountains to the town of Fussen, Germany, where the Neuschwanstein Castle is located. This castle was the home of “Mad” King Ludwig, and is one of the most recognizable attractions in Germany. The castle was also the model for Walt Disney’s castle, and looks very similar. The castle is up on a mountain, and the only ways to get there are by bus, horse-drawn carriage, or by walking. Since it wasn’t high tourist season yet, the buses were not yet operating. The line for the horse-drawn carriage was very long, so we decided to hike up the mountain. My son immediately said he was tired and wanted to ride my back. He is big enough now that it wears me out to carry him too far. The climb up was steep and exhausting, especially in the thin air. We took pictures outside, and then paid to tour the castle. The tour only took about twenty minutes. It was O.K., but I would not recommend it in the summer when the lines to get in are supposed to be hours long.

After the tour, we went outside and took more pictures. I heard a man say he was from Oklahoma, and I asked where. He told me Atoka, and I told him I was from Hugo. He asked if I knew Cecil Cowlings, who was my shop teacher in the 8th grade. Unbelievable! He also knew some acquaintances of JoLynn’s (she is from Valliant, OK). We talked to him a few minutes, and then hiked up to the Marienbrücke (a bridge over a gorge) which is an excellent spot to take pictures of the castle. The view was stunning. On the way back down, we veered off the road and took a path through the woods. Since there was snow on the path, my son was able to walk down (he wanted to play in the snow).

After we came back down, we drove to our hotel in Fussen. We saw a McDonald’s, so I stopped and got some food for the kids. We checked into the hotel and I got the kids ready for bed. We only had two beds, so someone was going to have to sleep on the floor. We had brought sleeping bags just in case this happened, and I asked who wanted to sleep on the floor. Neither of them did. I told my daughter that when I was little, I loved to sleep on the floor. She said, “Then the answer is simple. YOU sleep on the floor.” Anyway, after I stopped laughing, my daughter slept on the floor. They woke up throughout the night calling for me. I did not sleep well.

Day 2, Friday, March 24, 2000 – We had breakfast in the hotel. The place was packed with Americans, probably because it was recommended by Frommer’s Guide to Germany. When I was loading the van, there were two older American men looking at the van. They asked to look at it, because they were impressed with the interior space. We ended up talking about what I was doing in Germany and what they were doing. One was from South Dakota and one was from Wisconsin. They were traveling with their wives all over Germany.

We left Fussen and headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. To get there, we had to cross the Alps and drive into Austria. The first Austrians I met were the police. I had not been speeding, but they had set up a speed trap at the bottom of a long hill. I caught a little speed going down the hill, and I was going 12 miles over the 60 KPH (36 MPH) speed limit. They just stepped out into the road with a stop sign and flagged me down. He asked for license and registration in German. I pretended not to understand. This is a trick that my business director, who is German, has told me that he uses when in the U.S. If you have extreme difficulty with the language, they will be more likely to be lenient. I handed him my passport, but again he repeated himself. I handed him my Texas driver’s license, and he told me that I had to have an international driver’s license to drive in Austria. At that point, I got worried, because I was afraid he was not going to let us drive away. He then said, “That is not the problem though. The problem is that you were driving 20 kilometers over the speed limit.” Finally, he gave up on communicating with me, and said “Just pay me 45 marks and you can go.” That is only $22, so I was happy to pay it and go. When we got home, a friend told a similar story. They were also pulled over as soon as they drove into Austria, but she said she was sure she was not speeding.

The Austrian scenery was beautiful. There was snow everywhere, and the little houses and villages were all pristine. The whole country looked like a Christmas postcard. We will definitely need to go back and spend some time there.

We got into Garmisch about 10. The Winter Olympics were held there in early 1900’s, and we could see why. There were ski slopes everywhere, and the view was really remarkable. I got lots of pictures and video. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The snow-covered mountains went straight to the sky. The town itself was lovely. All of the buildings had beautiful paintings on them, and the shutters all had scenes painted around them. The streets were cobblestone, and very narrow. The town appeared to be very old.

Our main objective for the day was to take a train and then a cable car to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain (about 10,000 feet). We got our tickets, and rode halfway up the mountain on a cog rail. I can’t even describe the scenery. There were lakes down below, and snow all around. The kids were very excited. We got up to a plateau high on the mountain, and stopped for lunch. The kids played in the snow a while. There were skiers everywhere. After lunch, we took a cable car up to the top of the mountain. It was very cold, but we messed around outside for a while and took lots more pictures. You could probably see for hundreds of miles over the Alps. The air was very thin there, and my son started to get tired. I picked him up and he fell asleep pretty quickly in my arms.

After an hour or so, we caught a different cable car to the bottom. This descended very quickly, and hurt mine and my son’s ears. It was much like the pressure changes in an airplane. When we got to the bottom, he complained a lot about his ears hurting.

After we had descended, we went back into town to search for our hotel. We found another Frommer’s recommended hotel, the Gasthof Fraundorfer, and booked rooms. The rooms were all guesthouses in separate buildings. I could not find our room, so I approached a couple sitting outside. I asked them in German if they could help me. I told them my room number and told them that the woman at the reception had said the room was out there somewhere. I spoke for about 2 solid minutes in German before I stopped. The man looked at me puzzled and said “No sprechen German.” I asked, “Oh, you’re American?” He and his wife both laughed, and he said “Wow! Where did you learn to speak like that? That was incredible.” He then asked if I could help them. His wife had some cold medicine, but the directions were in German. I told him what it said, and he told me that my room was right next to theirs.

We dumped our stuff off in the room, and then walked out back. There was a huge hill behind our room, so we decided to climb it. It was probably 300 feet to the top, and pretty steep. I walked behind the kids in case they lost their balance and started to roll. When we got to the top, I could see the entire town below, and snow covered mountains in every direction. There was a beautiful old church, with a very tall steeple not far away. I grabbed the kids and just made them look at the view for a few minutes. I hope they never forget that view. I know I won’t.

We played for a while at the top of the hill before coming back down. My son started to lose his balance a couple of times and I had to stop him. My daughter went up and down as sure-footed as a mountain goat. Once down, we went to the hotel restaurant and ate. There was a very old German man sitting with some Americans next to our table. He told me that my kids were very well-behaved. Actually, they had been really good so far. I never could quite figure out what the relationship was between him and the people sitting with him, but it appeared that he had moved to the U.S., married an American, and had some kids. One of the “kids” had a U.S. Marine Corps tattoo. I assumed that he had just brought them back to see his homeland.

Back in the room, I got the kids settled down and dressed for bed. My son was acting pretty lethargic. During the night, I felt his forehead and found that he was running a fever. He tossed and turned all night, and he wanted me to hold him several times during the night. By morning he was pretty sick. For the second night, I slept poorly as well.

Day 3, Saturday March 25, 2000 – I woke up early with my son. My watch had quit working during the night, so I had no idea of what time it was. We were supposed to meet Mike and JoLynn for breakfast at 9 before leaving Germany. My son was really burning up, but he wouldn’t take medicine. I had some grape flavored children’s cold medicine, but what I really needed was children’s Motrin. I finally got some medicine down him, and he immediately threw up. I called Mike and told him that we would not be at breakfast. I thought it was about 8:00, but it was only 6:45. I sent my daughter to breakfast with them, and I stayed and tried to make my son feel better. Mike and JoLynn brought us some breakfast back to the hotel, and my son ate a little. He said he felt good enough to go, so we checked out and left.

Before the day was over, we planned to pass through four countries – Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. We drove back through Austria, but I was busy with my son and didn’t get to enjoy the scenery much. I tried to comfort him as much possible to make him feel better. He was still running a fever, and it was pretty warm in the van. My daughter acted a bit jealous that he was getting all of the attention. We drove the length of Austria, which is almost entirely mountainous and very beautiful. At one point, we passed very near the Italian border, but there was a mountain separating the countries. The Sound of Music was filmed in Austria, but I have never seen the movie. I will have to watch it and see how well the scenery matches up. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Adolph Hitler were both from Austria. But, I digress.

We pulled into Liechtenstein about 2 in the afternoon. Liechtenstein is a tiny country, only about 1/20th the size of Rhode Island. This was the first border check point we had to go through, but the guard only asked us if we had anything to declare and where we were going. We first tried to find a place to eat in the capital, Vaduz, but ended up driving around for over an hour before we had any luck. I ordered food for myself and the kids, but my son fell asleep in my lap and my daughter wasn’t hungry. After lunch, we tried to find a place for souvenirs, but everything was closed. At first I thought we had finally found a country that didn’t have a McDonald’s, but we did finally see a sign for one. Liechtenstein was just like Germany – nothing was open on Saturday afternoon except service stations and a few restaurants. So, we left and headed into Switzerland. We drove around for a while, before driving up to Lake Constance for the night. Before it got dark, we played around on the beach for a while. There were lots of swans and ducks there, and my daughter was getting a little too close to them. I was afraid she was going to get her head pecked. My son was still not feeling well, and I had to carry him everywhere.

The Kids and Me at Lake Constance

We found a hotel near the beach. The hotel was very nice, with hard wood floors. After getting settled in, my son started complaining that his ear was hurting. He was also running a very high fever, and I could not get him to take medicine. My daughter went to sleep fine, but I was up for a long time with my son. I had to press a hot wash cloth to his ear to keep the pain away. He would fall asleep, I would try to pull the cloth away, and we would wake up crying. His whole body was shaking. I finally got him to take some medicine around midnight, and he drifted off to sleep. For the third night in a row, I slept poorly.
Day 4, Sunday, March 26, 2000 – Today, we would head home. The drive would take us about 6 hours. We got up early and loaded the van. My son said his ear didn’t hurt much. Since it was Sunday, almost nothing was open. We stopped at a couple of gas stations and Mike and Jo bought some Swiss chocolates. Mike drove the morning shift. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant beside the Autobahn. The kids weren’t very hungry, and my son started to feel worse. I tried to take his mind off being sick by playing a game with him. I would hide a coin in my hand and have him guess which hand. He guessed right seven times in a row! I couldn’t believe it. The odds against that are 128 to 1. Mike said I should take him to Vegas. We looked out the window at the restaurant and saw a mouse playing outside. We watched him for about 5 minutes before we headed back to the car.

I drove after lunch. A couple of hours into the drive, the sun came out and was hitting my son in the face. I could tell by his face that he was running a fever again. He started to cry and I tried to talk to him. I was being really distracted while driving, so I finally pulled over. I almost could not get him settled down. But, we were only an hour from home and I told him he would see his Mom soon. I also climbed back into the back with him. I set up a sleeping bag in the window to keep the sun out of his face, and we finished the drive.

All in all, the trip was too brief. I plan to go down there again in the summer. We will have a few more days to drive around Switzerland, and will probably take the train into Venice, Italy for a day. When we got back home, I told the kids that they had now seen every country in Western Europe except Spain and Portugal. We will knock those out next month.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Good European Travel Books