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Germany & Austria on our own

I am looking at 2012 vacation options. We have been to Europe (Italy) on a group tour in '08. I prefer my own tour, however travling on our own makes us nervous. I would like to fly into Munich, then go to Salzburg, Innsbruk and the lakes district in ~ 7-8 days (returning to Munich). How difficult is it renting a car in this itinerary? My neighbor did a similar tour on her vacation 2 years ago. They went from Paris and drove to southern Germany & Austria. She said signage was terribly poor and they spent way too much time trying to find their destinations in Bavria and Austria. Also parking was very difficult. Comments welcomed.

Posted by
1783 posts

Wally, I've never rented a car in Europe so I can't help you there. Have you thought about a Rick Steves "My Way" tour? There's one that covers Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (click on the Tours tab at the top of this site). I did the regular RS GAS tour last fall and it was great. The My Way might be a good compromise for you.

Posted by
9110 posts

The RS GAS tours are twelve days (the OP said he had eight for the project) and include S which was not a subject of the OP. The OP asked about driving, not about alternatives. First of all, since there's a time limit, which lakes district? Assuming the answer to the above is somewhere around either Mondsee or Hallstatt, you're looking at driving only about five hundred miles with the longest leg around three hours. Most will be much shorter. Most of it will be on freeways. Renting a car is easy: land, pick it up, drive, drop it off, fly. You'll save a bit by getting it from someplace other than the airport, but that'll eat into your time a bit - - I'm not so sure I'd bother since you're only looking at a couple of hundred bucks (maybe three) for the duration. If you're going to spend time in Munich, get the car as you leave and then drop it off at the airport - - no extra charge for airport drops (as opposed to pickup) and parking in Munich is a real bear. Don't believe your neighbor. Tell her to move, even. Parking in Innsbruk and Salzburg isn't so bad. I've never been to Hallstatt during peak season. Signs are great and easy. Learn a few basic shapes and symbols (seriously, ten minutes) and you can hive out the details as you come across them

Posted by
197 posts

Wally,
Have not yet been to Austria & Germany, but wanted to share my experience. We went to England & Scotland in July and rented a car. We were very nervous about driving on the "wrong" side of the road, reading signs, etc. We got step by step driving directions on ViaMichelin.com and found we had no problems at all! It was way easier than I thought, so I don't think you should let that stop you. It was great fun having a car, stopping when and where we wanted and generally exploring. Have a good trip!

Posted by
2725 posts

Hi Wally, You're itinerary is doable. We have done the same, plus done very similar itineraries, as we visited these places numerous times. Love these places and areas! Our very first trip was 3 nights by Salzburg, 3 nights by Innsbruck, 2 nights in Fuessen and then 1 night by the Munich airport. We thought this was the perfcet first trip to Bavaria and Austria. Munich airport to Salzburg is less than 3 hours. Salzburg to the Salzkammergut is less than an hour drive. Easy day trip. Salzburg to Innsbruck area is about 2 to 2:30 drive. Innsbruck back to Munich is about 2:30. (FYI: Innsbruck to Fuessen is about 2 hours drive and Fuessen to Munich is about a 2 hour drive). Signage is very good, roads are excellent and I find the driving more civilized than here around the NJ/NY area. If you can drive in the U.S confidently, you shouldn't have any problem. Familiarize yourself with some of the road signs (mostly symbols) and you should be fine. With a little planning and research, parking doesn't have to be difficult. Last trip (11/10) we downloaded maps of Salzburg and Innsbruck parking lots/garages, studied them a bit and when we went, had no trouble at all. We've flown into/out of Munich many times. We pick up/return the car at Munich airport. Very easy to find your way out of the airport and then later, back to the car return. We've rented a car through www.gemut.com for our last 3 trips in Germany and Austria. Their service, advice and prices were were unbeatable. If this is what you'd like to do, disregard your neighbors comments. In my opinion, they are way off base. Paul

Posted by
12040 posts

"They went from Paris and drove to southern Germany & Austria. She said signage was terribly poor and they spent way too much time trying to find their destinations in Bavria and Austria. Also parking was very difficult." I suspect they made zero effort to learn the signage or they have terrible situational awareness, because roads in Western Europe are extremely well marked. There's ample signs pointing you in the direction of almost every restaurant, hotel, historic site, town, village, hamlet, crossroad and tourist attraction. Even many stores will have road signs. Parking is also very well marked... hell, most cities will even have parking signs showing how many spaces are still available.

Posted by
31530 posts

Wally, Renting a car is certainly one option, although I suspect that may use more of your very short travel time than travel by train. For driving in Europe, having an International Driver's Permit would be a good idea, even if it's not compulsory. A GPS unit and good Maps would be prudent also. As I recall, a highway tax Vignette is required in Austria so if you rent the car in Munch, be sure this is included. Those without the Vignette may be fined (ie: a "substitute toll" of €110 is charged for drivers without a Vignette, but hefty fines are also possible). Of more concern is the fact that you plan to visit four locations in 7-8 days with no allowance for travel times between them. Does that time frame include your travel days to and from Europe? While the places you plan to visit are somewhat in the same area, each change of location will still require about half a day. That's not going to leave much time to actually "see" anything. I'd suggest limiting your trip to Munich and Salzburg, with a day trip to Hallstatt (check This Website for one example). Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
9110 posts

To balance a few of Russ's comments: 'shady rental agents....dings.....switch' - - I've easily rented a hundred cars in europe and have never seen any such 'stalled in Stau (heavy traffic)' - - yep, and I was yesterday in Alabama 'misreading / not reading signage properly' - - yep, again, but it's been at least a week since my wife sent me to the store and I went to the wrong one 'cruising a pedestrians-only zone' - - yep, did that in Dublin last year and the fuzz led me out with a wave and a grin 'you may end up with a ticket' - - nope, I can read 'have to pay for parking' - - we do that here in Hicksville 'even at your hotels' - - San Diego, New York, etc, have the same arrangement 'for vignettes' - - a ten-day Austrian vignettes costs eight euro if memory serves '$8 or so per gallon of gas' - - so what, if there's just two of you, a small car will get fourty miles per and you're only looking at five hundred miles or roughly a hundred bucks 'train travel is much . . . simpler' - - unless you have to hoof it from the station to the hotel, unless you are ready to leave before the train is, unless you see something neat along the way and want to stop or detour, unless you want to have a grub basket in the car for lunches, unless . . . .

Posted by
18390 posts

It won't matter to Wally, since there are two of them, but for a single person, an Einfach Raus ticket is NOT available. Yeah, two people can use the ticket for unlimited travel on regional trains in Austria for €28, but a person traveling single must pay full fare. In Germany, by comparison, the Bayern-Ticket is not only available for a single person, it costs less, €21 for a single vs €29 for a group.

Posted by
34 posts

I was referring to the lake district in and around Hallstatt. My neighbor is an ex airline flight attendent and she is well traveled. She said they couldn't find either Eagles Nest and Neuschwanstein Castle. She traveled with her 19 year old son who is also well travelled. Her husband is a Pilot for USAir and spent 12 years as a Navy Pilot. So when I say well travelled, thay have seen more than most. I am glad to hear that signage is not as bad as they have said. First off, I thank you all for responding. European vacations are not cheap, and I want to make the best vacation ion possible each year. So having sound advice is always helpful for those that have been to the subject area. Your comments are both kind and very welcomed. Thank you.

Posted by
809 posts

My parents just returned and claimed traffic was horrible. We are traveling this spring and taking the train - we are visiting (in this order) Wurzburg (1), Bamberg (1), Nurnberg (2), Salzburg (2), and Munich (1). Because we are using FF miles we fly into Dusseldorf and out of Munich. If I could re-do it, I'd go into Frankfurt and out of Munich. Edited to add: I have no interest in driving. Some countries - fine. Loved having a car in Portugal but with this itinerary we made the decision to train it (we will be two adults and a 12 year old)

Posted by
28147 posts

Well, I certainly have criticized various countries' roads here - high tolls in France traffic and construction in Germany additional tolls in Austria and the infamous Fernpass with its traffic
Italian tunnels and southern Italian roads and junctions - all valid - But I have never complained about signage in western Europe (except Italy). After a little study there should be no problem with road signs in France, Germany, or Austria. Make sure, after you get onto local roads, to look around for the street names, they will not be in standard US locations. Have fun - think about Ken's comments about how much ground you will be covering...

Posted by
9110 posts

Now the facts come out - - navy pilots and those married to them have a lot of problems with getting lost. Studies have proven that many of them can't even read. (Awaiting response from Mike) Somehow I managed to find both Fussen and Berchtesgaden way the heck before gps was thunk of with three screaming kids in the back seats. I really don't see how they could have missed them.

Posted by
12040 posts

"As I recall, a highway tax Vignette is required in Austria so if you rent the car in Munch, be sure this is included." Yes, that is correct. Some of the rental agencies can provide the vignette for a fee. If not, just purchase it at the border.

Posted by
15075 posts

Friends of mine rented a car and went through Austria and Munich, no problems except for the car itself. They specifically requested an automatic transmission and, when they picked the car up in Vienna, were told the person who had "their" car was keeping it longer, the only available cars were all stick shift. She doesn't drive stick, so he had to do all the driving and most of the navigation too.

Posted by
5616 posts

"How difficult is it renting a car in this itinerary?" It just depends. You will sometimes deal with shady rental agents who want to switch cars on you or get you to pay for dings you didn't make. You may end up stalled in Stau (heavy traffic) or misreading / not reading signage properly - even with several previous driving experiences in Europe, I missed a sign or two in Salzburg and ended up cruising a pedestrians-only zone. You may end up with a ticket (radar-ticketing is everywhere) and you will definitely have to pay for parking, even at your hotels sometimes, for vignettes, and you can count on $8 or so per gallon of gas. Train travel is much cheaper and simpler. For travel in Germany, a daypass like the Bayern Ticket (29€ for 2-5 people) provides flexibility and dependable travel times. http://www.munich-touristinfo.de/Bavaria-Ticket.htm You can use it to travel by direct train to Salzburg - and instead of worrying about traffic, navigation, and tanking up, you just enjoy the scenery and each other's company - maybe with a glass of wine. There's no law against drinking and riding! To reach Hallstatt from Salzburg (one change, about 3 hours) a similar daypass for regional trains is available at 28€ per group - the Einfach Raus Ticket: http://www.oebb.at/en/Tickets/Groups/Einfach-Raus-Ticket/index.jsp Innsbruck: not so special. You might want to daytrip to Garmisch and Mittenwald (adorable, use the Bayern Ticket) instead, but you seem to have a pretty full plate already.

Posted by
3696 posts

Wally... I just drove this area for about the 5th time and have not experienced the issues your neighbor had...even before GPS. Recent trip was the first time I used it. Driving is not for everyone, but if you desire the freedom and spontaneity the car adds, then it is easy. Yes, you may have to drive around the block a few times in the cities to find parking...no different than in the US. But, the drive through Austria and the Southern part of Germany is beautiful and allows for picnic stops and photo stops whenever you please. Lakes District? are you talking about Bodensee?

Posted by
31530 posts

Wally, I'm having a hard time understanding how a "well travelled" Flight Attendant and veteran Navy Pilot were unable to find either Neuschwanstein or the Eagle's Nest. Both are major tourist attractions and if they were really "lost", asking one of the locals or visiting the tourist information office should have sorted that quickly. This is not "rocket science". I'm assuming none of them ever use a Rick Steves (or other) Guidebooks??? Cheers!

Posted by
38 posts

I have to agree, hard to believe they couldn't find 2 of the biggest attractions in the region. We drove around the area 4 years ago, very beautiful, not to be missed. Brought my own Garmin GPS with me, paid an extra $75 to buy the Germany/Austria chip to add to my Garmin. You definitely should take a GPS, helps with finding hotels, attractions, etc. Some rentals come with GPS in the dash, but having one you are familiar with using would be a plus. Had an in-dash GPS in a rental out of Paris this summer, and it took me 15 minutes to convince it to display to me in English, and I'm a computer programmer. But it was indispensible once I figured that out. GPS, don't leave home without it...

Posted by
12040 posts

That just doesn't sound right. They couldn't see all the signs on the A7 that clearly pointed to Füssen? They didn't see the multiple signs that unambiguously instruct you where to turn once you get off the Autobahn? And they didn't even see the damn castle sitting there prominently on the side of the mountain, which is visible for kilometers? Seriously, something is wrong with these people, if they had a hard time finding the single most prominent landmark in Germany...

Posted by
28147 posts

Oh dear. Surely the only thing that could have confused them would be that neither Eagles Nest or Neuschwanstein Castle are the way Germans and their signs would describe them. Your well traveled flying neighbors must have no German at all. Truly, as said above, with a touch of understatement, they're bloody hard to miss.

Posted by
2725 posts

Hi Wally, As others stated, I find it VERY hard to believe a couple had a hard time finding Neuschwanstein and the Eagle's Nest. Are you sure they were being serious? Take a look at the link below. If you were driving would you be able to follow this sign? http://v5.cache5.c.bigcache.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/33543170.jpg?redirect_counter=1 I'd also like to 2nd Ed from Pensacola response above. Shady rental agents? Just one time time we got a car in a class that we didn't reserve. We had 2 people cut in line ahead of us at the counter. When we got up to the counter, the agent told us he was going to give us a nicer car, at no extra charge, for our patience. We got a really sweet Alfa Romeo. No extra charge at all. Check out www.gemut.com for a car rental. We've never had to pay for parking at the places we stay, which are family owned/run B&B's, Pensions, etc. The Austrian toll vignette (sticker) is 7.80 Euro for a vignette/sticker good for 10 consecutive days. Only once did we mistakenly drive into a "restricted zone". In Innsbruck. Cop waved us back and that was that. Gas is expensive, but the smaller (economy) cars like the Ford Fiesta we had last year in Germany) get great fuel mileage. As Ed pointed out, you're niot looking at that many miles on your trip. Do the trip YOU would like to do. With 7 or 8 days, you can easily go to Salzburg, day trip to Hallstatt from Salzburg, drive and stay in Innsbruck and go back to Munich. I'd do this: Arrive Munich airport and drive to Salzburg area. Stay 3 nights. Drive to Innsbruck area and stay 3 nights. Drive to Munich, stay that day and night. Fly home. If you have 8 nights, add 1 night to one of these. Paul

Posted by
225 posts

Easy!!! Rent a car! Its a beautiful area to be traveling by car in. Weve done what your describing a couple times and loved it all!!! It would be hard to do without a car in that short of time. I thought signage in both Germany and Austria was amazing. We had a Garmin the second time but only maps and road signs the second. Not a problem.

Posted by
225 posts

Easy!!! Rent a car! Its a beautiful area to be traveling by car in. Weve done what your describing a couple times and loved it all!!! It would be hard to do without a car in that short of time. I thought signage in both Germany and Austria was amazing. We had a Garmin the second time but only maps and road signs the second. Not a problem.

Posted by
697 posts

I'm in the camp of those that are encouraging you to rent a car for the trip you describe. You can do it; its easy. We found the Eagle's Nest, or at least the Obersalzburg and the shuttle bus up to the "Nest." The signage in Germany and Austria is fine; as good or better than at home. Do some of your map study at home before you go so you know what to expect. Suggest you include autoeurope.com in your car rental research. Have a great trip.

Posted by
23 posts

Wally, I agree do not listen to your neighbor. Renting a car ahead of time is simple. Have a travel agent do that for you if you are not comfortable doing it online. We flew into Salzburg in the summer of 2010. It is great little airport - you can walk to the nearest hotel across the street. We asked at information and a very kind lady pointed the way to us. Several pieces of advise. Get a good GPS with European maps. I set each anticipated destination ahead of time here at home and saved it into memory. All worked well even to get to McDonalds in rush hour through downtown Salzburg. Munich airport is equally a small airport and easy to get into and out of - close to the main autobahn. Plan ahead for hotel/accommodations and put the address into GPS. Look up and print off Austrian roadsigns from the internet - most major ones are there. The same for other countries. Be sure to have a country specific SIM card for your phone - at least a phone that works when you get off the plane so you can confirm hotel reservations and car rental etc. This RS forum has great ideas for phones. Think through your itinerary ahead of time to try to avoid surprises. Signage in a new language can be a challenge but be prepared to make a lot of U-turns but no fast moves please. I took a couple German courses at a local community college which helped tremendously if nothing more than to give some confidence to try to communicate in a foreign country.
You can do it. If two 65+ seniors can - you can too. Enjoy your vacation.

Posted by
23 posts

Wally, I agree do not listen to your neighbor. Renting a car ahead of time is simple. Have a travel agent do that for you if you are not comfortable doing it online. We flew into Salzburg in the summer of 2010. It is great little airport - you can walk to the nearest hotel across the street. We asked at information and a very kind lady pointed the way to us. Several pieces of advise. Get a good GPS with European maps. I set each anticipated destination ahead of time here at home and saved it into memory. All worked well even to get to McDonalds in rush hour through downtown Salzburg. Munich airport is equally a small airport and easy to get into and out of - close to the main autobahn. Plan ahead for hotel/accommodations and put the address into GPS. Look up and print off Austrian roadsigns from the internet - most major ones are there. The same for other countries. Be sure to have a country specific SIM card for your phone - at least a phone that works when you get off the plane so you can confirm hotel reservations and car rental etc. This RS forum has great ideas for phones. Think through your itinerary ahead of time to try to avoid surprises. Signage in a new language can be a challenge but be prepared to make a lot of U-turns but no fast moves please. I took a couple German courses at a local community college which helped tremendously if nothing more than to give some confidence to try to communicate in a foreign country.
You can do it. If two 65+ seniors can - you can too. Enjoy your vacation.

Posted by
153 posts

Wally;
Driving is really the best way to go. Signage is really not a problem. I would like to add that it helps to know the direction in which you will be traveling. Un-like here, the freeway signs don't say "I-5 North". You have to know which city is in the direction you want to go. As others have stated, study your maps prior to leaving and you'll be ok. Have a great trip. We're planning on 4 weeks next May/June and we've got our car already reserved! Can't wait!

Posted by
6 posts

My husband & I went to Germany and Austria in May and went into France along the German border for 2 days. We spent about 2 1/2 weeks there total, and loved it. We rented a car through Auto Europe and had no problems. I would advise getting a GPS unit. We rented it through them for about $40, they shipped it to us here and we took it over, then mailed it back after we returned. Overall, we thought the roads were well-marked. We used Rick's books and got lots of good tips on where to park, etc. We did have to get the pass when we went to Austria since we were staying there several days and that was no problem (and not too expensive if I remember correctly) - there was a sign at a rest stop/gas station type area and it was really convenient. Once in awhile we'd stop to ask questions and people were always able to help us, even in the small towns (neither of us speak German). We wouldn't do it any other way - we enjoyed being on our own and having the freedom of a car to set our own agenda.

Posted by
188 posts

We drove thru from Munich, then southern bavaria, up to Rothenburg , over to Baden Baden, Alsacs then up to Bruges, get a GPS, I have driven without, but so much easier with, Tom Tom has one with unlimited lifetime America and Europe maps for about $200 there maybe other brands, the TT worked for us. Practice using it before you leave. I also purchased a few Michelin maps so I have a overview of where I am going and for planning. Via michelin has a lot of road travel planning help. Gemut has a car renting service. Also I have found that Google Earth is very useful for viewing where you are planning to be and sometimes pictures and where accommodations are.

Posted by
5616 posts

Ed: The argument that cars give you the same headaches (traffic, dings, parking) and expenses abroad that they give you at home is not reassuring to someone looking to leave his day-to-day headaches for a nice vacation in Germany, which has one of the most if not the most comprehensive and efficient public transport systems on the planet. Wally: It's of course possible to rent a car for your itinerary. But do a little perusing of travel boards and you will find a bevy of complaints about rental agencies and reports of driving troubles of one kind or another, problems that train travel eliminates, and problems that you should at least consider before renting. Of course trains keep you on a schedule. But so do parking automats. That is, if you understand the German language well enough to use them. In the end, it often comes down to what you are comfortable with. Many Americans can't imagine going anywhere without 4 wheels, so they always rent a car in Europe too. Maybe you'd be less nervous behind the wheel too. But the rail infrastructure in Germany is phenomenal. You hop on the train at the terminal and you arrive in the heart of downtown Munich. You do the same for Salzburg. You don't shuttle to the rental yard or read or sign contracts or worry about TomToms. There's a small learning curve to buying tickets and getting on the right train and reading a train schedule, of course, and you should pick a hotel that's convenient to the station, but German train travel is comfortable and generally transparent enough that you'd probably be comfortable with it quickly if you gave it a try. And I notice there is no real $ argument to make against the trains.

Posted by
12040 posts

I usually don't vote on whether to take the train or rent a car... but Russ, for a balanced picture, you omit one big problem with rails- delays! I take about one long distance rail trip per month. I would estimate that at least a 1/4 of those have been significantly affected by delays. If you have a tight connection, sometimes one delay can turn a 2 hour trip into a 5 hour one. Delays seem to be particularly severe during the peak travel times in the summer. All in all, I usually prefer the rails over a car for long distance trips between cities. But rail travel isn't always smooth and easy either.

Posted by
9110 posts

'you should pick a hotel that's convenient to the station' That one won me over. No more driving, ever! Where are the trains? Sheesh.

Posted by
2725 posts

"But so do parking automats. That is, if you understand the German language well enough to use them." You don't need to understand German to use these. Just know that the word "Kasse" is the word for where to pay. Very easy and convenient.

Posted by
5616 posts

Paul: I don't really see how non-German-speakers figure out parking instructions like these: http://www.bahnhof-homburg.de/parkscheinautomat.jpg And here's a set of instructions that won't make much sense even to speakers of German. http://www.diefechis.de/wp-content/uploads/DerNutzeneinesParkscheinautomats_129E7/240820081216.jpg Major train stations on the other hand are manned by DB personnel who can answer questions - in English. Tom, you make a reasonable point. Delays are sometimes a problem, but your personal experience aside, according to one outside source, 85% of long-distance trains, and 94% of regional trains (the ones that represent the bulk of the travel deals under discussion here,) run on time or no more than 10 minutes late, a short delay that normally means any connecting trains will wait for the late train. http://www.test.de/themen/auto-verkehr/test/Deutsche-Bahn-Wie-puenktlich-fahren-die-Zuege-wirklich-1617492-2617492/?ft=bild&fd=2 I too have been delayed on occasion, but I don't recall wishing instead that I'd gotten a car and assumed all the concomitant responsibilities and inconveniences. I do remember spending a short while exploring some city or town where I hadn't expected an adventure of any sort.

Posted by
2725 posts

Russ, my point was that parking automats are basically very simple. You get a ticket, gate goes up and you park. When leaving, you go to the Kasse, put the ticket in the machine. It tells you how much you owe. You put in your money, ticket comes back out and you go to your car. At the exit gate, you insert the ticket and drive away. It's not complicated. In fact, this same system is used at a local hospital here. Even in your first example, it's easy to figure out that 30 Minuten is 30 minutes for .50. Now, if 30 Minuten is .50, then 1 Stunde/1.00 must be an hour. Not rocket science. I don't understand why some must present driving in Germany and Austria as a nightmare. I found it easy after the first hour or so of ever driving in Germany. I never felt the need for a GPS either. I'm not saying not to use one, but I never wished I had one. I find the driving in Germany and Austria to be less stressful than here in the NJ/NY area. Key is a little research before the trip. As Russ stated: "There's a small learning curve to buying tickets and getting on the right train and reading a train schedule..." Same applies to renting and driving. It's just a matter of preference. Wally was given bad info on signage, etc. and was asking how difficult driving and getting around by car really is. It's not difficult. Paul

Posted by
11450 posts

Wally a flight attendent is hardly someone I would consider an expert or well travelled, they get at most 24 hrs,, maybe 30 in one place,, usually a big city hub,, and its spent in a whirlwind tour of city and then sleeping in some corporate chain hotel,, they are not experts or experienced at land travel, no matter how many times they have flown into a place,,unless they actually spend some time there, ,and not a day or two. Sorry,, they are hardly the ones I would be looking to for guidance.. lol Parking INSIDE Paris is bad,, true enough,, but one would not need a car for Paris so you would only need to drive it out of the city,, not park anywhere inside. I f one rented a car for use inside Paris I would truely consider them the worst sort of advisors,, anyone with a modicum of experience would see the folly of that.

Posted by
5616 posts

"Russ, my point was that parking automats are basically very simple." And mine was that they're not so simple if you cannot read German. Otherwise, one must make guesses, as you suggest, guesses that if incorrect could result in a fine or... well, if you can't read German, you won't know what the penalties are for making incorrect guesses either. And not all parking goes on in gated parking facilities that make sure you get it right before the control gate is raised to let you out. Every town has its own street parking signage. This sign is simple for Germans, but what about Joe Tourist? http://www.allthingsgerman.net/blog/wp-content/2007/11/schild_bewohner.jpg And where there is metered street parking, towns have their own unique signage, conditions of parking, enforcement practices and penalties - posted in German, natch. I would not describe driving as a "nightmare" experience unless I had a serious accident of some kind. But for me, driving definitely subtracts from the "vacation" component of any trip to Germany. I'm not suggesting that parking bugaboos alone should stop anyone from driving - they're just one of many similar difficulties, annoyances and expenses that rental drivers must deal with. I can see myself renting in Germany again sometime - if I am traveling with an infant or a disabled person, or if I've chosen a remote mountaintop inn (still, many such inns offer to fetch you from the nearest train station.) Or if I'm on a respirator, or can no longer handle my own bag on foot. And maybe if I come into some money. But I certainly wouldn't do the very simple trip Wally has planned with a car.

Posted by
28147 posts

Come on Russ, if you are going to give examples of how difficult it is to understand don't keep putting up examples of how easy it is. Yes I speak German, at least some. But I can imagine that even if I spoke none I could work out, using a simple guidebook key words list, that P is parking, Mo-Fr might mean Monday to Friday and I get 2 somethings (oh, lets guess - it could be 2 days (nah), 2 minutes (nah) mebbe 2 hours (lets give it a try - oh the book agrees), and I need to use a parking clock which my book told me about. Jees. Do I care what permit the residents use? = = = Tell you what - lets ask Wally if he is able to make any sense of the pictures you have posted.... Wally?

Posted by
9110 posts

What Nigel said. My wife speaks no German and hasn't read the thread. She does do a fair share of the driving. She looked at the first picture and got it at a glance. She glanced at the second, said she didn't know what it was and walked away. By the time she got half-way across the room, the answer came to her. A lot of folks make cogent arguments for using one mode of transportation over another. Digging up non-contextual, fragmented internet giblets don't cut it.

Posted by
3 posts

This past September, my wife & I rented a car in Munich for sightseeing in Salzburg and the surrounding areas (Hallstadt, Konigsee, Linderhoff Castle, etc). Although there are many options for renting, I chose Avis because: 1. It is US based, so if i had a problem, i felt i would have easier access to the company to work out an issue & 2. there was no additional charge for a second driver (i believe Europecar did). In addition, i rented a GPS (useful for finding gas stations/other services vs. maps) with the car (approx. $9/day) which seemed reasonable vs spending $100+ for map to my existing Garmin or purchasing a new unit with Europe maps. Plus, i did not have to worry about packing, losing it or damage. Unit was a Tom Tom which also seemed favorable as it is a Europe based company and did quite well finding our destinations, really lowered the stress level. Did take some adapting to from my garmin at home, but figuring out the radio in the Renault was more difficult (no english instructions). Make sure to specify a diesel due to the high cost of fuel ($1.43/liter, just under $8/gal) when we were there, and diesel is the standard, so much easier to find. Use a credit card that will allow you to decline the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), i used a Hilton AMEX card. Finally, be sure to stop as soon as possible just before or after entering Austria to purchase the mandatory toll sticker. A friend of mine did not & i recall him having to pay a Steep fine (can be $300 euro). We bought ours at a rest stop service station, so relatively easy to purchase.

Posted by
12040 posts

"And not all parking goes on in gated parking facilities that make sure you get it right before the control gate is raised to let you out. Every town has its own street parking signage. This sign is simple for Germans, but what about Joe Tourist?" If Joe Tourist is too dim to figure out that the big white "P" on a blue background means "Parking", or that the signs with the P's, arrows and digital displays indicate where the parking is available and how many spots remain free, there's no way he's going to be able to figure out how to use Deutche Bahn. "Gleis? What the hell is that? Sitzplatz? I want to go to Bacharach, but the board doesn't show any trains that go there!" Let me once again proclaim my neutrality in the perennial war of "drive vs. train". But come on, Russ, thousands of North American visitors somehow manage to drive around Germany every year without disaster striking.

Posted by
5616 posts

"Do I care what permit the residents use?" A question you can only ask because you speak German! Joe tourist doesn't. For all he knows, the sign says "No parking on garbage days." And will Joe understand the white-on-blue message on the middle sign and know what to do to avoid a ticket? This is small stuff until you figure in the other potential delay-makers and trip-spoilers. Stau. Flat tires. Wrong turns. Misplaced car keys. Gas stops. Potty stops. Radar speed traps. Car vandals/thieves. Miscalculations by a possibly jet-lagged driver on unfamiliar roads, with unfamiliar road signage, and in an unfamiliar car, that result in minor accidents, or major ones. Sure, some of these are pretty unlikely, and you have most of these same troubles if you rent a car and drive in unfamiliar territory in the good ol' USA. But unlike travelers in America, travelers in Germany have an additional and truly viable public transport option that erases these variables, costs less, and protects the traveler from unpredictable costs (like insurance deductibles, tickets, parking fees.) I have no interest in extra costs or car-related tasks, including driving, when I'm vacationing in Europe - my focus is on experiencing Europe. I understand that a certain contingent finds driving itself an indispensable part of vacation fun. And that's fine. But I don't see anything wrong with pointing out the very concrete problems that go along with that choice, problems that aren't obvious to those who haven't had the somewhat liberating experience of quality European train travel.

Posted by
5616 posts

"But come on, Russ, thousands of North American visitors somehow manage to drive around Germany every year without disaster striking." Again... I'm not worried much about "disasters" or "nightmares" when it comes to cars, so you need to stop with that. It is merely my point that public transport in Germany is generally cheaper, more comprehensive, and easier than people assume, and that cars involve more troubles and annoyances, compared with trains, than people first understand. If you want some more evidence that this is true, just peruse this and other travel boards and read about people's car experiences. How many involve complaints about rental companies, driving conditions, parking, etc.? Then how many complaints do you read about the German train system?

Posted by
5616 posts

Wouldn't this just make your vacation? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC-8gaH5IsM Not a disaster. Just part of the road trip fun. "lol I used to work there on the other side of that road they always towed cars at that exact spot because after 14 o clock it was forbidden to park there and no one ever read that sign?"

Posted by
2725 posts

Hi all, The train vs rental car debate will never be resolved here. We can sit here and debate the pros and cons of cars, trains, buses, whatever, but it doesn't pertain specifically to Wally's questions. Wally has concerns for renting a car based on what turned out to be mis-information his neighbors gave him. Wally has a rather simple, rational plan for his vacation. As I see it, it is 3 locations which are not too far from one another in 7 or 8 days. This is figuring the Salzkammergut (lake district) is done as a day trip from Salzburg. His itinerary can be done by car or train/bus. He's asking about rental cars and since we have done many trips to these places with a car, I gave opinion's based on my experiences. Also, our 2001 trip to Bavaria and Austria was basically Wally's trip, except we had 9 nights. We did: Salzburg 3 nights Hall in Tirol (Innsbruck) 3 nights Fuessen 2 nights
Hallbermoos by the airport our last night. I'd recommend staying in Erding instead though. Paul

Posted by
1983 posts

We did the same trip many, many years ago, I think twenty on our first trip to Europe way before I had even heard of Rick Steves. Yes, we did get lost a few times but that was part of the adventure. Did not find signage any problem. If we did get lost, we just went into a gas station or some other store and people were very helpful. We liked the freedom of driving. My son also did this three years ago with GPS and he had no problems. Go for it.

Posted by
20 posts

We drove from Munich to Bastogne then on to Cologne. One thing I would NEVER do again is attempt to drive in the city limits. With their medievel street patterns it's a nightmare. Pick up/drop off at the airport. Like US airports, most have direct access to the motorway (autobahn, etc). Just my experience here. As far as signage goes...they are different, not necessarily bad. Once you get used to the pattern it's pretty easy. I only wish my travelling partner was a better map reader!
Bob

Posted by
11978 posts

Wow, quite a difference of opinion. The roads and signage in Germany and Austria are easy and logical. If anything I would say they are as good to slightly better than here. I'd base my decision to train or car based on how easy sites you plan to visit are to reach by train. If they are difficult to get to, a car is worth it. I prefer trains for major cities, they take you straight to the center where ATM's and TI's are located and you don't have to worry about parking. In the country parking is free and some things just aren't easily accessible by train. I do have a good sense of direction and can read a map. I drove, and trained, many times in both Germany and Austria before getting a GPS - but a GPS is worth it's weight in your carry-on if you have a good one to bring. If you can't find your way to major sites using a map and signage, you may have trouble finding your hotel from a train station without taking a taxi. Get an international drivers permit at a AAA, it takes about 15 minutes (no appointment necessary) and costs about $20. I believe Austria requires them (I don't think Germany does). In your time frame. I would skip Innsbruck (unless you have a family obligation to go there). It's okay, but you will probably like going east from Salzburg better. Don't drop the car in a different country than you picked up. Picking up in Munich and dropping in, say, Linz with the idea of training back will cost too much. When you pick up, ask for a car with a the sticker for Austria in it. They may or may not have one. If they do, and it's valid for your whole time there, you can save a stop and a little money. If they don't have one, pick it up as you enter Austria at the truck stop on the border, it's cheap. The sticker is only required for driving on the main highways, you can choose to skirt the Autobahn and not need it.