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Germany, Austria and Switzerland May 2015 Trip Report

My husband and I took our first trip to mainland Europe in May to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We spent 4 days in Paris on our own (I wrote a trip report about that section already) and then joined up with a Rick Steves' GAS tour. I am finally getting around to posting my review for the tour. This was our second tour (we had taken the Scotland one last year), so we were expecting it to be great. It exceeded our expectations! I don't want to sound like a commercial, but Rick Steves' really does have the best guides, the most well planned itineraries, and their tours attract the best guests. Everything was wonderful. Even though some of them were quirky, the hotels were always very nice and in central locations. The food on this trip was amazing, and instead of large convention halls or cafeteria style places, they were in small restaurants. So much was included. I'll do a quick overview of what we did each day, for those who are interested. Sorry this is so long.
We arrived in Trier on the day the tour started. We took a train from Paris through Luxembourg, which was very easy. We had planned to take a taxi to the hotel from the train station. On our way out we noticed a couple wearing Seattle Seahawks gear and decided to ask them if they were on our tour. They were! So we shared a taxi with them and made our first friends. Our first hotel was the Hotel Residenz am Zuckerberg Trier. This is actually half hotel and half retirement community. It sounded odd from the reviews I read prior to the trip, but the rooms were like apartments and everyone was friendly. We dropped off our bags and wandered into the center of town for lunch. There was a market going on so we sat at a café in the center of the square and people watched while trying our first German sausage, sauerkraut and wiener schnitzel. It was delicious! Afterwards we got ice cream and walked back to the hotel for our group meeting. Our group was so great! Our group got along right away and we loved our guide, so that was nice. We took a walk around town as a group and then had our first group dinner at Zum Domstein. This place was delicious and we had one of the best meals of our trip here.
The next day we took a morning walking tour with a local guide. She had a PhD in her field and was great! We learned about the Roman ruins in Trier and its interesting history as the capital of the northern Roman Empire. Then we took the bus to our lunch stop for the day in Beilstein. This was one of our favorite stops of the trip. It was a cute little town on the Mosel River surrounded by vineyards and little German towns. We had lunch as a group on a patio overlooking the river before having some free time to explore the town. Then we visited Burg Eltz. The castle was just stunning and we had a very good tour of the inside by a local college history student. We had a free night back in Trier and my husband and I ended up back at Zum Domstein since we had liked it so much.
On day three we headed to Baden-Baden. I wasn't so sure about this stop because I am not big into spas or shopping. We ended up loving it! It really is a beautiful town to walk around in. We toured the famous casino as a group, which looks like something out of James Bond. Afterward, my husband and I grabbed lunch at a café with a few other tour members and then walked up the hill (seriously up hill, for about 45 minutes-we should have waited for the bus!) to the funicular station and headed up Merkur mountain. It was a sunny day and the view of the Black Forest was just beautiful. There is a little café at the top selling drinks and desserts, so we sat overlooking the view and had iced coffee drinks. It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. After returning to town we had dinner at another café and then walked along Lichtentaler Allee, the riverside walkway. It was a beautiful, flowered walk. Our hotel was The Atlantic Park Hotel right on the Allee.

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On day 4 we headed to Switzerland! We were the most excited for this part of the trip. We stopped on the way at a Black Forest open air museum to learn about the farming life in the Black Forest culture - and of course we tried the Black Forest Cake! This was a long day on the bus, but we always stopped somewhere interesting every 2 hours at least. We stopped at an Autogrill in Switzerland to use the restroom and change our money. I had heard of these from trip reports about Italy, but wasn't expecting to see one. I couldn't believe it! It was like a mall and a gourmet food stop all mixed into a highway rest area. We arrived in Lauterbrunnen Valley and it was overcast but so stunningly beautiful. There were waterfalls all over and everything was so clean and green. Unfortunately we had received a bad weather report for the entire stay. We took a gondola up to Murren where we would be staying, and we ascended into clouds. Murren was total fogged in! It was cold and started to rain and it was so foggy that we couldn't see the mountains. When we got to the hotel, Hotel Jungfrau, the manager introduced himself and all the staff. They were so great, they felt like a family. Our guide, Hans, asked him what the weather looked like for tomorrow and he said "not as good as today." At this point we all just laughed. We had a great group determined to make the best of it! Dinner that night started out with cheese fondue, and it was amazing.
On day 5 we woke up to snow covering everything. It was beautiful, although unexpected, as it had been warm and sunny for the last few weeks. Although it was too foggy to see the mountains at higher elevations, the valley was beautiful, so we went back there for the day. We visited Trummelbach Falls and walked around the valley. It was a beautiful afternoon. Then we returned to our room to rest. Unfortunately, I somehow came down with a stomach bug and missed dinner that night. The hotel staff was so nice that they noticed my absence and gave my husband a picnic lunch for me.
On day 6 the weather was still not great, so our guide planned at day in Interlaken for us. We visited a chocolate shop and saw a demonstration and had lunch together and had free time to wander the town. When we returned to the valley, Hans gave us tickets to use the gondola whenever we were ready. We went to Gindelwald to walk around. It was very quaint and quiet, all covered in snow. Then we had another group dinner along with traditional Swiss music. I even tried the alp horn!
On day 7 we headed to Munich. Everyone had been hoping the clouds would clear for just a peak at the higher mountains, but it never did. Even with the foggy weather, Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been. We will just have to go back! This was our longest bus day. We had a short walk and a group dinner at a cute little Bavarian restaurant when we arrived in Munich. Our guide always had us choose our meals before arrival so we didn't have to wait long for our meals, so it went very smoothly even with a big group. We stayed at Hotel am Viktualienmarkt, right in the center of town.
On day 8 we had a 3 hour guided walk around Munich and learned a lot. My husband and I tried to get up the tower at St. Peter's church in order to watch the glockenspiel in the square from a higher place, but we waited too long and got stuck on the stairs during the show. We got great views of the city from there and then went to the Hofbrauhaus for lunch. This place is a mad house, but it is great fun! We are not beer drinkers, but when in Bavaria....! So we tried a Radler, half beer and half Sprite. It wasn't too bad, actually. After lunch we wandered the town, saw the super baroque Asam's church and did a super fast walk through the Residenz. I really enjoyed the treasury, but after the French palaces we had seen I didn't love the German royal style as much. We were tired, so dinner was a picnic in our room.

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On day 9 we headed for Salzburg, with a side stop-over at Neuschwanstein. I know these aren't real "castles," but I loved the fairy tale just the same. After having such bad weather, I was worried we wouldn't be able to see the castles. It ended up being overcast, but it was clear. The landscape around this area is just stunning. We were finally getting to see some Alps! We walked up to the castle and a little beyond it to Mary's bridge for the traditional postcard view of the castle and a beautiful view of the parents' castle (I am not going to try to spell that!). Then we had our tour of Neuschwanstein. It is crazy how many people are there! You have to be there exactly when your tour time is set or you miss out. They take groups of about 40 in every 5 minutes on the dot. You can't take any pictures inside. Even with all this, I loved every second. The interior was amazing! After this we had lunch and then stopped at Wieskirche, the famous rococo style church in the meadow. Then, on to Salzburg where we had a short orientation walk and a dinner together.
On day 10 we had a guided tour. The local guide here was not the normal one they use, I don't think, and he was our least favorite of the tour. We broke off early and went up to the Salzburg Fortress, mainly for the views. And it did not disappoint! The views of the mountains from the top were great. There is a nice restaurant up there, but it wasn't serving lunch yet, so we walked back and ate in town. Then we found a bike rental place and rode several miles out of town to get a closer view of the mountains. It was beautiful, until it rained on us on the way back. For dinner, a few members of the group went to the Mozart dinner concert. The food was ok, but the setting and concert were great!
On day 11 we traveled to Hallstatt. It was still rainy, but not too foggy to enjoy the views. Hallstatt is just beautiful and so peaceful. We had no real agenda, we just wandered around through town, taking photos. We also visited to bone chapel. We had a nice group dinner together this night. We stated at Hotel Grunner Baum, which was our favorite hotel of the trip. The rooms were beautiful!
On day 12 we headed to Vienna. On the way we stopped at Mauthausen concentration camp. It was a tough stop, but I think necessary. We were given audio guides to go at our own pace, which I appreciated because it let you really grieve the atrocities in solitude. We made it to Vienna in the late afternoon and had free time. We wandered around town and popped into a few churches, one of which was having a beautiful choral concert that we listened to for a bit. Then we had dinner and turned in early.
Day 13 was a bit sad because we knew it was our last day. We had a guided tour of Vienna for about 3 hours and it included parts of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. We aren't really huge on art, but we really enjoyed our tour. The local guide was hilarious and we had a blast with him. During a break in our walking tour, my husband and I popped into the Hapsburg's library and it was amazing for a bookworm like me. After the walking tour we ate lunch in the museum under the beautiful ceiling in the café. We felt a little overwhelmed by how much you could do in Vienna and how little time there was, so we decided to just look at the architecture and gardens. The Volks Garden was beautiful, just full of Roses. The architecture in Vienna makes it one of my favorite cities ever. We took the subway with our included pass to Schonbrunn Palace to just look at the gardens. It was a quick and easy trip. We also made a stop at Demel, one of Vienna's most famous bakeries. We had delicious pastries and we got to sit by the glass wall and watch the bakers at work. We enjoyed our low-key afternoon. We had a final group dinner together and said our sad goodbyes. It was such a wonderful trip! It will take me sometime, but eventually I'll put together an online scrapbook for the trip. Hope this helps!

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2738 posts

Hi Tamara,

Thank you for taking the time to write your report. We have been to most on your tour and was nice to read your impressions. Too bad about the weather, but glad you enjoyed your trip.

Paul

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1177 posts

Thank you for sharing your detailed report on the GAS tour! It was very interesting and informative. I am planning ( if things work out)
to go on this tour in 2016. Very nice to hear you had such a good time. I would like to also stay a few days, if possible in Vienna after the tour. Who was your RS tour guide? Were there any single people on your tour? What hotel did you stay in, in the Swiss Alps and in Munich and Vienna? Was it easy to get around Vienna? I have been to Munich on the BOE tour. Weather is unpredictable but that is good that you were able to do other things. You mentioned you were going to put together an online scrapbook of your trip photos. Are you entering the 2015 RS scrapbook contest? Or are you on Flickr? I would love to see your photos! Again, happy to hear you had such a nice time and a great way to spend your anniversary!

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10241 posts

Uh, let's see...I could just copy and paste Ann's post! I, too, plan this for 2016 so am delighted to get your impressions. I loved your TR from Paris and I love this one too!

I am also glad to hear what you did in Baden-Baden. I'm not a spa person or a shopper either and had not researched yet what options there were. Trier sounds wonderful, love Roman stuff! Switzerland was my favorite spot on the 21 BOE and I was looking forward to 2 days there. Sorry your weather was dreadful, but yea snow!

I always feel like such a shill for Rick because I love his tours too. I agree that the guides, both your tour guide and the local guides, make such a difference. I am always impressed at the tour guides in Europe who have PhD's. Unfortunately, there is usually one who is OK but not as good as the rest, either based on presentation, English language facility, personality, etc.

Again, thanks for taking time to post and yes, I hope you post a link when you get your scrapbook up.

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608 posts

I'm glad my trip report could help! I always feel like I am rambling, but I found these so helpful when I was planning (and when I was dreaming of traveling while stuck in the mundane :o) I think staying extra time in Vienna is a great idea - that was one of our only regrets of the trip. Vienna is a great city with so much to do, but we were worn out after all our business and felt like doing anything at all would only be the tip of the iceberg, so we decided to just take it easy. Vienna is just a stunning city though. Our guide was Hans. He is from Holland and does some GAS and some Holland and Belgium tours. He is wonderful! He speaks 5 languages and has spent time in many different countries, so he had such an interesting perspective on things. There were three single people on this tour, although two of them were an aunt and niece traveling together. It didn't appear that any of the single people felt left out. In Murren we stayed at Hotel Jungfrau. In Munich it was Hotel Viktualienmarkt and in Vienna it was Hotel Savoy Wien. We thought Vienna was very easy to get around. Most of what we wanted to see we could walk to from the hotel, but the tour included metro passes and the metro was very simple to use. I do plan on entering the scrapbook contest, but if I am honest it will probably take me a few months to get it together. I would be happy to send you the link then. I am hoping to have most of my pictures posted on Facebook for my friends and family within the next week or so. If you would like to look at them I could send you the link. I only have the pictures from the France portion posted so far. I hope you ladies do decide to go on the tour, you will have an amazing time. Each place is so wonderful. And the we were just unusually unlucky about the weather in Switzerland, so don't let that scare you. Our guide said he has only ever had one other group in all his tours who he couldn't take up to the Schilthorn on at least one of the tour days. I have seen lots of other scrapbooks with stunning pictures of the Alps, so I'm sure its uncommon. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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Ann,

I can't speak to Rick Steves tours, as I've never taken one. But I can say that getting around Vienna is very easy. Much of the central areas are walkable, and the trams and underground (U-Bahn) work great. The only wrinkle is that you not only have to press a lever to open the door on the U-Bahn (like in Paris), but doing so only opens that one door! You have to press both levers to open both doors; watch the locals do a fast maneuver to hit both levers quickly, and then try to imitate it (I learned after a few days).

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Tamara,

Great trip report. I was on the same tour either right before or right after you. Our weather in Murren was amazing. Just random luck, but at least you got another stop on your trip at Interloken.

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207 posts

Great trip report Tamara. I took the same tour in 09 and loved every day of it. I went in Sept and only had one day of light rain. Just a great trip with lots to see and experience.
Noticed you spent several days in Paris on your own. Just wondered how you did in Paris and did you enjoy it. I will be there next year before another tour.
Tony

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608 posts

Hi Tony. We had a great time in Paris! I was a bit intimidated because we had never been to mainland Europe before and neither of us speak French, but we had no problems. Everyone was nice and helpful. The city was beautiful and not too difficult to navigate. It was a highlight of our trip! You'll have a great time!

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5771 posts

We're booked into the Hotel Jungfrau is just a couple of weeks. I was glad to read your good report about your stay there. I am hoping for better weather than you had..........

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379 posts

Thank you for the report. I think I will put this trip on my agenda for some time in the future.

How was the weather? I imagine you needed warmer clothes than those of us visiting Italy or Greece at the same time.

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389 posts

Tamara

What a joy to read your post. My husband and I are scheduled on the GAS tour on September 1. It was great to read about your experiences. We hope we have better luck with the weather in Switzerland. That is probably number 1 on the list of what we are looking forward to seeing. I will be celebrating my birthday on Day 7, which is the travel day from Murren to Munich. This will be our 3rd RS tour. We got home a month ago from the Best of England tour. We haven't received our hotel list yet, so I'm going to check out your list and hope that they are the same. (You didn't list the hotel in Salzburg, could you possibly list it?) I think half the fun of traveling is what you do reading the guidebooks and getting information on line on what we will see and do. We have good friends who have taken this tour and they say it's their favorite. I'm getting really pumped up to head to Germany. We are taking an additional 3 days at the front end, and 3 days at the back end of the trip. Can't wait!

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608 posts

Barnstormer: the weather really ranged from 30 degrees and snowing in Murren to 70 degrees and sunny in Vienna and everything in between. We used a lot of layers!

Janetmlockwood: the hotel in Salzburg was Hotel am Mirabellplatz. I'm sure you will have a great trip! Our weather in Switzerland was very unusual and it was still beautiful. I am just like you - I live off of the research and looking at other people's scrapbooks until we leave. It might be a while before I get a scrapbook made, but I have some of my pictures posted on Facebook and am working on the rest. If you would like the link to view my pictures, just send me a pm. :) I think you'll be glad for the extra time at the end of the trip - there is so much to see in Vienna. It is such a lovely city. I wish we had more time there, but we'll just have to plan a trip back!

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28472 posts

Tamara

Great report.

I'm sorry Hans couldn't make the weather better. He's such a great guy, I don't believe that changing the weather is beyond his power ;-)

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608 posts

Ha! Nigel, he certainly tried! I don't doubt that the group's great, positive attitude about the weather was all due to Hans' humor. He is hilarious! We just loved him ;)