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Rise before the birds and fall into bed?

Greetings!

My husband and I are planning a trip to Germany next year. I've even been brushing up on my German so I don't embarrass myself. I stumbled across the Rick Steves' TV shows and looked up to see if he had a website. Boy does he! We WERE planning on going to Germany for 3-4 weeks with half that time in Berlin where I was stationed in the dark ages. Although the Germany tours are not exactly what we planned for the non-Berlin portion, they do look appealing. As well as ... doggone it ... NOT having to plan everything. The last time I was in Germany it was under the auspices of the USAF ... which if you think about it ... is essentially a super-guided tour.

This is our objection to a pre-planned tour. We do NOT want to get up, drag the sun up and the bird's out of their nests each morning and fall into bed totally exhausted only to start all over in 6 hours. We can handle walking and hiking around as long as it's not up Mt. Everest.

So for you Rick Steves' tour groupies ... what does a typical day look like? And will I indeed have a chance to use the German I've worked so hard on?

Vielen Dank!
Robin Lancaster

Posted by
54 posts

Hello and Welcome to the Forum! I had to respond since my husband and I were also stationed in Berlin with the Air Force waaaaay back when. Back before the Wall came down. (Tempelhof Central Airport, 6912th ESG) We have taken several Rick Steves Tours in addition to travels on our own. We like not having to reserve all the hotels ourselves and the transportation between cities, and the local guides that the company hires are usually top notch. The mornings start around 8 am with breakfast available for an hour or so before that. Depending on which tour you are on, some mornings may start earlier to get a jump on traffic or to meet a museum reservation. Or there may be a free morning with no scheduled activities until the afternoon. If you two have specific things you want to do on your return to Deutschland, you may want to consider a My Way Tour which is less regimented but still takes care of the logistics. Tschüss!

Posted by
8 posts

I did already and sadly ... unless there is a secret page I cannot find ... there are only two MyWay tours that involve Germany and they are even more off of where we want to go than the guided tours. We really aren't looking for a multi-country trip this time ... and it SEEMS that the ones that involve Germany are also multi-country.

Soooo ... was that a polite way of saying that RS tours are rise early and fall into bed with just a few hours of sleep before you start all over? Kinda like every other tour company I've read about? We don't mind getting up early ... we just don't want to drag the sun up every day for 15 straight days.

Robin

Posted by
8063 posts

I’ve done the GAS tour which is Germany, Austria and Switzerland (really Germany, Switzerland and Austria is the order but that doesn’t give a cute acronym!). I’d agree with a start time of maybe 8 on the transit days, a bit later on the days if there is a walking tour of a city. As best I can remember, on nights when there was a group dinner we were back to the hotel maybe by 9PM, the exception being the farewell dinner in Vienna which was later. Half the dinners are on your own so you control the time on that. The on-your-own dinners are often after a free afternoon so that whole block of time is up to you. I’m an early to rise, early to bed person and I don’t remember any ridiculously late group activities.

There is a whole free day in Switzerland.

If it’s not a transit day you are free to skip any activities you like, just tell the guide and your “buddy”. The R S system is that the first night you pick a buddy - not to hang around with- but to look for when the group meets up. The guide calls buddy check, you make eye contact with your buddy and the guide isnt constantly counting heads to see who is there.

Skipping activities on a transit day is a bit more difficult just because you’re on and off the bus.

If you go for a tour, try to arrive a day ahead at least. More time ahead is better!

Which tour is piquing your interest?

BTW you will use your German, perhaps with your guide and/or driver. My guide was Carlos Meissner, born in Bonn, lives in Berlin. The bus drivers are fabulous and part of the group. Mine for this tour was Richard, who speaks as many languages as the guide if not more. You’ll also have free time to get out and explore on your own and use your language skills.

Posted by
8 posts

Helen, that is exactly where I was and also before the wall came down. I was there from '78-80 and worked at Teufelsberg. When were you there?

I THOUGHT I saw a MyWay tour that was just Germany, but I have never been able to find that page again. Perhaps it was an old one from a previous year.

Posted by
8063 posts

Oops, cross posting with you. There is not a My Way Germany tour and I don’t think there ever has been. The tour that starts in Hamburg is relatively new-just a few years old.

Here’s a link to the My Way tours:

https://www.ricksteves.com/tours

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you, Pam! That does give me a little better feeling about not being drop dead tired and only half way through the trip. I always say I can do anything for a short amount of time ... but that time is getting shorter and shorter the older I get.

I feel better about broaching this possibility to dh. And then we can spend a week in Berlin.

I have been reading some of the tempting archives in the forums for tips and tricks. One person takes TWO 10-11 day trips every year! Another person told a story about a man and wife who rented a house in ... Scotland I think ... for a month every year. One morning the husband was not home in a timely manner. The wife found him leaning against a rock looking out. I think those are incredible stories of enjoying your retirement and a great way to spend the kids' inheritance ... I mean your hard earned retirement savings.

Posted by
54 posts

I was in Berlin in 78-79 and husband Steve was there from 78-81. We both worked at Marienfelde. Small world! Too bad there's no My Way Germany -- we did the My Way Germany Austria Switzerland a few years ago but I don't even know if that one runs anymore and it didn't cover Berlin anyway. Still, you should be able to put together a combination of tour and independent travel that covers everything. It was really a trip to see East Berlin right after the Wall came down and watch it change over the years. You're going to have a blast.

Posted by
7251 posts

fall into bed totally exhausted only to start all over in 6 hours.

If you get only 6 hrs sleep its because you choose to go to bed late.

All the group activities are ( usually) done by dinner time. The group dinner is usually at "american" dinner time so ends by 9ish. If there is an evening activity it is done by 9ish.

Most days will have a group 'move out' time between 815-845.

Posted by
7757 posts

You might enjoy reading people’s scrapbooks from RS tours they’ve taken to get an idea of what they’re like here

Posted by
1792 posts

Robin,
There is a Best of Germany in 13 Days tour, beginning in Hamburg and ending in Berlin. It would be easy to arrive early to Hamburg and add on days in Berlin at the end. I have my eye on this tour myself.
I went on the Berlin Prague Vienna tour in 12 days which was a phenomenal experience. I didn’t think I would like Berlin but it turned out to be a highlight, I’ve done lots of reading about Hitler, Churchill and World War II and being in Berlin made so much of that history come alive for me. Then to see the after effects of Communism in East Berlin was eye opening as well.
To answer your question about timing of the guided Rick Steves tours, yes, we are generally on the bus by 8 or 8:30 am or on a walking tour but when those activities are done, we usually have a block of free time to go at our own pace or do nothing at all. The tours are a nice balance.
Hope you find something that pleases you and you are able to see Germany again.

Posted by
5577 posts

And the best way to avoid rising with the birds is just arranging your own accommodations, meals, transport and sightseeing -- not hard at all, and cheaper than a full tour. Besides, just think how much extra practice in German you could get! Lots of people on this forum do independent travel, often using Rick Steves guidebooks.

Posted by
3168 posts

And the best way to avoid rising with the birds is just arranging your
own accommodations, meals, transport and sightseeing -- not hard at
all, and cheaper than a full tour. Besides, just think how much extra
practice in German you could get! Lots of people on this forum do
independent travel, often using Rick Steves guidebooks.

Exactly! This is how we travel as we LOVE planning the logistics of our travels. Some view planning as a chore or headache; we view it as such fun!

Like Laura said, we rely on the RS travel books as well as Fodors as they have sample itineraries and some in depth coverage of museums, churches, markets, etc. In addition, the RS podcasts are FANTASTIC as they can be accessed off line so need to worry about available wifi or using up cell data.

Posted by
844 posts

Good morning.

I have done 10 RS tours, though not GAS or Best of Germany. My own youthful experiences were centered around Munich so I gravitate there and towards the mountains. I have done Best of Switz, MSV, My Way Alpine.

In addition to Berlin, what would you like to see? Where would you like to go?

My travel MO is usually to take some time for myself either pre or post tour or both. If you opt for an RS tour, perhaps you could be on your own in Berlin before or after. Or, you could opt for arriving and staying somewhere (wherever you want) on your own then do Munich, Salz, Vienna, and then Berlin on your own. Get a mix.

Often, when I do my own thing first, I really enjoy it, but I am relieved to join the tour so my planning and detail managing decreases. The vacation begins!

As to early mornings and late nights - no, not really. I think other posters have given you an idea of mornings. Afternoons and evenings - remember you are on your own a bunch of days and can manage your own time re how to spend time, where to eat, etc.

Remember when looking at the tours to note the bus time. This is also essentially down-time. Some folks get to know other tour members, read, sleep, do a journal. I generally find it relaxing, though I prefer to have fewer rather than more really long bus days. And, the bus stops for breaks about every 2 hours, so no worries there.

Whatever you decide, happy travels!

PS, I should add that if there are particular activities that you would prefer to opt out of, speak with the tour guide. Being on the bus at the appointed time and letting the guide know your whereabouts if you opt out of an activity are important, but you do have some flexibility. And, some tours build in a vacation from your vacation day. Each day's activities are posted in the hotel lobby at least by breakfast, if not the night before. Cheers.

Posted by
524 posts

My husband and I took this tour Sept. 2017, which allowed for Octoberfest while in Munich. I took a look at the departure times and the earliest was 7:25, oddly enough, the last day of the tour.
Other departures were:

5 days 7:50-7:55,

2 days 8:10,

1 day 8:30,

1 day 8:50

1 day 9:30, which was also laundry day (day 8)

We had some longish days, those were travel days. However, we were always free no later than 5:00 PM, with dinners mostly at 7:00 PM.

I am definitely a morning person and have never found the departures too early nor the days too long.

Posted by
8 posts

Debbie, those are some really good suggestions. We want to see some of the Rheine valley, do some wine tours etc. but being a history buff I need to get all that in too. I have a list I'm compiling ... which shall HAVE to be whittled down ... short of actually moving there. The trip that starts ... can't remember where and ends in Berlin is the trip I was looking at. Just ran all this past the dh who's out of town right now, but I think one of these trips combined with some additional stand alone things sounds perfect.

Thank you all for your input and great suggestions!

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you, Laura and Continental! I think I will try to find one of those guidebooks (probably the site here has a shop, just haven't looked yet.) It may even have the one thing that I think dh might be interested in. It is an annual event in the town Elvis lived in when he was in the Army. It is a celebration of Elvis on the weekend closest to his death. Dh is a HUGE Elvis fan.

Posted by
7757 posts

Most bookstores and libraries also have RS guidebooks.

Posted by
905 posts

Robin, you can find RS guidebooks on this site but also at your local bookstore. Until you decide to buy one, or if you are interested in reading some of his more general travel books, like Europe Through the Back Door or his books on art history, etc., you can probably check them out at your local library.

Posted by
3449 posts

I have taken 10 RS tours. My first was the Germany, Austria, Switzerland tour which is still my favorite. Although it has changed in the years since (shorter by 2 days) it still looks like a great tour. The Best of Germany will be my next tour as it covers parts of Germany no other RS tour covers.

The typical day is breakfast around 7 am, depending on if it is a B&B you might be assigned a breakfast time to prevent overwhelming the cook, but they are flexible. Leave the hotel around 8 if the day includes bus time, otherwise can be as late as 9 when staying in that location another day. Occasionally on a bus day, the tour guide will provide a picnic style lunch along the way if it helps with the logistics, otherwise you are on your own and can take the guide's suggestions of where to eat. On a long bus day, the arrival at the hotel is around 5 or 6 pm and you will have a bit of time before a walking tour of the neighborhood is done to help point out various things like convenient ATMs, grocery, laundry, etc. Then to dinner if it is included, or you are left on your own to find something to eat. Bed time is whenever you feel like it, I usually am sound asleep by 10 pm. Of course, all of the timing can vary depending on current conditions such as unexpected traffic issues forcing a late arrival at your hotel by the bus.

Some days are more packed with activities than others. You are of course free to not participate in any activity with no reason needed other than letting your tour guide know what you will be skipping so they don't buy the ticket for those events (if needed) for you. On my tours, there were a few things I skipped when I wasn't feeling well because I didn't want to slow down the group when I knew I wouldn't keep up that day.

I think you will enjoy any RS tour you decide to take. The guides on my tours have always been excellent. The tour members always seem to get along well for the most part. And the removal of the worry about did you plan for everything that taking a tour vs going on your own makes it worth while.

Posted by
1792 posts

Robin,
I think you mean the Best of Germany tour that begins in Hamburg and ends in Berlin. I have read the itinerary and it goes along the Rhine Valley, too, which is one of my desired destinations. As for Elvis, I don't know where that place is you mentioned and don't know if it is near any of the Best of Germany stops.
Happy travels!

Posted by
14 posts

Robin,

My wife and I have found that we enjoy the RS approach to touring and intend to continue going on RS tours as long as we are physically able. (We are currently early 60s) On our first RS tour the oldest member was a fit 79. On our previous RS tours we never felt like we had to be up before the chickens and then fall into bed at the end of the day's activities. There is a good amount of free time to use as you wish, for independent sightseeing, laundry or sitting in a cafe resting with a pastry and a cup of coffee.

You are free to skip any group activities if you wish, but we always enjoyed all the activities so much that we never seriously entertained that idea.

On a typical sightseeing (non-travel) day, you will have time for an unhurried breakfast before meeting the group for your morning's activity, probably around 8:30 or 9am. You are likely to have part or all of the afternoon free to see or do whatever catches your interest.

While you should be in reasonably fit condition for all the walking, standing and luggage hauling, it is definitely NOT a reenactment of the Bataan Death March.

Select a tour and enjoy.

Tim

Posted by
2786 posts

I have taken 16 RS tours and have never had to get up with the birds and then fall asleep exhausted after a day touring. There is seldom any activities after dinner time so you can go to bed early if you like. I do. If a person going on a RS tour gets in reasonable physical shape before the tour, like he explains in his fine print, you should have no problems getting exhausted.

Posted by
526 posts

I definitely recommend reading Europe Through the Back Door. Likely available at your local library, or from Amazon for $16.99.

Posted by
5735 posts

You can always skip breakfast if you need that time, as long as you are on-time for the bus or walk departure. Take something to eat on the bus if you need to.

Posted by
2426 posts

The tours are very active. You squeeze a lot into each day. But there is ample down time for cafe sitting, strolling. And the bus time is a great time to unwind, catch up with reading, journaling, snoozing. The days start usually 8-9. There are few if any late night activities. My daughter is not a morning person. She invariably missed breakfast so we always had a pastry and coffee for her when she appeared, usually at the last minute.

Posted by
882 posts

We took the GAS tour in May and had ample time to get up and do morning photography and stay out for evening photography which of course you wouldn't have to do. So I don't think you'd be burning the candle at both ends if you don't want to. Whatever you decide to do have fun!

Posted by
4483 posts

I generally like to shut down fairly early, and this has almost always been possible on our 12 RS tours. And my DH is not exactly a morning person, but he copes quite well with the usual schedule.

On our most recent tour, 21 Day Best of Europe, we did have one day that pretty much wore us out - the day we started in Florence and ended in Rome, including the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, walking tour of Rome, travel time, out of one hotel, into another, and on our own for two meals. That was a long, long day. But the next day was mostly free, so folks could pretty much do what they wanted.

These are great tours; lots of activities interspersed with lots of free time, so yes, you'll have plenty of opportunity to use your German. I'm a language junkie myself, and always try to learn some of whatever country we'll be visiting. It adds a lot to the trip, although I know it's not for everyone.

Happy travels!

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you all for your replies! You all have assured me that every moment of every day will not be filled. I have heard horror stories from friends and acquaintances who complained about that on tours arranged by OTHER companies. We definitely have the energy to walk 6 miles a day ... however, we really would like SOME bit of down down time.

I looked up (again, 'cuz I couldn't remember) the name of the town where the Elvis festival is held. It is Bad Nauheim and will be held in 2019 from August 16-18.. Bad Nauheim appears to be west of Koblenz and a bit north of Frankfurt. Sadly, the only RS tour near those dates actually ENDS on August 18. Clearly we will have to make a choice ... either plan our own trip that date or not do the Elvis festival.

Posted by
8063 posts

Robin, you might want to call the RS tour office. Sometimes they have shadow tour dates pencilled in that they add when the other dates start filling. That looks like a long gap in between the tour ending on the 18th and the next one starting on the 27th (I think that’s right). There might he a chance that another date might be added, or perhaps not. It’s worth a call to check.

Posted by
637 posts

what does a typical day look like? And will I indeed have a chance to use the German I've worked so hard on?

the days often come in pairs. On one you'll leave your current hotel, often stop at a site on the way to the next hotel for a tour and also have free time for lunch, then on to the destination. On one of the 2 nites you'll have a group dinner, on the other its on your own. On the 2nd day you'll explore more sights, either in town or within a 30-60 min ride on the bus. There is often 1/2 day or more free on one of the days, so that is your chance to use your German on your own. And you are not required to take part in any activity, although you have paid for them. If you could care less about the X museum or whatever and have something you'd rather do then just tell your guide you're skipping it.

Someone who took the tour posted the wakeup times they had. You can call the office and ask if they have any more info on start times, about free time per day. The tour daily itinerary is on the RS website as are hints such as "you'll have the rest of the day free to ..." I took a RS tour this year and called to ask if they knew what time that would be since we were thinking of taking a train to a town about 30 min away and wanted to know roughly when it was so we could look up train schedules and see if it would work. The staff in the office are friendly but some are more helpful than others; on one call as we were selecting our tour the person took time to ask about our interests, where we had already been, advice on which tours had lots of availability or were almost full, etcetera. I had the feeling she really wanted us to find the right trip. On another call I got someone who was a "just the facts, ma'am" type and I felt like she just wanted to get the call over with. So if you're not getting that great feeling from the call then try again later and hopefully you'll get someone different.

Posted by
2672 posts

I have relatives who will take a tour, not RS, just for the hotel and transportation and then they never do anything with the group. That is always an option. On our Greece tour there was one morning that about half the people didn't want the activity, so the guide just told us when and where to meet up with them. I also didn't think I was a tour person, but I'd take another tour in a heartbeat with RS. I also travel independently still, but if I wanted as much history, art, education as possible, I would make sure it was an RS tour.

I, too, am NOT a morning person so I was worried about a tour as well. I like to let my coffee, etc. move through me before starting my day. I was at breakfast when it opened at 7:00 AM and then I had time to relax before the start of the day, which was between 8:15 and 9:00, except for one unusually early morning due to having to catch a ferry offseason. After the first couple of days it was fine even for me. Evenings are early, latest dinners finished by 9:00, unless you were a drinker and wanted to extend the two happy hour functions as late as you wanted, but even those I believe ended by 11:00...my room was down the hall from one of them so I could tell when it broke up. There were several mornings one could sleep late, but being frugal, I made sure I got to breakfast. Basically, the tour can be anything you want it to be, with a bunch of friendly people and lots of great information from the guides. I was usually back to my room in the evening to have time to relax as I usually had a terrace or balcony on which to relax. I know this was not Germany, but I would bet most run similarly.

Posted by
12197 posts

Where Elvis was stationed is the town of Friedberg/Hessen. There is a museum on Elvis there.

On the language issue...I would think that your opportunities to use the German you've been polishing up will be diminished on a tour since everything will be done in English for you. That's my guess since I've never taken a tour in Germany as I almost always travel solo there.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for that clarification, Fred. Maybe saying t is some annual event celebrating some time that Elvis spent there in Bad Nauheim. It must have been significant enough to the German Elvis fans who lived there to make it an annual event. In any case, the dh will love it if we are able to do it. Here is a link: https://www.bad-nauheim.com/culture/elvis-european-home/european-elvis-festival. I wrote to the contact info email address (in German) to get the exact dates for 2019.

Posted by
5735 posts

actually, RS tours don't do all that handholding you might expect. They encourage you to learn the key phrases (I think they still send you a phrasebook in your tour package) and to interact with locals in your free time. Not saying everyone makes the effort, but I found plenty of non-English speakers I had to communicate with while on the GAS.

Posted by
8063 posts

"I would think that your opportunities to use the German you've polishing up will be diminished on a tour since everything will be done in English for you. That's my guess since I've never taken a tour in Germany"

Completely agree with Stan's post regarding language opportunities. This may be the case with some tour companies but I haven't found this to be the case with Rick's tours. No need for folks to "guess" since there are many who have taken his tours.

Posted by
42 posts

Guten Tag, Robin, with your name I thought you’d be all for getting up with the birds? Joking aside, I am definitely not an early morning person (my ideal waking time would be around 9 AM if I could swing it) and I have been on two RS tours (VFR in 2017, GAS in 2018). There is some variability in the start times from day to day, but they do tend to be on the earlier side, i.e. 8 AM or earlier. This was particularly true of the VFR tour, as Italy has some VERY tourist hot spots (e.g. Uffizi gallery in Florence, Vatican/Sistine chapel in Rome), that required quite early starts, around 7 AM for instance. The GAS tour I found a little easier from that perspective, where we rarely had to leave before 8 AM, and I think would probably be true of the other tours involving Germany. There wasn’t huge oppourtunity to use German in the tour environment, so I found that one had to make a conscious effort if one wanted to do so. The guide and driver would certainly be happy to converse in German, so you may want to try sitting up front in the bus as much as possible (although rotation is encouraged) to maximize this oppourtunity.

Posted by
12197 posts

@ Robin...The Elvis Museum is a "relative" recent thing. I was in Friedberg/Hessen in 1977 and obviously, the museum wasn't there then. Bad Nauheim I had visited too in 1977, which made more of an impression on me than did Friedberg. Bad Nauheim is nice place.

If you have time to get away and want to see something connected to German cultural history, I suggest Wetzlar to the Charlotte's house. It has to do with German literature, ie with Goethe, Germany greatest poet. If German lit doesn't offer enough interest, there is the Zeiss Museum in Wetzlar, if you're into optics at all...that place impressed me.

Keep plugging away on polishing up with the German...Höre mit dem Aufpolieren nicht auf.

Posted by
277 posts

Robin,
I'm just now chiming in because I recently returned from a tour of New England Foliage and wasn't looking at this website while on my trip. I see that the Elvis festival you listed was in mid August. You might want to re- think about touring Germany in August. We took the GAS tour that started on Sept 1, but we arrived 4 days early. It was hot and there was no air conditioning. How much time do you actually have for your vacation? Most of the tours are 14 days. It is easy to add several days at the front and/or back of the tour. We used the train to go from Frankfurt to St. Goar and spent time taking Rhine river cruises. We also took the train (at the end of the tour) from Vienna to Rothenburg for several days before returning to Frankfurt and flying home.

Be sure to look at the scrapbooks on the Rick Steves website. There are several that showcase the Germany tours They have wonderful information and you'll get very excited about signing up for a tour. I'm sure you'll enjoy Germany whatever you decide to do.