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GASP- a trip report

My son and I arrived home Friday evening from our 17 day trip to Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Prague. Here is our not so entertaining or clever trip report presented in categories.

Motivation
Luke and I were planning to take the GAS tour in 2021. Because of COVID, that changed to a self driving tour of Iceland. We thought that taking a bus tour this early was too risky. Instead, we thought we would give traveling independently a try. I did 95% of the planning mostly based on destinations on his list. He wanted to visit some WWII sites, specifically Obersalzburg, as well as Prague and Budapest. I made him choose between the two final cities. My biggest fear was regarding train travel; more on that later.

Conclusion: Luke says that as long as I continue to enjoy the planning phase and we continue to hire private guides, he prefers traveling independently. I see value in both ways. I will continue planning independent trips as long as he is traveling with me and the destination is easily accessible. I will continue to take RS tours if traveling on my own.

Itinerary
Early arrival Munich, stay 2 nights. Two nights Berchtesgaden. One night Salzburg. Three nights Vienna. One night Bratislava. Six nights Prague. Early on, I posted my itinerary for comments. I decided to delete the thread because I was looking for confirmation and wasn't open to critiques : ) I could have enjoyed another day in both Munich and Vienna spending time in art museums. But Luke is not interested in that. For future trips, I think I will make more time for art and send Luke off on his own for the day.

Conclusion: Overall, we were both very pleased with the itinerary and the pace of travel. We both agreed that we would have been happy enough to come home one day sooner. We both were getting stimulus fatigue and my arthritic body was inflamed and sore. The very positive advantages of staying one day too long was that we gave up on our fit everything in mindset. We learned our neighborhood, we took strolls, we slept in and as another recent thread described, we were being instead of seeing.

Flights
I am an early buyer. I purchased our flights in early September. Our tickets CLE-ATL-MUC and PRG-AMS-DTW-CLE were $1700. This was premium select on the international flights and comfort plus on the domestic flights. I know many of you pay less than 1K for your flights, but I don't think that is possible from Cleveland and I won't fly in economy. Later, I had an opportunity to upgrade the ATL-MUC to delta one for $600 per ticket. I jumped at that. Being able to sleep on the plane adds a huge value to my trip. Both of us slept and neither of us suffered much from jet lag. We hit the ground running and had a full day of sight seeing day one. Four of our flights were on time and uneventful. Our flight from Detroit to Cleveland was delayed four hours due to our plane getting stuck at Dulles. The flights were Delta and KLM (PRG-AMS). Service was good. Having a sky priority ticket saved us in Prague. We arrived at the airport at 4:32 am for a 6:05 am flight. The check in counter opens at 4:30. There was a huge line. We could not check in online due to passport checks and COVID related issues. We had no waiting in the sky priority lane. I was able to check in online for our outbound flights. Delta fly ready worked the first time I tried it. They did want to see Luke's vaccine card and passport at the gate before boarding. The food offered wasn't so good, but it offered calories and a way to pass some time.

Continued....

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COVID/ Health and Wellness
First, I will list my point of view on COVID so that you have some context for my report. I am a health care provider and willingly wear a mask at work. I have received four Moderna jabs, the most recent one was 3 weeks prior to this trip. As far as I know, I have not been infected with COVID. Luke had a J&J jab prior to Iceland and a Moderna jab 3 weeks prior to this trip. He had Omicron variant in December, 2021. I work in a poorly vaccinated red county in Ohio where there were many hospitalizations and many deaths. In my regular life I have been careful. I have not been eating in restaurants or attending big events. My current view is that it is nearly impossible not to be exposed to this virus. I also believe that unless everyone in the vicinity is properly wearing a mask the effectiveness is not that great. I was ready to take my chances. I was mentally and financially prepared to test positive prior to my scheduled flight home.
I was completely surprised when masks were not required on our flight from Atlanta to Munich. My online reading stated that masks were required. Nope! FFP2 masks were required on public transportation in Germany and Austria. Compliance was terrible. Of those properly wearing their masks, about 1/3 were wearing surgical masks. This includes conductors on trains and staff at indoor sites that required masks (salt mine in Berchtesgaden). Masks were not required at all in Slovakia and Czechia. I frankly was shocked when we tested negative to come home.
For those of you that are uncomfortable being around unmasked hordes, I strongly advise you to delay your travel.
Both Luke and I were sneezing daily. We had no other illnesses.
I did have some foot issues. My main pair of Keen city walker shoes did not work out. There was not enough room in the toe box to allow for some swelling of my feet. This is the first time that I have experienced swollen feet. Luckily I had a back up pair of Keen Uneek sandals that saved the day. So, I do recommend taking 2 pair of shoes, although there were plenty of shoe stores where I could have purchased something.

Packing
I get better and better at packing. My goal (doesn't need to be your goal) is to travel very lightly. I took an Osprey Porter 46 Liter backpack and a Tom Bihn medium size messenger bag. I absolutely love my lime green Osprey bag. I don't pack it very full, but I like the extra space and structure. It also cinches down very nicely. It is extremely comfortable for me to carry. It weighed 16.7 pounds packed. I didn't weigh my messenger bag but guess it was under 4 pounds.
Clothes (including what I wore on the plane): Three pairs of nylon/spandex pants, one pair a little dressier, black and grey. Six tops. Three were nylon/spandex blends, one cotton and two cotton polyester blends (warmer). Colors: black, black and white, tartan-like with red/purple/blue, and three prints all with some blue. I took one oversize silk/cotton blend scarf that was a blue ombre from royal blue to dark blue. I wore it for warmth and to dinner. Five sets of underwear/socks.
I took my Pixel 6 cell phone and used data every day. I paid $10 per day on Verizon's travel pass and consider it a bargain. My elderly mother was able to reach me easily for daily check ins. I also had to be available for work related issues. I used Google Maps constantly. I used many apps for transportation. I would not travel if I could not use my cell phone in these ways.
OTC meds: I took ibuprofen (needed), decongestant (took one), lomotil and pepto pills (didn't need).
First Aid Kit: originally an RS kit that I got with my previous store credit, now resupplied. In my kit was some very cool bandages that I bought in Iceland when Luke got a blister during his glacier hike. These were well used on a blister I got because my shoes were too tight. Worked great.
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Posted by
2057 posts

Nicely done and fun to read. I do enjoy traveling vicariously!

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1101 posts

Packing
Guidebooks: I took RS city guidebooks for Munich (also covers Salzburg), Vienna and Prague. I left them at hotels so that hopefully someone else will find them useful. I also took my travel journal and some pens.
I took a curling iron that I used a few times. I took a microfiber towel that I did not use. Considering leaving it behind next time, but it doesn't take up much space.
My toiletry kit is small. I used the toothbrush and toothpaste I got in my amenity kit on the flight.
REI waterproof shell with hood. I would never travel without a rain layer.
LUKE: Two pair nylon blend slacks, one pair shorts. Two short sleeved button up nylon blend shirts, one nylon blend polo, one nylon blend Under Armour shirt, two cotton T-shirts (only wore one) and a merino wool long-sleeved pull over (needed in Cicmany).

Two Binax now test kits.

Conclusion: I am very happy with the packing for this trip. We had one shirt and one towel extra and didn't miss anything.

Trains/Busses etc
OK, so this is what I was anxious about. And, I am still anxious about it. The good news is that even when we screwed it up, we still arrived at our destination. So, all's well that ends well.
Train from MUC to Karlsplatz, no problem.
Train from Munich to Berchtesgaden, no problem.
Bus from Berchtesgaden to Salzburg, no problem.
I loved the DB app. Purchase tickets in the calm space of your hotel room, ticket on phone. Easy.
Train/Boat/Train for Wachau Valley day trip, no problem. Although not available by machine (as stated on website). Bought from OBB ticket agent in office.
Train from Vienna to Bratislava, OOPS! I purchased an OBB ticket and got on a different company's train. Unlike some of the horror stories I have heard, the conductor was very kind. He explained what we had done. He stated "There are two possibilities, get off at the next stop or pay me for the right tickets. Very kind, very appreciated.
Train from Puchov to Prague. This could have been a challenge, but our Slovakian guide came into the train station and purchased our tickets from the window.
Train from Prague to Kutna Hora and back. Stressful. App wouldn't take my credit card. Trouble finding the correct platform. I think we were supposed to validate the ticket we bought from the machine. Another kind conductor who spoke no English to us, nodded in understanding when I said Anglistkee? He wrote on our tickets, smiled, and carried on. On the trip back, we had trouble communicating with the ticket agent at Kutna Hora Mesto. She gave me a ticket and I knew that I had to transfer at Kutna Hora H.N and again at Kolin. We ended up on a slow boat (train) to "China" and it took 2 1/2 hours to get back to Prague.
We got on the wrong bus in Kutna Hora to get from Sedlec to Centrum, but we ended up there eventually.

We also ended up at Westbanhof instead of Vienna's main station. We were planning on walking the short distance to the Military History Museum. We punted and took a taxi.

Conclusion: Everything works out, but transportation is still anxiety producing. I assume that just like packing, I will get better at it with more practice. Will start planning the next trip soon!

Continued....

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1101 posts

Hotels
Munich: Hotel Stachus. My criteria for a hotel is basic and clean. I like a Scandinavian style hotel. Normally, I need air conditioning. This hotel does not have air conditioning and it was surprisingly hot when we were there. The hotel is basic and clean. The staff were very nice and professional. We did not eat breakfast during the trip and breakfast was not included in our room rate. The location of this hotel is fantastic due to being close to to the train station and to Marienplatz. The main issue is that the tram goes by right under your windows and there are bars/restaurants. We had to keep the windows open and it was loud all night. We were able to sleep due to being dead tired, so it worked out. I wouldn't stay here again though unless it was guaranteed cooler weather.

Berchtesgaden: Hotel Bavaria. This is a great, family owned hotel a short walk from the train station. The desk is not manned 24 hours, but that wasn't a problem for us. There is a steep walk uphill to get to the town, but that can't be helped. They had what looked like a good breakfast spread that we did not take advantage of. We had a balcony on 2 sides of the room with terrific views. I would stay here again. It was cooler here and quieter. We slept with the windows open and could here the sounds of the river.

Salzburg: Gastehaus im Pristerseminar. This is a beautiful building. Basic, clean rooms. Good location. Desk is not manned 24 hours, again, no trouble for us. They have one washer and one dryer for 1 Euro a load. I did a load of laundry there. Despite me liking the hotel, we had a bad night. No air conditioning, so windows open. Despite the rain, there were loud people in the street. (the website warns about this) Luke had a doubly bad night because the mountain air of Berchtesgaden had me slightly congested and I started snoring in the early morning. He went to the common room and laid down on a sofa. I would be happy to stay here again in cool weather.

Vienna: Pension Suzanne. I chose an apartment style room here. It was a bit more expensive, but still just under 200 Euros per night. We had an entry way, a large room with a double bed and a sofa bed and a kitchen. It was in a different building than the reception and the entrance to the building was in a covered gallery. We were there 3 nights and we really got to know our neighborhood. Window open, there was some noise at night, but it wasn't a problem for us. (I took a decongestant and stopped snoring!)

Bratislava: Hotel Arcadia. This was our nicest room. Luxurious setting, very large room, courteous staff. Even though the hotel is on an alley way, the drinkers still were out late.

Prague: Hotel Hastal. This hotel is beautiful, the staff are great and the location is great. I highly recommend.

Activities

Day 1: Arrive Munich. Visited Residenz Museum including the treasury. Walked around the old town. Luke bought a Bayern Mueller T-shirt as he has been watching soccer lately. We had breakfast on the plane and due to all of the walking and the heat we weren't feeling hungry. We had our next meal at 4:40 pm. We ate at Schneider Brauhaus. I had a pork knuckle with slaw and Luke had a prk schnitzel with potato salad. And of course, beer. After dinner we took another stroll and turned in early.

Day 2. We met our private guide, Curt of Big Hat Tours, at 10:30 am. He combined Third Reich sites with pre WWI sites to address both of our interests. We ate lunch together at the Viktualienmarkt. Our tour concluded at around 4 pm. We enjoyed our day and saw lots of sites. We couldn't find a restaurant with air conditioning so ate at Ratskeller, because it was cooler in the basement. We both ordered a bratwurst with potatoes. Luke had beer and I had a Mango spritzer.

Continued........

Posted by
1101 posts

Thank you for the kind comments. I hope that someone can benefit from the information. I have definitely benefited from other's trip reports. I also am doing this for myself as I can come back and review the report myself if I forget something.

Day 3: We should have reached Berchtesgaden mid-morning, but our train was delayed so we had to take a later connection. We were able to check in to the hotel on arrival. After we got settled and I did a bit of sink laundry, we took a stroll through town and had lunch at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating. I had white spargel cream soup and salad and Luke had a pork medallion and a beef medallion on toast. After lunch we took a leisurely walk along the river to the salt mine. I was overall disappointed in the experience. If I had taken an hour bus ride from Salzburg to do this I would have been mad. First of all I found the staff to be unwelcoming. They appeared to be generally dissatisfied with being there. There was almost zero instruction about what we were supposed to do. The guide that took us through the mine was unenthusiastic. There were audio guides for us English speakers and he gave a spiel in German. I assume that he didn't ask anyone if they had any questions because nobody asked him anything. There were some interesting displays and riding down the 2 slides was fun. But there were also some very cheesy light displays. At best a 3 star experience. I think with a better guide it could be a lot better. That evening we had burgers at Grillstuberl. Very yummy. After dinner we enjoyed the views from our balconies. Luke watched a re-airing of a Formula 1 race on his Samsung fold phone.

Day 4: Mid-morning we took the bus from the train station to Obersalzberg. If you stay overnight at a hotel, they give you a card that pays for all local public transportation. We went to the 5 star Kempinski Hotel for lunch. We ate outside. The weather was clear and beautifully cool. The views were spectacular and the service was 5 star. I had a Caesar salad with prawns and Luke had Weisswurst and a pretzel with mustards. I knew enough to tell him not to eat the casing. After lunch we met up with Tom Lewis for a 4 hour private tour booked through Eagle's Nest Tours. The documentation center is closed so Tom took us on a driving tour of the area. He showed us some tunnels, he showed us some homes where previous Nazi officers lived and he took us to Berghof. Then of course we went to Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle's Nest). Tom is very knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. Let me know if you would like his contact information. This was a big day for Luke. We had dinner at the Golden Bear. I had pasta with white asparagus and Luke had an onion roast. It was one of Luke's favorite meals. We enjoyed another stroll in the town area.

Day 5: In the morning we took the bus from the train station to Salzburg. It only cost 6 Euros each with the card from the hotel. We were able to get off the bus right at our hotel by following along with the stops on the DB app. We only had one day, one night in Salzburg. It just wasn't calling to me. We weren't interested in going to a concert. We used Rick's Salzburg city walk. Luke read the narratives from the book. We really enjoyed going at our own pace. We were lucky to experience an organ demonstration during our visit to the Salzburg Cathedral. We stopped during the walk and had lunch at St Peter Stiftskulinarium, reportedly the oldest restaurant in Europe dating back to 803. I had gnocchi with artichoke and Luke had Tafelspitz. Mine was good, but Luke wasn't very satisfied with the quality of the beef. The atmosphere and décor was delightful. We stopped at Sporer's for an apricot schnapps. They had 2 Formula 1 racing stores and Luke purchased a baseball cap. We took the funicular up to the fortress but didn't stay long because it started to rain pretty hard and we didn't have our jackets with us. We had dinner at the Indian Palace. Yum!

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1101 posts

I liked Salzburg more than I thought I would, but one day was enough for us.

Day 6: We took the train from Salzburg to Vienna. We were up pretty early due to a poor night's sleep and this is where we made our train mistake. As I mentioned, we ended up at a different train station than I was expecting so we took a taxi to the Military History Museum. This was on Luke's list. The museum is in a beautiful building. They have a very good WWI display. I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to. They also have a navy exhibit. Luke plays a PC navy game and he had fun finding all of the classes of ships that he has learned playing the game. We were able to store our luggage at reception. After visiting the museum we took another taxi to our hotel. This was another day that we only got around to eating one meal. We had dinner at Meissl & Schadn for pork schnitzel. This is where Luke fell in love with Austrian potato salad. He made his first batch at home today. After dinner we got to know our neighborhood. We bought some drinks and snacks at a wurstelstand and the guy working there came to recognize us for our repeat visits.

Day 7: There was rain in the forecast so we stayed in Vienna instead of going to Melk. We did the RS Vienna walk. We had lunch at Cafe Central. We had a delightful, entertaining waiter. He was prim and proper and a hoot. We both had potato sausage soup. I also had a chocolate mousse cake and Luke had a chocolate ball with cream in the middle. We went into churches and visited the treasury. It was a full day. We had dinner at 1516 Brewery Company. Another burger for me and a chicken sandwich for Luke.

Day 8: We did the Wachau Valley day trip. Train to Melk, visit the Abbey. We had a not so good lunch at a cafe in Melk. We took the ferry to Krems and then the train back to Vienna. I was looking forward to this day, but maybe my expectations were too high, it was a so-so day. We had dinner in Vienna at Steak Point. Luke had surf and turf. I had a side salad with shrimp. I had a pre-dinner kasekrainer sausage from our neighborhood wurstelstand.

Day 9: We took the train from Vienna to Bratislava. We spent the day wandering the old town. We had lunch at the Slovak Pub. We had the Halusky platter and garlic soup. We went up in the UFO bridge for the views. It was a delightful day. We had dinner at The Urban Bistro. I had Thai curry and Luke had beef roast with bread dumplings.

Day 10: Our guide Robert from Slovakia Travel picked us up from the hotel lobby. He drove us through the countryside to Cicmany. During the drive we discussed as many day in the life of a Slovak as we could think of. We visited Cicmany because Luke's great grandfather was born there in 1879. In Bratislava we found a building with our last name on it occupied by a realty company of the same name. But we were told that our name was definitely not a Slovakian name. In Cicmany, however, it was confirmed that the name is a popular one. So, sometime prior to 1879 a Bavarian moved to Cicmany and set up residence and had a big family. So this was a very awesome day. My husband's DNA profile also shows predominantly Eastern European. In the late afternoon we took a train from Puchov to Prague. We had a schnitzel lunch in Cicmany and skipped dinner.

Day 11: We slept in due to our long day in Slovakia. In the afternoon we took a food tour through Eating Europe. We were the only two participants. Our guide Helena grew up in a town very close to Puchov and Cicmany, so we had a lot to talk about. We had pickled cheese, beer, chlebecky (open faced sandwiches), 2 different soups, svickova, local wine and gelato. After the tour we wandered the streets. No need for dinner.

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Day 12: Today we arranged a private tour of the Jewish tour through Prague Walker. Katka can be heard on many interviews with Rick. Our guide Tereza was excellent. The tour was very informative and moving. I highly recommend getting a guide to better understand the history of Judaism in Czechia. After the tour, Tereza walked us to a cat cafe where we had a light lunch. It was great to get our kitty fix. In the afternoon we walked to the other side of the river across the Charles Bridge and visited the Lennon wall. We had dinner at Lokal, which was right next to our hotel. I had fried cheese with tartar sauce and Luke had chicken schnitzel.

Day 13: This was our day trip to Kutna Hora. It was a nice outing, but as I mentioned, the transportation was a bit stressful. This was another one meal day. We ate at Lokal again. I had svickova and Luke had more chicken schnitzel.

Day 14: Today we did the Wenceslas Square walk. We had lunch at the Dancing House Ginger and Fred restaurant. I had Ceasar Salad with shrimp and Luke had pasta and shrimp. We also visited Sts Cyril and Methodius church where the paratroopers that assassinated Rheinhard Heydrich were hidden. The museum in the crypt was closed for refurbishing but we visited the church. We had a leisurely evening and ate dinner at the Indian Jewel. Very good!

Day 15: This morning we crossed our fingers and performed our Binax Now tests. Amazingly we both tested negative. We then saw the Franz Kafka rotating head and then took tram 22 (can buy tickets on board with a credit card) up the hill. We had a schnitzel lunch and the Strahov Monastery Brewery and walked to the Palace complex. We had another stroll through the old town square and through our neighborhood. Luke wanted a steak dinner so we went to La Casa Argentina. They had live music and dancers.

Day 16: I was up at 3 am to pack for home. Hotel Hastal arranged transportation to the airport just after 4 am. 26 hours later we finally arrived home.

We had a great trip! My body is mostly recovered. Feet are skinny again. I still have a big blister on my foot. Tomorrow I am back to work so I can afford the next trip. I am going to Paris for 2 weeks in September. The first week will be an RS city tour and the second week will be on my own. Luke will be in class so will have to stay home. We are thinking of a trip to the Ardenne Forest and perhaps Normandy for next year.

Posted by
7719 posts

I just love that you and your son enjoy traveling together. You are making good memories for you both.

Thanks for your very interesting trip report!

Posted by
1101 posts

Traveling with my son is a huge blessing. We had angry words only twice. Once was when we couldn't find the correct train platform so we were both stressed and the second time is when he had a sleepless night due to partiers outside our window and due to me snoring! I am convinced that the world will get a better Luke due to his travel experiences. My husband tells me he gets a better wife back after every trip that I take. It must be true!!

Posted by
382 posts

So entertaining and great to read. Chock full of great information too. Bookmarking!

Posted by
5 posts

Enjoyed reading your adventures. I just got home from a 10 day trip to Sarajevo , Mostar and Dubrovnik with my 26 year old son. He picked the locations due to history and war interest. Loved every minute with him and would do another mother/son adventure without hesitation. Glad to see another mother/son combo!

Posted by
127 posts

Thanks Vandrabrud! I loved reading about your trip, and I really liked that you used the RS city walks as a starting point. I loved what you said about the world getting a much better Luke because of your travel experiences. I do believe that traveling and interacting with folks from different cultures and perspectives makes me a much more tolerant and empathetic person, which is the greatest benefit of all.

Posted by
1178 posts

I am convinced that the world will get a better Luke due to his travel experiences. My husband tells me he gets a better wife back after every trip that I take.

This is great :-)

Posted by
682 posts

Loved this for so many reasons! We still travel with our adult kids, and am so thankful that they still want to;) Your report brought back many great memories as we have visited most of the places you went. We were in Prague and Dresden right as the pandemic hit and were lucky to get home when we did.

Posted by
3083 posts

Great, comprehensive report! Thanks for sharing the likes and the dislikes.

Posted by
2798 posts

I hope that someone can benefit from the information.

I really benefited from reading your use of private guides. Having just returned from my first two RS tours, I gained an increased appreciation for the value of professional guides. And while I hope to do more RS tours, I still expect to do a majority of my travels independently. It's valuable to read how you mix the guides into your independent travels.

I also am doing this for myself as I can come back and review the report myself if I forget something.

I agree, trip reports are not only valuable to the reader, but I find value in them as the writer.

Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences!

Posted by
1101 posts

Thank you for your comments! I am planning for 2 weeks in Paris this September and Luke and I are thinking of a trip to include Bastogne for next May.

Posted by
890 posts

Sounds like a great trip! We were in Prague, Salzburg, Vienna, and Munich in 2014. Your report brought back memories.

We are very strict about wearing KN95 masks on airplanes, public transportation, and indoors when we are travelling, and we know they have prevented us from getting sick on at least two occasions: 1. last November we were informed that we had been a close contact of someone who tested positive on a flight. We had worn our masks and never removed them on that flight, and we didn't get sick. 2. DH and our daughter went and stayed with his elderly mother when she had Covid a few months ago, and they wore masks, removing them to eat at separate times from when she ate, and ventilated the small apartment (bathroom fan on, window slightly open in another room). They never caught it.

I haven't had it yet, and I don't intend to have it. I will continue to use good masks for as long as I think it advisable. This might be forever on flights, since I don't fancy getting sick with anything when I'm travelling.

Anyway, glad you didn't catch it and had a good time.