I'm planning to take this trip in a little over a week. I thought I'd post the itinerary here first. I'll land in Munich and go to Freilassing, Germany, for the first night. I'll have plenty of time to get to Freilassing, but I want some time in town to purchase a SIM card from Pennymarkt, activate it, and switch it to data so I can get Internet anywhere in Germany on my netbook. I'll make trip reports from Germany on my website (PM me for the URL). Next morning, round trip to Hohenwerfen. This castle was the one on the hill behind Maria when she first taught the children to sing - do, re, mi. Go on to Berchtesgaden for two nights. After Berchtesgaden, take buses tracing the Alpenstrasse to Frasdorf (1 night). Next day, by train from Frasdorf to Zwiesel, in the Bayerischer Wald Nat. Park near the Czech border, part of the largest continuously forested patch in western Europe. After Bayerischer Wald, to Prague (2 nights). From Prague to Bad Schandau in another national park, Sächsische Schweiz, east of Dresden, near the Polish border. Day trip(s) into Dresden. Train from Sächsische Schweiz to Freising, near Munich airport. Last dinner at Weihenstephen.
Oh my goodness! My Kindle Fire screen must be terribly dirty; I thought I read that you're going to Prague...;-) (private message to Lee: Ummmm, I don't know how to break this to you, but they don't speak German in Prague...) "Last dinner at Weihenstephen." Now you're just rubbing it in...Please raise a glass to me! I'll be watching your website for your "Do-Re-Mi" self-video 8^D
"they don't speak German in Prague" Oh, really? Not as a first language, of course, but according to the 2005 Language survey by the EU, the three most commonly used languages in the Czech Republic, after Czech are German, 31%, English, 24%, and Russian, 19%. Prague was, for a time, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. But, I'm not going there specifically to speak German. It just so happens to be in the way between the Bayerischer Wald and the Sächsische Wald, so I thought, why not? Anyway, it will allow me to check out several features of the trains between Munich and Prague.
I'll be interested in your impressions of Prague. My own reaction was outside the norm. I was uncomfortable with the clash between the beauty of the well-preserved, never bombed city, and the seeming complete lack of Czech regular life visible anywhere near the center of the city. I liked the castle hill area (it's not a residential area, after all, so no reason to expect local life there - I could appreciate it for what it was). But the rest of the center reminded me too much of one of the "nationalities" you stop by on your way around Disney's Epcot.
Now, Lee - you know I was having fun with you ;-) As for the German, though - I don't recall many German tourists, and not many locals speaking anything besides Czech and some English. Somehow, I managed to get my beer... I'm with Randy on this, though. Poor Prague has been steamrolled by tourists. The castle area was more residential/non-touristy than most parts of 'tourist Prague', in my opinion, and therefore much more enjoyable. (Yes, I do realize I'm one of 'those tourists'.) It's a very unique part of Europe; I very much recommend going there - I've been several times, and want to return whenever I'm in the area - but prepare yourself for the 'cancer' that's claimed another victim... Eagerly awaiting your trip reports on your website...!
OK. I am in Germany, but the posting is not going as well as I had hoped. I bought the PennyMobil SIM the first day (Tues) and went around the corner to an Internet Cafe to activate it online. However, the PennyMobil website was down, so I was not able to activate the SIM. Yesterday I spent most of my time traveling and exploring Hohenwerfen castle, so couldn't get to a Cafe to activate it, and my Gästehaus here in Berchtesgaden doesn't have Wifi. The only Cafe I found in Berchtesgaden was closed today (5/17) for Ascension Day holiday. The nice people at Hotel Edelweiss took pity on me and let me use their customer Wifi (for free), so I did get my SIM activated, but they say it won't be usable for about 24 hours. Hopefully I will be online and posting by Friday or Saturday. Tschuß ETA: It's working. Only about an hour from the time I activated it online.
I stopped at the Austrian Rail ticket counter in Salzburg yesterday with a question that has been bugging me for some time and got a pretty official answer. If you have a rail pass which includes Austria but not Germany, you can travel between Innsbruck and Salzburg on the rail link through Germany IF you do so on an Austrian Train (eg RailJet or ÖIC). These trains make the trip through Germany without any stops, so they are not considered as being in Germany for rail pass purposes. You can't tell from the route details that the trains go through Germany except that they make stops on the line that goes down the Inn through Kufstein, Austria, (some even stop there). However, there are also German trains on that same route with a stop (or change) in Rosenheim. These trains cannot be used without a rail pass that included Germany. I had always believed that to be the case, but someone at Rail Europe told me it was not true. But then, they want to sell you a rail pass with more countries.
Ah, good info on the rail pass thingy... I've been checking your site; you had some catching-up to do! Typical for the first few days of a trip, for one reason or another. Looks like you're on track now...I'll keep checking on your progress...and waiting on your review of all things Weihenstephen!
Randy, my impression of Prague, understanding that I am not a city person: I find castles and fortresses very interesting. Yesterday I visited Vyserad, which apparently was where the first rulers of Prague lived and was later fortified with very impressive walls. I liked that. Then I took the streetcar to the top of the castle hill and walked through the district down to Charles bridge and on to Wenceslas Square. Downtown was horribly crowded and very touristy. There were umbrella groups everywhere. The transportation system in Prague is very good. On different note, while I was in Germany, I never saw any of those old, pushbotton regional ticket automats. They've now been replaced with the newer touchscreen Bahn automats, even in the smallest stations. I'll have to change my website.
To answer a question that came up recently. You can buy Czech Rail tickets on the train. I saw several people do it. The woman at the ticket counter in Zelezna Ruda said you can, but they are a little more expensive, by about 30 Kc, I think she said. That's about $1.50 in real money (if you've been in the CR, you understand that comment). I'm back in Germany. I'm staying in the Sächsische Schweiz, a national park in the corner Germany shares with Poland and the Czech Republic. The town is called Bad Schandau. The place I'm staying in is essentually a Privatzimmer, a room in a private home. The family lives downstairs. The rooms (2) are clean, modern, well maintained and have their own bathrooms. The entrance to the upstairs rooms is in the back, off a shady patio. From here their back yard goes up a couple hundred feet at a 45 deg angle, ending against one of rock formations the park is noted for. Across the road is the Elbe. I'm sitting in the patio at a table in the shade. I can hear a chicken in the next yard. There's a gentle breeze blowing through the patio. Would I trade this for an air conditioned room in a 5 star hotel? Never!
I'm so jealous! I'm sitting at my desk, and I can hear the person in the next office clattering away on his keyboard, and there's a chilly draft coming from the HVAC. It's just not the same ...
Two observations: 1. everyplace I stayed on this trip had liquid soap in the bathroom. In the past a few have provided soap, but this was the first time I saw it everywhere. Two places also provided a very small bar of soap. 2. almost everyplace had a hair dryer in the bathroom. At the one place that didn't, he would provide one on request. He said he used to put them in the room, but people took them when they left. To me, this is important because I tend to stay in the simplest, most traditional, of places. If they are now providing these things, most places must be.
I learned something interesting about the S-Bahn from the Munich airport. The schedule board outside the S-bahn station shows the next S-Bahn departures. After S1 was the destination "Ostbahnhof". We often tell people who are going on the Salzburg to take the S-Bahn to the Ostbahnhof, but they should not take the one that says to Ostbahnhof. Ostbahnhof is just the final destination for that train. The S1 goes around the west side of town, stopping at Laim and the Hauptbahnhof before going to it's final destination, Ostbahnhof. It takes 55 min that way. The S8 goes around the east side of town, stopping first at Ostbahnhof after 31 min, then going through the tunnel to the Hauptbahnhof and on to it's final destination, Herrsching (near Andechs). So, if you are going to the Ostbahnhof to catch a train to Salzburg, you want the S8 (the one that says to Herrsching), not the S1 (the one that says to Ostbahnhof).
I was going to post this information on the regular helpline, but because it's not a question, I'll post them here. 1. I wish I had taken a picture. I was walking in front of a starred hotel in Berchtesgaden, one where the entrance was a full story above the street, and there was a long staircase leading from the street up to the entrance. There was an older couple, the man still on the sidewalk, his wife at the top of the stairs. Next to the man was a very large (probably very heavy) roll-aboard suitcase. The wife was saying to him, "You're just going to have to pick it up and carry it." 2. On my way home, my flight to Denver was late leaving Chicago. I had very little time to get from the gate to the bus stop at the main terminal. I went straight to the train, then straight from the train to the bus stop, and made it with no more than 5 minutes to spare. If I had checked luggage, I would not have caught that bus. The next bus was an hour later. Considering that I had already been up almost 24 hours, not having to spend an extra hour to get home was worth the "cost" of traveling light.
A great report Lee! I agree about hairdryers. I usually pack a small one but one our last trip even small B & B's provided one. I'm going to leave mine at home next time. Sounds like you had an excellent time! Welcome home!
As much as it is helpful to pack light, it isn't always possible, and just passing by somebody with a large suitcase tells you nothing about them and why they have a large bag. It isn't always because they weren't smart enough to "pack light". Perhaps the suitcase was filled with gifts for their grandchildren that they have never seen, or if it was a month-long business trip, they needed lots of suits, maybe they were traveling to a 3rd world country and had a suitcase full of shoes to donate. Making judgements about people and the way they travel without knowing anything about them, is a bit odd.
No, Jo. Stop putting words in my mouth. I didn't say they "weren't smart enough to "pack light"; you're the one who suggested it. But you know the suitcase was probably NOT filled with presents. Maybe it was filled with explosive devices for terrorists. Or maybe they are actually giants, and that was a normally sized suitcase for them until some alien shrunk them. You never know. I was only pointing out that rollaboard are not the solution to overpacking. Contrary to assertions on this board, there are situations, painful, where they must be carried. A few years ago, I stayed in a Privatzimmer in a home where my room was on the "first" floor (That's one floor above the ground floor). There was a circular metal staircase between the entrance, between the street level and the ground floor, and I can't imagine trying to roll a suitcase up 1½ flights on the metal stairs, with 8 inches of air between the steps. But it was no problem with a backpack.
Great report, Lee! Going back to an earlier question I am indeed interested to know if you heard/spoke German in the Czech Republic. My own trip there was in 1992, only a short time after the Iron Curtain came down. At that time it was very easy to get by with German in smaller towns like Krumau (Cesky Krumlov) or Budweis (Cezke Budejovice) as much as in Prague. In fact, when we were in Krumau (I use the German/Bohemian name on purpose in this context) the guide we met at the information centre was a displaced ethnic German: expelled in 1945 after WWII and just returned to his birthplace eager to help restore the town to its former beauty.
Between the Czech/German border at Bayerisch Eisenstein and Prague, I had four questions about my travel. In each case I asked the person whether they wanted English or German and in all cases they said German. In Prague, almost everyone spoke English right off. Where I had dinner the last night the waitress spoke English. When I paid I apologized for not being able to speak Czech and said I could have spoken German, and she replied that she could speak German. According to an EU report, German is the most commonly known 2nd language in the Czech Republic, ahead of English.