We spent two weeks in Germany and Austria in early May. This initial trip report will be pretty high level and I plan to issue separate reports for the hotels we stayed in and the restaurants we liked. Our general itinerary was land in Munich, head to Salzburg for several days, on to Schwangau via Innsbruck and Garmisch, up the Romantic Road to Rothenburg o.b.T., over to Trier and the Mosel River valley for several days before driving down the Rhine to Frankfurt and flying home.
First off, the airfare for this trip was award travel. We decided to use (American Advantage) super-saver awards versus anytime awards to save over 50% in the miles expended – this meant we flew a multi-stop itinerary on British Airways versus non-stop on AA and we were charged for VAT and Fuel Surcharges on the BA legs. We also decided to splurge and fly First/Business for more comfort and much reduced hassle factor. Our extra fees amounted to about the same as paying out of the pocket to fly economy. I won’t bore you with the details of flying fare class J…
This was the first international travel we attempted using carry-on luggage only. I don’t think I can ever go back to checking luggage on an international flight. I will say, flying “J” made this all the more easy because we were always in group 1 or 2 for boarding. My new philosophy is, whatever can’t be brought on-board in a carry-on can be purchased on the economy for only a few $$$.
We chose a rental car for the flexibility and the cost. It was just cheaper and a lot faster to do what we wanted to do with a car versus trains and buses. I contemplated taking the train to Salzburg and renting a car from there but it would have cost several hundred € more to rent in Austria and drop off at Frankfurt. Since I found an acceptable hotel with free parking in Salzburg, it wasn’t a big deal.
The car we got was a Hertz Ford Kuga (Escape) with Nav. Not what I reserved/requested but an acceptable no-cost upgrade. The only thing I really didn’t like about this car was that it was governed to a max speed of 135kph which made passing trucks and other slow traffic on the autobahn a bit dicey. I ended up using the MyFord Nav system more than my Garmin… Hertz was also promoting their new HertzConnect WIFI Hotspot/Nav system (a cell phone running a custom OS) and we received one free. There was a little bit of a hassle at the rental car counter but is got worked out in 15 minutes or so… The device worked well when it decided to charge – not so well when it didn’t. The WIFI hotspot was nice for the wife because she opted to NOT get a pre-paid SIM for her phone.
For the most part the trip lived up to expectations. No major hassles anywhere. It snowed on us between Munich and Salzburg and in Salzburg (May 4 & 5) but not enough to put a damper on activities. It also snowed on us in Schwangau the day we left (May 12th). The locals there were just beside themselves as that hadn’t happened in decades. All in all, 50% of the trip was unseasonably wet and cold but we were prepared and it didn’t stop us at all.
We pre-booked our Neuschwanstein/Schloss Henenschwangau tours to avoid the queues at the ticket office – good choice. The carriage & shuttle bus queues to the castles were typically European unruly – allow yourself extra time to ride a conveyance versus walking up.
Some other notes that may be of interest - Collect as many € 50 cent pieces as you can (for toilets). Watch your speed as speed cameras are everywhere and we saw several impromptu speed traps (officer with a tripod/vehicle mounted speed-gun standing by the side of the road with a red flag). That being said, if you’re going to drive the Austrian Autobahn at all, just buy the vignette – we saw polizei walking the rest areas looking for vignette stickers… Carry lots of 1 & 2 € pieces for parking meters.