Friday, May 30, 2014

Touring Munich and along the Rhine in Germany, with a Side Trip to Salzburg, Austria

On May 8th, we left Prague and our next destination was Munich, Germany. Not long after leaving we ran into terrible traffic. It was probably due to an accident but we never saw any evidence of one. Nevertheless, the delay kept us in stop and go traffic for well over an hour. When we finally did get moving, we pulled over for lunch and Vince said he didn't think he wanted to drive all the way to Munich that day. So he suggested an alternative stop for the night, Campingplatz Straubing in Straubing, north of Munich, which would be able to take a motorhome the size of LandShark.

Sarah and I reached Camping Straubing around 16:00 and checked in. The site was recommended in our "Big Pitch Guide" and was described as the "owner speaks English". To be polite, I greeted the man behind the desk asking if he spoke English. His reply was "Spreiken sie Deutsch?" Well, "Nein" I replied. Anyway using minimal language, I sorted out that we needed a spot for our 11 meter RV. I then asked if there was wifi. "Nein" was the reply. (In 2014, there's no wifi?) The man said we'd have to find a hot spot in the city but gave no indication of where I should go. I had to remind him I was new to the area (not speaking German should have been a tip off) and needed some guidance. He waved his hand over the pedestrian zone in the city and sent me off. He was certainly the grumpiest, least helpful campsite host I had encountered thus far.

Sarah suggested we go to a McDonald's because, "they have wifi there". (She's an observant girl.) So she and I set off for the center of town but then I realized I didn't have any change for parking. We then searched for a McDonald's with drive-thru which theoretically would also have a parking lot. We found one of those and I bought Sarah an ice cream. The McDonald's did in fact have free wifi but I had to receive an access code on my cell phone in order to use it. Ugh. Of course, not having a cell phone this was useless. Anyway, it was a win for Sarah with her ice cream.

After Sarah's treat, we stopped for groceries and then headed back to the campground where Vincent and the boys were waiting. We had tapas for dinner and then retired for the night.
Inside the grocery store, we noticed this bottle and can return machine. I had used these 20 years ago in Sweden and I was reminded of how lame the US and Canada are in regard to recycling. Put one of these machines in every grocery story and people will return 99% of their bottles and cans which will in turn get recycled rather than so many going into landfill. One gets a receipt for their returns that they then take to the cashier for a refund. And while they're at it, they'll shop in the store while they are there. These machines have been around for decades and people living in countries that use them are militant about getting their vessel deposits back.
Another neat item in the store was this vending machine for bread. We picked up a couple of baguettes.
On May 9th, Vincent left early to see if I could get an emissions check on the Prius so that we could drive into Munich and any other cities in Germany that had a low emissions requirement. (One needs a sticker verifying that the vehicle is approved to drive in an "umwelt zone".) After about 90 minutes, he finally returned with the disappointing news that he needed to have the title of the car with him as well as some special paperwork. On the plus side, he did manage to get a SIM card for the mifi so that we would have access to the internet if we came up against anymore connection hurdles in Germany.

At about 11:15, we left Campingplatz Straubing and made our way to Campingplatz Thalkirchen in Munich.
Leaving Campingplatz Straubing.
Paul was my co-pilot this time. Despite taking great care to drive via the city, I did make a wrong turn and ended up driving in the "emissions control zone" but thankfully I was not noticed nor pulled over. Paul and I arrived about an hour before Vincent and so we had a chance to figure out where LandShark could park as well as order some lunch.

I must say the campground staff at Thalkirchen were very friendly and helpful so I felt this was a more inviting place to stay than Campingplatz Straubing. Thalkirchen did have access to internet but one had to go to their office and connect via an ethernet cable or use one of the campground terminals and pay €1 per half hour. A bit pricey and, more to the point, inconvenient. Fortunately we had our own mifi but there was a limit of 500 GB/day so we had to be careful how we used it (ie, no Facebook surfing.)
The campground is located on a a waterway which is a branch off the Isar river. We could see and hear fun log rafting tours running. While having lunch, we saw one group float by entertained by some lively German folk music and then the next group got something quite different with Bachman Turner Overdrive blaring. What a contrast.
The rest of the day we stuck around at the campground. The kids spent time at the playground, did some homework and Vincent and I caught up on some research, blogging etc. We met some friendly folks from the UK who were curious about our travels and it was nice talking to new people. Camping, mostly during off season, we hadn't really met many other campers. I could see however that, with the weather changing, there were more people out and about who were generally more sociable.

On May 10th, we were told that there was a big football game taking place in Munich and we should steer clear of the city. So we decided to go to the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Schwangau, about 1 hour and 40 minutes drive south of Munich. We had limited time to spend there because we needed to be back at the campground by about 18:45 in order to try to get tickets to Blizzcon. This was something very important to Paul. Tickets to this event (which runs early in November) are very hard to get and on-line ticket sales literally sell out within 10 seconds. Paul and Vincent had tried to get tickets two days earlier at 4:00am but didn't succeed and today was their last chance. Therefore we'd need to leave Schwangau around 16:30 in order to comfortably get back to our campground to try again.

The drive through the countryside to Schwangau was absolutely lovely. I would have liked to stop several times to take photos of the countryside but there weren't many opportunities on the narrow roads. Plus we had a time crunch so didn't have time for leisurely photo ops.

When we arrived at the ticket office for the two castles, we saw that the next available tour for the Neuschwanstein castle was at 15:30 and the next tours for the Hohenschwangau castle were at 14:25 and 14:55. I made the call to skip Neuschwanstein and see the Hohenschwangau castle at 14:55 instead, which is the only castle that has any history to it. The Neuschwanstein castle was built as recently as 1869-86 and was only inhabited by King Ludwig for 172 days before he died in 1886 at aged 40. Only a third of the interior was finished before his death. The castle gets so much focus, I think, because of its romantic exterior and the fact that Disney modeled the Cinderella castle at Disneyland after Neuschwanstein (on a much smaller scale), which gets the Americans' attention. The Hohenschwangau castle's history goes back to the 12th century. Much of the original castle was destroyed by Napoleon. King Maximilian II (Ludwig's father) rebuilt it in 1830 and it was used by the royal family mostly as a summer residence and hunting lodge. I had been on the Neuschwanstein tour over 20 years ago and nothing from it really stood out in my mind other than it being crowded so I was quite okay just going on the Hohenschwangau tour, which was good with history both about King Maximilian II and Ludwig. Vincent however was disappointed to miss the Neuschwanstein tour so I suppose this is yet another place we might have to return to because we couldn't fit everything in. So far, most places we've been to on this year long trip warrant a repeat visit except for maybe Tirana, Albania.

Prior to visiting the Hohenschwangau castle, we went to the Tegelberg luge run. This was something that I thought the kids would much prefer over wandering around castle grounds and I was right. Their faces all lit up when I suggested going on a summer luge run. The Tegelberg luge has a stainless steel track and a cable system that pulls riders up in their sleds. We bought 12 rides worth and all had a grand time.
Vincent is ahead of me, and the kids ahead of him, as we are pulled up to the top of the luge run.
Descending the luge run. The sled has hand brakes so one can go down as fast as one wants.
I captured James going down the track ahead of me.
The track.
After the luge, the kids tried out the dueling zip-lines. Definitely their favorite playground activity.
At about 14:20, we drove back to the base of Hohenschwangau castle and parked. We then walked up the hill and waited for our 14:55 tour to start.
Hohenschwangau castle.
 (Tiny) Neuschwanstein castle up off in the distance taken from the Hohenschwangau castle gardens.
A view of (what I believe to be) Forggensee Lake from the grounds of Hohenschwangau castle.
View of the Alpsee Lake and Austria beyond, taken from the Hohenschwangau castle.
A view of Neuschwanstein: Another day my friend. Another day.
We returned back to the campground in time to try to buy tickets for Blizzcon. Vincent and Paul were staked out in LandShark with two laptops and the mifi. James and Sarah were at terminals in the campground office and my laptop was connected via the ethernet. Paul had a friend in California also trying for tickets. At 19:00 we all sprung into action. James and Paul were both lucky and got access to tickets. So Paul bought his set and we let James's go. Neither Sarah nor I could buy any. The interest in this event is crazy; I really don't understand it. Nevertheless, Paul and James were thrilled to be going to this event in LA later in the year.

On May 11th, we spent the day in Munich. Munich has been the capital of the German state of Bavaria since 1506 and is located on the Isar River just north of the Bavarian Alps. It's the third largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg. The name "Munich" is a combination of Latin and Old High German which means "by the monks", derived from the monks of the Benedictine order who ran a monastery at the place that was later to become the old town of Munich. Records of the city date back as far as 1158. After WWI, Munich was the center of much political unrest and was the center of the Nazi Party. The city suffered 71 air raid bombs during WWII and so much of what one sees today of the city has been rebuilt since then.

We went to the Munich Stadtmuseum (City Museum) which was founded in 1888; it is located in the former municipal arsenal and stables. As things to do in Munich, it was rated pretty highly but I would not recommend it unless one gets an audioguide (or is well-versed in German). There are no English translations and so much of the content would be lost on the non-German speaker. As it was, we only received 2 audioguides that worked (out of 4) and the battery died in one of the good two before we got through the museum. The top two floors are the most engaging for kids; one covers puppetry but some of those displays are kind of disturbing. For example, there was a clown that bounced to and fro with an evil laugh whenever someone walked by it and there was a head that spouted blood whenever someone walked by that. A little more mainstream and kid-friendly was the musical instrument display on the top floor which contained some instruments that visitors could try out.
Paul mimicking the pose of a bust of Wilhem Richard Wagner, the German composer, theater director and conductor.
Paul peeking into a massive antique multi-view stereoscope with different images in about 18 view points around the perimeter.
The museum didn't shy away from Hitler's history in Munich.
In 1923 Hitler attempted a coup in Munich to seize power. He failed and was imprisoned; it was during this time that he wrote his memoir, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).
The decapitated head spouting blood. Kind of random.
Sarah trying the bronze drums. The music floor was the best area for kids at the museum; most of it didn't seem to really connect with "Munich" so I thought it a bit odd for the "City Museum". Nevertheless, the kids were entertained which was the goal.
After leaving the Munich City Museum, we went to the Neue Pinakothek, one of three Pinakothek museums, that features about 400 paintings and sculptures from the 19th century (my favorite period). I probably wouldn't have gotten everyone to go here except that it was Mother's Day and so there was some willingness to do what Mom wanted. The other related museums are the Alte Pinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne.

The Alte Pinakothek, which was contracted by King Ludwig I of Bavaria, was opened in 1836 and is one of the oldest art galleries in Germany; with its grand galleries lit by large skylights, the Alte Pinakothek influenced the architecture of museums and galleries all over Europe. It is home to over 800 European masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the end of the Rococo; important collections include Early Italian, Old German, Old Dutch and Flemish paintings, with masterworks by Albrecht Duerer, Peter Paul Rubens and Leonardo da Vinci.

The Pinakothek der Moderne is the largest museum for modern art in Germany with four collections under its roof. There is the State Graphic Collection with more than 400,000 prints, drawings and works on paper, the International design Museum Munich, the Museum of Architecture of the Technical University of Munich (the largest specialist collection of its kind in Germany) and the State Gallery of Modern Art, which showcases stars such as Picasso, Magritte, Kandinsky, Francis Bacon, and Warhol.
On the way to the museum, we saw this crowd of people hanging out in front of the Apple store. Seems they were after the free wifi; then Vincent joined in.
I really enjoyed the Neue Pinakothek Museum and would have liked to spend a bit more time there. I think 90 minutes to 2 hours is the right amount of time. But I was lucky to even get through the front doors, so I was grateful. Photographs were allowed so I took a few that caught my eye.
"Sunflowers" (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh.
"Quayside by the Seine in Paris" (1899) by Maximilien Luce.
"Peonies" (1871) by Anselm Feuerbach.
"Sunshine in the house and heart" (~1885/90) by Christoffel Bisschop
Leaving the Neue Pinkothek, we walked back towards Marienplatz and to the Hofbräuhaus. Here are a few photos of Munich I took along the way as well as some taken earlier in the day.
Glyptothek Museum at Konigsplatz: Munich's oldest public museum dedicated to ancient sculptures.
The Louis Vuitton lou.
New Town Hall: The New Town Hall hosts the city government. It was built between 1867 and 1908 in a gothic revival architectural style. In the center tower is the Rathaus-Glockenspiel which consists of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures; it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century every day at 11am (and at 12noon and 17:00 in summertime).
Fischbrunnen (Fish Fountain) found at the northeast corner of Marienplatz.
Spielzugmuseum (toy museum) on Marienplatz.
For dinner that evening, we went to the Hofbräuhaus which is Munich's most famous beer hall and is one of those "must dos" when visiting Munich.
Hofbräuhaus was originally built in 1589 by Bavarian Duke Maximilian I. It's now a brewery and beer hall owned by the Bavarian State government.
Mmmm bretzels.
In the middle of the hall, a band of men dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing play lively German drinking songs.
The band seemed to be fueled by beer, spotted left behind while they took a break.
Walking out, we saw a more adult version of the memory game.
On May 12th, we did four loads of laundry before we set off to Clue Quest another one of those "solve a series of puzzles within 60 minutes" games. As with Prague and Budapest, this type of activity was the number one thing to do in Munich as ranked by TripAdvisor. (Crazy.)

Unlike the room escape games we had done thus far, the Clue Quest challenge wasn't based on a historical them. You walked into a laundry room set up and solved a series of puzzles sorting through laundry, searching in washing machines and solving puzzles involving laundry icons. It was different and fun and we managed to figure out the code to exit the room within our 60 minute limit.

After leaving Clue Quest, we took the underground to Odenplatz and went to the Royal Residenz which is the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs of the House of Wittelsbach. (The Wittelsbach dynasty ruled the German territories of Bavaria from 1180 to 1918.) We decided to take a tour of the apartments. When I listened to the introduction I thought I mistakenly heard the commentator say, we'd be walking through over 90 rooms (must have said 19), but no the tour actually does walk you through 90 rooms.
The boys posing in front of the Banqueting Hall Wing (Festsaalbau) at the Royal Residenz
The reader here will probably be grateful that I included photos of only a few rooms, and not all 90 of them.
Hall of Antiquities (Antiquarium): It was built between 1568-1571 for the antique collection of Duke Albert V (1550–1579). It was then remodeled into a banqueting hall in 1586-1600.
Black Hall: It was built around 1590 by Duke Wilhelm V (ruled 1579-98). It's name derives from the four black scagliola portals erected in 1623. The illusionistic architectural painting on the ceiling was designed by Hans Werl in 1602.
Standing right in the center of the room looking up at the ceiling, you get the correct perspective of looking up at floors above.
Stand off to the side, the perspective is not right.
Music Room: The furniture and musical instruments in this room belonged to the first Bavarian King, Max I Joseph (ruled 1799-1806 as Elector, 1806-25 as King).
Paul standing in the cabinet of mirrors:
State Bedroom: It was reserved exclusively for representative purposes and not used by the Elector as his private bedroom.
The every day dinnerware.
The Ancenstral Gallery: The Ancenstral Gallery of the House of Wittelsbach was created under Elector Karl Albrecht (ruled 1725-45, after 1742 as Emporer Karl VII). The gallery is now regarded as one of the outstanding masterpieces of South German Rococo. The portraits show over 100 members of the house of Wittelsbach and their consorts.
On the way to finding dinner we happened to walk by Munich's high end food store, Dallmayr, so I had to duck in to take a peak.
The first records of Dallmayr go back to about 1700 when a merchant from Munich called Christian Reitter operated a trading business. In 1870, Alois Dallmayr takes over and the company is named after him. Around 1900, under the competent management of Therese Randlkofer (a woman at the helm), Dallmayr became one of the best delicatessens in Europe and is awarded the title of purveyor to the Royal Bavarian Court and is able to boast a list of customers that includes the German imperial family and 14 other royal houses in Europe. Struggling through the difficult times of the 1930s, management introduce and focus on coffee which is still a major part of the business today.
Dallmayr has a similar feel to it as walking into Harrod's Food Hall in London, but on a smaller, more intimate scale.
That evening we ate at Augustiner am Platzl which served pretty good food. It's a relatively new restaurant (opened in 2003) but features Augustiner Bräu beer. Established in 1328, Augustiner Bräu is Munich's oldest, still independent, brewery and produces Munich's most popular brands of beer. 
Augustiner am Platzl is a good pub/restaurant for a traditional German meal and good beer.
On May 13th, we woke up early to make the 100 minute drive to Salzburg and catch a Sound of Music bicycle tour. It was a bit corny perhaps but with kids this was a new alternative to the walking, bus and boat tours. Plus the kids had seen the movie umpteen times and we'd done the "Sing-a-long-Sound-of-Music" event so everyone was pretty familiar with the material. We peddled about 13 km over 3.5 hours and passed about 20 or so sights from the movie plus a number of other key Salzburg landmarks.
Reviewing the hand breaks on the bike: This was Sarah's first time on a bike since her biking accident in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming last June; not surprisingly, she was a bit nervous.
James flicking water at the horse in the fountain just like Maria did
The St Peter Stiftsbackerei, Salzburg's oldest running bakery, has been operating for over 700 years. 
The St Peters cemetery was the inspiration for the cemetery in which the Von Trapps hid from the German soldiers.
Sarah in front of the Nonnberg Abbey.
View of Salzburg from the Nonnberg Abbey.
Leopoldskron Palace located on the lake Leopoldskroner Weiher: The palace grounds and lake were used as the Von Trapp home gardens. Notice the color of the building (white) is different then the color of the building used as the Von Trapp home (yellow). Outside scenes often had to be shot twice; once with the yellow building back drop and a second time with the lake back drop.
In front of the Frohnburg Palace, aka the Von Trapp family residence on Hellbrunner Allee: Like how the Von Trapps tried to avoid the Germans sneaking out the front gates pushing their car, we are pushing Sarah on her bike. Kind of the same except we're pushing a bike and we're pushing it the wrong direction.
Vincent duplicating Maria's heel click in front of the Von Trapp home.
The view of farmland and mountains across the road from the Von Trapp home.
A familiar scene at the gazebo.
Biking in the countryside with the Hohensalzburg Fortress on the hill in the distance. The origins of the fortress date back to 1077.
The Salzach River runs through Salzburg. Salz, meaning "salt" and until the 19th century, shipping salt down the river was an important part of the local economy.
Mirabell Palace Gardens: On these steps Maria and the children sang parts of "Do-Re-Mi".
After finishing the tour, we wandered by the Alter Markt (old marketplace) where we had lunch.
Pedestrian streets in the old town have small elegant artisan signs above the shops. Even the McDonald's has a sign that fits in.
After we ate, no one had much energy for anything else. I would have liked to see more of Salzburg but it wasn't going to be with this crew on this day. Fortunately, I'd been to Salzburg before so had already seen several of the highlights. Nevertheless, I would have liked to see Mozart's residence again (Salzburg was his birthplace) plus wandered around and taken in more of the baroque architecture of this World Heritage Site.

On May 14th, we left Campingplatz Thalkirchen destined for Rhein-Camping Waldshut in Waldshut-Tiengen, Germany just on the border of Switzerland. After much research, Vincent realized that campgrounds in Germany were notably less expensive than those in Switzerland. (One campground just outside of Zurich was going to charge the equivalent of $126/night (for a campground)!) Our ultimate goal was to be near Zurich where Vincent was to show LandShark and see if there would be any interest.
Before leaving Campingplatz Thalkirchen, we stopped and talked to the Australians who owned this RV. We noticed it had Australian license plates on it and they clearly won the prize for those who had traveled the furthest to be here! That's one motorhome that would probably be able to navigate the roads in Albania.
Sarah was my copilot and we drove a significant part of the way through Switzerland. I didn't stop and get a vignette as I didn't think I'd be in Switzerland long so stuck to the non-toll roads which meant going along scenic narrow roads and through every village.
As one would expect, the countryside was stunning in Switzerland and along the Germany border, but there were very few places to stop for photographs. We did drive through an old covered bridge, which was an unusual sighting, and I managed to capture that along with a few Swiss cows.
We arrived and I was surprised that Vincent still wasn't there yet, since our route took so long and I knew Vincent would be taking toll roads. Turns out he had to repurchase a toll box in Austria to drive less than 10 miles and then return it again for a refund. Returning it took over 45 minutes with lots of wrong turns and only one place that would accept the return and provide a refund. From what I heard from Vincent and the boys' retelling, "frustrating" didn't even begin to describe the experience.

Anyway, when Vincent arrived at the campground, we had the next experience of German campground management that took "penny pinching" (cents pinching?) to a whole new level. Firstly, they didn't want us to fill up our water tank with their water; they wanted us to drive LandShark across the street and pay for water over there (€1/100 liters). LandShark takes about 200 liters when empty so I, a bit exasperated, asked could we just pay them €2 and fill up on site? This required a conference between the Mrs and her husband. Very reluctantly, they agreed and cautioned the water pressure was pretty slow. We tried it and it was one of the most powerful water taps we had encountered on the continent. (Confirming, the issue was more that they just didn't want us using their water.) Just as the Mr approached Vincent and said, "We don't usually let large campers fill up here", James called out and said the tanks were full. So the manager turned around and sauntered away.

I then asked if they had wifi; well, "Yes" but we'd have to pay for that too. So I signed up for wifi for me, as Vincent had the mifi set up and the daily limited was really only good for one person. Then I learned that they charge for electricity; once one is plugged in, they lock the box and when one is ready to leave, they unlock the meter box, read the meter and charge for usage. This was the first time we had encountered electricity meter reading. Up until this point, a pitch might cost more with electricity but it had been a flat additional cost. The fact that they'd lock our cord in the box such that we couldn't detached without their intervention seemed a bit extreme.

And in case you're wondering, yes there was a charge for showers: 50 cents for 3 minutes.

I had to wonder what all the basic fees were for, given all these extra charges? There's the charge for the RV, which is more than the charge for a tent, and therefore implies electricity and perhaps more water would be consumed; there's an extra charge for a car; there's the €6/adult/day charge and €4-€5 charge for kids, depending on age. What are these per person charges for if they don't include the basics of facilities and power usage? One would assume the per person charge would cover using the facilities but they're charging extra for the showers. There's the €2 charge for the dog; Molly doesn't use the facilities. All these extra charges are annoying when they already have the per person charges and extra lift on large campers.

Putting the annoying charging policies aside, we settled into our new spot which was lovely, right on the Rhine River.
Vincent had found a tripod so we took this photo including the whole family at our camping spot on the Rhine.
On May 15th, we tidied and cleaned up LandShark and then Vincent drove it off to Zurich to show it to a dealer and see if they would be interested in making an offer on it. (We had to start marketing LandShark to see if we could sell it at the end of our year abroad.) Meanwhile, I proposed taking the kids to Technorama, the science museum in Zurich but the kids preferred to try out the mini-golf course a few hundred meters from the campground. Since I didn't see the need to force the issue to drive somewhere, that is where we headed.

It had just finished raining and the course was wet but at least they were open. I paid a little under €9 for the 4 of us to play and the woman behind the counter handed us 4 red balls, all marked the same. (Really? How can 4 people keep track of their own ball when they all are the same?) Molly wasn't allowed on the course (even though there wasn't anyone around for miles) but she could be tied up next to the course. Poor dog, just went crazy watching the balls roll around the course; she has a very strong instinctual drive to chase balls and watching minigolf balls zipping about was almost too much for her.
Mini-golf next to the Rhine.
Molly really wanted to chase after those golf balls.
After our 18 holes, Sarah started playing on a second course but she was quick to be reprimanded, "Nein!" While I could understand that the woman would want to be paid for another round, I was beginning to get tired of the German style of micro-management which seemed to be prevalent in this area.

After turning in our clubs and balls, the kids had an ice cream and I bought a bottle of Coke. We were just walking off the grounds, through the gate, when the woman ran out after me; she wanted the Coke bottle back. She said if I wanted to take it with me, I could pay her 20 cents. Good grief. I finished it on the spot and handed her the bottle.

The kids and I went back to the campground restaurant and had lunch. I ordered sparkling water for James and myself. Sarah doesn't like sparkling water so instead of ordering plain bottled water, I ordered her a glass of tap water. When I received the bill for lunch, the restaurant charged me €1.10 for tap water. Huh? (I could have gotten a hundred liters of it across the street!) I was just paying the bill when Vincent returned. He parked just outside of the campground barricade and found he couldn't get into the campground. Management had a policy of not letting any vehicles enter or leave between 12:00 - 14:00. Staff were there, literally a few meters from the controls, but would not open the barricade. At 14:00, one of the staff stepped forward and offered to open the barricade for Vincent. This was a bit much for me; at the mercy of campground staff to let one in our out and being locked up at the electricity meter, I felt a bit trapped.

If one wants to be subjected to strict policies and be "nickled and dimed" (what's the EU equivalent of that expression?) this was the campground. After 301 days on the road, most of them living at campgrounds, Rhein-Camping Waldshut so far won the prize for most stringent management.
Want to heat something up on their hot plate? You'll have to pay for it.
After Vincent parked LandShark and we got hooked up again, I suggested we go for a walk to Switzerland which was on the other side of the Rhine. We walked along the river, crossed the bridge to Switzerland, determined there wasn't much to see on that side and crossed back taking a long walk on the path next to the water.
Scenic river-side walk.
On May 16, we decided to leave Rhein-Camping Waldshut a day early, as the campground policies were annoying, and we thought we should move on up the Rhine a bit. At check out, the campground charged an extra €5 for paying with a credit card (first time that has happened), making the bill €118 for 2 nights. Pretty pricey. We noticed that they charged me for 3 days of wifi twice so I went back to see if I could get a refund. Apparently when I bought 3 days of wifi, I was actually buying it from a separate service provider and I'd need to provide my initial receipt for a refund from the €8 fee. (Wouldn't you know; we threw that out when cleaning up the RV before taking it to Zurich.) They also claimed one of our sons purchased 3 days of wifi, explaining the second €8 fee; that was news to us. I went back to the boys and both denied they asked for wifi. I asked if they'd be willing to go to the manager and speak to her about this. They both were willing to do so indicating to me they were indeed telling the truth. (Checking the history of their laptop was a further verification.) The manager maintained however that one of them had ordered the wifi and they wouldn't provide a refund without a receipt (which we didn't have because they never requested it). At this point, I was extremely annoyed and said this situation was risking a bad review. Was it worth it to them? I was not happy and I wanted some concession to rectify that I only used wifi 2 days and that they mistakenly charged us an extra 3 days for the boys. The manager just regarded me with an uncomprehending expression. I don't think she or her husband had given much thought to this foreign idea of customer satisfaction. Their pricing model was a tip off of that when we checked in. (Making customers drive across the street to fill up water for €1? What a pain to put the customer through and for so little financial gain. Stupid.) I was quite happy to see Rhein-Camping Waldshut disappear via my rear view mirror as we drove away.

Enroute, we stopped at a gas station; I filled up the car with petrol and then went to use the facilities. I found that I had to pay 70 cents for such a privilege. This was the second time in Germany that I had stopped at a full service gas station and had to pay to use the facilities. Initially I was annoyed but then discovered it was worth it for the high end experience. Other than in Japan, the Sanifair brand of washroom/toilet used in Germany was the cleanest I'd encountered on the trip. This second visit, I took my camera in the stall to photo the "sterilization" process.
One enters and the toilet looks pretty standard.
But wave your hand over the sensor-reader and the blue arm extends over the rim of the toilet seat and the seat spins 360 degrees while some solution is sprayed and the seat wiped. Presto, one might be tempted to actually sit. If the Germans and Japanese could get together one might have the perfect toilet seat package, both sterilized and heated.
We eventually arrived at Freitzeitcenter Oberrhein, our next campground, just a few kilometers away from Baden-Badan. Oh, we were so glad we moved a day early. What a lovely place with lake swimming, a great playground and super campground staff.
It wasn't long before the kids were in the water, finally enjoying a typical summer-time activity.
On May 17th, we ended up staying the whole day at the campground. The weather was perfect and I could finally dig out a pair of shorts. Sarah quickly made some friends, a boy who was 11 and his brother who was about 7. They couldn't really speak English but their parents could and were quite happy to have Sarah come by and play. This was the first time Sarah had anyone to play with in several months and it was the best day for her in a long time.
Sarah and one of her new friends at the playground. They were impressed that she knew so much about Harry Potter. (The benefits of having 2 older brothers and watching the movies about 10 times a piece.)
Much of the Freitzeitcenter Oberrhein campground consisted of these semi-permanent dwellings. Sarah's new friends had something like this. They typically consisted of a trailer that usually had an awning or roof over it plus a canvas-sided structure next to it. They usually also had an outside sitting area. Some renters/owners created yards with beautiful lawns and water features. I wanted to take pictures of those but could never find a time when I wouldn't be noticed taking the photo.
While the campground charged €4 for Molly, at least they provided some value for that charge: A dedicated dog shower! Much to Molly's disapproval, we had to use it.
On May 18th, we headed in to Baden Baden to wander around the old town center and then find nice place for lunch. Baden Baden was the spa resort destination for Europe's elite 150 years ago. Royalty and aristocracy would go to Baden Baden for the "kur", a soak in the curative mineral waters, and then enjoy one of the world's top casinos.

When we parked our car, we noticed signage for certain parking spots.
Nur für Frauen = Only for Women: These spots are near exit points making them safer locations for women. I'd never seen this before. State-run parking lots can't make this designation but private lots can.
Parking dedicated to mothers with small children. What about men with small children?
We strolled through the pedestrian area, had a bite to eat sitting outside, and then spent a little more time walking about getting a feel for the city. I could have easily stayed the afternoon and visited a museum or two. Today was some kind of children's day at many museums and we tried to entice the kids to investigate those but I had already suggested the option of the Mehliskopf activity center in the Black Forest and the kids pretty much had a one-track mind to get there as soon as they could.
Baden-Baden has a charming pedestrian zone with many restaurants and high-end shops.
Sarah standing by a fountain in the city center.
The shallow Oos River runs through the park landscape of the Lichtentaler Allee.
The Kunsthalle museum was featuring a special arts activity for kids that day. The gallery doesn't have a collection of its own but exhibits visiting art exhibitions from all around the world.
The Baden-Baden Casino has a history dating back over 250 years. With the kids, we didn't go in it but have read that the interior is "fashioned on the lines of French royal palaces". I'm sure it inspires people to bet big and probably lose big.
Trinkhalle (Pump room): It looked like a small building from here. But walk through that door...
And one finds this 90-metre arcade, lined with frescos and benches. It was built between built 1839–42 and is part of the Kurhaus spa complex.
The impressive frontage of the Trinkhalle with its corinthian pillars.
At about 14:00, we retrieved the car and set off for Mehliskopf. It offers rope obstacle courses, 3-wheel cart runs, skiing (in winter), a luge run, archery, bungy-trampolines and a kid's playground.

We arrived and there was some kind of fireman appreciation and fire prevention program taking place. The kids spotted the steep bob sled/luge run that was a kilometer long and that is what they wanted to do. Vincent purchased a €41 deal giving us 15 runs, which worked out pretty well given the 5 of us.
A view of the 1000 meter track.
Sarah chose to ride with Vincent because he "goes really fast".
Beginning the descent down: The course was similar to a roller coaster track, the difference being that one has a hand break and can choose to go down like a bat out of hell or a bit slower.
Sarah and Vincent opted for bat out of hell speed.
After the last bob sled run, we spent a little time at the playground and then got an ice cream and returned to the campground. Vincent and I made dinner and then we set out to Friedrichsbad, the Roman Irish style bath. Apparently, this bath pampered the rich and famous when it opened 130 years ago. It it an elegant building with marble, tile-work with tropical scenes, domes and columns. The dress code? Naked. And today, Sunday, all the rooms, including the change rooms were mixed. This is the experience one must do if visiting Baden-Baden.
Vincent in the lobby of the Friedrichsbad: For obvious reasons, this is about the only place cameras are allowed.
When it opened in 1877, the Friedrichsbad was considered to be the most modern bathing establishment in Europe. This a photo of the painted ceiling in the foyer.
Vincent and I chose the "Well-being" treatment which covered 3.5 hours in the baths, traversing 17 rooms and including a 10-minute soapy brush massage. Vincent and I headed to the change room and yes it was odd going into the same place. There were attendants there who were very helpful. (While the clients were naked, the attendants were dressed.) We noticed that the 17 rooms all had instructions concerning how long one should stay at that station and the temperature of the air, steam or water. The first 8 rooms work on gradually warming your body. Here's a rundown of the different rooms:

1: Take a soapy shower with thermal water (5 min)
2: Lie down in a dry warming room (15 min) (54 C)
3: Lie down in a dry hot room (5 min) (68 C)
4: Take a thermal shower (5 min)
5: 10-minute brush massage: I chose the strawberry soap (which was a special feature for the month of May) and asked for the soft brush; I was glad I did because I think a hard brush would have removed a few layers of skin. This is followed with a quick thermal shower.
6: Thermal steam room (10 min) (42 C)
7: Hot thermal steam room (44 C)
8: Take a thermal shower
9: Warm thermal pool/bath (36 C)
10: Thermal whirlpool bath (15 min) (34 C and this felt cool)
11: Thermal kinotherapeutic bath (5 min) (28 C and quite noticebly cooler; it was hard to stick it out for 5 minutes)
12: Take shower (needed to be a hot shower to get through the next step)
13: Cold plunge (18 C and felt like dunking in ice)
14: Wrap oneself in a warm towel to dry off
15: Cream room: Here one has the option to sign up for a €12 cream massage which sounds amazing but we opted to apply our own cream.
16: Rest room: This room experience was heavenly. The room is filled with about 20+ comfy beds. An attendant puts a large sheet on a bed and you lie down. The attendant then folds each side of the towel around you and then wraps a soft fuzzy blanket around you such that you are in a burrito-style wrap. You lie in this dimmed, quiet room for 30 minutes. It was wonderful!
17: Reading room: Wrapped in a sheet/towel, we sat in the reading room and had a non-alcoholic sparkling wine with fruit and discussed how fabulous the last couple hours were.

This was my 4th bath house experience thus far in Europe and the Friedrichsbad was the absolute best. It was fun going through the bath house experience with Vincent and the "naked" dress code didn't bother us. We were mixing with strangers and there really weren't many people at that time of day so in many rooms, it was just the two of us. I did wonder whether I would feel awkward with people I did know or with a boss from work, but I didn't need to think too much about that since I don't think this type of establishment exists where we live in the US.

On May 19th, we decided to stay one more day at the Freizeitcenter Oberrhein as it was such a nice campground and we thought we could spend more time exploring the Black Forest. We drove to Baden-Baden and took the Merkur Bergbahn (funicular) that climbs Mount Merkur to the summit where an observatory, restaurant and playground are situated. It was a gorgeous summer-like day and absolutely perfect for such an outing. We opted to take the funicular up Mount Merkur and hike down (about 4.2 km). When we bought our one-way tickets, the saleswoman said we could either walk or fly down. Huh? Apparently the top of Mount Merkur is a very popular take-off point for parasailers and they'll take you down for €109. The kids were very keen on that but the price tag for 5 made it a non-starter.
The views from the top of Mount Merkur were just stunning on a day like this.
Enjoying the views and watching several parasailers take off next to us.
Just taking off: Everything needs to be right or the parasailer ends up in the trees below.
Here, there were 6 men up in the air. At times there were up to 10 or more.
Starting our descent down Mount Merkur. The boys could talk endlessly with each other about computer games or some project that they have in the works.
Hiking down Mount Merkur through the Black Forest.
Looking down the funicular track.
It was peak rhododendron season; the blooms only last about two weeks but they are a treat when you catch them.
A rest and ice cream at the end of the trail.
On the way home we stopped at the grocery store for some supplies. At the entrance to the store was another one of those bottle return machines. There was an upper machine for returning individual bottles and a lower machine for returning cases of bottles. James ran back to the car to find an empty bottle. We only had one but he wanted to try it out.
Feed the bottle in bottom first and the machine scans it. When you are finished, press the green button for your receipt.
Wow, one .5 liter bottle return was worth 15 cents; that's real money.
On May 20th, we woke to another stunning summer-like day. It was time to move on to our next destination which was Camping Steinfort on the outskirts of Luxembourg City. The Freizeitcenter Oberrhein was a great campground. There were no extra charges for showers (which were terrific with special facilities for small children). We had to contend with no entry/exit during 13:00-15:00 but all other times we were able to easily come and go with a key card. It was nice leaving Germany on a good note.
Getting ready to leave Freizeitcenter Oberrhein camping.

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