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.
|Another neat item in the store was this vending machine for bread. We picked up a couple of baguettes.|
At about 11:15, we left Campingplatz Straubing and made our way to Campingplatz Thalkirchen in Munich.
|Leaving Campingplatz Straubing.|
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.)
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.|
|After the luge, the kids tried out the dueling zip-lines. Definitely their favorite playground activity.|
|(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.|
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.|
|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.|
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.|
|"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|
|Glyptothek Museum at Konigsplatz: Munich's oldest public museum dedicated to ancient sculptures.|
|The Louis Vuitton lou.|
|Fischbrunnen (Fish Fountain) found at the northeast corner of Marienplatz.|
|Spielzugmuseum (toy museum) on Marienplatz.|
|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.|
|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.|
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|
|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.|
|Dallmayr has a similar feel to it as walking into Harrod's Food Hall in London, but on a smaller, more intimate scale.|
|Augustiner am Platzl is a good pub/restaurant for a traditional German meal and good beer.|
|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.|
|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".|
|Pedestrian streets in the old town have small elegant artisan signs above the shops. Even the McDonald's has a sign that fits in.|
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.|
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 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.|
|Scenic river-side walk.|
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.|
|It wasn't long before the kids were in the water, finally enjoying a typical summer-time activity.|
|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.)|
|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.|
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?|
|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.|
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.|
|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.|
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.|
|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.|
|Getting ready to leave Freizeitcenter Oberrhein camping.|