In August, 2007, Kate and I did the Edelweiss/Rider Magazine "Museum And Castle" Tour through southern Germany and a bit of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria. Here are a narrative and some pictures (and short movies!) from the trip.
Here is a shot of the tour group and tour guides.
Pictures taken by other members of the tour can be found here.
This is my daily diary that I kept while on the trip.
Friday, Aug 3
Left Jackson around 3, drove to Jan and Marie's in Ironbound section of Newark and had a lovely late lunch while catching up with them. Left there 6PM for EWR. A rather long line to get a boarding pass from Virgin Atlantic, and then they tell us that the plane will be an hour late. We got through security without much drama and then sat around the gate waiting for the plane. It was late leaving Heathrow, so late getting into EWR. Finally boarded, then sat on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for thunderstorms to abate to the north and east. Finally left three hours late. Our 4 hour stopover in Heathrow would now be a 1 hour sprint between terminals. There were a few screaming babies on the flight, but fortunately we had our earplugs so I didn't have to strangle anyone. What with the lights kept on for the dinner service (at around 2AM) we didn't get much sleep, maybe a couple of hours before the woke us for the breakfast service.
Sat Aug 4
Landed Heathrow, found the terminal from which our Lufthansa/British Midlands flight to Munich would depart. Needed another boarding pass, the queue for that wasn't moving because the ONE Lufthansa employee was busy solving the mid-east crisis or something. A Swissaire employee took pity on several of us and started working on getting boarding passes for us. When our turn, he told us that the 1:15 flight for which we had reservations was full, and we were too late, and he could get us on the 3:30 flight. We protested but recognized that it wasn't his fault, he didn't even work for Lufthansa! A few minutes later he announced he had got us on the 1:15 flight anyway, one seat in Economy, one in Business class. Kate graciously let me have the Business class seat, and finally, we left on the last leg to Munich.
I had a lovely time conversing with my neighbor, Jurgen, who was heading home to Munich. He spoke excellent English and rides a (modern) Triumph Bonneville, so we got on famously.
Soon we were landed at Munich airport, where we discovered that Kate's bag with most of her clothes and all of her motorcycle gear (except her helmet) hadn't made the last leg of the trip. Kate filed a missing bag report with Lufthansa, and then we took the bus to downtown Munich, where we signed into the room in the Hotel Alfa that we had booked from the tourist information kiosk at Munich airport.
Kate needed to buy some shoes, because her brand new boots were too tight and raising blisters, and the shoes she had brought were in the missing bag, so we went to Herti Department store, open until 8PM, and quickly bought a pair of sneakers -- pretty spendy at 50 euros, but needed if we were to do any walking to explore Munich.
Shoes purchased (and now, installed on Kate), we headed out into Munich streets.
There was lots of nightlife, many people walking about and eating at outdoor restaurants. There are many streets reserved for pedestrian traffic in central Munich and this certainly seems to encourage the nightlife. We saw several buskars out -- a string and accordian quartet was particularly good.
We had dinner at the Augustine (mumble) in their outdoor beer garden. I had a wonderful ox shoulder stew, Kate had a "salad" that turned out to be a cold meat assortment. A bit more walking, and then back to the Hotel for the night.
Sunday, Aug 5
Woke up, went down to the hotel dining room for the buffet breakfast, and the front desk said no word from the lost baggage people at Lufthansa. After agonizing about this some more, and calling Edelweise for advice, and then calling the lost baggage clowns and learning that Kate's missing bag would be at the airport at about 3:30PM, we decided to go sight-seeing for a few hours, then take the bus back to the airport, pick up Kate's bag, and then join the tour group there when the latest arrivals were to be taken to the start location of the tour.
So that's what we did. We visited the New Town Hall and saw the figures dance at 11AM, Kate and I snapped a few photos, we saw about 8 more busking acts; one, an accordion and violin duo that was quite good. The bus back to the airport was uneventful, and Kate managed to get her bag without a long walk around the airport (required last time she checked because of the one-way nature of the security queues), so we were able to join the newly arrived tour members well before 3PM, the official meeting time.
Claus and Marko picked us up on time, and we had an uneventful ride in their large van back to the Hotel Neuwirt, our first (and last) accomodation whilst on this tour.
We arrived at the Neuwirt around 4PM, quickly unpacked our riding gear, and then had a meeting with all the tour members to learn about the bike rental rules. Then, off to the rental facility in groups of 8 or 9. Kate and I were first away, we got our bikes relativitly quickly, and returned to the Hotel around 5:45PM, just in time for the first "riders meeting", explaining the rules for the tour, followed by dinner at the hotel's outdoor beer garden.
Monday, Aug 6
Got up about 6:30 (this is a vacation?) and showered, packed the stuff for the van, went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was a buffet, quite hearty, the kind of breakfast that makes you want to go out and invade Poland. Riders meeting around 8:30, in which we reviewed some European road signs, rules of the road, and discussed the details of the routes we would take. We also highlighed the route on our maps by copying the route shown on the "master map".
We hit the road around 9:30AM, in two groups of about 10, and played follow the leader all the way to the BMW Museum in Munich. Unfortunately, the Museum was in temporary quarters, as the old building was no longer in use and the new museum wouldn't be open until 2008. This meant that the museum exhibit was vastly scaled down. Probably for the best, as Kate tends to glaze over if exposed to too many cars and motorcycles all at once.
There would be two "groups" leaving the Museum around noon -- the short route group, led by Marco, and the long route people, with no official leader. Kate and I took the long route, and got out quickly to try and avoid the crush. I really didn't fancy leading a group of 10 around.
Kate and I didn't do too bad a job of it, all in all, only making a couple or three wrong turns, though we did stop probably 20 times for map checks. There was a road closure that we figured out a way around (there was no marked detour). Sometimes following the route was easy, because you could ride for 20 or 30 km, following route signs for a destination city. Other times I would stop every 2km or so, at each little village I came to, trying to find clues to where we were on the map. Many of the villages were too small to be on our map, so I might stop four or five times before I would get a "fix".
We stopped in Eichstatt, thinking we'd look for lunch, but were dismayed at the parking situation so we left without walking around any and eventually had a light lunch (me) and a coffee (Kate) at a little shop at a crossroads near Dolinstein, 10km or so west of Eichstatt. There was very limited parking in the old city portion of Eichstatt, and what there was was metered using the European custom of selling time via a kiosk that served the entire block; but there did not seem to be any provision made for motorcycles. What is this "dashboard" thing you speak of? Local motorcyclists s park on the sidewalk, but where we were, there wasn't much sidewalk, either.
Eventually, we made our way into Waldhausen, where the Hotel Adler awaited us. We were pretty much the first in of those who had chosen to take the "long" route, mostly because we hadn't done much stopping. We had a fine dinner at the hotel, this evening dining at a table with the Tuttles.
Tuesday, Aug 7
Dawned overcast. After breakfast and the morning lecture, we headed out. The group led by the guide was full, so Kate and I struck out on our own to Dinkelsbuhl. We found it with only a little guessing/map checking, and then parked and walked into the ancient walled city and snapped a few photos. As we were walking back out to where we had parked the bikes, the main group went past us, waving and yodeling (Werner). After a short visit for photos, we, too, saddled up and headed north to Rothenberg, another walled city. Unlike Dinkelsbuhl, which survived WWII intact, Rothenberg was damaged in the war, but was rebuilt afterwards.
We walked around, snapped some piccies, had lunch in a restaurant (sausage, sauerkraut, and potatoes), and then I dragged Kate into the Kriminalmuseum, a museum devoted to Medieval justice and punishment. Aside from the usual displays of racks and thumbscrews, they also had documents, descriptions of how the justice system worked, and stuff I had never seen, like "shame masks". Eventually we finished with that (it was a large museum) and saddled up and decided to take the short route to the next hotel, since it was looking more and more like rain. We hit a couple of cloudbursts, but mostly it just drizzled on us. Wrong turns included, we got in at about 6:15PM. This hotel was really fine, it looked very expensive. Dinner included music by a pair playing guitar and accordion who would pop into our room and favor us with a tune every now and then.
Mittwoch, Aug 8
We overslept! Changing the alarm time from 7:15 to 6:15 and you get a free change from AM to PM in the bargain, at least according to Windows CE 2002. Woke at 8:05 instead of 6:15! Had to hurriedly dress and run to the riders' meeting, and hurriedly pack to leave at 8:30.
All followed the two leaders to the Mercedes Benz museum in Stuttgart. It rained pretty heavily, and Kate and I had forgotten to put our rain suits on over our textile suits, so we arrived half-soaked. The Mercedes museum is very impressive, with a helical corridor around it much like the Guggenheim in New York. We had a private guide for each half of the tour group, and little radios so we were guaranteed of hearing the guide's voice.
Back in the parking garage 90 minutes later, we suited up in the full rain regalia, and elected to follow the "guided" tour led by Marko. Lunch at Hohenzollern Castle was good, but we didn't hang about after. The rain was still with us so views from the castle where less than stunning. From there, we were off for an afternoon of riding in the Black Forest. We made a quick stop at the House of 1000 Clocks, where Kate bought a cuckoo clock that reminded her of the one her father had bought back from Europe after WWII. We had it shipped home.
The rest of the ride to the hotel was uneventful except for riding through a cloud, which looks a lot like a fog bank.
Thursday Aug 9
Awoke on time this morning, another meat laden breakfast buffet, another riders' meeting. As it was raining, Kate and I decided to skip the official routes and head straight south toward the next hotel. We headed down the B500 to Waldshut, crossed the Rhine to Koblenz, and tried to take route 5 south to Baden. Unfortunately, this area is experiencing massive flooding, so emergency personnel had closed rt 5 towards Baden. We eventually figured out a route south to Maschwanden, and then the road to Sins was flooded, so we had to backtrack to Muri and find another way south. Somewhere in there, we found a small pub and had lunch. The proprietess spoke only German, and the prices were in Swiss francs, but we muddled through the meal somehow. Back on the road, we figured that we wouldn't make the 3:30 ferry, and since the one after that wasn't until 5PM, we decided to take Route 4 through Lucern and down the west shore of Vierwaldstatter See to the hotel. We were first ones in (at about 4:30PM) because everybody else was hung up waiting for the 5PM ferry. We checked in, and then went for a walk to the nearest destination shown on the little yellow signs, 15 minutes away. This turned out to be to a scenic overlook at the end of a wooded path. Along the way, we were greeted by somebody's pet cat, who allowed himself to be petted and who escorted us to the overlook and part of the way back.
When we got back to the hotel, I got instructions and the key to the Piaggio MP3 three wheeled scooter from Klaus, and then had a blast taking it down the mountain to the town of Stansstad, and then back up again. It felt very "sure-footed" on the corners, and yet it also handled and felt like a normal motorcycle.
Dinner in the hotel was fine, and we were each issued our official tour long-sleeved t-shirts, probably so that we would have them to wear in the Alps tomorrow.
Freitag Aug 10
Today was Alpine pass day. We observed the usual schedule of "up at 7, breakfast at 7:30, pack by 8-ish, and rider's meeting at 8:30". Kate decided to take my advice and ride the Piaggio MP3 scooter today, so Kate got her lesson on use from Claus, and exchanged tank bag contents with Marko, who would be riding the 650CS. Everybody in the tour group wanted to ride the "long" ride today, so half left following Marko, and half left as a second group. Kate and I left last, as our own little group.
We found the road south to Sarnen OK, and with a little backtracking and asking, found the route south from there to Melgingen and to the Grimselpass, our first pass of the day. There was snow on the ground at the top, so the temperature wasn't much above freezing at the top of the passes. Did I mention that my BMW has heated hand grips? From Grimselpass,we headed to the highest pass of the day, Furkapass, which is 2431 meters high. Furkapass was in the clouds, but only the last hundred meters or so, so most of the ride up and down had good visibility.
The thiird pass was Oberalppass. Kate and I decided to stop at a hotel at the bottom of the mountain after leaving Oberalppass and have lunch. The group led by Marko passed us as we were just settling in.
After a (light-ish) lunch, we took off again. Now that we were on the valley floor (at only a couple of thousand feet altitude) it was warmer, so I could shed some of my winter riding garb. We droned along the valley floor for quite a while, and I started getting drowsy, so we stopped for a coffee/coke break at a little joint in the town of Rueun. Then off again, towards Chur. Kate nearly led us onto the autobon by mistake (a bad idea,since we didn't have the required tax sticker needed in Switzerland), so we backed out of the entrance ramp and got to Chur on the B road.
In Chur, we found (asking directions) the road north towards Balzers, the first town inside the Lichtenstein border. Just before you cross into Lichtenstein, the main road takes you right through a little fort, which amazingly is an active military base. Quite unassuming, I wouldn't have known what it was if Marko hadn't warned us of it in the lecture.
Inside Lichtenstein, Kate snapped a picture of the monarch's castle on it's hill (right there in Balzers), and then off, North again, towards Vaduz, the "big city", and then across the northern border into Austria, where nobody paid us any mind at all, let alone ask for our passports. North from there, it was a little sticky finding the proper turn off to get to Laterns and the route east towards our next hotel. This netted us our fourth pass, also called Furka, though this lower, Austrian Furka pass is called "Furkajoch" (which means Furkapass) on our map. The road here is very narrow, only one car width, though it has numerous small wide spots for passing opposing traffic. We got to a small resort area/town about 5Km from our next hotel, to find the road closed, for about 30 minutes due to construction. We ended up striking up a conversation with a guy named Niko, who had gone to school at Rutgers in NJ, so he spoke English very well.
He and his two kids were stuck in the line waiting to move as well, so we chatted with him for a while. Eventually, who should ride up but the rest of the tour group. We had thought we were last, but instead, we were first back. After another wait, the road was finally opened, and we proceeded to our hotel. Another fine dinner, this time starting at 8PM since we all got back so late (around 7:30 PM).
Sammstad, 11 Aug.
Rain. Normal morning routine, plus all the rain gear. Rode down the mountain and north through the Lech valley, and then northwest to visit Castle ---. Along Rt 198, we snapped some pics of the tromp l'oil building fronts in the village of Holzgau. We bought tickets for the next English language tour, and then walked around and snapped some pics of Ludwig's fountain and gardens. Just before the tour start time, the rest of the group showed up, so we went in together. Ludwig's castle was certainly over the top.
Since it was still raining, the revised plan was to head north to see the --- church, and then beat it back to the final hotel in Sauerlach. While the rest of the group lunched at the castle, we headed north. We stopped in Oberammergau for what ended up as our lunch stop, at a 'witch-themed' pub. As it was still raining, we decided to skip the church and just blast to the hotel on the autobahn.