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Report 508: Small Town Couple Takes Small Towns Trip, May 1-31

By B. Dupree from North Carolina, Spring 2004

Trip Description: May 1-31, 2004 My husband and I flew to Frankfurt, spent eight days driving through Germany and Switzerland and into Italy where we spent three weeks in small towns.

Destinations: Countries - Italy, Germany, Switzerland; Regions/Cities - Lake Region, Marche, Tuscany, Umbria

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Foodie Trip; Garden Visits; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 7: Our Trip to Italy Begins in Germany

When Jim and I began planning this trip to Italy we knew we would stay only in small towns. We'd been to Italy a number of times and always included two or more of the big cities. This time our trip was to be more vacation and less travel. The problem began because we didn't lay our plans early enough to use airline miles into Italy. Not to be outdone, we booked a flight to Frankfurt and planned our trip to drive through Germany and Switzerland with two-day stopovers in a few places, ending with a week in Torgiana and a week in Montalcino. The following is my journal for the month we were in Europe.

May 1-2, 2004 Not a wink in 25 hours, usually I can sleep a little on the plane, but not this time. Fortunately, we had bulkhead seats so I was able to stand and stretch frequently. A good third of the trip I had my head on my knees to ease my aching back.

On arrival at Frankfurt, we felt the thrill of a new place coupled with the usual fear of how will we get out of this place and onto the highway, no trouble. The helpful young man at the Europcar desk directed us to the A3. Our trusty VW Golf (HH RU 7862) held its own with those gran prix drivers on the autobahn. Everything you've heard about German drivers is true. They're fast, but not particularly reckless.

Two hours to Rothenburg, which like any medieval town it is murder to drive in. After bumbling around for quite a bit we located our hotel, the Klosteruble. It's a nice little place with wonderfully helpful people. We were starved even though dead tired, so we had sausages and kraut and Rothenburg beer and somehow managed to leave before our heads fell into our plates from exhaustion. A two hour nap helped, and I walked around town a little to test out my back while Jim continued his nap. Not good, something has to change, or I won't be able to do much walking at all. When I returned, Jim woke, now he's walking.

We ate dinner at the hotel and couldn't have done better. The composed salad had groups of shredded marinated carrots, cucumbers, and red and green cabbage centered with butter lettuce and apples. Jim had pork with a garlic butter sauce and french fries and I had veal with a delicious mushrooms wine cream sauce and spetzle.

We found an internet cafe and emailed the girls.

After dinner, we walked in the castle gardens just at sunset with the almost full moon high in the sky. As we looked over the walled city, the only sounds were the singing of the birds as they settled in for the night.

May 3, Monday A long deep sleep left me rested, but not ready to go because my back felt really painful. I took the Aleve, and within an hour I was ready to go despite some lingering pain. We visited the town vaults museum, the Reichsstadt Museum, and St. Jakob's church where there is a most magnificent carved wooden altarpiece. The center is the Last Supper. Jesus is handing bread to Judas even as he holds his bag of coins.

At lunch at the Italia Pizzeria we met a charming family from Holland, grandmother, father, mother, and two sons. They maintain an apartment just outside the walls and visit here often.

After a brief rest, we walked down to the Crime and Punishment Museum. Gossipy women seemed to abound and had to wear masks of shame, grotesque forms with wagging tongues and huge ears. "Neck violins" were popular. In addition to these forms of punishment there were a great many instruments of torture, from thumb screws to iron maidens, usually used to extract confessions.

Most striking about Rothenburg, aside from its quaint charm and cleanliness, was the silence broken only by the singing of the birds. It was strange. I remember the German tourists in Varenna as being loud and boisterous. Here they were as quiet as Frenchmen in a small cafe.

The architecture of Rothenburg (much of it reconstructed as the village was bombed in WWII) was unusual. Because the town was often under siege, each home on the main street had a strong iron bar protruding from the top floor just above a large door. This enabled the inhabitants to use a pulley to hoist hay and other provisions to the warehouse-like top floor in case of siege.

Another brief rest for my back, then we ate dinner at the hotel. Jim had sausages and kraut and I had big ravioli with meat and spinach. The ravioli were huge and homemade and fried rather than boiled. They were served without a sauce, delicious! I couldn't resist another of the mixed salads.

The rain started while we were eating dinner, but that didn't deter us from joining about thirty other people for the "night watchman's" tour. The young man in full costume who conducted the tour did a terrific job, pointing out things we would never see on our own and telling us a great deal about the history of the town. We ended with a beer in "Hell", a tavern popular with locals and tourists alike. In Rothenburg it's okay to tell people you'll see them in Hell.

May 4, Tuesday I had another night like the flight, maybe a little better because I did get a wink of sleep. I heard the church bells ring every half-hour except for 4:30 and 5:00. I think I'm in for a long day.

Ha! Little did I know. I was so proud to navigate us out the walls of Rothenburg, but it then took us 30 minutes to find the autobahn which was only a couple of kilometres away. Two and a half hours later we arrived in Fussen and found that we could take an English tour of Neuschwanstein at 2:45.

It's a magnificent structure with a mesmerizing view over the valley. There are more than 300 stairs on the tour and I feared for my back, but I actually think it helped. Only a portion of the rooms are furnished because Ludwig died before it could be completed. The throne room was spectacular. We walked back down to the parking lot, a brisk 20 minute downhill stroll. We got a good view of Hohenschwangau, Ludwig's boyhood home as we descended.

Then on to Reutte and Breitenswang and the Hotel Moserhof. Our room had two walls of glass windows that open to the beautiful snow-topped mountains. Dinner was exquisite, rack of lamb with parsleyed potatoes, and that fabulous white asparagus (spargel) with Hollandaise sauce. How lucky we are to be here during the short asparagus season. We're off to bed by 9:30.

May 5, Wednesday Thank heavens we went to the castle yesterday! We woke to rain and unbelievable cold. We drove back into Germany to see the Wies Kirche and I nearly froze just walking from the parking lot to the church despite my fleece jacket and rain jacket.

It isn't possible for me to describe this church. Here it is in the middle of nowhere, a white building fairly plain and elegant. Then when you step inside you can't believe your eyes. Every inch of space is covered with baroque paintings and rococo sculptures! Angels and saints, the holy family, all the cherubim and seraphim in the world. My eyes darted about everywhere to the ceiling, to the huge altar, to the statuary along the sides. How could one ever get into a prayerful, meditational state with all of this going on? And how did a church such as this come to be here in nowhere?

A close look at the altar reveals in the center of all of that glory a rather primitive wood carving of the scourged Christ. It seems that this simple figure was kept in a tiny peasant church when in the early 1700's it wept for the poverty and sad conditions of the peasants. People began coming to see the statue, more and more so that the Church built this rococo marvel to house the simple statue. Somehow it seems a bit much.

Back to Reutte where I bought a sweater hoping that I can keep warm tomorrow.

At dinner we couldn't resist having the lamb again. We were not disappointed. The amazing thing in addition to the wonderful taste was the wonderful price. The dinner was E17.50.

Things were not looking good for our long drive the next day. It was still raining and we saw the rain freezing on the chairs on the terrace outside the dining room as we were eating.

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