Highlights of Germany – Part 2 of our Germany Tour Route, Itinerary and Comments:
Part 2 of our Highlights of Germany tour post covers Day 5 till the end of the tour (see part 1 here >). As with the first part of this post, the sections in blue are from the brochure, followed by my comments in the white panels.
|DAY 5: Berlin (Sun.) Once the city of contrasts, with the Wall separating two different worlds, fascinating Berlin has since developed into a harmonious blend of new and old, preserving its historical buildings and impressive neo-classical boulevards as well as creating brand new buildings in modern architectural styles. See all of this on the included city sightseeing tour, with a local guide. This afternoon, enjoy an optional excursion to historic Potsdam to visit the landscaped gardens of Sanssouci Park, and the Cecilienhof Castle. (B)
Hotel: Abba Berlin (4*)
Today’s program was switched around as the Berlin Marathon was on and many of the streets in the city centre were closed off. The afternoon optional excursion to Potsdam was swapped to the morning and the Berlin sightseeing tour was moved to the afternoon when hopefully the Marathon would be over.We’ve been to Potsdam before so we didn’t join in this optional. After a leisurely breakfast we went down the road to watch the Marathon and then made our way to Brandenburg Tor to watch the runners finishing at the Brandenburg Gate.
We’ve not had much luck with the weather so far and it was quite a cold and wet day. On the train ride to the Brandenburg Gate we saw a runner who had pulled out of the race. Inspite of the metallic blanket that he had, he was shaking from the cold. We hadn’t planned on watching the Berlin Marathon, but did enjoy it. It was inspiring watching the ordinary runners making it to the Brandenburg Gate. The pained, but determined looks on their faces showed the courage of these runners.
We then walked around Friedrichstrasse and had a nice cup of coffee at the famous Café Einstein. As it looked like we were not going to make it back for the city sightseeing tour we decided to stay in town. This turned out to be a good decision as our travel companions said that the coach had great difficulty getting near some of the tourist sights due to the road closures. Two of the ladies weren’t very impressed when the coach left them behind at the Brandenburg Gate and they had to find their own way back to the Abba Hotel. This can happen so be warned.
|DAY 6: Berlin – Dresden – Leipzig (Mon.) This morning, visit Dresden, the old capital of Saxony and often called ‘the Florence of the Elbe’, to experience this beautiful city effortlessly blending the traditional and the modern. Take an included tour of the sights today including the Zwinger Carillon Pavilion, the beautifully restored Frauenkirche and much more. Later, continue to Leipzig, where the great composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn lived the last years of their lives. The city is home to the renaissance Old Town and St Nicholas Church – the site where the ‘peaceful revolution’ was born, which led, eventually, to the reunification of Germany. Laden with historical architecture and a vibrant cultural scene, Leipzig is your base for tonight. (B, D)
Hotel: Ramada Treff (4*)
8 a.m. departure, in heavy rain, for Dresden. Dresden was the only destination so far where we had a local guide to take us around. Unfortunately, as it was raining, she took us to the Residenz art gallery for shelter and from there she gave a very rushed history of Dresden.We had a quick tapas lunch and then wondered down to the river for a few shots.
Next destination was Leipzig which was a 1-1/2 hour drive on the autobahn. Before arriving in the city, we made a quick stop at the monument to the Battle of the Nations for photo snaps, but the wet weather had gotten to many of our fellow travellers who weren’t keen on getting out in the rain.
At Leipzig the coach stopped near St. Thomas Church where Bach’s tomb lies. After St. Thomas we walked to the old town centre. Leipzig is a city that’s associated with many composers and for those who love classical music, you can discover Leipzig on a Music Trail. Other Leipzig attractions include the historic Auerbachs Keller, the Mädler Passage, the Leipzig Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall) and the Leipzig Alte Handelsbörse.
Our hotel tonight was the Ramada at Schongauer Strasse and not the scenic Ramada Treff as in our original document. The hotel was about 25 minutes drive from Leipzig town centre. Our non-smoking room smelled badly of stale cigarette so we asked to be moved. Apart from the soap dispenser in the bath, there was no other collateral in the room, not even a piece of soap for the wash basin. Tony rang room service and that we were missing shampoo, soap, etc. and was advised that only in the Business class rooms do they provide these. The buffet dinner didn’t look too interesting for us, so we stuck with having salad only which was fine. Breakfast in the morning was good.
|DAY 7: Leipzig – Weimar – Coburg – Nuremberg (Tue.) Your first stop today is Weimar, renowned as an intellectual centre throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries and former home to scholars such as Goethe, Schiller and Liszt. Famed for having the historical period ‘Weimar Republic’ named after it, the city’s cultural and architectural importance was also recognised by its appointment as a UNESCO World Heritage site. After time in Weimar, continue to Coburg to admire the mighty Veste Coburg Castle, built in 1225 and dominating the town from the hillside, before heading to Nuremberg for one night. (B)
Hotel: Ramada Parkhotel (4*)
This was another wet and dreary day. The drive to Weimar took 1.5 hours. We dropped off near the Theatre Square where Goethe and Schiller’s statues are.We were taken on a small walk to the old city square where we had time to explore on our own. I didn’t know too much about Weimar before coming here, and was surprised at the number of things to see in this relatively small town.
Weimar was home to scholars like Goethe, Schiller and Liszt, and had the reputation of being an intellectual centre throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. If you have time, you could visit Goethe’s or Schiller’s house. For those who like sausages, this is where you could try Thuringia sausage and there were a few stalls in the market square.
Next stop was Coburg where we visited the Coburg Palace. There was lots to see in the Palace and with our audio guide, we explored the rooms on our own. It took about 1 hour and it kept us out of the wet…
From Coburg we drove to Nuremberg, a city with many reminders of Germany’s dark times during WWII and also famous for the Nuremberg Trials. The first stop here was the Zeppelin Fields and luckily on this visit there was no event happening and we were able to climb up to the grandstand.
The TD suggested a change in itinerary here as she indicated that for us to go to the hotel and then come back to Nuremberg the next morning for sightseeing, we would be losing time.
Her suggestion was to see Nuremberg this evening and have dinner here before going to the hotel. She also hinted that having dinner at Ansbach was a little inconvenient as we would have to walk 15 minutes downhill and then back uphill after dinner.We went along with her suggestion as Nuremberg is a beautiful town, full of sightseeing attractions. There was a fair on and some of the stalls were still operating in the evening.At 8 p.m. we left for our Nuremberg hotel which had been switched from the Ramada Parkhotel Nuremberg to the Hotel am Drechselgarten in Ansbach. This was really disappointing as the Ramada Parkhotel is minutes away from Nuremberg city centre whereas Ansbach is 40 kms away. Even worse, the Hotel am Drechselgarten is not in Ansbach town but on a little hill on the fringe of town. The road up to the hotel was dark and with high bushes on both sides. For a while we thought we were lost and even the driver joked about it. It was a good thing that the TD suggested dinner in Nuremberg as it would have been difficult for the elderly travellers to walk 15 minutes downhill into Ansbach and then back uphill after dinner.
|DAY 8: Nuremberg – Romantic Road – Rothenburg – Munich (Wed.) Begin with an included visit to some of Nuremberg’s highlights including Gothic churches, ancient ramparts and elegant patrician houses. Later, travel along one of Europe’s most beautiful routes, the Romantic Road, passing villages and hamlets protected by ancient medieval towers, spectacular terraced vineyards, stunning natural landscapes, picturesque half-timbered houses and richly decorated stonework. Enjoy a stop in the charming, picture-postcard town of Rothenburg, set alongside the Tauber River, before continuing on to the Bavarian capital, Munich, for two nights. (B, D)
Hotel: Rivoli (3*)
This morning we travelled along part of Germany’s famous Romantic Road on our way to Rothenburg. What a delight, to have got off the autobahn for a change. Rothenburg is one of the highlight towns on the Romantic Road. We enjoyed the walk around the fortress wall so much that towards the end we were rushed for time.After Rothenburg we made tracks for Munich and along the way we stopped for 45 minutes at Nordlingen, a small medieval town.
When we arrived at our Munich hotel, those who were doing Oberammergau transferred to another bus and left straight away.
Our Munich hotel had been changed as well from the Rivoli to the Best Western Grand City Hotel, Neufarhn. The Rivoli is about 5 km to Munich’s Marienplatz whereas Neufarhn is on the train line to the airport and in fact you get off two stops before the airport. Tony asked the hotel receptionist how long it would take to travel by public transport to the city and she said that it would take about one hour to catch the bus and train. This hotel switch had put us at a disadvantage as far as location is concerned.
|DAY 9: Munich (Thur.) Often called ‘Germany’s secret capital’, experience the best of Munich today on an included city sightseeing tour, with a local guide. Take time to admire the beautiful main square, Marienplatz, perhaps do some shopping, or stop and sip its most famous product: beer. There are several optional excursions for you to choose from so you can tailor today to best suit you and really make the most of this fantastic city. (B)
Hotel: Rivoli (3*)
This morning we left at 8:30 a.m. for our Munich sightseeing tour, but first we had to pick up the local guide from the BMW Centre. This centre is huge and impressive. We arrived in town at about 9 a.m. and toured Munich town by coach. Later, we got off at the Opera House Square and walked to Marienplatz for the 11 a.m. Glockenspiel. Marienplatz was full of tourists and the whole area was quite lively.We had free time after the Glockenspiel so we went to the the famous Viktualienmarkt just off the square. This market is much larger than I had imagined and it was a great place to visit, full of stalls and people having beers and snacks. We had to rush somewhat as we wanted to get to the Oktoberfest.
From Marienplatz we caught the S-Bahn to Oktoberfest, which was easy enough. There were streams of people making their way there so by just following the crowd, we arrived at the Theresienwiese Oktoberfest grounds. Actually, our timing was impeccable. The colourful and beautifully decorated Hofbrauhaus dray had just arrived causing much excitement amongst visitors.
I was surprised at how enjoyable Oktoberfest was to visit, even for a non-beer drinker like myself. The sun showed its face which made walking around the Oktoberfest grounds much more pleasant. From Oktoberfest we went back to Marienplatz to explore the city centre a little further before catching the train back to Neufarhn. The hotel receptionist was right, you do have to allow about an hour for the train and bus connections plus travel time to the Best Western Grand City Hotel, Neufarhn.
We got back with just enough time to have a quick shower and then we were out again to the Hofbräuhaus in the city centre for an Oktoberfest evening. We thought the atmosphere here was a little flat and our visit to the Oktoberfest grounds at Theresienwiese in the afternoon was more enjoyable.
|DAY 10: Munich – Neuschwanstein – Black Forest (Fri.) Visit the most famous 19th century neo-romantic castle in the world: King Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle. This spectacular fairytale-styled castle is perched high in a dominant cliff-top position overlooking the frontier town of Füssen. This afternoon, continue across this breathtaking landscape to the Black Forest for one night. (B, D)
Hotel: Treff at Bad Herrenalb (3*)
|It was a 7.30 a.m. departure this morning as we had to pick up the folks who went to Oberammergau before heading for Neuschwanstein. They looked weary when they got on the coach, but enjoyed their Oberammergau experience.
At Neuschwanstein, a minibus brought us up to the castle. There were supposed to be two buses, but we jammed into one to save time. At the Castle we had a 30-minute guided tour, which was excellent. It would have been nice to be able to spend more time there but King Ludwig’s castle is a busy place and group after group of visitors are processed through the place.
After the castle visit we took the horse-drawn carriage down to Hohenschwangau for the experience. We probably would have got down just as quickly on foot, as we had to change horses halfway, but riding the carriage was easier on the feet!
After Neuschwanstein, it was back onto the autobahn for the Black Forest. On the way, there was a stop at a cuckoo-clock place for those who wanted to shop.
Our Black Forest hotel was supposed to be the Treff at Bad Herrenalb and here again was another hotel substitution which was very disappointing. Like our travel companions, we had looked up the Treff at Bad Herrenalb and were much looking forward to an evening at this Black Forest retreat. Instead, we ended up at the Palmengarten Hotel, a hotel that was certainly not of an ‘equivalent standard’ to the Treff.
Our TD suggested that we should have dinner on arrival at 7:30 p.m. or else we may have to wait to 8.30 or 9.00 pm. The group agreed with her suggestion, but the service was rather slow and the mains arrived at 8.30 p.m., so we gained nothing from starting at an earlier time.
|DAY 11: Black Forest – Heidelberg – Frankfurt (Sat.) Today, head to Heidelberg for a short visit to the medieval Old Town with its pretty cobbled streets, lovely gateway and charismatic central square. Home to Germany’s oldest and best-known university, the city is also regarded as the inspiration and source of myths for the German Romantic movement. From here, continue to Frankfurt for one night. (B)
Hotel: Holiday Inn Frankfurt City(4*)
|This morning we headed for Heidelberg, a favourite German town. We had free time to explore on our own. We didn’t think we’d have much time to go up to the castle so we walked all over the old city centre.
After Heidelberg we drove to Frankfurt and instead of the Holiday Inn Frankfurt, we were put into the Tryp Hotel in Katharinenkreisel. This Tryp Hotel is convenient for getting to Frankfurt Airport, but to get to the city there is a walk to the train station and about 15 minutes on the train to the Central Station. From the Central Station we walked to the old town which is certainly worth visiting.
|DAY 12: Frankfurt (Sat.) Transfer to the airport for your flight home (B)|
|As our package did not include transfers, we caught a taxi to Frankfurt Airport and it cost Euro 25.|
The itinerary for this Highlights of Germany tour is a good tour but I felt it required a few extra days so as to avoid using the autobahn so much. Germany has so much to offer the tourist and I didn’t feel that we got to see the country, except at destinations, as we were on the autobahn most of the time. The towns we visited were great.
The hotel switches were disappointing as the substituted hotels were a fair distance from the city centre, making it difficult for passengers to get into town in the evenings. Our Black Forest Hotel was supposed to be at the Treff resort in the village of Bad Herrenalb in the heart of the Black Forest. The substitution for the Palmengarten Hotel in Offenbach was particularly disappointing. We didn’t consider the substitution to be for an ‘equivalent standard’ hotel, as can be seen from the images above, and the Palmengarten Hotel was nowhere near the Black Forest.
The high number of hotel substitutions was unusual for us. As Cosmos was not able to provide the travel documentation till three weeks before the tour date, these changes were not known till quite late and by which time we were already on the road on a separate trip.