ViennaCzechRepublicGermanyBavariaSwitzerlandCourmayeurChamonix2012

Mark and Vicki Sherouse are in the 22nd month (over 3 years) of RVing in Europe. Their email is mark.sherouse@gmail.com and website is TheRoadGoesEverOn.com with links to their blog, http://www.roadeveron.blogspot.com/

Vienna, Austria July 1, 2012

Our daughter managed to lock their passports in the apartment when leaving for the airport. (Hopefully, this experience will mean that before leaving somewhere she and others forewarned, will have the passports on their person.) By the time the landlord came, we had less than an hour till departure and on arriving at check in, they said “too late.” (Had they checked in in advance they might have made it.) They were traveling on Air Vienna on United mileage tickets. Air Vienna said they could buy new tickets for 1300 Euros each. My daughter finally called United and for the change fee and extra taxes got a terrible routing but they could leave that evening. We decided to spend the afternoon at Schonnbrun Palace.

Since we were all in the camper we drove there and parked in a nearby lot—we misread the sign and ended up paying 12 E per hour to park—highway robbery. The visit was nice though. The included audio takes you on about an hour tour of one of Europe's best palaces and most of the furniture is still in place. Also the story of the Hapsburg family is interesting. It was much too hot to walk the gardens but the palace itself was bearable even in mid afternoon.

Back to the airport again successfully and then to Camping Wien West. The next day we headed into Vienna with plans to spend all day at the Kunsthistorical Museum. However, we had a gelateria to visit and needed to find a post office and the Manner candy store. By that time we decided to postpone the Kunst visit and go to the Albertina instead. We stopped at the Sacher Cafe where I, having had the Torte before, decided on the strudel. Okay, but nothing terrific—my feeling about the torte, too. At the Albertina we were surprised at the 9 E cost for seniors and decided to look for a book in the gift shop to see exactly what the collection held. No such book and the postcards were from all the Vienna museums. However, it was a super gift shop and we ended up spending a good deal and decided to skip the museum. We then undertook Rick Steve's recommended of riding tram #1 around the Ringstrasse. As we passed the eastern side, I saw the Hunderwassers apartment building, the fairy tale houses that we had admired in postcards but didn't know how to get to. We hopped off the tram, saw the free movie about the apartments and the architect in the cafe, and wandered around the building and also into the fairytale shopping area, concluding with the three block walk to one of his other building in the area. We loved it as it reminded us so much of the whimsy and organic nature of Gaudi's creations in Barcelona. Also there were several art nouveau and deco buildings nearby. However, tram 1 doesn't circle the whole city so we rode it to the Prater and then got on the same line back to the center. We then saw the 1948 classic, The Third Man, filmed in Vienna, and shown twice weekly still in a theater near the opera.

The next day we had a wonderful visit to the Kunst with a break in its cafe half way through our 6 hr. visit. We did get the audio! Be warned that the Kunst can be very warm and its cafe down right hot. The day before, it was 97 in Vienna but this day only 90 or so. Thank heaven our camper is parked in the shade! We have definitely added Vienna to our list of cities to rent an apartment in for a month or so.

Ceske Krumlov, Checz Republic July 5-6, 2012

Our next main stop was to be Munich and since we didn't have the vignette for the Austrian toll roads and we had spent almost a week in Salzberg two years ago, we decided to head west via Ceske Krumlov. Relying on our Tom Tom we did fine until he took us over hill and dale and out into the country searching for the fastest route. In reality, the roads were not too bad and some even two lane. It was just a splash from the past to remember that GPS navigation can be an adventure. The Czech Republic doesn't allow wild camping and our 4 year old camping guide listed two campgrounds fairly far out of town with no mention of a bus. I had Tom look for campgrounds and sure enough he found one only 2.4 k from town. When we turned into the campground by the river there was 1 caravan, a huge parking lot filled with cars, and a field of about 400 tents. Mark hiked up to the reception and yes they would take a camping car—10 Euros for the night, park in the parking lot near the entrance. Turns out this was a big holiday weekend for the Czech and with the heat everyone had headed for the river and this is where they camp. It actually turned out fine and wasn't even noisy, as the the restrooms, beer garden, etc. were all at the other end. Also a cloudburst thunder storm had put a damper on everything soon after we arrived.

The walk into town the next morning was only 20 minutes and I am a slow walker. Yes, it was mobbed by the afternoon, but it is a pretty place with lots of cute shops selling wooden toys, antiques, etc. At the information center you could even rent audio tours to self guide around the town for a very reasonable fee. Many shops and even the campground accepted Euros though we did get some Crowns from the ATM. It was also possible to see most of the castle grounds and even the bears in the moat without paying the entry fee. We opted for ice cream at a riverside table to watch the many cases of sunburn float past us headed for the lake downstream.

Munich, Germany or actually Therme Erding July 6-8,2012

Again over hill and dale Tom routed us to Erding which we had found in our new edition of the CamperStop book, N48.29097 E11.88921. Free parking for up to 7 nights at Europe's largest therme. A therme is a huge indoor swimming area which usually has mineral baths, whirlpools, saunas, etc. We had camped at one near Bayreuth two years ago and decided this would make a nice break. There are actually two stellplaz at their parking lot. One is pay and has electric available; the free one is for spa customers. It was unclear how often you were expected to go to the spa. We arrived Friday afternoon and decided to go to the spa Saturday morning. Unfortunately there was a Groupon locally available and after waiting in line 20 minutes with at least that or more ahead of us, we opted to come back in the afternoon. For 2 hrs. it was 19 E each and 3 more if you used a credit card. Every part of the therme was swamped with adults and children, so we didn't enjoy it very much and 2hrs was plenty. Perhaps we should have paid the additional 4 E each to go into the adults only section. Supposedly weekdays are a lot better and it is cheaper.

Sunday we walked the 15 minutes to the rail station and bought the all day pass for two. Our only destination was the Alte Pinocotek Museum in Munich. Our pass allowed us use of the tram also, which was good since it would be a long walk from the bahnhof. The Kunst is a marvelous museum but be sure to get the audio as labeling is spotty. We spent about 6 hours with a break for afternoon tea—I had scones and clotted cream. Only mediocre, but even mediocre is wonderful when it is clotted cream—and so far from England. On the way back we stopped at the Starbucks in the station where 2 hours of internet was free. Far better than McDonald's which is pay in northern Germany and requires a German cell phone number for the free access in southern Germany. Getting online has been a bear in Germany.

Augsburg, Germany

Parked at the edge of town and walked into the city. The cathedral is quite fine but I forgot the binoculars which would have been wonderful. Also there were some wonderful painted frescoes inside. We walked to the Fuggerie, one of the first social housing projects. It looked quite interesting but we didn't tour the inside. Unfortunately, being Monday, the art museum was closed. Overall, we were very glad we had stopped and had time to drive to Ulm to a free stellplaz for the night.

Ulm, Germany July 9, 2012

N 48.40735 E10.00970 and the stellplatz was a block to the Danube. We spent two nights and it was very nice. Mark climbed the tallest steeple in the world, and I window shopped. We also went to the inexpensive organ concert at noon and then walked to the interesting Fishermen's and Tanners Quarter which reminded us of Colmar, France with its canals and crazily canting half timbered houses. In addition we ran into a geocaching store. We have not gotten into that craze but were amazed at all the stuff it sold. At the Danube we encountered the Danube Festival and there were several stages and lots of market booths selling products from all the countries along the Danube. It was fun to run into Romanian and Bulgarian items again.

Nordlingen, Germany

Backtracking towards Nuremberg our green Michelin Guide advised us to stop in Nordlingen. The stellplaz at N 48.85549 E10.48414 is right at the city gate. Nordlingen is one of only 3 walled cities left in Germany. You can walk the entire 1k wall and we did about two thirds. There are a great many older buildings, many huge in size and the church had a spire with over 300 steps which Mark climbed while I got some business done on the internet at a cafe. 1 pastry=45 minutes. We had lunch at a fast food chicken place on the square. Half a roast chicken, pomme frites and 1 coke for 6 euros, or about $7.30 with the dollar at $1.23. The food in Germany is much cheaper than many other parts of Europe and since there are over 2 million Turks here, inexpensive donner kebab is also everywhere. The afternoon found us on the road to

Nuremberg. Germany July 13, 2012

Our stellplaz, again free, was at N 49.47479 E11.09448. On the northern outskirts of the city we caught the city bus and purchased the all day card for two at 8 e. The bus went right downtown to the market square only 3 blocks or so from the German National Museum. We had come here specifically to see its wonderful collection of Durer, here in his home town. Luckily, they were also staging a special exhibit on the early Durer and had over 200 paintings, prints, watercolors, etc. from museums all of the world. (including 6 from the Albertina in Vienna—glad we had decided not to go there). It was a marvelous exhibit and included in the regular ticket price which is very unusual. One thing I like about special exhibits is that you can get so much closer than in a regular museum because they don't have the motion detectors installed. It was also neat to see a preliminary sketch for a piece right next to the final painting—normally located in different parts of the world. There were many instances of this.

The rest of the museum was also very good, though no photography was allowed. We spent the entire day. The no photography is getting worse every year and makes it hard to remember special artwork. We actually tried to find a stealth eyeglass camera but couldn't find a decent one. What is really ridiculous is that the photography itself does no harm, but so many tourists don't or won't turn off their flash, that museums are just banning all photography.

Rothenberg ob den Tauber, Germany

Yes, it is very touristy but I still like it. We had not seen the carved altarpiece in the St. Jacob church before and it, as well as the newly cleaned church itself, was stunning. I also paid the obligatory visit to the Kathe Wolfharte Christmas store, which has gotten so big that it is one way inside. In all we were only there a few hours and so decided to drive on to Bad Wimpfen where the stellplaz would be free.

Bad Wimpfen. Germany

This is a small town again plucked from our Green Michelin. The stellplatz N49.22942 E 9.16745 was at the railroad station. 2E for all day parking during the workweek; other times free. The town is right around the corner so we spent the evening walking around, admiring especially the well preserved towers and walls from 1200—which is impressively old even by European standards. Had the weather not turned rainy the next morning we might also have tried the therme, or hot springs. Instead we followed Michelen's advice and drove north along the Necker River which is the Burg Strasse here or Castle Road. It is a beautiful valley (once you leave the ugly Audi plant behind) with castles of ruined, converted, and other sorts around every bend. Not grand ones but still interesting. Turning around we headed for Baden Baden and the Black Forest. For those of you with bicycles, Germany has wonderful bike paths all along the Danube, the Necker, and lots of other places.

Black Forest, Germany

Near Ruhlesper the highway to Stuttgart and the one coming from the south converge with the ones going north to Frankfort. Not good on a Sunday afternoon in the summer. Luckily our part of the traffic jam headed south was only 20 minutes or so, I would say headed north those folks were looking at a couple of hours! Something to remember along with the fact not to be on the road August 1st in France! We also tried to stop at one of the highway restaurant areas but every single one was completely packed with tractor trailers. We had heard that they weren't allowed on highways in France on Sundays and that must also be the case in Germany. We also had not seen many on Saturday either except parked at rest areas.

We wanted to stop in Baden Baden to stroll the lovely streets and see the beautiful buildings but a Sunday street market meant absolutely no parking. Just south of town we could have parked and taken the bus, but the rain came on again so we proceeded south on route 500 which winds its way along the crest of the mountains in the Black Forest. Quite beautiful and not too crowded because of its being such a rainy day. At length, we broke off and headed on the main road to see Freiburg.

Freiburg, Germany July 15,2012

Unfortunately, no free stellplatz here but the one at N47.99915 E7.82643 was only 8 euro plus 1 for internet. Mark is ecstatic and we got to Skype both daughters and check that all was okay with our credit card and bank accounts. There is also a laudromat a 15minute walk away and we sorely need one since we haven't been in a campground since Vienna. Electricity is metered and after 2 days it only took 1e to recharge our depleted batteries. Since the museum was closed on Monday (as are almost all throughout Europe), we walked into town on Tuesday. Stellplatz sign said 15 minutes, but for me a half hour was needed. The tram is close to stellplatz but at 9.6E for a card for two, we decided to opt for more exercise. The Augustiner Museum was quite small and a hefty 7E but the audio was only 2e and did a good job with explanations. The building was only finished in 2010, converting a bombed monastery church and it was quite well done. Admission also included 4 other museums and we went to the modern--which was thoroughly forgettable. Finally we toured the Munster which had some nice art and was quite large. Overall, though, I would say Freiburg did not live up to expectations and I wouldn't recommend a stop here.

Basel, Switzerland July 18, 2012

Since our batteries and tanks were full we wanted to avoid paying $30 for a Swiss campground and so left Freiburg early for the 1 hour drive to Basel with the intention of finding parking on the outskirts and taking a bus. In the past when we were in Switzerland, we had not bought the vignette and just stayed off the highways. It turns out that since we are over 3.5 metric tons that we needed to pay a heavy goods vehicle tax to use any roads at all in Switzerland. I found this out by reading the introduction to Switzerland in our Camping and Caravanning Guidebook. These books are a great source for all kinds of motoring info while driving in Europe, and I recommend them for that as well as their campground information. We don't stay in campgrounds much, but at least one book is needed for when you must. Ours our now 4 years old and probably need replacing. However, trying to pay this tax turned out to be impossible. There were two lines at the border, one for trucks and one for cars. We got in the truck lane and after winding around trying to figure out what to do, the security people stopped us and told us we were not supposed to be there—only cargo trucks. It was very difficult getting back out of the area but when we finally did, we were no longer on the highway but in town. We went in a gas station and just bought the vignette for a car—35 Euros or 40 Swiss francs. Back finally on the highway we choose the lane for cars already with vignettes and they waived us through. We will just have to keep our fingers crossed that we won't get fined for having the wrong vignette.

In Basel we wanted to see the Kunstmuseum and managed to find free parking at N47.55392 E7.58115--be sure to go up onto the sidewalk so the tram can get by. We set Tom for walking and he guided us right to the museum about 1k away. It was about the most expensive museum we have been to in Europe—15 sf each plus 2 for the audio. Currently the SF is $1.02 to the dollar. The collection, however, was very good, starting in the 1400s with Cranach, Grein, the largest collection of Hans Holbein the Younger anywhere, and then lots of Netherlandish, Impressionism, and then an excellent 20th century collection. What was most wonderful was that there were no railings or motion detectors and many works were not under glass. It was incredible to be within inches of a Monet or Picasso and see every dot and comma in a Pissaro. Unfortunately, photos weren't allowed, but the guards weren't attentive so Mark got several. The audio was very in depth though some pretty important paintings weren't covered. However, in the sitting areas were copies of the museum's book with in depth write ups on all the masterpieces—in English, so we perused them when on our needed breaks. Lunch in the cafe was out of the question--$20 for a chief salad--$5 for coffee or coke. Ah, the $wiss!

Using our camperstop book we located free parking at a Wohnmobile Dealer in Langenthal N47.22461 E7.77944, only 4 miles off the highway. It was quiet and at 8 the next morning we bought new levelers to replace our cracked ones. This time going up to the 8 ton version since we have cracked 3 so far. Prices for it were less than the States at about $30. No one has automatic levelers in Europe so they have far more choices. We also drooled over all the European campers on the lot. Most were by Rapido, class Cs built on Fiat chassis. European designs are far more intelligent and varied than US motorhomes. I especially liked a used 2004 B Fiat van priced at $40,000 US which was only 18 feet long but had a made up bed in the back, full bathroom, kitchen and small dining. How I wish we were 18ft instead of 24! Of course the bed was pretty small, not like our king, but it would be so much easier to park. Mark doesn't agree with me though and feels like ours is just fine and the extra room welcome when you are living out of it for months at a time!

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland July 19, 2012

We were headed for Courmayeur, Italy which is one of our favorite places in the Alps. Tom was all set and we were about 10 miles south of Spitz when it suddenly dawned on me that that shouldn't be the direction for our heading. Getting out the map, we realized that Tom had decided that the fastest way was for us was to take the car train over the Bernese Alps! (Reminded us of the time in Turkey when he wanted us to take a car ferry across a reservoir—then we didn't realize what he was doing till we reached the ferry—sure, back our camper over two boards onto a ferry that looked like it had seen much better days!) Pausing to study various routes via the map, we decided to take a slight detour and spend a little time in Lauterbrunnen Valley, which is our favorite Swiss destination. This time we camped at the very end of the valley at Steckelbach-and yes it was $28. a night. However, the cable car up the mountain to Gimmelwald started close by. It was good place for me to try out Alpen hiking with my new knee, steep but not too long and a cable car to come back down. The hike up was very steep at first but then became a good trail—always up but more switchbacks. The cable car down was a reasonable 6sf each. We decided to stay another night and explore the upper valley. The hike up and down was on a good trail and we saw some spendid waterfalls. We passed one walker's hotel and there are others further along if you wanted to use one for a base for extended walking. We were able to check out of the campground late and still take in Trummelbach Falls, which with 10 cataracts inside the mountain was certainly worth seeing again. Note that the Jungfrau Campground is within walking distance to Lauterbrunnen and the funicular to Murren. Steckelbach campground is about 5 miles up the valley. The bus is a very steep 5sf each way so unless you have bikes you should stay close to those activities you wish to do

Zermatt, Switzerland July 22, 2012

The weather was raining when we left Lauterbrunnen but supposed to be clear at the Matterhorn the next day. We drove east and then took the Grimsel Pass road. A good road but any pass road in the Alps gives me a heart attack. The rain and clouds persisted to the top of the pass. There were still snow patches at the side of the road July 22. I later noted that in my diary of our 1989 trip the Susten Pass had still been closed on July 26. Be sure to check for pass closings or you may have to turn around. On the south side of the pass the weather immediately cleared. We wanted to stop just short of Tasch where we could park for free before taking the train to Zermat. Simply not possible anymore. Just south of Tasch at the campground you can park for 5sf a day, but 26 if you sleep in the camper. We ended up at the Comlesi Taxi service just across from the train station in Tasch for 20sf for 24 hrs--you can park and sleep in the camper—they have free water and electric but no dump. The train to Zermatt is about 16 sf round trip. By the way, everywhere we went in Switzerland they would accept Euros but the price to do so was much more expensive than the official conversion rate. Even withdrawing SF at the bank was a gouge. Right now the exchange is $1.025. At the ATM I was given the choice of converting to dollars immediately and the withdrawal would have been $106 instead of $102.50. Ridiculous.

Of course everything in Switzerland is expensive. Diesel has jumped from 1.42E or so a liter to 1.88. Diesel is also more expensive than gas. Be sure to fill up in Germany. A simple souvenir magnet that cost $5 in other countries is $8 in Switzerland. But we did enjoy Zermatt as the Matterhorn was out all day—a somewhat rare occurrence as we know from past experience. The TI suggested the 5 Lake walk. We took the funicular and cable car up into the mountain and then walked an up and down path past 5 glacial tarns to the funicular station. It was a nice walk, though certainly not the equivalent of alpine hikes in Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Chamonix or Courmayeur. The cost for the transportation was 39sf each. Though billed as a family walk, there is a very steep stretch at the end that is not switchbacked. I did get up it but it wasn't pleasant.

Mark had planned to hike that afternoon to the mountain hotel Trift and then climb the Mettelhorn the next day. The hotel was a fairly reasonable 66sf for a dorm bed and board, but he decided to skip it when part way up to the hotel he got hit by a thunderstorm. Since we were back at the camper before our 24hrs were up, we decided to drive on towards Courmeyeur and stop at the first roadside rest where the highway becomes 4 lane—near Sion, only 45 miles from Zermatt.

Courmeyeur, Italy July 23-27, 2012

This is the third year in a row we have come through this way though the first time we have taken the St. Bernard tunnel—39e. We could have just driven the pass for free but I wanted something less nerve testing, though it must be a good road as they send all the trucks that way. After the tunnel we took the free road to Courmeyeur and parked at N45.78242 E6.97079. This stellplaz has no services and is about 1k to town. However, it is quiet and the TI said it was safe to park there overnight even when we were doing multiple day hikes. The library has free wifi that does not require an Italian cell phone. Courmeyeur keeps very rural Italian hours, with most shops closed from 1 until 4 and restaurants not opening for dinner until 7. The TI called and got us dorm space a Refuge Bertone, which is as straight up vertical hike from Courmayeur. We took the bus up to Villiars. From there it is supposed to be a 1 ½ hr. hike up the pretty good and mostly shady trail. For us it was 3 hrs. but I was pretty happy with that as this was my first 2200 ft climb on my replacement knee. The views from Bertone are amazing and staying in a refuge dormitory is a great experience. At dinner we sat by a Danish couple and had a long and pleasant discussion over dinner and wine. Lights out are at 10 and breakfast at 7. Bed and half board was 40E per person plus 2E for a shower. There is also an area for tents above the refuge where we camped while doing the full Tour de Mont Blanc seven years ago. Truly an amazing experience which Mark and I highly recommend. If you want to do it, in whole or in sections, please email us and we will be happy to give you lots of advice.

Anyway, seven years ago we had awoken to mist and clouds and didn't get to experience the famous views from this section of the walk. So we wanted to do this part again, but my knee had not been up to it the last two years. This time the weather was cloudless and we started up Mount Saxe at 8am. This trail is not good, not switchbacked hardly at all and very vertical for 1500ft. The whole time I was climbing up, I was thinking, how am I going to get down? At the top we followed the ridge for a couple of hours with truly amazing views of Mont Blanc and the Grand Jorasses until it was decision time. We could go back down the way we had come, or take one of two longer other trails leading to the valleys. Neither of which were main trails or trails we had hiked before. I decided to go with the devil I knew and headed back to Bertone. Obviously, I made it down but had to do two of the vertical sections on my butt clinging to various plants and the occasionally exposed water line. Not pretty. We stopped at Bertone for lunch and were back to town at 5. But it was worth it and it will be much easier for almost any other walkers. I am just very slow and deathly afraid of downhill and so we are the slowest walkers on any trail. So far in the Alps I have been beaten up the trail by two different four year olds!

July 27 is Courmayeur's patron saints day. We had been here the same day 7 years ago when we were walking the Tour. A band, dancers in local costumes, mass, and the entire town and surrounding villages there to eat at the various booths. You buy a wooden plate for 20e and spend the next few hours in line for the various foods and wine—steak tartar, bratwurst and sauerkraut, local ham, cheese and bread, polenta and cheese, pasta with red sauce, watermelon and sangria, and several others. Mark and I strolled around but didn't buy a plate and instead went to the Le Vieux Pommer for fontina and ham crepes. Yum.

Chamonix, France July 28--, 2012

Except for 2009, we have returned to Chamonix every year on these trips, so I won't go into much detail. We are again staying at the Aguilles du Midi cable car parking lot—Le Grepon--with about 70-100 campers every night. 12E per 24 hrs. Visited the wonderful Saturday market to find our favorite poulet roti truck—heavenly. After a couple of days off, our first hike was a new one for me to Lac Blanc. Described as easy in some hiking books, I found the uphill from the end of the Flegere cable car to the lake quite a challenge. We did slightly better at 3 hrs for the 1 ½ posted walk time. However, there were 4-5 really vertical sections on the way up that I didn't want to go down. At the intersection with the trail to Index I quizzed a couple of parties who said that trail was better so we decided to go that way on the return. It was much better though I wouldn't want to do it the other direction. It took us 2 hrs to reach the chairlift end at Index where the signpost said 1 hr to Flegere and the cable car. The last car left at 5:45 and it was 4 :45 so we rode the chairlift down. I had never ridden one before and was petrified trying to get off and on but it wasn't as bad as expected. The total fare for the round trip to Flegere and the chairlift down from Index was about 45e. Of course, you can walk up and down instead of taking the lifts if you have the legs for it. We did find out that you can park your camper free at their lot but would then have to take the bus back and forth to Chamonix. The bus and valley train is free with your parking ticket from the Agui di Midi.

We had planned to do the Balcony Nord by taking the train up to the glacier, walking across (thereby climbing 1500 ft which is easier for me then downhill) and taking the cable car back. However at $33 each, having done this before, we opted for the much easier Petite Balcony South with a stroll back down the valley. It turned out to be very pleasant with the added bonus of a huge field of raspberries under the cable car lines, and even a few late wild strawberries. We always carry zip locks when hiking.

Checking out of the parking lot was its usual hassle as the machines won't take cash for anything more than 20E and our credit card doesn't have the European pin chip. Last year they let us go free, this year the attendant came and after much discussion got us out by paying in multiples of 20E. I read that one bank in the US was going to offer pin credit cards and we really need to hunt one down before next year's trip. Bon voyage until next month.

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