Practical Germany, Dolomites, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary

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It sounds like a lot for one month, but we actually only did part of southwestern Germany this trip, not the whole thing. Last year we spent several weeks in northern Germany, including Berlin and those details are too fuzzy for me to recall without a lot of research. We also skipped the Romantic Road as we have done that area before. We first went into southern Germany this year for about a week coming north from Switzerland as Mark wanted to hike the Zugspitze. Although Germany has many inexpensive stellplaz we could find nothing near there and stayed two nights in the campground at the base of the mountain—extremely expensive at $47 a night wo electric, but I enjoyed the heated indoor-outdoor pool while Mark took the cable car up and hiked down the mountain. The area was extremely scenic—vertical walls of gray rock and impressive mountains surrounding the area on three sides.

From there we headed across the Austrian Tyrol to Italy's Dolomites. Austria requires a vignette for the motorways but at over 3.5 tons we needed an electronic GO box. Figuring that out proved to be a nightmare, so we finally just bought the wrong vignette and tried to stay off the motorways. This was fairly successful. Here is the link to a British website discussing the ins and outs of the GO box.

The Dolomites are magnificent spires and wild mountains and definitely worth going out of the way for. However, the roads are narrow and at one point we did 29 labeled and numbered hair pin bends to the Guai Pass. Our weather wasn't the best or we would have done some hiking as there were lots of trails. We were able to wild camp at the top of the Guai Pass and were treated to a wonderful sunset and unbelievable view. There were several good wild camping spots on the north side of that pass but none on the south. In late July/early August the Dolomite area was quite crowded so be warned. A number of “sites” we wanted to see just didn't have any parking free at all.

From the Dolomites we drove back into Austria and headed for the Grossglockner Highway. If you intend to stay several days in the area it might be worth getting an inexpensive pension or hotel room. With a two night stay you get a free pass for the highway, cable car rides, and several other goodies. This doesn't apply to campground stays. There is absolutely no place to wild camp for 20 km south of Heiligenblut. North of the highway there is a Gasthof that allows stays for 10e. The weather was very cloudy and rainy—though it cleared enough to see the mountain, so we pretty much drove straight through.

Next stop was Hallstadt which we had enjoyed very much in 1989. Since we were coming from the south we thought we could cut across to Hallstadt at Bad Aussie—forget it, the road up into the mountains was smaller than a driveway, so we took the long way round. Going back by the lake there were several rest areas where wild camping looked possible. However, there is no parking in Hallstadt for anything but cars. The only camper parking is over a mile south of town and 9e and doesn't open before 10 am. To camp in town would have been 20e for one night. However, we parked in the wrong place to walk into reception and they were so angry and rude to us that we just decided to skip Hallstadt and drive on towards Salzburg.

In Salzburg we stayed at the Panarama Campground which was fine but the campers are quite snuggly parked. The bathrooms are also very new and the wifi was inexpensive. It was easy to get into the city and we purchased the Salzburg Card. Since Mark's family was from Salzburg he wanted to see everything, but frankly the free cruise on the river was boring, as was The Residence. The best things are the fortress and the palace with the fantastic trick fountains and the Sound of Music summer house in the garden. The card also gives you a free cable card ride up the nearby Untersberg mountain. However, they do check it both ways so be sure your card doesn't expire while you are up top. If you are going to Bergtasgarten you have almost the same view so you can skip it anyway. We also visited several Sound of Music sites, like the wedding church in Monsee.

Berchtesgaden is only a few kilometers from Salzburg. We wild-camped three nights in a parking area by the river just before the old stone toll tower 8 k before the town. You cannot wild camp at the parking lot at Konigsee. Last month the Gilberts wrote about wild camping in the parking lot at Eagles Nest, but I didn't want to drive up there with the 25% grade so we took the bus. There was a bus that came right by our wild camping parking lot, so it was very convenient. By the way, on the bus to Eagle's Nest they say you can't go inside without a guide, but you can, just go round to the back and go through the picture gallery and on inside. Don't miss the Documentation Center which is a little hard to find. The audio guide was tremendous and gives you a very detailed look at how the Nazis managed their rise to power. Also then you get to go through the bunker system which is amazing.

Next we went to Munich where we camped at the campground by the zoo where we have stayed twice before. It is an easy commute to the city and has a 4 pm check out which is great. One night we had the buffet (19e) each at the Hofbrau House so we could sample all the Bavarian dishes at one go. The food was fine and a nice German band and folk dancing. Quite touristy but what we wanted. If you want to sit close to the band try to make reservations ahead. If you want to see the Hofbrau museum you need to stop by before 5. The Old Masters painting museum in Munich was wonderful and not to be missed.

We stopped in Bayreuth as Mark is a Wagner fan. Stayed at the stellplaz at the Lohengrin Therme for free. Quite nice, spent one evening at the indoor pool, and Mark was able to catch the bus from there right into town. Our last stop in Germany was Dresden. We stayed for 5e a night at the Pension Knopf, 157 Meissner Landstr., which is in the Camper Stop book. Really nice people and right on bus line. We should have bought the Dresden Card as we would have saved a lot of money even on our 2 day stay. The Swenger museums and the Green Vaults are amazing. We went through the Restored Green Rooms first and then the regular green museum. It was a lot for one day and should be done in two. But if you want to see the restored rooms you must get your ticket by mid morning or they will be sold out for the day in high season. The painting museum was also first rate. Dresden is easily worth three full days of touring. However, internet is very hard to find. In Germany McDonald's is on a pay system. We had a list of 4-5 places from the TI but all had closed or didn't have the service anymore. It was quite strange.

From Dresden we headed to the Krakow area in Poland. The motorway in Poland is free from the border all the way to Auschwitz. Our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau was especially important to us as I had taught Wiesel's Night many times and helped countless students do research on the Holocaust. I thought I was well informed as we had also visited the concentation camp Dachau on a previous trip to Munich. But nothing prepares you for Birkenau especially. I was also able to buy a new book--Auschwitz by Laurence Rees--which answered many of the questions that the visit raised. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants a comprehensive overview based on new information that has come to light with the opening of the Soviet records and some "deathbed" interviews with survivors and perpetrators. The tour is well worth the modest cost of $12 each but it lasts 3 ½ hours so bring water etc. The guide said there are often lines in summer in the middle of the day; we were on the 9am one. We stayed two nights in the parking lot for $7 for 24 hr. If you will need water be sure to stay on the left side across the street from the actual concentration camp buildings. There is also free wifi at the pizza restaurant.

In Krakow we stayed at the Borek campground which was expensive at $26 but right on tram line, next to large shopping center and city park, and free wifi. They also had a friendly checkout. We stayed till almost 5 pm and then drove south and stayed the night at a much cheaper place. Krakow does not have as much to do—1 day or two half days covers it. However, prices for dining out, riding in a horse drawn carriage etc. are much lower than elsewhere so you may want to do more of those things. We did go to the castle and paid to tour the State apartments which were only so-so. If you want to go to the Private Apartments either reserve ahead or be there when the ticket office opens. We were there right after opening and the first available time for tours was at 2 pm—which would be a long wait.

Next we went to Prague. We stayed at Camping Drusus which is on the western side and a little further out. However, there were extremely nice bathrooms, free site-wide wifi and only $22 a night. The owners spoke excellent English and were extremely helpful. Connections to town were easy and took about 45 minutes but worth it for such a nice campground. We adored Prague and spent 6 days there. For all the details see Mark's blog . By the way, wild camping in Czech Republic is illegal and carries heavy fines.

Then Vienna. I am actually running out of steam writing this, but for the practical side we stayed at Vienna West, which was fine at $26 a night and free wifi. We had the Vienna Card which was about a break even affair but convenient. Plan on a whole day for the Kunsthistorischemuseum. We had been there before but only to the painting gallery. This time we also spent a couple of hours—which was not enough—in the ancient Egypt/Greek/Roman galleries. They were as wonderful as the British Museum collections, if not better. All told we were there 6 hours and we should have arrived at 10 to have had a full 8. Be sure to pay the slight extra fee to get the full audio tour instead of just the highlights. We also took a long bus ride out to one of the wine villages which Mark describes in this blog.

Finally, we are in Budapest. We are staying at Camping Haller which is practically in downtown Pest. Stay 3 nights get the 4th free, free showers, wifi, electricity, even a free washing machine (but no dryer at all.) $25. Be sure to go to Memento Park to see the big Commie statues and a chance to buy some funny souvenirs. We also went out to the flea/antique market at the edge of Pest, Ecseri Piac. Mark and I have been to the street markets in London, Paris, etc. and were always disappointed. This one was fascinating, some good buys, and just lots of interesting things to see. Last night we went to the Folk Music/Dance show—there are 3 rotating performing groups. We saw the Rajko—which is gypsy, but also does Hungarian pieces. Absolutely top notch and we have been to at least a dozen of these type of performances worldwide. Tickets are sold on the street in the tourist areas—be sure you get at least the student discount. We also went to the Gellert Baths; which were fairly nice but quite pricey at $16 each and after two hours we had had enough hot water. The coed warm baths are very crowded but the single sex were more peaceful. We had a wonderful dinner at Stex, 55 Joszef, goulash soup, cold peach soup, Stex platter of steaks, Hungarian chicken, fried pork chops, rice, french fries and gravy with our “to go” box to take half of it home, price with 1 beer and 1 water, t/t included--$30 (cash only.) This is why we have been eating out far more often this month than any of our other 12 months!

In terms of cost, this month we spent $370 on groceries, $275 eating out, $476 campgrounds, $400 diesel, $725 admissions and local transportation, $14 internet, $62 tolls and vignettes. Because we did so many cities, the campgrounds, admissions, and eating out were the highest of any month so far in 13 months.

One final practical thought. We are trying to buy new tires for our Mercedes Sprinter van. In all of Hungary the Mercedes dealer scould find none with the load range we need. After trying several other tire dealers we think we have located a set that will be here in 3 days. We don't even want to think about trying to get them in Turkey, so if these aren't right we may have to go back to Vienna or even Salzburg. A dealer in Budapest already ordered one set incorrectly. So if you think you are going to need something like that be sure to do it in Germany, France, etc. or somewhere in the western part of Europe. In fact, when we have comparison shopped for oil changes etc. the best prices were in Great Britain. These things are a pain, but then so is living in a house. We wouldn't trade.