Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Germany by rail in $62 a day

We just wrapped a week long Bavarian adventure on just $62 a day! After months of meticulous planning, our Bavarian adventure started with a stopover en route our trip to India. After weighing in various options of touring Europe including car rental, Eurail pass and conducted tours we settled on the Bayern Bavarian ticket. This ticket priced at 29 Euros for a family of 5 (actually its good for 5 unrelated people), the ticket offered the best value in transportation for the places we wanted to visit. Feel free to ask me any questions and I will answer. Our vacation started in Frankfurt with a train ride to Munich on ICE followed by day trips to Salzburg, Austria, Fussen to visit the Nueschwenstein castle and a stay in a medieval castle in Berg Veldenstein.

Clearning immigration in Frankfurt was not a very pleasant especially with a severe jet lag, but was not very bad either. Within 60 minutes we cleared passport control and collected our bags. The walk to the ICE terminal took about 10 minutes. The train ride was comfortable and fast, however I must concede, it wasn't as exciting or as fast as TGV, perhaps because of the mountainous terrain of the Rhone valley.
   We stayed at the Four Points Sheraton, Munich central. It was a quick 15 minute walk to the hotel from the train station. We had opted for a studio room which had a stove, microwave , sink and a refrigeration. After dropping the luggage we took a quick shower and consulted our good friend google for the nearest grocery store. Aldi was around the corner and after a quick trip we were back with a dozen eggs, cheese, milk, canned beans/peas/Veg, rice , yogurt , bread and water all for about EUR 10.

 We spent rest of the evening walking around historic Munich. We ended up buying a Munich MVV card for € 10.20. Also we decided to buy the Bayern ticket from Munich central on our way to the hotel so that we could use public transit to the train station the following morning. The kids and us were very tired at this point and we intentionally kept this day busy so that we would fall asleep all night and would have a fresh day in Salzburg the following day.
 Day 2  began with Dad making eggs and toast for breakfast and rice for picnic lunch and mommy getting the kids ready. The Bayern Bavarian ticket is valid from 9am to 3am the following morning, so our first possible train to Salzburg (using the pass) was at 9:42 AM. We were out the door at 9am and we were glad we left early. Munich central is a huge station with about 28 platforms. It could be as much as 15 min walk to the train depending upon where you are in the station. The train ride to Salzburg was very scenic, with quaint little villages and their churches surrounded by lush green pastures with the mighty Alps in the background.
 We had a few locations we wanted to visit in Salzburg at our own pace. The Mirabel Gardens, the old town, Hohensalzburg fortress and Nonnberg Abbey. As I had injured my tendon a week before the trip, we bought a bus card for   4.2 (child   2.1) at the tourist office right outside the train station. Also we quickly picked up some fresh banana and fruit cups at a grocery store right on the train station. A coffee and fresh croissant got us started to our first stop, Mirabel Gardens. After identifying several sound of music lcoaitons, we had our lunch of Yogurt rice and potato chips with freshly squeezed orange juice. We started our leisurely stroll across the river and into the old town with our cameras clicking away non stop.

Tough Salzburg old town is very small we were lost quickly even with a map and occasional use of my iPhone. The plan was to go up the fennicular to the fort and walk to Monchsberg returning to the hotel. We never intended to be inside the fort. Somehow we landed on the stairs to the fort. It was a steep climb, but my 4 and 6 year olds didnt have any problem. With a quick pitstop at a beergarden, we ascened to the fort only to find out that entry was   12 and there was no way around to Monchsberg. After buying the tickets, we went into the fortified castle. It was very different, and had a hint of similarity to the fort shown in the return of the kind (Lord of the Ring). The view from the castle top are stunning and was well worth the money we spent. The breeze at that elevation was quite refreshing. We took the fennicular down and off we went on Bus #5 to the train station just in time to catch the 18:06 express back to Munich.

Day 3 was a bit harder. The kids were quite sleepy at 9 am. So we had to miss the direct train to Fussen at 9:50 and took a connecting train at 10:50. The train ride to Fussen was the most scenic I have ever been on (on par with a trip from Engleburg to Interlaken in Switzerland). There were buses at the station in Fussen to castles. Remember, if you had bought a Bayern ticket, its valid on the buses in Fussen. We lined up at the ticket office in  Nueschwenstein  and bought the tickets for the 4pm tour, which gave us plenty of time to soak in the view and for some nice cold Radler. Radler is half beer and half lemonade. We took the bus up to the castle so that we could view the castle from Marienbruke bridge. The short climb from the bridge to the castle was scenic with plenty of picture spots.The tour itself was bland because we read up all about Neuschwanstein castle months before actually visiting it. The ride back from the castle to Fussen train station was a mess. The buses ply every 40 minutes and it felt like half of USA was there on vacation. After a frustrating 60 minute wait (we were last on the line for the bus that came in 20 min and could not board that one) we finally got on a bus to Fussen and took the train back to Munich.

Day 4: Most of the we spent getting to our Castle Hotel. As usual we bought a Bayern ticket and took a train to Nurnberg and then transferred to Bayreuth. It started to rain as we came to the station. The cobblestoned streets and the incline of the hills effectively broke the rollers on my luggage which made it extremely difficult to get to the castle with the luggage. Once checked in we started to wander the streets of the village and visited a grocery store for some milk and freshly baked rolls. 

Day 5: We decided to take it easy and strolled around town. The city has a nice river walk and plenty of bike trails. A cute little church sits right next to the castle and with some pretty exquisite art work. We had lunch at our hotel and drank plenty of local brew - Veldensteiner. I have to say that the host Krestin was extremely helpful. The experience was one of a kind and costed only 82 Euro per night for 2 adults and 2 kids including a wonderful breakfast.

Day 6: In an effort to save money we bought the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket for our return to Frankfurt AM Main airport. In hindsight we should have spent the extra € 40 and booked an ICE from Nurnberg. Instead we took a train to Nurnburg then to Wuzburg, then to Frankfurt and then to flight terminal. It wasnt too bad, but the train journey was not particularly enjoyable.We checked into Holiday Inn express at Frankfurt airport. The hotel was small but nice and provides free continental breakfast.Shuttle costs € 10.

Germany was absolutely breathtaking and surprisingly affordable. I would highly recommend families or groups of 5 adults to explore Germany on the many afforbale regional passes. The Bayern pass particularly is great value that covers border towns of Switzerland and Austria.

1 comment:

  1. Great Blog Ganesh, Looks like you had a wonderful time. Definitely need tips from you on Planning these trips.