Day 11: Back to Germany through the Swiss Alps
We woke up and had breakfast at the hotel again and set off to find the site where Mussolini was executed. My wife had read online that it was a cool place to see and the lady at the front desk at the hotel told us it was about a 20 minute walk, so we figured why not?
Turns out, this site was about a 40 minute walk away from our hotel and it was not easy to find. We must have asked a half a dozen people how to get there along the way and surprisingly, not everyone knew what we were talking about. At the end we finally found it. I think we were happier to have finally found the place, than we were impressed with the site.
The site is located in Mezzegra so if you are close, I would recommend you see it as it was a key point in history. If you are further away and not a super history buff, you can skip this one.
Lunch at Albergo Corona in Vicosoprano
We then left Como and set off for Fussen, back in Germany to start our drive along the Romantic Road the following day. Right before crossing into Switzerland, I stopped at a self car wash-car wash number 3. During the drive I gassed up once in Switzerland and another time in Austria just before entering Germany. Gas is cheaper in Austria compared to Germany.
Again, I had fun going through the switchbacks of the Swiss alps. Of course I plotted out the longer route, ensuring extra time through the Alps. For lunch, we stopped at this little restaurant and hotel called Albergo Corona in the very small town of Vicosoprano in Switzerland. It was somewhat late for lunch, and nobody was in this restaurant, but the lady welcomed us, opened the restaurant, and took our orders. We were surprised at how good the food was and how friendly the service was. If by chance, you are in this small town, this place is great. They also accepted our euros, despite the national currency being the Swiss franc.
After a day of driving, we made it to Hotel Hirsch. We found the hotel rooms to be clean, but very basic. The reviews of the hotel on TripAdvisor made it seem much more luxurious than we found it to be. We also booked one of their higher end rooms, so I wonder what the more basic rooms were like. My wife complained that the hotel had a towel warmer, but didn't provide shampoo. We ended up having dinner at the hotel as it was more convenient. The food was ok and the soup was bit too salty. They also might have been having an off night, as it took them forever to bring out our dessert at the end of our meal.
Day 12-Romantic Road
Breakfast at Hotel Hirsch
Breakfast was again included in our hotel room rate. It was very basic and didn't have much hot food selection. It was pretty much all cold cuts, cheese, and bread.
Our first stop along the Romantic Road was Neuschwanstein Castle. My wife reserved our tickets for the English tour weeks before we actually left for Europe. The tickets for the tour were almost 20 euros/person, although we did end up getting a discount of 1 euro/ticket from our hotel. However, the tour of the inside of the castle lasted less than one hour. Because the castle was never completed by King Ludwig II, there isn't much to see inside. There are some amazing hand crafted wood pieces and beautiful paintings. This ended up being our favorite castle that we visited but my wife and I debated whether or not we would recommend that people tour the inside.
The outside of the castle, however, is beautiful. We would definitely recommend the hike to Marienburg, which is a bridge, where one has the best view of the castle. We got some amazing photos here. On the way to Marienburg, there is also a spot where you can take pictures of the older castle, Hohenschwangau.
We literally stopped her for less than 10 minutes as we didn't have much time. The church is much prettier on the inside, that it is on the outside. I was able to take a few pictures inside. If you don't have much time and aren't into churches, you can skip this one.
Landsberg a Lech
This was our third stop along the Romantic Road. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant called il Lago Digarda. There were no English menus, but our waitress was really nice and helped us figure out what we wanted to order. The food was great and she then gave us directions on how to walk to the prison, where Hitler was once incarcerated in 1924.
The prison is hard to find via driving and much easier to find on foot. However, because the prison is still in use today, they do not allow photos. It was a cool spot to see, but not a must see.
This is one of the oldest projects in the world and is still in use today. There were quite a few tour buses at the front, but we didn't really have much time to go in. Plus, I didn't want to pay 4 euros/person to go inside the projects. We took a couple of photos in front of the Fuggerie and headed off to our next stop.
This was a pretty cool spot to stop along the Romantic Road. Parking here was not easy, though. We parked and went to visit the tower called Daniel, which is part of St George's church. It was a few euros/person to get in and over 300 very steep steps to get to the top of the tower. The climb was somewhat tiring, but what a view from the top. The city of Nordlingen is a perfectly round circle and the view we had from the top of Daniel tower is supposed to be similar to the final shot in the old version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Apparently, that last shot was filmed in Nordlingen.
We left Nordlingen and wanted to check into our hotel before heading to Rothenberg. There was a section of the drive where we drove through the country side. Most of it had no speed limit, with what seemed to be endless miles of rolling hills, and miles of continuous S turns. It was such a picturesque drive and I had tons of fun. Unfortunately my Contour action camera was temporarily down. After the road mellowed out a bit I realized I could try and capture part of the drive with my DSLR. At this point the road wasn't as winding anymore.
Rothenberg was our last stop for the day along the Romantic Road. We got there just in time to take the Night Watchman tour, which lasts an hour. We were only there for the first 30 minutes, as we were hungry and the tour seemed to be moving slow. The tour was interesting though, and we probably could have stayed through the entire thing. If you are not into medieval history though, you will not enjoy the tour.
We ended up having a great dinner at this restaurant called Alter Keller. It was one of the better German foods we had during the trip. Service was great and we would recommend this restaurant as well. The owner came by and is a big fan of BMW. He saw that we were paying with our BMW card, and noted he had a BMW too. Later, he brought his phone over showing us pictures of his 3 series touring, and photos he had taken at BMW Welt/the museum.
We were also in Rothenberg during a holiday weekend, so there were a lot of people dressed up in traditional costumes. There was a group of young children dressed up who came up to us yelling, "photo, photo, photo!" I figured they were excited to be in their costumes and wanted a tourist to take a picture of them. Immediately afterwards, they each extended their hands for money. I was surprised but started handing out euro coins. Almost immediately afterwards, a lady, who I am assuming was some sort of parental figure to the kids, came over to yell at the kids, collected the coins I had given them, and gave them back to me. My wife and I found this to be extremely entertaining. I actually told the lady that the kids could keep the coins, but she insisted I take them back.
Castle Colmberg Hotel
My wife really wanted to stay in a castle during our Europe trip. We did some research and found the Colmberg Hotel. It is about a 20 minute drive away from Rothenberg and is pretty far off the beaten path. If you don't have a car, this hotel is probably pretty tough to get to. The hotel was quite pretty from the outside and the room was quite nice. We both thought it was pretty cool to stay in a castle, that was built around the year 1000 AD. In the late 1900s, the owners converted it to a hotel. The only downside to this place is that there is no elevator. We stayed on the 4th floor, which meant I had to carry our luggage up 4.5 flights of stairs. Also, the front desk is not open 24 hours a day so you must check in by 8:30pm. After 10pm, the exterior lights of the castle turn off. I happened to be grabbing something from the car, and it was a little scary walking around a deserted castle in the dark. Once inside, all the lights were off as well except for a few small night lights here and there. Other than that, we would recommend this hotel.
Day 13-Romantic Road continued
Breakfast at Castle Colmberg Hotel
Breakfast was also included in our room rate. We were getting somewhat tired of European breakfasts though as they really don't believe in hot food. It was more cold cuts, cheese, and bread. Although, this hotel did have those soft boiled eggs we like. After breakfast we walked around the castle.
Rothenberg-Walk the Wall
Rothenberg is one of the few medieval cities, where part of wall surrounding the city is still up. We decided to walk the wall, which took us less than an hour and was pretty cool to not only see the city, but get a perspective of how they protected the city during the medieval era.
My wife then wanted to buy some Christmas ornaments, as the idea of the Christmas tree was invented in Germany and Rothenberg is famous for its Christmas shops. However, it was a German religious holiday, called fire tag, so all of the stores were closed. I ended up asking around and figured out that the only way for my wife to buy ornaments was to pay for admission at the Christmas museum and then go to the gift shop. This satisfied her and we are now the proud owners of a very expensive Christmas ornament from Rothenberg.
A friend had recommended we stop here, we got there and realized it was a very small basic church and cemetery. We were probably here for about 10 minutes and then left for Wurzburg.
Once we arrived in Wurzburg, we were quite hungry and tired of German food. We found a pretty good Italian restaurant called Le Candele, where we were able to grab a quick bite and then headed off to see the sites. We realized immediately that Wurzburg was probably going to be the largest city we visited along the Romantic Road.
We then walked on over to the Wurzburg Residenz and took some photos from the outside. We had already toured in the Residenz in Munich and were not in the mood to tour another one. The Wurzburg Residenz was quite pretty from the outside.
Then we visited was St. Kilian's Cathedral. It was very large and very pretty and it seemed to accommodate all faiths. We hadn't really explored a cathedral since we had been in Europe as we aren't really religious, but enjoyed walking through this one.
We enjoyed walking around the town and ended up on a bridge where many people were drinking and socializing, probably due to the holiday.
We then decided to take the car and drive to the other side of Wurzburg, where the Marienburg Fortress was located. The fortress was very large and provided great views of the city. It did require a lot of walking. The fortress pretty much looms over the city and is so large, that we thought that anyone would be crazy to try and attack the city.
25Hours Hotel Levi's
From Wurzburg, we drove to Frankfurt to our hotel. We chose the 25Hours Levi's hotel for several reasons:
1. Parking was available for 20 euros/night
2. It has a super convenient location with the main public transportation station right across the street.
3. It was very reasonably priced compared to some other hotels we had researched in Frankfurt.
The rooms were very clean and unique looking. However, we did find them to be a bit small. We had dinner at the hotel's restaurant called Chez Ima, which was very delicious. The highlight of our meal were probably the lamb chops. Chez Ima seems to be a really popular dining place for locals. It was packed every night, and one of the nights they had a live band playing.
Some people online found this hotel to be too close to the red light district, although we didn't mind. We did see a fight break out during the day, people who were high as a kite at night, and a group of people getting ready to get high with one person using a knife to cut up the drugs. Again, this hotel is not a luxury hotel, but we found it quite good and very convenient. We would recommend this hotel to tourists looking for the same things we were.
Driving around Frankfurt is also not easy as the streets are not labeled well and parking is very challenging.
Day 14: Exploring Frankfurt
BMW Frankfurt Dealership
At this point, I had driven over 1100 miles and it was time for the break in service. I had done the research before and knew that BMW North America would reimburse me for this service. I had tried to make an appointment at the dealership for service while I was still in Munich, but they told me they were completely booked and suggested I try showing up early with my car and they would try getting me in. I arrived right when service opened and they said that there was no way that they would get me in. However, once I explained that I had an M3 that needed break-in service and that I really wanted to drive it on the Nurburgring the following day, they contacted their service advisor and suddenly were able to fit me in. I later found out that this was not the original Frankfurt dealership that I had planned to go to and was actually a dealership located at the outskirts of town. That's probably why the lady looked at me funny initially and asked who I had spoken to over the phone(she told me they didn't have any guys that answers the phone at this dealership, so I must have contacted a different one). I also got very lucky with the break-in service because I met a guy at the Nurburgring the following day, who went to the same dealership for break-in service for his M3, and they turned him away even though he had an appointment.
While I took my car to the dealership, my wife went McDonalds to buy breakfast and we met up at the Dialog museum. The public transportation system in Frankfurt is slightly more complicated than the system in Munich and it took us a bit longer to figure it out. However, it is based on the same premise that you buy a unlimited day pass and it is good for up to 5 people-very affordable.
The Dialog Museum was pretty interesting although it is quite expensive for an hour. We went in and had a guided tour. Basically, for an hour, your are in complete darkness and led by a blind guide. It really makes you appreciate your ability to see as it is not easy to get around. I do not want to go into details of the tour as I think it will ruin the experience for others. All I can say is that this is a good museum for all ages and I would recommend it.
After the Dialog Museum, we took the subway towards downtown Frankfurt and walked around. There were tons of museums in Frankfurt, but other than that, there really isn't much to see. It's basically like a New York City with less to do. If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn't have spent an entire day in Frankfurt. We would have stayed in Frankfurt and driven out to explore areas outside of the city. Rather than spending an entire day exploring the city, we should have just gone to the Dialog Museum, and then driven out to see Baden Baden. Majority of what we saw on our own was part of the Walking Tour.
Lunch at Seoul
We were really in the mood for something not German, so we decided to try this Korean place in downtown Frankfurt. Again, ordering was a challenge as the menu wasn't in English but the waiter was helpful. However, the food was definitely not traditional Korean, despite the restaurant being run by Koreans. We were quite disappointed and wouldn't recommend this place to anyone.
Frankfurt Walking Tour
We thought that a guided tour would be a great way to see the city. However, because the tour is conducted in two languages, the pace of the tour is very slow. There is some good information, but we found the tour to be somewhat boring during the German speaking portion. It would have been better if they just conducted the tour in English.
The cool part of the tour is that you end at the top of the Main Tower and the entrance to the top is included in the price of the tour. There is a great view of the city from the top and is a place worth visiting if you are in Frankfurt, but I would recommend going there on your own without the tour.
After the walking tour, we went back to the BMW dealership to pick up my car and then headed to have dinner at the wine festival. We got pretty lucky as the wine festival went from 5/1 to 5/12, so we were there just in time to catch the tail end. This was actually quite fun. It was an outdoor event with tons of wine, beer and food booths and music playing. We were able to drink some great fruit wine and try some amazing German dishes. There was also a great crepe stand we stopped at for dessert.
We had heard that the Frankfurt nightlife was worth checking out but we were so exhausted at the end of each day that we never had the energy to stay up that late. We did walk around the area for bit after dinner. The Wine Festival was close to the Zeilgalerie(huge mall). The promenade was packed with all sorts of people.
Day 15-Nurburgring Nordschleife, The Green Hell!!!!!
Finally, the day I had been waiting for. We grabbed a quick breakfast at McDonald's (it was actually really fancy, quite large and a separate McCafe section) and then drove for almost two hours to get to the Nurburgring. It was like going to adult Disneyland for me. The anticipation was killing me. I've known about the Ring for many years and have watched videos and read articles about it. I knew I wanted to drive it one day, but by no means am a like some of the die hard Nurburgring fans, who make pilgrimages to the Ring or who fly to Europe just to go to the ring yearly. For me, going to drive the Ring was a great byproduct of doing ED. I thought it would be cool to drive the car where it was tested and I'd get to check off an item on my bucket list.
After my ED was confirmed, I started doing research on available public days, what I should know about the Ring, and how to prepare to drive it.
This a great site: http://www.heiser.net/documents/nurburgring/
The Ring is also discussed on many forums with tips.
To prepare, I watched a lot of videos, read up on other people's experiences, and played Gran Turismo to try and memorize the track. Unfortunately, I didn't log in as much time as I wanted on Gran Turismo as I only got about 8 hours of seat time.
I prepped myself mentally by not setting a time goal and not caring if I was the slowest on the track and everyone was passing me. I chose to not have an ego and think of myself as being a great driver. I decided to just to drive the Ring at a pace I was comfortable, as it was my first time. With only 2 track days under my belt and no AutoX experience and no professional driver training, I knew I shouldn't be driving like a veteran race car driver especially on the Ring.
As I drove and I got closer to the Ring, I saw numerous spots where people were spectating. I couldn't contain myself anymore and needed to get a first hand look at the Ring. I got out of the car while it was raining, climbed up some scaffolding, and watched the cars go by for a few minutes.
I then continued driving and looked for the entrance to the course and ended up at the visitor center. This was pretty cool to see, but I had wanted to get to Nordschleife ASAP. After a little drive, I arrived at the paddock. The feeling when you pull up in there is unbelievable. There are so many cars and enthusiasts--you truly understand why it's considered a mecca for gearheads.
After parking, I found out the track was closed due to an accident. I took this time to walk around the paddock and explore the area. Then I figured out the different packages being sold to drive on the Ring. I opted for the four lap package. I knew one lap wouldn't be enough, but nine laps may have been a bit much for one day.
Shortly after buying my four lap pass, the track reopened. I pulled up to do my first lap. I drove it at about 4/10ths. I wanted to get familiar with the track get a feel for how other drivers responded/did their passing. The course keeps you on your toes. There are lots of turns, and you need to be alert for the blind turns and crests. I only passed cars that were going really slow and signaled right acknowledging me to pass them. After one lap, I exited and my adrenaline was pumping. I had a blast and was ready for more.
Lunch at Devil's Diner
The track ended up being closed again right around lunch time(for over an hour due to an accident), so I decided to take a break and grab some lunch. Basically, this is the only restaurant along the track so everyone eats here and the menu is pretty basic. It's basically a burger and fries place, and like most other places in Europe, they charge for condiments. Their portions were quite large though and the food was good. It was tough to get a seat here though as they were really busy.
They do not take cash or credit card though as payment. Instead, you have to prepay on a Devil's Diner card before you enter the restaurant, and the Devil's Diner card is the only form of tender the restaurant accepts. After you are done, any left over money gets refunded to you at the counter where you originally picked up the prepaid card.
After lunch the track re-opened and just about everyone rushed back on the track all at once. The rain was coming down pretty hard and the track was packed, so I decided to wait about 15 minutes so the traffic on the course could dissipate a little.
Since it was raining, I played it safe and didn't really push the car. I had seen enough crashes on YouTube. Being a little more familiar with the track I drove a little faster then my first lap, but held back because of the rain, driving at between 4.5-5/10ths. However to my surprise, after a couple of minutes, I started to pass people. I doubted myself for a bit. I wondered why most of the cars were going so slow. Did they know something I didn't? They must have more experience with the course than I do... Regardless I just went my own pace and if I felt comfortable passing, I did. But just as before, I generally waited for acknowledgement before passing or at least passed at an area where I had enough room to avoid a collision. It's a good thing I did, because by doing so I avoided a few accident throughout the day. Some people were not aware of their surroundings, and as I started my pass being right next to their fender, they would suddenly cut into my driving line.
After a full lap in the rain and not pushing the car that hard, I decided to do a second lap without exiting for a cool down. The rain had let up a bit and this being my 3rd lap now, I was a little bit more comfortable with the track. I drove it at about a 6/10ths. The 3rd lap was definitely faster than the previous two. I was still playing it safe though and mainly focusing on finding the right gears and learning the lines. Afterwards, I exited for a cool down.
About 20 minutes later I went back for my 4th and final lap. This was by far the fastest of the day according to my butt dyno(and later confirmed via video). Once again the goal was to go my own pace and learn the course. I drove this lap at about a 7/10ths. Even though the rain had basically stopped, the majority of the course was still wet. I did slightly kick out the rear once or twice. After getting home, I saw some YouTube videos of spin outs and crashes the same day I was there. They occurred in the rain and also in the condition I just mentioned. The Green Hell will bite back. Towards the end of the lap I had to slow down for a safety car, then a flatbed tow truck--yet another reminder how many accidents happen here. I do wish I would have gotten a chance to drive a dry lap after getting more familiar with the track.
I had a blast and wished I had more time to spend at the Ring. I will definitely be going back again one day. To drive it at full speed, you should have the course memorized. I however did not spend enough time memorizing it so was not able to safely drive faster.
I guess I still had a need for speed after leaving. On the Autobahn headed back to Frankfurt, I decided to see if the top speed of my car was limited to 155mph. I waited for a long straight stretch with minimal cars. I managed to hit right around 170mph before having to slow down for a speed enforced zone. The car was still pulling too before I had to slow down!
Dinner at Im Herzen Afrika's
This place had great decorations and some unique seating arrangements. We didn't have a reservation so we sat at a regular table, but there were some cool beds to sit in as you eat your dinner. The decorations really made you feel like you were in Africa.
The service and prices were great. The food was decent, but I think we decided we weren't super into African food. We ordered the sampler platter and ate with our hands and had a good time. We were glad we came to try this place as it was a great experience, but don't think we would come back again as the food wasn't amazing!
Day 16: Rhine
Breakfast at Park Hotel Rudesheim
When we were in downtown Frankfurt a couple of days before, we bought these combo tickets for a tour of the Rhine. We got a great deal as the guy sold us train tickets to get to the Rhine from Frankfurt and tickets to a boat on the Rhine, where we could hop on and hop off.
It took us about an hour to get to the Rhine River area by train. We left at around 6 am so once we got to the Rhine, we were hungry for breakfast. Not a lot of restaurants were even open so we ended up eating a typical European breakfast buffet at a hotel. It was decent and similar to all of the other breakfast buffets we were used to eating.
Rhine River tour
The Rhine River boat tour is a pretty cool way to see the main part of the Rhine River in one day. There isn't enough time to stop at every stop to get off and look around but most of the scenery can be seen from the boat. It was pretty relaxing and the boats were nice and you were able to order food and drinks. You really don't even have to get off of the boat if you don't want to. There is also a per-recording on the boat to describe each of the stops you pass by in all different languages and does a nice job of giving you some history.
We were fascinated by one of the stops called Assmannshausen. We didn't have time to stop there but were amused by the name. I know, we were somewhat immature, but we found it funny.
We ended up getting off at St. Goarshausen and walked around a bit. One of the main attractions there is the Loreley statue. It sits below the Loreley rock which marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea.
We were having a very nice walk until it started to pour out of nowhere. We basically got caught in the middle of a storm and rushed back to wait for our boat. Spring in Europe is tricky as it can be sunny and beautiful one minute and then be raining the next.
Lunch at Historische Weinwirtschaft
We decided to stop again at Oberwesel, as it has one of the largest vineyard areas and we thought it would be a great place to stop for lunch and wine. We knew we couldn't come to the Rhine and not try some of the wine. We loved this lunch spot. It looks like the owners converted their house into a restaurant--it was such a cute place. We also really enjoyed our German food and the wine was served chilled in a clay vase. This was great place to stop as the service was also very friendly. We would definitely recommend this place.
After lunch, we headed back onto the boat and didn't get off on any more spots. We just relaxed, enjoyed the scenery, and shared an ice cream for dessert. After getting off the boat we did a little souvenir shopping in Rudesheim while waiting for our train back to Frankfurt.
Dinner at Jade
After having German food for lunch, we were definitely craving something different and ended up at a Chinese restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. This place was seriously authentic as it was packed with all Asians, and ran by a very nice Chinese lady. We thought the food was great and ended up being a nice way to end our trip.
Day 17: Return home
Drive from Frankfurt to Munich
The drive from Frankfurt to Munich rained pretty much the whole time. The average speed of cars driving in the rain was about 100 mph. Some higher performance vehicles were traveling 130+mph. At one point I was traveling about 120-130 mph (the car was very stable and no hydroplaning the entire drive) when a police vehicle pulled up behind me. Naturally coming from the USA and not use to being able to drive this fast, let alone in the rain, I thought I was done for. I slowed down and switched one lane to the right. Immediately the police car sped past me, going 130+ mph. I really wanted to try and break my previous top speed record of 170mph but felt it was unsafe to do in the rain.
BMW Drop off
My drop off point was at the Munich airport at Log In Out. The location is perfect since it is literally at the airport. The car is parked outside the building, after some paperwork you walk less then 3 minutes to the terminal. The car needs to be dropped of with nothing in the car (including removing the emergency triangle and first aid kit) and washed of road debris in order to clear US Customs. If the car has been driven in dirt they ask that you wash the wheel wells. I washed my car just down the street from the airport at a gas, auto car wash, self car wash station. The gas station is pretty much part of the airport loop.
While there, in about one hour, I saw about 10 Audi R8s going through the auto wash and gassing up. After washing the car I ate lunch at the gas station. European gas stations actually serve decent food.
The wait for redelivery was torture. I waited a couple days short of 11 weeks to get my car back. For some reason it sat in customs for weeks. The car was unloaded on June 27th and I wasn't able to pick up my car from the dealership till July 26th. Originally I was going to have my car trucked back to AZ from Cali. After waiting for so long, I decided I didn't want to wait longer to be reunited. On July 25th I booked a flight for the next morning. I arrived just as the dealership was opening. Then I ran some errands around LA and had lunch with friends. Afterwards I prepped the car with temporary paint protection for the 500+ mile drive home.
Although the wait was longer then average, I would do ED again. It's a great experience.
-Try to map out your drives before your trip if possible. The navigation in our car was helpful, but not all of the words in English/German translate like you would expect them to, making places and streets hard to find in the navi.