A weekend in Prague with Michigan Matt

Our pal Matt from Michigan came to visit the same week our pals Sara and Luke departed Regensburg for the next legs of their European Adventure. Maybe it was the stress from their travel bleeding over onto his trip, or just having two groups of houseguests in quick succession, but we goofed his arrival date at the Munich Airport. Sarah went down a day early to pick him up — and I’m sorry to say, I think I am culprit here, since my calendar entry for his arrival was on the wrong date and all the rest of the information we had was correct.

Well, he arrived with none of the stress that Sara and Luke had to go through, but as a result of my miscalculation, he got out of a plane, into a bus (to Freising), into a train (to Regensburg), into our apartment, into a bus (to Hertz), into a rental car to Prague. Poor guy — crammed into all those vehicles (he is a tall one, that Matt).

The drive to Prague from Regensburg would have been totally easy and relaxed but for the torrential rain and plentiful one- and two-car accidents we saw lining both sides of the highway. That inspired slow and careful driving on my part. Parking was also slow and careful — I enjoy the occasional highway or back country road trip, but I abhor city driving. But we parked and checked in at our beautiful rental apartment and felt a lot better about all of that after a dark Kozel.

We got as much outdoor stuff in as we could on Saturday, knowing that the rain would catch up with us again on Sunday. So Saturday yielded us all these glorious outdoor pictures, and Sunday was devoted to the Cathedral and the museum complex of Prague castle.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day 5 — Lunch with Monks, Then Home to Regensburg


View Larger Map

We got up on time at the Hotel Alte Post in Oberammergau and the fog coming out of the mountains was too much for me to resist.
PA141133 PA141140 PA141143

After driving straight through downtown Munich — isn’t there a better way to do this!? — we arrived at Weltenburg near Kelheim about two hours later. It was time for some lunch and a little exercise, hiking up the hill to the Roman fortress ruins and checking out the chapel at the monastery.

PA141146

PA141148

And thus ended our road trip around Southern Germany.

PA141152

Southern Germany Sampler: Day Four — Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Zugspitze & Oberammergau


View Larger Map

The trip from Ulm to our next stop unexpectedly took us through Austria. This can be a hazard if you’re relying on your GPS (“Navi“) too much and not really paying attention to the entire route. We pulled into a gas station and coughed up the 7.90€ for the Vignette, but in hindsight, I don’t think that was really necessary. Of course, the Austrian highway administration doesn’t make this abundantly clear; it’s in their interest that you fork it over on the chance that you might need to use one of their federal roads.

PA131128But anyway, the ride through some small Austrian towns on our way back into Germany at Garmisch-Partenkirchen was a nice one: lots of curves along valleys and streams through pastures and hillsides. We had a good time keeping an eye on the altimeter (oddly the same effect upon hitting +1000m as -15m or so in the Netherlands). By the time we arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the weather had turned — thick, soupy fog enveloped everything. But fortunately, that was not the case at the summit. PA131114In fact, breaking through the cloud layer on the way up noticeably lightened the mood in the cogwheel train. It got even better as we looked out over Germany’s Highest Biergarten — sure didn’t look that way during our last visit.

Visibility in September 2004:
20041001 010.jpg

Visibility in October 2010:
PA131122

Heading back down into the cold, gray fog didn’t dampen our spirits. Something stoopit did, though.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day Three — Burg Hohenzollern


View Larger Map

Burg_Hohenzollern_250x167.jpgWe got moving the next after waddling back from all that pork and potatoes and choucroute to our tiny hotel rooms. Check-out was pretty easy and over night parking at the parking garage across the street from the Hotel Aux Trois Roses was surprisingly reasonable — just 7€. After a dip into France, we arrived in Prussia.

Wait, what?

See that little red piece of of irritation there? That’s part of Prussia, hanging out all by its lonesome.

200px-Map-Prussia-Hohenzollern.pngPA121103This is the ancestral seat of the House of Hohenzollern, the family which rose to the power as the kings “in” and “of” Prussia, and became Emperors of Germany. Then a whole bunch of bad stuff happened, which you know about. But I remember visiting this castle, which is still privately owned to this day, in 1989 or ’90 and thinking “wait…we’re in southwest Germany. How is this place Prussian?” When you take the tour, donning the provided felt slippers over your street shoes to protect the flooring, the tour guide explains how the family grew and spread and rose to power.

That night we stayed in Ulm, really only because it’s about the half-way point between the Burg and our next stop at the very top and bottom of Germany. But Sarah found us a really great hotel/restaurant there through booking.com, which made it all the more worthwhile.

Hôtel Aux Trois Roses

The Joint

7 Rue De Zurich
67000 Strasbourg
France

http://www.hotel3roses-strasbourg.com/

The location of this hotel is pretty great – right across one of the myriad bridges leading into the heart of the old town. The gentleman at reception was very patient with our questions and even let us check in early, as our rooms were already prepared. I find in French city hotels, the rooms tend to be very small, and Trois Roses lived up to my expectation. Our double room was dominated by the double bed. Affixed the wall at the foot of the bed was a set of two large shelves – one high for the TV and one low for a small suitcase. Given the tightness of the room, the suitcase shelf was an absolute necessity. My brother’s single room down the hall was similarly cramped. When I walked in, he said “It feels like an airplane.” He wasn’t wrong. Here’s the kicker – the bathrooms were of normal size!

The stay was comfortable enough and the breakfast and parking were NOT included in the room rate (69€ for the double, 51€ for the single). Which was fine – what fun is it to stay in France and not go croissant hunting? I would consider staying there again if we go back to Strasbourg due to the price – but a little more elbow room might be worth a little more cash.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day Two — Strasbourg


View Larger Map

We got started pretty early after the Winzerfest in Neustadt/Weinstraße. We checked out of the Deutscher Kaiser after a nice breakfast spread and drove over to France. It’s really not that far to the border — it only took about 2 hours (there were a few traffic issues; it should have taken about ninety minutes). Our GPS was pretty reliable, but we still drove past the hotel at least one time — maybe twice — on our “final approach.” Strasbourg is historically contentious; sometimes it’s German, sometimes it’s French. Sure seems French to me with regard to the traffic patterns and street signs. We sort of did the “Look kids, it’s Big Ben” drive-by thing while zeroing in on our hotel.

PA111050We had great luck with the weather in Strasbourg, too &mdash, that part didn’t change with the border-crossing. We dropped off our bags into our rooms (nice of them to let us check in early) and hit the pavement on foot for the obligatory Croque-monsieur lunch, splitting a pitcher of blonde beer between me and Colin as well (all remaining travel for that day was to be done on foot). Strasbourg makes a very pretty impression, with its tree-lined canals and bridges, and sorta-German Fachwerk architecture. It also has the sleekest-looking trams I’ve ever seen.

Click a picture in the flashy thing below to embiggen it, or get your slideshow on with it too, if you like.

Cathedral - PA111067We made an obligatory Cathedral visit and I got some shots of the stained glass that weren’t too bad. But this wasn’t the only impressive church in town: St. Paul’s first caught our attention, because it was visible from our hotel’s street. We would have gone in, but it was under massive construction.

All this tromping around in German France (or was it French Germany?) made us work up an appétit, so we consulted our trusty Frommer’s France book (2005 edition, but this place obviously doesn’t change so fast), and came up with L’Ancienne Douane for dinner. It was a huge restaurant with plenty of capacity, which made me wary, since it was obviously geared toward groups of tourist, but it turned out to not suck completely. We tried to get all fancy on the appetizer and Colin really got more than he bargained for in trying to get something specifc to the region without renouncing his avoidance of choucroute (Sauerkraut)…but that’s a post for another day. Suffice it to say that both and quality and quantity demands were more than exceeded.

I think living and working here, perhaps in some EU capacity, would be nice.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day One — Heidelberg and Neustadt/Weinstraße

It’s been a while since we’ve had a new post here on Ye Olde Regensblogge, but that’s not without a good reason. Sarah’s brother Colin came to visit for over a week and we’ve been busy giving him the Southern Germany Sampler. Sarah planned us a route and picked great places to see / stop / eat / sleep along the way, with never more than a few hours in the car at a stretch.

Here’s the route, roughly. We started in Regensburg and made our way counter-clockwise along the path below (more or less).

View Strasbourg and back in a larger map

Tiefburg PA100944The first leg was from Regensburg to Heidelberg to visit our pals behind the heidelbergerin blog and get their expert advice on Weinfests in their area — they accompanied us to the big party in Neustadt an der Weinstraße. But first we had to get to our hotel in Heidelberg. We stayed in the Handschuhsheim district of Heidelberg at the Deutscher Kaiser. Note: this image is not of our hotel; it’s a neat-looking medieval castley dwelling thing called the Tiefburg) We were impressed by the friendly and helpful innkeeper (she seemed to be a one-woman show on the day shift at least). The room we rented — a triple — was generous in size and well-equipped. It could have used a touch-up job of paint in a few areas, but for 129€ for three people and a nice breakfast the next morning, I really wouldn’t complain.

We snagged a tram from the Handschuhsheim neighborhood to the Heidelberg Hbf, scooped up the Heidelberger along the way, and tried to haggle with the DB people at the Hbf about an upgrade on our group ticket. No dice. But it still was a pretty good deal to get to Neustadt an der Weinstraße, about an hour away via S-bahn. When we got there, the parade was already in full swing, and it kept going strong until a good three hours later. Much wine was sampled, along with some cheese, and the requisite Fest Food: grilled stuff. Nice way to spend an afternoon with friends.

Croatian Roadtrip — Last Leg: Udine, Italy

We were sad to depart Rovinj. All the advice and suggestions of our innkeeper hosts at Casa Garzotto were dead-on accurate, and we were really sorry to have to depart for Udine, Italy. It seemed like Croatia was also trying to keep us there — there was a pretty annoying traffic jam right on the border into Slovenia.

The border crossing into Slovenia –back into the EU — was merely a smile and a wave on through. It was just a few hours to our last overnight venue on this trip: Hotel Friuli, which seemed incredibly looming and nearly empty, after having stayed at the small hotels in Zagreb and Rovinj and the large, but full, Habsburg Getaway Joint in Opatija.

P6071633P6071639P6071641P6071635

Udine looked like a good place to go walk around and have a drink. So we did. I tried something new: an Aperol sour. I liked it so much that a bottle of it made its way home with us (more on that later). For dinner, S&J whipped out their really nifty regional Italian cuisine reference book and I think everyone managed to try something new. Nice food, reasonably priced, in a very casual atmosphere on the edge of the Udine Altstadt. Think Flingers or Tchotchke’s, but without all the flair.

The next day — our last — we drove to a nearby town for lunch, but couldn’t properly find our way out of Udine (blame the driver, the GPS, and Italian infrastructure in equal parts), couldn’t find the recommended restaurant once we got there, and really couldn’t see the point of sticking around there once we gave up looking for it. So we just came back to Udine, sought out lunch there (nice pizzas), took a few pictures, and then did the most important part of the Italian leg of the trip: the supermarket visit. We finally put that cooler to use with meat and cheese transportation home to Germany: some wonderful truffle salami and a nine-pound wedge of Grana Padano. OK, not really nine pounds, but at those prices, we could have bought that much. We also stocked up on olive oil (three varieties) and wine (one red, one white) and a nice big bottle of Aperol. Jul and Scott also made use of their cooler and it became clear that our rental car upgrade from Focus-class wagon to whatever class the Mazda 5, with its ample trunk room and dual sliding doors, was a good move. And that we seemed to have a considerable amount of luggage with us.

The ride home was pretty uneventful. Thanks to the speed limitless stretches of Autobahn, we dropped J&S off, jetted home to Regensburg, unloaded the car, gassed it up, and dropped it off, precisely one minute before it was due.

Part 3 — from Opatija to Pula to Rovinj

Just when the weather was starting to appeal to us in Opatija, it was time to pull up stakes from the Imperial Hotel and head out on the road again. We had a lunch reservation in Pula and of course wanted to spend time in the nice weather (despite the effective A/C in the rental car).


Größere Kartenansicht

But try as we might, we couldn’t get onto the highway in Opatija. I suspect this was a combination of several factors:

  • Roads in Opatija were all in good shape — even up in the hilly residential areas — so they might have been newer than our GPS. The road we were trying to get on might not have been a limited-access highway at that point along the coast in the recent past.
  • It was giving us instructions like “turn right in 20 meters” at places where there were 2 or 3 different possible right turns. As a result, there was a lot of back-tracking and hanging of u-turns.
  • I tended to follow the GPS’ instructions more than the local signage, based on successes thus far, and this proved to be unreliable for getting out of Opatija, at least.

So we eventually gave up and just looked for signs pointing to Pula and ended up taking the long(er) way there along the coast. It was a nice drive up and down the hills along the shore.

We got to Pula and drove past the place for lunch. We still managed to get there a little bit ahead of our reservation, but therefore didn’t have time for much more than a stroll around the marina area. Lunch turned out to be a glorious four-hour affair, with a combination of prix-fixe menus for the omnivores and on-the-fly, yet perfectly coordinated à la carte options for those in our party with more detailed requirements. The service and presentation were both impeccable. I only had one glass of a local prosecco, right at the start as an aperitif, being the driver, but I wish I’d had more — the local wines were great. There was a big emphasis on wild asparagus in all the courses — in a risotto; in a little scrambled eggs tasting dish; in a cool, spreadable paste. Really yummy stuff in terms of flavor and texture. Desserts were equally exciting: red wine ice cream with fig cream (Sarah), a polenta/honey/cream parfait (Scott and I), fennel ice cream with a chocolate soufflé (Jul…and that would have been my second choice). This meal was certainly an experience all its own.

P6061607Eventually we got to Rovinj without incident and were a little confused by the gates to the old town and the parking lots just outside it. Our GPS led us pretty much right to the Casa Garzotto, but for the last few meters where the names of the streets became unclear. We checked in there, got the keys to the apartment around the corner we’d rented and got moving, exploring the old town and the seaside at dusk. I was squirrelly about handing over the key to the rental car, so the hotel’s porter Steve (that’s how he introduced himself) could move it to a parking spot elsewhere in Rovinj — but in the end, I found out it didn’t matter much because they didn’t have a reserved parking spot available for our car anyway (they expected their parking connection would find one eventually, but I guess he never did). So we left it in the public lot overnight and Casa Garzotto picked up the tab the next day when we were ready to depart Rovinj. Steve and I guided the car through the city gates into the old town, and then he expertly loaded our stuff back in — much better than we ourselves had done — and shepherded us back out of the old town via his Razor.

Suffice it to say that Rovinj has just about all the charm and friendliness you could imagine, whether marveling at the ancient apartment buildings, sharing a bottle of wine on the rocks with friends (and fairly bold fiddler crabs) as the sun goes down, taking a mid-morning coffee break on a veranda over the clear blue harbor and under the clear blue sky, or strolling the edge of the old town in search of lunch or gelato.

P6051579 P6051590 P6051589 P6061619 P6061621 P6061608

Next stop on the Croatian road trip: Opatija

After dodging the rain in Zagreb, we got back in our rental car, fired up the satnav thing (which had served us pretty well on the way to the Hague and back), and set off for Opatija.


View Larger Map

P6051571We were working on kind of a last-minute schedule, so the selection of available hotels/apartments was limited. Sarah found us two rooms for two nights at the Hotel Imperial, on the main drag in Opatija, Maršala Tita, just across the street from the Adriatic. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Then we learned from some tour-guide materials at the local tourist office (or perhaps it was Scott’s own independent research?) that it really was from the Austro-Hungarian Empire area — and it seemed like the whole area was set up as a resort complex and infrastructure supporting it for Austrian nobility. No real surprise then, that Croatia became the resort of choice for communist leaders after World War II. Aside from the WLAN in the lobby area, it appeared to be in those conditions still (though we could see it would take a lot of money, but it would be a glorious hotel if someone were to make the investment to restore and modernize it). I wonder if shower curtains were a symbol of bourgeois capitalist scum? Neither the Zurikas’ room nor ours were equipped with them, though there were rings and hooks and things.

P6041562_tweaked_exposureWeather still wasn’t great here (until our last evening and morning there, on which these pictures were taken), but we did at least manage to avoid the rain occasionally. We got our amusement from a terribly bad restaurant we considered, and then rejected, after discarding a suggestion Sarah or Jul or someone had found online, and then, in the end, decided to patronize after all — which was a mistake. (You can see I was pretty uninvolved with the planning — I just did the driving). Fortunately, after that we learned our lesson and paid more attention to the recommendations and had much better luck, especially once we got to Rovinj.

P6041519P6041540P6041523

We took a 10km walk along the seaside partially in the rain. It’s paved the whole way. Maybe the on-again, off-again rain was a blessing, because I can see how that path would be glorious in good weather, and clogged with all kinds of tourists. Our destination on the walk was Lovran, and lunch at the Bellavista restaurant. I got about 500g of squid. At the bad restaurant the night before, I had already had fried calamari, so this time I tried it grilled. I didn’t do the math on that one; I should have figured that “grilled” meant “whole.” It was good, but there was an awful lot of it. And the flavor was nice, even if the texture was rubberier than deep-fried.

P6041532The little town of Lovran was cute and a fair indicator of what was awaiting us on the next leg of the trip in Rovinj.

Roman Virdi has some really nice shots of Opatija here, some of which must have come from our hotel as well.

Here’s the Opatija segment slideshow: