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.


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.


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:

Notes from a drive through Istria and Friuli — Part 1

Zagreb Bench DudesBeen kinda quiet around here, hmm? We’ve been busy. After work on Tuesday last week, I scooped up a rental car from near the office — upgraded from the Ford Focus class to the Mazda 5 class, which was a very good idea, as it turns out, since we made use of the extra luggage room and the dual sliding passenger doors were handy for tight parking — dashed home to pick up Sarah, and bopped down to Munich to crash out at Chez Along the way, we discovered that a small van-like vehicle such as that Mazda 5 is NOT suitable for one of those stacked parking spaces. Fortunately we figured that out before causing any damage to the car or their stacky thing. We got up early the next morning and got the show on the road to Zagreb.

Größere Kartenansicht

The drive down was rather uneventful, apart from the rain. We each got a passport stamp at the crossing from Slovenia into Croatia, so that was cool and finally arrived outside of downtown Zagreb at the spiffy Hotel Jarun. The receptionist there was quite friendly and helpful and pointed us in the right direction to the tram to get downtown, where we quickly appreciated the city’s charm.

Here are some notes I jotted at the time:

  • Lights on in the rain, else potential 150€ fine (tip from border dude between SLO and HR).
  • Steel-faced border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia. Not very friendly. Does that matter? Another stamp in the passports, at long as they’re still a candidate country.
  • About 7.25 kuna to the Euro at time of writing. Food seems cheaper (restaurant pricing) but retail clothing doesn’t (much) – at least based on window shopping.
  • One-way tram ride costs about a € for one zone. It’s a good 15-20 minute tram ride into downtown Zagreb from Jarun.
  • If you have a one-way paper ticket, look for the ticket-stamper machine in the front car of the tram. Seems most people travel on passes or other magnetic-read tickets.
  • Hotel Jarun is clean and new and well-equiped. Nice techy stuff like big TV and free WLAN (not that we used either much due to being exhausted upon arrival last night after dinner and exploring). Generous shower, decent breakfast offerings.
  • Old town seems cute, mix of old and well-maintained and obviously new-but-made-to-look-old or newly-restored buildings.
  • Don’t like not having a book; our rentention of basic phrases from a podcast J+S brought was miserable.

Here’s the Zagreb slide show:

Dutch Adventure

It’s been quiet around here for over ten days, but we’ve been busy exploring new places. Namely, the Netherlands. I’d been there with my host family more than a few weekends during my exchange year 1992-93, but this was my first trip since then and Sarah’s very first.

The itinerary in brief:

  1. Depart Regensburg via rental car, arrive Heidelberg ≤ 3 hours later, eat and sleep there, pick up pals
  2. P4021031Stroll around the Heidelberg castle grounds in anticipation of a long car trip
  3. P4031052 SDC10229Take every opportunity to marvel at Dutch language starting around Venlo
  4. Arrive in the Hague, mistake a random Dutch pedestrian for our rental apartment contact person, check in
  5. Seek out exotic cuisine thanks to Dutch colonialism, then crash out
  6. P4031058 P4031096Delve into Delft, get a good look at Gouda
  7. P4041102 P4041190Do the spring ritual thing on Easter Sunday at the Keukenhof gardens, get Pannekoeken by the sea in Noordwijk, look a big pile of Balkan meats right in the eye
  8. Drive down to Antwerpen for a local’s tour and perspective (thanks Marie and Neil!) and scrounge at the apartment that evening for dinner
  9. P4061206 P4061233Last chance before departure day: Kinderdijk windmill site, Rotterdam for lunch, Zoutelande for the evening coffee break, drive back to Hague before the grocery stores all close to stock up on Stroopwafels
  10. SDC10230Head back to Heidelberg (down the other side of the Rhine this time) with a lunch stop in Maastricht (check out that weird red tower!), drop off the Heidelbergers in the town named for them, return home to Regensburg, unload, tank up, drop off, walk home

It was a great trip. Here’s the route we took, more or less.

View Larger Map

Here are the slideshows:
Gouda & Delft:

Keukenhof flower gardens:

Kinderdijk Windmills:

the small town weekend edition

receiving lineSome people might have trouble believing it gets smaller than Regensburg, but Sarah and I confirmed this weekend once again that it sure can.

We had the honor and pleasure of attending our pals Jentry and Markus’ wedding again this year. I say “again” because last year we attended their Standesamtliche ceremony. That was nice, but little did we know that was just a cursory wedding. The “real” one was last night and it was a humdinger.

This is what we’d thought out for ourselves, geography-wise for the weekend (below). Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way, but all was not lost.

We got up really early, got our nice duds on, picked up our rental car and headed north to Hirschau. We got there about 2 hours too early, planning to walk around the town’s Herbstmarkt. About five minutes later, we were looking for some other way to kill the rest of our time. We ducked (out of the cold and) into the church to catch the last few notes of the music group’s rehearsal. I could tell right away that this was going to be quite a musically diverse weekend: it was “My Guy” — or rather “My God” as made famous by Sister Act.

The wedding itself was pretty straightforward, except for selections from Godspell and other various pop love songs I’d never heard at weddings in the U.S. (and the priest was looking pretty bemused at times during the musical numbers), but upon exiting the mass, we got a very different musical flavor.

That’s Markus’ band. They march in parades all over Germany. They were great.

After the wedding, we drove to the Kuhdorf* where the reception was being held. We, along with the other guests, got treated to some of this:

We were really impressed with that band. They’re called Tequila Sunrise and they’re based in Neunburg vorm Wald. They played for something like 12 hours — and they were continuously excellent in everything they did. Wedding reception classics like “Proud Mary” or traditional Bavarian folk music — they played it all, with lots of interaction and enthusiasm, including an hour’s worth of party games at a “secret” nearby bar where all the guests snuck off to with the bride (the famous Brautentführung — bridal kidnapping) . Each band member played at least two instruments and they switched off on lead vocals. Here’s what parts they seemed to be playing the most:

Rock Bayerisch
Keyboards Akkordeon
Guitar Saxhorn?
Bass Guitar Trompete
Saxophone Klarinette
Drums Mobile percussion device of some sort — a tambourine (beaten with a drumstick), jingle bells and a washboard rolled into one

Later on in the evening, Markus’ family and friends put on a dance show for the rest of us to enjoy:


Mix all that up with great food and friendly fellow guests and a comfortable (and cheap!) night’s stay with breakfast at the inn (attached to the reception hall) and that yields one pleasant glimpse into small-town wedding celebrations we probably never would have experienced, otherwise.

The next morning after breakfast, we’d planned to check out Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is famous for being one of the most often photographed spots in Germany. I’d been there years ago with my parents and sister, but Sarah never had. Unfortunately, weather, traffic and an astoundingly difficult to use navigation device in our rented Fiat (must go well with the Italian highway system) all conspired against us, and we wound up spending a couple hours on the road for nought. But we still did get to visit Kallmünz on Christina G’s recommendation, especially with regard to the tiny little restaurant near the East bank of the Naab river: zum Bürstenbinder. She said they specialized in Schupfnudeln (a.k.a Fingernudeln — think German gnocchi if you’ve never had them before) . She wasn’t kidding. Variations on that theme were the only thing we could find on the menu. But they sure hit the spot with a nice tall, chilled sparkling apple juice. Before having our late lunch there, we walked around town on both sides of the river and despite the rain and cloudy conditions, managed to shoot these:

Kallmünz on the Naab p9214436 Kallmünz on the Naab

Straubinger Gäubodenfest and a weekend in der Schweiz

Matt came and picked us up; then we scooped up Alex, headed off to the Gäubodenfest, where it was mobbed. Some locals tell us that this is the “real” Oktoberfest because there are very few foreigners (only the die-hards, like us, I guess) who attend it — as opposed to the more famous beerfest in Munich at the end of September. We’re grateful to Matt for driving and for the suggestion, and I’m glad we did it, but man…there was a lot of noise and crowd going on there. And, surprisingly: the food was pretty darn good.

Kerstin picked us up the next day and we headed down to Zurich, Switzerland to stay with Simone. Sarah and I took advantage of the fabulous train system to visit my former boss Bernd and his family in their new home there. Details on the pictures will appear gradually as I find the time to insert descriptions and titles and stuff. The weather was kind of iffy in Zurich, but great on the day we hopped down to Zug / Root / Lucerne and back.

It’s nice to have friends in beautiful places and/or who don’t mind driving us to them.