Fairy Tale Germany is not a Fairy Tale

So you may be familiar with those Viking River Cruise commercials, with swooping drone views of a gorgeous river surrounded by foliage, pretty towns, and castles on nearby peaks? Well, I can confirm that they didn’t fake that footage. It’s real, and it’s the “Rhine Gorge” / aka Upper Middle Rhine Valley in Germany. This picturesque area runs from Koblenz in the north to Bingen in the south, and is less than an hour from Frankfurt.

Soon after exiting the highway onto winding B9, also known as “Mainzerstrasse” in many of the German towns along the west side of the Rhine, we began to see the half-timbered buildings so prevalent in fairy tales. Our first stop was for lunch in Bacharach.

Lunch was delicious – we were the only ones in the restaurant, as it was a rainy day and not many tourists were wandering the streets of Bacharach. We didn’t mind, the staff was attentive without smothering us.

Next, we made our way to the smaller town of Oberwesel, about 20 minutes further up the B9, to our lodging for two nights: Castle Hotel Schoenburg. https://www.hotel-schoenburg.com/en/ This was a small splurge, with dinner included in our stay both nights. I’ve never stayed in a castle, and when over the summer I was sadly reminded that our days on Earth are limited, I reacted by booking one. It’s time.

This was really a WOW experience.

“I’m on my way, driving at 90 down old country lanes” – Ed Sheeran

The Castle Hotel Schoenburg doesn’t have a street address. Directions are, in essence… Drive to Oberwesel, look up, follow the road. Not good for an uptight planner like me, but we made it.

We stayed in room 20, which, like many of the hotel’s rooms, boasted river views and a small balcony.

View from Room 20
Room 20

The hotel’s public areas certainly felt authentic, even though only the original castle was burned down in 1689 and the castle was not recreated until the 19th century.

Our hotel booking included a sumptuous, 4 course tasting menu style dinner. Dishes over the 2 nights included beef carpaccio, venison pate, wild boar, lobster soup, and Black Forest cake. Very rich and very delicious.

With 2 nights in Oberwesel, we were able to spend the full day in between exploring the river on a KD Rhine hop on, hop off day cruise.

Our northbound transportation:

The day started dark and gloomy, but as we headed north by boat, we found the sun!

Scenes like this one floated by…

We passed the Lorelei, a steep rocky outcropping that has inspired its own fairy tale: the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so and thinking that she sees her love in the Rhine, falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards. (courtesy – Wikipedia). Cool story, bro!

We chose to debark in Boppard, a beautiful riverside town, about an hour from Oberwesel by water. We were in luck: the town’s annual 4-day Wine Festival was starting that very day, so the town was buzzing with local vintners and festival attendees. We wandered and shopped, and eventually settled into a table in the main town square, embarking on a beloved European activity: drinking and people watching.

Husband says Prost!
A live band!
St Severus Church looms over the wine festival tents

As the day turned to evening, the wine festival began to fill up. We ended up talking to a lovely family with two young daughters, who hailed from Colorado, for quite awhile. I admired their bravery in traveling to Europe with young children – most of my trips as the parent of young kids involved Disney or a beach. As it turned out, I had actually taken a photo of their daughter, earlier in the afternoon, as she danced and sniffed flowers in the town square. Hopefully if they read this, they don’t think I was stalking them!

It’s ALWAYS good to stop and smell the flowers.

The wine festival was just getting started, but we took a train back to Oberwesel . The river runs north, so the southbound boat trip would have been lengthy – we couldn’t miss our second castle dinner! We look forward to returning to the area and particularly Boppard, which was charming but not overrun with tourists.

A fairy tale, indeed.

Just waiting for Rapunzel….

Driving the German Autobahn: Where are the potholes?

Hooray!  Husband and I have arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at the start of a new 12 day trip that will take us to several destinations:  the Rhine Valley region,  a short stop on the Romantic Road,  Munich for Oktoberfest, a daytrip to Salzburg, Austria, and the Alsace region of France.  We rented a car for the entire trip.

We rented through a US company called Gemut.com, which specializes in  European and particularly German vehicle rentals for US citizens.  I liked the idea of having a US 1-800 number to call in an emergency, with the promise of an English speaker on the other end of the line.  Plus,  the price was good –  really good. Gamut books German rentals through a consolidator called Auto Europe, for a car rental with Europcar. The price was 10-20% less than booking directly to either of those websites.  I also priced out Sixt and Hertz,  two other big providers.  Gemut was also very responsive when I had questions prior to the trip. 

Side Note: I’m a Hertz Gold Club member through ownership of a Marriott Vacation Club property, and their prices are just never, ever competitive.  Why is that?

We found the Europcar desk and because we had arrived early,  the car I had reserved, a 4 door sedan with automatic transmission in the Premium category (BMW, Mercedes, or Audi) wasn’t available yet.  I’m not sure I believe that one would have suddenly become available in the next 45 minutes, but whatever.  The major difference in what we got was that it was not a sedan, but a station wagon.  Maybe not as “sexy” from an American point of view, but as the Europcar agent noted,  Germans looooove their station wagons.  This proved true –  there aren’t many SUVs on the roads here, but a plethora of high-end wagons.  My guess is they are more aerodynamic than a behemoth SUV. Also, the agent waived the usual charge for a second authorized driver –  we knew we both wanted to drive here. So,  no harm no foul.  5 doors instead of 4. All good.  I neglected to take a good photo of our actual car, but here is the general idea (credit bmw.com):

I declined the CDW insurance,  after reading and rereading the terms and benefits of my Sapphire card –  we were clearly covered as primary insurance,  this saved us hundreds of dollars.  Always read the fine print though :  there are exclusions,  such as not having the primary cardholder as the renter, super high-end exotic cars,  and tires and windshields. In contrast to experiences I’ve had renting cars in the US, the German Europcar agent did not press us to buy any insurance.

We spent a good 15 minutes in the rental car garage, figuring out the car’s menu, setting up bluetooth, and getting the navigation, etc. to work in English rather than German:

Eventually we got it set up and entered our first destination,  tiny Oberwesel on the Rhine River, about an hour from the airport. I don’t like to plan a long drive after a sleep-deprived overnight flight,  so I always try to keep the first destination within an hour. 

The car ended up having a “pop-up display”,  visible to the driver only, displaying the vehucle’s speed, speed limits, and navigational information including directions onto the lower windshield.  This ended up being very useful.  We drove over 1800 kilometers on this trip – about 800 miles – and experienced road closures,  border crossings, lots of construction, small cities with narrow cobblestone streets, and widely varying speed limits. 

I was impressed with the car’s technology. In addition to the pop up display,  parking sensors, and lane deviation/ correction capability, we were frequently rerouted around traffic,  and the car seemed to know where every speed limit change occurred.  On the highway,  speed limit changes were numerous and frequent, and it wouldn’t have been easy for the driver to notice every sign.  This car not only  displayed the limit,  but on both the dashboard and the pop up window,  our speed would display as red if we were over the limit, white if under it.   

Things you see on German highways, part 1

I was also impressed with German highways – the “Autobahn” in general.  Here, an important side note/ question:  am I the only American who thought there was ONE Autobahn? If so,  feel free to laugh at me.  “The German Autobahn” turns out to be any major highway starting with “A”.    And many, many miles of these “A” roads indeed have speed limits,  especially through construction zones and congested city areas. But –  then you see a speed limit with a line through it,  usually in a wide open, rural area –  and there it is – the limitless Autobahn of lore. *tingle*

Things you see on German highways, Part 2

We did experience a fair amount of traffic,  especially around Munich (Oktoberfest brings in 6,000,000+ visitors so this was hardly surprising)  and often there were brief slowdowns caused by construction.  It seems as though every 10-20 miles,  lanes were closed.  Bridges, tunnels, open stretches.  Germany is spending heavily on road infrastructure.  The result, over our 800-plus-mile journey ?  NO potholes.  And NO accidents.  The highways are correctly graded,  with minimal intersections and wide exit and entrance lanes.  We dealt with a lot of rain, but no ponding of water on the road. These roads are well maintained. 

Things you see on German highways, Part 3

So, want to hear about our little bit of adventure in the limitless Autobahn?
Both Husband and I kind of like to drive fast. We are from New Jersey, after all. But,  we also consider ourselves to be safe drivers,  never tailgating ,  minimizing lane changes, and keeping with the flow of traffic.   We’re just unlikely to be driving in the right lane,  content behind a tractor trailer. 

When we hit the limitless areas,  we typically enjoyed driving along with most of the other left lane vehicles at 150-170 kilometers per hour ( in the 80-90 mph range). It was rare, however that we could go much faster than this –  due to rain, wet roads, and congestion, we hesitated to really test out the BMW’s potential.  But , over the course of the trip,  each of us got the golden opportunity we were looking for –  a wide,  3 lane road ,  dry conditions, no cars in front of us, and a straightaway with long forward views.  When we got that chance …. yep, we punched the gas pedal. 

It should be noted that drivers in Germany are much more vigilant about the ‘keep right, pass left” laws that also exist in the States, but are rarely followed, at least where I live.  Trucks are almost never seen out of the right lane.  And when in the left lane,  if a driver sees a faster approaching car in the review mirror,  they move to the right.  How refreshing !!  

Our  top speeds were only maintained for a few seconds each, and then we returned to the safer, slightly slower speeds.  

Wheeeeee!

The display in kph added to the rush we experienced –  seeing “200” on the gauge.  Yikes!  Husband won the top speed award, hitting 219 kph (136mph!). We were both more than thrilled by the experience. 

One final note for those who might be considering driving in Germany, but traveling across country borders. In either Switzerland or Austria, a vignette (toll sticker) is required, and must be purchased either before entering the country, or immediately thereafter in the case of Austria / at the border in the case of Switzerland.

Austrian vignette on top; Swiss vignette on bottom

Vignettes are available at most gas stations and convenience stores near the border. The Austrian sticker cost about $10 for a 10-day pass; the Swiss sticker was only available for the year, and cost about $40. It will be a lucky day for any future drivers who rent the same car and want to drive into Switzerland in 2019, I guess… We were glad we purchased our vignette before crossing the Swiss border, because there was a long line for cars waiting to purchase their stickers.

Our German/Austrian/Swiss/French driving experience was, at times, all of the following:

  • Enlightening
  • Exhilarating
  • Rainy
  • Scenic
  • Fun
  • Exhausting?
It’s a good thing Husband trusts my driving…

Singapore Air Business Class: Expectations = Sky High

Hi friends!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted – life intervenes! – and I have so many things to share with you.  In addition to our spring 2019 trip to Costa Rica,  Husband and I recently  returned from Germany and France,  achieving  a lifelong goal of attending  Oktoberfest!  I’ve also spent time with Oldest in Chicago and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and with family and friends at our new home in nearby Lewes. Delaware. We managed to squeezed in a work-related extended trip to San Diego as well.

In the interest of getting back into the writing habit as quickly as possible,  I’m going to start with our most recent trip to Europe first, before sharing highlights from prior trips such as Costa Rica (she says hopefully). 

This post will detail our departure experience on Singapore Airlines flight # SQ25 from JFK to Frankfurt, Germany in Business Class. 

Although JFK is not our most convenient airport, often the best value-for-points flights to Europe originate there.  As I’ve noted previously,  I really REALLY prefer a lie-flat seat on an overnight flight.     For me, actual sleep is important, and  I’m saving a whole day of vacation by landing with at least some semblance of my consciousness intact on that first morning.    So,  we bit the bullet, paid the $100+ Uber fare, and headed across Manhattan at rush hour to catch the 8:55pm flight. By the way, the late time of this flight is what I usually look for when traveling to Europe – the later the flight, the more chance I’ll be tired enough to sleep shortly after takeoff.

My very first trip over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge!


It may seem odd to have a flight on Singapore Airlines that has neither an origin nor destination anywhere near Singapore.  It turns out,  this is a rather unique itinerary known as a “Fifth Freedom” route, allowing Singapore to pick up and drop off passengers on what is essentially a stopover in JFK. You can read more about Fifth Freedom flights here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffwhitmore/2018/05/30/what-you-need-to-know-about-fifth-freedom-flights/#2270a7b63c85

I booked the flight using Chase Sapphire Reserve points, transferred to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program.  Singapore has a vaunted reputation for service,  and it’s easy to get excited about their beautiful suites when you click around on their website.  So much space!  So comfortable!  See, here’s the thing –  the suites are only available for First Class, not Business Class.  They would have cost a sizeable amount of additional points. So, nice,  but no.  More trips > one trip , amirite? 

So what DO you get in Business Class? Pre-flight lounge access. A short but wide, angled flatbed capable seat. Free alcoholic drinks.  Professional, courteous service. Dinner, and/or breakfast, and/or the right to be left alone and skip dining in favor of sleep (I chose the latter, Husband chose dinner only). 

We arrived well before the flight, and our tickets granted access to the King David lounge at JFK.  I was surprised,  because my research told me that the typical lounge for this flight is Swiss Airlines’ lounge, as part of the Global Alliance.  However,  the Swiss Lounge was under construction.  The King David Lounge, sponsored by El Al,  appears to seat about 85-100 people, and every seat was taken. People were sitting on the floor and window ledge.  The majority of the passengers were headed to Israel, so when that earlier flight boarded, the lounge felt much less crowded.  I’m fairly certain that the food was  Kosher, although I didn’t actually see any signage to this effect. The well-stocked buffet included mostly cold foods, such as lox and bagels,  tuna  and egg salads, and a Greek-style salad.  The wine was a very tasty red blend from Israel.  We were lucky to find an outlet to charge our devices – I would estimate there was one for every 10 or so passengers in the lounge.  I didn’t take photos in the lounge.  Lounge grade:  B-, due to being overcrowded initially with little hot food available.  

Now let’s get to the plane. Singapore flies a two-decker A 380 on this route. The Business Class seats are all on the upper deck; unlike the 747s of old, you don’t climb stairs on the plane, you simply embark on the upper level. The boxy style of the seats reminded me of the Commodore 64 computers that adorned my college computer lab.

Someone at Singapore Air really likes beige.

As to the seat itself:  I don’t claim to be the world’s most experienced overseas flatbed seat traveler,  but I’ve been on Aer Lingus, United, Virgin, and Lufthansa.   Singapore’s bed was easily the worst.   Husband and I were in middle seats (both aisles, the configuration is 1 – 2 – 1) so we could be next to each other;  seats next to the windows were singles.  They appeared to have the same dimensions as our center seats.  The seats are wide,  but the space available to lie flat is made for people 5’6” or less. 

Husband settles into the Business Class seat.

It’s not every day that my vertical challenges are an advantage, but today was that day.  The seats are in a pod style format ,  with a footwell in the seat in front – but angled toward the middle of the plane.  The “bed” is created by folding down the back of the seat toward the footwell –  you have to get out of the seat for it to become a bed.  I prefer the seats that simply recline all the way to a flat position –  it’s just easier.   A flight attendant is ready to assist, but I didn’t want to wait for that – I had taken my sleep aid and was ready to go down as soon as the plane was in the air –  so I struggled a bit but eventually figured it out by watching like-minded passengers set up their beds.

The bigger issue was the length of the bed. I am almost 5’3 and I just barely fit.  Taller people, including Husband, had really no choice but to lay in a fetal position – and due to the angled footwell,  they had to stay on one side.  I don’t know about you, but I usually move at least once or twice in a 6 hour period – middle age creeping in, after all.   I knew what to expect from reading other reviews, but I was still surprised by the discomfort.   In addition,  when upright (even when somewhat reclined) ,  my short legs barely reached the footwell –  because the seat doesn’t shift forward,  there’s nothing supporting your legs if your feet don’t  reach.  

stretching so my toes reach the footwell – not so comfortable


Husband reports that his filet mignon dinner was tasty enough, and he enjoyed a few cocktails as well.  He doesn’t need as much sleep as I do,  luckily,  because he didn’t get much. 

Also, the bed was very hard. And it would have been nice had the center console lifted up –  we both would have benefited from more space that way and could have better utilized the angles. Plus, a little snuggly time. Overall seat grade:  C+.  Only because flat was technically possible. 

The flight and service were timely, well-coordinated, and smooth,  we actually arrived in Frankfurt a full hour ahead of schedule –  a mixed blessing when jet lag looms.  Flight grade was an A.

Overall:  lest I sound like a whiner or unappreciative, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Singapore Business Class experience.  It was good. I’ve certainly suffered through more uncomfortable flights (and more uncomfortable situations, but that’s a story for another day….).  We arrived, early, in one piece and with a little sleep to boot. Germany, here we come!