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Rome

September 11, 2014 – Thursday – Florence to Rome, Italy

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

Upon our arrival in Rome, our driver Sylvain has to maneuver through some pretty challenging turns and narrow streets to get us to the drop off point in the city at Repubblica Square. Driving a vehicle that large in Rome is a real challenge! Once we are parked, we schlepp our bags the few blocks to Hotel Nardizzi Americana in sprinkling rain. A bunch of us have lunch on our own at a nearby salad bar deli. I have a delicious prosciutto panino (we say Panini in North America, which is actually the plural form of panino in Italian).

Group photo in front of the Roman Forum
Group photo in front of the Roman Forum

We go on an extensive walking tour of Rome this afternoon with a local guide who succeeds in bringing the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon alive for us all. Several of us are tired after all the walking this afternoon, so we return to the hotel on our own using the Rome subway. Jennifer taught us well earlier in the day when we started our tour by taking the subway, so we have no problem reversing the route.

Three of us have dinner at Ristorante Esperia, which is a trattoria only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. I have Spaghetti Carbonara, which is very rich and tasty. We all enjoy our meals, although the wine is a bit expensive.

September 12, 2014 – Friday – Vatican City

Large-scale fresco map of Corsica - Gallery of Maps - Vatican Museum
Large-scale fresco map of Corsica – Gallery of Maps – Vatican Museum

After breakfast at the hotel this morning, we take the subway to the Vatican to take an escorted tour of the Vatican Museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, and other amazing displays. I missed the Vatican Museum last time I was in Rome in 2006 due to a screw up with the arrangements, so it is great to finally see this astounding collection of friezes, tapestries, and paintings, but I find the opulence to be obscene. I am fascinated with the 40 frescoed maps of Italy in one hallway, since they were created so long ago and yet are very detailed and beautifully crafted.

Bernini's Baldachino - St. Peter's Basilica
Bernini’s Baldachino – St. Peter’s Basilica

We are then led through a side entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, where we are on our own for the rest of the day. I think there is more lighting than the last time I was in St. Peter’s in 2006, which makes taking photos easier. I still find the place rather creepy, especially seeing the popes and cardinals who are embalmed and on display in crypts with glass windows in the side so they can be viewed. There are several worship services going on as I walk through the basilica taking photos.

I meet up with several members of my tour group in St. Peter’s Square, and we return to the hotel on our own using the subway ticket Jennifer gave us earlier. I am completely bagged, so I have a two-hour nap this afternoon. I had great plans to work on my travel journal, but that doesn’t happen!

Nine of us go to the Oratorio Bistrot for dinner this evening, which is in the same block as our hotel. They have a wine bar downstairs and an upstairs patio where lunch and dinner is served. It is very nice on the covered patio, and the meals are tasty. I have rolled veal with bacon as a main, and start with grilled zucchini, which turns out to be more of an omelet. I also have an Italian beer with dinner, but the rest of the group order two glasses of wine each, since they don’t seem to have house wines served in jugs like the other restaurants we have eaten in up to now.

September 13, 2014 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

We have breakfast in our hotel and then everyone walks a couple of blocks to the bus, which is waiting for us at Repubblica Square with the beautiful fountain and the metro station beneath. We drive by St. Peter’s on our way out of the city, and pass Civitavecchia as we drive up the west coast. This is where the cruise ships dock, and then the passengers are transferred by bus to Rome for the day.

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Florence

September 9, 2014 -Tuesday – Venice to Florence

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

The cornfields have turned brown and the farmers are harvesting as we drive from Venice to our first rest stop near Bologna, which has Jennifer’s favourite, an AutoGrill. The rest stops on the Italian expressways (Autostradas) serve very tasty food – not a Burger King or McDonalds to be seen thank goodness! As we travel through the Tuscany area, the road has more curves and hills, and we drive through lots of tunnels.

We arrive in Florence early this afternoon. The bus stops in a local square, we unload ourselves and our bags, and walk a few blocks to our hotel, Hotel Accademia Florence. After getting settled, we go on a walking tour of the centre of Florence. We have an Italian guide with us, but Jennifer leads the tour. Apparently, the Italian guide is with us so the Rick Steves tour group doesn’t get hassled for conducting “unauthorized” tours of the city – Italian bureaucracy in action!

Michelangelo's statue of David
Michelangelo’s statue of David

We line up for the Gallery of the Academy, and after 10 minutes or so get inside to see Michelangelo’s statue of David. I saw the copy of the David statue in the nearby Plazza della Signoria when I was last in Florence in 2006, but there is no comparison to seeing the original inside the museum. David is beautifully lit with both outside light coming through a transparent dome, and also floodlights. Jennifer points out how his expression changes depending on where you gaze upon him. His naked body is exquisite, although his right hand is too large. Jennifer explains that the original plan was to mount David high on the front of the Duomo, which might explain why his hand was bigger than normal…otherwise from the perspective of people on the ground, the hand would not be easily visible.

We go for a group dinner to nearby Trattoria Nella this evening. The food is good, and wine and bottled water is included with most of our Rick Steves group dinners. Our guide Jennifer takes us out for gelato afterwards, so I am really full by the time we return to our hotel.

September 10, 2014 -Wednesday – Florence

I am awoken at 6:30AM by thunder and lightning crashing and booming over the city. The rain comes down hard, however it is all over by 7AM. An exciting start to the day! Several of us go to the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) early this morning and climb up to the top of the dome. It is very close quarters, since the stairs to the top are between the inner dome and the outer dome. We are rewarded with superb views of Florence from the top.

Pasta a fagioli
Pasta a fagioli

I go to Trattoria Antellesi for lunch, which is the little trattoria right beside our hotel entrance.  I have a beer and a wonderful soup called pasta a fagioli, which is a vegetable soup made with pasta, beans, vegetables in a rich and creamy broth. It is often thickened with shredded bread.

We go to the Uffizi Gallery this afternoon with a local guide who specializes in the Uffizi. There is a crush of people and groups, so we have to wait about three quarters of an hour to get in. Photos are now allowed inside, but when I checked earlier, there was no indication of this recent change in policy. So I am stuck using my cellphone camera inside. Our local guide tries to maneuver us around the huge crowds inside, with limited success.

Quite a few of us go to Giglio Rosso Ristorante for dinner on our own this evening. Our meals are excellent, and they bring around a dessert cart with some really yummy choices, which virtually all of our group can’t resist!

Tipping in the European countries we visited is not required in restaurants, since servers and other staff are well paid. That said, leaving the change on the table when the bill is paid is considered polite. Americans (and Canadians) have the reputation of leaving too much of a tip, which the Europeans interpret as being too flashy. If exceptional service is rendered, a 10% tip would be in order, but no more. Payment in cash (rather than credit card) is expected, and many restaurants don’t accept credit cards, or charge extra if a credit card is used. So take Euros to pay for your meals, and don’t tip too much!

September 11, 2014 – Thursday – Florence to Rome

I am awoken again this morning at 6AM by thunder and lightning however the rain isn’t coming down hard like yesterday when we walk to meet the bus. Once we are on the Autostrada to Rome, the rain comes down hard, so the views are not great as we travel south. It’s a good time for me to pull out my notebook computer to write in my travel journal.

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Venice

September 7, 2014 – Sunday – Austria to Venice, Italy

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

After parking in the Tronchetto parking area of Venice, we get our bags off the bus and take the Vaporetto (water bus) to the Academia area. Jennifer previously warned us that an historical regatta was happening along the Grand Canal, which means some bridges and portions of the canal are closed to traffic. We schlepp our bags through the crowds, but when we reach the Academia Bridge, it is jammed solid with a crowd and is complete chaos. At this point we can no longer roll our bags as we squeeze through the crowds. It takes us about 20 minutes to carefully cross to the other side and regroup before continuing the rather stressful walk to our hotel.

Canal intersection with patios and homes above in Venice
Canal intersection with patios and homes above

The Hotel Serenissima is located just four blocks from St. Marks Square, and it’s not much further to the Rialto Bridge area. My room is the tiniest hotel room I have ever stayed in, however it has a bathroom and a single bed, and is comfortable and quiet, since it faces the inner courtyard instead of the street.

We don’t have much time, but I manage to get cleaned up before we go out for a group dinner at Trattoria alla Madonna. The food and service is very good. The dinner includes salad, main course, wine, dessert, and some entertainment from a trio that wandered in from the street. They made out like bandits from all the tips our group gave them!

Gondola ride on the Grand Canal at night in Venice
Gondola ride on the Grand Canal at night in Venice

Another highlight of the tour comes next: a night time gondola ride through the canals, complete with a singer and accordion player! Our guide Jennifer arranges this extra cost activity for those of us who want to go, so we share in the (reasonable) cost, and end up in four gondolas. It is great to experience this with the group. It is a beautiful night, the Moon is full over the Grand Canal, and the city is alive with people as we glide by listening to our musicians. Jennifer even serves us Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) before we start the gondola ride!

September 8, 2014 – Monday – Venice

After breakfast at the hotel this morning, we go on an early morning guided walk with a local guide. We see Marco Polo family’s square, then go to the Venice Hospital area, where we have a break. The hospital looks like a church to me. The walk continues wandering through Venice, and we eventually come to a little shop on a canal, which sells Venetian masks. Our guide takes the whole group inside to see how the Moroccan owner makes the masks. I’m not interested, although the rest of the group seem to enjoy it.

Gold decorated wall and ceiling murals in St. Marks Cathedral
Gold decorated wall and ceiling murals in St. Marks Cathedral

Our last stop on the tour is the famous St. Marks Cathedral on St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco), where our guides leave us. Timing is important, since at 11:30AM, the lights illuminating the ceiling inside the church are turned on. This is new for the cathedral and well worth planning for, since the ceiling comes alive with the extra light, and photography of the ceiling detail is much more rewarding. I decide to pay extra to see the famous golden horses, which are upstairs in the museum part of the church. This turns out very well, since I also have access to the balcony over the main entrance, which gives an unobstructed view of the flooded St. Marks Square, the Doges Palace, and the nearby islands and canals. I skip touring the Doges Palace, since I saw it last time I was here in 2006.

I get my shoes soaked as I try to dodge the water in the square on my way back to the hotel. After a nap in my room, I go out walking around the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal, take some photos, and just enjoy my free time in Venice. I join a couple in the tour group for dinner at a nice outdoor restaurant with a great view of a canal near the Rialto Bridge. Now that the cruise ship passengers have left Venice, the place is civilized again!

September 9, 2014 – Tuesday – Venice to Florence

We don’t encounter any problems taking the Vaporetto back to the Tronchetto parking area of Venice this morning, since the Regatta is over – things are back to normal.

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South Tyrol

September 7, 2014 – Sunday – Austria to Venice, Italy

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

As we leave Austria, Jennifer tells us we will be following the original Roman road (Via Claudia) the whole way today. The road ends up in Rome, although obviously we won’t be traveling that far today, since our destination is Venice. We travel out of Innsbruck through the Brenner Pass, across the Alps and into Italy. Crossing borders in Europe are non-events, since all the countries except Switzerland and Sweden are in the European Union.

The scenery in this part of Italy is nothing short of stunning. There are villages nestled in beautiful green valleys, with tall mountains behind. Vineyards are common in the valley bottoms, although this region must get quite cold and experience snow in the winter months. The Italians in this part of the country (South Tyrol) speak German first and Italian is their second language. At our lunch stop in Neumarkt-Egna (both German and Italian names for the town) there is a concert going on in the town square in front of our restaurant. The men are wearing lederhosen, and the women are wearing long medieval dresses. I have my first glass of Italian wine at lunch for only 1.10 Euro.

“The sweetness of doing nothing” – Italian philosophy

After our leisurely lunch, we drive south along the Autostrada (expressway or freeway) to Venice, where we will stay for the next two nights.

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Austrian Tyrol

September 5, 2014 – Friday – Rothenburg, Germany to Routte, Austria

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

We spend two nights in Routte, Austria at the Alpenhotel Ernberg hotel, but don’t see much of the country. Some of our group hike up to Ehrenberg Castle ruins, which are on top a hill near our hotel. We have our own dining room for the group dinner in the hotel each evening. Jennifer is a chef, and so is always on the lookout for regional food treats to share with the group. After one of our dinners, she serves Apple and Cheese Strudel for dessert.

We drive back into Germany on Saturday the 6th to see the Bavarian Castles.

September 7, 2014 – Sunday – Austria to Venice, Italy

We are listening to the Sound of Music on the bus audio system as we drive through the Austrian Tyrol on our way to Italy. The first hour reminds me of our mountain highways in British Columbia, Canada – winding, rocky, and steep hills. We descend into a long valley and take the Autobahn to the outskirts of Innsbruck.

We turn south and drive over the Brenner Pass, crossing the Alps into Italy. Border crossings in Europe are non-events, since all the countries except Switzerland and Sweden are in the European Union. Jennifer tells us we are following the original Roman road Via Claudia the whole way today. That road ends up in Rome, although our next stop is Venice.

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Bavarian Castles

September 6, 2014 – Saturday – Castle Day – Bavaria, Germany

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

We drive back into Germany from our Austrian hotel this morning to see two famous Bavarian castles both near Füssen in Bavaria.

Neuschwanstein Castle from Hohenschwangau town
Neuschwanstein Castle from Hohenschwangau town

King Ludwig II’s Neuschwahstein Castle is probably the most famous, since Disney’s Fantasyland castles are modelled after this spectacular castle located on a hillside overlooking a beautiful green valley and lake.

The crowds here are very bad, especially on Mary’s Bridge, which is above the castle, giving a picture postcard view of the castle with the valley behind. This castle was built in the 1800s, and poor Ludwig only got to enjoy his castle for a few months before he died. When Ludwig was king, his ministers plotted to depose him in 1866 because he was homosexual. He committed suicide in the nearby lake along with his doctor (who had just declared him mad – later disproved).

Heohen-Schwangau Castle is a beautiful castle located beside The Alpsee, a glacial lake. This is where Ludwig’s parents lived, and is where he was raised. His father, the king loved the night sky, and had his bedroom equipped with stars in the ceiling and a Moon, which could have the phase changed as required.

Jennifer and Sylvain have a picnic lunch all ready for us when we return to the parking lot, so we spread out near the Alpsee lake and enjoy ourselves. After clearing crowded Neuschwahstein Castle, we take a group photo in the nearby valley, posing with the castle behind us on the hill while sipping some schnapps.

Joe, Greta and Paul on the luge
Joe, Greta and Paul on the luge

Next stop is a luge – individual carts run through a metal tube down the hill, slalom-style. Everyone in the group tries it – some go faster, and others take is slowly. The luge is one of the reasons I finally decided to book this Rick Steves tour. I reasoned that any tour operator who includes a ride on a luge as part of the stated itinerary must have something going for them!

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Dachau

September 5, 2014 – Friday – Rothenburg, Germany to Routte, Austria

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

After leaving Rothenburg, we drive down the Autobahn to another medieval Bavarian town called Dachau. Of course, everyone has learned this name in their history lessons, because this is where the Nazis built their first Concentration Camp during WWII. Our guide Jennifer carefully prepares us for our experience this morning by describing the history of the war, how Dachau Concentration Camp is now run as a memorial to the prisoners. She also lets us know that we can stay in the bus if any of us can’t handle seeing the Concentration Camp. I seriously consider staying behind, but I decide I owe it to the prisoners to bear witness to their suffering by seeing this place for myself.

We are taken on a walking tour by a guide who is originally from Ireland. He first assures us that there is nothing gory about the exhibits we are about to see. He explains that dehumanization of the prisoners was the primary aim of the Nazis. The prisoners were literally worked to death. If they weren’t healthy, or if they were too big or too small, they were immediately executed. Our guide tells us the crematorium was going full bore most of the time, and in the weeks running up to the end of WWII the Germans ran out of coal, and then resorted to burying the bodies in mass graves. Dachau was the first concentration camp built on German soil, and was a training facility for the staff that ran the other concentration camps as they were built in other countries.

We have an hour and a half to ourselves after our guide leaves us. It is very sobering as I walk around the site, and I soon realize that I only have a limited amount of personal energy I can expend in this bad place where so many suffered and died horribly. I force myself to take some photos to document what I see, but I can’t bear to look at them for weeks after I return home from the trip.

It is a relief to leave this deeply disturbing place.

Roccoco style alter and columns and ceiling – Pilgrimage Church of Wies

We stop to visit the Pilgrimage Church of Wies in Steingaden, Germany. This Rococco church has Jesus sitting on a rainbow on the ceiling. In the adjacent farm there are young cows frolicking in a paddock with bells around their neck, and children playing in the farm yard. I find this a welcome relief from the profound sadness of seeing Dachau earlier today.

We take the Autobahn to Austria, and check into Alpenhotel Ernberg, our hotel in the small city of Reutte.

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Rothenburg

September 4, 2014 – Thursday – Bacharach to Rothenburg, Germany

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

Lavazza coffee bar at an Autobahn rest stop
Lavazza coffee bar at an Autobahn rest stop

After breakfast in our hotel in Bacharach, we schlep our bags across the street to where the bus is parked. Our bus really hustles along the German Autobahn, passing the ultra-modern Frankfurt airport before arriving at our morning rest stop.

This rest area facility is very deluxe: a nice gift shop with high end stuff for sale, German pastries, Lavazza coffee bar, deli smorgasbord, and wonderful toilets and showers! There is a 0.70 Euro charge to use the toilets, but they give back a 0.50 Euro coupon for merchandise purchases. There is even an adjacent, small hotel for overnight rest stops. Our bus driver tells me he has used the hotel on winter ski trips, and says the rooms are very nice, and quite inexpensive.

Ornate signs on Schmiedgasse in Rothenburg
Ornate signs on Schmiedgasse in Rothenburg

We arrive at Rothenburg ob der Tauber around noon, and after some lunch on our own, Jennifer walks us through the main street to familiarize us with this medieval city. It is obviously what Disney uses to pattern their Fantasyland theme parks after. Rothenburg has an impressive wall, towers and gates around the old city, cobblestone streets, quaint shops with eclectic merchandise, and beautiful vistas of the valley below.

As I wander the streets, there is much to see and experience: German confections in a bakery window; castle gates; giant bird’s nests on rooftops; clock towers; churches with flying buttresses; pretty half-timbered houses; endless window boxes sporting Geraniums and other flowers; cobblestone streets; ornate metal signs above all the businesses; huge numbers of hotels, drinking and eating establishments; Christmas shops and other specialty shops.

Then there is the Medieval Kriminal Museum, which I decide to visit. It is filled with masks of shame, executioners costumes, racks and torture chairs, bludgeons, and describes medieval justice in great detail (not all of it gory). The Meistertrunk town clock is very special, since two mechanical figures appear out of two doors beside the clock face once in awhile, and do an elaborate ritual before retreating back inside. I would say, there is something for everyone in Rothenburg.

The city is jammed with day-trippers during the afternoon, however by evening they all leave on the buses they came in, and the streets return to normal. Some of us go to a Greek restaurant across the street from our hotel for dinner. I then grab my camera and take advantage of the beautiful pastel-coloured light as the Sun is setting. The whole city looks magical as I walk along a section of the city wall during “the golden hour”.

The Night Watchman of Rothenburg In front of the Franciscan Church
The Night Watchman of Rothenburg In front of the Franciscan Church

Later, I meet up with the tour group in the main square at dusk. We follow the Night Watchman, which is a guy in medieval costume carrying a scepter and lantern. He delivers a humorous historical talk as we wander from place to place through the city. He explains the function of the night watchmen in medieval times: ensuring doors are locked and people are not on the streets as night falls. He describes the city gate system, and how people had to make their way inside the security of the walled city an hour before dark. He does two walks/talks – one in English and one in German.

September 5, 2014 – Friday – Rothenburg, Germany to Routte, Austria

The breakfast buffet at Hotel Gerberhaus
The breakfast buffet at Hotel Gerberhaus

The breakfast buffet at Hotel Gerberhaus this morning is very impressive and quite delicious. The coffee is also the best we have had on the trip so far, despite it being filter coffee. There are all sorts of cheeses, cold meat, pastries, fruit, cereal, and sweets, including chocolate!

We then schlepp our bags out the back door, down the alley and through the doorway in the city wall to our bus waiting for us in the parking lot.

Rothenburg
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Bacharach & St. Goar

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm
Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm

We arrive in the small town of Bacharach located on the Rhine River after driving the whole day from The Netherlands. We are staying in Hotel Kranenturm, a 700 year old structure which was one of the towers along the wall around the town. It was part of the city’s original rampart wall, and is just a few metres from the train tracks. Kurt and Fatima run the place. Fatima decorated the hotel, and Kurt is the chef.

I draw the room at the top of the tower (Prince’s Room #18), which means I have the most stairs to climb, but end up with one of the funkiest rooms with the best view of the river and the town and hills. Our group have drinks on the patio while the trains scream past us, and we also have dinner together in the hotel dining room.

September 3, 2014 -Wednesday – Bacharach & St. Goar

JoeTourist: Bacharach &emdash; Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications
Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications

After breakfast in the hotel, we go on a walking tour of Bacharach with Herr Jung, an 83-year-old ex-schoolmaster with a great sense of humour. He takes us through the dark history of WWII from a German boy’s perspective (he was born in 1931). He was quite emotional at times, and everyone was very receptive to his message. He also led us on a walking tour of the town, highlighting the wine growing (which the region is famous for), the historic wall around the town, and interesting anecdotes about his personal friends and acquaintances.

After our walking tour, Sylvain drives us to St. Goar, a nearby town along the river where we do a walking tour of the Rheinfels Castle. This huge, historic castle was originally built in 1245, and withstood multiple sieges. The French invaders finally took over the castle without a fight and promptly destroyed most of it in 1797 during the French Revolution. Although the castle is considered to be in ruins, it is still very impressive as it sits on a hillside overlooking the Rhine River. A hotel is part of the castle.

Before we take a KD Rhine boat from St. Goar down the river to Bacharach, Jennifer leads us into playing “the name game” in the town square. We go around the group round-robin style, adding our names to the list of names, which everyone then has to recite (as a group). Of course, the list keeps getting longer, but the repetition helps us all remember each other’s names. The people in the square not in our group are amused by our antics!

The cruise down the river is great, since it gives us all time to rest our weary feet, and see the Rhine Valley and all the little towns, vineyards and numerous castles from a fresh perspective. We see: Loreley Rock (remember the old song “Sweet Loreley”?), Gutenfels and Schonburg castles, Liebfrauenkirche church, Burg Pfalzgrafenstein (a castle in the middle of the Rhine River), and the Oberwesel tower.

We arrive back in Bacharach late in the late afternoon. I go out with some of the group to a little restaurant on the main street only a block from our hotel and have a nice Jagerschnitzel, some Rhineland white wine, and a cappuccino to finish. Germans seem to serve cappuccino with a dollop of crème on top, so I have to ask for “plain, no crème”. Our all-American group is a lot of fun to be with, and this evening is no exception!

September 4, 2014 – Thursday – Bacharach to Rothenburg

After breakfast in our hotel in Bacharach, we schlep our bags across the street to where the bus is parked, and we are off down the highway to Bavaria.

The advice from Rick Steves to pack light is a valuable lesson to be learned by travellers taking his tours, since there is no porterage and the hotels often have no elevators! Rick Steves tours do not issue name tags…you are expected to make an effort to remember everyone’s name.

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Open Air Museum in Arnhem

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

We are delayed departing this morning because a couple are leaving the tour to return home because of a medical condition. We are now down to 24 in the group, since two people also didn’t show up. We finally get away from the hotel at 9AM, with Sylvain as our driver. Our bus is huge, so anyone who wants his or her own pair of seats can have them. I end up taking 4 seats, so I can slide from side to side to stay on the shady side and take photos of whatever goes by!

The bus has a restroom, however we are encouraged to use the facilities at rest stops whenever possible. The bus also is stocked with soft drinks, beer and wine in two fridges – we use a tally sheet on the honour system for our purchases at only €1.50 for each bottle. This is often cheaper than what is available at our rest stops, depending on the country we are in.

We cruise down the Autobahn, stopping once at a typical rest stop you would find along any expressway/freeway anywhere in the world. We pass Dutch farms with traditional barns and houses, and Utrecht, a modern city. It is fascinating to watch the countryside fly by us as we travel eastward.

Multi-lane expressway near Utrecht, The Netherlands

We make a midday stop at the Open Air Museum at Arnhem, where we have a couple of hours to wander around this historic park. The cultural history of the Netherlands is showcased, complete with windmills and recreated old towns with historic displays of life in the Netherlands in the old days. We have an authentic Pannenkoeken (pancake) lunch, which is delicious but filling. Three types of Pannenkoeken are served: a multi-cheese pancake, a savoury onion and egg pancake, and an apple dessert pancake. A not-too-sweet apple syrup is available to garnish the dessert pancake, but the first two are normally eaten without further garnish.

I catch up on my journal and annotating photos while we travel along the excellent Autobahns in the Netherlands and Germany. As we travel down the Rhine Valley to our stop in Bacharach, the road narrows into a good two or four lane highway. There are lots of tunnels, and the views of the valley, vineyards on the steep slopes, and little towns along the way all fulfill my expectations of the “Rhineland” area of Germany.