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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 destination 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.