Salzburg, Munich, Baden-Baden, Frankfurt (and a touch of Cincinnati)

Here’s a recap of my trip thus far.

The Cincinnati Nativity Reunion was “B” good. Very good turnout …around 44 people, the majority of whom looked great, including the classmates I know best, including Dave Bohmer and Con Sullivan. It was held at classmate John Joseph’s 30-acre farm in Clermont County, about 20 miles outside the city, where he has built an elaborate new home to go along with two barns and a rather nice pavilion which accommodates a party of fifty. It all began with a misstep in which all of the invitees were told to bring appetizers, which resulted in a mound of food that was only picked at…except for Bobbie Bohmer’s White Castle “quarters” which disappeared fast. All was good except the timing. The problem was compounded because the organizers screwed up the scheduling, first of all telling everyone to come at 3:00 (one guy showed up at noon), then bringing out the “catered dinner” at 4:30 or so, when no one was hungry, leaving a mountain of untouched food. And we’re talking about top quality food; after all, we were charged $16.00 apiece for this “catered” banquet consisting of okay barbeque, okay fried chicken and faux Cincinnati chili (the caterers used regular chili instead of the Cincy variety and the hot dogs were a sickly gray). Weather was on and off, with a huge downpour which doused most of the picture-taking. Despite the rain, John ignited a monstrous bonfire which was a bit frightening in its intensity. The group generally mixed well and repeated the same tales we told each other at the last reunion six years ago, only to hear the organizers exclaim that this was going so well that we should do this again NEXT YEAR!, EVERY YEAR!  Everyone tired pretty quickly, so the planned hayride was called off and we all sort of drifted away.  Con, who was rooming with me that night, and I ended up back at our Blue Ash hotel around 8:45, so we headed off to the Gaslight in Pleasant Ridge for a couple of beers (saw Julie, who was celebrating her 51st? birthday).

P.S. Earlier in the day I spent an hour and a half with Patty, who is doing well, all things considered. We had a very nice visit.

Sunday I was off to New York, where I had hoped to see a play, or at least a movie, but those plans were dashed by a 2-hour flight delay and horrible rainstorm in Manhattan, so I ended up settling for a great steak dinner at The Palm.

On to Europe.

On my flight into Stuttgart, I had the rare experience of sleeping through the entire trip, waking up just before landing. After landing, I took the local subway to the railway station and jumped on the train to Salzburg (4 hours through nice country, especially the Austria part when the mountains came into view).

In Salzburg, I checked into…

The Hotel Sacher.

Not all five-star hotels deserve that rating, but this one did. I had booked a superior double for Tuesday, May 21 and had been put on the waitlist for the next night (badgering them every few days about my desire to remain on the waitlist), but they gave me the good news when I walked in that I’d be staying two nights. Grateful, I did the remarkable: accepted the first room I was given. Not that it was a sacrifice, because this

was a gorgeous, spacious room. Beautiful quality furnishings, a pretty rose+blue color scheme, a small balcony with a dead-on view of the river (the Salzach, so called because Salzburg was a prestigious middle ages trading city owing to its proximity to the local salt mines—salt being as valuable as gold at one point because of its use as a food preservative). A scene so good I actually took pictures. The hotel features fantastic public rooms—great bar, nice sitting room, a main wood-panelled restaurant that was as inviting as any I’ve ever seen in Europe, plus the legendary Sacher Café for those who are into coffee, afternoon tea and Sacher tortes (as a Leading Hotels Access member, I had a complimentary one awaiting me in my room).

Proceeded to do my usual casing of the City, this time on foot, where I must have logged five or six K’s. Nice city, but a little too “dolled up” these days, sort of a European Carmel, all immaculate and stylish and full of precious cafes and konditeris and wine bars, with nary a bratwurst mit brochin stand or gasthaus to be found. Back at the hotel, I finally got one of the bellmen to steer me to a gasthaus for dinner where I had goulashsuppe in honor of AW and an apricot desert in honor of my dad.

When I got home from dinner, I was greeted by the reason there had been a waitlist—namely about a 200+ entourage arriving for the big meeting of the International Association of Matrimonial Attorneys…imagine, a hotel full of divorce lawyers, a mostly seedy looking group replete with the representative number of pony tails, beards and second wives. Oh well, at least they livened up the sitting room and bar.

Up bright and early on Wednesday to go on my Sound of Music tour with Bob’s Tours, recommended by my close friend Rick Steves. Just three of us on board Bob’s minibus, all three of us named Joe, the other two partners from Long Island, being shown the highlights of Salzburg and all the “S-of-M” filming locations by Jonathan, a molecular biologist with time on his hands. The most impressive thing about the tour was learning about all the fake things in the movie—Baron Von Trapp’s regal villa? The real one was five k’s down the road and plain as vanilla…the place where Julie dances in the meadow?—not in Austria, that was on the Fox backlot in L.A., etc., etc.

The tour also included a long (250 kilometers!) drive through the country out to Austria’s Lake Country– really, really beautiful– as well as a down-the mountain toboggan ride that scared me half to death (Jonathan had made it sound so tame). We went to several towns and lakes, with the mountains framing the scene and surreal green meadows climbing the hillsides.  Bottom line: Austria needs a new P.R. firm. When people talk about the most gorgeous places on earth, this country should always be part of the conversation. I want to come back. Soon.

Dinner at another gasthaus called the Crazy Monkee, where I had the best meal anywhere so far.

Thursday…off to Munich.

Day 3 in Europe, Thursday, May 23.

The train ride from Salzburg to Munich was onboard one of Germany’s OBB Railjets, a medium high-speed train which features immaculate new cars with huge panoramic windows and all the electronics, e.g., a TV monitor which maps your journey, tells you how fast you are traveling (often around 150 k/h), provides general information as to stops (none on this trip) and throws in a few ads.  I have a 1st Class German Rail Pass that, once validated, allows me to travel any four days in a month and to hop on any trains I want without seat reservations.  The scenery in this part of the world just doesn’t quit, and I’m constantly looking out my single-seat window and marveling at how perfect the landscape is. Italy and France get all the attention and tourism. This is prettier.

My hotel in Munich…

The Hotel Charles.  A Rocco Forte property.

Rocco Forte, who normally takes historic buildings in major European cities and turns them into super luxe masterpieces, here has gone the contemporary route and created a modern beauty.  Almost invariably, the Rocco Forte in a city is the best place in town, and The Charles is no exception. During the day I trammed past all of its key competitors and there was no contest. If you’re coming to Munich, this is the place to stay (all the better Russians do!).  My really nice room, done in stylish tans and beiges, overlooked a botanical garden park and the rooftops of some of Munich’s historic “monument” buildings, and the staff was very friendly and gracious in a very non-phony way. I’ve stayed at about ten of the Rocco Fortes, and this one ranks near the top.

It has been nearly five decades since I was last in Munich—a stop on our going-home trip after my semester in Rome in 1964. That time we were in a hurry to get home, so we probably only gave it and all of our departure cities cursory glances, having traveled to so many during our stay that year. So this was a fresh look. I spent the day doing the usual touristy things, going around to the various platzes, having lunch at an outdoor beer garden (grilled bratwurst on a semel roll slathered with good mustard), then taking self-directed tram tours of different parts of the city. I had dinner at the botanical garden park’s Park Café, which is outfitted like a modern gasthaus (wooden benches, deer heads on wall, etc.), but, to my surprise, quickly morphed into a gathering place for the 20s-30s crowd in Munich, all the primped girls sipping mojitos and white wine, the guys slugging down steins of beer, with two disc jockeys ramping up the music. Good place where I was a bit out of place.

All in all, a nice visit. It would be hard to do more in one day than I did in Munich.

Day 4, Friday, May 24

Today I took the ICE (high-speed, few stops) train from Munich to Baden-Baden. This one was not as fancy as yesterday’s Railjet, but was a really nice train nonetheless. I absolutely love this hopping from place to place. Each morning I’ve had the thrill of anticipation of heading to the station for a new train and a new destination. The concept of seeing “what’s around the next corner” has always fascinated me—as many of you know from efforts to locate restaurants in various places. Thus far I’ve been very fortunate in terms of hopscotching around any really bad weather. I’ve had sun in each place for a decent portion of the day, with only occasional sprinkles. Temperature, however, is a different matter. Here I am in the last week of May and it’s ridiculously cool everywhere, as in about 41-48 Fahrenheit. Lucky for me, I brought a bunch of long sleeve shirts, a sweater and a jacket. I’ve needed them a lot of the time. Better than hot and humid, I suppose.

My hotel in Baden-Baden…

Brenners Park.

This is one of the most longstanding members of Leading Hotels of the World and a decades-long favorite of travelers to Europe. Baden-Baden is one of the world’s most favorite spas, but its significance to me is that it is host to two racing festivals each year.  No racing this week (I missed it by a couple of weeks, and none again until late August), but I wanted to see if I wanted to come back sometime for a couple of days.

Brenner’s Park will be my big splurge this trip. When I originally tried to make a reservation through Leading Hotels, I was advised that the hotel (a) was sold out, and (b) had a three-night minimum. So I wrote them and asked them to put me on a waitlist and, more important, to waive the three-night minimum. They quickly responded, offering to waive the minimum, but also offering a superior room for 590 Euros (about $750?!–breakfast NOT included).  What could I do? I took it.

Well, at least they sort of gave me my money’s worth, upgrading me to a Deluxe Room—big and spacious, with beautiful woodwork and moulding, an enormous bathroom, a 20’ wide balcony and a view of the hotel’s gardens with a big, wide stream gurgling through the property and the adjoining city park.  This is a big, old, classic resort hotel which has been extremely well maintained and updated, describable in one word: Wow. This is the kind of place that the really rich have been coming to since the late 19th Century. It’s the kind of place my parents would never even been able to imagine. One can imagine how terrific it would be to stay here during the May or August racing festival. (One can imagine how great it would be to have breakfast.)

The town of Baden-Baden is a super-affluent place stocked with mansions (summer homes, I suspect) and street after street of fashionable shops. Its singular calling card, besides its spas and hotels, is something called Lichtentaler Allee, a two-mile path that meanders along the aforementioned stream through the park and offers a commune-with-nature experience. B-B has both a lavish Casino and an opulent Opera House, neither of which I will see because they both require jackets and ties. Maybe Vegas should give that a try. The hotel offered to lend me a jacket (said I’d have the buy a tie at Reception), but they were also trying to hammerlock me into dining at the Michelin 1-Star downstairs as part of the package. I’m going into town instead, probably to have asparagus something, since all of German is consumed by asparagus fever, it being a local specialty this time of year and featured on virtually every special-of-the-day menu you see.

Speaking of food, I’ve been concentrating on German cuisine at everyday gasthouses (combination beerhall/restaurants where the locals congregate) instead of fancy restaurants, although I have to say that the restaurants at my hotels have been truly special looking. Gasthauses are not always easy to find, as Italian restaurants and pizzerias outnumber their German counterparts by about five to one (say what you will about those Italians, but the world loves their food). Their food is typical German…lots of pork, dumplings, gravy, terrific soups, fabulous bread and rolls…all delicious, although incredibly salty and calorie-laden. Although a surprisingly high number of people drink wine, especially young women, I tried a glass and thought it was horrible, so have stuck to beer; I’ve been ordering whatever is local, and it’s always good. I find that a half-liter gets me through an entire dinner (made a mistake one place and ordered a liter…33 ounces!…that took me about an hour to finish).

This is going to be my last missive.  Tomorrow it’s off to Frankfurt and a stay at the…

Villa Kennedy.

This is a Leading Hotels member where I’ve stayed before, garnering it one of my Top 10 Europe ratings years ago. Situated in its own little “park”, it’s an ultra-modern hotel in an old building, a go-to hotel frequented by European beautiful people and sports celebrities (the last time I stayed here, Bayern Munich was in the house).

My trip has been highlighted by truly spectacular hotels, each of which I have loved. Pricey little numbers, yes, but perfect “homes” in each city, ones that I will always remember and will recommend enthusiastically. What a way to travel.

I’m flying back Sunday and returning directly to L.A. I had scheduled two days in New York, but revised the itinerary because I miss Alison Winter too much.


Day 5 in Europe, May 25.

On my last night in Frankfurt, I asked the Concierge at Villa Kennedy if anything was going on in town that night. Well, there’s the Skyscraper Fest, he said. Apparently all of the tallest buildings in Frankfurt were having “roof parties” that were very festive. Didn’t sound like my kind of thing. Anything else? Well, there is “the game,” of course.

The game?

He was referring to the Champions League championship game was being held at Wembley Stadium in London. For the uninitiated: The Champions League is the pinnacle of European Soccer. Hundreds of teams from all the countries of Europe struggle to achieve the level of success that qualifies them for Champions League status. The New York Yankees and Miami Heat and Green Bay Packers of soccer are teams like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, Chelsea and the like. Well, this night, for the first time in league history, two German teams—Dortmund and Bayern Munich—were vying for the title…a title equivalent to our Super Bowl..

Well, what about The Game? He said we at the hotel are having a big bash in the bar later that night (game didn’t start until 9:45), but that if I wanted to get the real feel of the game, I should go over to his neighborhood, BergerStrasse, and I’d see what it was all about. So I took the #12 tram over to that neighborhood—a two-kilometer stretch of shops and restaurants and bars—to take in the scene. The first place I sat down was a clone of a U.S. sports bar, with framed pictures and posters and memorabilia of American sports stars for all the major sports from the 50s to the present… when I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer, the bartender rushed over: ”All seats reserved!”, then relented and said I could keep the seat until Der Grosse Buildup began at 8:00, Der Grosse Buildup being their version of whatever…Super Bowl Preview, Game Day, etc….in which sports announcers and old timers and their Ditkas talk about the upcoming game and hype it up.

All up and down the stretch of BergerStrasse, proprietors of bar and restaurants have placed picnic tables outside their establishments, then taken large-screen TVs and plunked them outside the fronts of the establishments, as thousands of fans begin to gather for the game. I actually found a seat at a bar in one of the places where I could see—not the game, because the game was still an hour away, but all the interviews and craziness that preceded the games. What were these rituals? Oh, each team sent out a representative in armor and dueled at midfield (mid-“pitch”), each team then sponsored a battalion of maybe 500 citizen soldiers each, in phalanxes, to rush toward one another and class in faux battle, each team has their “ultras” (insane fans in teams colors and décor, viz. Raider Nation) perform their chants and song. Then their version of the coin flip (for what? Side of field? Not clear), the national anthem (only one this year, since both teams were German).  Game begins. Needless to say, half the crowd in each venue I’m in is half-Dortmund and half-Munich, so I tell ‘em all I’m an L.A. Galaxy fan and they leave me alone. Eventually I moved onto a restaurant for dinner where I could see one of the many TVs, watched and ate dinner during the first half, then ran to my tram to get back to the hotel for the second half.

Back at Villa Kennedy, one seat left at the bar, next to a Hollywood producer type who was paying no attention to the game, but attempting to impress the stranger (young girl) next to him with his insider status in the industry.  One minute to go in the game…score tied 1-1, when a Bayern Munich player get a lucky break, has a couple of people fall down in front of him, and sort of dribbles the ball through the confusion into the net for the winning goal. Bedlam from the Munich supporters, breathless despair from the Dortmunders. No celebrating for me, because I have a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call to et to the airport for my flight home.

The end of a great trip.