THE BLACK FOREST-ALPS RALLY

You get 2 nights in really nice hotels when you buy a Mercedes-Benz on the European Delivery Program. For $1,000 you get 4 extra nights in really nice hotels. This gives you a 6 night vacation package. This is great for the first-timer as it takes you through tourist land and avoids industrial park land. If you don't know German, don't worry. Aside from basic road terms, you don't need to. You do need to brush up on international road signs and the signs used in Germany so you don't think Einbahnstrasse is the longest street in Germany and so you know the difference between Einfahrt and Ausfahrt. (See A Short Course in German Road Signs.)

Menus can usually be had in English. In places where neither the waiter nor the menu spoke English we've managed to get good food.

After you pick up the car the first target, if you do the rally "by the book," is the Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe. It has been voted the best hotel in Germany for several years. Getting there takes 2 hours and 70 miles, 23 miles of Autobahn, and the rest of twisty backroads including the legendary Schwartzwalderhöhestrasse or Black Forest High Road. You'll get beautiful views of the Rhine Valley along the way. Try to make it to the hotel by 4 PM. The hotel itself is a former summer castle of the Kaiser. It's a beautiful building on a hill in a deep forest. The driveway is long and tree-lined. You'll park in a beautiful circular entry with a fountain in the middle, and a bellman will be there for the bags instantly.

The staff, of course, speaks English. Your room will have a nice view of the Rhine Valley.

All of the hotels have 2 twin beds put together. They don't use two sheets, but instead of the top one is a comforter. The room needs to be cold for this to work well so you don't wake up sweating.

Like the Intercontinental, the Bühlerhöhe has a bidet in the bathroom. Our room had one robe for some reason. If you're going to buy a robe as a souvenir, this isn't the place. Buy the Interalpen's. TP rating, 180 grit.

Breakfast and a welcome cocktail are included, but dinner isn't. It was 200 DM. They did have wine by the glass, and be aware the excellent champagne is 21 DM per glass. They have two restaurants, but the gourmet restaurant was closed for remodeling. We've missed it both trips.

If you're going to spend more than one night at any of the hotels this would be a good one. It's half an hour from Strasbourg, France and one of the great automotive museums in the world with the world's best collection of Bugattis. Because of the car's not being ready on time and our having to drive back to Sindelfingen, we were unable to make this side trip. You could do it in 2 hours and still make the next hotel, the Park Adler, at a reasonable time.

The Park Adler, in Hinterzarten, is only 100 miles from the Bühlerhöhe, but that requires 3 hours. We've found good lunches at the Voghtbauernhof, a restored Black Forest farm of the 19th century and open air museum. We've never actually made it to the museum, just the restaurants and shops. This is a German tourist spot. No one speaks English, but we could figure out the menu. Further on the route around Triberg are a gaggle of cuckoo clock shops. They will sell them ex-taxes if they ship them to you. You take the weights with you, and they ship the rest. The Triberg waterfall is worth the 5 minute walk. Photographers should get there before the light goes.

You'll see a lot of sights, sweeping vistas, old farmhouses. Expect to crawl through every village. When you get to the Parkhotel Adler ask about covered parking. It's only 10 DM and absolutely secure. The Parkhotel Adler has its own little park, hence the name. In the park is a petting zoo that's worth the walk.

The Adler is a 15th century building. It has no air conditioning. In September opening some windows did the trick. The double doored rooms look like something out of a movie. (A scene from Grand Prix had a double-doored hotel room.)

Under the hotel is a passageway to the restaurant on one side and the indoor swimming pool on the other side. The swimming pool is the same depth all around. Don't dive in. The spa was warm, not hot.

No bidet, but TP rating is almost US quality.

They gave us a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the redhead's birthday. All of the hotels were told this was her birthday (actually it's her birthday PRESENT but several months late). This one actually did something about it. Everyone gets drink coupons. Since we had the champagne as an aperitif, we used the drink coupons for wine with dinner. They do wine by the glass or bottle.

Dinner was excellent and is included. The Bühlerhöhe was a little better, but the service was better here.

When we got back to our room a young lady brought the redhead a sherbet dessert with "Happy Birthday" in chocolate.

The breakfast buffet was excellent.

We had lunch in the medieval town of Lindau. This requires parking the car in P1, a parking area serviced by a bus which will take you to the inner town. The shops there cater to German tourists. The restaurant we chose, near the water as this was an ancient port, had picture menus. The wienerschitzel tasted like chicken fried steak, and the fries were like McDonalds.

From there we went off course to go to the Schlosshotel Lisl in Oberschwangau. It sits between 2 of the 3 castles of Mad King Ludwig. Our room was a corner room with Neuschwanstein in one window and Schloss Oberschwangau in the other.

You're getting into pure tourist land here. The restaurants all have English menus, and when you sit down, they give you ice water. Elsewhere you have to ask for mineral water, and you can't get tap water with ice. Americans like cold tap water, so they have it. But the shops have T-shirts. The restaurants all have wienerschnitzel because Americans expect it. Their menus look like German restaurants in the U.S., not like fine restaurants in Germany. But the food was good at the cheaper of the two restaurants in the Lisl. As I say, it's a tourist place.

Our room had a corner view with one castle in one window, and the other in the other window. It, too, had no air conditioning but didn't need it. The TP was reasonable. Speakers played the TV in the bathroom.

Everyone goes to see Neuschwanstein. It's the model for Disney's castle. It's beautiful on the outside, but unfinished on the inside. As a result the tour was disappointing. The Lisl minibus will take you to the top of the hill, but from there you have to walk down a VERY steep hill 300 meters. This means when you're done, you'll have to CLIMB back up. Do go to the bridge and photograph the castle from there.

The other castle, Hohenschwangau, we went to visit this time because we had visited the other one before. Unfortunately very few people did, and they would only do an English tour if 15 people came. Thus we had to go on a German speaking tour, and I translated with a guide book. The redhead was livid, all fangs and claws.

From there we backtracked and rejoined the drive to Austria.

When you get to the border follow the signs for "VIGNETTEN." A Vignette is a tax ticket you stick on your windshield. A week's worth is 10.50 DM. Failure to have it is a 90 DM fine. You WILL be checked. If not before, they'll look when you leave the country at the border.

I studied the word Vignette. I kept forgetting it. I'd say Vichysoisse or Vic Damone or something. The lady at E. H. Harms had written it down for me. So I went inside after studying it, ready to get it.

"Sprecken sie English?"

"Yes. You want the ticket for the highway?"

There are no fuel places on the autobahn in Austria as there are in Germany. You'll have to leave the autobahn, following a gas station directional, to find fuel.

We filled up at half tank intervals, having had trouble finding fuel in Austria once before. I usually paid cash, but rather than convert DM to shillings I used a credit card for fuel in Austria. Travelersí Checks are a problem in Austria. Cash them in Germany.

The Interalpen is the finest hotel on the tour. A big hotel, it is extremely fancy and ornate inside. Our room, both trips, was a 5 room suite! The view was of the sunset. This time it was raining, but last time the sunset view over the mountains surrounding the hotel was spectacular.

The swimming pool is huge. The water is warm. The robes are 800 Shillings ($67.50).

Dinner was up to the standard of quality of the Park Adler. They have wine only by the bottle and half bottle.

The Interalpen would be another good one to spend more than one night at. There is a lot to do there, and the scenery is fantastic.

From the Interalpen the route takes a back road down the mountain. Mad King Ludwig's first castle, Linderhof, is on the way. Expect to walk a lot if you go to it. This is when we discovered we should have taken a couple of small folding umbrellas and/or jackets with hoods. It rained steadily, and we got wet. But we dried out. Linderhof is a small castle inspired by Versailles. It is quite ornate inside. It was crowded and quite disorganized. Getting to an English speaking tour wasn't easy.

Oberammergau is also close to the way. We had lunch there. It, too, is a tourist town, site of the famous passion play, a rococco church, houses with frescoes on external walls, all the wood carvings you care to buy, a 14th century Benedictine Abbey, Ettal.

Then we jumped on the autobahn for München. All is fine till you get into the city. The instructions are mileaged, but one reads, "80 Cross Karlsplatz (Stachus), keep to your right and turn right at Parcellistrasse."

Now I don't know much about navigation, being a two time Sports Car Club of America National Rally Champion, and the redhead was a national champion Rally navigator. But we've not been able to get that instruction right the first time either trip. The signs are on the far corners of the intersections and at odd angles and too small to read from the car. The traffic is brutal. Do NOT wait till dark. Get to München in the daylight. You don't want to be lost in Munich at night.

The Bayerischer Hof is a beautiful old hotel within walking distance of the shopping district, which is a car-free zone.

Leave the keys and papers for E. H. Harms with the concierge, and say a fond good-bye to your car. You'll see it again 6-8 weeks later. When we arrived the doorman ran out raving over the beautiful car. He had been given a 2 day rental of an SLK for his birthday, and he loved it. Our little red Sport model sure livened up the building until they took it downstairs to the parking garage.

There are 2 different wings in the Bayerischer Hof. Our room this time was spectacular. Our room in 1995 was average. The bathroom has a huge circular tub, no shower stall, but shower nozzle in the tub. There's a bidet, and the TP rating was 220 grit on one side, smooth on the other.

Neither the Bayerischer Hof nor the Lisl had a clock in the room. This was a problem since we had a 0700 flight and had to get up at 4. The wakeup call came on time, but I kept waking up wondering what time it was. Instead of the Rolex, I'd recommend a disposable Timex Indiglo with built-in alarm.

Shopping in the shopping district seemed superior to Stuttgart, so I'd recommend scheduling to be there during the week. We flew out on Sunday, arrived on Monday in Stuttgart, putting us in Munich on Saturday afternoon. The shops were closed. Next time we'll fly out on Saturday, arrive on Sunday, and shop in Munich on Friday, unless we add a few nights and take a longer trip. It was really difficult to give up the SLK after only 800 miles. When it arrives, we're planning a party.

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