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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Journey Through a Postcard | Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Liechtenstein

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Last week we returned from the most incredible vacation, where I felt like we were moving from one postcard image to the next. As we journeyed throughout Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein I kept thinking, "the scenery can't get any better than this" -- but it always seemed to surpass my expectations!


Our Thought Process......and RV Rental

We originally got the idea to travel to Germany to experience Oktoberfest in Munich. However, that became just a small component to a busy, but wonderful trip. In planning for the trip, one of the components that we knew we wanted to do for certain was to drive. I personally had been to Germany a couple of times prior to this trip, but one of the things I didn't like about those trips was that I didn't have the ability to stop and check out things as I traveled due to being on a group bus or on a train. Therefore, I wanted to be able to stop along the way and see things; Alex basically just wanted to drive in the country of no speed limits. :-) Therefore, we looked into the possibility of renting a car and staying at hotels, but staying at a hotel every night adds up quickly, so we looked into RVs.

We found a small RV (almost essential for navigating the narrow roads in the towns) that cost around $1,300 USD for the 9.5 days of rental. When comparing the car/hotel option to an RV it equaled out to about $70 per night for accommodation (if we subtracted the rental car cost from the RV total); which seemed a little more reasonable. Plus, we liked the idea of being able to purchase groceries and make our own meals in the RV for breakfast, lunch and occasionally dinner. This last element proved to be a really good money saver, as eating out there is almost as expensive as eating out at home in Canada! So for the first 9.5 days we drove around in the RV across a small part of Austria into Liechtenstein and Switzerland and back up through Germany; before turning our vehicle in for the last 3 days of mostly 'drinking activities' in Munich at Oktoberfest. For a more detailed itinerary see the other 'Itinerary Post.'


Below are some of the aspects we found interesting and highlights of the trip for us.


Camping Differences:

The camping that we experienced in Europe was significantly different than the camping we've experienced in Canada and the United States. Most of the campsites at home are often in areas surrounded by trees and the campsites are somewhat separated from one another by the natural tree surroundings. They also include things like picnic tables and fire pits. However, a majority of camping that we saw was RV camping, which is fairly popular in Germany. There the campgrounds were mostly cement pads or large, flat gravel areas where RVs would park next to one another in one row after another. The few tent camping areas we saw were just a grassy section where tents were set-up, and each camper would bring their own little card table and chairs.


The demographics seemed different than here as well; although I'm not sure if it was due to the time of year we were there or not. However, we found that a majority of RV campers were retired or older couples; whereas, I would (unscientifically) say that a majority of campers in North America are families. The tent campers we saw tended to be more of our age; however, we didn't see any children camping. But then again, school had already started for the year so it may have skewed my observation.


Within Germany, pricing was pretty similar to a campground in North America. For one night, without electricity hook-up, it was 20 Euro per night ($25 USD). However, Switzerland was about twice as expensive with a night of camping costing around 40 Swiss Francs ($42 USD). They also priced the campgrounds differently by charging a small fee per person to get the total nightly stay amount; whereas here most campgrounds just have a flat rate per a campsite.


We ended up only staying at one official campground during our tour in the RV because it would have added up to pay $20-40 per night for a campground. Instead we ended up staying at several rest stations on the side of the autobahns, the roadside pull-offs and sometimes even deserted streets. :-) That ended up saving us a lot of money! However, we definitely weren't the only ones doing this, as there were always a few other RVs in the same parking lots with us.

The Rest Stations in Germany and Austria were very nice! Besides the typical gas and a convenience store, many of them had several services like showers and even hot buffets that looked pretty decent with fresh food. It made it a lot easier to transit the roads in our 'traveling home'.


Price Comparison:

Overall, we thought the costs within Germany and Austria were very similar to the prices here in Canada (except for the Big Mac cost and diesel - unbelievable!). It was Switzerland and Liechtenstein (which both use the Swiss Franc as their currency) where we noticed higher prices. However, compared to Canada (and even some things in the United States), some commodities were cheaper! These included milk, cheese, beer and chocolate! I'm liking that diet! Switzerland was the one exception to cheap beer - it was more expensive there.

These are just a small sample of prices of a few key items:


Germany & Austria (Euro):

Diesel = 1,52 e/litre, Germany($1.96) or 1,41 e/litre, Austria ($1.82) OR $7.41 per gallon/$6.88 per gallon

E-10 Gasoline = 1,68 e/litre ($2.17) OR $9.71 per gallon

Package of Lunch Meat = 1,99 e ($2.57)

Package of Sliced Cheese = 1,55 e ($2.00)

1 Litre of Milk = 0,45 e ($.58)

McDonalds Big Mac = 7,50 e ($9.69)

McDonalds Sundae = 1,00 e ($1.29)

Half Litre of Beer (at Restaurant/Pub) = 2,70 to 3,30 e ($3.49 to $4.27)

1 Litre of Beer = 6,90 to 8,00 e ($8.92 to $10.34)


Switzerland (CHF =Swiss Franc):

(In Latin, the official name of Switzerland - Swiss Confederation - is Confoederatio Helvetica, which is how it gets abbreviated to CH.)

Diesel =1,86 per litre CHF ($1.98) OR $7.48 per gallon

Loaf of Bread = 1,25 CHF ($1.33)

Package of Lunch Meat =4,95 to 5,55 CHF ($5.28 to $5.92)

Package of Sliced Cheese =3,95 CHF ($4.21)

1 Litre of Milk =1,50 CHF ($1.60)

McDonalds Big Mac =11,60 CHF ($12.37)

McDonalds Ice Cream Cone =1,50 CHF ($1.60)

Half Litre of Beer (at Restaurant/Pub) = 6,50 CHF ($6.93)


Unique Transportation - Train Ferry:

It was so interesting to observe Europe's unique transportation structures, especially when we got into the Alps. Whereas in North America the roads are basically built around the mountains and take a lot of time to wind and drive around, many of the roads go straight through the mountains! They blast out many of the mountains, hills, etc. to make tunnels through and make it much quicker to get through the mountains.


One of our funniest moments while driving through the mountains was driving from Interlaken to Zermatt. We had a GPS (otherwise we would have been in big trouble) and we arrived at a toll booth. We were confused at the time because we had a toll sticker on the RV and we weren't sure why we were paying for something more. However, rather than arguing, we just paid the fee and proceeded through, at which point our GPS said, "Load Ferry". We looked around more confused because we didn't see a body of water for the ferry to cross....then we saw it....it was a Railroad ferry! We didn't even realize that something like this existed, but leave it up to the Swiss to think of something awesome like this! It was several flatcars with covers over them and you just drove your vehicle onto the flatcar, parked it and then waited inside for the train to transit you through the mountain tunnel.


This is the quickest way to get from one side of the mountain to the other. It was such a cool concept though. The tunnel was double tracked so they had trains going back and forth between the sides as a shuttle service. However, as we passed the train in the tunnel it felt like we were going to explode in our RV because the speed and force at which the trains passed each other in the narrow space. The trains likely got up to 100-120 km/h within the tunnel.

Driving on the Autobahn:

Let's just say, I had nothing to do with the Autobahn, except being a passenger and sometimes trying to bite my tongue or cover my eyes with my hands. However, Alex fully embraced the autobahn and all the opportunities that it offered, as a guy who loves cars and speed. I'm pretty sure the German roads are a man's dreams come true.


The autobahns are very organized and methodical where everyone knows the rules of the road. In fact, the entire eleven days that we were driving we didn't see one accident; not even a fender bender. Although that may have just been luck, I feel like you can hardly go two to three days at home without at least seeing a minor fender bender or accident. All people know that you stay out of the left lane, and if you're a slow moving vehicle, like we were with the RV, you don't dare to move out of the right lane unless basically you don't see anyone in the left lane in your rear view mirror. It was crazy how quickly cars would come up on us, and then zoom right on past and not stay in our sight for very long. There were a couple of cars that we saw that were probably going close to 300 kph. (185 mph). Of course, we saw several nice vehicles, especially many Audis, BMWs and some Porsches. However, contrary to popular perception, not all sections of the autobahns in Germany are speed limit free; there are just certain portions of the autobahn that are free of speed limits, although there are still several. Both Switzerland and Austria had maximum speed limits (Around 130 kph). Also interesting, almost all the speed limits are posted by digital sign, so the speed limits can change based on the weather or road conditions.


While we had the RV, Alex mastered the rules of the road and took it as a training for his really big driving day on the last day of our trip, where he specifically ordered a high-powered car (Audi A6) to be able to navigate and drive on the autobahn. So on that day, I just rode along as a passenger as we drove from Munich to Salzburg and then back. Because of traffic, the highest speed Alex got up to was about 170 kph (105 mph) because there was always something that would come up in front of us. However, on our last morning as we drove to the airport at around 6 am the roads were a little less crowded and Alex got up to 220 kph (135 mph) for about 30 seconds. (The entire 30 seconds of which I was just bracing myself in my seat as at that point you're just zooming!)


However, when we got home Alex had some culture shock with driving back in Calgary, where the roads and driving were not as efficient; and many drivers aren't as competent as they were in Germany. There were a few choice words and comments on the drive home from the airport that afternoon. :-) Probably not the best to drive home in Calgary's rush hour after driving in Germany...


Oktoberfest:

Although its name is deceiving, Oktoberfest actually starts in September and finishes the first weekend of October. It was originally started because in 1810 King Ludwig I had a great celebration for his wedding; everyone enjoyed it so much that the patrons decided to hold the celebration each year after that! Other than wars or disease famines, Oktoberfest has been held every year since 1811!

Today it is a little more commercialized and almost like a big exhibition or fair that focuses on drinking beer. There are eight major beer tents on the Oktoberfest grounds, which is held right within the city. Although they are technically tents, the beer halls have facades all around the outside and are fully furnished inside so it feels like you're in a traditional German beer hall. The lengths they go to decorate the inside and outside of the tents is pretty amazing. They all have the wooden tables to complete the beer hall feeling. During peak times you often have to wait to get into a tent to get a table to drink the large steins (costing about 8-9 Euro each). They do offer the opportunity to make reservations for certain tables in the beer tents, but you must have a small group to do this. Unfortunately, just the two of us wouldn't work for a reservation. Without a reservation some people get to the tents by 6 or 7 a.m. to secure their spots, which is a little too early for me to start thinking about beer.


We found it interesting that in order to try to prevent people from taking the glasses out from the beer gardens or tents, that some places would charge a deposit in addition to the price of the beer. We went to one biergarten where we paid about 6 euro for the .5 litre of beer and then another 3 euro on top of that for the glass deposit. In order to get our deposit back at the end we had to go to a booth and return our glass to get our 3 euro back. Pretty good idea, especially for a place where a bunch of drunk people probably break their glasses a lot too.


Although the event does revolve mostly around beer, it is also a family event with all kinds of food vendors on the grounds, as well as a very large Midway (including a couple of small roller coasters). A couple of the food tents were almost as big as the beer tents! The food vendors mostly served traditional Bavarian food like bratwurst, pretzels, apple strudel, etc. (Of course, all more expensive than what you could get off the grounds.)

Unfortunately, the first day we went to Oktoberfest it was raining a lot, and it was pretty miserable to be outside since we couldn't get into a tent. However, we headed back into the town centre and went to the Augustiner restaurant for drinks instead, and it was pretty much an Oktoberfest there as well! At our table we first had a group of Italians and then we had some people from Britain join us, and of course there was lots of beer!


While we visited Oktoberfest and journeyed around Munich, I couldn't help but compare Oktoberfest to the Calgary Stampede here at home. Of course, there's the obvious: Midway, food vendors, beer gardens, but it was also the atmosphere. In Calgary, the locals dress up in western attire; and in Germany a majority of people dress in their lederhosen and traditional German dresses, dirndls. In fact, you could pretty much assume that any person without the traditional dress (like ourselves) was a tourist. Although there were a large number of tourists who did buy the clothes to join in the celebrations; we just couldn't justify a dirndl or lederhosen for about 100 euros each for just two days. But the locals will wear their attire all around town and even to work. Also, both bring a lot of excitement to their communities and are held right outside of downtown. Finally, both have parades.


At Oktoberfest, there is a parade held on the first Saturday and Sunday of Oktoberfest. On Saturday it is The Grand Entry of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, where all the breweries bring in their beer wagons pulled by horses. Then on Sunday, it is the Costume and Riflemen's Procession, where various groups will dress up in their traditional attire. We watched parts of the parade on Sunday, but it was a long parade - it took about three hours from start to finish.

However, one slight difference from Stampede was admission to Oktoberfest was free. Although the second day we were at Oktoberfest I almost wished they charged admission just so that it might have deterred some of the crowds.


Top 10 Favorite Moments of the Trip:

(In no particular order because it was too hard to choose!)


1. Taking the train to the top of Jungfraujoch and then hiking down through the villages and mountains that looked like they were right out of a storybook. Everything in this area looked so perfect, quaint and magnificent It was some of the most gorgeous scenery I have seen in my life! I also loved the fact that you could hear the bells almost anywhere; the sound was from the local Swiss cows who wear their bells.

2. Hiking down around and down from the Matterhorn. It was a 4 hour hike, but it was also gorgeous scenery.


3. Eating fondue dinner in Zermatt, even though we ordered the "wrong fondue". We meant to get the traditional cheese fondue but ending up getting broth fondue with meat. However, it was equally as tasty and satisfying.


4. Visiting the Cailler Chocolate Factory in Broc, Switzerland where you could taste so many delicious chocolates. In fact, I felt a little sick by the end of my testing session.


4. Renting bicycles and cycling around Lake Constance and to the island of Reichenau, which was full of vineyards, orchards, vegetable farms and beautiful flower gardens.


5. Exploring the Black Forest and buying a Cuckoo Clock, which was also a learning process about what makes a cuckoo clock traditional: hand carved, manual, etc. We were pretty happy with our selection of a cuckoo coming out of the top and a little guy drinking his beer on the hour.


6. Driving on the German autobahn and getting up to 220 kph! (Alex's)


7. Trying out all the different German beers - we didn't drink one that we didn't like. They went down really smooth and had a lot of taste to it. Plus, as long as we didn't drink more than 3 to 4 litres per night, you didn't have any hangover effects the next day. We really enjoyed the Hefeweizens, and Alex also really enjoyed the dark beers.


8. Meeting & talking to locals in Munich during Oktoberfest, especially our friends from Graz, Austria that we met at the Hofbrauhaus. It was so much fun to compare cultural differences and policies. Talking to them made me want to move to Europe because maternity leave in Austria is 2 YEARS and depending on which subjects they study, 100% of their university education is paid for! They couldn't really comprehend just a 1 year maternity leave in Canada, so when I told them US maternity leave was only 6 weeks, they definitely couldn't comprehend that!!!!


9. Experiencing the iconic world renown Oktoberfest festival firsthand.


10. The incredible, breathtaking scenery that we experienced EVERY day!


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