Witte Travel & Tours In the News

Witte Travel & Tours In the News

As featured in the November 2014 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine
WHETHER YOUR TRAVEL ASPIRATIONS lean toward an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, cruising the rivers and oceans of the world, tracing ancestral roots through small European towns with your family, or walking in the footsteps of Jesus, Witte Travel & Tours has you completely covered….view the rest of the story

Witte Travel & Tours In the News

Witte Travel & Tours In the News

As featured in the November 2014 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine

WHETHER YOUR TRAVEL ASPIRATIONS lean toward an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, cruising the rivers and oceans of the world, tracing ancestral roots through small European towns with your family, or walking in the footsteps of Jesus, Witte Travel & Tours has you completely covered….view the rest of the story

Top five highlights of my Germany trip

    1. Ulm Minster, Ulm – the tallest church in the world. Its spire reaches 530 feet…amazing. To view information about the church, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulm_MinsterUlm Minster
    2. Rothenburg ob der Tauber – the quaintest city I have ever seen during all of my travels. Yes it can get overrun with tourists; however, it is well worth a two-night stay. Once the tour buses depart, the medieval city is at its best. I can’t list one favorite of this city as it’s impossible to choose…from the market squares to the town hall…from the gates to the towers, all were top-notch. I can tell you that when I return to Germany, I will be staying here again. To view information about the city, visit: http://www.tourismus.rothenburg.de/?id=467

Street and Gate in Rothenburg

    1. Neuschwanstein Castle – by far, my favorite castle of the whole trip. The beauty of castle, along with the setting, couldn’t be beat compared to the other castles seen. To view information about the castle, visit: http://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/tourist/index.htm

Neuschwanstein from Marienbrucke Bridge

  1. Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle), Nuremberg – Besides offering tours of the castle, they also Wedding Party inside courtyard in Nuremburghave two rooms available that can be booked for civil weddings or company events. While touring the castle, we witnessed two wedding parties in the inner castle courtyard. As I was climbing up the hill to the castle, it seemed more of a fortress with its stone walls and how it is positioned atop top the city. To view information about the castle, visit: http://www.kaiserburg-nuernberg.de/englisch/castle/index.htm.
  2. Alte Mainbrücke (old bridge), Würzburg – This stone bridge has statues of saints lining it.Statue on Alte Mainbrucke Bridge When we arrived, people socializing and drinking wine by the statues. The views from the bridge are spectacular with the Marienberg Fortess visible in the distance. To view information about this bridge, visit: http://www.wuerzburg.de/en/visitors/must-sees/22694.Alte_Mainbruecke_old_bridge.html

 

Excursion to Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein on walk from Marienbrucke Bridge
You’ve seen Disneys’ Cinderella’s Castle in pictures. Did you know that Walt Disney based this castle after Neuschanwanstein Castle? Since I started working at Witte Travel & Tours in 2000, I have wanted to see this castle in person. Words can’t properly convey how I felt when I finally saw this amazing castle.

Tracy (my co-worker) and I decided to travel to Neuschanstein Castle independently vs. signing up for a tour. We wanted to take as much time to explore the area without having a set schedule. We also wanted to travel completely by the rail system during our trip. If you prefer, you can sign up for a bus tour vs. traveling independently.

Myself on Marienbrucke bridge with NeuschansteinWould I travel independently to Neuschwanstein again? The answer is YES. I actually would love to return in the spring when everything is blooming. I would also stay in Fussen, which is close to Neuschwantstein. This way I can focus on not only Neuschwanstein Castle, but also other Ludwig Castles as well.

Tips for your Neuschwanstein adventure:

  • TICKETS – Buy tickets online. It will help you avoid long lines. While it was October, we ended up waiting in line for an hour just to purchase tickets. In busier times, this wait will be quite a bit longer.
  • TRANSPORTATION is available across from the ticket office and is quite reasonably priced. Be prepared for a wait if you are visiting during busy times. We had a half-hour wait to get the shuttle bus. You can choose between a shuttle bus or horse carriage. However, please note that neither option takes you right up to the castle. You will still have to walk part of the way yourself and the roads are steep.

Marienbrucke bridge from Neuschwanstein

  • MARY’S BRIDGE – I suggest you take the shuttle versus the horse carriage as it will drop you off near Mary’s Bridge (Marienbrucke). Be sure to hike to the bridge to see spectacular views of the castle. The bridge spans the gap over a waterfall nearly 100 meters below. It is well worth the time and hike.
  • Neuschwanstein - FrontTOURING THE CASTLE – Give yourself enough time to get up to the castle. You receive timed tickets and if you are late, you won’t be allowed to tour the castle. The guided tour lasts a half-hour. Photography is not allowed in the castle. Note, during the tour you will have to go 165 steps upstairs and then down 181 steps.

 

  • LEAVING NEUSCHWANSTEIN – I highly suggest walking down from the castle, past the horse carriage drop off, if you have time and don’t mind walking down a steep winding road. It was definitely worth the time to enjoy the scenery. You will happen upon a few shops and a hotel where you can stop for lunch. Tracy and I went this route and got to enjoy lunch outside with views of the castle.

 

Planning my trip overseas

When planning a trip overseas, a few questions to consider:

Where do you want to go?

Do you want to visit one or more cities in the same country or perhaps multiple countries? If you aren’t quite sure, start a list of what you’ve always wanted to see.

When I was planning my recent trip to Europe, knew I wanted to travel to Germany next; however, the cities to visit were up-in-the-air. When you think of Germany, what comes to mind? For me, it used to be Oktoberfest in Munich, the history of the Nazi’s, or the romantic Rhine River. There is so much more to Germany and I knew I wanted to visit the beauty and uniqueness of this amazing country.
Street and Gate in Rothenburg

Do you want to travel independently or would you prefer to join a tour?

Myself on Marienbrucke bridge with NeuschansteinNow that I had my general destination, I had to decide if I would travel with a group or on my own. If you are wondering if you should travel with a group, the easiest way to decide is to consider if you feel comfortable traveling on your own or if you prefer to be  a part of a group. Also, would you be comfortable navigating around on your own or prefer for someone else to be in charge? I have actually traveled with one of our Witte signature tours, the Netherlands Waterway Cruise, and loved it. I was part of a group, but at the same time there was free time to investigate the areas visited on my own if I so chose. This time around, I decided to travel with a co-worker on an independent trip.

What resources to use for a fun and successful trip?

Would you use the Internet, buy a book on traveling to the country chosen, or contact a travel agency?

For me, the next step is to talk to the professionals. I always encourage family and friends to contact a travel agency to help them plan their trip…whether you join a group or go it alone, using an expert ensures you will have all of the information needed to make the best decision possible.

Hohenschwangau with village and lake

Tracy, my colleague and I talked to our German expert in the Witte Tours group department to help us with our itinerary. We gave her our general ideas on the cities we wanted to visit and what we wanted to accomplish. She knew we’d be traveling via train from city to city vs. renting a car. Knowing all of this, she helped us decide on a “home base” that would help us get around most efficiently. She also helped us narrow down the cities we should visit based on the time and goals we had for our trip.

I have planned vacations using just the Internet and find using an agent is so worth it. They have the knowledge, resources, and experience to plan an independent trip or book a group tour that will fit your needs to a tee.

Do you need travel insurance?

Cologne Cathedral-CloseupFor me, I always get the insurance whether I’m traveling independently or on a group tour. The reason is simple, if something happens and I can’t go on the trip for a covered reason, I won’t lose the money that the trip cost. OR, what happens if your flight gets cancelled, luggage lost, you get sick on the trip, etc? You have invested in this trip, it only makes sense to protect this investment.

Witte Travel & Tours In the News…Ask the Expert

Witte Travel & Tours In the News…Ask the Expert

As featured in the 2012-2013 issue of NTA Trip Planner

Henk Witte launched Witte Travel & Tours in 1975 in his home in Ada, Michigan, after working for two international airlines and a tour operator, because he wanted to use his expertise to arrange performance tours for choirs, bands and orchestras traveling throughout Europe. Over the decades, the high demand for special interest tours led Witte to expand into custom-designed tours for art, architecture, religious, historical, cultural heritage and study-abroad programs…view the rest of the story

2012 Netherlands Waterway Cruise – Itinerary

Once everyone was collected at the “Meeting Point by the Burger King Restaurant,” by John and Ellen Pruiksma Zijp, we were walked to the motorcoaches and on our way. Our first visit was to a small cheese and wooden shoe making shop. The owner demonstrated how he made wooden shoes from a block of wood, and his wife showed us how Gouda cheese was made. Then we visited their shop where everyone sampled and purchased the cheeses and interesting mementoes. On to the town of Gouda to visit the St. Jan’s Kirk’s amazing huge stained-glass windows. It was hard to imagine how these gigantic windows had been created and then installed in this church. We also visited the large open-air market. For lunch, Mike and I sampled poffertjes with another couple in the group. Not exactly proper lunch food, but they sure were good! Back on the bus, we visited Kinderdijk and then stopped at the Military cemetery in Oosterbeek before boarding the ship at 5:00 p.m. and enjoying our first dinner on board.

Sunday most of the group attended church at St. Walburgskerk. Although the service was in Dutch, we sang several songs in our own languages and the minister welcomed us and gave us a bit of translation of his sermon. We enjoyed coffee and cookies with the parishioners following the service. After lunch back on board, most passengers went on the afternoon Het Loo Excursion while others relaxed on board as the ship sailed to Kampen. After dinner we enjoyed a walk into Kampen to see the immense Boven Kerk.

We joined the Het Loo Excursion. The Palace is in a beautiful setting. Ellen bought our tickets and we were on our own to visit the palace, gardens, and the Royal stables. After working our way through the rooms of the house and viewing a bit of the gardens, we headed outside to see several cars that were displayed outside for the day. Then we also walked through the stables to see the cars, sleighs, etc. displayed there. The drive back was along the rural roads as Ellen always chose country roads so we could see the “real” country.

Monday the ship sailed along the shores of the North East polder and through the Lemmer Locks arriving in Sneek around 2:00 pm. Those who had stayed on board could explore the town. Following dinner, there was a walking tour to the Water Gate. A full-day excursion to Drenthe and Groningen was offered.

The all-day Excursion to Drenthe and Groningen was very interesting. At the Staphorst Farm Museum we were shown the traditional clothing of the area. Then on to Drenthe to see a hunebed. This one was back in the woods and it was interesting to imagine how the people had been able to arrange the huge rocks. Lunch was in a lovely restaurant in Ter Apel near a 15th-century monastery. Our next visit was to Ellen’s renovated Saxon farm house in Sellingen where we saw her prize wolfhound and its puppy and many of her paintings. Before returning to the ship, we stopped at the Martinikerk in Groningen for a private demonstration of the church’s organ by Sietze de Vries. We enjoyed his descriptions and examples of the sounds of the various pipes and were overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the music.

Tuesday the ship cruised through the Princes Margriet Canal and the Van Harinxma Canal to Franeker. Those who had stayed on board were able to walk into town for a bit of shopping and sightseeing. After dinner a Frisian folklore group entertained us with dances.

We joined the Friesland Excursion today. This was a very nice day. Sloten was very picturesque little town—plus we found a small grocery store where everyone stocked up on goodies and wine. Hindelopen’s Museum Hidde Nijland had a very nice collection of costumes and furniture that we enjoyed. And Ellen had us on more small back roads. Following one of our more interesting drives across a small narrow bridge, we had lunch in Hindeloopen. Outside a man was smoking eel and everyone had to check this out. One of our group purchased one and demonstrated how to eat it. There were no additional takers for this treat!

Wednesday the morning was at leisure in Franeker. We visited the Eise Eisenga Planetarium which was very interesting and we browsed through town and looked at the City Hall and former Weigh House. In the afternoon the ship cruised through more locks out into the Wadden Sea and then via the North Holland Canal. Along this route there were several fields of colorful tulips and other flowers, plus some that were not yet in bloom due to the cool, wet weather in Holland this spring. At night we tied up near the flower fields. There was no town nearby or opportunity to disembark. After dinner we were entertained by a group of “shanty” singers.

Thursday the ship continued cruising through the tulip fields. Late morning we docked in Alkmaar and took a walking tour of the city with views of the Cheese Museum and Sint Laurenskerk. We were divided into fast, medium and slow walkers. We were in a medium group and, unfortunately, unless you stayed right next to our guide, you could not hear him at all. In the afternoon the Salvinia continued to Amsterdam and we celebrated with a Captain’s Dinner and wine.

Friday we all boarded buses to visit the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. It was very interesting to walk above all the activity and see the boxes and boxes of various flowers lined up and then being hooked together and pulled from place to place. We also saw the rooms of buyers at computers placing their orders. Amazingly efficient. Next we were bused to the Keukenhof National Flower Exhibition. This “show” only lasts for two months and is fabulous. There is every possible type of tulip plus many, many, many other flowers. There are all kinds of gardens and pavilions–even areas for children and animals. We each had a picnic lunch packed by the ship kitchen, but it began to rain in earnest and we hurried back to the bus to eat lunch in a dry, warm place. The buses made stops to drop off those who wished at locations in Amsterdam so we could sightsee and shop on our own or return to the ship. A return pickup was also provided. After wandering around in the city, Mike and I thought it would be easier to simply find our way back to the ship than to find our way back to the pick-up point. It turned out to be a very long cold walk. Earlier, John asked if anyone was interested in a canal cruise this evening so about 50 of us opted to do this. The canals are beautiful in the evening with the lights on the bridges and the interesting buildings along the way. It was very informative and relaxing after a busy day of walking and a great way to top off our week in the Netherlands.

Saturday we were up very early to transfer back to Schiphol Airport. It had been a fun and very interesting week! I would recommend this for any first timers wanting to experience a bit of Europe as well as those who have traveled a lot and are looking for a more in-depth experience in a single country.

2012 Netherlands Waterway Cruise – Transportation

Our flights were on Delta Air Lines. Check in at GR Gerald R. Ford went smoothly with the assistance of Annette. Service on the flights to and from Amsterdam was cheerful and friendly. Airline food needs no description. Each seat had its own screen with a good variety of entertainment available. The headsets were difficult to use. Mike gave up and took a nap. On the return, airport check-in at Schiphol went smoothly but customs and security lines in Detroit were very long. We parked in the new covered lot at Gerald R. Ford at a cost of $72 for the week.

The Salvinia is a relatively small ship accommodating 120 passengers, plus the crew. The ship size allows it to travel the canals and smaller waterways and visit the interesting villages along the way. Cabins are small, but arranged so that everything you need is close at hand and comfortable. Bouquets of tulips greeted guests when they arrived in their cabins and in the lobby and lounge. The ship has a small library, a variety of board games, an exercise bike, a whirlpool and sauna and a very pleasant lounge and sun deck (which unfortunately did not get much use due to the cold and rain). The food on board ship is good and plentiful. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style and provided plenty of choices. Dinner is served family style and although not gourmet, was always tasty. Everyone seemed to enjoy the ship, the service, staff and food.

Motorcoaches were excellent, clean and quite new. The larger one that we were on several times had a bit of trouble negotiating a few of the narrow roads with tight turns that Ellen chose, but each time the driver managed it somehow to the cheers of his passengers. The drivers were excellent, polite and friendly—along with being extremely good at maneuvering the buses.