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Rudi Kiefer: Spring is a great time to explore Europe’s scenic Upper Rhine Valley
Rudi Kiefer
This is a great time for visiting Europe. Weatherwise, spring offers the best chance for mild and sunny conditions in France, Germany and Switzerland. But why consider just the standard locations such as Paris, Munich or Zurich? There are exciting places less traveled, and only a fraction as expensive.

My favorite is the Upper Rhine Valley. That’s the area between Lake Constance (locally called Bodensee) and Frankfurt. The town of Konstanz is rich in historic buildings and memorabilia. Cruise boats on the lake can connect you with Germany, Switzerland or Austria.

Thirty miles to the west is Schaffhausen (Switzerland) with the “Niagara Falls of Europe,” where the Rhine River found itself a new bed at the end of the last Ice Age. It hasn’t quite finished carving through all the hard rock that’s in the way, resulting in spectacular waterfalls.

After leaving Switzerland, the Rhine forms the border between Germany (called “Rhein” there) and France (“Rhin”). The cities of Strasbourg and Freiburg are highly enjoyable. On the French side, Strasbourg offers views and restaurants just as nice as Paris, at much lower prices. Its gothic cathedral is even more ornate than Notre Dame. Alsatian food conveys a sense of the deep valleys and vineyards of the Alsace regions, along with excellent wines and regional beer brands.

An 80-minute, $20 train ride will take you across the river to Freiburg. There’s no more border to cross into Germany. The two countries are completely open to one another. No money exchange is necessary because the Euro is common currency except in Switzerland. Freiburg is a charming old university town with cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes and scenic views, as well as another gothic cathedral. It’s also at the edge of the famous Black Forest Mountains, with bus tours available.

A two-hour train ride to the north is Karlsruhe, a city whose streets form a distinct sunbeam pattern on the map. Duke Karl Wilhelm in 1715 wanted to be as glorious as the “Sun King” of France, Louis XIV, so he had the entire city designed that way, with his castle as the center point and representing the sun. The city later added a pyramid just 1,500 feet from the castle, in which some believe he is buried.

Between all these scenic locations, trains are available multiple times a day, making travel safe and quick.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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