We flew to Stuttgart, Germany for a long weekend over the kids’ half-term break in October. Autumn is the right time to go to Germany; it reminded me a lot of New England in the fall. The weather was chilly but not freezing and the foliage was gorgeous.
Once again, we rented an Airbnb rather than get a hotel room. It usually makes more sense for our family since we’d need two hotel rooms, however in this case I think a hotel might have been better. Although our apartment was perfectly nice and had plenty of space, we didn’t actually need the kitchen at all — not once did we cook OR eat in the apartment — and it was located pretty far outside the city center. Looking back, we’d have been better off spending a little more money on two hotel rooms downtown and not having to drive 20+ minutes minimum to get to anything we wanted to see. Regardless, though, we had a nice place and a rental car, so it wasn’t really a big deal. Just a thought for next time.
The first day of our trip was the only one with rain in the forecast for the afternoon, so we planned an indoor activity that day. Sensapolis is an indoor amusement park that, to be honest, I really wasn’t that excited about before we went. I figured it would be basically a big indoor playground, which would keep the kids happy for a few hours but that wouldn’t necessarily be that cool or special. I was so, so wrong. It was the COOLEST indoor play place I’ve ever seen. There were enormous play structures with different themes: a space ship with tons of crazy slides of differing levels of speed and twistiness (some of which were so fast and steep that the two younger children weren’t even allowed on them), a giant castle with secret passages and dungeons to explore, a woodland climbing playground made entirely of natural materials with rope bridges and cargo nets, rock climbing walls, a zip line, a pirate ship playground, and the scariest, most difficult ropes course I’ve ever seen or done.
I am not exaggerating when I say I was absolutely astounded at the level of difficulty of the ropes course. I have no fear of heights. I love roller coasters and you can’t make them fast enough or twisty enough for me. I’ve done obstacle courses in the military, run obstacle races for fun, love zip lines and really would like to try bungee jumping. And I was terrified on this ropes course.
I went through it with Gabe and Bridget and about 15 seconds into it, I was shaking both with fear and exertion. I would have absolutely dropped out and not finished it if there had physically been a way to do so. The course was made of ropes and actual tree branches and logs and was suspended from the ceiling about 3 stories in the air with no net whatsoever underneath it. In fact, it hung above the food court and a concrete floor. I didn’t realize until I was on it how ridiculously high above the ground it was or that the climbing elements were all free-swinging. It required real strength to get from one obstacle to the next because they would swing away from each other if you didn’t hold them together with your legs and arms, and then you’d be hanging in a split 50 feet above the ground. Several times the distance between two obstacles was far enough that I had to let go completely of the obstacle I was leaving and lunge forward to catch hold of the one I was going to next; if that was the case for me, it was even worse for Gabe and Bridget. I was shaking, sweating, and swearing through the whole thing. Bridget, who has even less fear of these type of things than I do, at one point summed it up: “This seems unnecessarily hard, so much so that it’s not actually that fun.” I agreed.
When we finally got back on the ground I told Matt it was insanely, ridiculously, appallingly difficult and it was a good 10 minutes before the adrenaline rush subsided and my hands stopped shaking. Naturally, Matt had to try it then too. He came back in a full sweat and confirmed my claim: it was the hardest ropes course he’s ever done too. I am sort of proud I did it, amazed that my two older kids did as well (twice, actually, because they went back with Matt when he went through), and relieved that Matt agreed with me that it was incredibly difficult.
We spent probably 5 hours at Sensapolis and the kids would have stayed longer, but Matt and I wanted to get outside once the weather cleared up. We headed over to Schloss Solitude on the outskirts of Stuttgart where we wandered around the grounds and gardens and took in the views. It was gorgeous. We didn’t do the inside of the castle, because it’s only possible to go inside with a guided tour but we missed the timing for the English language one; to be honest, we were all perfectly happy to walk around outside.
The next day we got up and headed south to Hohenzollern Castle, which is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal Family and one of the coolest castles I’ve seen so far in all of Europe. We did take the guided English tour there, and it was great. To make the experience even cooler, the Royal Family was actually in residence that day, an event that is apparently fairly rare; no one lives there and the family actually only visits a few times a year, so it was sort of a lucky coincidence to be there on a day they were there too! Even better, the reason they were there was because that night was a party at the castle celebrating the relationship between the Prussians and the Romanovs, so the Romanov Royal family was there too! This was super, extra exciting to me since I studied Russian in the military and have a particular interest in and affinity for the Romanovs; to be there that day while they were there too felt like a little gift!
The castle itself is gorgeous but what makes it most special is its location situated on top of a sharp rise looking out over the most gorgeous valley in all directions. It was a serious hike up the paths to get to the castle up top, but the views were absolutely breath-taking.
We had lunch at the castle too, enjoying some traditional German foods: rote wurst, wiener schnitzel, and curry wurst, which we all really loved. After lunch we trekked back down the hill to the car and headed toward our next destination: Triberg Waterfalls in the Black Forest.
This was one of my very favorite things we’ve done so far in all of Europe. The waterfalls are stunning, but the forest itself was just as amazing. We hiked the paths, searched for fairy houses, and just breathed in the smell of autumn. The Black Forest was one of those places where, as soon as we arrived, I felt peaceful. I felt happy and calm and definitely like there was some magic going on in those trees; if you’d said people claim to spot fairies or gnomes on Black Forest paths I’d have nodded in agreement and kept a sharp lookout. Some places are just magical like that.
As we strolled through the forest paths, we occasionally walked past little booths where Park Guides sat. Outside each of them hung a picture of a squirrel with something written on it in German. Finally Matt and I figured out that you could buy a small bag of peanuts from the Park Guides and that squirrels would, theoretically, come up to you in the forest and eat peanuts out of your hand. Obviously I immediately bought one; I was instantly imagining myself traipsing around the forest like a Disney Princess with woodland creatures following me and eating from my hand. I didn’t take into account, however, that the squirrels must actually come up to you to eat from your hand, and they won’t do that when you’re walking through the forest with three boys who make enough noise to scare off a bear, never mind a tiny woodland creature. Bridget also wanted to Disney Princess it up, so we tried to walk AWAY from the boys while still keeping sort of together. No luck. I didn’t see a single squirrel. The boys spent half the walk pretending to be Army guys taking cover behind fallen trees and rocks and shouting military instructions to each other, and the other half trying to climb the trees and shouting at me to look how high they’d gotten. And then they ate all the peanuts, since we wouldn’t want them to go to waste and the squirrels were clearly not coming for them.
Our last day in Germany was spent at Ludwigsburg Palace at the world’s largest pumpkin festival. The actual biggest pumpkin ever in the world was on display, sitting next to a Smart Car which was dwarfed by the pumpkin. Kind of crazy! We are pumpkin and spaetzle pizza (SO YUMMY) and cinnamon sugar pumpkin seeds (less yummy). The kids climbed Rapunzel’s Tower — like the actual tower that inspired the story — and we just soaked in all the autumn goodness. Good final day.
There were fewer people in Germany who spoke English than we’d encountered in France or Italy, which meant we had to work a little harder to communicate, but that was okay. The roads were so smooth and wide compared to England; driving was lovely. And although we DID go on the autobahn, the fastest we drove was 140 kilometers per hour — only about 85MPH.
We had a lovely weekend and I would definitely go back, especially to explore more of the Black Forest area or to either the Porsche or Mercedes museums in Stuttgart, which we just didn’t have time to see. We’d also like to go to Munich, which we couldn’t fit in on this trip but which looks amazing. Every time I check a location off our list of places to see, I add three more!