Tag Archives: Germany

Alpine Road Trip, Part Two

Usually, Matt and I plan a trip to the minute; both of us are Type A planners and having no itinerary for a trip is not an option.  We plan in “down time” (of course we do) and pad all our timetables with at least 20 minutes on each end because we’re not new and we travel with four kids.  But it’s a rare thing to not have a plan at all for a full afternoon on a trip with Matt and I.

Thank the gods for small blessings, though.

During our tour of Neuchwanstein Castle, we realized that not far from us was a town called Tegelberg, where a cable car would take us up the mountain for some really cool views and an alpine coaster (which we loved in Chamonix!).  We cabbed it from Neuchwanstein over to Tegelberg and it was one of the most amazing things we’ve done in all our travels yet!

We took the cable car up the mountain (not nearly as steep or dramatic as the one to Aiguille du Midi, but really amazing anyway).  At the base of the mountain it had been warmish – probably in the low 50s.  At the top, though, there was snow everywhere and we had somehow crossed a threshold into an alpine wonderland.

Looking in one direction we could see green fields surrounding this huge, calm lake, and then when you turned to look in the other direction, it was just snow-capped mountains and evergreens.  The contrast was astounding.

We had lunch at the cafe at the top of the mountain – more wiener schnitzel and fries, and some good German beer – and took a walk around.  There were lots of hiking trails heading up into the mountains, but unfortunately none of us was dressed for a wintery, snow-covered path and we had to skip the hike.  We did see two para-gliders take off though.  They just ran off the edge of the mountain and floated away.  It looked so serene; I’d never considered trying that, but now that I’ve seen it, I think I’d like to give it a go one day.

We took another cable car ride back to the bottom of the mountain and we all had a round on the alpine coaster.  So interesting to see how my children react differently to being in charge of their own speed on this sort of thing – it’s funny to see who the daredevils are and who is more cautious. (And it’s not who you’d expect.)

The next day we got back in the van and headed to Stuttgart.  Matt had work there for a few days, so his parents and the kids and I did some touring on our own.  On the first day, we visited the Mercedes Benz Museum, which was in walking distance from our hotel.  Although I am not really a car person by any stretch of the imagination, this was one of the best museums I’ve visited!

The museum was certainly centered around the cars, but it traced the evolution from the very earliest horseless carriages up to the present day, and tied the automobiles into what was happening across Germany and around the world at the time they were made. 

We each had an audio tour which had three listening options: a more technical one for the car fanatics, a general one related to the history of the time, and a children’s one that simplified everything and told a few stories about the cars and the time periods in which they were built.  It was a fantastic learning experience and the actual cars were pretty amazing too.

One of the funny highlights of our time in Stuttgart was that our hotel room had a sauna in it, which the kids loved!  They’d never been in one before, and they couldn’t stay in very long, but they loved using it and now we all want one in our house!

We were also lucky enough while we were in Stuttgart to have dinner two nights at friends’ houses; Matt has work colleagues based there who hosted us two nights in a row and it was really great to take a break from restaurants, hang out with friends, and just let the kids play.  Plus, both nights we had great views of the city and some stunning sunsets!

We had one more stop on our road trip – Colmar, France – and I loved it so much it’s getting it’s own post!  Coming soon.  (Part one of the Alpine Road Trip!)

Alpine Road Trip, Part One

Over the kids’ school break in October, we took a road trip through Austria, Germany & France.  Matt’s parents joined us and together the eight of us drove 500+ miles in a 9-passenger van through three countries. 

Matt navigated and I drove; traveling the mountain passes through the Alps in the snow in a giant manual-transmission van is not something I’ll ever forget.  It was just a tiny bit stressful, but the views were worth it (although I didn’t see all of them as I was white-knuckle driving with my eyes glued to the tractor trailer filled with timber in front of us).  It was really fun to have Matt’s parents along for the trip too – they’d never been to Austria or Germany and it was good for them to see the kids in traveling-action!   

We started off in Salzburg, Austria but made a side trip just over the border into Germany to visit Kehlsteinhaus – Hitler’s Eagles Nest – atop a mountain near Obersalzberg.  A harrowing bus ride up the side of a mountain on roads with essentially no guard rails brought us to the lower level of the mountain fortress. 

We took an elevator ride up through the center and came out at the top of the world. 

While we were eating lunch in the rooftop restaurant, our clear views disappeared and a snow storm rolled in.  It was amazing to see how quickly the weather changed.

That night we had dinner in the oldest restaurant in the world, called St. Peter Stiftskulinarium.  It has been in operation continuously since 803 A.D.  (There is a restaurant in China that contests the “oldest” claim, saying that they have been in operation for 6 years longer.  However the Chinese restaurant has some gaps in their paperwork, while the Austrian restaurant can prove continuous operation with no gaps for over 1200+ years.) 

The food was amazing and we found the kids all have a strong affinity for wiener schnitzel.  The experience was incredible, and Salzburg was lovely.

Before leaving Salzburg the next day, we did a little self-guided tour of some of the locations from the Sound of Music.  I would have loved to have done the real tour, but they were quite long and pretty expensive and not every member of our traveling party is quite as obsessed with the movie as I am (although Gabe is, so at least I have one partner to sing Do-Re-Mi and dance around with).

As we drove from Austria toward Germany, we stopped with a plan to hike Lammerklamm Gorge.  The rain and cold made the hike a little treacherous though, so we didn’t quite make it all the way to our destination.  Instead, we managed a shortened walk in the rainy Alpine forest that, while damp, was gorgeous nonetheless.

I was itching to keep going, but common sense won out and we cut the hike short.  If (when) I ever get back to Austria, though, completing that hike is at the top of my to-do list.

We continued on to Fussen, Germany, a town near Neuchwanstein Castle.  Neuchwanstein is a destination I’d wanted to see for years and years and I’d built it up in my head so much that I was actually nervous that it couldn’t live up to my expectations. 

I needn’t have worried; it was magical.  A horse-drawn carriage ride up the mountainside brought us to the castle entrance and we took a guided tour. 

One of the things I’ve loved most about our European travels is watching the kids on these sort of tours; they listen and learn and soak it up and get excited about random things and it’s like every hard bit of parenting becomes worth it as you watch them just immersed in history and different cultures.  Watching them is more fun than the tour itself.

Outside the castle we walked some of the trails and took in the insane scenery. 

We made our way onto the Marienbrucke – a bridge over the gorge surrounding the castle.  It was wobblier than I would have liked but it was worth the view.

There were tons of trails that led over the mountains, down into the valley below, and all over the countryside – we had no idea or we would have planned for more time to explore them!

Next: Tegelberg, Stuttgart & Colmar!

A Weekend in Stuttgart, Germany

germany_hohenzollern-view

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.

hohenzollern-hill

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.

triberg-falls

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. 

kids-in-triberg

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.

ludwigsburg-palace

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!

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