Dresden – An Overnight Trip

The weekend before Christmas we spent a very magical 24 hours in Dresden exploring Christmas Markets and landmarks alike. You can see my post on the Christmas Markets HERE, but today I am going to talk about some of the sights and my favorites about Dresden.

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Dresden is the state capital of Saxony and it is the 12th most populated city in Germany, the second largest city on the River Elbe. The city itself is relatively “recent” in comparison to the history of Germany, dating to around the 12th century. It has served as the seat of the state since it’s settlement and has also always been a center of culture, education, and politics in Germany. The most incredible thing about Dresden is that the entire city center was destroyed, along with 25,000 people killed, during the bombing of the city by Americans and British towards the end of World War 2. Certain parts of the inner city were completely reconstructed after the war including the Zwinger (the royal castle/palace).

I will be completely honest- a lot of my time in Dresden was taken up by either Christmas Markets or in awe of the architecture and landscape of the city itself. I’m looking back through my pictures and thinking “oh I loved that spot” and “that was pretty cool”, but not remember a lot of the details about the trip itself. Partially my fault for waiting this long to actually write this post (it’s now after New Year’s), but also Dresden was the second city that I really just let my “amateur photographer” heart fly free. I just took pictures (so many pictures) and wandered around. There wasn’t a lot of “specifics” to our trip. So, forgive me if this post is a little vague or different from previous posts. I’m still figuring out how to merge a couple different passions to put together the best posts that I can for you.

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So, since this post has already derailed into something very different than I anticipated, I’m just going to continue that trend…

While in Dresden we went square hopping pretty much. Each square has a “focal point” of sorts, whether it’s a palace, a statue, or a church. Each square also had a Christmas market, so we would start at the Christmas Market and then walk in to whatever the nearby attractions are. In our minds we had two or three “must see’s” on our list, but otherwise we just wandered around.

IMG_3137The first square is the main square and right off the main square is the Church of the Cross. This is actually the main church and the seat of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Saxony. It is also the largest church building in the state. The church itself has been through quite the history, but its current state retains the look of the church post Dresden bombing. It was decided to keep it in that state, rather than refurbish it to prewar designs.

 

 

Speaking of churches, we also went to The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony (also known as Dresden Cathedral/Katholische Hofkirche) and the Church of Our Lady (also known as Frauenkirche).

These were both absolutely incredible churches in full painted and designed glory. An interesting fact about Dresden (back in the day)- at the time the rulers were Catholic, BUT most of the residents were actually protestant. The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony is one of the foremost landmarks of Dresden. In fact, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen a picture of it, it’s incredible. The original church actually had a private high-level walkway from the Dresden Castle to the church for the rulers and other high-ranking officials to use. Of course, like much of Dresden, the bombing heavily damaged the church and it was fully restored following the reunification (including the private walkway between the castle and the church). The church does not only hold mass and services, but also (like many of the churches in Dresden) concerts throughout the year. In a slightly different tone, the Church of Our Lady was left in ruins after the bombing of Dresden to serve as a war memorial (for 50 years!). Originally built as a way for Dresden citizens to assert their will (by remaining protestant in the 18th century), the church was not rebuilt until the 1990’s-the early 2000’s.

Something that we had on our list and did see was the Procession of Princes or Furstenzung.

This is a 101-meter-long mural that shows the ruling family as a procession of various riders. It shows the Wettins’ family lineage through the years. Originally painted in the 19th century, it was replaced by porcelain tiles in the early (early- very early) 20th century due to the elements fading the paint. It is now known as the largest porcelain artwork in the world and is absolutely incredible to stand in front of. The members of the family are accompanied by various other “common folk”, scientists, children, and such.

We also managed to make a stop at The Zwinger, which was on our list.

The Zwinger has a long history, but I’ll be completely honest- I don’t quite understand it. So, I’m not going to try and talk about the things that I don’t know about it (as that would be wrong), but my basic understanding was that Augustus the Strong (who was recently made King of Poland and Elector of Saxony) wanted to have something similar to Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. It ended up getting changed around several times, halted, and finally completed at a much smaller scale. It was destroyed during the bombing, but was fairly quickly rebuilt (in the grand scheme of the other buildings listing within this post). You can walk the main garden levels, and then up higher in the ramparts. Within the buildings are museums containing artwork, porcelain, and jewelry.

Recommendations:

Honestly I would recommend just walking around Dresden.

Obviously going to the Zwinger, the museums, the Procession of Princes are all great places to start, but really I would recommend just walking around the city. The city (as many in Europe) is divided between “Old Town” and “New Town” by the river and it’s really neat to see both sides. By walking around you’ll see most of everything the city has to offer and then some. I would recommend separating your time by Old Town and New Town (whether you’re doing an overnight or day trip). If you are only going for a single day, I would stay with Old Town.

As for Parking, there are several parking lots within the city, both indoor and outdoor, with reasonable pricing. I would honestly go a bit further to go to one of the outdoor lots as people often times won’t go a little bit further, so there is a higher chance of them having open spots. Once you find a spot, I would just stick with it (some lots have the 24hr tickets) unless where you are staying is across town or you have a large amount of luggage. There is a large Galleria/Mall parking garage, however this is one of the first places that will fill up during the busy/Christmas season, so keep that in mind.

Depending on your travel plans (where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you want to do), I don’t think that you realistically need more than the 24 hours to really get a good idea of the city. I felt like we got to see everything we wanted to and then some during our time there. You can definitely make it a longer trip, but I didn’t feel like it was super necessary to do so.

Overall we had a lot of fun on our little overnight get away and I really loved Dresden. It has elements similar to Prague, so if you loved Prague, you will probably love Dresden.

 

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – An Overnight Trip

It is probably one of the most frequently recommended stops in our area of Germany (and really Germany as a whole) and we finally got to experience the charm of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the middle of November.

Let’s start with a little history of the town. Rothenburg ob der Tauber (I’ll be shortening this down to Rothenburg o.d.T, but you want to be sure you are indicating the full city name in order to find it on a map as there are several different Rothenburg’s and Rothenberg’s in the country) dates it’s history back to the Celts around the 1st century. However, most of what you will find in Rothenburg o.d.T today dates back to around the 18th century (more on that in a minute- it’s a fun legend!). Around the 13th century Rothenburg o.d.T was granted Free Imperial City status, which allowed the city to charge a toll on all those who passed through the city itself. This allowed the city to become quite prosperous and grow rapidly as Rothenburg o.d.T. is pretty well located for pilgrims and travelers. At one-point Rothenburg o.d.T. was one of the larger cities in the country.

The downfall of Rothenburg o.d.T. came during the Thirty Years War (to narrow that down, we are looking at 1631). The walled city was taken under siege by the Protestant County of Tilly. They quickly fell and the Count of Tilly’s troops quickly gained access to the city. Town legend says that when the Count demanded the councilmen’s deaths and the city burned to the ground, the councilmen made a bargain- if one of the councilmen could drink 3 ¼ liters of wine in one go, Tilly would spare them all. The mayor succeeded in doing this and the Count’s men withdrew from the city that winter. At this point, the city was left nearly empty and when the bubonic plague came in 1634 it wiped out most of the remaining townsfolk. That is why Rothenburg o.d.T. remains in the state it is.

Rothenburg o.d.T. played quite a role during the Nazi era both being given the title “ The epitome of the German Hometown” and being listed as a regular day retreat for members of the Kraft durch Freude (a Nazi organization). Rothenburg expelled all of its Jews in the late 1930’s and became a “poster town” for what Hitler and the Nazi party wanted Germany to look like. Rothenburg survived untouched for the majority of World War Two, until the last couple of weeks when Allied Bombers dropped bombs on the town destroying a total of 321 buildings and killing 37 people. Hitler had ordered all of his troops to continue to fight to the end, but the troops at Rothenburg decided to defy the order, meeting with American Soldiers in an attempt to save what was not already destroyed in the town.

Rothenburg o.d.T. has played a lot of roles in the film and book industry, being the inspiration for the town of Pinocchio, was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, small bits in Harry Potter, as well as many more. Rothenburg o.d.T. is also widely known for its Christmas spirit and Christmas Markets. This past trip was a little too early to attend the market, BUT we will be heading back for the market, so stay tuned for that upcoming post. They were getting everything prepped, putting up the shop decorations and stalls, as well as Christmas Tree’s all around.

And that concludes today’s history lesson ha-ha. (Information sourced from rothenburg.de and the town itself) I didn’t mean to include so much, but it is just incredibly fascinating to look at all of the history of the places that we are visiting. It’s not only so vast, but full of so much turmoil. I hope that you enjoy getting to hear not only about our trips, but also about the history that we are learning during our trips.

Now on to what we actually did during our 24 hours there. We started off by walking the wall.

You are able to walk the entire wall of Rothenburg and I highly recommend that you do. It gives you not only a unique view into the city, but also a unique view into history and what it would have been like to live/man the walls during the days. It’s narrow stairs and walkways are great too, although a struggle if you have any disabilities or young children. It is still entirely possible to walk them with young children, but tread carefully. We did not walk the full length of the wall, just about a quarter of it and then we descended into the city streets.

We spent most of our time strolling along the different streets, stopping and shopping at times, taking pictures, and just reviling in the ambiance that is a quaint German town.We wandered through the Western Gate to stroll the gardens and the lower part of the outer wall outside the city walls.

The kids loved being able to just run around the walls and little side streets as well as see all of the older buildings.

We did stop at the famous Old Forge (Gerlachschmiede) and see the famous half-timbered half between the Rödertor and Galgentortowers. This is actually a restored version as the original was on the buildings destroyed in World War 2.

We stopped for a quick cup of tea and cappuccino at the café right off the Marktplatz. No matter where you sit in this small little café, you will have a great view of the town square and it’s the perfect little mid-afternoon stop. If you do stop here, try out the truffles as they were delicious!

We ended our day with the Night Watchmen Tour.

This tour is given twice a night (times vary due to time of year), one in English and one in German. In the olden days, at night the town was guarded by a Night Watchmen. This watchman was intended to keep the peace and watch for trouble. Without any real training or experience, they walked the streets with a horn in hand to blow should trouble arise. These days the Night Watchmen leads a tour of the city at dark with his lantern, telling stories and the history of the town. We learned quite a bit about the town as well as about Germany. A definite highlight of our time there!

We stayed the night in a hotel right off the marketplatz called Gasthof Griefen which was nice and quaint. We had both dinner and breakfast in their restaurant and the house itself is beautifully done.

What I would recommend for a trip to Rothenburg o.d.T. (as well as a couple tips). Start by parking right outside the city walls. If you are just planning a day trip, then you can park outside the wall with a day parking ticket (Tages Ticket), that costs about €5.50. There are several different parking lots outside the city of varying sizes and various entrances to the city. Each entrance has stairs to climb to get up the wall as well, so you really cannot go wrong with parking outside the city. There is parking inside the city as well, though depending on the day that you go there may or may not be any spaces available. It’s also not very easy, realistically speaking, to driving within the city walls, so parking right outside is your best option.

Once you’ve got the parking settled, I would start by walking the upper length of the wall. You can walk most of the wall this way, then descend and walk the lower ramparts. If you’ve had enough after walking the upper level, then head towards the cobblestone lined streets of the main town. Again, you can’t really go wrong as to where you start as you will see everything by the time you have finished. I personally would start at the central marktplatz with the Rathaus and Astronomical Clock. From there, wander the various streets, see the two churches, and head out the Western Town Gate to see the gardens and various overlooks. I believe you can walk all the way down to the Tauber river from this spot, which is a pretty nice hike down. There are also several museums to visit that detail the history of the justice system, a Christmas museum, a puppet museum, and a craft house that shows the everyday life of the craftsmen and the families that lived there. There are also two towers that you can climb to get the scenic views of the city (the Roedertor Tower does charge for the overlook).

Here comes the make or break part. I would highly recommend sticking around for the Night Watchmen Tour. For us, that meant staying overnight, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. The English tour starts at 8PM and goes for about an hour. The watchman is not only very well informed, he also throws in some funny jokes and tells history in a very captivating way. I waffled on whether or not we really needed to do this tour and in the end, I am very glad that we stayed to do it. By staying till 8, we also got to see the Meistertrunk scene from the astronomical clock that depicts the famous town legend of drinking the wine to save the town (even if you don’t do the Night Watchmen Tour I would still recommend at least staying to see the clock). It’s the perfect way to end the day in Rothenburg o.d.T..

And there you have it! Our 24 hours in Rothenburg o.d.T. Have you been? Do you want to visit? Stay tuned for our Christmas Market visit 🙂

I Didn’t Give Germany A Chance

Untitled Design 7When we first started tossing around the idea of moving to Germany it felt surreal. The concept of actually living in Europe wasn’t something I could have wrapped my head around. I had been to England and Scotland when I was a baby, but Europe was this distant dream that I dreamed for a long time, but never really thought would be able to be a reality.

When we got orders, it still felt surreal. I couldn’t believe that this dream I had would be a reality. That we would be so blessed. The concept of being able to travel Europe, to go to all these countries was just too good to be true. Incredible. I thought of all the sights we could see, all the countries we would visit.

And I’ll be honest- I treated Germany as simply a location. A central spot that we could then travel out of. Not as a place to explore beyond a few historical landmarks. I knew about Germany, knew its history, it’s big cities, some of its culture (like Oktoberfest), and that was about it. I focused solely on EVERYWHERE else we could go, all the other things that we could see, all the dreams that would no longer be just dreams.

I now realize how much of a mistake this was.

Germany is stunning. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own spots ,it doesn’t have troubles, but I definitely should have thought more about everything that we could do within its borders, rather than just looking outside the country. There is so much to see here, so many little holes in the wall spots that no one really thinks about that are just stunning. A lot of the little towns are old world quaint and each has its own history. Take Tubingen (HERE) or even Weltenburg Abbey (HERE), we had considered these both a nice little day trip, but both are so perfectly European and German, and I loved it. This was something I hadn’t really thought about when we got orders. The history here goes back much further than I had even anticipated (yep, I’m naïve) and there is a never-ending number of things to do and places to see.

And, since we can’t ignore the elephant in the room…Germany has such a way with its own history. They have quite the history here, quite the troubled past, but they’ve managed to settle with it. One of the things that has stuck with me in our time here so far is how they handle their own history. They don’t hide behind it; they don’t bring it up time and time again. They acknowledge what happened, they acknowledge the hurt and pain that was caused, they punish those responsible. They take steps to make reparations, they don’t destroy everything relating to their own history, choosing to make the most incredible memorials that I’ve seen out of the pieces. The Berlin Wall Documentation Center, The Berlin Wall, The Eastside Gallery, Dachau Concentration Camps, Nuremberg Rally Grounds, Nuremberg Court House…the list goes on. All of these places are landmarks, marking down what happened for everyone to see. They’ve made changes, they’ve learned, anyone who visits these places learns. They move forward.

We can all take a lesson from that.

Not to mention just the sheer amount of history here. In a city right near us they are excavating bodies from Roman times and have a set of Roman archways from… It’s incredible to think that some of the places that we see have that much history.

We won’t even start to get into the culture of this country. Festival season is such a fun, warm and welcoming time, not to mention the season we are about to go into…the most wonderful time of year. The way of life, the idea of a slower pace. We live in the countryside (something we’ve been wanting for a long time) and the number of animals and crops that we see daily is something else. It’s been an incredible bit of time and one that we are looking forward to continuing for the next couple of years.

I’ve found a true home in a place that I hate to admit that I discounted. I figured it would be a home base for everywhere, but we’ve really made a home here in such a short time. I won’t discount a place again.

 

A Close to Home Autumnal Weekend

We have had another one of those weekends recently where we’ve done a couple different things, each important, but not enough to warrant individual blog posts (although this one is probably pushing it). I figured I would once again, consolidate into one “long weekend” post. This is a bit longer than I would have liked, so grab a cuppa something good and snuggle in for a read.

The second weekend in October we got the chance to have a long weekend together. My husband had both Friday and Monday off of work (due to Columbus Day), but we didn’t really want to do a lot of traveling. Look, traveling is tiring and at some point you’ve got to take a little rest. I’ve mentioned this previously and have a full blog post coming up talking about it, but we decided that it was really in all of our best interests to stay close to home. We had actually originally planned a relaxing weekend, curling up at home, handling some things and just chilling.

Apparently the weather decided differently for us.

When Sunday morning hit and we were supposed to see 70 degree’s, sunshine, and not a cloud in site we made a last-minute decision to take a little trip to the Nuremberg Zoo. I’ve been wanting to go as the kids love the zoo and it’s an excellent learning opportunity for them. We also love seeing the wide variety of animals, as well as the workout that comes with walking an entire zoo with two toddlers who like to be carried off and on. We booked train tickets as that is a feasible option, a shorter train ride (about an hour for us) works best with the boys and no parking/navigation worries. The zoo itself is quite large (we saw everything there was to see and ended up walking about 6 miles), with a spacious layout. I do tend to worry sometimes about zoo’s, but I found the animals to be well cared for and have more than enough room/things to do. For the most part they were quite active, which pleased the boys to no end.

We did end up stopping for lunch within the zoo and found several things. I want to interject to say that this is the first time that we’ve eaten at a European Zoo (this is only the second we’ve been to; Berlin was the first) and I was incredibly impressed to say the least. Here’s the thing, you can order “normal” food. There isn’t pizza and hotdogs, we got Schnitzel Sandwiches and Chicken Cordon Blue. The food was served on proper plates and if you wanted to order a coffee or beer? Well you could and it would be served with the proper coffee cup and beer glass. Everywhere you could sit was clean and well maintained and people bussed their own tables when they were done. There wasn’t any trash overflowing, no massive gathering or anything. It was really refreshing and honestly, we would probably take a trip back to this zoo (it’s the closest to us) and spend another day here.

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Monday morning, we did the one thing that we had planned for all along, a river “cruise” down the Donau River to Weltenburg Abbey. This was something that we’ve been wanting to do for a while, but we’ve been waiting for the weather to cool and the leaves to turn before doing it. And boy, we picked the PERFECT time to do it. The leaves were at the height of the coloring, right before they all truly start to fall off and in this area there is just enough of the year-round green to make the reds/oranges/yellows to really pop.

So, a little history first. Weltenburg Abbey was founded in 600 by two monks and is the oldest monastic settlement in Bavaria. The church was originally built in the early 1700’s but went through a period of being disbanded. King Ludwig reestablished the monastery and the abbey has been in use sine 1913. One of the neat things about this Abbey is that it has a brewery as well, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei. It is one of the oldest monastic breweries, citing 1050 as the opening/starting date. It’s Dunkel beer has won several awards for being the best in the world, and there is a restaurant right in the Abbey courtyard where you can eat and drink the local dishes.

We took the first available cruise time, 9:30 AM. This provided us not only a relatively empty boat (seriously the second boat ride we saw come through was packed), but it afforded us the chance to see the sun peak over the hills and see the river under the soft dawn light (even though it was hours after daybreak). It was absolutely gorgeous. There are several sights to see throughout the cruise, as they talk about the history of the area. This area has ties to Napoleon and his reign, including a story about his suitcase being left behind. There are also quite a few folk lore style tales about river witches turning pretty maidens to stone, and three rock brothers fighting, then falling into the river. It is so much fun to hear about all the folklore and tales of the region and we really enjoyed that aspect. Plus, the fact that the area is gorgeous and the trip down the river was a nice smooth 40-minute boat ride.

Once we arrived at the abbey we headed in to see the museum, which contains relics from the abbey as well as a little kid’s room with hands on activities. You do have to pay for both the cruise down to the abbey and entrance to the little museum. The museum is entirely in Germany, although the very nice greeter told us you can request the movie to be played in English and they will try to accommodate. From there we headed into the church, which was easily one of the most gorgeous churches we have ever been in. It was absolutely incredible, both in overall looks and the minute details. The whole region that encompasses the abbey is able to be converted into one big hike and is absolutely gorgeous. We simply chose to hike up the smaller hill and get an overarching view into the abbey.

Since the abbey is still an active church, you are able to see the church being used by the monks at their prayer times.

IMG_0983.jpgWe then settled in for a little bite to eat and a beer a piece. I went with a lighter beer and Robert chose the Dunkel. Both were delicious. It was a really pleasant atmosphere, sitting right in the courtyard, with the sun shining and the leaves gently blowing in the breeze. Shortly after lunch we took the ferry back to Kelheim. We had one more stop still to make on this beautiful Monday.

Our final stop of the weekend was to visit Liberation Hall.

Liberation Hall was commission by King Ludwig as part of a “group” of several monuments. This particular one was intended as a memorial to victory against Napoleon. It is quite the masterpiece. On the exterior are 18 statues that are supposed to represent the various tribes of Germany (the number is also significant due to the date of the victory). The statues on the inside are the goddesses of victory holding hands for a ceremonial dance. Similarly, to Walhalla, you are able to walk around the exterior free of charge, but there is a cost to get inside. Unlike Walhalla, there is much more to the interior than meets the eyes.

By going inside you are able to not only go through the floor gallery, but you are able to go to the second gallery (same level as the statues), climb to two different “look out” points (one just below the dome, and one just below that), and then see the second “level” gallery. It was incredible and the climb to the top was definitely worth it for these views.

And that was our “close to home” weekend. Each of these places were well within a quick travel day (an hour or less) and are just beautiful spots. We would definitely re visit all three of these spots and I’d like to explore Kelheim a little more. I hope you enjoyed our weekend and seeing the sites through our eyes.

Burg Hohenzollern – A Day Trip

Full disclaimer- this was supposed to be one post on our full weekend away, HOWEVER I just had so much I wanted to share about each place we visited that I just couldn’t justify having yall read one super long post. Instead, I am going to break this up into three posts over the next couple of weeks covering each outing we did. We only had 3 days over the weekend, so we decided to knock out a couple of the castles that we’ve been wanting to check out. There are two castles that are within an hour (or so) of each other, so we decided to book an Airbnb somewhat in between the two and just go from there.

So, Friday morning we headed out and over to Burg Hohenzollern.

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Hohenzollern is possibly one of the most popular, but quietly popular castles in the region. It sits high on top of the hill, with views around all sides. It has quite the history of owners and destruction/reconstruction. To start with, Hohenzollern is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and references to this spot date back to the 1000’s. The house was reconstructed in the 1400’s to make it bigger and more formidable. It became a fortress, but after the war turned into ruins. In the 1800’s is was reconstructed and became the castle that we see today. It is heralded as “one of the most imposing Castle complexes in a neo-Gothic style” (via the website: https://burg-hohenzollern.com/castle-history.html).

Hohenzollern was very well worth the drive. Incredible from the moment you lay your eyes on it driving into the region, it definitely gives off all the castle on a hill vibes. We parked on the property and did a short hike to get to the entrance. There are two hike options, one where you can park at a lower level and hike through (this is the free parking I believe) or the one that we did, a shorter hike with paid parking (2 Euro for a car for parking). You are also able to take a shuttle bus from the paid parking area to the castle itself (the cost varies depending on what ride option you choose and how many are in your party). The hike is actually quite pretty, but steep and quite a few stairs.

This particular castle is one with two entrance areas. There are two large gates, one to simply “get into the property” and the second to get into the main courtyard. Before you pass the second gate you are treated to an interior garden lining the round walls, as well as some stunning views from the first lookout. This area is lined with various paths and the views of the town and valley below are stunning. You can walk all along the exterior to see the 360 views, but if you head inside and follow the tour, you will get this chance anyways.

When we went, there was a display at the second gate to see all of the coocoo clocks from area makers (this castle is quite near the Black Forest area- which is known for its coocoo clocks and woodworking). There are also festivals at different times of the year (A spring festival, Mother’s Day event, several performances/open air cinema days, an Autumn festival mid-October and then a Christmas Market in December).

IMG_9935.jpgAfter the second gate, you are able to look right into the heart of the castle with the central courtyard. This particular courtyard is one of my favorites, just due to the look and views of it. I love the bench, the ivy, the brick. On your right is the chapel and church with stained glass windows dating back to the 1300’s. Then you see the “main event”, the castle itself.

There are two options to see the castle, a guided tour or a “casual stroll”. The only real difference between the two is what you would assume, the guided tour gives you intimate details on the history of the castle and family, while the casual stroll only allows you in the castle. They do have a brochure that details out the information of the castle and its rooms if you want a little bit of both. Typically, the guided tour is given in German, but they do offer other languages on certain days and times.

We did the casual stroll and I don’t feel like we missed much by doing that. It allowed us to meander through the rooms how we wanted, and I felt like I got the chance to actually look around (although that might also be because I wasn’t spending the whole time trying to shush a toddler during a presentation). We saw several rooms, each more incredible than the last (my favorite was the Count’s Hall and The Blue Room). In order to preserve the interior, you are not allowed to take photos and you must wear the slippers they provide.

In addition to the interior rooms of the castle, you are also able to see the cellar, which has all the silver stores, and the casemates. These spots have their own special history and charm to them, and once finished you climb the steps to the outer embankment. This stroll gives you a chance to see just about everything the castle has to offer. I do want to note that there is also a café to eat at and a gift shop to get a little souvenir.

IMG_9992.jpgOverall Hohenzollern is 100% worth the trip and I think it should definitely go on your list of castles to see if you get the chance. We loved our time there and the views are quite gorgeous. You can definitely make this a good mid drive stop (as you only need a couple hours tops to visit and explore) or combine it with a couple other stops in the area as we did.

Life in Europe – 6 Months In

How has it already been 6 months? 6 months ago, we were being driven to the airport by our family, working our way through multiple security checkpoints, two different airplanes, a long layover and two flights to arrive in Germany and start our international living. We had no idea what would come or how our lives would change, but we were ready for that adventure.

It’s safe to say that 6 months in, this move has been nothing short of an adventure. We’ve made the most of almost 5 months of hotel living, made the most of learning the culture (still learning!), attempting to begin to learn the language (have a long way to go on this one), and are homing in on what travel looks like for our family. We’ve almost finally gotten settled in our house, made some new friends, and are embracing that “European” lifestyle.

When we got off that plane we jumped right in to our new adventure, choosing to travel as much as we could – 7 countries already!- and be out of our hotel, and later house, as possible. This isn’t a place that we wanted to choose to stay home, as we would normally, but one where we wanted to experience everything possible.

I figured something that would be fun today, 6 months in, would be to reflect on some of the things that I’ve learned or that have surprised me at this stage of our move. Living in Germany is just similar enough to our westernized culture, but still different enough that there is a little shock to the system of moving here. I will say though; I don’t think I really experienced a true “culture shock” until I tried to do a full grocery shop on the local economy. I’m getting better and better the more I go, but those first couple trips were rough.

Before we get into the “surprises”, I just quickly want to say that I didn’t entirely expect how beautiful it is here. It is absolutely gorgeous just about anywhere you go and we cannot get enough of getting outside and exploring even just the little towns near us. The area is full of country roads, with little towns, and fields of crops all around. The agriculture scene is huge in our area and we also have a fair share of animals around as well. We love it here and can’t stress that enough.

To start this off, we are going to chat about Water Closets…or restrooms. Yep, something I don’t typically talk about, but it’s a bodily function and something we all need. You pay to use public restrooms here. Not necessarily all of them (for example a lot of stores and restaurants will often times have a restroom for the guests), but if you stop at a service stop off the Autobahn chances are you’ll have to pay the .70Euro charge to use the restroom. The nice thing is, at least for the service stations, you pay the .70 and you’ll get a .50Euro voucher to use in the station itself. The bathrooms are also very well maintained, so I don’t mind paying the slight fee for them.

*I will say- the one exception to the “paying for the bathroom” bit is changing rooms. A lot of service stations will have an entirely separate room for changing babies that can be used free of charge. Don’t think you can get away with using it as an adult, often times they are locked so an attendant is needed, or they don’t have a toilet, just the changing station. But also, just don’t be that person. From a mom, please don’t be that person.*

Another thing that is, I think, unique to Europe is the no rush eating out. When you go out to eat here, the emphasis is placed on company and quality of time spent at the restaurant, rather than hurrying you through the ordering and eating process. Often times dinner lasts several hours, and you only see your waiter intermittently to serve you the food and drinks. It’s a very relaxed feel and you could sit at your table for as long as you’d like. It’s something we have gotten used to very quickly and something that we really actually enjoy. You get a chance to enjoy your meal, your company, and it just makes it so much more pleasant. I don’t know how we are going to go back to the states and back to being rushed through our meals.

Also- in regard to eating out, be prepared to pay for water and to find that in most cases ordering alcohol is cheaper than water (or even soda in some cases)! The beer is, obviously, very good here, and sometimes even getting a glass of wine or prosecco can be less costly than having a bottle of water. Also, at your typical German restaurants expect to find meat and potato’s to be the brunt of your menu and dining experience. One final dining experience, your portion size will be quite large. While we were in the hotel, when dining in the hotel restaurant, often times I would simply order the main meat portion, no side and they would put together a miniscule side salad for me (because they thought there was no way I was only eating a giant portion of Wiener Schnitzel).

It’s a real blast to eat out here because of the experience (and the food IS delicious), but just be aware of what you are really getting yourself into J

In Europe, Germany especially from what I’ve been seeing and hearing in travelling, there is a high emphasis on recycling and taking care of our planet. Germany is actually a very very clean place. You don’t see a lot of litter about, trash cans are cleared out frequently, and you can tell that it is very well maintained. The cleanliness aside, Germany is very focused on sustainability and what is best for our planet and environment. A perfect example of this is the windmills, solar panel farms, and recycling program. We recycle EVERYTHING. Just about the only bits that go into the trash are food waste and Kleenex/dirty paper towels (rare in our house) and such. There isn’t a lot that actually goes in to the trash and subsequently the trash only gets picked up twice a month! Think about that for a minute. We have a total of 5 recycling bins (that’s what our family uses the most of, some families can have upwards of 7 or more if need be) and we run to our sort center every couple weeks. It’s been a real good lesson in learning what we may be don’t need to waste and where we can do better in our own home with re-usable goods.

Europe is very much a family friendly, outside adventure style country. There are a lot of walking areas, parks and pools for full families are in an abundance, and everyone, in Germany in particular, have really loved the kids. There is always some sort of a hike, cruise, bike, athletic event going on in the good weather and even if there isn’t something going on, there are plenty of places that you can explore outdoors for yourself. I’ve been really surprised at not only how many there are, but how many are actually family friendly and have activities for old and young alike. We’ve found so many options that we can do with the kids, where they can also be kids instead of being told to shush all the time.

Something else that Germany in particular is famous for is its festivals. There is a festival of some sort always going on it seems, and they celebrate everything from the German American partnerships, to religious holidays, to random just because days, to Octoberfest (in September). The festivals are great ways to jump right in to their culture as food and alcohol are a big part of life out here (not the only part, just a big one). The festivals will be anything from a little food festival with different vendors, to full on carnivals with rides, food, drinks, and music. It all depends, and it is quite a lot. We’ve loved the couple that we have attended and look forward to going to many over the next couple years.

I know there are so many other bits that I want to touch on, but I think I’ll have to save those for another post! In our short 6 months here, we’ve already managed to do so much, and we still have so much more that we want to do.

Falconhof Schloss Rosenburg- A {1/2} Day Trip

I am going to do a little throwback post of a day trip we made in July, but I didn’t get a chance to get written up and posted before our vacation. During the July 4thHoliday weekend we took a little day trip over to a nearby Castle (Schloss in German- it actually references a stately or manor home) that has a falconry and falcon show. This post is mainly geared towards those in Germany or visiting the area, but anyone can get enjoyment out of our little daytrip.

Falkenhof Schloss Rosenburg is a castle in the Bavaria region that contains a falconry and has trainers on hand that work with the various birds that are housed on location. I want to note that all the trainers very much doted on these birds and they were very well treated from the little bit that we could see. They do bird shows twice a day (11AM and 3PM) and you can walk through the museum, the grounds, stop for Eis (Ice Cream), and then take a little hike if you’re really feeling adventurous.

There is an entrance fee of 8 Euro per Adult (prices vary for other ages and breakdowns) and I found this to be semi reasonable. They are not a government funded place, so they use the admission prices and sales for their funds. For this reasoning I don’t mind the price point, although you will definitely want to follow my tips to make the most out of your admission cost.

You’ll want to get to the castle and grounds about 15 minutes before the show. This will allow you some time to go wander through the different bird’s area’s and see each bird before the show begins. About 15 minutes after the show they will close down and block off the bird’s area so you cannot get up close to them, which is why I say do it before it begins. They have a variety from hawks to eagles, owls, and many others. It was really neat to just see the variety and the boys definitely loved looking at all the birds.

The show itself is in German so be prepared for that and they talk about each bird individually as they are flying around above you. I’ll come back to the flying over you in a minute. They cover diet, hunting and sleep patterns, and I believe how they are housed at the castle (don’t quote me on that though). They do various flights for each bird, enough to give you a good glimpse into the bird, what the bird is capable of, and what they enjoy. Once the hawks are done with the “official” part (I hate to even call it that because a good amount just felt natural and looked natural for the bird), they just free flew all over the grounds for the rest of the demonstration.

 

Now, when I say the birds fly above you, I mean they fly right above you. Swooping right in front of the crowd to get the trainer who is right behind the crowd. If you’re not prepared for that it can take you a bit by surprise to have two very large talons or a wing almost clip you. To me, it was so cool to have the bird be that close by, and our older son got a real good experience from that. He loved watching the birds fly right over his head.

The bird show lasts about 45 minutes to an Hour total and afterwards we wandered through the museum. There isn’t a lot to the museum, mostly about the birds that are in care there, the different species, and the various animals that have been known to be in the area. There are some pretty…intense animal fight scenes, but I guess it’s just nature in action. The views out of the museum windows are incredible, a good overlook of the little town of Rosenburg.

Finally, we decided to take a little hike over to the ruins that were a short distance away. I don’t even think they were a mile away, but that short distance really made me regret wearing Sperry’s for the day. It’s not an intense intense hike, but you will definitely need some solid footwear. It’s all worth it because the view at the end is just so beautiful!

And that was our little day trip for the Holiday! Have you been to a falconry or bird show/demonstration?

Things You Should Do and Tips for: Austria (Salzburg and Berchtesgaden, Germany)

We just recently spent a weekend away in Austria, which you can read about HERE, and it is a place that I would recommend that everyone and anyone should visit. It has a wide variety of things to offer for any taste and it is absolutely beautiful. I don’t have a lot of “tips” as some of the things we wanted to do, we couldn’t, but I figured I would share what I did learn with you.

Recommendations:

In Berchtesgaden there are two spots to visit. The first is Eagle’s Nest which we did not get to go to. I can’t say much more other than keep an eye on the weather and go during the July/August time period. There were still weather issues when we visited. The second spot is the Berchtesgaden Salt Mines. I would highly recommend this place because not only does it make the whole concept of a Salt Mine interesting and fun. It combines light shows with music, rides, and costumes. It is great for any age (especially the kiddos).

In Salzburg there is so much…

I highly recommend the Fortress, Hohensalzburg Fortress, at the top of the hill. Not only is the fortress itself pretty cool, but the view from atop the tower can’t be beat. If you are worried about the climb to get to the top, you are able to take a funicular up (and down). The base of the funicular is located near Salzburg Cathedral and is a good “jumping off” point for everything else as well.

Speaking of Salzburg Cathedral, I would highly recommend a stop in here. It is absolutely stunning inside and just take in the atmosphere and reverence. You can walk through the halls and head down to the crypt to complete your viewing of the Cathedral.

I would also recommend checking out one (or both if you can) of Mozart’s homes. We chose the birthplace, but you can easily do both if you would like to. The birthplace dealt with his birth, early childhood, and some of his composing as well as bits about his family. The residence deals with the bulk of his composing, everyday life in adulthood and has most of his instruments from later life.

On the Sound of Music tours, I personally chose not to do that. The tours that we were finding were close to 4-5 hours (which can be lengthy with children and a husband who isn’t super interested), on the more expensive side of things, and honestly I think you can cover the spots that you want to see pretty well on your own. I picked out a couple of spots that related to the story or the characters and went to those rather than doing a full tour.

Tips:

Tip #1: A Vignette.To drive in Austria you must have a vignette affixed to your car. You can purchase these in gas stations, at the border, or online (each has different date requirements and options), but if you do not it is a pretty hefty fine. They are inexpensive and easy to buy. Driving in Austria is really not any different than driving anywhere else in Europe (exception being the UK)  and even though we made use of the public transportation, we still really enjoyed having our car as well.

Tip #2: Getting registered.I don’t know if this was done this way simply because of where we were staying, or if it is a country wide thing, but we had to be registered by the AirBnB owner while we were staying there and pay a slight tax. By doing this though, we got a tourist “welcome” card of sorts which gave us a discount on some museums as well as free use of the public transportation (trains and buses).

Tip #3: Public Transportation.Seriously the public transportation in Europe is top notch and I really think you should make use of it whenever you can. It is just so easy to hop on a train, go to a city, not have to worry about parking, traffic, or anything with your car, and then hop a train to go home when you are done. The boys love riding the “choo-choo’s” and we’ve just really adapted to them (not that we really had to).

I don’t really have any other specific tips, but as always I recommend looking around on AirBnB for your accommodation. Not only can they be cheaper than a conventional hotel, but you can get some pretty stunning spots. This time we stayed in the mountains without anyone really near us. It was such a relaxing spot and watching the sunrise/sunset, hearing the birds chirping, and the trees swaying brought a whole new meaning to being in the Alps.

 

Do you have any tips or recommendations for a trip to Salzburg/Berchtesgaden?

Austria – A Long Weekend

We had a little break over the Memorial Day Weekend and took a long weekend away to the Austrian Alps (I just love to say Austrian Alps because let’s be honest- they are beautiful and I have yet to visit the Swiss Alps). We had a plan of going to The Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, which was our main goal of this trip, and then spending a little time in Salzburg and just relaxing. A couple days before we left we found out that The Eagle’s Nest was still actually closed due to weather, so that went out the window, BUT I was determined to find other things to do and still have a fun, relaxing time.

I’ll be breaking down our full weekend in this blog post for you and then I’ll be doing a much abridged tips/tricks post later on. I don’t have too many tips, but I’ll share what I do have in that post.

After a relatively short, easy drive (about 3.5 hours) on Friday we reached our AirBnB in the mountains of Austria. We’ve (aka my husband) have been really nailing booking solid AirBnB’s for these trips. It’s definitely been the way to go as we got to stay in the mountains in a full apartment with a stunning view.

The owners are great as well, getting us registered in the system (a requirement), giving us some train tips, and recommending a lot of things for us to do near the different spots we were already planning on going. We had a lovely dinner off of the main street in one of the small towns, stopped at a grocery to pick up a couple things and settled in for the night.

Our first full day we spent down in Berchtesgaden. Since we weren’t able to go to The Eagle’s Nest, it opened up our day a little bit more to do a couple other things. We started off at the Salt Mines, or Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden.

This was one of those fun attractions that really allows you to immerse yourself and puts a topic that may be interesting, but not that interesting in a fun interactive way. We had to wear miner’s outfits (which was actually a good thing as it did get chilly in a comfortable way), rode a little mine “train” down to the entrance all before the tour even really began. The train drops you off at the “top” of the mine, then you ride several different “options” throughout the mine. Once off the train there is a brief introduction and then a short slide down to a deeper section. Each slide/train does have a walking option, but I would recommend doing the slides and such. They are easy and a lot of fun! There is also a little ferry ride during the tour over the water used in the mines, with a lightshow and music. The entire tour lasted about an hour to an hour and a half. We ate lunch at the little bistro attached to the salt mines and soaked up the start of afternoon sunshine.

The rest of the day we spent wandering the streets of Berchtesgaden. We wanted to head in to their castle, but it is closed on Saturday. Instead we hiked through the streets, thinking of what it all must have been like at the height of World War 2. We stopped into a couple of churches, which is kind of becoming a staple on all of these trips that we are taking, as well as the local cemetery. It is so absolutely beautiful there and we had fun just strolling along. The boys enjoyed walking through the streets as well. Our final stop was for dinner, which we had at Gasthof zum Neuhaus.

Our second day we rose early (thanks boys who woke with sunrise) and caught an “early” train in to Salzburg. Salzburg is known for so many things, The Sound of Music, Mozart, The Arts, The Alps, the list goes on. First off, I’ll say the beauty of Salzburg is incredible. It is just mother nature at her finest in every part. I particularly love that the town was built with the mountains and river in mind. They didn’t change any of the beauty of nature, but rather enhanced it with the churches, squares, and fortresses.

We decided to work from the farthest highest point that we wanted to go to back to the train station we needed at the end of the day. So that meant a hefty hike/climb up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg. This is an 11 century fortress that was actually built and maintained by Prince-Archbishops. This fortress maintains status as one of the largest medieval castle in Europe. I will say- this was a hefty trek. It is all uphill (obviously) and is a combination of pathway and stairs. There is a funicular that goes both all the way up and back down- we didn’t know this until after we had taken it down. BUT the trek was well worth it for not only the history of the fortress, but the stunning overlook at the end.

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It was breathtaking to look over Salzburg, the mountains, and the river from one of the highest points (not the highest I don’t think). We had some snacks after the tour and then rode the funicular (which was also a stunning view) back down the mountain.

From the fortress we worked our way through the main square, and over to the Salzburg Cathedral.

This Cathedral has to be one of the most stunning cathedrals I have yet to see. The detail, the painting, the woodwork, everything- just beautiful. We walked through the Cathedral and then down to the Crypt. Everywhere we looked was just something to be amazed by. Truly a masterpiece.

From this Cathedral we headed over to St. Peter’s so I could live out my Sound of Music Dreams. When we walked in there was a performance going on within one of the area’s so we got to listen to the main song of The Sound of Music as we walked through the square which just added to all of the ambience.

We walked through the square, the cemetery, and the Catacombs (which meant more stairs). The cemetery holds some of the oldest graves we’ve seen as well as graves for some very famous people.

706016795891509037_IMG_4542.jpgOne of the final spots we went to was Mozart’s Birth House. There are two Mozart houses in Salzburg, the first being is Birthplace and the second being his Residence. His birthplace is still the original structure, with a combination of original and replica’s within. The Residence has been fully reconstructed after being destroyed during World War 2. We decided to focus on his Birthplace during this trip as we were starting to run a little low on time (and kids energy). It is truly something incredible to stand in a place that other prodigies lived and just see the lasting impact. This was an incredible experience and one I wont forget anytime soon. I have always loved Mozart’s music and to see his family lineage, and then his children and wife was really neat.

Our final stop before dinner and then the train home was Mirabell Palace. We didn’t go in the palace itself, which is from the 17thcentury, but rather just took a little break in the gardens.

The gardens are absolutely beautiful (as with everything else) and also boast some of the Sound of Music filming spots. We took a quick break, walked along the covered arches, and then peaked into the Marble Hall where musical performances take place. We then had an early dinner at Sternbrau.

Overall this trip was just as incredible as our other May trip and was just what we needed. I definitely plan on going back to Salzburg at some point to do a little shopping (we went on a Sunday when all the stores are closed) and a little more sightseeing. We also do plan on going back to Berchtesgaden for the Eagle’s Nest, the Nature Park Hike and the Castle. When we do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

I hope you enjoyed seeing this first trip to Austria through our eyes and our traveling. If you’ve been to Austria, let me know what your favorite part was! If you haven’t, let me know what you’d like to see!

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Things You Should Do and Trips For : Fussen, Neuschwanstein

Not too long ago we spent one of the most incredible weekends away in the little town of Fussen Germany. You can read about everything that we did while we were there HERE. The entire weekend was like a dream come true and I can’t wait to share some of the things that we loved and would recommend…which is, well, everything. I say that jokingly, but seriously this entire trip should definitely go on a travel bucket list. This will be a shorter tips post as there isn’t as much to do/we didn’t do as much on this trip.

Recommendations:

We shall start with the obvious, the Castles.

I would recommend reserving a pass for both Castle’s at the very least.You can pre reserve tickets online, however you do have to pick them up an hour before your time. Since you are already there you might as well see both and I think it is well worth the price. As I said in my first post there are no true replica’s, everything is original to the castle. If you can really only afford to see one, Hohenschwangau is the most “step” friendly (Neushwanstein has approximately 130 steps up and 130 steps down) and has the most finished rooms. The tour gives you a good insight into the royal family and the castle and grounds. Neuschwanstein is incredible inside, but only has a few finished sections to look through and I found the exterior to be quite incredible and accessible by foot. I should note and say that my husband would disagree and choose to do Neushwanstein over Hohenschwangau.

Marienbrucke Bridge.This is a MUST go when you visit the castles. You are going to get one of the best views of the entire castle and such a wonderful experience out of this bridge. The path up to the bridge is littered with some picture perfect spots and you can cross to the other side of the bridge and see a couple of the other viewing spots. The bridge itself gets packed very quickly so be orderly about viewing/pictures and moving along for others to do the same.

Make a Full Day out of It.There is so much beauty in this area that you could easily pack a lunch/snacks or eat at any of the restaurants/food stands and make a full day out of it.

I’ll briefly touch onFussen:

I would first off recommend staying in town(or as close to in town as you can) and using AirBnB to book your room. Not only are the rates slightly different or better than the hotels, but you can get a true experience of the city and people when you book through AirBnB as opposed to a hotel. They have a wide variety of spots right outside of town (such as where we stayed: Mein Lieber Schwan Fussen/Allgau) and they are absolutely perfect.

I would also recommend going to Kalvarienburg. This was the hike that we did and while it does have a religious aspect to it, you do not have to participate in that if you choose not to. It is truly a beautiful hike, right in nature, with a stunning overlook at the end. This is a must do and I feel like it is a relatively easy hike for those who may not be used to hiking.

Take a morning to sit at a café and soak up the atmosphere.This might not be most peoples “thing” (it definitely is not my husbands, but even he enjoyed this), but in a little town like this it is one of the best things to do. It doesn’t have to be on the main stretch (ours wasn’t), but it is the perfect way to start your day, have a mid afternoon break, or end your evening. There are options for café’s, ice cream stops, or fountains to just rest for a little while. In the meantime you can people watch and soak up the way of life. Sometimes a slow approach can be just as wonderful as going full steem ahead.

Tips:

Castle’s-

Tip #1: Get to the property early.They are very strict about time and if you miss the time of your tour you may not get to see the interior of the castle at all. We arrived about an hour to hour and a half before our tour time to find parking, get our tickets, and explore a little before the tour. There are plenty of spots to sit and relax, take in the view, get a bite to eat, or do a little souvenir shopping, so don’t worry about being too early. You’ll want to be at the entrance gate about 15-20 minutes prior to your ticket time just to err on the side of caution.

Tip #2: Only bring one bag. You can bring backpacks/purses on to the property and in to the castles, however when going into Neuschwanstein you have to carry the backpack or purse on the front of your body. If you are traveling with young children this can be difficult and looking back I feel like we could have made do with just one bag and made our lives a little bit easier going through the castles themselves.

Tip #3: Don’t bring a stroller unless you have an infant/non walking child, and even then try and baby wear.  Seriously, we only used our umbrella stroller once the entire weekend (the first night). We didn’t get it out at the castle as both boys really just wanted to walk and we alternated when they would need a little break. The castle themselves are full of stairs, so a stroller is definitely not feasible and I don’t know that I saw a designated “safe” spot for them.

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Tip #1: Walk everywhere!!Seriously the town is just so perfect and was made for strictly walking. Anything you could want is within a walking distance to just about wherever you are and the main street and square are absolute perfection. I would highly recommend just hanging out there!

Tip #2: Make sure to check out Fussen Castle.This castle is not one that is talked about (because let’s be honest, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein really run that show), but it is still a pretty cool castle and was turned into an art gallery. Even just walking through the path’s within the castle and the little hike behind it is stunning.

So that is it on our Fussen weekend! Have you been to any of these spots? If you have anything to add, leave it in the comments below!