Sunday, June 29, 2014

Europe Day 3: Heidelberg and Colmar

Our third day started off with a fabulous buffet breakfast at the hotel 
(and a nice surprise when we check out of the hotel and realized that our price had been quoted in US dollars instead of Euros)!  The buffet was a combination of a traditional German breakfast and American-style breakfast, with lots of cold cuts and cheese, fruit, pastries, sausage, eggs, etc.  And so many options of juice, which I loved!

Next, we headed west across the border into the Alsace region of France.  We loved walking around Colmar.  It is actually the only place where we got a photo of all four of us together!  An American woman took it for us. :)  

After that, we drove back across the border up to Heidelberg.  My family lived here when I was a baby, so it was nice to go back and see even though I had no memories of it.  Sadly, the US Armed Forces buildings were all closed down and abandoned, but I enjoyed hearing the stories my parents had to tell about where we lived.

We walked along the Hauptstrasse checking out the shops until it was time for lunch.  Mom finally had the famous spargel she'd been longing for while Dad ordered the XXL schnitzel. James and I had more beer and brats.  We couldn't get enough of that! 

We walked along the Neckar River and up to the Old Bridge.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  When I win the lottery one day, I'm going to buy one of those houses on the banks so I can look at this view everyday.

After a little touring, we decided to get our luggage from the car and check into our hotel.  Unfortunately, we had parked in a parking garage but apparently come out of an almost secret exit, so it took us nearly two hours to find!  But our hotel (Hotel Weisser Bock) was fantastic.  It was located one block off of the Hauptstrasse and our view was beautiful.  The rooms were comfortable and nicely appointed, too. 

Heidelberg Castle was closed, but we were able to tour the outside and took the long, steep walk up to the courtyard.  I LOVED it there.  There was a restaurant that I'd love to eat at next time we visit.  Or at least get a beer and enjoy the view and the perfect weather.  Since the castle was closed and we were some of the only few people there, it was really easy to imagine what it looked like in the castle's heyday...or maybe I'm just a history nerd. :)

Mom and Dad called it a night early, but James and I went back out to the Marktplatz for a late dinner.  The meal was fantastic (another apple streudel and potato pancakes with applesauce) and our view of the Heiliggeistkirche and Heidelberg Castle all lit up at night was even better!  I wish I had been able to get a good photo of that, because it was my favorite evening of the trip.

When we were planning our trip, I requested Heidelberg as "my stop" and it definitely didn't disappoint!

Europe Day 2: Germany and Austria

Our second day was an interesting one.  We got up early and took a long subway ride with all of our luggage to pick up our rental car.  We grabbed drinks and croissants at a gas station, figured out how to change the car's GPS to English (well, James did) and hit the Autobahn south toward Austria. 

We drove for several hours on the "Alpine Road" just looking at all of the gorgeous scenery.  I really didn't expect every town to look like a postcard, but they were all picture-perfect.  We stopped and did some shopping at Oberammergau and I finally got a "smoking man" that I've wanted forever.  Dad got one of the famous wood carvings and James got a Tyrolean hat to wear for our future Oktoberfest parties.  I can see why it is such a popular stop for tourists--the setting, the buildings, the entire town was beautiful!

Next, we drove by Neuschwanstein on our way to the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road.  We started at the information center/cheese warehouse where we sampled a few cheeses and watched a short film about cheese making in the area.  Local farmers produce cheeses and then send them to the cheese cellar where they are aged.  

Next, we drove by the Bodensee and then through a bit of the Black Forest before heading to Freiburg for the night.  This was the only night of the trip that we hadn't made hotel reservations for (we had originally intended to go to Switzerland, but decided not to shortly before leaving the U.S) and we know now that we won't do that next time!  The evening was mostly a mess from then on...

1.  We attempted to find Wifi so we could look for hotels, but after about an hour search and a worthless (without a German phone number) trip to McDonald's, we gave up--but at least I got to try the Curry Chicken sandwich I'd been wondering about...and it was delicious!!

2.  We then drove around until we found a hotel with two rooms--170 Euros each!

3.  ...And one was a smoking room.

4.  It took nearly an hour to find a parking place, and we ended up being almost a mile away from the hotel and had to drag our luggage down dark, cobblestone streets to get back.

5.  We still hadn't eaten supper (at 10:30 pm) so we walked to the nearest (not very!!) restaurants, just to find out they all closed at 11 pm...

At this point, James ate the $8 minibar chips and beer and we hoped for a better day the next day! :)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Europe 2014: Day 1 (Munich)

Better late than never, I hope!

Last month, James, my parents, and I visited Europe for about two weeks.  We packed A LOT into our time, so I'll split my posts up by day.  I had originally intended to split up by country, but there was so much to write about my first day alone that I've decided to do it this way. :)

We took a flight from Little Rock to Charlotte (with P. Allen Smith and his crew!!!) and barely caught our flight (literally, the whole family running through the airport with our two-weeks of stuff crammed into a carry-on each) to Philadelphia before barely catching our flight to Munich.  

When we got to Munich (about 9 am), we didn't want to waste a second since it was our only day in the city.  We got a taxi ride to our hotel and after a little bit of confusion actually getting there (the hotel was on a pedestrian-only street) we were lucky that one of our rooms was already ready.  (Our hotel, Hotel am Markt, was cute, comfortable, affordable, and in a great location.  I highly recommend it!)  We dropped off our bags, freshened up, and hit the road!

James and Dad split off to explore the market near our hotel and Mom and I went directly to the Marienplatz to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel do its thing at noon.  (I didn't get a great photo of it, but it's a huge cuckoo clock!)

Immediately after that, Mom and I took the subway out of town and then grabbed a bus to get to Dachau Concentration Camp.  The weather was appropriately gloomy.  

My family had been when I was a baby, so I of course didn't remember it, but Mom did.  In fact, Mom remembers seeing a lot of different camps, but this was the first one I had seen as an adult.  I've always been fascinated by the Holocaust and it was a strange feeling actually being there.  It is difficult to describe, really.  I expected it to affect me, but it was even more moving than I had prepared for.   There were so many empty foundations from where barracks had been and one even had reconstructed bunk beds--it is amazing just how many people were crammed in (it was at more than quadruple its intended capacity at its most crowded).  There was a photo from 1933 showing the newly-constructed camp and I was surprised at how the trees weren't all that large now.  The holocaust seems like such a long time ago, but visiting the camp made it seem so real to me and like such a recent part of history.

We had made plans to meet the guys at the hotel after that, but when we got there we discovered that they had both fallen asleep and locked us out of our rooms!  (Each room only had one key that was kept at the front desk while we were away).  We gave them a break since they both had aisle seats right by the restrooms on the 8-hour flight...and headed to the market near our hotel for a pretzel.  I also got a MezzoMix, a fantastic cola-orange soda. :)  We tried to get the guys up at this point, but didn't have any luck.

So, Mom and I decided we'd wander around the Marien Platz until the guys' second "wake-up call."  We did some souvenir shopping (a dirndl-clad stuffed bear for Natalie and a Bavarian table topper for me to use at Oktoberfest!) and spent quite a bit of time in the local department store--the cosmetics and perfume section was heaven!

We went back to the market for dinner (we'd basically given up on the guys at this point!) and shared brats, cabbage, potato salad, and beer at the bier garten.  It was perfect!!  (I had been dying to eat here from the second we stepped out of our taxi--how is it possible for a city to smell soooo good?)  We sat at picnic tables watching the locals while blooms were falling from all of the surrounding trees.  Gorgeous.  I could have stayed there forever.

By this time, Mom and I were tired and went back to the hotel to take showers and get to bed early...just in time for the guys to get up, of course!  We all got dressed and headed to the Hofbrauhaus about 9 pm.  It really was as much fun as my Dad had been telling us!  I got (yes, another--it was Germany!) pretzel as well as apple strudel and a whole liter of the Hofbrau dunkel.  The beer was fabulous, but it definitely took a conscious effort to finish the entire stein.  The good thing about going that late (and on a week night) was that it was mostly locals.  We sang some of the songs and clinked mugs and were lucky enough that the band played an up-close-and-personal "happy birthday" set for a girl at the table next to us!  I'm so glad we got to go--and I can't wait to visit again!  (Just look at that strudel!--Sorry for the blurry photo, but it was dark in there.)

I really, really loved Germany.  The mix of old and new was so interesting and foreign to me.  There were modern town houses with little lace curtains in the windows and old homes with roofs covered in solar panels.  It is hard to explain a lot of it, but the look was right up my alley and really made me envy the lifestyle.  Americans want everything new and perfect, but the combination of that with the old is just perfect to me.  I think the OCD part of me loves the idea of embracing the imperfect.

Also, did you know that German subway trains have a button you press to open the doors at your stop?  And that big "2" painted on the side of the trains...that doesn't necessarily mean it's line 2, but more likely second class.  We learned that the hard way! Ha!  :)