The wonderful thing about Germany – and there really are so many wonderful things about Germany that I couldn’t possibly hope to list them all nor would your patience, and my fingertips, last long enough – is that you don’t really need to plan to go anywhere. No matter where you go, there is always something to see. Every town is a medieval town, every village has a little craft brewery, every city has incredible world-class museums. You really can’t go wrong no matter where you go. Just hop in the car, plunk your finger on the map and drive!
As we had been to Germany before, there were a few places we wanted to go back to including Rothenburg and Munich but we also tried to fill our time going to places we had not been before. This meant that we wanted to choose a different home base. There so many different places to choose from but in the end we chose Bamberg.
Bamberg is a beautiful town with a gorgeous medieval core. Our apartment was very functional and only a short walk from the medieval area. It was very close to a nearby Beer Garden with a playground for the kids, which we visited a couple of times. There are Beer Gardens all over Germany and they are great to go to as they serve traditional foods and often have play areas for the kids.
We explored Bamberg a few times. There isn’t actually a whole lot to see in the town beyond the town hall built on a scrap of manmade land in the middle of the river. The story goes that the major landowner of the time, the church, refused to give the town land to build their townhall. The town, after getting over their shock, decided to get back by circumventing the church and building up a plot of land right in the middle of the town in the river. The town hall is now a wonderful attraction to visit and, if you look closely, you can see one of the angel pictures decorating the outside walls of the building bursting out of the wall. One of the angel’s legs is actually rendered in 3D like a stature breaking through the wall.
It was a very peaceful place to wander as we ambled through medieval streets and alleys. Germany is very conscientious towards walkers and we enjoyed all the footpaths and trails leading us around Bamberg. We also visited the large cathedral, though I have to say, if you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all unless you are visiting one of the big cathedral cities. Other than that, Bamberg was mostly just a home base we used to get to the other nearby towns and sights.
One of the sights the kids enjoyed the most – I know you would be shocked to learn that the kids quickly got tired of visiting medieval towns and art galleries – was our visit to Schloss Thurn, a children’s amusement park. The park is actually owned by a family who still lives in the large manor house in the middle of the park. The family converted much of the surrounding land into a play area for children. The park has several small rides, themed areas and activity trails to visit and play in. The kids loved the park. One of the things the children enjoyed most were the mechanical rides. These rides had no attendants, instructions or anything. You got in, pushed a button and waited to see what happened. One of the rides involved a carriage that went around in a circle while the carriage itself did 360 revolutions. The first time the kids rode the machine, they were completely shocked to find themselves upside down. They got over the shock fairly quickly and wanted to ride the contraption over and over again! Another favourite was the two Virtual Reality rides the park. One of them was a roller coaster. You put on the goggles and, while the coaster was moving, the goggles showed you flying around in a magical kingdom with dragons, knights and other things doing things around you. The other VR ride was a bumper cars ride where you were in this steampunk western themed area trying to gather points and not hit anything. Without the VR goggles, it was just an ordinary bumper car ride. The VR made it much more interesting. The rest of the park had fairly minor rides but the kids had lots of fun and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon wandering around.
The city of Nuremberg was very close by and we spent a couple of days wandering the old quarter, visiting the massive castle overlooking the city and the local lego store. We also spent some time at the Train Museum. The kids had lots of fun looking at the old trains – including an old train belonging to King Ludwig I. Their favorite part was the children’s area where they could ride on the top of a miniature train that trundled around the room. The kids also discovered an area discussing various forms of communication. This area had a vacuum tube system where they could put messages inside a tube and send it zooming around the room through tubes attached to the ceiling. They thought that was very interesting and fun! I told the kids how we used to have that system at the Waterpark where I worked. I would send the cash I had collected from the till through the tubes to the main cashier room every day. The main reason for visiting Nuremberg, for us anyway, was to visit the zoo. The Nuremberg Zoo is not huge but very well laid out amongst large leafy trees. This was very important as it was sweltering at the Zoo and the trees provided some relief from the heat. We enjoyed wandering around the exhibits seeing the bears reveling in the water and watching the seal show.
I know, but please let me interrupt you. We do realize that Cheb is not in Germany. Cheb is actually a town in the Czech Republic. We do realize that. However, as it was so near to us, we thought we would take an afternoon and slide into another country and take a quick gander around, so to speak. Cheb is an appealing, good-looking town. It is virtually untouched by tourism which made it very appealing to us. The main square was beautiful and the old architecture was well maintained, bright and cheerful. It felt very authentic and there were very few people wandering around. Parking our car right in the main square (I mentioned this as it is very unusual to be able to park for free right in the main square of any medieval town), we had a scrumptious lunch and wandered around to look at the huge but very neglected looking St. Nicholas church. Other than the church, we didn’t really see anything else. We just spent a leisurely few hours puttering around. The funny thing about Cheb was that it was all set up for tourism. However, tourism had yet to discover Cheb. It was quite refreshing. However, we know that in just a few years, that could very well change. We were glad to have experienced Cheb before that happened!
Rothenburg and a Medieval Festival
From un-touristy places to the ultimate tourist attraction, we headed out a couple of days later to Rothenburg. Rothenburg is one of our favourite places. In 2015, we stayed in Rothenburg over Christmas and it was the perfect place to have Christmas. While there was no snow – something that only Deanne didn’t mind – the Christmas markets, the hotel we were staying at and Rothenburg itself made for the perfect Christmas backdrop. Having come back from the Christmas Market on Christmas Eve, we discovered that the hotel had put Christmas treats and a bottle of champagne out for us to enjoy. It was the perfect Christmas and the children still talk about Rothenburg as their favorite place. When the children found out that Bamberg was near to Rothenburg, they insisted that we had to visit. When Deanne researched Rothenburg, she discovered that there was a medieval festival happening one of the weekends we were going to be in the area.
Despite the crowds we knew would be in Rothenburg, surprisingly we found parking easily and headed over to the central medieval core of Rothenburg just in time to see the massive parade. I may have said this before but it bears repeating. Festivals in Europe are not for tourists. The locals could care less that we are there. The festivals are for them and there are lots of activities that go on that tourists are not allowed participating in. However, and knowing that, it makes the festivals even more enjoyable. The parade was huge! Group after group of people dressed as different medieval characters paraded by. For this parade, it seemed that the groups that passed by were representing different guilds, with one group being blacksmiths, another group being wool merchants, etc. There were groups on horses, groups pulling a wagon of beer/wine, and the “mayor” with his flagon of beer in hand. The whole festival is to celebrate the winning of a major battle. The legend is that the mayor challenged the invaders to a drinking contest. He stated that if he could drink 3 litres of beer at one time, the invaders would have to leave Rothenberg alone. With the challenge being accepted, the mayor proceeded to down 3 litres of beer, thus winning the battle! From that time, this feat of drinking is celebrated.
After the parade, we wandered through the medieval stalls of shops set up for the festival. We also wandered around the outside of the walls, where the various guilds had set up camps. There were fires set up cooking food, groups were singing and various other activities. Keep in mind, this was only for the participants. None of the tourists were allowed in this area at all. We could only watch from the other side of the fence. It looked like a lot of fun though. After walking around the well-preserved walls of the town, we headed for supper at this very hobbit-like restaurant. In an old building built along one of the walls, a tiny restaurant with medieval low ceilings and rooms like something you would read about in some fantasy novel, sits. During our Christmas break here, we had visited this little restaurant and had enjoyed it very much. Knowing that we were coming back, we had told each other that we had to go back to this little restaurant.
Fully satisfied from our medieval adventures and with a full stomach, we headed back to Bamberg for a good nights sleep. Both Liam and Siena want to spend another Christmas here some day.
After leaving our nice little apartment in Bamberg, with two weeks of peaceful wandering behind us, we headed to Munich for a day before having to catch our train to Vienna. Naturally, we stayed at a Novotel. Novotel is our favourite chain while staying in Europe. The rooms are comfy and the breakfasts are amazing! After staying at a Novotel and eating one of their breakfasts, I can hardly bear to eat breakfast in one of the North American chains. Why does everything have to be done so cheaply in North America? Cheap paper plates, microwaved sausages, powered eggs, waffles that take forever to make yourself cannot compare to table upon table of fresh eggs done any way you want, cereals, yogurts, cheese, muesli, four different kinds of fresh honey and so much more; all freshly prepared. All for almost the same amount of money as you would spend in North America.
Anyway, we spent the day in Munich wandering the many sights in Munich following one of Rick Steves walking tours. There are many churches in Munich. One of the kid’s favorites was the tiny church built by two brothers. They were architects who wanted to show off their skills. They found this tiny space between two buildings and proceeded to recreate all their Rococo dreams in the form of this tiny church. Wandering inside, you are immediately wowed by the overwhelming decorative elements. It’s quite a sight! No worries here about being too ostentatious in objectifying Christian art. There were many sites we remembered from our Christmas here in 2015. We had stayed here prior to going to Rothenburg and had enjoyed the Christmas Markets here immensely. Our favorite was the medieval market. It’s hard to explain the feeling we got wandering around the market. It just felt traditional and strangely authentic. Mummer’s plays were performed in German, people wandered around in medieval clothing, there was mulled wine and costumed performers wandering around entertaining the kids. It felt very unique and different from other Christmas markets. Munich, this time around, didn’t disappoint. We still enjoyed Munich, despite the very different experience. For part of our time, we ambled over to the Transportation Museum and enjoyed some time looking at old trains and other vehicles. The children spent lots of time building their own machines.
Our last bit of excitement in Germany consisted of catching the night train to Vienna. We had taken a night train before from Seattle to California so the kids were looking forward to this exciting adventure. Unfortunately, it was not quite the same experience as we had had before. We had quite a long wait as the train didn’t depart until sometime after 11 in the evening. When the train arrived, we discovered that it was a very old train. Our compartment looked like something from the 50’s and certainly felt like it as well. The compartment was very tiny and cramped. Pillows were flat, tiny squares and the beds were almost too short for us. Just down the hall, I saw a 6ft+ man about to enter one of the compartments with his family and I almost laughed out loud. I had no clue how he was going to fit in one of these beds. But the fun didn’t stop there. Almost as soon as we left, the train started to make these noises that sounded like loud electronic whines. These would happen every few minutes or so but not in any discernible pattern. This continued all night. This, along with the various crashes of the trains moving and changing, left us very tired by morning.
Our time in Germany was now done. We had looked forward to Germany and our time there had passed so quickly. Efficient, peaceful, with good food and charming people, Germany will always be one of our favorite places to travel. However, we were in Vienna, Austria. The land of Mozart, classical music and much more. Even though we were leaving Germany, there is always something new and exciting to look forward to and Vienna looked like it was going to be the perfect place to put our bags down and explore.