life is an autobahn
Did you see what I did there? The great road trip song “Life is a Highway” just isn’t as fitting when we are talking about the great German Road Trip Adventure!
After our arrival from the US, we met our friend Zim, who had just arrived after working for a few months in China. I took a couple days for recouping and laundry while Zim tried to ease his jet lag, but BC headed straight back to work! It was that Thursday when the fun began… First up, Brent & Ross (the former roomies) arrived from the US. And later, Josh (who you may remember from our Copenhagen trip last fall) arrived from Budapest, where he had been working for a few days.
Unfortunately, BC was back to work on Friday, so it was me & the boys. I took them on a biking tour of The Hague, which naturally included pannekoeken at the beach, houses of parliament and a pub stop!
Brent & Zim even decided to get real Dutch and have some herring! I haven’t even tried it yet… The best part was the tour bus that unloaded to watch Brent eat his!
We then collected BC from work and headed to the harbor area for dinner. We went to a restaurant called Rootz, where we hadn’t eaten before. It was really delicious! And the guys made a new friend in our waiter…
The next morning was the start of a week-long German extravaganza! Brent picked up the rental car first thing and was luckily upgraded to a BMW! Perfect for the autobahn driving that he would be doing. Then we all piled in with all of our luggage, snacks, and lederhosen, and we headed West…first stop: Köln (Cologne).
Once we hit Germany, the cars took off around us…including Brent in his BMW! 🙂 He said he got it up to about 220 km/hr, which is 136 mph! YIKES! As one might imagine, our Honda Civic Hybrid with four people and lots of luggage wasn’t moving as quickly. We kept a steady pace of around 140 km/hr (or 87 mph), and we were being passed by like crazy. I was even nervous at that rate. We did push it to about 100 mph here and there too. I would guess that most of the sturdy German-built Mercedes, BMW’s and other nice cars were going around 120+ mph the majority of the time. Brent even got passed when he was doing 136 mph! Somehow, even despite the speed, it does feel somewhat safe. You don’t have semi’s trying to pass people at 60 mph in the lefthand lane, and the drivers seem to be very aware and not distracted.
Once we got checked into our hotel in Cologne, we took a train into the city and popped out of the station at the foot of the Cologne Cathedral. Wow – what an impressive gothic cathedral! But first, we got distracted by the pretzels being sold at the edge of the train station…it was officially time for pretzel #1! We enjoyed our tasty treats on the steps of the cathedral.
And then we continued onward to check out more of the cathedral, including the Shrine to the Three Kings. This shrine is believed to contain the remains of the Three Wise Men…crazy!
From there, we wandered through the city center a bit… The boys found more pretzels. I found what was called the “Berliner” and looked like an amazing sugary doughnut! 2 for 1 euro…yes, please! Unfortunately, mine also came with a bee in my bag…which I tried to inform the lady of, but she wasn’t interested in my complaint. After a minor panic, and some help from BC, we were able to free the bee and I enjoyed my Berliner. I was even surprised by a delicious jelly in the middle!
From there, we went to a beer hall called ‘Früh’ for a traditional Kölsch beer. The beer is served in 0.2 liter glasses, and a tally is made on a coaster for the group. Then the waiter comes around and replaces any empties until you place a coaster on top of your glass to indicate you are done. It was a bit busy in there, so we didn’t have quite as quick of refills though. While there, we took the chance to have our first of many bratwurst! (If you are keeping track, we have eaten a LOT at this point.) At one point during our meal, we were surrounded by a group of people led by a man in costume (literally gathered around just our table) that was apparently a German tour of some sort. It was pretty awkward.
From there, we headed back out to explore more of the city. We made our way through a few open squares, and eventually to the river front. There was some sort of kid’s festival going on, so we strolled through. Brent stopped for a sweet gurken and something else pickled. (How he was hungry…I don’t know!) We settled in at a nearby pub for a last drink, where we were serenaded by a little jazz band. They were great, and I’m sure you know by now my love of street music! A few night shots of the cathedral were taken, and then we took the train back to our hotel. Another early morning tomorrow!
A bright and early start to day #2 had us on the road for the next stop: Bingen. This is where we would board a KD Rhine River Cruise to do some serious castle spotting! I was a little nervous for the ride, given my motion sickness, but with the help of Dramamine and the open air boat, it went pretty well. The weather started out beautiful, and despite some crisp breezes towards the end, it was wonderful. The cruise was awesome! A definite highlight of the trip. The area is so pretty and the castles seemed unreal! From what I hear, we hit up the best stretch of the river. Here’s a photo recap for you…brace yourself:
(SIDE NOTE: This wasn’t even all of the castles! And a lot of them are now hotels that you could stay in!)
We parted ways with the cruise at St. Goar. This little town is adorable! We took a walk through town looking for a little lunch, when we stumbled upon a little beer garden. There was even a band performing. Random, amazing find!
It would have been great to have more time to explore these towns and castles, but for us it was back to Bingen by train and back out on the open road! Our destination for the evening was another 3 hour drive away…yeah, a lot of traveling on day #2. Next stop: Bamberg. The entire ‘Old Town’ of Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of it’s medieval architecture that has been well preserved (and escaped the wrath of WWII). The reason for the stop though was one thing in particular…the Rauchbier, unique to the town of Bamberg. Given our friend ‘Brent Rauch’ was along for the journey…it seemed appropriate to have a taste. Rauch means smoke in German, and this beer lived up to the name, given it’s very smokey taste. I told everyone that I though it tasted like beef jerky. It was unique to say the least…unfortunately, not my favorite…sorry Brent! 🙂
Back on the road in the morning for our major destination…MÜNCHEN (aka Munich). A quick check-in at the hotel, and we were headed into the city center. We arrived in the Marienplatz just in time to watch the ‘Glockenspiel’ at the New Town Hall. What a thrilling reenactment of a jousting match in which Bavaria always wins! (Not really that exciting.) Anyway, we were there for the purpose of joining a little tour with Mike’s Bikes! This was a 4-hour, very leisurely bike tour through the center of town and Munich’s main sights. It was really fun and informative…the guides are extremely laid back and hilarious! Highlights included:
- Hofbräuhaus – the world’s most famous beer hall.
- Munich Residence Palace – completely rebuilt after the war, many of the facades are now painted on/fake.
- Theatinerkirche – most amazingly beautiful church inside…everything is white. I would like BC & I to get married again in this church! 🙂
- Feldherrnhalle – Field Marshal’s Hall. This monument was very interesting and we learned the story about people who refused to salute the Nazi regime by walking behind this building. There is a ‘yellow brick road’ in the alley now to symbolize these people’s resistance. Also, the lions on this statue symbolize that you can speak out to the government (lion facing the palace with an open mouth) but not to the church (lion facing the Theatinerkirche with closed mouth). Interesting. We also rubbed the lion’s shield at the Residence entrance here for good luck!
- Hofgarten – pretty royal garden.
- English Garden – gigantic garden in the middle of the city. One of the largest urban parks in the world (bigger than NYC’s central park). We went through the Schönfeldwiese portion of the park, where nude sunbathing is permitted…that was interesting! Then we stopped at the beer garden surrounding the Chinese Tower, the second largest in Munich, for lunch and a liter of beer! More bratwursts…shocker. After that stop, we stopped on our way out of the park at the mouth of the artificial stream where there is a constant wave and people were surfing! That was a strange site to see.
What a fun afternoon on two wheels! After that, most of the group headed to Hofbräuhaus for some some fun in company of many lederhosen-clad tourists. Brent and I decided to first do a little more sightseeing. This included a 300+ stair climb to the top of the St. Peter’s Church tower, during which I thought I was going to pass out about 3 times both due to physical strain and claustrophobia… But what a view, and at sunset none the less!
Then we rejoined the group to check out this beer hall business!
This might be a good time to take a break, folks! We have a lot more to go. Get a snack, use the restroom, and join me for the remainder of a great trip!
Then it was time to call it a night because tomorrow…the day we had all been waiting for…OKTOBERFEST! For anyone who may be living under a rock, Oktoberfest is one of the largest fairs in the world and is primarily a beer festival! Oktoberfest was started in the year 1810 as a part of the wedding festivities of Bavarian King Ludwig I. Sure, it looked a bit different in the beginning… But today the fair grounds contain large beer hall tents, loads of food vendors and souvenir stands, and amusement park rides! It attracts millions of visitors every year, and a significant amount of the attendees are in full Bavarian attire.
We had booked a table at the one tent that still had any reservations available about 3 months ago…Hippodrom. We booked a table for the 3-hour lunch period, beginning at noon. So we woke up and got our gear on…lederhosen for the boys, a dirndl for me! Take a look at these outfits:
We passed this on our way there…making the excitement level even higher.
Welcome to the Hippodrom! We spent the next few hours taking in some traditional foods and beverages, singing along to songs we don’t know and dancing with our neighbors (Dutch guys). Now for the photos:
After our time slot was over, we headed out to see more of the festival. Zim even found his long lost relatives…the Zimmerman’s!
Then we made a stop at the 2nd largest tent in the festival…Hofbräu.
After all that excitement, some of us called it quits in the evening. Some of the others made the rounds riding the amusement rides throughout the festival. What a fun experience! And I know that many of us can now check a box on the bucket list!
The next day, we split up again. Brent & Zim decided they wanted to take the BMW out on the autobahn one more time, so they headed out to a ski town in the mountains about an hour away. For the rest of us, we decided on a much more low-key stroll around the city and maybe some shopping. I started out the day with a stop at Bears & Friends, a gummy producer! I bought a bag of prosecco gummy bears and a sampler cup with lots of varieties to enjoy. This made me very happy – they were so fresh!
Then we checked out the Viktualienmarkt, a famous food market in the city center. There were fish stalls, butcher stalls, fresh produce, flowers and so much more! It was a cool market, and given more time, it would have been fun to explore a little more.
That afternoon, we made the 1/2 hour drive to the Dachau concentration camp memorial. What a chilling place, but a really important visit to remember what happened to so many innocent people. I didn’t take a lot of photos, but here are just a couple to give you an idea for anyone who can’t visit in person. We had gotten there just 45 minutes before closing time, so we had a fairly brief visit. We walked down the main camp road, through the main gate and into the wide open roll call area where prisoners were sometimes required to stand for hours and many weak, sick prisoners died during these periods. Then we went into the old maintenance building which currently houses an exhibit that describes the conditions at the camp and tells many personal stories of those imprisoned there. We then took an emotional walk through the reconstructed barracks and along the camp road towards the back. Because the memorial was closing, we did not go to the crematorium area. I am not sure I could have handled it, to be quite honest.
I think the most surprising thing about the camp is that it wasn’t out in the middle of nowhere. There were homes across the street (behind a large wall, of course). Completely unimaginable!
That evening, some of the guys had gotten tickets to a Bayern Munich ‘football’ match. From what I hear, the stadium was pretty impressive and they had a great time. Here are a couple shots of Allianz Arena:
Zim and I decided not to splurge on a ticket to the match, as we were less interested. So we decided to go back to Oktoberfest to see the sights with ‘fresh’ eyes! And most importantly, this time I was bringing my camera! 🙂
The next day (I believe we are at Thursday now), we were departing from our home base of Munich and getting back out on the road. We dropped the BMW and unfortunately, we parted ways with Josh too. So if you’re counting, that now meant we had 5 people + all of our luggage in the Honda Civic Hybrid on the autobahn! Not the most comfortable of rides, but we made it work!
First stop of the day: Neuschwanstein Castle! This AMAZING castle was the brain child of King Ludwig II, as a place to escape from the public. It is said to be one of the castles that the Cinderella Castle at Disney World is modeled after. It certainly seemed like a fairy-tale, fantasy castle to me! It is hard to believe that such places exist in real life. As a bonus, the nearby Hohenschwangau Castle (where Ludwig II grew up) was also nearby in a dream-like location. Given our time table, we decided not to do an inside tour, but rather just made the long hike to the castle (where I was again questioning my ability to go on…) and then over to the nearby bridge. I have a really odd fear of bridges over water, so I was a little nervous about the old bridge…it turns out the scariest part was the insane crowd. I got a few amazing shots of the castle, and then I was out of there! It was a really beautiful spot, if you don’t share my anxieties! 🙂
I expected this stop to be really cool, but it was such a highlight, possibly my favorite stop of the whole trip! So insanely beautiful!
Then, it was back to the car for another 2 hours to Stuttgart, where we would settle in for the night. We didn’t have time for much that evening in Stuttgart, which seemed to be a pretty industrial city anyway. We decided to just head out for dinner. BC had gotten some recommendations from his exchange counselor at work, who is originally from Stuttgart. She recommended some tradition eateries, but also threw out that her favorite spot was a legit American BBQ place! Now for 3 expats who hadn’t heard these words recently, it was music to our ears! So we decided to give it a shot…we had been consuming plenty of German food at that point. I can safely say that this was one of the most random things I have done. This tiny whole-in-the-wall place was in the middle of some random residential area and without recommendation, I would not have been going inside. There was a lot of ridiculous American flair in there, but the BBQ pulled pork sandwich I had was worth it! Also, did I mention that our waitress spoke no English? That made it fun!
The next morning we packed up the car, but before leaving town, we made a stop at the Mercedes Benz museum in Stuttgart. This museum turned out to be pretty incredible. The museum was really interactive and actually gave a lot of background about events that were happening in Germany and around the world throughout the museum. I enjoyed the visit!
From the museum, it was back on the road to our final overnight destination…Luxembourg City! Again, we got to the city with time to explore a bit and find a dinner location. We had just enough time to check out the Bock fortifications at the edge of the old city center. The Casemates are a series of caves inside the fortress, but unfortunately, we were too late to go inside. The ruins were really pretty and offered some impressive views of the city!
Hitting up Luxembourg not only checked off an additional country from the list, but also gave the boys a little exposure to the French language! We went to a small French cafe in an open square in town, and all had some tasty meals. I even had some tasty dessert! A short stop, but the city was really pretty, and we were glad to see it!
The next morning was the final stretch…a return to Den Haag. But first, a pit stop in Liege, Belgium for lunch. We wandered a bit before settling in at a spot that had lots of hamburgers. Then a quick stop in for waffles and chocolates to go, and we were back on the road.
After finally returning back home, we all pretty much crashed! I hadn’t been feeling well for the last couple days of the trip, so I was especially out of it. This continued for me on Sunday, when the boys headed off to Amsterdam for the standard walk about. I hear there were many bitterballen consumed and a canal cruise was taken! I think they had a great time. More take-out that night, so we could spend time just hanging out together before they all had to return home.
On Monday, BC was back to work. Brent decided he wanted to get to the Noah’s Ark replica in Dordrecht, so he took off on train by himself. He also biked over to Kinderdijk to see the windmills. The other guys took our bikes and headed out to the beach to soak in a little sunshine and the North Sea breeze. That night, the boys had one last dinner together at Paraplu, our favorite little dive bar in an alley way in the city center. Then they were off to the airport in the morning!
What can I say, this trip was AMAZING! We had so much fun with all of the guys! Thank you Brent, Ross, Zim & Josh for making the journey to come visit us!!!
Wow – anyone still reading?! Good for you! That was the longest post to date, I believe! Life is getting back to normal now and we are slowly catching up on our cleaning/laundry again! Much to look forward to in the coming months!
Until next time,