Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl, & Sinsheim (August 30-31, 2014)

So many places to see, and less than a year left in Germany! We are determined to take advantage of the 4-day weekends throughout this next year.

Saturday
After a later-than-planned start, we were on the road to Rothenburg, which is about 2 hours away. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with perfect temperatures. No chill, not too warm. We parked just outside the city walls and walked into the medieval city. After picking up a map, we ventured out to see a few sights: a beautiful overlook, a church, and the Rathaus.

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Connor had finally fallen asleep for a late nap. We noticed there was a tower above the Rathaus, so we decided to climb to the top for a view of the city (and continue my streak of climbing church towers while carrying Connor!). After walking most of the way up, it got to a point where it was just too narrow and steep for me to go any further with Connor. Charlie went all the way up and took pictures while Connor and I people-watched in the town square. Well, I people-watched while Connor continued to look at the back of his eyelids.

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Views from the top of the bell tower

Once Charlie came back down, we found a quick snack (a Schneeball…a disappointingly dry regional specialty that was sort of like a funnel-cake-ball). We walked into Käthe Wohlfahrt, the huge Christmas store. We have one of those stores in our BX, but it certainly felt more authentic to be inside the Rothenburg store! Connor woke up and enjoyed looking at the nutcrackers, and once we went outside, he couldn’t get enough of the “Christmas truck” parked in front of the store!

The original plan was to spend the whole afternoon in Rothenburg, then drive to our hotel in Dinkelsbühl and see that city the next day. However, the weather was so amazing that day and the forecast was so awful for the next day that we decided to go ahead and see as much as we could of Dinkelsbühl while we had the chance. On our walk back to the car, we found a playground and relaxed for a little bit.

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After a half-hour drive, we arrived at our hotel in Dinkelsbühl. It was old and charming, and right in the center of the town. It was already late in the afternoon, but we took advantage of the beautiful weather and took our own mini walking tour. Charlie navigated us around the outskirts of Dinkelsbühl, stopping to admire the gates and towers of the surrounding wall. After walking along the wall halfway around the city, we walked back towards the center and had a late dinner. Our meals were good, but nothing too spectacular, especially considering we were finally in the Bavarian region for the first time.

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Sunday
After breakfast at the hotel, Charlie ran across the street (in the rain) to see if the church’s bell tower was open for us to climb. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open until 2:00pm. We checked out of the hotel and hopped into the car for a rainy drive to Sinsheim. When I say “rainy,” I actually mean it was POURING for a while. Sinsheim was on the way home, and a little over an hour from our hotel in Dinkelsbühl. We visited the Technik Museum, which was full of cars, airplanes, tractors, tanks, a huge bulldozer, a mini-monster truck to sit in, and more. Connor loved it! We had already been to its partner museum in Speyer twice, but this one had some displays we hadn’t seen before, like two Concorde jets that we were able to climb into. We all climbed through the first one, but Connor and I decided to wait at the bottom while Charlie went into the second one. It was too narrow inside and set at such a steep angle. While Charlie was in the Concorde, Connor and I admired the Huey helicopter display. I told him that Granddad used to fly that kind of helicopter, and he wanted to know where Grandma sat!

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Concordes

It was time to drive home (a little over an hour), and Connor settled into a nap. Before he fell asleep, we asked him what his favorite part of the museum was. His answer? “Mommy, Daddy, and Connor.” We assume he means that he loved being together as a family :).

Stay tuned for our October adventures: a short trip to Tuscany for Connor and me, and a family 3-day weekend to Bonn and Koblenz.

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Grandma & Granddad’s Visit (July 27-August 20, 2014)

We were thrilled that Charlie’s parents came for such a long visit! They were here during Charlie’s block leave, so he took two weeks off while they were here. Connor was so excited to see Grandma and Granddad in person, and he warmed up to them within moments. We took it easy for a few days while they adjusted to the time zone, then piled into the car for a 5-day, 4-country road trip.

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One of Connor’s favorite activities was reading with Grandma

Charlie chose the destinations for this trip, and you will quickly notice that they are mostly centered around WWII history. I kept Connor entertained so that Charlie and his parents could enjoy everything fully, so this blog will lack a lot of the historical facts and details. Hopefully Charlie will fill in the gaps!

Friday, August 1 (Luxembourg City)
We left in the morning for Luxembourg city. As soon as we pulled out of garage, Connor said, “Daddy, I forgot something!” Luckily, he was kidding. What a comedian. After a 2-hour drive, we arrived at the American Military Cemetery. It was beautiful and so well-maintained. There are over 5000 soldiers buried there from WWII. The highlight for Connor was watching the lawnmower and a tractor with a leaf-blower. We drove a few minutes down the road to the German Military Cemetery. This cemetery looked smaller, but there were 4 soldiers buried per headstone, which was about 10,000 soldiers total. We took a break in the shade while Connor finished his nap, then drove to the hotel to check-in. The hotel room was small and simple, but it was adequate for the night. Connor and I had a double bed to ourselves while Charlie had a single bunk above us.

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American Military Cemetery

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German Military Cemetery

We were all starving by now, and crankiness started to set in. We clumsily navigated through the Grund area of Luxembourg City in search of a place to park so that we could eat and then see the Bock Casemates. We finally found a place to park and walked to an outdoor pub for a quick late lunch of paninis, bruschetta, and pizza…probably not a regional Luxembourg specialty, but it did the trick nonetheless. We drove to the city center and eventually found another place to park. We saw some of the Casemates as we were driving, but didn’t have the chance to get out and walk inside. The Casemates are underground tunnels that were used as bomb shelters during WWII. We walked to the Place de la Constitution, which offered amazing views of the city. We were surprised with the elevation differences within Luxembourg City. The area where we ate lunch seemed like it was down in a valley compared to the city center. After looking inside a church, we walked back through a pedestrian area with shops and restaurants. We followed the sound of band and stumbled upon a local community band’s performance.

Connor was a trooper on our first day of travel, and I was so relieved that there was an amazing public playground right next to the garage where we had parked. He ran and climbed for a while before heading back to the hotel for dinner and bed. By the time we got back to the hotel, I showered Connor and scraped together some dinner for him from the snacks we had packed from home. He was ready for an early bedtime, and Charlie brought back dinner for the two of us from the hotel restaurant.

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Hooray! We are almost at the playground!

I was amazed at the vast differences among the areas of Luxembourg City that we visited. The cemeteries were quiet and wooded with nothing else nearby. The Grund area where we ate lunch was old, complete with cobblestone streets. Moments later, we were in the modern and bustling downtown area!

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Luxembourg City (Grund area)

Saturday, August 2 (Bastogne, Belgium)
We were all up and ready for breakfast at 7:00am, but quickly decided that the hotel’s offering wasn’t worth 7.50€! We drove less than an hour to Bastogne, Belgium and found a grocery chain where we bought some breakfast. Our first stop for the day were the Bastogne Barracks, but we quickly learned that there was no longer a 9:00am tour, and we would have to wait another hour! Instead of wasting an hour, we drove to the new Bastogne War Museum, which had just been recently built. On the way, I remembered that it doesn’t open until 10:00, but we were able to visit the Mardasson Memorial first since it was in the same complex. It was quite an impressive monument. We walked up to the top, and Connor entertained himself (and me) by pretending to toss recycling bags into the recycling truck. (He was inspired by the yellow markings on the floor of the monument, which reminded him of our yellow recycling bags at home. Love my creative little man. A few minutes later he was picking up twigs off the ground and pretending to feed “hay” to the imaginary horses.)

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Mardasson Memorial

We went into museum, and it took a while to get past the entryway because Connor loved the tank so much! He took a short nap with me, then we looked at another tank for a while. He also enjoyed pretending to fix an anti-aircraft gun turret. Meanwhile, Charlie and his parents were able to take their time and look at everything in the museum, so it was a win-win for everyone. We found an open area to run around while Charlie went to gift shop, then had sandwiches and salads for lunch in the museum’s cafeteria.

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Bastogne War Museum

We drove back to barracks, but since we were early for the next tour, we walked through the cemetery across the street. Finally it was time to start the tour, but we quickly realized it was yet another bust. The guide spoke French, German, and only a little bit of English. We knew that a 2-hour tour without being able to understand the tour guide would be a nightmare, so we decided to make a break for it. After getting back in the car, we followed signs to the 101st Airborne Museum but couldn’t find it. After driving through the quaint center of town and deciding to look for our hotel instead, we happened to stumble upon the museum. Everyone enjoyed it, and then we drove down the block to our hotel.

Our hotel room was clean, modern, and spacious. Connor had a blast running back and forth as he explored all of the exciting things in the room, like the stereo and phone. After a nap for Barbara and playtime for Connor, we walked a few blocks to the town square, looked at a tank monument, then found a café for dinner. We finally had some regional specialties: Croque Madame (basically a grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top), quiche Lorraine, and Belgian beer for Charlie. Across the square we got dessert at a chocolatier. Connor and I chose to share a gelato cone, which he didn’t share very well! Can’t blame him…I don’t like to share ice cream, either! We headed back to hotel and Connor was asleep by 7:30 after enjoying a bath in the fancy hotel tub.

Sunday, August 3 (Bastogne, Belgium; Margraten, The Netherlands; and Cologne, Germany
After a nice hotel breakfast, a tour guide met us at the hotel to take Charlie and his parents on a private guided tour of Bastogne. They were able to see actual battlegrounds and other sites that they never would have otherwise seen. Meanwhile, Connor and I kept ourselves busy near the hotel. We found some cows and donkeys to look at, made our way back to the tank in the center of town, then found a park to run around in for a little while. He napped on me as we walked back the hotel and waited for the rest of the family to return from their tour.

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Enjoying our morning while the others were on a guided tour

Once Charlie, Mike, and Barbara returned, we all piled into the car and headed towards the Netherlands. After a stop for lunch, we arrived at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Charlie had been there once before when the Army Band played at the Memorial Day celebration. It is an absolutely beautiful cemetery. Each grave is “adopted” and maintained by a Dutch family.

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Netherlands American Cemetery

It was time to get back into the car and venture into our third country for the day! Thankfully, Connor was a patient passenger throughout our whole trip. We found our hotel, which certainly wasn’t a hotel we would have chosen had we seen it from the street, but once we were in our rooms it was good enough for our two-night stay. The highlight for Connor was the real key and keychain for our room (instead of a key-card). He entertained himself for quite a while “locking” and “unlocking” the bathroom door…fun for him, but not so fun for the person trying to have a bit of privacy :). After debating whether or not Connor was able to survive dinner at a restaurant after three days in a row of short naps, we took our chances and walked down the street to a Biergarten. Much to my surprise, he hung in there just fine. He played with coasters and colored with Granddad at the table, and I went outside with him for a little bit before our food arrived. This was the best meal I had during the whole trip, and judging by the amount Connor ate from my plate, I’d say he agreed. My dish was Maultaschen, which is sort of a German version of a big ravioli, filled with pork and spinach. This variation was topped with cheese and prosciutto and then baked. Charlie’s Käsespätzle was a big hit, too. Oh, and he spilled the rest of my beer and lived to tell about it. Do I get a medal for that?

With full bellies, we walked back to the hotel and got Connor to bed by 9:30…so late for him! He must have been exhausted, because he didn’t even flinch throughout our noisy night: someone trying to unlock our door, the phone ringing, huge claps of thunder and lightning, pounding rain, a loud noise next door (turned out to be Mike and Barbara’s window slamming shut because of the storm), and a knock on the door. He may look like a Brokovich, but every once in a while he sleeps like a Mraz!

Monday, August 4 (Cologne)
We slept in a little and had a decent breakfast at the hotel. After driving through the downtown area of Cologne (which seemed to be entirely under construction), we found an open parking garage. It was a great location and we found the docks for our boat ride as soon as we exited the garage. We took a one-hour boat trip up and down the Rhine River. It was a great way to see Cologne, and we all enjoyed the view from the top deck. After our boat trip, we meandered through the center of Cologne, taking in the sights of the town square area, Gross St. Martin, Rathaus, and the Dom (Cathedral). We have seen many cathedrals throughout our travels, but this one was the most incredible that I have seen so far. I took advantage of my opportunity to admire the inside of the cathedral while Connor was still sleeping on me. He continued to nap as Charlie and I began climbing the 533 steps to the top of the bell tower. He woke up in time to see the amazing views from the top! After climbing back down, finding Mike and Barbara relaxing in the shade, and letting Connor run with pigeons for a few minutes, we walked back to the town square to find lunch. We all enjoyed schnitzel at a Biergarten. It looked like rain was coming, so we window-shopped as we walked towards the car and made it back just in time. We drove to a grocery store next door to our hotel for a few snacks and drinks, then back to our hotel for the evening.

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We made it to the top of the bell tower!

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Dom

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Ready for lunch!

Tuesday, August 5 (Cologne)
It’s our last day of a whirlwind trip! After breakfast, we easily found our way downtown again. We walked to the Dom and waited for the mini-train to take us to the Schokoladen Museum/Lindt Factory. Connor loved the train ride, and it gave us another opportunity to see the sights of Cologne. The chocolate museum was pretty neat, but definitely not enough free samples! Charlie and his parents chose ingredients for a custom-made chocolate bar as a souvenir. Connor napped through some of the museum, but woke up in time for the train ride back. We headed back to the car and started our journey home. I think the drive was around 3 hours total. We stopped at a rest area and there was a playground for Connor to enjoy while we had a snack. Connor was a content traveler the whole ride in the car, especially once he discovered how to take selfies :).

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Riding the Bimmelbahn to the Schokoladen Museum

As usual, this post is already longer than I intended, so here is the Reader’s Digest version of the rest of Mike and Barbara’s visit:

Kerwe: They enjoyed the food and festivities of Hochspeyer’s annual Kerwe (carnival), which included watching me run on a relay team with our American club! Connor LOVED the Kerwe Parade, and he “played parade” with Grandma everyday afterwards, pretending to throw candy and play the bass drum.

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Blowing a kiss to Connor as he yelled, “Never give up!!”

Reilly’s 8th birthday party: Mike got to meet two of Connor’s best buddies, Reilly and her mom Amy.

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Speyer Technik Museum: We spent a morning at the museum, enjoying all of the airplanes, trains, cars, and tanks. Charlie and I had been there before, but it was even more fun this time because Connor was old enough to really get excited about everything that he saw!

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Having fun outside the museum…then and now 🙂

Idar-Oberstein: It was a gorgeous day, and we all survived the hike up to the castle. On the way back down, we went inside the Felsenkirche, which is a church built into the side of a mountain. (For more about our previous trip to Idar-Oberstein, see this post.)

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Heidelberg: We took a day trip to see the castle, rode the funicular rail all the way up the hill for an incredible view, and then walked to the famous bridge. After driving home, we ended the day with a great meal at the Bremerhof Biergarten. (For more about our previous trips to Heidelberg, click here.)

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In-house babysitters: Charlie and I had the opportunity to go to a friend’s surprise birthday party and leave the little man at home. It was a great evening out for the two of us, and Connor had so much fun with Grandma and Granddad! Granddad had another chance to have some quality time with Connor another day while Barbara and I got pedicures.

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Connor loves looking at “funny pictures” (old videos of himself)

Mike and Barbara left on August 20 to go on a cruise around Europe. We probably won’t see them again until we move back to the states next summer. It was fun having them here, and we can’t wait to be together again!