Leipzig, Dresden, & Berlin (February 13-16, 2015)

Friday
Our first destination for the day was Leipzig, but on the way we stopped in Jena to have lunch with our friend Kris, who was at CCM with both of us. I’m so glad she had the day off work and had time to spend with us! It was a 4-hour drive to Jena, so we were definitely ready for a rest. We enjoyed catching up over lunch at a café, then hit the road again for Leipzig. Connor fell asleep within moments to make the most of the hour-long drive.

Visiting Kris in Jena
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Once we arrived in Leipzig, we went straight to St. Thomas Church, where Bach used to be the organist. It was surreal to sit inside and think about all the history in that church! Across the street from the church was the Bach Museum, and we enjoyed wandering through there for a bit. Next we walked to see the Rathaus (Town Hall), passed some amazing University buildings, found Starbucks for our souvenir mug, and then looked inside the St. Nicholas Church. We started walking back to our car, but as we passed St. Thomas Church again we realized it was 6:00 and the weekly Motet concert was about to begin. Connor wasn’t in the mood to sit in the pew (can’t blame him after the day we had), so he and I found a room in the back that had a few toys. He was thrilled to sit and play with trucks for a little while!

St. Thomas Church and a statue of Bach
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We left the performance after about 30 minutes and walked to the car, then drove a little over an hour to our hotel in Dresden. After booking 10 rooms on Hotels.com, we had earned a “free night,” which we used as a credit towards a nice hotel in Dresden! Right outside our window was the Neumarkt, and there were hundreds of people bringing lit candles in remembrance of a bombing that took place on this day during WWII. It was after 8:00pm by the time we got settled in our room, so we just ordered room service for dinner and then went to bed.

Views of the Neumarkt from our hotel room
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Saturday
Thank goodness Connor slept until 7:15! Once we all got up and moving, we finally saw Dresden in the daylight. We walked to see the Rathaus and picked up our souvenir Starbucks mug. There were SO many policemen and police vans everywhere.  As we walked through one of the squares, there was a crowd of people and it looked like there was some sort of demonstration going on. Charlie steered us clear of that as best as he could, and we made our way back to the Neumarkt near our hotel. We finally found a bakery inside a small mall, and Connor inhaled some quark-filled donut holes for breakfast.

Next we walked inside the Frauenkirche. It was completely demolished during a WWII bombing and has recently been rebuilt. The inside was beautiful, and almost looked more like a concert hall than a church. You might not believe this, but we actually did not climb up to the top of the dome! It was 8€ per person, which we didn’t think was worth it, especially considering we didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Dresden.  Next we walked across the Neumarkt to the Verkhersmuseum (Transportation Museum). We have been to similar museums in Speyer, Sinsheim, and Luzern, but it’s so much fun to see how Connor enjoys the vehicles more and more each time!

Frauenkirche
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Checking out the trains at the Verkhersmuseum
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It was time to head to the car and drive to Berlin. It was around 12:30 and I thought sure Connor would nap while we drove almost 2 hours to Berlin, but no such luck. At least he was perfectly content! We checked into our hotel and then set out for Checkpoint Charlie, and Connor fell asleep just as we arrived. There were tons of people in the area. We looked around outside and then went into the museum. Connor was still asleep as we finished and walked to look a section of the Berlin Wall, as well as ruins of former Gestapo buildings. The little man finally woke up shortly before 5:00pm as we were walking towards the Brandenburg Gate. Along the way we saw the Holocaust Memorial. The memorial wasn’t that exciting, but the Brandenburg Gate was impressive to see in person.

Checkpoint Charlie
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Sections of the Berlin Wall
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Holocaust Memorial
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Brandenburg Gate
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Finally it was time to walk back to the mall right next to our hotel. We were all absolutely starving, and found a gourmet burger place in the food court that sounded good. I was sold as soon as I saw a burger on the menu with Camembert cheese! Unfortunately, Charlie was just about on his last bite before he realized that he was eating my burger by mistake. Oh well. We walked inside the mall to Toys-r-Us, where Connor picked out a small circus Lego duplo set and Charlie picked out a Lego bulldozer. Next we went to a shoe store to buy a new pair for the growing little man. The poor guy was complaining for two days that he didn’t want to wear his shoes and finally today he said they made his feet hurt. Connor had fun going down the slide inside the shoe store! We finally tore him away and ended the evening with a gelato cone. Back in the hotel room, Connor had fun relaxing and playing with his new Legos before finally falling asleep at 10:30. That’s what I get for letting him nap until almost 5:00!

Connor’s new friends that we met in the mall!
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Sunday
It was an early morning. I made reservations a few days ago to visit the dome of the Reichstag, the building where the German Bundestag (parliament) meets. We made it there with time to spare, only to find out they weren’t even letting anyone in to start the security check until 8:00am. All of us waiting in the cold were upset because our confirmation letter told us to arrive by 7:45! Once we went inside the Reichstag we were ushered into a large elevator and went up several floors. We picked up our audio guides and started up the spiral walkway going to the top of the glass dome. The views of Berlin were good, but would have been even better later in the day once the fog lifted.

Inside the dome of the Reichstag
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We were starving, so we walked to find some breakfast near the Brandenburg Gate. Next we walked part-way to the Victory Column to take a few pictures. The views were impressive since we could see the Victory Column as we looked one direction and the Brandenburg Gate as we looked the other way. It was mid-morning by now, and our next destinations were a long walk away on the other side of our hotel. The churches weren’t even going to be open for almost 2 hours, so we decided to take a break at the hotel for a bit. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for a family nap since we were all up early that morning, but unfortunately Connor was not as interested in that idea as Charlie and I were!

Passing the Brandenburg Gate again…and finally getting Charlie in the picture!
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We left the hotel around 12:30pm and explored the eastern side of Berlin, stopping first in the Gendarmenmarkt. I had no idea what it was when I marked it on the map as I planned our trip, but it turned out to be a beautiful square with incredible buildings: the Konzerthaus in the middle, with a French cathedral and German cathedral on either side. Connor finally fell asleep as we entered the French cathedral and, you guessed it, climbed the 254 stairs to the top! It was an easy climb on a smooth and wide staircase. Next we continued walking towards the Berliner Dom, stopping along the way to walk through a weekend art market. The Dom and surrounding museums were incredible to look at, and the beautiful blue sky just enhanced the views. The Dom was amazing inside, and we took our time to enjoy the sanctuary. Connor woke up to admire it with us. After looking at the crypt in the basement, we began the long trek back towards the hotel.

Berliner Dom
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Connor had been really easygoing all day, and we were grateful to have an opportunity to do something just for him that we knew he would enjoy: LegoLand! Charlie happened to see a brochure about it yesterday, and it was right down the street! After our long walk back from the Dom (and one more stop along the way to see St. Hedwig’s Cathedral), we finally arrived at the LegoLand Discovery Center. Connor had a blast building Legos, going on a dragon ride, playing on an indoor jungle gym, and building Lego cars to race down a track. Of course, he also enjoyed picking out a Lego set at the gift shop. (Yes, we have too many Legos already…and Charlie has countless bins full of them in storage in the states…) After Connor let loose some energy, we walked across the street to an Indian restaurant we had spotted the day before. Our dinner was delicious: samosas, naan, lamb korma, and chicken saag. Connor enjoyed the naan, rice, and lamb. When we got back to the hotel, Connor was dying to put together his new Lego truck. (It’s a construction truck pulling a trailer with a porta-potty. Of all the choices he had…) He had fun helping daddy put it together before bedtime.

LegoLand!
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Monday
Connor got us all up before 7:00. We packed up and left the hotel around 8:30. We made a stop in Potsdam, a little over half an hour away, to pickup breakfast at a bakery and get a souvenir Starbucks mug. Originally we thought we might stop in Leipzig again to see the Mendelssohn House since we ran out of time on Friday, but by the time we were settled in the car after breakfast we just wanted to head home. Connor finally fell asleep several hours into our journey with his hand in the trail mix bag, and he slept until we got home around 3:30. When we asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, he said, “Eating jelly beans in the car, and when the dragon ‘splitted’ on us.” (The dragon on the LegoLand ride “spit” on us at the end.)

Charlie is going on a concert tour for 9 days at the end of February/beginning of March.  Maybe I can convince him to write a blog about all the places he will see in Eastern Europe!

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Strasbourg , France (February 6-7, 2015)

Friday

Charlie had a 3-day weekend, so we planned to visit a couple of towns not too far away. We drove less than 2 hours to Strasbourg, France, which isn’t far across the border from Germany. After checking into our hotel, we bundled up and walked to the Cathedral.  It was in the low 30s and incredibly windy!  We stopped at a bakery along the way to pickup a quick sandwich to go. (Charlie had a cheese pizza, and I had a Croque saumon, which was a fancy grilled cheese with salmon. Delicious! Connor was too sleepy to want to share.)

The Cathedral was beautiful, of course. As we were admiring the astronomical clock inside, Connor finally fell asleep on my back for a late nap. We walked outside and around the corner to find the entrance to climb to the top of the cathedral, but of course it was closed for another 10 minutes! After a detour inside a nearby souvenir shop, we came back and climbed 330 steps to the top of the cathedral. The wind was gusting so strongly, especially once we got to the top, but Connor slept through it all. After taking a few pictures at the top and climbing down, we meandered down a street lined with shops. We stopped in a store that caught our eye; it was called Bretzel Airlines, and it had shirts, mugs, etc. that incorporated a pretzel into famous logos. Being so close to Germany, I guess the Bretzel is a popular snack here in Strasbourg! We picked out a souvenir shirt for Connor before continuing on our way.

Strasbourg Cathedral
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Views from the top of the Cathedral
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Charlie’s artsy shot of the Cathedral tower
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Connor’s new shirt 🙂
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After a short walk, we arrived in the Petite France area along the river. Connor was awake, so we stopped at a café to warm up, have a hot drink, and use the restroom. (This is our first trip with no diapers! So far, so good!) Connor and I shared a Chocolat viennois, which was a mug of hot chocolate with a mound of whipped cream on top. Feeling warm and refreshed, we bundled up again and walked around the Petite France area a little longer, stopping to look in a sewing shop and running circles around a tree with Connor. It was late afternoon, and we decided to walk back to our hotel and relax for a while. We lucked out with a great deal on our hotel room. The room was very large with plenty of space to play, and it had a huge bed plus a twin bed for Connor. His favorite feature was the wardrobe, which he kept climbing into and pretending it was his “basement.”

Around 6:00, we bundled up once more and walked back to the same café for dinner. Charlie had glanced at the menu when we were there earlier and he thought the dinner options looked good. He was definitely right! We ordered spätzle with a creamy mushroom sauce for Connor, and Charlie and I had a burger. It was the best burger I have had in quite a while! Connor devoured plenty of his dinner as well.  On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a small Turkish café to pickup dessert to go. Charlie had baklava, and Connor and I shared a sweet “egg roll” filled with ground nuts and honey. Between a late nap and all the excitement, Connor didn’t go to sleep until almost 9:30. What’s on deck for tomorrow? We aren’t entirely sure yet!

Petite France
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Taking a break to enjoy Petite France
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View from our hotel room
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Saturday

We walked to a nearby bakery to pickup breakfast, and brought it back to the hotel to eat. It was the same bakery where we picked up lunch yesterday, and it didn’t disappoint us today, either! Connor had quiche, Charlie had a chocolate-filled donut, and I had a Croque chèvre…oh, and small pain au chocolat :). After checking out of the hotel, we drove a little over an hour to Zweibrücken. There was a huge outlet mall we wanted to look at, and it was basically on the way home. It was beautiful and sunny, but still extremely cold. The mall was outdoors (and crowded!), but we were in and out of the stores often enough that we didn’t get too cold! We shopped for a while before driving about 45 minutes home. Connor finally took a snooze during the last 15 minutes. Now it’s time to do laundry and spend time planning next weekend’s adventure: Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, and Potsdam!