Sunday, August 2, 2020

Plan G for Germany

Although I had been thinking of this trip as our Germany trip, we actually spent significant time in the Czech Republic and France, too. It was a magnificent trip, and even two parking tickets and a smashed window didn't sour it too much. 

I'm quite pleased at the amount of planning I did. We broke up our driving into six hour chunks to ensure we had time every day (even the travel days) to do something enjoyable. Leading up to this trip, I had reached out to a few elementary/middle school friends who reminded me of their favorite places in Germany, and we tried our best to relive my childhood memories. Here's a brief summary of our trip:

Day 1, Saturday, July 25- Krakow, Poland to Hřensko, Czech Republic

We stayed at a great 8-room hotel in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. After driving about six hours, we arrived at our hotel and realized we had a great view of the neighboring sandstone cliffs. We left the hotel room again shortly after settling in to set out on a 12km hike to those cliffs and unknowingly ended up at the largest sandstone arch in Europe. 

View from our hotel room looking across to the cliffs we hiked to. 

Pravčická brána, the largest sandstone arch in Europe. Unfortunately the restaurant and arch closed two minutes before we arrived. 

Day 2, Sunday, July 26- Hřensko, Czech Republic to Weinheim Germany
We started the day with a short hike to the river in Hřensko since the hotel's breakfast didn't start until 8:30. We had hoped to reach a waterfall, but we learned when we got down to the river that the waterfall were only accessible after paying either for a tour boat or for access to a gated-off area, neither of which were accessible that time in the morning. No matter, it was still a pretty canyon to walk down to before starting off on another six hour drive. 

Our Airbnb in Weinheim was ideal. It was on a historic street near the old town Marktplatz in a building that dated back to the 16th century. We walked around downtown, enjoyed some spaghettieis, and ventured up to the Schlosspark (a favorite playground and ideal frog-catching pond) before finishing off the evening at Mom's favorite restaurant, Kugelofen. 

Morning light on the river, Kamenice Kamnitz.

We couldn't access the little restaurant space since it was behind a pay gate and it was early morning. 

Our Airbnb for four nights. Every evening all of the neighbors sat out on the shared patio space and conversed over their separate meals. We joined them one evening and learned that at least one of the neighbors, an 86 year old man, had lived in the same house here since birth. 

The Weinheim Marktplatz. Only two blocks from our Airbnb and a great restaurant hub. 

The large lawn at the Schlosspark.

Day 3, Monday, July 27- Mannheim and Heidelberg
A commonly-recommended spot to see was "Buffalo Park." After some bakery treats we set off there to start the morning, and I was pleased to see the buffalos were still there, as well as some boars, deer, and exotic birds. Although it wasn't marked on a map, I knew the old military base was nearby. We drove around a bit and just after I said "we'll try one more street" we ended up driving through the governors' circle (the nicest homes on base). As we drove around, it was obvious that the base had been split up among various German construction companies who were either renovating the existing buildings or bulldozing them to make room for new ones.

We went into Mannheim proper for lunch, but as my parent's are fond of saying, there's not much special about Mannheim. We didn't linger long before heading to Heidelberg for the afternoon. Cameron was much more impressed at the large downtown and the large semi-decrepit castle. 

One of the most base-like views still left: big ugly buildings surrounded by fence. 

Looking up at Heidelberg castle from one of the plazas in downtown. 

Day 4, Tuesday, July 28- Strasbourg, France and Baden-Baden, Germany
Starsbourg was about a 2 hour drive from Weinheim, but since we were already heading that direction for Baden-Baden we decided to start our morning their. I found a self-guided sampling tour, that gave us samples of gingerbread, cheese, pastries, pretzels, beer, wine, and cheesecake, as well as access to some unusual places to discover. After walking around the city for about four hours, we returned to our car and unfortunately found a parking ticket and broken side window. 

We called a Weinheim auto shop and they instructed us to stop by in the morning, so we went ahead and continued on with our plan to go to Baden-Baden. We went to the Caracalla Thermal Spa. No phones were allowed in the baths so I don't have any photos, but it was an odd experience. They were very strict about how many people could be in each pool and many of the smaller rooms were closed off due to Coronavirus. Even after three hours of relaxing, we were pretty worn out so we didn't spend time walking round town, other than to find a restaurant. After dinner, we found another parking ticket...oh bother!
"Little France," the canal region of Strasbourg. 

Our self-guided tour took us to a wine cellar that sits below an old hospital. The oldest wine, dating back to 1472, sits in these barrels. 

An unfortunate thing to come back to, but luckily it was the smallest window and nothing was stolen. 

Day 5, Wednesday, July 29- Weinheim
We dropped the car off with the auto shop first thing in the morning and were supplied with the loaner for the day. Today was dedicated to my childhood town, and stop number one was my old house. The lower neighborhood had grown and there was some construction still going on. The playground about halfway up the street that had been built when my family lived there now looked quite weather worn, but beyond that the neighborhood was relatively unchanged. 

Across the street from my house was the same parking lot, the grassy patch that Fluffy the guinea pig was buried in, and the trailhead that leads into the Odenwald Nature Park. The house looked unchanged, too, except for some newer mechanical blinds. I started crying as I started to explain to Cameron what was behind each window. I could see a lamp and a plant in the office/guest bedroom window, but nothing else gave indication that anyone was living there. We walked around the back and through the fence could see that the backyard had long overgrown grass and weeds giving further indication that perhaps the place was not being used as a standard residence. Nonetheless, I rang the doorbell, but as expected no one answered.

We spent the morning walking around the Odenwald, and then driving to the two hillside castles, and then the evening at the Waidsee, the lake we frequented most in my childhood. Somewhere in-between we went to a favorite ice cream shop in town and Muller, the all-purpose store in town (another of Mom's favorites). I also got to experience my first banana beer at dinner, a German specialty that intrigued me as a child. 

The old house looking the same as it did 14 years ago. We used to jump on our pogo stick on the left side of the building, pretend the gate going to the backyard was a trapeze, and I remember accidentally running my bike into our downstairs neighbor's flowerpots one time. 

A hike from across the street, looking across at the Weinheim castles and the neighborhood that houses my old elementary school.

Looking up from one castle to another. I could see both of these from my childhood bedroom window. 

Evening at the Waidsee. 

Cara and I sitting in the backyard of the house. This lawn is now so overgrown we could hardly see the house from our standing view down below. 

Day 6, Thursday, July 30- Weinheim, Germany to Prague, Czech Republic, with a long detour at Schwetzingen Gardens
Originally we were going to leave Weinheim right after breakfast, but since we weren't expecting the car to be ready until 15:00 we had some extra time to fill. Thanks to a suggestion from my parents we drove 20 minutes to Schwetzingen Gardens, a huge balance grounds filled with ponds, hedges, and statues. The size of them makes them feel quite opulent, and we managed to spend three hours walking through the themed regions of garden space. The last half hour of it, we ended up getting a tour of the Mosque from a friendly German retiree who seemed interested in sharing his knowledge and was perfectly happy to accommodate my imperfect German. 

Right at 15:00 I got a call from the car shop saying the window was ready. Cameron was amazed that we were able to get it done without delay and without excessive fees- hurray for German efficiency! The only thing left for the day was another six hour drive to our Airbnb in Prague. We were so tired by the time we arrive, around 20:45 that night, so we ate some instant ramen noodles and went straight to bed.

Some of the prettier flowers in the gardens, with the pink palace in the background. 

There were also a few smaller older buildings around the gardens. This is a temple of botany, Roman water fort, and an old aqueduct. 

Day 7, Friday, July 31- Prague, Czech Republic
Everyone who has ever been to Prague has exclaimed how it is their favorite city; so full of art and culture. After a day there, I agree it is pretty spectacular. Breakfast was a good indication that we would have an enjoyable day. Per recommendation from a travel blog, we went to La Bottega and had a feast! Coffee, smoothy, croissant, bread with jam and butter, waffle with whipped marscapone and candied nuts, chocolate pudding, and eggs Benedict. It was so good that we ended up going to a second location for breakfast the next day.

Then we set out on a three hour guided walking tour which took us through all of the major sites around the city: the Royal Road, the first cubism building in the world, the Powder Tower, Old Town Square, the astronomical clock, the Jewish quarter, Charles Bridge, and the John Lennon Wall. The only major must-see spot that wasn't in the tour was Prague Castle, which we walked around on our own that afternoon. To get out of the sun, we also went to the Central Gallery and walked through the Dali and Warhol exhibits.

Our walking tour group with Prague Castle in the background. 

A view of Prague, from the castle. 

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