Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Our first taste of Germany was the spectacular Rhine Valley. With more castles than you can count, and precariously terraced vineyards rising up from the river, it’s no wonder the streets become clogged with tourists throughout the summer.

Visiting the Rhine region in the off-season, however, can be a treat. The friendly locals, hearty food, and beautiful vistas make it a slow-travellers dream.

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If you haven’t already done so, read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of our European Adventure.

Cathedral and Market in Freiberg

Descending down out of the mountains took a full day. There was a bit more snow, a slight detour into Innsbruck and a Switzerland sighting. We drove the length of Austria and then circled around Lake Constance and into Germany.

Things began to level out again as we drove through German orchards and farm land. By evening, we had made our way to Freiberg, where we stopped for the night at the Intercity hotel. We had an interesting view of the train station which was directly under our window, but the rooms where quite quiet regardless.

Freiberg turned out to be a charming city. We spent the following morning strolling along the cobbled streets up to a magnificent cathedral. There was a lively market surrounding the cathedral which was full of produce and plants.

Vogtsbauernhof – the oldest house

I made a slight detour from our planned route as Mom was interested in seeing the Black Forest. (Mom and Dad have a favorite restaurant back home run by a German lady from Bavaria). My handy guide-book informed me of an open-air museum in Gutach that contained the oldest house in the Black Forest – Vogtsbauernhof (say that 5 times fast).

Wonder of wonders, we were able to find the museum and it was lovely and gave us a real sense of what life was like for the early inhabitants of the Black Forest. We had lunch at the park and then set out for the rest of our afternoon.

The rest of our drive that day would take us along the Rhine. Andrew and I had driven through the Rhine Valley twice before and had been charmed by the barges, nearly vertical vineyards and hilltop castles.

We spent the afternoon castle sighting and had a stop in St. Goar. I had my suspicions that my mother would find something interesting to buy in this town and I was right. She is now the proud owner of an authentic coo-coo clock assembled in the Black Forest (mind you there is a whole other story about flying over the Atlantic with clockworks in your carry-on baggage that you can ask her about.)

Castle sighting on the Rhine

We refueled with some cake and coffee at a little spot in the town and then headed for our hotel – yet another Holiday Inn Express, outside of Köln (or Cologne for you English folk).

The following day was Good Friday and our destination was Amsterdam. To give my folks a sense of the Netherlands we took the long way from Köln to Amsterdam, via Friesland and over the Afsluitdijk (or ‘enclosing dike’ that keeps North Holland from being under water).

As we traveled north-west through the Netherlands the landscape flattened significantly until there wasn’t a hill in sight – a stark contrast from the jagged peaks of the Alps only two days earlier.

Mom’s clock is there somewhere

In Freisland we visited some familiar sheep and then headed across the dike with a stop to see the Waddenzee. Then we turned south again and ended the day at the Holiday Inn in Amsterdam.

What evening in A’dam would be complete for Andrew and I without supper at Los Pilones – well, none. Mojito anyone? (PS. Mom and Dad – you can thank me for not posting the post-Mojito pictures later)

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Germany turned out to be a fun weekend but it did not turn out as we had planned. We did manage to haul ourselves out of bed early on Saturday morning and get on the road, but that may have lead to our downfall.

We drove across the Netherlands and entered Germany near Arnhem with little fanfare. Since we were traveling the back roads the only thing that announced our arrival in Germany was a small sign. The country side we drove through was rural and similar to the Netherlands, although slightly lumpier. As we traveled south we did begin to notice differences in the architecture as well. We arrived in Cologne (Koln) around 1 and it took us quite some time to find our hotel. I had found a very good last minute deal on-line at the Park Plaza. Normally this would have been way out of our price range and it was quite a difference in quality to most of the hotels we have stayed in.

When we finally found it, we were hungry and tired and the weather was rainy and bleak. We decided to eat lunch at the hotel rather than wander around in the rain. Over lunch we admitted reluctantly that we were both exhausted and didn’t feel like exploring Koln in the rain. We were pathetic and went up to our room and had a nap. It ended up being a rather long nap and when we awoke it was starting to get dark. The weather had still not improved but we felt much better. We decided that since we had the opportunity to stay in a posh hotel, we would enjoy the experience to the fullest. We used the very nice gym and followed our workout with a very long sauna. We then had a late supper that was rather swanky. The afternoon / evening turned out to be just what we needed.

The next morning we were well rested but the weather was still not on our side. I made a snap decision to skip sight-seeing in Koln and drive the romantic highway to see the castles on the Rhine. We had done part of this drive on our bus tour of Europe and it was breathtaking. We agreed that this would be much nicer than wandering around in the rain. We were right. The drive was spectacular and the sun even peaked through a few times. The towns along the Rhine look like fairy-tale villages. It is impossible to describe in words or pictures how incredible this area is. Without exaggeration I would say it is easily one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Along side the town and castles, there are vineyards that scale the hillsides. I’ve tried to show this in pictures but I don’t think they do justice to how steep the vineyards are. Like all beautiful areas, there are definite signs of tourism and I’m sure that in the dead of summer, it would be a dreadful place to live. We drove as far as St. Goar, which was the town we visited on our bus tour, and then took a ferry across the Rhine and drove back up the other side. You can really only see the towns on the opposite side of the river when you are driving as everything is so steep. We had a nice lunch of sausage and German potato salad with apple strudel for dessert (how much more touristy could we be…). During our travels we decided that if the opportunity ever arose for us to come back to Europe, we would love to explore Bonn, Koblenz and of course Koln.

After completing our Rhine tour it was time to hit the highway and head home to the Praterlaan. One little over-sight on my navigational skills … German highway = Autobahn. I have two words to describe driving the Autobahn … “WHAAAAAAAAAAAA!” … “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” (a la What would Jarred do Subway commercial). Generally on the Autobahn, if there is a posted speed limit it is 130 and in many places there is NO speed limit. My knuckles remained a ghostly shade of white during this drive. When I dared look at our speedometer it was around 160 and endless BMWs and Mercedes were blowing past us like we were standing still. It was … an experience. I was relieved to return to the Netherlands, and the reasonable 110 limits.

On Wednesday, Andrew’s trip to Prague was unfortunately a disaster. He was up and gone to the airport at the crack of dawn. At 8:30 AM my phone rang. It was Drew. He had learned a valuable lesson … Canadian’s need a visa to visit the Czech Republic. He wasn’t allowed on the flight and he was coming home. About 15 mins later my phone rang again … they were trying to arrange a visa for him and maybe he could make the next flight. 15 mins after that, the third and final call … Visas take 5 working days to arrange. A few hours later a disappointed Drew was home.

Because the boys were supposed to be away, I had arranged to go out with Marie-Anne for the evening. We kept our original plans as Drew had loads of work to catch up on anyway. We met at Centraal and she took me to a place called The Movies. It is an old, Art Nouveau theatre that has been converted into a restaurant and theatre. You eat your supper and then go next door to a movie. It is a great idea and I think it would be a wonderful way to save some of our old theatres at home. We had a delicious supper and then went to see “Lost in Translation.” (No, the irony was not lost on me) It was a good film, but definitely not mainstream Hollywood fare. After the movie we had a killer dessert of 3 kinds of chocolate. It was nice to have some “girl talk” and we discovered that there are definitely universal themes. After supper, Marie-Anne kindly drove me home in her Mini (Drew was jealous).

Today I am planning our Paris trip. We purchased a map and guide book (we have a steadily growing collection if anyone plans to come to Europe anytime soon) yesterday. We have seen many of the must-do sights already, when we were on the bus tour. We’re planning to visit some of the lesser known spots and of course I will try to squeeze in a bit of shopping. Love to All! Al

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