Lake Plansee, Austria

Germany: Bacharach to Oberammergau

We covered a lot of ground in four days.  Sometimes we like to dwell and absorb a particular place for a while, other times we decide to go, go, go and see as much as we can see.  This post is a go, go, go post.  As much as we would have liked to spend more time in each of these places, Germany is a big place and even if you have several weeks like us, you have to make a decision on which method you are going to use.  In our case, not only did we see parts of Germany, but we also made stops in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria.

The Black Forest and Oberammergau were both a huge highlight for me.  I would love to spend more time exploring the different villages, doing some hiking, relaxing, and enjoying the scenery.  Similarly, Lake Constance is a favorite for all of us, and I could spend a lot more time here biking around the lake, getting a boat out on the water, or just spending time enjoying the city and parks.  Baden-Baden was a great place for the boys to enjoy some relaxing bath (pool) time, but we probably could have done more than just soak in the water and eat food.  Heidelberg (on the way to Baden-Baden) and the Rhine Falls (in Switzerland, not too far from Lake Constance) were stops that really weren’t necessary, but we added them at the last minute and we thoroughly enjoyed both.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

This morning we drove from Bacharach to Baden-Baden, making a brief stop in Heidelberg.  Our guide book indicated that Heidelberg was so overrun with tourists that it should not be high on the list of places to visit, but we disagreed.  Yes, there were zillions of tourists running around, but they were doing so for good reason.  The town was super cute and lively.  We highly enjoyed the hour or two that we were there, got some nice views of the Heidelberg Castle, and wished we had more time to spend there.

Heidelberg Castle. Heidelberg, Germany.

We stopped in a few churches.  They were nice and very tasteful, but even the Catholic ones were a bit plain when compared to countries like Italy.

Heiliggeistkirche. Heidelberg, Germany.

One of our stops was to get a schneeball, which is from the super cute, yet really kitschy, tourist town of Rothenburg.  Since we have been there before, we cut it from our list of places to go on this trip, but were delighted to find a shop selling the tasty treat in Heidelberg.  Last time we were in Rothenburg, I must have ended up with a stale one, but the nastiness of my memory was wiped away when I tasted the deliciousness of Jeremy’s nutella-filled, chocolate-coated schneeball.  Yum!

A bakery called to us for lunch and I had an amazing danish-like pastry, filled with cream, and topped with berries.  I really need to learn to make pastries like the Germans!  Of course, James prefers American style donuts.

Donut in Heidelberg, Germany

If you enjoy church history: Heidelberg is the town where the Heidelberg Catechism was written.  For those of you who don’t know, it is a book of questions and answers used to teach Reformed theology and was published in 1563, 46 years after Luther published his 95 theses and the Reformation movement began.

Heidelberg, Germany

After lunch, we continued on to Baden-Baden.  After checking into our apartment-hotel at 2pm, we got our discount cards from the front desk, put our swimsuits and towels in a backpack, and headed for the baths.

Baden-Baden, Germany

There are two main choices for baths.  One choice was the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Baths, but after reading Rick Steves review about required nudity, and the fact that children under 14 aren’t allowed, we decided to pass.  You can find which days are single-gender bathing and which are mixed gender here.  Unless you are super adventurous, don’t mix up the days.  Yikes!

The option we ended up picking was the Caracalla Spa Thermal Baths.  Swim suits are required, they have many different pools, with varying temperatures that range from very hot to icy cold.  They have a very hot wet sauna, and a somewhat cooler brine steam room.  If you really want to enjoy a nudist sauna experience, you can pay extra for access to the Roman-style dry sauna on the top floor.  Fortunately, none of us had any desire to venture there.

All of us had a great time!  There were waterfalls galore that we could sit under and get a massage.  Various jets provided relaxation to muscles under the water.  One of the outdoor pools alternated between waterfalls and whirlpools.  The whirlpool would send us floating quite rapidly along the outside edge.  The boys loved that feature and spent most of their time there.  Jeremy and I enjoyed the slightly warmer indoor pool with powerful waterfalls and jets.  Occasionally we would try the hot tub with a nice, warm waterfall, then would plunge into the matching cold pool with the not so nice, fridged waterfall.  Cold!  We briefly went into the steam rooms, but even though the brine one was a nice temperature, it way too crowded.  On the other hand, none of the “3 boys” liked how hot the hot steam room was.  At the end of our three hours, we left relaxed, content, and happy.  A very nice experience.

Baden-Baden, Germany

We went back to the apartment to rest.  An apartment hotel is the best of both worlds, we get a nice breakfast included (as it common in German hotels), but we have more space than a standard hotel room.  This particular apartment is interesting in that it is an attic apartment.  Unfortunately, the bathtub/shower is under the A-line portion of the building and it is impossible to stand in the shower.  Odd, but I guess this is the town of baths, so we went that route.

Baden-Baden, Germany

For dinner, we ended up at a restaurant where John and I got the extremely delicious Käsespätzle, which is spätzle noodles with a wonderful cheese sauce, in this case topped with onions.  Yum!

Käsespätzle, Cheese Noodles

Thursday, July 12, 2018

On the way to Lake Constance, we decided to drive through the Black Forest, taking B462 rather than B500 and making sure to stop at the Triberg Waterfalls on the way.  Beautiful!  Like so many of our other stops in Germany, it would be easy to spend a whole week here, rather than just a day.

Our first stop was in the tiny town of Schenkenzell.  We passed a little bakery, saw a cute park, and decided this would be a great place for a snack and stretch break.

Playground in the Black Forest, Germany

The kids had a ton of fun playing, and I didn’t mind relaxing in the hammock-like swing and studying the puffy clouds.  When we were done we went across the street to a tasty bakery and ice cream shop.  So delicious!

Playground in the Black Forest, Germany

After getting back on the road, we continued to Triberg and parked near the waterfalls, and started a mini-hike up to them.

Path to Triberg Waterfalls, Germany

They are the highest waterfalls in Germany and were quite beautiful to look at, though not particularly big by American standards.

Triberg Waterfalls, Germany

We walked down a little closer to them and were pleased that there weren’t a lot of crowds.

Triberg Waterfalls, Germany

We continued back up until we reached a bridge, at which point we saw a sign pointing to a church, so decided to go see what it was like.  Unfortunately, when we got there, it was under construction.  But, there was a playground at the next-door Bergsee (a little pond), so the kids were happy.

Triberg Waterfalls, Germany

We had a choice of walking through the town or walking through the forest to get back to the car, and since I could have spent the entire day hiking in that forest, we chose that path.

Path near Triberg Waterfalls, Germany

On returning to town, we wandered a bit and found the cuckoo clock shop that Jeremy and I had bought our cuckoo clock from in 2007.  The boys really enjoyed wandering around and seeing all the differences between the various clocks.  The one with a warthog was one of John’s favorites.  By this point, it was 2pm and we decided to stop at a kebab and pizza shop.  Everyone was happy with this selection.

We could have spent a lot more time in this town, but decided that it would be fun to go to both the highest waterfalls in Germany (Triberg Waterfalls), and the largest waterfalls in Europe (The Rhine Falls, in Switzerland). Neither are large by Niagara Falls standards, but still a lot of fun.

Rhine Falls, Switzerland

We parked on the north side of the falls, which has the best viewpoint for seeing the falls in their entirety, but is a bit of a walk to the south side, where you can feel the mist.  Having done this both ways, I really liked getting the big picture first.

Rhine Falls, Switzerland

The other advantages to the north side is that it is much less crowded, and there is an amazing playground for the kids with one of the longest slides I have ever seen.  Even better was that the kids reported that “it probably goes at least 100 miles per hour!  You should try it!”  Um.  Hopefully it’s not that fast, and no, I have no desire to go speeding down a dark tunnel not intended for adult width hips.  But I was happy that they were happy and we let them play until they exhausted themselves climbing up the hill to the start.

Rhine Falls, Switzerland

Even though it cut into our time in the Black Forest, we were happy we went.

Rhine Falls, Switzerland

It was getting late, so we hopped in the car and headed for Konstanz, where we checked into our studio apartment and went to find a grocery store to pick up some dinner stuff.  Unfortunately we realized on our return that there was neither a microwave nor an oven.  Ooops.  At least only one of us had food that couldn’t be eaten without one of the two.  So we shared and were thankful that the problem wasn’t worse.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Today was a full day in Konstanz.  Our morning started with a delicious breakfast at our apartment hotel, then we walked towards the city center, about 15 minutes away.


It was a little early for the town to be bustling, so we stayed on the edge and wandered down the waterfront, detouring through many gardens on the way.  Beautiful!


We continued along the water until we reached Sea Life, Konstanz’s Aquarium.  This wasn’t our destination, instead we were going there to visit James’s favorite “Rock Park.”


In 2009, when James was 2, we had a Swiss train pass and day tripped in from Luzern, getting off in Kruezlingen and walked the rest of the way to Konstanz.  On the way, we passed by a tiny, but wonderful playground that was filled with gravel and a rope and pulley system that allowed kids to transport the gravel around the playground.  James loved it!  Later in the week, he asked and asked if we could go to the “Rock Park” again, and inexplicably we made another 2.5 hour (each way) train trip to get to his rock park.  What were we thinking?  It was fun, but 5 hours of train rides to humor a 2 year old.  Hmmm. Here is 2-year-old James at that park:

Anyway, we have visited this park anytime we have been within a few hours of Konstanz, and the boys always love it.  This time around, it was showing its age, but the kids still had a ton of fun. (Note: it’s not that big, and probably not really worth a detour for, but it seems to be a tradition for us.)


We continued along the water until we encountered the Swiss border.  John didn’t believe us that we were going to “walk to Switzerland.”  James, on the other hand, knew it wasn’t far. Here’s a mix of old and new pictures by the border there:

Further down the path we came to a wonderful Spielplatz (playground), that we had fond memories of.  It has a zip line and tons of other equipment for kids of all ages.


By this time, it was a little after noon, so we decided to go to the center of Konstanz and find some food.  The walk along the water was quite pleasant, and we were greeted at the entrance to the city by an accordion.  A little later we encountered someone playing a stringed instrument.


For lunch, we picked a nice Italian place where I had some amazing tortellini.  Everyone was very pleased with their food.

Continuing on we spotted a fountain that James used to adore at the age of 2:


We forced the boys to pose for an updated photo.  Rolling their eyes, they complied.


Wandering around a bit, we stopped at the Cathedral.


As we continued, we stopped a few more churches.  The interiors were fairly simple, but beautiful.  I loved the colors in the stained glass, but none of our pictures were able to show what I saw.


We wandered around the town a bit, then went back to the playground in Switzerland.


Once the kids were played out, we decided to pick up some bakery items, then go back to the apartment to relax and rest.  A wonderful day!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Our morning started with another delightful breakfast at our hotel.  John and I agree that they have some of the best bacon that we have ever had.  Add in the tomato and fresh mozzarella salad and I was super happy.

We got on the road, and decided to take a few detours on our way to Oberammergau, Germany.  First, we noticed that cutting into Switzerland would save some time due to the shape of Lake Constance, and since we had already bought a Swiss vignette (a required pass to use the highways) to go to the Rheinfall, it made a lot of sense to make more use of this relatively expensive sticker (about $40).  The scenery was beautiful and well worth the cost.

At one point we realized that we were very close to Appenzell, which hosts the factory that makes my all time favorite cheese: Appenzeller.  It would have been a 45 minute detour, which we seriously thought about taking, but in the end decided that we would be disappointed if we couldn’t get a tour of the factory.  On investigating later, it was a good choice since they were only offering walk-in tours on Wednesdays at 10:00.  On the other hand, I was able to look longingly up the mountain from the valley and dream about how lovely it would be to be wandering through the town, saying hello to the cows that were responsible for making my cheese.  Laugh if you want, but the cheese is really good.  Interesting trivia: women in this canton were given the right to vote in federal elections in 1971, but it wasn’t until 1991 until they could vote in local elections.

Continuing on, we made it to Liechtenstein and beelined it for the McDonald’s.  Jeremy tries to visit McDonald’s in every country we visit, and last time we were in Liechtenstein, he failed to make the stop.


So we got our severely overpriced coffee and ice cream, and enjoyed a wonderful view.  To add another first, we managed to be the first customers of the day!  Jeremy was pleased, and I was happy to humor him.


For Liechtenstein, that was about it.  Since I failed to get a good picture of our border crossing on the way in, Jeremy drove back and forth a couple of times until I finally got it right.  Luckily the last time through, there wasn’t a car behind us.


Our next border crossing was into Austria, where we had to get an Austrian vignette.  Luckily they had a 10 day option (9€) that was more reasonably priced than the 1 year Swiss vignette that we bought.

We were expecting beautiful scenery, so we were surprised by the number of ridiculously long tunnels during part of the drive.  We ended up in the Arlberg Tunnel, which at 14 kilometers (8.7 miles), is the longest tunnel in Austria.  (Note that most tunnels are free, but this one ended up costing us 10€.)  After 14 kilometers of tunnel, all the other tunnels look quite short by comparison.  The short story is that we saw less scenery than we were expecting, and instead saw quite a bit of this:


Of course, we also got a lot of this:


We continued on towards Oberammergau, adding St. Anton am Arlberg as a waypoint to take us on the roads we wanted.  We also decided to try to detour to see the Weiskirche (Pilgrimage Church of Wies), but the traffic was very heavy – probably due to it being Saturday afternoon, and we were fairly tired, so we decided to skip it.

Once we got out of the traffic, we rerouted our directions and were very pleasantly surprised by the lake Plansee.  Beautiful!  We spent a while just soaking up the views.


So beautiful, the pictures simply don’t capture it.

We drove near Reutte, the tiny, yet lovely town we stayed at in 2005 when we were first introduced to Austria.  This is also near the German Neuschwanstein Castle, which we have also visited in the past, but decided to skip on this trip.  If you are going to visit one castle in this area, Neuschwanstein is a good choice.

Coming back into Germany, we also passed the Linderhof Palace, which I would like to visit, but haven’t been to yet.  Maybe we will make it there tomorrow, or maybe we will just soak in the views a bit more.  Either option would be great.

Our hotel is just outside the center of Oberammergau, and I am in love with the beautiful pastoral scenery.  The town center is nice too, but I think I actually prefer being away from the bustle.


Going into town, we visited a couple of the churches, the main one being incredibly beautiful.  I find it amazing that a town of 5,000 people can have a church like this.


We continued our wander, admiring the many buildings with beautiful scenes painted on their houses.


The main thing that the town of Oberammergau is noted for is the Passion Play that they put on every 10 years.  In 1633 the black plague was sweeping through Europe.  The people of Oberammergau prayed that if no more people in their town died, they would put on a play every 10 years showing the final days Jesus life from the time he entered Jerusalem until crucifixion.  Apparently, no one else died, so the play has continued until today.  Only townspeople can be in it, and many of the roles are hereditary.  Out of a town of 5,000 people, it takes 2,000 of them to put on the play.  In 2020, this tiny town will explode with tourists.  They typically get 5,000 guests per day even though they only have beds for 1,500 of them.

The town is mostly supported by proceeds from this play (and the tourism it brings), and their skill in wood carving.  I really enjoyed window shopping.  The carvings of both religious scenes, animals, and more were quite good.

Once our wanderings completed, the boys led us to a park they had seen on a map, and enjoyed the zip line until dinner time.

We wandered back to town and found a slightly mediocre, but mostly tasty, restaurant serving both German food and Italian food.


This is a town I could spend a lot of time in.


And if midnight cravings ever hit, I can apparently always pick up a sausage from a vending machine!?!  Only in Germany?  I keep laughing until I start crying:


Keep reading our travel blog for more posts from our Gap Year!

Here are some more posts from this trip to Europe:


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