In a couple of weeks, Jenny and I will have been married for ten years. It’s been a good decade, full of children, a new house, mostly-full employment, travel, and lots of love.
To celebrate the occasion, we took a week-long trip to Europe, our first return to the Continent since we lived there in 2005, and our first extended trip alone since the kids were born (thanks for watching the boys, Grandma and Grandpa!).
Jenny picked me up from the Munich airport because she had already been in Germany for a few days for work meetings. Our goal for the day (besides getting me through jet lag) was to go to Füssen to see crazy King Ludwig’s castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Jenny had seen them before, but I hadn’t, and I really wanted to see the crazy eccentricity.
The castles didn’t disappoint, with Hohenschwangau being the older and more genuine castle. Neuschwanstein is a whole different beast – a nostalgic invention by a monarch with money to burn. Unfortunately, the castle wasn’t completed, but the rooms that were finished were impressive, and the views from the edge of the Alps were very nice.
We spent the night at a cute and friendly Restaurant Hotel that went the extra mile for Jenny’s birthday by lighting a candle at our dinner table (I guess German tradition doesn’t include free dessert). Unfortunately our photos of it didn’t turn out.
Jenny woke me up with the news of Pujols’ monster Game 3 of the World Series, which had been played in the middle of the night in our time zone. This brought up one of the unfortunate aspects of the timing our trip: when we scheduled it in July based on Jenny’s work meetings, we had no expectation whatsoever that the Cardinals would turn suddenly into a great team and make the playoffs, no less the World Series. I caught the first two games before I left, but Jenny ended up missing all of the World Series because all of the games were played in the middle of the night.
At least we got home in time to see the post-victory rally.
Anyway, we explored Füssen a bit in the morning before heading through Austria to get to Liechtenstein. I had been to Liechtenstein on a previous trip, but Jenny had never been there, so we made that a goal of the trip.
Google Maps and our SatNav both suggested a long, flat, fast route on the German Autobahn to get to Liechtenstein quickly, but I wanted to see more of the Austrian Alps, so we went south towards Imst. The mountains were worth it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see as many of the mountains as I expected because there were lots of tunnels as we approached Liechtenstein, including one that’s 14 kilometers long. That’s something you don’t see in St. Louis.
When we emerged from the tunnel, we explored the old center of Feldkirch for a little while. It’s a small but historic town that I had been to previously, but in that trip Eugene and I skipped the center and just used the town as a base for getting into Liechtenstein. This time, Jenny and I wanted to see a bit more and look for lunch.
Finally, we got to Liechtenstein, where the small capital of Vaduz was fun to walk through but much too expensive for much else ($20 for a basic pizza for one). So, we walked around (including a side-excursion to a wooden bridge over the Rhine to Switzerland) and headed back to our hotel.
Our hotel, the Hotel Oberland, was outside the capital, in the mountain village of Triesenberg. The drive up was a bit sketchy (the first time – after that, we discovered the wider two-lane road up the mountain), but the view at the top was completely worth it. Additionally, they had very good local dishes (Hirschpfeffer! Spätzli! Rösti!) for dinner. Yum.
We woke up to a spectacular view of the Rhine Valley, with the sun creeping down the Swiss Alps across from our mountain-side hotel. I really wish out pictures could do the scene justice.
Liechtenstein is still an active monarchy (with an unusual history – it’s named after the ruling family that bought the land 300 years ago but didn’t set foot there for 120 years), and the Prince makes a decent Pinot Noir. Before we left the principality, we stopped by his winery for a sample, and then drove by his castle (where he still lives, apparently).
After that, we checked out the Prince’s wine and vines in Vaduz before heading into Switzerland.
Then we headed into Switzerland. Our goal for the day was to get to the German city Konstanz, which would be only a couple of hours drive by Autobahn. However, Switzerland considers all of its main highways to be toll roads, and they use an annoying and expensive sticker system to enforce it. So, we decided to take an extra hour and drive on secondary roads to save money.
Of course, this ended up adding a lot more than an hour to our day and costing a lot more than the sticker would have, because we stopped in several towns along the way.
Our first stop, Altstätten, was going to be just a lunch stop, but then the very helpful clerks at the tourist information office recommended that we go to Appenzell (“a traditional famous Swiss town – with cows”) and St. Gallen (to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site). So, after decent pizza, we were off.
Appenzell was just what we were promised – a traditional Swiss town, nestled in the Alps, surrounded by picturesque farms and happy cows. We didn’t stay there long, but we got some nice souvenirs and sweets.
After Appenzell, we went to the regional capital St. Gallen to see the Stiftsbibliothek, the perfectly-preserved Baroque library from the old defunct abbey. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures of the inside of the library, but that’s probably for the best for the preservation. We didn’t see a whole lot more of the town, but we did have some really good Hot Chocolate.
One other thing we learned of from the tourist office in Altstätten was a Market Hall designed by the Austrian artist/architect Hundertwasser. Over the years, we’ve seen several of his whimsical buildings, so we decided to add one more to our list.
Finally, we were back on track to our destination of Konstanz, with an evening drive on the shores of the Bodensee (Lake Constance).
After great hotels in Füssen and Triesenberg, our luck ran out in Konstanz – it was just an overpriced hostel near the busy train station. Oh well.
Despite that disappointment (and the disappointment of waking to a second consecutive Cardinals loss), we still enjoyed a nice dinner in Konstanz and an interesting walk around the old city in the morning before heading out.
Our first stop as we descended into the Black Forest was an unusual one: the Danube Sink. Before becoming one of the great rivers of the world in Central and Eastern Europe, the Danube starts as a small river in the Black Forest. Unfortunately for the river, it travels through a karst region, where there are many rivers and caves in the limestone underground.
Since 1874, the Danube has occasionally succumbed to the karst, seeping completely into cracks in the ground on some days (with the water reappearing 12 km away in a tributary of the Rhine).
We sought out this strange geographic feature outside Immendingen and saw the river disappear completely in front of us as we hiked from the parking lot.
Then it was lunchtime, and for both of us, time to eat in the Swabian region meant one thing: Maultaschen. We found our tasty lunch in the heart of the town of Villingen. Unfortunately, we ate our Maultaschen up before thinking to get a picture, so here’s a pretty building and fountain instead:
To descend further into the heart of the Black Forest, we drove the Hexenloch (Witch’s Hole), a tiny road that follows streams into hidden cold valleys with beautiful autumn color.
Finally, we explored the larger city of Freiburg a bit before heading on to France. There seemed to be a lot that could be seen there – a nice Cathedral, an old university, a lively old town, etc., but we really just zipped through for some shopping and a crepe.
After the quick stop, we drove ahead to Colmar, in the Alsace region of France.
For the first time in the trip, we decided to stay in the same place for two nights. That wasn’t our original plan – we were originally going to return to Germany after on night, but we decided to let ourselves spend more time in the Alsace wine region. It was a very good decision.
A really nice facet of Alsace for us was the German history and culture. Because the region has passed back and forth between Germany and France over the centuries, most of the people we met were as fluent in German as Germans (and more understandable than the Swiss). Jenny is nearly fluent in German and I can get by, but our French is much, much weaker. Being able to use German as a starting language instead of defaulting to English was fun and comfortable.
We headed out early to find some local independent wineries in nearby towns. We ended up visiting four of them that day, buying a bottle from each one. We would have liked to have purchased more, but U.S. Customs regulations held us back. The Gewürztraminers of the region really work for us.
The day wasn’t just about wine, though. We also had explored cheese.
Near Colmar is the town and valley of Munster, home of Munster cheese. This is different than the Muenster cheese with the orange rind we get in America, but it was still worth checking out.
So, we spent a lot of time in Munster Valley’s Maison du Fromage (House of Cheese), a museum of sorts with a traditional stable full of live cows and a demonstration of making Munster cheese. A woman in traditional Alsatian costume told us all about the process of making Munster, let us drink fresh whey, and served us a local dessert made from fresh curds, sugar, creme fraiche, and (optionally) Kirschwasser cherry schnapps. There were also in-depth exhibits on different aspects of French cheese.
We drove through several cute wine towns along the Alsace Wine Route, enjoying the half-timbered buildings, vineyards, and views of castle ruins before getting tired and returning to Colmar.
In the evening we walked throughout the cute and historic city center of Colmar, including a wonderful dinner at a tiny restaurant. Seriously tiny. Le Petit Gourmand had room for only five tables – 14 seats total meant an intimate dining experience with impeccable service. It also meant that we could easily tell the chef how much we enjoyed the lavendar-vanilla sauce in which he served his zander (a fish similar to walleye). It was goooood.
We sadly left Colmar, France in the morning and drove to Strasbourg, France for lunch. Along the way, we saw more of the wine villages of the Alsace wine route, but unfortunately we didn’t get any particularly good pictures.
We got lost for a while trying to drive through the center of Strasbourg – the big pedestrian zones that so many European cities are great for pedestrians, but combined with the narrow one-way street, they make life difficult for drivers. On balance, that’s probably a good thing, but it’s something we didn’t really notice as much on our previous train-based trips.
When we finally got where we wanted to go in Strasbourg, we wandered the old city a bit and had a fancy Alsatian lunch. The most interesting point was when Jenny realized that she had foie gras on her plate. That’s something we would never order in America, but it was very common in the tourist restaurants in Alsace.
After lunch, we drove back to Germany to the small city of Weinheim, where Lance’s second cousin Jill has been living for a couple years. Jill and John and their two kids were very generous to host us, particularly as the first day of our stay overlapped with a visit by John’s parents! However, from our ex-pat experience, we remembered how much we enjoyed having visitors, so we hope our visit was as good for them as it was for us.
That night, we went to an Italian restaurant in the old part of Weinheim with the whole clan and returned to the house for some reminiscing and reuniting.
We woke up that morning to chaos. Not at Jill and John’s house, but on Twitter, our Facebook pages, and back in St. Louis. While we had slept, the Cardinals and Rangers had played Game 6 of the World Series, perhaps the greatest World Series game ever. Some of our friends were still awake when we woke up and were jumping on IM to tell us all about it.
Travelling in October is a risk.
Anyway, this was a day of a lot of hiking – Jenny and I hiked Weinheim’s Geiersberg (a forested hill) in the morning, walked up to the Windeck castle before lunch with Jill, and wandered and shopped the well-touristed streets of Heidelberg in the afternoon. None of these hikes were that much by themselves, but cumulatively it was a lot more walking with elevation than we’re used to in our normal lives in St. Louis.
Thanks to Jill and her family for their hospitality!
We won! We won!
Ok, so Jenny and I didn’t personally win anything, but we woke to the news that the Cardinals had won their 11th World Series. Since this was the day we returned to St. Louis, it definitely made for a Happy Flight.
Otherwise, the return home was mostly uneventful, except for the frighteningly inefficient passport and security lines at the Frankfurt Airport. Come on, people, don’t you know you’re German?
Anyway, we got home safely, gave our kids big, big hugs after having been gone for a week, and fell to sleep early.
It was a good trip. Before we had kids, Jenny and I traveled like this often, but it had been too long. It was wonderful travelling again with my sweetheart, celebrating ten years together.