And the Parent of the Year award goes to…

While a spontaneous trip can yield delights and discoveries, when one is not, ahem, paying attention, it can also make for an awkward situation. On a Sunday we decided to hop in the car and see what we could see in Nuremberg.

Had we even done a few minutes of planning before we left, we could have found the “Family Time in Nuremberg” website. We could have learned about the Children’s Museum, the Train Museum, the many City Parks, the Imperial Castle or even the Dungeon Museum. Nope. Didn’t see any of that.

Nuremberg Dungeon Museum

We could have visited the Dungeon Museum in Nuremberg. Instead we saw a very different kind of rack.        Photo from Nuremberg Tourism Bureau.

Instead we parked near the middle of Old Town and wandered. Of course we could see the historic wall around the edge of the city. “Let’s walk over by the wall,” we said. “Even if we don’t know where we are exactly, it will lead to tourist information at some point.”

And we did, in fact, see signs for tourist information. But instead of walking outside the wall along the busy street, we followed the wall on the inside, looking at the architecture as we trooped through the street with E on our shoulders. Did I mention we also had the dog with us?

In a few minutes, we realized that the neighborhood of bars and nightclubs we were in had a certain theme about it. In the windows were women of all ages and sizes in various states of undress. Then we noticed that they were all scowling and shaking their heads at us. We looked at each other. We looked at the buildings. We looked at the nervous middle-aged man desperately trying to walk away from us.

Ohhhhhhh.

So Nuremberg has a Red Light District. And we took our 3-year-old there. And we are forever grateful that, as is true for most 3 year olds, he was far more interested in the pigeons on the sidewalk than the ladies in the window.

Nuremberg Red Light District

There was a sign warning us. We walked right past it. Must have been distracted by all those pigeons.

Advertisements

Crate expectations: The Furth Apple Market

Apple Market in Furth, Germany

While I am used to a robust apple season in the U.S.–with trips to the orchards and roadside stands each autumn–the Apple Market we attended in Furth flipped this idea on its head. Dozens of local growers brought their bounty to the city park and set up shop along the walkways. And people came to BUY! I saw customers with backpacks, wagons, market baskets, even rolling suitcases filled with apples. Unlike the locals with kitchens (we’re still living in a hotel) we weren’t there to stock up for the season. We were betting on the snacks.

As Germany has proved to us day in and day out, we were not disappointed. Apple-everything of course, but there were a few standouts.

dessert at the Furth Apple Market

Treats at every turn.

A local church had a booth selling fried goodness in all shapes and sizes. Rosettes, Schneeballen, and other treats created a long line of hungry customers. Seeing and tasting the rosettes brought back some fond memories of family Christmas traditions for Ken, and Evan enjoyed his introduction to it as well (I think the powdered sugar sealed the deal.)

Enjoying a snack at the Furth Apple Market

Luckily, we convinced him to share.

The highlight for me was the freshly pressed apple cider. Literally could not have been fresher, as it was pressed right in front of us directly into our cup. The essence of autumn in a glass.

apple cider press

Along with the apples, there were nuts, fall flowers, wine and vinegars and smoked fish.

nuts for sale in Furth

Get crackin’.

Furth Apple Market vendor

Apple Queen

The Apple Queen even made an appearance.

At the end of the morning we had a small bag of apples, a smoked trout and bellies full of rosettes. Not a bad way to spend a crisp fall morning in Germany.

apples and nuts in Furth

Our first Furth Fest: Michaelis Kirchweih

Entrance to the Michaeliskirchweih

The entrance to the Kirchweih–where delights for all the senses await you.

Only a 15 minute drive from Herzogenaurach, we decided to check out the fest in Furth. This long-established festival takes place right in the heart of the city and takes over several blocks for more than a week. During that time, the streets are full of food tents and beer gardens, carnival rides, vendors selling everything from leather belts to kitchen tools and an ever-evolving cast of characters worthy of hours of people watching. In short, this was heaven for a State Fair-loving girl like myself.

Beer gardens in Furth during the Kirchweih

Dozens of beer gardens pouring local brews line the streets and invite you in for a mug (or two.)

One of the most curious parts of the festival? The carnival rides. Much more than mere bumper cars and mini-coasters, they were also a time capsule of recent Americana. Each one was decorated with airbrushed pictures of celebrities, movies and TV shows from the 80s and 90s. A carousel featured scenes from Kindergarten Cop. Seriously. Another one included a 10-foot-tall Jennie Garth. And then there was my personal favorite:

Home Improvement-themed carnival ride in Germany

Old TV shows–and their stars–never die. They live on in Germany. Because nothing says excitement and frivolity like remembering episodes of Home Improvement. Also, is he giving her bunny ears?

It was also an opportunity to reinforce stereotypes. Because there, in all his glory, was David Hasselhoff, larger than life and greeting all from the street. I guess he really *is* big in Germany.

David Hasselhoff

Don’t hassle the Hoff, indeed.

The following weekend, we headed back to the festival to watch the parade. Apparently it’s kind of a big deal and is shown on television with (they say) hundreds of thousands of people tuning in. Not knowing what to expect, we arrived very early. We didn’t really know the route, but had a general guess. So we staked out a spot that seemed to have good viewing and waited. And waited.

We stood there for quite some time, second-guessing ourselves for choosing a spot that seemed far closer to the end of the route than the beginning. But finally our instincts were rewarded with the perfect place to view the giant balloon release.

Balloon release

Furth’s official colors of green and white take to the sky to kick off the parade.

So here’s the most important thing I learned about (hopefully all) German parades. While in the U.S. it is common for the parade walkers to throw candy to the children watching, we got other better things. Our outstretched hands were filled with  balloons, sausages, beer and soup! It was like Costco on a Saturday morning out there!

Parade soup

The soup, handed out by one of the parade walkers. It was chickeny with little crunchy croutons floating in it. Delicious.

The parade itself is a celebration of agriculture and the harvest and all the area farms and breweries. Dozens of clubs in traditional attire represented families/clans/towns in Bavaria. Each one had slightly different–but equally beautiful–variations of dress.

Furth parade marchers

Marchers proudly showing their traditional dress.

Furth parade participants

Some even marched with a mobile maypole.

The “Floats” consisted of wagons pulled by horses. The wagons were either 1) full of wooden kegs of beer or 2) full of people showing aspects of traditional farm life or 3) full of seasonal vegetables and fruits, artfully arranged.

Traditional aspects of farm life in the Furth parade

Demonstrating the ways of yore.

The entire parade was just so wholesome. It really made me feel like I had stepped back in time a bit. Well, that and David Hasselhoff. That helped too.

Olde Time bike

And really, what parade is complete without an old-timey-bike guy?

 

Altendorf Pumpkin Festival

Altendorf, Germany pumpkin festival

The pumpkin festival was gourd-eous!

We are happily discovering that you can spend most weekends in Germany visiting various festivals and markets and never hit the same town twice. Our first weekend here–tired, jetlagged and still a little fuzzy, we spent Sunday in Altendorf. (Don’t look for it on a standard map. You probably won’t find it.) Their annual Pumpkin Festival–always held on the first Sunday in October–seems like a great way to spend a warm and sunny fall morning without making us think too hard. A co-worker of Ken’s who grew up in the area told us about it–in the best way possible: “You know Stars Hollow? On Gilmore Girls? It’s like that.” SOLD!

IMG_3105

This really, really small town goes all out for all things pumpkin. It seems that every house, barn and building is decorated with pumpkins and gourds. Some painted and decorated, some stacked like autumnal cairns and some just placed on window sills and steps. But everyone participates. The most amazing part of it is that the festival is only for one day. It must be a ton of work to haul out, decorate and place all these pumpkins, but I’m sure there is an awful lot of town pride attached to it.

Decorated pumpkins in Altendorf

It should be noted that apparently pumpkins are blue-eyed when personified.

The area farms and clubs set up food and drink tents and sell all kinds of seasonal delights, from the tasty Federweiser (I think it’s similar to a vino verde, where the wine is sweetish and slightly bubbly) to pumpkin-infused prosecco to soups, sausages and all manner of pastries.

A delicious glass of Federweiser.

A delicious glass of Federweiser.

The pumpkin display that got the most oohs and ahhs was a diorama of decorated gourds meant to look like an undersea adventure. There was Nemo, turtles and crabs, seahorses and schools of fish, all loving created from gourds and hung by fishing wire against an aquarium-like backdrop. Amazing!

Gourds on display in Altendorf

This Enchantment Under the Sea display stole the show!

We couldn’t leave without picking out at least one pumpkin of our own to take home. The challenge was deciding which one!

Selecting a pumpkin in Altendorf

In retrospect, the choice of pants was a mistake. We almost lost him several times.

My love affair with the Swiss railroad

Swiss train travel

Fast, fun and always on time, trains are the perfect way to travel in Switzerland.

Can you love a railway? If it’s possible, then I truly do. The Swiss train system embodies everything I appreciate about Switzerland: efficient, reliable, safe, accessible, adventurous and oh-so-family friendly. Now I admit it is also very Swiss in one other way: it is not cheap. But for our family, I can say that we easily got our money’s worth. A pass for unlimited travel for 30 days, which also allowed both kids to ride for free, meant that we could hop on a train simply because we felt like it or because a town on the map had an interesting name. And it covered more than trains. Every bus route was covered as well and any ferry or funicular we happened upon was covered as well. The train pass also gave us free or reduced admission to most museums and historical attractions.

Swiss train schedule

When you get to the station, just look up to find the big board with the most up-to-date information.

And for me, trains are just a great way to travel. The schedules are easy to use (and there’s an app, so you can plan your travel on the fly), there are no security lines, unexpected delays or gridlock. You get to see the countryside without the stress of looking for your exit or a parking spot. There is plenty of leg room, no one has a dreaded middle seat, and the bathrooms range from acceptable to immaculate. (For extra points, on some of the trains, the bathrooms are decorated to look like better bathrooms! Wallpaper murals make you feel like you are in an alpine outhouse with a view of the mountains or even a nice granny’s WC, complete with a vase of flowers and lace curtains.)

Swiss train bathroom

Bathrooms feature murals to help you forget–at least for a moment–that you’re in a tiny, public, moving restroom.

But here is the real kicker, and why I think the train pass is worth every penny. Almost every major train route has a “family zone” car on it. Which means all the people with little kids congregate onto the one car and no one cares if your kid if loud or cranky or super social or whatever. Your kid might even make some new friends and you might too! And best of all, on the popular long-haul routes the family zone is the top floor or a double-decker car and IT HAS A PLAYGROUND! Let me repeat: A PLAYGROUND ON A TRAIN!

Playground on the Switzerland train

Go ahead and let ’em run. The playground on the upper level of the train car will keep kids entertained on long-haul journeys.

With a slide, small climbing area, tunnel, play boat and dock, little kids will be able to burn off energy in a safe and enclosed area without bothering anyone else. There are also tables with board games printed on them for older kids and more space for stroller parking on the floor below. Even if your kid doesn’t run around the entire trip, just having the peace of mind that they can get up and move around whenever they wish is huge.

Train travel for kids in Switzerland

A hot dog and a window seat. What more could a kid ask for?

When it comes to family travel, the trains make Switzerland a great choice for people who want to get the very most out of their European visit. Merci vilmal Switzerland!

On the border: Biel/Bienne

Biel/Bienne old town

Certainly one of the most interesting things about Switzerland is how the country is segmented into sections not only by geography, but by language and culture as well. When these regions meet up, the result can be fascinating.

German and French culture intermingle in Biel/Bienne

In Biel/Bienne, you can choose German or French food as the mood strikes you. The city is equally divided by both language and culture.

We hopped on the train to Biel/Bienne, a city that is so perfectly divided between French and German that it is officially referred to by both versions of its name. A small city known for watch-making (80s flashback alert: We strolled right past the headquarters for Swatch!) Biel/Bienne has a lovely lakefront, abundant shopping and a charming old town.

Balcony detail in Biel/Bienne

Around every corner of the Old Town, ornate balconies cast intricate shadows on the street below.

The city was easy to navigate once we got the hang of it, making it a great family outing. Everything radiates away from the main train station: First the modern shops, located on many pedestrian-only roads and full of buskers. We heard classical violinists, a four-piece horn band, guitarists, and a guy with an accordion. Then we crossed the street into old town, full of open-by-appointment antique and collectable shops, restaurants and bookstores. There was a small outdoor market underway when we were there (hooray!) so we picked up some snacks and walked around. The entire city has signage in both German and French and most residents speak both, plus English, so we were well-covered no matter who we encountered.

Raspberries from Biel/Bienne

The biggest, sweetest raspberries I’ve ever had. A perfect walking-around-town snack!

From old town we followed the main canal through the city until it ended at Lake Biel/Bienne. The waterfront has everything you could ask for: large dinner cruise boats, a swimming beach, playground, marina, snack bars, walking paths, wide lawns for picnics or sunbathing, foot bridges and swans. Lots of swans.

On the shore of Lake Biel

See that Swan in the background? He’s already spotted his mark and is ready to make his move.

While they might look all pristine and romantic, these are really just big ducks who are used to being fed so if you happen to have some croissant crumbs on your shirt or a pretzel in your hand, be warned. These guys mean business.

Never on a Sunday

You can live in the most exotic, exciting place in the world, but eventually, you have to do your laundry.

One of the wonderful things about taking an extended vacation is that you leave vacation-mode and eventually just start living normal life, but in a foreign place. After a while, our rotation of clothes couldn’t bear one more wearing, so it was time for laundry. Our bed & breakfast owner graciously allowed us to use her washer and dryer during our stay and she gave me a short tutorial when we arrived.

So on Sunday morning I put the first load in and we headed out for a day of exploring. When we returned in the early evening, I stopped in the laundry room before going up to our flat. I moved the clothes into the dryer and tried to remember which buttons were the right ones. Eventually I deciphered enough to program one cycle, hit the “start” button and left.

When I came back down an hour later, I saw that the dryer was off, but the timer was paused at about 45 minutes. “Must have hit the wrong button,” I thought. Perhaps I used a delayed start cycle? I hit the “start” button again and went back upstairs.

I returned in 45 minutes to see that the dryer had paused again, this time at the 23 minute mark. “I am really bad at this,” I thought. “How is this not working?” Restarted it one more time and then went to bed.

The next morning, I met our innkeeper in the hallway. “I restarted the dryer for you this morning. I paused it last night because of the noise.”

Oops.

I didn’t realize the seriousness of “day of rest” in Switzerland. In the U.S., Sunday is catch-up day for me. Errands, lawn work, laundry, cleaning and getting everything organized for the week ahead. In Switzerland and many other parts of Europe, Sunday is for worship, bike rides and family meals. Running appliances like washers and vacuums is frowned upon and in many communities using your lawn mower, washing your car, dropping off your recycling and even hanging your laundry outside on the line on Sunday is actually illegal.

And almost everything is also closed on Sunday, including drug stores, grocery stores, many restaurants–basically it’s impossible to buy things.

So armed with this new knowledge, we tried to plan our week so we could be Swiss on Sundays and enjoy family time together without any thought to chores. Not so easy, but a worthwhile practice we may try to adopt at home.

To market, to market….

Market day in Solothurn Switzerland

The market in Solothurn, Switzerland is held every Wednesday and Saturday morning. Twice a week seems typical in Europe of towns of this size, with larger cities having open-air markets every day and small villages having a few stands pop up once a week.

Each booth, cart, wagon, card table and stall seems to specialize in only one or two items: Berries, olives, breads, fish, flowers, vegetables, cheese…we tried to do as much of our grocery shopping here as we could.

Cherries for sale at the Solothurn market

We were there during cherry season. Hurray!

We even found a few things that we would not be able to enjoy at home. One farmer’s booth featured raw, unpasteurized whole milk. Raw milk is illegal where we live, and though there is a lively black market for it, I had never tried it. It did taste different. Not better of worse, but there is certainly a distinction.

Farm-fresh milk in Solothurn

Shhhh don’t tell anyone. This raw milk is illegal in much of the U.S. Milk is often sold unrefrigerated in Europe, so the farmer sternly us to told us to keep this milk cold and drink it within a few days. No problem there!

The market was a great slice of local life and helped us get into the rhythm of the town. Everyone in the area seems to be shopping–tattooed couples pushing strollers, old men in crisply ironed shirts, groups of friends carrying baskets of produce while balancing a coffee–the streets were bustling and we were happy to blend in for a change.

Mushrooms at the Solothurn market

The fungus among us. Mushrooms of all types and flavors.

Mystery vegetable at the market

So I assume “peperoni” refers to the shape? I think this is a parsnip. Or a radish. Or maybe a turnip….

 

 

The everyday exotic: McDonald’s

“Come into this McDonald’s quick,” said Ken. Huh? I understand the menu is different in other countries, but we don’t eat at McDonald’s at home, so what do I care about a McDonald’s in Switzerland? Then I saw the McCafe section of the restaurant. Ohhhh.

McCafe desserts in Switzerland

Macarons? Cakes and tarts? IN A MCDONALD’S?

Leather chairs, soft lighting, coffee in real cups, desserts that were galaxies away from the “apple pie” in a box that I remember.

McCafe coffee and pastries

Not a bad spot to pull out the old laptop….

I learned that the McCafe shops are quite popular, and I can see why. It looked like a fancier version of Starbucks. Goes against all that I know about food and eating in the States, but for a cup of java in Olten, Switzerland, it would certainly do.

orchids in McDonald's in Switzerland

Orchids next to the cash register were a nice touch….

The Kneipp cure: water and walking

 

Kneipp trail near Solothurn, Switzerland

A donation of 2 Swiss Francs is a small price to pay for the unique experience of a Kneipp trail.

When I was researching our trip to Switzerland, I found many mentions of Kneipp applications, including spas, nature trails and pools. I was confused. Kneipp is also a popular brand of herbal wellness and bath products, but both the bath oil and the nature trails go back to the philosophies of one man.

Sebastian Kneipp

A priest from the mid-1800s, Sebastian Kneipp was looking for ways to cure his tuberculosis and found a “water cure” that he believed healed him. He created a system of wellness that focuses on diet, exercise, hydrotherapy and other holistic methods. All all over Europe, you can find products and places dedicated to his beliefs.

Off with your shoes!

I really wanted to find one of the “barefoot trails” I had read about, and discovered one place, not far from our home base of Solothurn. The idea is simple: Follow a small path while walking barefoot. The idea is that you will experience various sensations and textures, give your feet a massage, improve circulation, and enhance the benefits of the hydrotherapy that the Kneipp water pools provide.

Walking on broken glass

There were several sections of various texture, temperature, and moisture to experience. It started with pea gravel, cool and moist and moved to small stones, warm and smooth.

Kneipp barefoot trail

Kick off your shoes, rinse off your feet, and hit the Kneipp trail.

Then there was a section of wood slats, followed by wood chips which also had signs for different types of stretching to add to the walking, and then an area of soft grasses.

The Kneipp barefoot path makes walking a sensory experience

The varying textures and temperatures of the path invite you to slow down and enjoy the sensation.

There were also covered sections of the path where you could lift up the lid and walk through. One featured a knee-deep pit of pea-sized clay balls. They felt amazing, but I was not prepared to sink down so far!

A section of clay balls on the barefoot Kneipp trail

These crazy little balls of clay gave a great foot massage–and temporarily stained my feet and legs with a henna-colored polka dot pattern.

The next one was small pieces of crushed glass, which looked jagged but felt smooth, kind of like sea glass.

Broken glass as part of the Kneipp barefoot trail

Walking across broken glass (with feet stained from the clay of the previous section) made me feel like a total bad-ass.

The final dip

At the end, I walked through the traditional Kneipp foot bath. An L-shaped wading pool with a railing down the middle, the idea is to walk through the cold water–meant to revitalize your legs–and then dry them off, put on warm socks, and be on your way. The water was really cold. I think I stepped through much faster than I was supposed to. I admit after I was done, I really did feel good: refreshed and full of energy. We continued on a hike up the hills afterward and my feet thanked me the entire time.

Kneipp foot bath

A polar plunge from the knee down. This water was…bracing.

I will certainly be searching out Kneipp facilities in the future–and I think the barefoot path could easily be created at home. Perhaps a little path in the backyard or at the cabin….