Europe 2016

Following is my memories of our family vacation to Europe this past June 7-28 where we visited Luxembourg, France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic . . .

Tuesday June 7

On our way. Or not.

Left home with our airport chauffeur Paul and thankfully realized almost immediately that Sam was wearing his holey garden shoes. Back we went. No problems at the airport and kids enjoyed their first commercial flight to Toronto. No issues on the overnight to Frankfurt. Kids definitely enjoyed the inflight movies. Get any sleep? Not so much. But they did get bits here and there and then again on the bus in Luxembourg and on the way to Trier.

Wednesday June 8

With our initial flight to Frankfurt getting moved up, we had a six hour layover in Luxembourg but we successsfully managed to plead our case to Air Canada and had them move us up to an earlier flight. It did however involve a LOT of running to make the boarding. And I discovered that Sam at seven has more stamina than me as I could not keep up with him as we ran along the airport gates searching for where we had parked Aline and Hazel. Kudos to Air Canada for allowing the flight change and not charging any cancellation fees.

Arriving in Luxembourg, we hit four ABM machines unsuccessfully. How is it possible this place is a banking center but has ABM machines that our not part of the NA banking network? Fortunately, they did allow cash advance on a credit card. A first for me in my life. Looking forward to see what interest charges pop up on my statement. (Aline looked into this later and thinks the issue is we both have multiple accounts associated to our bank cards and the European ABM machines don’t know which one to connect to for the withdrawal request. I was using a credit card that waived foreign bank fees so all we paid for this convenience was a $5 per withdrawal fee and the interest. That came to less than $10 once I paid the bill.)

Aline’s research made using the bus system a breeze. No issues finding the Auchan shopping center where we picked up a couple of cheap booster seats for the kids, some groceries, and the Hertz car rental in Trier. Bonus – we got an upgrade to a four door hatchback. An Opel Corsa. Very similar to my Hyundai back home. And it was automatic with only 300km on it.

German drivers are crazy. I enjoyed the autobahn but felt very slow – doing 140kmph in the slow lane. I did push the car to 170km for a minute just cause I could.
Three hours later we drove through Lahr in the rain and maybe found Aline’s childhood home. And then 10 minutes later we were in Kappel-Grafenhausen at our first experience.

Nice enough home with all amenities except sadly wifi. Hazel loved the huge snails she found. Sam liked the soccer net.

Costs incurred:
$2781 airline tickets prepaid
$33 Auchan for car seats
$35 Lidel for groceries
$10 bus in Luxembourg to Trier – cash
$10 bus in Trier to Hertz – cash
$457 Hertz car rental prepaid
$263 hotel prepaid

Thursday June 9 – Europa Park

We all slept in. Wonder why? Nevertheless, we roused ourselves and were at Europa Park for 10:30AM. Beautifully done amusement park arranged by country sections. Tons of rides for all age groups. We probably only hit one fifth of what was available though we did get a sunny day and managed to hit three water rides. Sadly I lost my black hat on one of them. Plenty of shade for the hot afternoon. Kids enjoyed the splash park and the fountains most. Food was surprisingly cheap. 14 Euros for two sausages, two large pretzels, a soft drink and a beer. I was expecting hockey arena prices and was pleasantly surprised. Stayed till closing and picked up some groceries on way home. Kids didn’t get to bed till 10pm. Hope they don’t sleep in too much tomorrow!

Costs incurred:
$166 Europa Park tickets
$5 Europa park parking
$14 lunch
$7 ice cream
$61 groceries at Lidel

Friday June 10
Hit Monkey Mountain with the kids and fed the Barnaby Macque monkeys. They had just given birth so we saw plenty of babies. Then onward to Switzerland! Probably drove through about 50km worth of tunnels en route and only one switchback en route to our final destination in Lauterbrunnen. Our chalet was in the valley floor with towering cliffs on both sides. We arrived early enough to catch the last cable ride up to Murren and hiked back down to Gimmelwald – which was nice but not as fantastic as Rick Steves made it out to be – and paid a small fortune for supper.

Costs incurred:
$29 Monkey Mountain
$16 Kintzeim wine
$52 gas in France
$40 Swiss toll fee (cash)
$52 Cable car – Lauterbrunnen up to Murren, Gimmelwald to Lauterbrunnen
$84.50 Supper at Pension Gimmelwald Schnitzel plate with wedges and salad, burger with wedges and salad, Salad with cheese and a dark beer – Schwarz Monch.

Saturday June 11 – Swiss Alps

Woke up and Aline asks me – did you remember that yesterday was our anniversary? Sheepishly I had not. Fortunately neither had she. I did joke that I bought her an expensive meal for supper the night before. Easily the most expensive burger, schnitzel and salad we’ve ever had in our lives.

We purposely tried to stay close to home base annd visited the Ballenberg Swiss open-air museum meeting up with Monica’s mom Jana near Brienz. The museum features over 100 buildings from all over Switzerland highlighting Swiss customs and traditions. Later we visited the Aare Schlutz which is a natural gorge carved by melting glaciers from the ice age 15,000 years ago. It was a fantastic 2km boardwalk along the fast moving Aare river and featured a gorgeous waterfall, and teal-colored water. Sam in particular enjoyed being a boy and tossing sticks and stones in the water.

The Swiss charge you for everything. Apparently even for parking at a grocery store. We tried to pick up groceries on our way home but had to admit failure as we couldn’t figure out how to take advantage of the 2-hour free parking before the fees kicked in.

Costs incurred:
$11 Pretzels and danishes at the Lautenbrunner Coop
$ XXXX Ballenberg tickets – Jana paid for parking!
$23 Ballenberg food – liquor, sausage and dried sheep sausage
$36 Aare Gorge tickets – free parking!
$11 Aare postcards for kids

Sunday June 12 – Swiss Alps

It was supposed to rain and we had originally planned a calm day. But we woke up to sunshine and a forecast that said the rain would hold till noon. So we gambled and took the train up to Wengen and then a cable car up higher to Mannlichen. Outrageously expensive as it cost the four of us $215 Swiss francs to reach that height but the views – even though they weren’t clear, sunny and blue – were spectacular.

Mannlichen at 2343 metres had glorious views of the Lautenbrunner valley, Interlakken and its lake Thunersee, Grindelwald, and the famous peaks of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Apparently the story behind the peaks is that the Young Maiden (Jungfrau) is being protected from the Ogre (Eiger) by the Monk (Monch). We had hoped to do a little hike but settled for climbing the Royal Walk trail before cold, gray clouds moved in just after noon.

Stopped back in touristy Wengen and picked up a few souvenirs en route back down. A tablecloth for Aline and I and a very cool working cable car for the kids which they noted would be the perfect size for their Lego figurines.

Costs incurred:
$8 parking at Lautenbrunner train station
$27 return fare train tickets for Aline and I to Wengen (after credit)
$60 Two junior cards for the kids so they could travel free. These paid for themselves alone in the price of tickets from Wengen to Mannlichen
$120 return fare cable tickets for Aline and I from Wengen to Mannlichen
$170 Canadian – souvenirs: tabletop and centrepiece, xmas ornmanet and wooden figurines for kids
$50 Swiss – souvenir cable car for kids. Very cool.
$6 postcards Swiss francs cash
$18 bakery Swiss francs cash

Monday June 13

Travel day. But first we drove 400m to check out Trummelbach Falls – an inside the mountain waterfall of glacier melt from the mountains right beside our chalet. Pretty powerful force of nature carving its way down the mountain.

Then the driving. We headed for Munich but decided to go straight through to near Salzburg and our home for the next leg of our journey at Tobelmuelhof GastHof lodge.

Costs incurred:
$420 Chalet Barli – 3 nights stay!
$30 Trummelbach Falls
$20 Lautenbrunner CoOp – spend those last Swiss Francs on groceries for the road
$40 gas
$11 Austria 10-day toll pass
$43 Supper in Rosenheim

Tuesday June 14

Rest day in Austria. Small tour of Seeham in the afternoon as we went for groceries and found the local beach. Taught the kids how to play Hearts and Sam pulled off a full 26-point coup on his third hand with a little help from Aline.

Costs incurred:
$98 Salzburg card with 10% Seeham visitor discount card
$72 Spar groceries
$10 Kik towels

Wednesday June 15 – Salzburg

Hello Salzburg! Todays plan involved taking full advantage of our 48-hour Salzburg card and exploring the city to get our money’s worth. Visited Mozart’s residence. Toured the Dom Quartier which featured state rooms and 2000 artifacts that would have entertained my mother for the entire day. Me, not so much. Moved on to the Hohensalzburg fortress overlooking the city. Checked out the fortress museum, marionettes cellar, torture museum – where I picked up a few ideas for the kids when they misbehave. Let Sam convince us he needed a wooden toy sword and shield . . . for Halloween. Enjoyed the cable ride up and down. Was enthralled by the Christmas museum which featured beautiful exhibits from the Ursula Kloiber collection from Christmases past. And then enjoyed an expensive nap as I nodded off to sleep on the Salzach cruise captained by Sam who got a front row seat and a ships wheel.

Costs incurred:
$38 Souvenir sword, shield and dagger
$10 Pretzel snack – not worth it. too hard
$19 Souvenirs from xmas museum
$24 Spar supper
$7 ice cream
$18 parking

Thursday June 16 – Hallein

First stop today was a free cable ride to the 1853 summit of the Untersberg mountain to take advantage of the Saltzburg card while it was still good and . . . the cable ride was closed.

So first stop today was the Hallein Salzwelten salt mine tour. An excellent visit as the tour involved a train ride 500 metres into the mountain and then an excellent presentation about how the salt was mined and transported down river to Salzburg where it enriched the coffers of the city. Tour also involved twice sliding down a shaft and an underwater boat ride in a leaching lake and video presentations of the history of the mine at each stop. Aftwerwards we taste-tested and purchased a few salty spice reminders.

Afterwards, we tried out the area’s longest summer toboggan slide in nearby Durnberg. From the Zinkenkogel peak there was a wonderful panoramic view over the Austrian Alps and a 2.2 km ride to the bottom. Sam gleefully acccelerated while I slowed us down.

Next we aimed for the Eisriesenwelt – the world’s largest ice cave near Werfen. The car grinded its way up the Tennengebirge mountain range mostly in first gear and we arrived at 3:20PM – only to learn the museum’s last tour was at 3PM. Aaargh. At least the ride down was smoother – and it needed to be as I was running dangerously low on gas.

Personal note – I was pretty grumpy. It was a letdown having travelled all that way to find out we had missed the last tour by 20 minutes. It made me think of what ifs . . . what if we hadn’t tried to take advantage of the Salzburg card and the free Untersberg cable car ride . . . what if we hadn’t tried to find the shortcut to the salt mine. What if . . . However, nearby was the Erlebnisburg Hohenwerfen – and imposing fortress with breathtaking views – an acceptable alternative – and all the kids wanted to do was go back home and to the beach. And whine. It reminded me of myself as a child and being ungrateful for the sights and opportunities my parents provided. And also reminded of how I felt as a kid being dragged around from boring museum to boring church to boring castle. It was an odd feeling understanding their simple view of the world along with my parents broader perspective and trying to balance the two along with what Aline and I had hoped to see and do on this trip. An impossible task.

In the end we figured we’d had enough bad luck and took the chance that maybe the Schloss Hellbrunn trick fountains might still be open on our way home . . . and managed to make the last tour of the day. The tour guide playfully walked us through the grounds and sprayed us all with water which Sam particularly enjoyed.

Costs incurred:
$52 Hallein salt museum
$16 Hallein souvenir photo
$15 Hallein souvenir salt
$26 Bad Durnberg summer toboggan run
$45 Gas
$39 Lidl groceries

Friday June 17 – Hallstatt

Work interrupted our tentative plans to make this the Melk bike day and the weather forecast for Hallstatt said cloudy with bits of sun so we made the picturesque village of Hallstatt today’s journey. It was beautiful. A small touristy one-street village nestled on the side of a mountain beside a lake. We ate a picnic lunch in a park and then wandered through the town – and didn’t spend too much money!

Costs incurred:
$8 souvenirs owl purse Hazel
$20 souvenirs aline – red rock, xmas santa ornament, 3-owl chain, postcards steve
$7 ice cream

Saturday June 18 – Seeham

Took advantage of the guesthouse bicycles and did a 17km family bike ride loop around Seeham and the Grabensee lake. It’s common for Austrian villages to have dedicated bike paths connecting villages free of car traffic. Sam figured out the three-speed gears on his bike and Hazel struggled with the 18-speed options she had – but soldiered onward silently miserable. Later that afternoon, we hiked the Teufelsgraben (Devils Gorge) path. Kids enjoyed throwing and skipping stones in the creek near the Wildkar waterfall and I picked up a few marbles produced by the Kugelmuhle mill. Another cheap spending day.

Costs incurred:
$8 for two souvenir marbles from area

Sunday June 19 – Melk & Ceske Krumlov

Said goodbye to our Seeham inn and were en route by 9:15 toward the majestic Melk abbey on the Danube river. Arrived before noon and did a small courtyard walk around the Abbey before driving onward to Duernstein which is best known for holding King Richard the Lionhearted prisoner in its castle. I had originally hoped to bike a section of the Danube river from Melk downstream and take the ferry back. We could have done a Danube cruise from Melk to Krems as well but that would have taken almost five hours in total and we still wanted to reach Ceske Krumlov before nightfall. So driving to Durnstein and doing a small river cruise there made more sense and was cheaper on the wallet.

Durnstein was a pretty one street village which we discovered was not car friendly as we mistakenly drove through the cobblestone city center and then down toward the river while truly trying to follow directions toward parking. After parking near the boat docks, we meandered through the village before walking back to the docks for the cruise – only to discover that pier 20 was actually a kilometer back in the center of the village we had just left. Yikes! We truly thought we had missed our boat but managed to run back to the dock in time. The cruise was nice but a bit of a letdown. It was a super short 15 minute ride to Krems with the flow of the river and 30 minutes on the way back as it fought the flow. It was nice to feel the breeze on a warm day but a full five hours would have been – boring.

From there we drove to Ceske Krumlov arriving at 9PM at our pension Jana and did an evening stroll through the town. I whole-heartedly recommend touring sites in the evening when they are lit up and tourists have left. Ceske Krumlov is fabulous. Just small enough to get lost in but still know generally where you are. The castle sits on a hill surrounded by the Moldau river and when it’s lit up at night – it’s magical.

Costs incurred:
$430 Tobelmuelhof GastHof for 6 nights! Same price as Switzerland but twice the days.
$30 Danube boat tour Durnstein to Krems return
$10 Euro beer and ice cream on cruise
$62 Durnstein supper
$23 Souvenir Bailoni apricot liquor (CAN conversion rate = 1.505 = $34.46 CAN! = Ouch!)

Monday June 20 – Ceske Krumlov

Following our first paid breakfast, we packed our bags, checked out and strolled into town leisurely visiting shops and sights in the historic town center. Kids enjoyed the mirror labrynth and searching for Krtek stuffies and his friends. We also visited the fairy tale marionette museum and walked up to the castle tower for a view of the city. Had lunch at Sveik restaurant before heading onward to Prague. (Sveik’s served an excellent dill potato mushroom cream soup and lemonade.) I was somewhat apprehensive meeting my cousin as it had been over 25 years since we had last seen each other and I knew her English was poor and knew virtually nothing about her kids. But our get-together was warm and it was easy to reconnect.

Personal note – thank goodness for technology as using the phone GPS made finding our way to cousin Sarka’s apartment very easy – saving us hours of traffic frustration.

Costs incurred:
$73 EUR Pension Jana Euro & breakfast (4 * $4)
$160 CZK Labrynth (40+40+ . . . 80?)
$1428 CZK Souvenirs Babyka 7 stuffies
$248 CZK missing frog stuffy plus wooden keychain
$330 CZK Souvenir wooden woodpecker
$XXX CZK cash fairy tale marionette museum? no receipt probably 160 as well for family rate.
$110 CZK tower tickets … i think … on MC. had receipt.
$685 CZK lunch at Svejk restaurant
$160 CZK ice cream at Monalisa Caverna
$35 EUR Gas fillup in Krems
$310 CZK Czech toll pass for 10 days
$600 CZK gas top up

Tuesday June 21 – Prague

Sarka’s apartment is well situated on a metro line a short subway or tram ride away from the downtown core which we visited with my mom and Jeff this morning. My mom – who had fractured her right arm pretty much on arrival in Prague a few days ago – was in much better shape now and we planned out our week so that we would do a group outing in the morning before she would take the kids back to the apartment for the afternoon. Today we visited the astronomical clock in the old town square and browsed through a few shops before lunch. Aline and I then purchased a 4-day Prague card and meandered about before taking a bus tour later that afternoon. That was a big disappointment. A lot of Smetana music and the occasional comment about some building we passed. So we hopped off midway at Prague Castle and meandered some more down toward Charles bridge.

Costs incurred:
$498 CZK Souvenirs – Krtek and friends tshirt (Manufaktura) 1CAD = 17.754 CZK = $28.05 CAN
$218 CZK Food @ Billa Sache toirte, ice cream
$325 CZK Stare Mesto lunch
$3560 CZK 2 adult Prague Cards

Wednesday June 22 – Prague

Visited Petrin Tower today which is a mini Eiffel tower opposite downtown. Kids enjoyed another maze and Sam and I ran up the steps to the top of tower for its panoramic views of the red clay old city rooftops and church spires. We all enjoyed some soup for lunch followed by another ice cream taste test. Kids went home and Aline and I checked out Prague Castle, St. Vitus, Hradcany Castle and Golden Lane as part of our Prague Card ticket. All were excellent sites to see. St. Vitus allows a ton of light into the church which really keeps it feeling light and airy instead of dark and sombre. It helped that it was a hot sunny day too.

Costs incurred:
$190 CZK 2 beer pivo and radler at 3:41 in courtyard after splitting hot dog snack
$421 CZK supper at Malostranska Sveik
$150 CZK Trdlnik and coffee

Thursday June 23 – Prague

Sue and Jeff took kids to the zoo so Aline and I hit Prague Castle one last time and got lost in the streets looking for the the gingerbread museum. We did find it and Aline picked up a few cookie cutter molds before we meandered down to the river. It was another hot day so we tried out the Underground Prague tour that afternoon which was a good idea on a super hot afternoon. Apparently pretty much all of Prague has underground cellars dating back 500 years to times when the city flooded regularly so the city government decided to build on top of itself creating these cellars. Afterwards we managed to climb to the top of City Hall tower just before closing for some more beautifully panoramic views of the core. I had wanted to see at least one piece of theater while on vacation and chose a performance called Life is Life by Black Light Theater. I should have been tipped off by the cheap price of the ticket. I hate to diss any theater performance knowing how much work goes into a live production of anything but I was disappointed. The black light skit bits were impressive – especially the car – but the live acting portions and dancing were not suited to the genre.

Costs incurred:
$70 CZK Gingerbread forms
$150 CZK Gingerbread forms
$160 CZK Gingerbread forms
$70 CZK Gingerbread food and lemonande
$540 CZK Underground tour – fast talking nathalie
$654 CZK lunch at Cafe Domecek – beer tasting courtyard. duck for me. goulash for aline
$672 CZK = Black Light theater – pretty amateurish

Friday June 24 – Prague

Vysehrad. Church. Cemetary. Sue went for haircut. We went back downtown and had lunch in Wenceslaus square. Kids enjoyed the water fan. Lego museum. Fell asleep. Bought russian art print. Jewish muesum and cemetary. Group supper with Sarka.

Costs incurred:
$XXX lunch in Wenceslaus square
$249 CZK lego
$650 Krtek books
$500 part print in market
$4200 half cost of $8373 supper at Ambiente Brasileiro

Saturday June 25 – Prague lazy rest day

Got up late. Then napped. Only outing today was going to Billa for a few groceries. Played some more Hearts with family.

Costs incurred:
$720 Billa

Sunday June 26 – Heidelberg

Travel day. Said our farewells to Sarka and family. Drove straight through to Heidelberg listening to HP3. Found Holiday Inn easily. Went for an evening walk along old city streets. Castle is nice and impressive but Krumlov is better.

Costs incurred:
$51 Dinner in old town Heidelberg at Zum Gueldenen Schaf
$94 Holiday Inn

Monday June 27 – Heidelberg-Trier-Luxembourg

Complimentary break fast at Holiday Inn. Nice. Went searching for a cheap suitcase in Heidelberg. Found acceptable one.Strolled back. Bought Ortlieb bike pack at Giant store. Packed. And off to Trier. Made it here just before 2:30 return time. Decided to keep car for one extra day to get everyone to Luxembourg. Think it was the right choice. It would have been awkward to carry all our gear from Hertz rental to Trier centrum to get on multiple busses to reach Luxembourg hotel. Dropped everyone off in Luxembourg andn returned to Trier to drop off car for onlt an extra $20 daily rental fee. Much better than new one-day rental, or one-way rental of over $100. Turns out Germans are just as fussy about cleanliness as my dad. They were going to charge me an extra $50 cleaning fee because car was dirty. Because I was on my own, I just asked where I could clean the car. Did so at nearby gas station for $2. Walked to train station and missed Flitbo Lux airport bus. Took a different one instead. Helpful guy at WC let me in for free. Felt good luck. Found second airport bus at 7 instead of waiting for Flitbo one at 8. Nice lady in front seat was very helpful and told me where to get off and where to transfer in Kirchurg – which is where the Auchan was located. Saved me an extra half hour at least. Raining when I got back to Lux. It was definitely better to do this alone rather than with everyone.

In future though – far better to have car rental directly at airport. Hotel Ibis nothing to speak of.

Costs incurred:
$40 Euro suitcase
$44 gas fillup in Heidelberg
$80 Ortleib bike bag from Giant
$27 Lidl groceries and souvenir chocolate
$2 Lidl bakery
$20 extra day car rental
$2 Gas station vaccuum
$15 Airport bus from Trier back to Luxembourg – Nice lady told me not to pay when I transferred onto #16 to airport
$150 Ibis hotel

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