Who doesn’t love family road trip? I’m guessing tons of people, especially when the kids are grown ups! My family…Mom, Dad, brother Jeff and me…decided to go to Germany for a friend’s birthday and I had the brilliant idea to make this into a bigger trip to include Vienna, Budapest and Prague. We managed not to kill each other but barely. Oh and we saw some fabulous things along the way too.
We flew into Munich, rented a car and drove to Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg’s Old Town or “Altstadt” is internationally renowned for its baroque architecture and is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps. It was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997. This city is definitely a treat for “The Sound of Music” fans. Jeff actually attempted to twirl around in the green rolling hills as Maria the nun did.
After a few hours in Salzburg it was off to Vienna. The country side was pristine and stunning and made for a delightful drive. The rest stop even had this gorgeous mountainy-lake side view. Incredible. My brother again tried to twirl around in the grass, Sound of Music style. If only I had a picture of this!
Once in Vienna, we had our first taste of European city related driving frustration. If you’ve ever driven in a large European city you may have experienced the craziness of one way streets that aren’t shown on the map, street signs that are on tiny plaques on the sides of buildings and barely visible, lots of yelling and frustration, and the eventual breakdown of a picture perfect family dynamic. After a delightful hour spent circling the vicinity of our hotel, knowing it was somewhere VERY close, we found it. Grrrr.
First stop…a Viennese cafe. We went to the touristy but very nice Cafe Sacher, famous for the Sacher Torte which is a delicious rich chocolate cake with a thin layer of high quality apricot jam and a decadent layer of chocolate icing. Apparently this has been the most famous cake in the word since 1832. We had great coffee and loved hearing how it was my father’s childhood dream to someday try Viennese Cafe.
We spent the next two days walking around and exploring this majestic city. The people of Vienna are extremely polite, even the police, who were often gorgeous blond women.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Budapest is a short drive from Vienna. This used to be three cites, Buda, Pest and Obuda, on either side of the Danube. They were united in 1873. This is a gorgeous city famous for geothermal springs, a vast underground thermal cave system and of course, Hungarian goulash. I regret that only two days here was not enough.
I loved walking along the Vaci Utca and taking in the sites…and had some goulash at an adorable cave-like restaurant complete with a charming gypsy musician.
I had been dying for years to see this city. This was also a beautiful drive taking us through Slovakia on the way, the homeland of my Nana. This drive from Budapest is a bit long, at 530 km. It took about 6 hours with stops. Prague was yet another “getting lost in the city driving” adventure, further testing our happy family dynamic. Yada yada yada…we finally got to our hotel which was in the Wenceslas Square, a good location. Prague is by far one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Every street was a new treat for the eyes to be explored and photographed. I read that even Hitler had such a soft spot for Prague that he never bombed it, hence the buildings old and untouched, unlike so many other Eastern European cities. I really liked the food although it was heavy…goulashes, stews, beef stroganoff, dumplingy things, chicken paprika. Yum!
Next we headed to Rothenberg, Germany. A 375 km drive, should have taken about 4 hours. Well, this is where we all almost killed each other. Getting out of Prague was somehow so incredibly confusing that it took us an hour just to get to the highway which was probably only a few km from the hotel. This almost completely destroyed the family dynamic and I was a tad furious but when we finally got to Rothenberg… 7 hours later…we were all so taken with this gem of a city that we forgot to be angry.
This is a medieval city surrounded by a wall, one of a few left in Europe. This city was nearly destroyed by US bombing at the end of WW2 when some remaining Nazis had barricaded themselves here. The US assistant secretary of war, John McCloy, had grown up with a picture of Rothenburg in his mother’s kitchen and apparently remembered its historical significance. He ordered the Allied troops to negotiate a surrender rather than bomb it. The Nazi commander surrendered, disobeying a Hitler directive that all cities fight until the end. I really love that story!!!
Thankfully this city survived for us to enjoy because it is beyond words. Just a picture perfect German town. I imagine this is where Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Rapunzel all must have lived.
There were many fun little shops, especially one where we had so much fun playing with replicas of medieval weapons.
Not to be missed is the Night Watchman’s Tour. This is a classic and has been around for many years with the same guy doing the tour. He has been featured on many travel shows and this tour is super fun. You walk as a group at night through the city and he tells stories about the history of Rothenberg and the role of the Night’s Watchman. The NightWatchman Tour
Our time in Rothenburg was a brief day and a half but we really loved it, forgave each other for the yelling in the car the previous day, and headed to Schwabisch Hall for the big German party. Schwabisch Hall is about 2 hours southeast of Rothenburg (126 km). We arrived at the home of our friend and were greeted with wonderful German hospitality.
After a tour of the charming town, we partied. Ernst came from a large German family and we met Hans, Gunther and Wolfgang and many others with wonderfully stereotypical German names. Then we ate and drank way too much. Hey, just doing what the locals were doing!
Just south of Munich in the Bavarian Alps This is the castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disney World. This was built in 1868 by the reclusive King Ludwig who died under mysterious circumstances. It is stunning. My pictures do not do it justice. The surrounding area is also breathtaking.
After a few hours enjoying the splendor of the castle we drove through many gorgeous and picturesque small towns on our way to Mittenwald. Why there? Oh because my Dad saw it on the travel channel and it’s supposed to be the most beautiful town in Germany. That’s why.
Mittenwald did not disappoint. It was beyond gorgeous. We only had one night here but I am anxious to go back…maybe at Christmas time.
Finally, the last leg of our trip…back to Munich. And oh what a happy coincidence, it happens to be the last day of Oktoberfest (which actually occurs the end of September). After spending some time checking out Munich, we met up with Hagen, whom I haven’t yet mentioned. He was an exchange student from Munich who lived in my hometown with the family we came to party with in Schwabisch Hall. Got it? We reconnected with him at the party and made plans to meet up in Munich. We took a subway to the fairgrounds outside the city where Oktoberfest was being held.
Let’s just say it was a ton of fun. This was the final day and it was crowded. It was a weekend. We had no idea what we were doing or where we should go. There were many large beer halls (fest hauses) and all were filled to the brim with thousands of people. We finally settled on the Hofbrauhaus (like the famous one in Munich) and waited in line for almost an hour. We were able to buy a huge pretzel to snack on in line.. Thank you food gods. Hagen showed off his most ridiculous but amazing Lowenbrau Hat. Finally, we were in. I will spare the details but lots of beer, lots of fun, definitely a once in a lifetime experience to do this with my family.
We all had a bit too much to drink. We got lost on the subway (even with our local) and went an hour the wrong way. This seems to be a running theme with us. Once back in Munich, Hagan took us to a local restaurant where the entire menu was in German and he didn’t translate very well unless everything on the menu WAS in fact a version of pork. I barely remember eating. My brother and I were too busy embarrassing my mother.
The next morning we flew home. My brother and I were SOOOO hungover. I do NOT recommend being hungover on an international flight. Seriously. Or any flight for that matter.
If you have the chance to do a crazy road tip like we did, it really takes minimal planning. Once you have to car, you can easily find small inns to stay in wherever you decide to stop. Happy Road Tripping my friends!