Monday, May 5, 2008

Schlosse Neuschwanstein and Munich

The next day we got up and ate breakfast with Suzanne, our hostess and proprietor of the B&B in Fussen. She prepared an excellent breakfast, and we ate lots of muesli and yogurt, cold cuts and bread and hot tea. The kids ate Cap'n Crunch which I retrieved from the car. I think Suzanne was a little offended at them not eating her breakfast, but they did drink the hot chocolate she made for them. Ann took the Kendrick family up to the little town at the base of the castle mountain, paid for tickets (because she's wonderful) and left us to hop in the horse-drawn carriage. The men driving the carriage kept waiting for a full load which made us nervous as the time for our tour drew ever closer. We enjoyed the carriage ride up the mountain and then sprang from the carriage and did a quick death march up to the castle just in time for our tour number to be flashed on the big board. Whew! I stopped to use the bathroom on the way up and I thought Justin was going to leave me. He was channeling Uncle Jeff.

The tour was really interesting, though Jack would not be still for a nanosecond which diminished my enjoyment somewhat. It made me so grateful that we had not taken the kids through the Louvre or Jack through Versailles. That would have not been a good idea. The castle was beautiful inside and out, and I really enjoyed taking pictures. When we were done with the tour, the Whites and Majo were outside waiting on us. They had apparently hoofed it up the castle road while we had been touring. it's not an easy walk, so I was impressed. It had snowed recently so the bridge over the deep chasm which had made PC so nervous when he was there was not an option for us, though I took some pictures of it. In better weather, you can hike up the mountain some more to a higher vantage point for some postcard-worthy shots of the castle, but again not an option in current conditions. Plus we had to go to Munich! After an absolutely delightful stop for lunch - I had spaetzle and cheese, my new German favorite - we descended to the little town again and Jeff took the train team to the train station, leaving me, Katy, Mason and Will to wander around the lake and look for a potty. We found one, he came back, and we were off to Munich. The kids happily played video games and I got to look out of the window at the passing countryside. the mountains went away and after a while we entered Munich. We checked into a hotel and after a bit, Jeff went to retrieve the train team who had pulled into the station nearby. Then the whole group was together, Jeff tried to sleep, I helped Jack put together his Bionicle that he had gotten the day before at Legoland, and ate some squirrel hearts. After a bit, Ann said she was going out for a walk, so Justin, Will and I tagged along. We saw a little bit of the pedestrian friendly part of Munich, but not much. Our impression of Munich was not entirely good, but partly because the hotel where we were hanging out was close to the train station which is not the best section of town, but the best logistically for us b/c everyone was getting on the night train to Florence in about 4 hours. So I would love to go back and do Munich justice one day. We peeked in to the Haufbrau Haus - I'm sure I'm misspelling that and saw the Hard Rock Cafe, but opted for more traditional German fare for supper. The only thing I distinctly remember is getting apple strudel for dessert - delicious! And losing Jack for a brief but horrifying period as we were leaving the restaurant. By this point in the trip, Jack is worn out and a little fragile. It was a lot of walking and new stuff to handle when you are five years old.

Then we went back up to the hotel, killed a bit of time and then walked back over to the train station to get everyone settled on the night train. After a lot of fun with escalators - the same two boys who had to be shoved onto escalators a week ago are now begging to go up and down them for kicks - the train pulls in and our people get on. I did not get on because I was going with Jeff in the Volvo, so I can't tell you much about the train experience. I heard from everyone else that it stopped alot, they were packed in there like sardines, and I don't think the adults got a lot of sleep. After the train left the station, Jeff and I walked back to the hotel, checked out, got in the Volvo, and started for Italy. I think the trip took maybe 7-8 hours. There was not much to see in the dark, and I nodded off some, even though my job was to keep Jeff awake. I do remember that Austria and Italy felt alot like a perpetual exit ramp, one long continuous curve, but I guess that's because we were going through the mountains. We stopped at a rest stop about an hour from Florence because we were going to get there before the train and slept a bit. Then we drove the rest of the way, parked the car, and met the train around 6:30 in the morning. But the rest of that is for another day.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to Beat the Crowds at Legoland

Well, get your popcorn and settle in, because this was one long day of power fun and traveling. We started off dividing into a car team and a train team. Mom, Ann, Will, Jack and I were on the train team, and Justin, Jeff, Katy, Mason and Emma were in the Volvo. The Volvo had to make the trip to Italy, and the trip to Italy started with a couple of detours in Germany, so we split up. We got down to the S-bahn station at Bremthal at 6:45, but had to miss the first train that went through b/c Ann had the Volvo key, so Jeff had to come down and get it. She was bummed to miss the train because it meant the connection in Frankfurt to the ICE train was going to be tight, but at least she realized he didn't have a key before we got on the train. We ended up making the Frankfurt ICE train to Ulm (close to Legoland) in enough time, but it was mildly stressful. At the Frankfurt station (the one plagued with multiple escalators), Jack said, "I'm getting a little bit gooder at the escalators." And he was!

So we get to Ulm and catch the shuttle bus to Legoland with a bazillion German teenagers, which did not bode well for the day. When we reached the entrance to Legoland, the Volvo team had just pulled up, so the timing was perfect. We got our tickets and put on our mittens and hats and scarves and entered the grand land of Legos. The kids were so excited. The first part we visited was a bunch of little scenes built entirely of Legos. It was really amazing. Jack just ran around in circles, he was so excited he did not know what to look at first.

I am so glad we went to Legoland. It was the only day devoted entirely to kid stuff, and they really enjoyed it. Katy and Mason had never been there either, so this was a new experience for them as well. And because it was bitterly cold - at one point, it was sleeting - there were very few people there. The kids got to ride all the rides they wanted, as many times as they wanted to. Emma went on a roller coaster with Katy and Mason and Will, but once was enough for her. Ann and Jeff and Justin and I rode another roller coaster several times. The ride attendants just let us keep our seats, because there was no one in line. We all enjoyed an inside activity center where the kids got to build their own cars and then race them against other people. There were all of these children trying to put their cars together and then there were Jeff and Justin trying to build the first race cars to break the sound barrier. Being inside was nice, just to thaw out a bit. We also got on this ride where you're in a little pirate boat and you turn a wheel to pump water out of a cannon and the people on shore have their own water cannons that they are aiming at you. Jack was not much of a fan, mostly because there were invisible "cannon balls" that would explode next to you and send water flying everywhere - it was loud and wet, two things he did not appreciate. We all went up together on this little revolving slow-moving thing where you could look out and see the whole park and the massive parking lot that was mostly empty. It was nice because it was not a huge park, but there was enough to do there that we got a very full day of it.

Around 5 or so, the car people became the train people and Ann dropped them off at the train station and then came back and got me, Mom, and the three boys. We were driving to Fussen, where we were staying at a bed and breakfast. It was in the mountains close to Neuschwanstein Castle which we would tour in the morning. While we (Ann) were driving, I noticed some snow in the grass of the scenery going by. Then we noticed more snow. Then it started snowing. Then the road went from three to two lanes because it was snowing so hard. It was amazing how quickly the conditions deteriorated. As soon as we got off the autobahn, the snow was pretty much gone, so Ann could navigate the roads again. Fussen was nice. I really liked Suzanne's Bed and Breakfast. It was very clean, each bed had nice big comforters on them and the bathroom looked like it had been recently remodeled. We dropped off our stuff, Ann took us to McDonalds, then went to the train station to pick up Team 2, we all reunited at McDonalds, ate and then went home pretty beat.

Another funny thing about Suzanne's is that she has a squirrel mounted in the guest lobby. We took pictures of the squirrel holding a squirrel heart and thought it was absolutely the funniest thing (granted we were tired). Then after that excitement, we went to bed.