Day 57: Auf Wiedersehen and thanks for following along

Today was a long travel day, however everything went so very smoothly. The car return was super easy and fast. Faster then any rental return I have ever experienced. We are totally impressed with the Renault Megane we got through Europe By Car.

The boys had one more final ice cream at the airport before walking to our gate. And the flight was relatively smooth with only a few hiccups. The boys had a much harder time of it since neither of them were willing to try sleeping since it was a daytime flight.

We are happily home and sad to see the trip come to an end. Thanks for following along on our blog. Do let us know what you thought? Did you enjoyed reading along? Did I post too many photos? Any and all comments would be appreciated.

Sara

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Day 56: Finals in Frankfurt

This was our final sightseeing day, tomorrow we return our car and fly back home.  We are in Frankfurt, a large German city that is known also as “Bankfurt” (it is the banking centre of Germany, and indeed the EU), and “Mainhatten” (as it is full of skyscrapers like Manhatten, but is on the river Main).  We are here on Saturday, which in a way is a bit of a shame, as the bankers are all at home (or wherever banker go).  So the banking district was very quiet.

However, one of the bank towers does have a public observation deck about 650′ above the city, so we took a trip up there to the 55th floor.  The view was great.

We did some more walking about in Frankfurt, but in the end we were all a little tired, and after our final ice cream we headed back to the hotel.

Then, leaving Sara to some well-earned peace and quiet I took the boys to their final water play time, at a nearby park that we had visited the first day we had arrived in Frankfurt 56 days ago.  Some fun in the sun, and a bit of mini golf in a really nice kids park.

 

We fly home tomorrow.  See you all soon.  Photos from today are here.

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Day 54 and 55: Castle Rheinfels

For our final full day in the region we elected to go over to the even bigger water thoroughfare of Germany, the might Rhine River, and in particular to the ruins of Rhienfels Castle, which was the largest castle (of at least 20 or so) that commanded the river to demand taxes on all goods that passed through.

I am really glad that we finished our castle tours with this one, as it was really, for me, the most compelling castle we visited.  Others have been authentic, for sure, but difficult to approach as everything is guarded by ropes and barriers, and while as fantastic the rebuilds of the 19th century are they just don’t, for me, feel as complete in a way as even a ruin of a proper working castle.

Rheinsfels castle is such a place.  It saw many battles since it was orignially constructed in 1245, generally withstood them, evolved over time to account for the advent of cannons, and was finally destroyed by the French revolutionary army in 1797.  Today, though, much still remains to walk through, climb over, and even crawl under.  There are small mining tunnels that were dug out from inside the walls to under the flat land in front of the walls, and subsequently packed with explosives.  These could be blown up to take out advancing troops, and indeed some of them were used to this effect.  Other tunnels remain (sans explosives), and the boys and I were able to crawl through them.  These are pitch dark, and can only be negotiated with light (we had candles).  Notwithstanding the fact that they are small (Michael could stand throughout, Daniel had to stoop, I had to deeply crouch) they are quite fun to try to negotiate.  We went through twice.

The day finished, as usual, with ice cream.  Pictures can be found here.

PS-Day 55 was a rainy travel day ending with us just hanging-out and catching-up on email, facebook, photos and blog.

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Day 53: Roman Trier

The city of Trier is upstream of us on the Mosel river, and was the capital of the western Roman Empire.  It has a large collection of Roman ruins, many well preserved and functional.  This was our destination for our 2nd full day in the region.  We could have done more castle, but variety is needed to keep the kids amused.

Little remains of the walls of Trier, other than a single dirty gate known as the Porta Nigra.  It avoided being scavenged for building material as the pious St. Simeon took up residence within it for many years, and then its was converted into a church and monastery.  As such it survives to this day, a little bit of wall completely out of context.  This thing was build with no mortar, only carefully cut stones with iron bars to hold them together.

Holding with the tradition that all amazing buildings which remain standing to this day, regardless of their original purpose, eventually become a church, we continued on to see St. Peter’s, built on the former palace of Helena, mother of Constantine.  Appropriate, I suppose, as Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman empire.  In actual fact, little of the original palace remains, it was only a temporary church (albeit 4 times the size of the Catholic cathedral which replaced it).

The most amazing building, though, was probably the Basilica and Imperal Throne Room of Contantine.  The aforementioned Porta Nigra could actually fit inside this massive space.  Note that there are no pillars anywhere holding things up.  Somehow or other the Romans managed to build this thing’s flat ceiling out of wood, with triangular trusses on the outside, above the ceiling, to support it, sort of like you might see with a modern day aircraft hangar.  The ceiling of today is a modern one.  While the purpose of this building changed many times over the centuries it is now, of course, a church (although Protestant this time, not Catholic).

Finally we saw a massive bath ruin, a civil project that got out of control financially and was never put into operation, and an amphitheatre.

Picture for today can be found here.

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Day 52: Burg Eltz

The main activity for today was to visit Burg Eltz, a medieval castle which has never been destroyed, and in fact has been owned by the Eltz family for about 850 years.  It is situated in a valley, but on a hill in the loop of a meandering river… a really perfect, picturesque site.  The living owners, the 33rd generation Eltz, sometimes even still reside there.  Originally the castle was 3 separate families, each with their own house but with shared walls for protection.  Over time 2 of the families have died out and been bought out, leaving the single remaining family.

Major scaffolding and crane on the outside notwithstanding, this place was a real treat.  This is an authentic castle, not some romantic rebuild.  And while it has been modernized over time (power and water, modern-day wurst kitchen to serve the tourists), much remains amazingly original.  This region is greatly made up of slate, and the castle is built mostly of that plentiful, native rock, roofs included.  It reminds me greatly of the Roman method of construction with thin bricks and thick layers of mortar.  Hmmm, they probably brought forward a thing or two from the Romans, those medieval folk.

On returning back to our apartment, we were able to take a short tour around our host’s winery.  This same plentiful slate is also responsible for the excellent wines of the region, as it apparently helps the soils of the sloped fields retain their heat well, resulting in a particularly good environment for growing grapes.

The days photos can be found here.

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Day 51: On to Wine Country

Another travel day, leaving the wonders of LegoLand (which was good for the kids) for the wonders of the WineLand (good for us adults), known hereabouts as the shores of the Mosel river.  We are staying in Zell, above a winery.  All about us are steeply sloped hills rising from the Mosel neatly covered in rows and rows of grape vines.

The kids, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about that.  With generous space in our apartement, it’s out with the new lego sets and on with the medieval arms and armour that has been acquired.  To date, 4 swords, 2 axes, 2 shields, 2 helmets, 2 crossbows, and one pirate flag.  I suppose the pirate flag shouldn’t count, but Michael insists that it makes a good quarterstaff for him (we have just finished reading Robin Hood).  So medieval enough for me.

The days pictures are here.

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Day 49 and Day 50: Legoland

We were at Legoland for the last two days. It’s been great watching the boys enjoy themselves so much. My boys are crazy for Lego. We have bins and bins of the little bricks, we have boxes and boxes of sets, and everything else Lego watches,- t-shirts, games, etc. This has been the prize at the end of our travels.

Photos from our first day at Legoland.

Photos from our second day at Legoland.

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Day 48: More Castles

Today, like yesterday, was again about castles.  But not the cushy romantic reproductions of the rich like yesterday, but rather a nearby set of 4 castles and fortresses that were built for, and put to entirely original, defensive purpose.

The region just south of Bavaria, where we are now, is Tirol, and through the mountanous area goes Via Claudia.  This roman road goes from northern Italy to southern Germany, through the alps.  Nowadays it is full of hikers and has become a popular bicycling route (as car traffic is mostly on the nearby modern highways).  But back in the day, if you were traveling north/south around here you went up this road.  There was no alternative.  So control of this road was very lucrative for economic reasons — you got to tax and control all the goods, and in particular salt, that passed through.

Anyways, there have always been fortifications here since the time the Romans built the road.  The remains that are here are known as the Ehrenburg “world of fortresses”.  A funny translation, but apt enough.  Ehrenburg, the oldest castle here, was originally built in 1293, on a high hill overlooking the road.  From here the road could be commanded.  Later, Ehrenburg Klause, which was more of a stout building with a wall, actually spanned the valley through which the road passed, from side to side completely.  Now it is a museum.

Ehrenburg was built originally as a medieval castle — high walls on a high hill.  During later years, when cannon became available, Ehrenburg was held by Tirol (now part of Austria), but was taken by Bavaria (now part of Germany).  Tirol didn’t like this, and dragged their cannons up a nearby higher mountain and wiped out the Bavarian invaders (and took out their own castle in so doing).  It was repaired and adapted to better withstand cannon attack, and another fortification called Fort Claudia built on the other side of the valley.  Then someone seemed to get worried that if Fort Claudia fell then it could shell Ehrenburg, so Ehrenburg was yet further beefed up to be able to attack its own neighbor, Claudia, if needed.  Then finally Schlosskopf was built on the top of the mountain that had originally been used to shell Ehrenburg, there was lots of fighing and exchanging of fortresses, and eventually the whole issue of protecting the road became irrelevant, and everything left to go to ruin.

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What is kind of interesting about these sites is that they are relatively newly “discovered”, in that it is only in fairly recent times that they have been made accessible to tourists, let alone even had any attention been paid to them by locals.  Schlosskopf, the highest fortress, could not even be seen from below as it was entirely covered in trees.  If you had asked most locals about 10 years ago they would not have even known it was there.  Now it is entirely revealed, and both it and Ehrenburg are getting some attention to preserve their crumbling walls.

These and the rest of today’s photos can be found here.

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Day 47: Mad Castles and Downhill Fun

Today we spent visiting two of the castles of “mad” King Ludwig.  This is Ludwig II, who grew up with Wagner and a very idealized view of medieval times (e.g. Romanticism).  His fantastic family resort castle (Hohenschwangau), built on a hill overlooking a lake, was not enough for him.

So at 18 when he assumed the crown of Bavaria he began some building some truly amazing castles.  This was in the 1800’s, building what would appear to be a fantastic medieval castle (although with modern day conveniences of the time).  These castles were originally designed by artists, and when they looked just right given to architects and builders to actually create.  Supposedly Cindarella’s castle is inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle, the most famous and one we visited.  And this was never finished… there is a missing tall keep with surrounding towers, and only 1/3 of the interior was ever completed.

Now, why “mad”?   Well, the government of Bavaria managed to get physicians to certify Ludwig as insane, so as to depose him (and prevent him building Bavaria into financial ruin).  Actually, most of the building costs of Ludwig’s projects came from his own coffers, rather than the states (although Ludwig was putting himself into massive personal debt).  A day after he lost his crown, Ludwig wound up dead in a shallow lake, along with the chief physician who had diagnosed him (without ever actually seeing him in person).  Apparently they were out for a walk.

A month after his death, Neuschwanstein was open for tourism, allowing in one and all for fee up to and including us today.  Ironically, Neuschwanstein has paid for itself many, many times over by the millions of tourists that flock to it each year.  What really happened to Ludwig is not definitively known.

After this, Sara was left in the hotel to snooze away the afternoon and I took the boys to a nearby luge run and park.  This is a video of me and Michael trying to catch up to Daniel, who we never actually saw until the very end.  The day’s photos can be found here.

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Day 46: Füssen, Germany

It’s almost 11 pm as I sit to write this, therefore I’m going to keep this short, so that I can get a good nights sleep. We drove from Munich to Füssen, a beautiful little town on the south end of the “Romantic Road”. We’ll be here for the next few days exploring the area and specially all the castles the region has to offer.

 

All of today’s photos.

Sara

 

 

 

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