Family Trip #12

COVID-19 has really put a dent in our plans to travel around Europe during our time in Denmark. So when fall break came around, we had to modify our bucket list just a bit. Most countries we wanted to visit were either enforcing a quarantine or would require a quarantine when we arrived back in Denmark. So out of a list of only 6 countries, we chose our neighbor country, Germany.

We made the decision to not travel far. We were wary to rely on air travel as flights these days seem to be canceled at a moments notice. So after a bit of researching, we decided to head to just northern Germany. It would only be a four hour car trip and that seemed completely doable (or at least I thought).

Day 1:
Welcome to Germany! And the autobahn.
We made the unwise decision to travel on a Saturday…during the start of fall break. The border crossing was smooth sailing but we ran into an accident. And were stuck in traffic for two hours. Needless to say, our trip did not start on the best note.
But six hours later, we reached our destination of Schwerin.

Day 2:
We woke up early Sunday morning and got ready to leave our room when a loud siren started to sound. At first, we all looked at my daughter who had been jumping off the walls wondering if she had pulled a fire alarm in our room. Then we realized, it was an actual fire alarm.
We grabbed our masks, shoes and wallets and headed outdoors. It smelled like burnt toast in the hallways so I figured someone had just forgotten to keep an eye on their breakfast.
There we were. Outside with multiple other guests trying to keep our distance and waiting for the all clear from hotel staff. We then witnessed four fire trucks pull up along with the fire chief. So Avery and I took a little walk to look at all the fire trucks parked along the street. Heck of a start to our day.

After about 15 minutes, the guests were allowed back into the building. We pretty much just had to grab our bags as everything was already packed for us to go.
We then began our walk to Schwerin Castle.
I really didn’t know much about Schwerin. I’m sure it has an amazing downtown and lots of other historic sights but I was interested in seeing the castle and the gardens that surrounded it.
The walk there was only about 15 minutes but it was pure torture for Avery. I’m not kidding. She had a lot to complain about on our way to the castle. We continued to promise a playground and indicated that the playground was where we were heading (in a round about sort of way).
The green space surrounding the castle started long before the castle and it was beautiful. There is a lake and the castle sits on its own island. Therefore, it is quite a sight leading up to it. The changing leaves and cool, crisp air also helped to set a beautiful landscape.

Eventually, we reached the castle.
Schwerin Castle is a fairy tale type looking castle. It has high towers that overlook an enormous lake.

A few historical points about the castle:
-A castle has been at this location since 942 AD.
-The current castle dates to around the 19th century.
-The castle was a museum, the seat of the state parliament, a college for kindergarten teachers and finally a museum again.
-The castle is supposedly haunted.
-More details: Schwerin Castle

Due to the longish line, the patience of children and the fact we were going to visit another castle, we decided to just check out the gardens and area around the castle.
It did not disappoint. There were caves, statues, geometric designs, grapes, etc. We had a fun time exploring the different levels of the island and the girls especially loved the caves.

After a long walk around the castle, we started walking toward a playground.
It took about 20 minutes to walk there and a lot of whining (can you tell this was a rough day?), but we finally made it!

We ate a quick lunch and the girls spent over half an hour on the equipment before we decided we needed to leave for our next destination: Harzkristall.
Harzkristall is a glass manufacturing shop. It specializes in handblown glass. The shop also houses many other knick-knacks from other manufacturers. My husband has always been intrigued with the art of glass blowing so we decided to swing by.
First, it had a huge playground and the girls were very happy to run around after a long car ride.

A long car ride also meant some little bladders needed to use the toilet. And here was our first lesson on the Euro and Germany. We needed coins to use the toilet. Unfortunately, all we had were paper Euros. The husband went in the shop to ask for some change and in 10 minutes, I received a text message to come inside.
The sales clerk had nicely given him a dummy coin for us to use the indoor toilet (the first one was outside). But after walking around the shop, we decided to take a look ourselves.
Glass products were overflowing the place; glass vases, sculptures, flowers, unique shapes, even frogs. There were even three rooms of just Christmas decorations. Most were glass bulbs but there were also wooden decorations and other random Christmas ornaments. The girls each picked out one ornament to hang on our tree this year.
After more time in the playground, we made our way to the neighboring town of Wernigerode.

Wernigerode Castle

Wernigerode is a nice little touristy city that sits nestled along the Harz Mountains. Now when we saw mountains, we thought of the Alps or Norway fjords. The Harz Mountains are more like the Black Hills. Not really rocky and no huge cliffs or valleys. But since the leaves were starting to change, there were a lot of beautiful colors to see.

Now getting to our holiday home was a bit of a challenge. First, the roads were narrow, curvy and full of one ways (luckily we didn’t go down a wrong way). We also couldn’t get ahold of our hosts. We knew where the house was but not where we could park. And we needed the keys. So we were becoming a little worried when our several attempts to contact them were not yielding a response.
We eventually found a parking spot close(ish) to the house and walked to it. We tried ringing the doorbell with no luck. On the third attempt to call our hosts, they picked up and waved out the window two doors down from the house.

The houses along our streets

After a brief tour of the house along with the house rules through muddled English, we were all ready to settle down for the night.
It was neat to spend the night in an authentic, old German home. It was three stories but quite narrow. We had everything we needed; a room for the girls, one for us, a kitchen, dining room and a HUGE bathtub.
To most of you reading this, you’ll probably wonder what the big hubbub is about a bathtub. Our home in Denmark does not have a tub. I have not taken a bath for over a year (yes, I have showered) and I really missed it. First world problems, right?

Day 3:
We slept in a bit the next morning before making our way into the Harz Mountains.
The Harz Mountains has a famous steam engine that goes up, down and around the mountains. We decided to skip this due to the concern of coronavirus and instead caught it on its way up the mountain.

We opted to drive to our planned hike, the Dandelion Trail. It was advertised as being ideal for families with little kids.
When we first arrived, we had to pay for parking. Unfortunately, the place we parked would only accept coins as payment. My husband went to the train depot to try and get some change. But due to COVID-19, they refused to take his paper money. So we all loaded back in the car and made our way back to town to get some change from a grocery store.
We parked again in a different lot and found a machine that accepted credit card payments. (Of course!)
We were starting the day off a lot later than we had planned, but we finally took off on the trail.
The girls had a good time. There were little activities here and there; like a mismatching game, memory game and a huge owl you could climb up in and take a look out. Unfortunately, it looked as if many of the trees had been killed by a beetle or some disease so a lot of the tree canopy was missing.
But the girls’ favorite spot on this trail was the long jump pit. They enjoyed jumping and seeing how far they could go. And of course, their mom, who did long jump in high school, had to give it a try. (Don’t laugh at the video too much.)

What was also neat about the pit is that it showed you how far you could jump compared to different animals. We could jump about as far as a fox or rabbit.
After our hike, we set out to our next adventure; Titan RT.

Titan RT is a llloooonnnggg suspension bridge that overlooks the Bode reservoir (it was the longest in the world for one year). It is around 1504 ft long and entirely too high.
We really didn’t have our hearts set on crossing it but after some chatting, we decided that since we were here, we should do it. So we payed to cross it.
Was it smart for someone who is scared of heights to cross this? Probably not. But I honestly felt ok, as long as we were moving the whole time and I kept looking forward. Do NOT look down (even though I snuck a few peeks).
Claire is also a bit scared of heights but she did great too. But we all agreed NOT to stop at the bungee jumping platform. But the views…they were gorgeous.

We were all happy to be back on solid ground when we made it across. We were very proud of ourselves as well. We conquered our fears!

After the walk, we drove back to our holiday home in Wernigerode.
We took a bit of a break before we decided to explore a bit more of Wernigerode.
We walked by the Kleinstes Haus, an unusually small house that once housed 11 people but is now a museum.

We made our way down the brick streets to the shopping/pedestrian district. Most shops were closed at the hour we went but it looked very quaint and I would have loved to have walked in to some of the shops during open hours.

After our walk downtown, we made our way to a park for the girls to release some more energy.

After just 15 minutes in the park, the sun was setting and we made our way back to the holiday home.

Day 4:
Did not start out great. We were ready to leave at 9 AM. Unfortunately, we could not get ahold of our hosts (again) to return the key. So we made our way back up to the park to play while we waited for the hosts to call us back to return their key.
When that finally was resolved (an hour later), we made our way towards Sommerrodelbahn Bocksberg or Bocksberg summer toboggan run. It was along our route toward a castle I wanted to see, so this was my way of squeezing in something fun for the girls before a “boring” castle tour.
Bocksberg also seemed to be a very touristy town. It was busy when we arrived and there was a social distanced line out the door to purchase tickets to ride on the cable car to the top of mountain to either do mountain biking or a toboggan run. We waited in line and jumped on the cable car to go up the mountain.
The view from the top definitely wasn’t too bad.

Once we reached the top, there were attractions everywhere for kids. There was a bouncy house, climbing area, etc.
It was very busy on top of the mountain and I just wanted to keep our distance from everyone so we jumped right in the line to go down the toboggan run.
Again, I was questioning why I picked this for us to do. I get motion sickness pretty easily. So going down a curvy toboggan track may not be the best idea for me.
Happily, it ended up being a lot of fun. I think it was different because I was able to control the speed of the toboggan. Maybe that helped to fight any nausea.
Avery was my co-pilot and she had a great time. She was screaming much of the way down and smiling. That joy was worth the wait.

View of toboggan run from cable car

After the ride, we jumped on another cable car to make our way back down the mountain.
We ate our packed lunch in the car (it was a bit chilly) and started driving north to the castle I had been looking forward to touring the whole trip: Marienburg Castle.
We drove into the little town of Nordstemmen and, just to the north, the big castle looked over the village.

After a bit of a drive up a winding road, we parked and walked towards the castle. There was plenty of talk to the girls like “this is what mommy wants to see, so let’s be respectful” and “there is no screaming in a castle.”
My first look for the castle indicated that glass slippers and a full ballgown would fit in perfectly here.

We payed to tour the castle and learned a lot of interesting facts about this Hanover creation.
1) The castle was never fully completed. It was built as a summer residence as a gift from King George V of Hanover to his wife, Queen Marie. Unfortunately, the Queen was only able to live in the castle for one year. The kingdom was annexed by Prussia in 1867 and the family escaped to Austria.
2) Queen Marie’s full name was Marie Alexandrina Wilhelmina Catharine Charlotte Theresa Henrietta Louise Pauline Elizabeth Frederica Georgina.
3) The kingdom of Hanover had a very close relation to the royals in the United Kingdom. King George V had to ask Queen Victoria for consent to marry Queen Marie.

Those were the facts I remember the most (and took pictures of) during our tour of the castle. We weren’t allowed to view the whole castle but a good portion of it. There were English subtitles on all the videos depicting royalty that had a connection with the castle and English on most of the displays so we were able to pick up on most of the history of the castle. I took a LOT of pictures but I’ll explain a few that stuck out at me and the slideshow is for the rest.

Additional pictures from inside the castle below.

Since the girls were well behaved during the the castle tour, we allowed them to have a treat from the cafe. No, they didn’t go for any authentic German food. Straight for the popsicles.
While they were eating, the husband stayed with them and I walked around the outside of the castle. It was great to have some alone time and really take in the enormity of this castle on the hill.

After treats were eaten and I’d gotten my fill of royal life, we got in the car and headed to Hamburg; our last stop for our vacation.
As we checked into the hotel, we were quizzed about where we had been, if we were/had been sick and all the mask requirements in Hamburg. It was the first place to inquiry about the coronavirus.
Luckily, I was prepared and knew we hadn’t been to a locked down state and had plenty of masks on hand. The check-in staff spoke excellent English and were very helpful.
After a quick dinner, we were up in our rooms trying to get to bed before our early start the next morning.

Day 5:
I forgot to mention this but it was also fall break for many parts of Germany, so many of our destinations were busy (toboggan run and Schwerin). Our first destination in Hamburg was Miniatur Wunderland. When I went to book tickets before our trip, every time slot was sold out except 7 AM so that’s the slot I got for my family.
Miniatur Wunderland is, what the title says, a miniature wonderland. It is a landscape of miniature representation of mountains, airports, concerts, farms, etc. It also houses the largest model railroad in the world. The girls like LEGO Miniland so I figured they would like this as well.
We were up before the sun and walked to Miniatur Wunderland in the dark (our hotel was only a few blocks from it).
There were a LOT of restrictions inside. One way lanes, no crossing over to different paths, plastic barriers and space to social distance. Masks were also required and only 25% of capacity were allowed in. Tickets were spaced every 30 minutes to keep social distancing achievable.
Did everyone follow the rules? For the most part. The main problem I saw were a few folks with their masks down or walking the wrong direction. But we were able to social distance very easily.
It was really neat to see. There were so many stories going on in each little section (some adult innuendos too). We saw a tractor pull, Switzerland landscape, amusement parks, a crime scene, etc. Our favorite was the airport. The planes landed, took off and taxied around the tiny airport. I can’t imagine all the programing that had to go into it to make it all run so smoothly.

The landscape also changed from day to night and included sunrise/set colors. It really added to the aura of it all.
The train control room was also unbelievable. They had at least three people manning it. They were looking at live screens to be sure the trains were running smoothly and cables filled the whole room. You also weren’t allowed to take a picture. Very hush, hush.

We spent about an hour at Miniatur Wunderland and marched back to the hotel. Next on the agenda was to find food.
To be honest, we were all exhausted and cranky. It was also a pretty miserable weather day in Hamburg; windy, dreary and cold. After some discussion, we made the executive decision to extend our check out and eat in the hotel room.
Claire and I walked to pick up my gluten free rice bowl and the other two bought pizza. The husband was a bit disappointed he didn’t try real German food but we were going to try something sweet in the afternoon: chocolate!

Chocoversum is a museum about that glorious treat. I wasn’t sure what to expect but we were all excited to eat some chocolate!
The tour was greatly decreased to only 20 people and everything from standing to sitting was carefully distanced. Masks were also enforced and could only be taken off when we were sitting and sampling the chocolate.
Our group gave introductions and almost everyone was from Denmark (except one couple).
Since the tour was in English, our daughters were the only children who answered the questions the tour guide asked. Claire participated as much as possible and Avery answered that milk comes from the grocery store (along with more stories).
Our tour guide told us all about the cocoa tree and the life of the cocoa bean from seed to delicious, smooth chocolate. We looked at all the machines that are used to make the chocolate we eat. We also got to taste all these steps including the bitter cocoa bean, unsweetened chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate. By the time we were finished, the girls were tired of chocolate and didn’t want anymore (I could have had some more).
Our favorite part of the tour, was that we were able to create our own chocolate bar. Our choices were between dark or milk chocolate. We also were able to pick three different topping to put in the chocolate. The girls chose more candy and the adults went for crunch. We did it near the beginning of the tour so it was ready by the time the tour was over.

After the tour, we perused the gift shop and purchased a hefty bounty of chocolate.
We then took a long walk back to the car to see a few sights around Hamburg. I wish we had more time to see other sights but with the coronavirus and our exhausted attitudes, a walk sufficed.

We drove north and made a quick stop at the border store to grab some tax free alcohol, soft drinks and treats.
Looking back it was a decent trip. It definitely wasn’t our favorite and was a rushed trip. I am a planner and only had about a week to plan it (it usually takes me a month or so). I know there were many other unique sights we missed but we wanted to be within driving distance to Denmark if we became sick or the border was going to close again.
But it was nice to escape Denmark for just a bit and see a little more of the world.

Our road trip map: