Meandering in München

The last stop on our tour of Germany was Munich. We checked into our AirBnB upon arrival to ditch our bags. Of all the places we stayed, this one was decidedly our least favorite. But there were beds for everyone and it was close to the train station, so it was okay.

We started our Munich tour at the Marienplatz, of course. The clock has a Glockenspiel from 1908, which is really neat if you see it in action. The plaza is always packed with people and there are all sorts of things to see. It has been the city’s main square since 1158! Laine befriended a “statue” as we walked through the square.

She was delighted by this exchange – he was very kind when he chatted with her.

We moved on from the plaza for a bite to eat in the shadow of the Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady) with its twin onion-shaped domes. It is currently undergoing maintenance, so we were not able to climb the stairs to the top. They should offer quite a view at they are 323 feet high and the tallest places in the city center.

The glasses match the cathedral!

After our meal, we did take a brief look around the inside of the church. The interior of the church had high ceilings and lots of natural light. The organ was also pretty impressive to view from down below. The construction of this building began in 1468 and it was finished in only 20 years! That’s pretty impressive for a building of this size. The towers were almost completed in 1488 but had temporary roofing which began to leak. They were finally replaced with the onion domes in 1525. The original plans called for pointed spires, but these were a less expensive alternative. As you would expect, there was severe damage to the building during World War II. The final reconstruction from that finished in 1994.

High ceilings and beautiful arches

There is one other feature of note in the cathedral. Near the entrance to the building, there is a black foot-shaped mark in the floor. It is said to be the Devil’s footprint. If you step into the mark, you cannot see any of the side windows of the church. From 1622 until 1860, you also couldn’t see the window above the altar because there was a large wooden altar covering it. There are numerous legends on this, but the one inside the church says that the devil himself walked into the building before it was consecrated. Seeing that there were no windows, he stamped his foot in delight that the building would be ugly and useless. That is why the mark is there. He then took one step forward and saw all of the beautiful windows. In a furious rage, he created a great wind to try to blow the building down, but he did not succeed. The wind, however, continues to whip around the building even today. It is said that it will continue thus until the Devil himself comes to reclaim it.

That evening, we decided to go to the Augustiner BraüMünchen for dinner and drinks. Augustiner was established in 1328 and is Munich’s oldest independent brewery. More importantly for us, however, the playground was terrific! The kids got to climb all over the wooden structures and slides. They also made a few new friends with other American kids playing, as well. We introduced the kids to apfelschorle – apple juice mixed with mineral water. The Americans at the next table stopped by to ask about the kids’ “beers.”

Tasty, refreshing, and NOT BEER!!!

We had a great dinner, but the kids favorite part of the meal was definitely the ginormous pretzels. Isaac is eager to return to Munich next month for another one…

When your food is bigger than your head…

We stayed out a *tiny* bit too late that night. We decided that our second day in Munich needed to be a bit tame so we could recover from our whirlwind trip. Enter: the bus tours. We took 2 of them in one day and they were just the ticket. Our first stop was Nymphenburg Palace. It was the main summer residence of the former rulers of Bavaria (southern Germany) and the House of Wittelsbach. I recommend you look at the photos in the link to get a feel for the scale of the grounds.

The palace behind us – that golden lamp in the background is about 3x the size of my head. Everything here is done on a palatial scale.

We walked the grounds for a while and peered in through the windows, but we didn’t do a full tour. The grounds were beautiful and there were people everywhere at work. It made me curious about the number of employees they must have on staff.

View of the back of the palace – you can see a gondola on the water, a fountain about halfway back to the palace, and a few of the statues that line the walkway.

Once we finished our bus tours, we decided to head to one of the other most famous places in Munich: Hofbräuhaus. One of the things I find fascinating about German beers is their adherence to the Bavarian beer purity law. The law was enacted in Munich in 1487. It was then expanded to all of Bavaria in 1516 and still stands today. The original law allowed for only water, barley, and hops. The basic law now declares that only malted grains, hops, water and yeast are permitted.

The world’s most famous tavern

In addition to serving great beers, Hofbräuhaus also offers an interesting look at Munich’s history. It has served many famous people throughout the years, including Mozart (who supposedly wrote an opera after his visit) and Vladimir Lenin (just before World War I he lived in Munich). It was also the first meeting place of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists in February 1920. You can actually still see the swastikas on the ceiling if you look closely at the Bavarian flags.

Ceiling art

Some members of our group were definitely not ready for a history lesson. She got in a nice nap before fortifying herself with an apfelschorle and a large pretzel.

A safe place to land between mom and dad.

The next day, we said goodbye to Todd’s parents at the airport. It was so wonderful to get to share this trip with them! We flew back to Brussels as they flew home to Maryland.

Until next time, Munich!

Enjoying Erlangen

After a filling breakfast in Cologne, we were back on the train and headed to Erlangen. We stopped for a bite to eat in Nuremberg, where the kids were literally climbing the walls. All in all, they were amazing travelers, so it was good to let them burn off some steam.

“Have fun storming the castle!”

The architecture in Nuremberg is fantastic, particularly near the train station. There were a few of these narrow, pedestrian streets and they were charming.

Quaint streets in Nuremberg

From Nuremberg, we were off aboard a train to Erlangen, which was our planned stop for the night. The ride to Erlangen was much livelier than any of our previous trips. We were joined by a boisterous crowd clad in lederhosen and dirndls who were headed to Erlangen’s beer festival.

After arriving in Erlangen, we hired two cabs to transport us and all of our gear to an AirBnB. The kids and I were in a Mercedes cab, which allowed them to pop the seats up for the kids to make built-in booster seats. Very cool!

The apartment was bright and spacious and even had chocolates waiting for us. (Chocolate is definitely a great way to make a first impression). We had room to spread out and rest for a bit before walking to the local beer festival. The walk through Erlangen was peaceful, especially since we had no idea where we were going. We walked down a couple of major roads before walking through a park and along a small path between open fields on one side and woods on the other. The fields ended about a block from the entrance to the festival, which made for a beautiful setting.

The beer festival was exactly what I hoped a German beer festival would be. There were displays of enormous heart-shaped cookies for sale, carnival rides for the kids and adults, and very large steins of beer.

The hearts at the top are all cookies! “Ich liebe dich” means “I love you.”

The beer set-up was also clever. When you buy a stein of beer, they charge you a 5€ deposit. That way, if you walk away with a souvenir beer mug, they can buy a replacement. We took home a couple of souvenir mugs, so we liked that system a lot.

4 of the 6 Walters had a couple of drinks and all of us had a great dinner.

There weren’t many people at the fair. It began to rain lightly as we arrived at the festival. It caused the crowds to thin as evening rolled in. We were grateful to find seats under a tent before the rain got thicker! It rained on and off throughout the evening, but there were enough places for us to shelter that we didn’t mind it. The kids had a chance to ride on several of the carnival rides, which kept them from being bored as the grown-ups hung out and chatted.

There was a live band playing in one of the other tent/open areas. They were great! They played several songs we’d never heard, but they also played covers of a few songs we recognized, so we could sing along. Most of the crowds were singing and dancing near them, which added to the party atmosphere.

Our final stop at the beer festival was the crepe stand. Isaac & Laine enjoyed Nutella crepes. I had Nutella and some Grand Marnier in mine. Yum!

Nutella and Grand Marnier: a winning combination

We walked back to our apartment for a good night’s rest before riding the train to our final stop in Germany: Munich.

Kolossal Köln

Stepping from the train station in Cologne (Köln) is a breathtaking experience. We walked out just below the largest cathedral I’ve ever seen. It was so large I took a video. I couldn’t take a photo that would capture the entire building. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring.

We checked in to our hotel and then grabbed a quick snack at a Bavarian style restaurant. We were *thrilled* to learn our hotel had air conditioning in the rooms! I definitely miss that luxury.

Pretzels and beer – pretending we were in Bavaria

Once we’d filled our bellies a bit, it was time to explore the cathedral. Previously, a 4th century, and later a 6th century, church stood here. The foundation for this building was laid in 1248, but then it took 600 years to complete the rest of it. The existing building was damaged in World War II, but did not collapse. It has been under constant maintenance since the 1950s. Given the many intricate details in the facade, it’s not hard to understand why. The towers at the front are 515 feet tall – the tallest in Germany. They’re tall enough that the scaffolding attached to them doesn’t even come all the way down to the ground.

A side view of the cathedral – the darker areas have been damaged by the sulfuric acid in rain

The cathedral is supposed to attract about 20,000 visitors every day. That’s 6 million people per year! There were hundreds there at the same time we were. Only a few joined the service taking place, though. Listening to the singing during the service was delightful. The Gothic arches lead to incredible acoustics! And the stained glass windows make everything inside glow with beautiful colors.

Very tall, very lovely windows

All around the exterior of the cathedral, there were street artists creating amazing pictures with chalk. This one was my favorite because of a book club party the kids and I attended earlier this year in Austin.

A lovely copy of Girl With A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

As we left, the kids walked down a reconstructed Roman road toward the river, the park, and dinner. The stones are original, but the road itself has been remade.

Roman road stones!

We walked down to the Rhine River to watch some of the boats cruising. From there, we walked toward our hotel and found some outdoor seating for a nice dinner. We retired to our rooms (and air conditioning!) for the night. The next day, we were up for a quick breakfast and then off to Nuremberg and Erlangen.

Amazing Aachen

On our 10th anniversary, Todd and I wrote a “living” list on our dry erase board. The list comprises things we wanted to do within the next 10 years of marriage. We’ve made some progress on it, but there are sill lots of things left. One of our checklist items was to visit Germany with Todd’s parents. Well, friends, we checked that item off our list in grand style.

We started our tour of Germany in Aachen. This city was home to Charlemagne and his stamp is literally all over it. There are little brass plaques with his symbol on the streets and sidewalks as well as many of the buildings.

We rode the train from Leuven to Aachen on a Sunday. Upon leaving the Hoptbaunhof (train station) in Aachen, the kids were excited to greet the horses out front.

This horse, in particular, was happy to greet them back.

We walked through town to the historic area and settled down for lunch outside. The weather was perfect and it was fun to share Dave & Judy’s first German beer with them.

Little Miss was too excited about taking the photo to notice her finger was in it. 🙂

Aachen has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever entered. Charlemagne commissioned the cathedral and construction of the original church completed around the year 800. Charlemagne was buried there after his death in 814. The church building has grown significantly since then. It was the church of coronation for 31 German kings and 12 queens!

The Barbarossa Chandelier holds 48 candles.

Aachen was an “Episcopal seat” from 1802-1825. The church is now Catholic, however. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is an important church for pilgrimages. The church houses several significant relics: “the apparel of the Virgin Mary, the so-called swaddling clothes and the loincloth of Christ, and the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist.” (notes from the leaflet at the church)

The impressive ceiling above the chandelier

All of the architecture in the church is impressive. The architectural style covers 3 different distinct eras with some interesting juxtapositions. There is gold on most ceilings. There are mosaics, marble paneling, and marble floors throughout. The stained glass windows were all replaced in 1951 after the previous windows were destroyed during World War II.

The stained glass windows here are behind the altar.

Despite all of the pomp and circumstance, I felt very peaceful inside the church. I honestly think the scent of church incense has that impact on me. Funny, considering how many people think it stinks!

View of the cathedral from the town hall

After our tour of the church, we walked across the square to the town hall. This was also a key location thanks to Charlemagne. Fun fact, this building is called the Rathaus (rat house). The existing building stands on top of the remains of the buildings before it. Construction of this building began in 1330, but it has undergone many changes due to damage from civil unrest and later World War II.

Aachen’s town hall building

The Rathaus tour offers a great deal of information about the destruction of Germany during World War II. It’s fascinating to see it from the German side. There is one room where you can listen via telephone to various speakers. Each person talks from a different perspective about events during the war or the restoration afterwards.

As we wrapped up our walking tour, we said goodbye to the horses and caught the train to Cologne.

Bye, “Sunshine!”

Learning More About Leuven

From London, we rode the trains to Leuven. It was tremendous fun to introduce the grandparents to our temporary home.

Train-traveling troupers…

Laine took her grandparents on a bit of a tour of Leuven on Friday. Isaac was incredibly sick that day, so he and I stayed home while they explored. One bonus from their trip was their discovery of Leuven’s Friday market. It is a HUGE open market open on Friday mornings and the kids and I have gone every Friday since we learned about it. It’s pretty easy when it’s only a block from our apartment!

Saturday we walked through Sint-Pieteskerk. Construction of the church in its current form began around 1425. As in most of Europe, the church was severely damaged during World Wars I and II. It took decades to rebuild the church to the current building. Inside the church, the area behind the altar is still under construction. It should open in September, so we will visit again then. I would like to attend a service there sometime, but it will be in Flemish, so I won’t be able to understand much of it.

The scale of this church, particularly when I realize I live only a block away, is astonishing to me. We saw larger cathedrals in Germany, but this was still amazing. The Baroque pulpit there includes a life-sized portrayal of Norbert of Xanten falling from a horse. I should have had one of us stand next to it so you’d have a better feel for the scale of it.

I cannot imagine hearing a sermon from this pulpit. How intimidating!!!
The pillars in this church are huge!

Naturally, we introduced Dave and Judy to some of our favorite Belgian beers. We also visited the waffle/ice cream shop at least twice during their 3 days in Belgium. They were a hit!

Waffles from Pinocchio are the very best!

London Fun

Todd’s parents came to visit us on their first trip to Europe! They flew to London Heathrow and landed on a Tuesday morning. We rode the EuroStar up to England and caught the Underground to meet them at Paddington Station.

Reunited at last, we grabbed lunch and a few pints of cask ale in Westminster. We all opted for traditional English fare and some of us even ate our (not mushy) peas!


We stayed at a terrific AirBnB in Whitechapel, London. They even had shampoo and laundry detergent for us; which I’ve learned I shouldn’t take for granted. We also found this gem of a toilet in one of the bathrooms.

Todd and I immediately wished this were in our tiniest bathroom back in Leuven. Such an efficient use of space!

Once we finished settling in, we climbed on a local double-decker bus to see a few sights on our way to dinner. The kids, young and old, felt excited about riding in the front seat with such a great view!

Grandparents and grandkids in the front seats

We spotted an interesting building as we rode through Whitechapel. It turned out to be attached to a park. The St. John-at-Hackney Churchyard Gardens had a small playground and fascinating history. The kids enjoyed the playground. The adults discussed the history. The short version is this: the garden used to be a cemetery. When they ran out of space, they dug up the graves and moved the headstones to lean against the church walls. There’s no explanation on where the previously-buried people went.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Day 1 drew to a close after a delicious dinner at The White Hart Brew Pub. We walked back to our apartment and headed for bed.

Todd, the kids, and I found a great breakfast spot the next morning. Todd and I ordered the largest breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever seen. Laine ate about a quarter of Todd’s sandwich and they still didn’t finish the whole thing!

We stopped at the apartment to pick up the grandparents and we were off to find more adventures! We walked along the Thames and discussed the history of the Tower of London.

I was elated to share one of my Top 2 favorite cities in the world with her.

We opted for a boat tour so we could learn more of the city’s history and not wear out either the kids or the grandparents. First “stop:” Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London. If you entered through this gate, there was only one way out and you were leaving soon.

Though now sealed, Traitor’s Gate still makes my blood run a bit cold.

The boat cruise lasted about an hour and was superb. Our guide used just enough humor to keep things light (“the Tate Modern is free because no one would pay to see modern art”) and enough history to keep us marveling.

We spent the afternoon at the Science Museum. It was one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Todd, the kids, and I spent most of the afternoon in the WonderLab. The kids could touch and experiment with a wide variety of displays. The “Explainers” were engaging. There were at least a dozen programs during the time we were there. The programs covered a lot of different areas: states of matter (gas, liquid, solid); outer space; electricity… Our kids attended some of them. I went to nearly every class like the big ol’ science geek I am.

Dry ice evaporating: Isaac spent a long time here

There were so many activities for the kids to try. There were dry ice demos and a model of the sun/Earth/moon large enough to ride along in orbit. There was a spinner to stand on and experiment with centripetal force. There were chairs on pulleys to pull yourself up. There were far too many experiments to list them all.

Fire! He soaked the paper in a mixture of water and alcohol. The result was that the alcohol burned, but the paper was not consumed. Very cool!!!

Both kids loved the friction slides: one made of Astroturf, one of PVC, and the last one of wood. Adults weren’t even allowed on the last one because it would be too fast. Coming down the PVC sliding board felt like flying!

The “grass” slide was the slowest, but it was lots of fun!

The following morning, we had a hearty breakfast at the same restaurant. The we boarded the Eurostar to Belgium. The adventures continued!

Lovely Luxembourg

Friday, we embarked on a day trip to Luxembourg City. This means we have now been to all the countries where German is a major national language. Germany, Austria, and Lichtenstein use German as their primary language. It is a co-official language in Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Luxembourg’s official languages are French, German, and Luxembourgish. Additionally, our kids have a geography CD with songs about the countries of the world. The only one of the “Western Europe” countries we haven’t visited is Monaco. We will try to do that, as well.

The views in Luxembourg are magnificent. The hillside runs right through the city, so there are highs and lows throughout. We parked at the top of the hill before making our way down into the “old city” in the valley. The modern areas are on top of the hill.

The sign on the red bridge says Luxembourg

I found the Casemates du Bock to be the most noteworthy thing. The casemates are underground tunnels – except the “ground” is the top of a hill. It is similar to a bunker, but with a better ability to defend the position. Work on the tunnels began in 1644. The casemates were then used to defend the city. In 1867, they were enlarged and could house 50 cannons and 1,200 soldiers. I imagine the cannon fire and volume of people talking in the stone tunnels led to severe hearing damage.

A view of the casemates from the valley below

In the late 1700s, An 82-year-old, Habsburg Marshal von Bender lived in the casemates for 8 months. He led his Austrian troops to defend against the French attacks.

Isaac tried to fire each cannon we found. An American gentleman walked past one on his way to look out at the view. He told Isaac “I’m innocent! Don’t shoot!” which made Isaac’s day.

The well for the castle (which used to be above the casemates) is 47 meters deep. A mermaid named Melusina is rumored to visit there. Laine saw her, but the rest of us were less fortunate. “According to legend, Melusina was the wife of Sigfried, 1st count of Luxembourg, living in his castle on the rocky Bock promontory.” She told him that one night per week, she needed absolute privacy. Then one day, she caught him spying on her in the bathtub. He saw her fish’s tail. Melusina then vanished into the Alzette river.

Lovely bridge built in 1735. It is part of the casements. There are escape routes above, through, and under this particular bridge. We walked all 3 levels.

Luxembourg’s architecture is less intricate than Belgium’s. Many of the buildings are similar in age, though. One of the many things I’ve relished living in Europe is the tunnels over walkways.

Construction all around, but this building was interesting to me

Luxembourg City offers an abundance of green space in the older areas of town. There’s a wonderful park along the canal and we stopped there for a rest.

The city’s Notre Dame peeks above the pedestrian bridge

An idea unique to Luxembourg is “My Urban Piano.” I saw 3 of them, though I didn’t understand the first one. It sits under a canopy in a small open grassy area above the casemates. Seeing the second allowed me to understand they the first one was there. The second one resides in an indoor courtyard. The third is near the Info desk in one of the town squares. There are 22 pianos in all.

Luxembourg has an unusual motto, which translates into English as “We will stay what we are.” The gist of this is “we’re happy this way. Leave us alone.” Historically, Belgium, France, and Germany have tried to control the country and Luxembourg would prefer they did not.

After an enjoyable day exploring a new country, we headed back to Belgium. As we left, we took one of the elevators up from the bottom of the valley to the top of the hill to save ourselves a bit of hiking. The kids thought this was a brilliant plan after a day of walking. And Laine got to push the button inside the elevator, so all ends well.