We returned on Saturday from Thanksgiving week in Germany.
Traveling to Europe over the holiday week has become one of John's and my favorite family traditions. This year, we brought Baby E into the fold, flying transatlantic at six months along. He made it just fine, kicking and moving throughout our family adventure. I was nervous at points leading up to the trip, thinking we might be overdoing it a bit with this type of travel during pregnancy. But the anxiety was for naught, and it was a better week treasuring it as our last one as just the two of us.
We started the week in Munich, with three full days in the Bavarian capital. As soon as we entered the airport, we knew this city was a good choice. Passport control, transportation and getting by with little German were simply easy, right from the start. We entered historical Munich, at the Marianplatz, during our first afternoon. There were hundreds of people, most holding shopping bags or mugs of Gluhwine, but it was still easy - the city center is primarily a pedestrian mall, made for these types of wanderings.
John was intent on honing his new photography skills in Germany, and he got to work right away, just outside of Frauenkirche, Munich's landmark cathedral.
Over the course of the week, he lugged around a seven-pound tripod to every major attraction. There were times he got some great 'snaps' as a result of his tripod, metering and custom white balances. There were other times when I got a little tired of all the camera modifications. Because really, they can take a lot of time.
We also went 40 minutes outside of the city to one of our must-see sight of the trip: Dachau. Dachau was the longest running concentration camp of the Nazi regime at 12 years, and today, what remains stands as a memorial to those who suffered. There are images burned into my mind from our visit: the markings on the wall where pole hangings once took place in the baths, the smaller and smaller wood bunk beds in the barracks, depicted as a timeline, the eerily lit crematorium, and the peep hole within the shower gas chambers.
I also will remember seeing people of multiple nationalities and races among the modern day fences, all there to witness history and join in the sentiment of never again. Perhaps the odder parts of the visit will also remain with us: locals of the city of Dachau using the grounds as a dog park and the surprisingly narrow and low entryway to such a massive place. To enter, John ducked through the small single gate marked "Arbeit macht frei" ("work makes one free"). It looks so intimidating in photos.
Our WWII education continued with a Third Reich Tour. Curt from Big Hat Tours gave us 3 hours on the rise of Hilter from Munich's perspective. We saw how Munich still wears the scars of the Second World War bombings as a reminder for today. We also went to the most famous beer hall in the world....yes, also part of Nazi history, like nearly everything in this area. We even ate at one of Hilter's favorite restaurants.
Taking a break from WWII history, I also scored the hardest-to-get tickets in the city days before our trip began: those to the BMW Welt Plant Tour. We saw some interesting robotics on the 2.5 hour trek, but it was honestly too long for my taste (and/or pregnant body).
At the end of our walking intensive days, we rested our weary feet at restaurants like the Hofbraeukeller, a traditional German restaurant. We learned we liked spaetzl and had to pay separately for butter for bread.
Our favorite food while in Europe is that of breakfast. We make it a daily excursion, piling up our plates with European goodies like cheeses and meats with hard rolls and chocolate croissants. And fresh oranges and grapefruit. And Bavarian bundt cake. And waffles with pots of vanilla sauce. Yum...
On Tuesday, we went south and up, high into the Bavarian Alps. We hit the jackpot of winter days to be traveling mountainside, with a fresh blanket of snow laid out for our arrival. There was a postcard in our hotel room of the grounds and it was literally a photo like this (the building at the top of the mountain is famous as The Eagle's Nest, Hilter's vacation home).
The mountains were most enjoyable from the heated outdoor pool. The indoor pool had 180-degree views of the Alps and cabanas, and we decided this might be the ideal pool setting for two fair-skinned beauties like us. We took night walks to listen to the snow fall, and we warmed up next to our fireplace.
We had no plans on Wednesday. First time ever in my adult travels for this to happen. We found ourselves hiking the Obersalzberg mountain range, on a day that was remarkably clear.
We hiked up to the Hilter museum and learned more about the Nazis. We got a peek into the mountainside bunker system within Obersalzberg, where the Nazis planned to escape. Back outside, we waited for the golden hour to hit the Alps with all its glory.
Dressing the part is important to me while traveling. I was pleased that my new winter jacket was a style that was all the rage on the streets of Munich and even happier that it provided the necessary warmth at higher altitudes. John, too, looked European in his black pants and scarf. His height added to his look, as Germany is a place where he doesn't seem out of place above six feet.
We took public transportation everywhere on this trip, one of our favorite things to do. We hopped on and off of the subway within Munich, and we made the 3-hour journey into the mountains via train. I took the time to take one of a few cat naps I squeezed in during the trip.
The Bavarian Christmas season began at the end of our stay. We got into the spirit with visits to Berchtesgaden's and Munich's Christmas markets. Berchtesgaden was quaint, with just a few stalls and a lot of evergreens lining the squares. We bought brats and an ornament.
In Munich, the Christmas market is a big deal. There are throngs of people milling the stall-covered pedestrian streets.
We made a beeline for what I considered to be the best attraction of the Christmas market: the post office. Here, you can send letters from Christmas, a small town in Austria. We dropped a holiday card to Baby E, which will come which the Christmas postmark and a special Santa stamp.
This was a really special trip for many reasons. I may not remember this as one reason why years from now, but in the short-term, Europe 2013 went up a notch because my recent near-constant stress fell away as soon as we hit the ground. I thought about S-Bahn routes instead of the nursery. I brought along a notebook but kept it in my carry on. I read books rather than browsing the internet. I was able to put everything out of my mind. I want to bottle that magic and hold it tight. For that, and so much more, I am really grateful to Germany.