Exploring the German and French Country Side with Teenagers: Our One Day Itinerary

Four years ago, my husband and I did a River Cruise down the Danube, starting in Nuremberg (following three days on land in Prague) and finishing in Budapest. The trip was beautiful, relaxing, and absolutely enchanting – we loved every second of it (which surprised me considering how I felt about our previous experience with cruising). So, as we started to plan this adventure we originally researched taking another River Cruise, but just couldn’t find the perfect combination of dates, lengths, and locations to satisfy our family. So instead, we decided to add a little DIY River Cruise on the Rhine for one day of our adventure, followed by one day driving from Rudesheim (the final stop on our journey) to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland with plenty of stops to explore along the way.

Here is Our One Day Itinerary for Driving through the French Countryside into Switzerland

Exploring the French Countryside with Teens

Alsace, France

Rudesheim, Germany to Mainz

Hotel Lindenwirt, RudesheimStarting our Journey at Hotel Lindenwirt, Rudesheim

We started the morning by taking the train from Rudesheim to Mainz where we’d arranged to pick up our rental car at the Mainz Hertz Rental Car office, which turned out to be trickier than expected due to unpublished train schedules on the weekends. But, after a thirty minute delay, we were off on the roads of Germany

Maginot Line Bunkers, Fort Schoenenbourg (Ouvrage Schoenenbourg)Maginot Line, Fort Schoenenbourg

Visiting the Maginot Line

With 90 minutes worth of driving under our belt we decided to stop at The Maginot Line. With a family full of war and history buffs, there was no way we were learning about underground bunkers and NOT making a stop to visit the underground bunkers and picnic in the Forrest on a self-guided tour.

This French line of defense was constructed along the country’s border with Germany during the 1930s and named after Minister of War André Maginot. It primarily extended from La Ferté to the Rhine River, though sections also stretched along the Rhine and the Italian frontier. The main fortifications on the northeast frontier included 22 large underground fortresses and 36 smaller fortresses, as well as blockhouses, bunkers and rail lines. Despite its strength and elaborate design, the line was unable to prevent an invasion by German troops who entered France via Belgium in May 1940.History Channel Online

Visiting Strasbourg France

Following our stop for the boys in the family, mom wanted a charming little village in France and so our original plan was Colmar, France. But, time had gotten away from us in the morning and during our stop at the Fortress, so we called an audible and stopped at Strasbourg instead. Which turned into the biggest EPIC FAIL of the trip.

Strasbourg, France: Cradle Of Alsatian CultureStrasbourg, France, Alsace

Where we were hoping for dinner in a charming little village, Strasbourg (unlike the stunning Instagram photos) is a major city, with a City Center screaming with tourists from every stretch of the world, which made it a little challenging to find that Belle-in-the-Village moment I was seeking.

Which provides a great moment to reflect on what NOT to do on vacation: Do not let Instagram build unrealistic vacation expectations.

Instead follow to stoic advice of Epictetus

“Whenever you are about to start on some activity, remind yourself what the activity is like, … If you go out to bathe, picture what happens at a bathhouse—the people who splash you or jostle you or talk rudely or steal your things. In this way you will be more prepared to start the activity, by telling yourself at the outset, ‘I want to bathe, and I also want to keep my will in harmony with nature.’ Make this your practice in every activity.”

We trudged our way through hordes of humanity to tour the Cathedral, past throngs of tour groups through gift shops and the river front, up and down steps of historic corridors, accidentally following the ubiquitous umbrella-led masses, then stopped for lunch at the Aux Armes de Strasbourg where we patched together a dinner of French and German fair, a little Rose of Provence for me (the non-driver), and bottles and bottles of water and buckets of ice since it was about a million degrees outside.

Overall, not what I expected or wanted – we wished we had grabbed a snack at a roadside service station and kept with our original plan of Colmar, but live and learn. I’m sure so many people LOVE the Strasbourg experience … that person wasn’t me.

Driving from France to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

  • If Strasbourg disappointed, every moment of Switzerland delighted, starting from the moment we left Strasbourg and the Bernese Alps started to appear.
  • Bernese Alps

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps

    We drove through Switzerland past lakes and peaks, across Interlaken and into Lauterbrunnen where we dropped our car at the Lauterbrunnen car park, gazed at the amazing Staubbach Falls illuminated by moonlight and spotlight, then took the 10:30 PM train straight up the mountain to the car free village of Wengen, where we stayed at the charming Hotel Falken.

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    We spent two days of cable cars, gentle mountain walks, mountainside meals, and gaping open-mouthed at the sheer beauty that is the Jungfrau Region. It was perfection!!

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Have you visited the Alps, as enchanted as we were, we can’t wait to go back? Where should we visit next?

    Additional Reading

    Into Everyone’s Life A Little Motivation Will Fall

    Six hours

    I have six hours until I need to be on a flight to the UK, followed by three days “on”, a day to fly home, two days of laundry, groceries, and prep then four days in Chicago, five days in Rome, and one week home. Then it’s on to one week in New York, a long weekend in Louisville, a few days of baseball practice, birthday parties, and laundry, a week in Dusseldorf, a week at home … two weeks in Eastern Europe. Then, finally, I’ll get a nice long six week break before I start it all up again.

    I’ll earn this year’s Gold Medallion status in just one quarter of work travel.  But, today, I just can’t seem to must two f*cks to give. 

    I love my job. I love to travel. I love to pack, and head out on a great adventure.  But sometimes, I love to sit on my bed, with a nice glass of Pinot, and watch Keeping Up With Kardashians.  And, until July – there will be no time for such luxury.

    So, right now, instead of going to get the mani-pedi I desperately need, or packing up my still empty suitcase, or tackling the laundry mountain that is threatening to swallow me whole, I am wallowing. I’m still in last night’s T-shirt, snuggled under the covers, too pre-emptively tired to even reach across the bed for the remote control, and Pinteresting packing ideas (as if that will magically fill my suitcase with clothes).

    For those who’ve never experienced it, pre-emptive exhaustion is the practice of being exhausted not by what you’ve done, but by what you’re preparing to do. I haven’t yet flown for 15 hours straight, haggled to get a trunk full of sample merchandise through customs, and then been charming and “on” for four days of double-face-kisses and global sales dominance, before washing, rinsing, and repeating in another city, another W hotel. But, I know it’s coming, and right now, just the thought of it is more than I can handle – exacerbated by the fact that following her performance review, the world’s worst assistant quit, with no notice, and an inbox full of To Do’s.

    Damn, I wish the liquor store opened before 11:30, it’s the perfect Pinot-and-Kardashians kind of morning.

    I

    One Day in Rome

    The thing which never happens, has happened! On my upcoming trip to Italy I will have 24 full, unscheduled hours – all to myself.

    No colleagues to entertain

    No meetings to attend

    No children to attend to

    Just me, my map, and an ungodly amount of Frascati

    I’ve visited Rome before, years ago, and after two weeks in Venice, Sienna, Cinque Terre, Bologna, and Florence I found it a sore disappointment: dirty, crowded, and overrun with tourists too lazy to do more than visit the big ten greatest hits.

    But, Rome is the Eternal City for a reason. With a history that spans nearly 3,000 years Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. Rome is commonly considered the birthplace of western civilization and was the capital city for the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.

    So, yeah, I get that it is important … but so is Detroit; I don’t exactly want to visit every Christmas.

    In fact, I’ve always kind of considered Rome the Italian city that tourists visit when they don’t really take their time to research the beauty that is Italy (hence the endless brigade of tourists marching nose-to-tail behind a flag wielding tour guide).

    As for my interests, want amazing ruins, visit Turino, want breathtaking chapels – Venice, and don’t forget the art, culture, and food that is Florence!

    However, I recognize that I’m sorta … well … wrong.  In 2011, Rome was the 18th-most-visited city in the world, 3rd most visited in the European Union, and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy (which is exactly the type of description that would keep me away). But, people love Rome. People eat, pray, and love their way to Rome and back year after year.

    Rome is ruination and reinvention, thriving, bustling, sleepy, and special.  There is no denying that moment when you walk around a corner and come face to face with iconic ROME – the Trevi fountain, the Vatican, Hadrian’s Arch, or any of a thousand other spectacular glimpses into the astounding history of this eternal city.

    So, I am putting on my rose colored glasses (they fit quite nicely after a catastrophically shitty trip to Bali, strep throat in Istanbul, and a July heat wave in Shanghai) and prepping for the next great adventure.

    My itinerary for one day in Rome:

    1. Skip the Caesar Shuffle and the Vatican, I’ve been there and done that. Instead I’ll start the day with a leisurely stroll and cappuccino in Trastevere.

    2. Then, I’ll continue across the Tiber to the Parthenon, a visit to the daily markets of the Campo De’ Fiori, and a stroll through the Piazza Navona .

    3. After a full day of wandering, I’ll end the afternoon with the Dolce Vita stroll (as coined by travel guru Rick Steves) starting with a glass of wine and snacks at the Piazza del Popolo then a saunter down the Via del Corso and up Via Condotti to the Spanish Steps to surround myself with smooching lovers and that feeling of being painfully alone … for just long enough to make a Skype call home to my family as they settle in to their day.

    And, hopefully, this time Rome will leave me aching to return, understanding what those nose-to-tail tour group tourists have been raving about for years.

    One Year in Review

    The LaBelleValise blog is now one year old.  This blog started as a travel log on all the places work, life, and wanderlust takes me and over the past year the adventure has been better than I hoped.

    Here are a few of the highlightswpid-20141203_115451.jpg

    Cruising? A Supposedly Fun Thing I Thought I’d Never Do Again

    So, You’re Considering a Family Cruise

    When I read the late David Foster Wallace’s essay on cruising in Harper’s, Shipping Out, On the Nearly Lethal Comforts of a Luxury Cruise, I laughed with the deep understanding that comes from having been there, and felt all of that.

    Yet, two months ago*, there I was, planning a cruise with my family of four for Christmas. Our lofty goals of a cruise through the Mediterranean were quickly tempered by the reality of traveling with two tweens through museums, UNESCO sites, and endless cathedrals.  Once reality struck it was decided that we’d start with a beginner’s cruise: a week in the Caribbean followed by a week of Disney magic (before they become too old to enjoy the Mouse).  Perhaps I should have lobotomized myself in anticipation.

    As a mother, and frequent traveler, I have learned that the secret to traveling well with Royal Caribbean Deck Six Mapunruly travelers is planning coupled with flexibility.  

    *Note that this article was originally written in 2015, since then RC has rolled out a more flexible upgraded dining package.

    My Theory of Traveling Successfully with Kids

    When it comes to travel, I firmly believe nothing of value is gained by leaving your hard-earned vacation days to the fates. That said, after months of research I selected the Royal Caribbean, Independence of the Seas six night, seven day cruise to Grand Caymen, Jamaica, and Labadee Haiti. I booked two adjoining rooms (6575 and 6577 for those who know this ship). Our trip would be followed by five days in Orlando, Florida at the Universal Cabana Bay, and a night in Fort Lauderdale at the Marriott Pompano Beach (gotta use up those points), heading home on Christmas morning.

    Dining on Royal Caribbean Cruises

    The Royal Caribbean group has decided to make understanding their dining program unnecessarily complicated and difficult, but I will not be deterred when there are bloggers who’ve come before me who’ve simplified the information that Royal Caribbean has not.

    In order to simplify things for those that follow … here’s what we found:

    The Independence of the Seas, offers a number of varied dining options:

    The Main Dining Room (Breakfast lunch and dinner, Deck 3-5) The three-deck-high dining room (called Romeo and Juliet on Deck 3, Othello on Deck 4 and King Lear on Deck 5) is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Breakfast: features eggs Benedict, pancakes, granola, and omelets as well as a daily special such as chocolate-chip pancakes, a bacon and gruyere quiche (which was quite good), or almond-crusted French toast. Seating is available for individual parties or communal seating. You can order mimosas or bloody marys with minimal hassle since the breakfast crowd is mostly at the buffet.

    Lunch Salad Bar

    Lunch: the Independence offers Brasserie 30 (the Dining Room called by another name, but still smelling the same). Lunch features a menu/made-to order salad bar combo where guests pick their toppings, and a crew member mixes it together.  The salad bar also features a light antipasti selection. The set menu features traditional lunch entrees, pastas, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts and a two course meal can be completed in 30 minutes.

    Dinner: passengers can choose between two standard dining times (6 and 8:30 p.m.) or My Time Dining, where you can make a reservation to dine at different times each day. In selecting My Time dining you give up the cruise tradition of having the same waiter and set table mates each night and can sit by yourselves at tables of two, four, or more. With My Time dining gratuities are paid up front (if you’re one of those obstinate sorts who asks to have that removed so you can tip based on service, I saw the email that goes out to the entire service crew that you’ve requested that, so BEWARE).

    The dinner menu features salads, soups, appetizers for starters, classic entrees, and desserts. Each night new entree, soup, and starter options are introduced and there are also “every night” selections including vegetarian pasta, broiled salmon, chicken breast, and a sirloin steak.

    Review of the Main Dining Room: Faux-tastic … the dining room attempts to look elegant and sophisticated, but rolling trays of detritus are stacked up just feet from where you’re dining. The constant table turnover makes the room unpleasant and loud, and the service attempts to be five star, but with weird hangups (they squirt the ketchup for your fries for you rather than leaving the bottle or bringing a small ramekin of ketchup.  Why can’t I just have the damn ketchup bottle!?!)

    Ordering a glass of wine (or God forbid, a cocktail) is an ordeal that requires a separate server, your SeaPass card*, and a hassle that becomes downright obnoxious by night four. Why do they make it such a hassle considering the servers are the same, they know your name and room number, and they’ve already seen your SeaPass card and therefor drink package half a dozen times by then! The food is fine, occasionally good, and I might have even had something that was great at least once. The dress code is weird; on formal night we were wedged between octogenarians in their tuxedos and ball gowns and a Danny DeVito look-alike in a T-shirt and shorts.

    Independence of the Seas Windjammer Buffet

    The Windjammer Café (open for breakfast lunch and dinner, Deck 11) is a traditional buffet that will ignite all of your “ick” sensors – think Food Court without the filter of price or quality.  People belly up to the bland servings of fake mashed potatoes, undercooked pancakes, and overcooked bacon and create Jenga-like towers of food that no human should ever consume.

    I know that it is paid for in advance and therefore people want to “get their money’s worth”, but why does that have to happen all on one plate?  They aren’t kicking people out.  Fill your plate to a reasonable level, take a breath between bites, grease up your hips so that you can get in and out of your chair, and repeat.  No need to strain your wrist trying to wrangle that platter of bland, lukewarm fried chicken stacked over a cheeseburger, with a saddlebag of tater tots back to the table.

    Jade: The buffet also has a section called “Jade” which cruise advertising attempts to feature as a separate restaurant, but it isn’t.  Jade is a row of about 12 “Asianish” options that represent Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Indian fare all grouped together. It is also rumored that Jade offers a special “Sushi night” on some ships, but I never saw or heard of this and the buffet is so gross, dirty, and crowded that I wouldn’t be eating any cruiseship-sushi anyway.

    Windjammer Review: Ick, Yuck, and a pile of muck.  We ate here twice (lunch once and breakfast on the final day) because my kids wanted to gorge on cookies. I had bad coffee, a bowl of cold/bland miso soup, and salad. I didn’t want to go anywhere near the food, or the people throwing elbows to get to the food any more often than I had to.

    Sorrento’s Pizza (Deck 5, on the Promenade) – Pizza by the slice, tirimisu, beers, and a daily sandwich/calzone option.  The pizza wasn’t bad, there were plenty of tables, and the lines were minimal.  Most afternoons we’d meander down to Sorrentos and graze on a slice. We did have a moment of awkward when my son ordered a tirimisu and the attendant got mad at him for trying to order liquor underage … so there’s that (I guess they soak the lady fingers in rum instead of rum flavoring).

    Café Promenade (Deck 5, on the Promenade) – Sandwiches, cookies, pastries, specialty blended coffee drinks, and free drip coffee was served here all day.  The options weren’t bad, the line was never too long, and they make some “adult” coffee beverages that were quite good.  We enjoyed afternoon tea here most days.

    Room service – available for free until midnight, the room service menu was somewhat limited (burgers, sandwiches, and pizza) but the kids enjoyed ordering cookies and hot chocolate every night, and a couple times I ordered nachos and a cheese plate while we prepared for dinner, because, hey – it’s all you can eat, and I paid for it.

    Options for an Additional Charge:

    • Chops Grille Steakhouse – (6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. $25 surcharge, Deck 11) with a $35 per person charge. This was our best meal of the evening and is comparable to the quality we’d get at a steakhouse at home.  We booked before we left and ended up getting a discount on our drinks packages.
    • Giovanni’s Table Italian Restaurant – (6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. $25 surcharge, Deck 11) – We never ate here, something about it just seemed too similar to The Windjammer for my taste (though that may have just been weird personal interpretations, not based on actual fact). The menu includes: focaccia della casa –- a flat bread with potatoes, marinated artichokes, olives and pesto, and oven baked, almond crusted scallops with red bell pepper,
    • Johnny Rockets (Deck 12) – I found it annoying that we had to pay $5 per person to eat here, plus another $5 to order a shake – it should be either/or.  The food was fine, the ambiance was fine, but I left annoyed about the additional charge for shakes.
    • Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream – this place was a graveyard, the lights were never on, and it never appeared to be open.  Maybe it was, but I couldn’t tell.
    • The Cupcake Cupboard – (Arrival day 2:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., sea days from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 pm, surcharges from $1.50 – $15.00, Deck 5) The Cupcake Cupboard is located on the promenade and offers gourmet cupcakes at $2.75, minis at $1.50, cake pops for $1.50 and giant birthday cakes at $24.95. The shop offers design classes priced at $22 for adults (11 years-up) and $15 for children (five years-10 years) with a maximum of 10 people students per class. It was cute, but we preferred the free treats at the Cafe.
    • Sprinkles Ice Cream Station: (Pool deck, with a line 15 deep at any given time, open from 11:00 – 6:00 daily) The ultimate in gross (see below for the image of the slop trough set below the machine, which slowly fills up throughout the day and attracts every manner of gross).

    Highlights and low lights of the trip:

    Sources:

    1. Cruise Critic Dining Review
    2. Taste of Hawaii Royal Caribbean Review

    *SeaPass Card – the most obnoxious part of the cruise.  You receive the card when you arrive and it becomes your “credit card” throughout the trip, as well as your room key, and the card that gets you on the ship at each port.  The obnoxious thing about this card is that even if you buy the all inclusive unlimited drinks package, your card must be swiped for every drink you order, every bottle of water, and every cup of coffee – adding a few minutes of waiting to every transaction, followed by a receipt you have to sign.  Why not just give us a wristband and then use the SeaPass cards if an issue arises? Reason one out of 100 why I’ve decided I prefer the All Inclusive resort experience.

    My 30 Day Adventure: Prologue

    My 30 Day Adventure, as I’ve taken to calling it, has now ended, with an extra 10 pounds, three new passport stamps, and so many emails and unpacked bags awaiting me I wish I could start the trip again just to get away from it all!

    That said, when I think back on where I have been for the past month, and all the wonderful experiences, it was more than worth it – and I still think someone should pinch me that the universe has decided that THIS is my life.

    The past year has been an amazing whirl wind of travel, adventure, growth, love, and good fortune along with tears, loss, and stress.  Looking forward to 2015 I can’t wait to see what life has in store, but of course I’m also carrying just a bit of trepidation, as if happiness tempts fate.

    Over the next few weeks I’ll try to get caught up sharing all about my adventure, from dipping in a hidden Jacuzzi in Utah’s Red Rock deserts to mixing up my airports and getting followed by the Mafia in southern Italy. But, for now a place holder to begin sharing my adventure from …

    The Itinerary*:

    Leg 1: Four days at the Red Mountain Resort, St. George, Utah

    Plotting the German OffensiveLeg 2: Three days in Vienna (via Paris)

    Leg 3: Two days in Germany – Berlin, Hannover, Stuttgart, and Mannheim

    Leg 5: Four days in Amsterdam and Rotterdam

    Leg 6: One quick day in Dublin

    Leg 7: A Day in Milan

    Leg 8: A Day in the South of Italy – Bari

    Leg 9: An evening in the lovely Torino, Italy

    Leg 10: A quick jaunt home, four hours, a shower, and a second suitcase to begin our family’s alternate Christmas.

    Dreaming of a white Christmas!

    Dreaming of a white Christmas!

    Leg 11: Fort Lauderdale

    Leg 12: The Cruise (The Review is posted, but the late David Foster Wallace said enough in his Harper’s Magazine Article: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again)

    Leg 13: Orlando, Universal Cabana Bay Resort, Epcot Center, and Disney World

    Leg 14: Pompano Beach

    And, on the final day, Christmas morning, 2015 – Home!

    *Hotels that I particularly loved will get hyperlinked, further reviews to come.

    Kids Cruise Packing

    Plenty of websites give direction when it comes to packing that cruise carry-on, or providing extra tips for things to bring along to make your trip easier, there are even websites focused on how to sneak booze on your cruise ship. But, when it comes to packing lists for kids, the resources are limited.

    For this trip we’ll need swimsuits, beach shoes, dressy dinner clothes, casual Disney clothes, lounging clothes, shoes, socks, and just-in-case, a jacket for warm weather. So, here’s what I’ll be packing for my two boys for our two-week Christmas Cruise.

    What else am I missing?

    Kids Packing List