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to pick up our rental car at the Mainz Hertz Rental Car office, which turned out to be trickier than expected due to unpublished train schedules on the weekends.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

    Trading Gifts for Experiences

    I can count the number of people I can tolerate for a 7+ day stretch on one hand, using one address, and the status of two members in that exclusive club is dubious at any given moment1. Add to that list the variable that is a 500 square foot hotel room and/or 250 square foot bunk aboard a floating vessle and my tolerance, even at the best of times, becomes rather questionable. But, I recognize this is my curmudgeonly deficit, and not their causing. Plus, as easily annoyed as I can be by travel companions, my work causes me to travel often enough that it is expected a few bones of “travel-perk-kick-backs” will be thrown their way, by means of a luxury vacation for four to enjoy pre-scheduled family fun, gluttonous indulgence in the finest sugars throughout the world, and room service, at all hours, by starched attendants who respond eagerly to our thank you’s with “It’s a pleasure.”

    All these elements in mind, it is decided!  Rather than a gluttony of gifts and frenetic holiday parties, our family of four will depart the cold winters of Utah this December to set out on a 16 day adventure throughout the Mediterranean, by air, sea, and rail.

    Cinque Terre

    In 2009 the DH and I took an 11 day journey through Italy – Venice to Vernazza, Rome to Bologna, and it was delightful.  We relaxed, we rushed, we learned, we vegged, and we marvelled, then we marvelled some more, then we ordered cappuccino, gellato, and “una caraffa di vino rosso della casa, per favore” and we discussed how wonderful it would be to bring our two boys back, to experience it all, together.

    But, boys grow, and schedules collide, and suddenly we found ourselves at that moment where making this trip happen could become a serious challenge unless we undertook the endeavor before baseball practice, science fairs, and “participation points” began to truly dictate our schedules.  Plus, year after year during the Christmas morning gift orgy that takes place on the floor of our living room we comment that there must be a better way to celebrate the holiday as a family, reflecting in our appreciation and abundance, rather than growing it. So, it was proposed:

    “This year, we’re taking Christmas off!  Instead of stuff, we’re going to experience the world.”

    There were grumbles, there were plaintiff whines, there were melancholic wales about new iPods, and peanut brittle, and the fragrance of pine wafting through the house (that one coming from me in a moment of self-doubt).  But, we held firm.  The best of Christmas can be found anywhere, but one more electronic gadget brought into our house might officially push our sons past the breaking point, and turn them into the weebles displayed on Wall-E.  So, we held firm – a Christmas vacation it will be.

    The destination: Italy, Greece, and Turkey
    The date: December 12 – January 28
    The details: Stay tuned

    Related Articles

    1. To Italy with Your Own Mob (Star Tribune)
    2. Burano and Torcello (Sweet Miel)
    3. Cruising with Kids (Tbird’s Travel Blog)
    4. Essential Travel Gear for Families (Kids Are a Trip)

    1. Said, of course, in the most loving way in a moment when the aforementioned members are not currently roughhousing, whining, demanding, or playing “gimme’s” at the grocery store.