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By this Author: zzlangerhans

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Back to Zürich and conclusion


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After five weeks on the road we were finally on the verge of closing the ambitious circle that had once only existed in our imagination. Our route back to Zürich took us through a sparsely populated, bucolic area of northeastern Switzerland where foothills of the Alps were always present on every side of the road.
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I had no plans for Zürich aside from organizing our belongings prior to the flight back to Miami, so there was no reason to get to the Airbnb before dinner. That left us time for one final stop and the obvious choice was Rapperswil, the only other town on the Zürichsee with a preserved old town. We parked near the ferry terminal where we were surprised to find an enormous Ferris wheel that seemed out of place in such a small town. From there we walked along the Bühlerallee, a gravel promenade lined by plane trees that extended around a triangular peninsula. Above us was the medieval Rapperswil castle although we couldn't see it very well from the lake shore.
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We walked around the small medieval center but there was little to distinguish it from countless other old towns we'd visited in Switzerland and Germany. The most unique feature of the town was on the other side of the large train station which was dominated by a rather sterile university campus. From the shoreline a wooden pedestrian walkway crossed over the Zürichsee to a peninsula projecting from the southern shore of the lake. We walked about halfway across and the sensation of standing in the middle of the lake was blissful.
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From Rapperswil we chose to take the slower route along the lakeshore instead of the highway. We passed an endless series of lakefront activity areas that were still quite busy on a late Sunday afternoon in July. It seemed that the locals took full advantage of their proximity to the water. Soon enough we were at the outskirts of Zürich, approaching from the eastern side which we hadn't explored on our initial visit. It wasn't until we reached the Quaibrücke that crossed the mouth of the Limmat that I experienced the thrill of recognition and the realization that we had finally come full circle. The bridge and its surroundings were unsurprisingly even more crowded than they had been at the beginning of June. We might have left on a five week road trip but Zürich had continued on without us, just like every other place we had passed through in our years of travels. Our destination for the final night of the journey was the northern suburb of Oerlikon, whose Saturday market we had visited soon after arriving in Europe. I had no intention of going back to Zürich's old town that evening and it would be an easy drive from Oerlikon to the airport the next day. Thanks to our stop in Rapperswil we didn't get into the commercial center of Oerlikon until almost nine and found that the Thai restaurant we were interested in had already closed its kitchen. For the next half hour we walked around the empty streets of the center to be turned away by a succession of restaurants until we finally found a Mexican place that was open. The prices were staggering for typical western interpretations of Mexican food like burritos and fajitas but we had no choice. It was only after we were seated that I realized it was the same plaza that the market had taken place in, almost unrecognizable at night and without all the stalls. The food was decent enough considering it was the most expensive Mexican meal we'd ever eaten in our lives.
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On our last day we had just enough time to stop off at a cafe in the center for a quick breakfast before proceeding onward to the airport. At the rental car return we pulled into a empty space between two other cars and unloaded all the bags. When I saw the agent circling the car I kicked myself for leaving plenty of space on the right side. Surely enough she spotted the tiny dent and gasped in dismay, looking at me as though I had totaled her own personal car that she had lent me. At this point I didn't care, figuring that if they charged me something outrageous I would just dispute it with my credit card company. We already had our own photographs in which the dent was hardly visible. I signed the forms she proffered to me and we went on our way to the terminal. Once we passed security I was pleased to see a Mövenpick restaurant. I hadn't eaten in one since I lived in Boston twenty years previously and I didn't even know they still existed. Like everything else in Switzerland it was expensive but it was impossible to resist the beautiful display of freshly-cooked food. Even Mei Ling was impressed by their version of Asian cuisine.
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Our flight took off without a hitch and we were treated to one last view of the idyllic Swiss landscape from our airplane window. In nine hours we would be back in Miami and our forty days in Europe would soon feel like a dream. For just a little while longer I could dwell on the satisfaction of having achieved everything we had planned so carefully, before once again I would have to devote my full attention to the demands of our regular lives at home.
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I find myself completing this blog a full nine months after our return home. I began right away and didn't take any long breaks from writing, except for our winter and spring vacations. Each time I begin a blog I resolve to make it more detailed and descriptive than the last, which means I do a lot of extra research after we come home. In many cases I learn a lot of things about places we visited that I was oblivious to at the time and would have been quite useful to know. It's a reminder that I need to begin my preparatory research earlier and make more extensive notes so that I can use the knowledge during the trip, not just when I'm writing about it afterwards. I see that I've completed thirty-nine blog entries for thirty-nine days of travel, each one with maps, extensive text, and about thirty photographs. My writing isn't as good as the professionals for sure. Whenever I read my Lonely Planet I'm shocked by how knowledgeable the writers are and how authoritatively and evocatively they describe the territories they cover. I doubt I'll ever reach that level of proficiency but since my target audience is my children once they've grown and become more curious about the details of their childhood it probably doesn't matter.

I used to make top ten lists of experiences and meals but I've grown a little tired of that. It's somewhat arbitrary to assign a ranking to sights and cities that are so disparate and most of the time the restaurants we eat at aren't exceptional. Some of the biggest upside surprises from this trip were Zürich, Grenoble, and Brussels. Some places that didn't quite match expectations but were still worthwhile and interesting were Lyon, Luxembourg City, and Köln. I can't say there were any truly bad experiences or places I wish I'd left out of the itinerary completely. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I felt we had accomplished all the goals we had set for ourselves.

It's difficult to compare or rank our European road trips as well. This was our sixth that was at least three weeks long and we've had a couple that were shorter. Mei Ling and I are agreed that we enjoy the Latin countries the most but we would rather experience new places than return over and over again to well-trodden paths. The Netherlands and Germany don't evoke the same bliss in our souls as France and Italy, but I still feel a great sense of contentment over having explored those countries and now having a much greater understanding of their history and culture. My personal goal is to visit every great city of Europe and hopefully every country at some point, with the possible exceptions of Belarus and Moldova. Our next long European itinerary will take us through Lombardy, Tuscany, Corsica, and Sardinia in the summer of 2024 which will take care of the majority of Italian territory that is still unexplored. After that we still have the Balkans, the Baltics, northwestern and central France, and the British Isles remaining as major European journeys. By the time those are completed on an every other year basis even our youngest son Spenser will be on the threshold of college and we'll be back to traveling on our own for the most part.

Now that I've completed this blog I need to focus on research and preparation for the upcoming summer trip which is mostly dedicated to China but will also include a two week stop in Istanbul and northwestern Turkiye. My goal for Turkiye is to know as much as possible about every city and every historical sight before our visit rather than learning about them after we return home. When I get tired of doing research I might try writing the blogs I haven't even started for the three shorter trips we've taken since getting back from Switzerland: Tennessee, Québec, and Costa Rica.

Posted by zzlangerhans 05:47 Archived in Switzerland Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog rapperswil tony_friedman family_travel_blog Comments (2)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Liechtenstein


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With our arrival in Liechtenstein we had now visited all the miniature countries of Europe. Until this trip I had never troubled to question how these tiny nations had managed to escape being absorbed into their larger and more powerful neighbors in the same manner as so many other kingdoms and principalities. Now that we had traversed most of the territory of Western Europe I was becoming more curious about the history and character of the disparate countries that created that familiar patchwork on the map. I had already learned enormous amounts about Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands on this journey but Liechtenstein was a place that I knew next to nothing about. We only had one day to learn but it only takes twenty minutes to drive from one end of Liechtenstein to the other longitudinally. Interestingly there's no way to drive across the country from west to east. The entire eastern side of the Liechtenstein is mountainous and generally uninhabited except for a ski resort called Malbun. The vast majority of the country's thirty eight thousand inhabitants live in a chain of towns along the western edge connected by Liechtenstein's only highway.
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Our first challenge was finding breakfast on a Sunday morning. We drove into the center of Vaduz, the capital city, and found it eerily quiet and empty. Parallel to the main road there was a pedestrian street but there was no sign of life at the few cafes we encountered. Just as things were looking hopeless we found a bakery delicatessen that was open and seemed to be the go-to place in the capital for an early breakfast.
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There was nothing in Vaduz that offered any clues as to why Liechtenstein was able to maintain its independence through centuries of turmoil in central Europe. My best understanding is that while many independent states of the former German Confederation were swallowed up by the Kingdom of Prussia in the mid eighteenth century, Liechtenstein was geographically separated from that aggressive entity by Prussia's enemy Austria. Austria never had a particular reason to covet Liechtenstein's territory and the country's only other neighbor, Switzerland, was historically separated from them by the boundary of the Rhine. Subsequent to the world wars which nearly bankrupted the country Liechtenstein entered into a financial and diplomatic union with Switzerland. I was surprised to discover that the national currency is the Swiss franc rather than the Euro. Liechtenstein is also one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita, thanks to a policy of allowing foreign individuals and corporations to take advantage of low tax rates by domiciling there. The country has been accused of facilitating money laundering as well. There was no question that Vaduz was a wealthy city, although it was a sterile wealth with modern concrete buildings and little to show for its eight hundred year history. The twenty year old art museum with a minimalist design boasts a large Botero sculpture along its side.
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The only structure in sight that didn't appear modern was the castle sitting atop a cliff looking over the town. Vaduz Castle has been the residence of the royal family of Liechtenstein since the twelfth century and as such is closed to the public except on the country's national day. We decided to drive up the steep road to the cliff anyway but the small parking lot above the castle was full. Instead we pulled over at the entrance to a side road for some quick pictures of the narrow valley below us. The main town of Vaduz was blocked by the hillside but we could see the thin blue ribbon of the Rhine and beyond it a formidable range of the Appenzell Alps in Switzerland.
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Liechtenstein is quite scenic but has very few historic sights. We followed the two lane road through the hills above Vaduz for a while until we had the opportunity to take a winding route back down to the valley. In just another ten minutes we had reached the small town of Balzers near the southern border with Switzerland. It was quite easy to spot Burg Gutenberg, the only other intact castle in Liechtenstein, atop a tall hill that was terraced with vineyards. Unlike Vaduz Castle, Gutenberg is a public building owned by the principality although it didn't seem that the interior was generally open for visitation. We parked at the base of the hill and took the steep walk up to the castle. Close to the top we encountered an open area with an amazing view of the storybook town and the surrounding mountains. There was an odd metal sculpture in the shape of a square with rounded edges that was large enough for our whole family to stand inside.
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The castle was quite beautiful with a pleasant green bailey that afforded far-reaching views over the valley. Although the site dates back to the twelfth century, the existing structure is largely the result of an early twentieth century reconstruction. As we expected the building itself was closed and there was no sign of any staff. We were still able to access the inner courtyard which was beautifully landscaped.
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The view of the greenery from the castle as so tempting that we came down the opposite side of the hill through the vineyards. From the bottom we had one of the best views of the castle and there was also a small playground with a long slide that the kids loved. As we arrived back at the car another family had just parked. The father asked me in slightly accented English if it was worthwhile walking all the way up to the castle if it wasn't open. I told him it was definitely worth the walk and told him about the playground as well since he had two young kids. I was curious about his accent and asked him where he was from and he told me Sweden. naturally I guessed Stockholm and he told me they were from a city on the other side the country called Gothenburg, obviously expecting I wouldn't have heard of it. Of course we knew the city well and I was able to surprise him by quickly rattling off a few of the highlights of our visit.
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We could have fit in an early lunch at this point and I found a promising lead for a restaurant. Strangely enough the road was completely blocked by construction a short distance away from the restaurant and the only other way to drive would have required driving completely around the town. Instead I parked the car and walked the remaining distance. The restaurant was open but the prices were so eye-wateringly high for the typical food we had been eating all through Germany that I couldn't justify eating there. My walk did take me past some amazingly landscaped homes and a field which had a great perspective on Burg Gutenberg. There was an old town church with a stone belltower in the foreground and tall, jagged mountains in the background on either side of the castle. It is one of my favorite photographs from Liechtenstein.
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Before we left Liechtenstein I had the opportunity to make up for the ropes course they had missed in Amsterdam because of my poor planning. The Seilpark im Forst was about halfway between Balzers and Vaduz, just off the main road. I had quite a bit of difficulty finding the place as it was set back a good distance from the road without any signs indicating its location. Eventually we located the right spot and fortunately it was open with space available for the kids. They had separate courses for small children and adults but Mei Ling and I didn't have much interest in doing the activity ourselves. The kids' course was actually quie challenging and required them to be kitted with helmets and harnesses. The obstacles were quite tricky as well and I was proud of how well the kids were able to negotiate even the toughest segments. I made a mental note to do some research on these kind of activities if we took a trip within the United States at the end of the summer.
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Cleo was just tall enough to qualify for the bigger course so we went over with the staff member to take a look. This was a much more serious endeavor with platforms set high in the trees and very scary looking pathways between them. Cleo wanted to try it but between our time limitations and my anxieties about her safety I prevailed on her to wait until we could find a course back in the States.
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Having passed up the restaurant in Balzers we were in dire need of lunch after the ropes course. We headed back to the pedestrian street in Vaduz which appeared to have the only restaurant in Liechtenstein that was open at three in the afternoon on a Sunday. We were the only customers at the pan-Asian restaurant and the kids got a lot of attention from the staff.
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Outside we noticed that much of the street had been covered with a blue carpet, possibly to simulate a river. In one area there were air mattresses under the carpet forming mini trampolines and in another a giant foosball table had been built. There were no players attached to the bars but there were straps that could accommodate an adult. It seemed like someone was intending to stage a human foosball game at some point but we had no idea when that would take place. We found a ball and played a rather frightening game of soccer where we would have to remember to duck under the bars when we got close to them. A local kid joined us so that the teams would be even.
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I picked a route out of Liechtenstein that would take us through a couple of other small towns in the northern part of the country. I knew about Nendeln as the location of the famed Schädler ceramics workshop but there was no point stopping by there on a Saturday. Instead we decided to drive up into the hills around the town just to see how far we could get. The steep, narrow roads quickly swept us upward into an odd landscape where houses were sparsely distributed over a cluster of intersecting ridges. In lieu of navigation we chose the direction that would take us higher at each intersection. Eventually the roads began to terminate in driveways and we would have to retrace our path. We hoped we might find a spot with a view where we could pull over but there was nowhere that we wouldn't be at risk of blocking the road for some irritated local. Eventually we grew tired of the game and allowed our GPS to bring us back to the main road from where is took us barely a minute to cross the Rhine and return to Switzerland.

Posted by zzlangerhans 10:58 Archived in Liechtenstein Tagged road_trip family vaduz family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog balzers eschenbach Comments (0)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Around Lake Constance


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My original plan had been to take the car ferry over the Obersee to Meersburg but the uncertainty about the schedule and logistics pushed me to choose the road around the northeastern end of the lake instead. It probably took us a half hour longer but the drive was pleasant and we didn't have to worry about the protocol for getting our car onto a boat. Meersburg is a preserved medieval town built on a hillside along the shore of Lake Constance. We began our visit in the pedestrianized upper town which was packed with fairy tale houses whose facades were either half-timbered or ebullient pastels. I think of all the medieval towns we had passed through Meersburg was the most colorful.
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At the southern end of the upper town is a wide cobblestone square in front of the salmon-colored Neues Schloss, the former seat of the Prince-Bishop of Constance. After the bishopric was dissolved at the beginning of the nineteenth century the building was variously used as a school, an institution for deaf-mutes, and a military barracks.
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On the opposite side of the building was a well-manicured garden and a belvedere from which we could look out over the lower town and the wide expanse of Lake Constance. We spotted an unusual shape in the sky above us and were surprised to note that it was a Zeppelin that was clearly on the move over the lake.
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From Neues Schloss a short wooden bridge led to Meersburg Castle, a twelfth century construction that preceded Neues Schloss as the Bishopric of Constance and is currently under private ownership. Although the castle remains open to visitors we had no reason to add yet another to the long list of castles we had toured on this journey. From the bridge we had an excellent view of the yellow and red building housing a seventeenth century water mill. A stone staircase brought us down to the level of the mill which was adjacent to the ground floor of the castle. Ian wanted to visit the small Zeppelin museum next to the staircase but I knew there was a much larger one a little further down the lakeside road in Friedrichshafen. I told Ian we only had time to visit one Zeppelin museum and he decided to wait for the bigger one, which proved to be a fortuitous decision. From the bottom of the staircase a street led downward to the lower town and the lakeside but we decided it would be better to push onward to the next town.
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Friedrichshafen was much larger than Meersburg and had been rebuilt after almost complete destruction by Allied bombing, so there was no old town whatsoever. I had set a course for the Zeppelin museum but once we arrived in town I realized we should probably have lunch first to avoid the fate of the previous day when all the decent restaurants had closed by two. I found an interesting seafood restaurant at a boating club that had good reviews and it wasn't until we had clearly left the center of town that I realized the restaurant was halfway back to Meersburg along the shore. Lunch was decent enough in a pleasant outdoor setting but I was still irritated about having wasted a half hour driving because of careless planning.
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On the way back to the museum we passed an area of brightly colored tents at the lakeshore that could have been some kind of festival. We made a note to check it out afterwards but pressed on to the museum. Street parking was nonexistent and the first parking garage I targeted was full, forcing us to find another a few blocks away from the pedestrian area. The streets were very crowded, even for a Saturday at a lake town, and there was a profusion of trailers and kiosks selling clothing and fast food.
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The reason for the Zeppelin being a big thing on the German side of Lake Constance is that Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin built his first airship near Friedrichshafen and the inaugural flight in 1900 took place over the lake. The Zeppelin we had seen from the Neues Schloss in Meersburg belonged to a new generation of airships that carry sightseers on tours around the lake.
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The main thing I learned from the Zeppelin Museum is that I don't have much interest in Zeppelins. Ian's fascination with the subject arises from his obsession with disasters, namely the Hindenburg, but that event was understandably downplayed in the museum. The highlight was the partial replica of the Hindenburg in the center of the museum from which we learned that the cabins and lounges were surprisingly spacious and luxurious. We were all tired of the place after about an hour but got lost trying to leave and ended up wandering through an adjacent art museum for another fifteen or twenty minutes before we finally found the exit.
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Once we were back in the streets it was clear some major event was taking place in the town. The square in front of the St. Nikolas Church was absolutely packed with people who were watching someone give a speech from a balcony. I had no chance of getting through the densely packed audience so I sent Mei Ling through with the kids hoping that the crowd would have some mercy on children who wanted to get to the front. I never got a glimpse of what everyone was cheering for but Mei Ling was able to capture a little of it on video for me. With a few minutes to myself I did some quick online searching and found that we had fortuitously stumbled on an annual celebration called Seehasenfest. The festival was inaugurated in 1949 to commemorate the rebirth of the town after its near total destruction by Allied bombing in 1945 and was designed primarily for the amusement of children. Since the locals around the lake are nicknamed "sea hares", the festival is named for them and begins on a Thursday when a boat is rowed into Lake Constance to retrieve the Sea Hare. This Easter Bunny-like mascot becomes the guest of honor for many other activities that take place over the weekend.
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Since we couldn't understand a word of the speech we made a quick escape to the lakeside promenade where we found all the colorful booths and tents we had passed earlier. There was more than enough food here for us to have avoided the long trek for an expensive lunch at the boat club. Rather than dwell on that small bit of poor planning I relished in our good fortune at having stumbled upon such a unique celebration by pure chance. With the Tuesday night party in Dijon, Ommegang in Brussels, and now this it really seemed the god of travel had been looking out for us this trip.
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It was a very large festival for such a small town. There were clearly people visiting Friedrichsafen from all the nearby towns and possibly even further afield. We walked all the way to the end of the promenade where there were a couple of rides suitable for the kids, and a couple that were way too intense for any of us. There were art installations and a water jet along the rocky beach and bands playing in the adjacent park. One of the most entertaining sights was the water jousting, where men in silly costumes knocked each other off the prows of rowboats with rubber-tipped lances.
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It would have been nice to stay in Friedrichshafen longer but we still had another town to visit in Switzerland before continuing on to Liechtenstein. We all congratulated Ian for choosing the big Zeppelin museum in Friedrichshafen even though we hadn't really enjoyed it. If he'd picked the one in Meersburg we might have bypassed Friedrichshafen entirely and never known about Seehasenfest. The highway around the lake took us through Austria for about fifteen minutes and I amused myself again by asking everyone to guess what country we were in now that we had left Germany. As I expected they guessed each of the other six countries on our itinerary but couldn't come up with Austria as I had never mentioned the possibility that we would be passing through. Once we reached Switzerland the landscape changed dramatically back to the serpentine two-lane roads and rolling green hills I remembered so well from the beginning of our trip more than a month earlier.
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Appenzell isn't one of Switzerland's best known villages but it was the clear choice for a stop in this sparsely populated area in the northeastern corner of Switzerland. The town of Appenzell is the capital of the tiny canton of the same name and is located amidst an outlying subgroup of the Alps called the Alpsteins. I was hopeful for a scenic view of Säntis, the highest mountain in the area, and there was a very appetizing restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. Parking was simple enough in a large lot in the very center of town. When we walked towards the chosen restaurant we found the street was closed off for an outdoor party with a live band and tempting smells of barbecuing meat. Unfortunately the admission price was absolutely outrageous, the equivalent of almost a hundred dollars a person, without any food or drink included. We attempted to circle around the party for a way into the restaurant and ultimately realized that because of the festival it was closed for the evening. We had to scramble for another place to eat and eventually ended up in a hotel restaurant that was also obscenely expensive and had a very boring menu. The town itself was charming but there were no majestic mountains in sight.
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After dinner we drove up into some of the surrounding hills hoping for better views but we never did find Säntis. We did get a better appreciation of Appenzell's idyllic position in a narrow valley between ridges. The remoteness of some of the farm houses up in the hills felt almost terrifying to us as lifelong city dwellers. Eventually dusk took away what views were left and we embarked on the last leg of an extensive day of driving.
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Our arrival in Liechtenstein was quite anticlimactic considering it was a new country for all of us. It was already quite dark and the road was flat, straight, and featureless. It wasn't similar to the unattractive, industrial surroundings of Luxembourg City but it felt very generic, almost like traveling through a rural area of the United States. Our accommodation was a fashion studio that was doubling as a short-term rental on weekends. It was quite an ostentatious and whimsical apartment, full of odd little surprises. It seemed to match the country itself, a strange little place about whose history I knew nothing. I hoped to remedy that lack of knowledge somewhat on our upcoming last full day in Europe.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 11:25 Archived in Germany Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog meersburg friedrichshafen appenzell tony_friedman family_travel_blog seehasenfest Comments (1)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: The Rhine Falls


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This journey had given me a great appreciation of the Rhine River, second only to the Danube in terms of its importance to the development of modern Europe. Since encountering the river for the first time in the Netherlands we had approached closer and closer to its origin in the Swiss Alps. The Rhine enters Lake Constance from Austria and then forms a narrow segment called the Seerhein at Konstanz before enlarging again into the Untersee. The river subsequently forms much of the northern border of Switzerland with Germany before turning northward at Basel to form the border between Germany and France. About an hour's drive west of Konstanz is the Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe by volume. It's just forty minutes from Konstanz by the highway and only half an hour from Zürich so it was not surprising to find the large parking lot crowded with cars in the early afternoon. Access to the falls is via a thousand year old castle, Schloss Laufen, that is now owned by the city of Zürich. A series of staircases and balconies brought us successively closer to the spray and thunder of the falls until we eventually reached the platform from which boats departed to the opposite bank.
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The boat tours were less expensive than I expected so we opted for the yellow boat which stopped at the Rheinfallfelsen, the prodigious rock that stands at the very center of the waterfall. I made sure that Cleo and I were the first off the boat. We raced up the stairs to the viewing platform at the top of the rock to have a few moments of clear photographs before another twenty people clustered around us. The boat ride had definitely been a good decision. The platform provided great views of the castle and the colorful boats navigating through the foam. After the boat ride we took the glass elevator back to the upper level of Schloss Laufen. Mei Ling was somewhat dismissive of the experience, given that we had seen much more impressive waterfalls in Iceland, but I thought the visit had been worthwhile. It was certainly a tourist trap but it seemed to be one of the more enjoyable and less extortionate that we had been drawn into.
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We only had to drive twenty minutes back east towards Konstanz to reach Stein am Rhein, a well-preserved medieval town that is famous for its painted houses. There are large parking lots on the western side of the old town to accommodate the hordes of daytrippers, from which the easiest access to the medieval core is the town gate called Untertor. The tower has large clocks on both the outer and inner face and is a reconstruction of the original which was destroyed by Allied bombers in 1945.
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From the gate the old town's main street leads directly to the Rathausplatz which boasts the lion's share of the painted buildings. Some of the frescoes date back to medieval times but others on the town hall were painted as recently as 1900. Over the centuries the whimsical paintings that adorn the main square have become the core of the town's identity. Unfortunately by the time we had finished admiring the colorful Rathausplatz all the decent restaurants had stopped serving lunch. We had no choice but to patronize an overpriced and bland riverside cafe in lieu of starvation.
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We continued all the way back to Konstanz on the two lane road that passed along the southern side of the Untersee, enjoying a series of peaceful lakeside villages and the pleasant views over open water. I'd noticed a flyer in our Airbnb for a public swimming pool with a waterslide called Schwimmbad Hörnli in Kreuzlingen so we drove over there for some afternoon recreation before dinner. It was a large complex with a big pool and a couple of awesome waterslides that the kids loved. It was somewhat similar to the sundlaugs we'd visited in Iceland but with much more green space for lounging and picnicking. It's a shame these outdoor pools with slides and other recreational facilities aren't part of American culture, but I guess there isn't enough profit in it here without charging enormous prices for a full-blown water park.
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For dinner we picked a restaurant in Niederburg, a small neighborhood in the northern part of the Altstadt where the Obersee empties into the Seerhein. It was a quiet and charming area with a good number of restaurants with outdoor seating and a chill vibe. We'd had about enough of German food and La Bodega provided an excellent and authentic rendition of tapas, one of our favorite repasts.
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The following morning we had breakfast at the Saturday farmers market at St. Gebhard-Platz in the Petershausen neighborhood north of the river. I was pleasantly surprised that the vendors were completely different from the ones we had seen at St. Stephans-Platz the previous day. The market was also a good bit larger than the Friday market with a more interesting selection of artisanal foods. It was a good ending to our short stay in Konstanz. Now we just had a couple of towns to visit on the far side of the lake and then we would be done with Germany for this journey.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 16:09 Archived in Switzerland Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog stein_am_rhein Comments (0)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Freiburg and Konstanz


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On the morning of Bastille Day we left Alsace with mixed feelings. It is always difficult to leave such a beautiful and magical region but we had the satisfaction of knowing we had left nothing on the table, figuratively or literally. For three days we had completely submerged ourselves in medieval villages, markets, and community dinners and we felt that we had distilled for ourselves the very essence of Alsace. Now that the entire country of France was shut down for a well-earned day of rest it was the perfect moment to move onward to the conclusion of our journey. In less than an hour we had crossed the German border and arrived in Freiburg im Breisgau, a mid-sized city with a well-regarded market of its own. The market takes place daily in the cobblestone square around the massive Freiburg Minster. This red sandstone cathedral was fortunate to survive the 1944 Allied bombing which destroyed many of the houses around the square.
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The market was an extensive affair with excellent produce and numerous food trucks that were dispensing a large variety of sausages. We fortified ourselves with sausages, fruit, and pretzels before moving on to an exploration of the town center.
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From the side streets around the square we could appreciate the cathedral's belltower in its entirety. The octagonal and intricate spire has given Freiburg Minster the reputation of being one of the most beautiful of Germany's gothic cathedrals. We walked down Kaiser Joseph Strasse, the main north-south thoroughfare in the Altsadt, to the medieval town gate Martinstor. In the early twentieth century a three story connection was built between Martinstor and a neighboring building with its own archway to match the one at the gate. Perhaps inspired by this double arch McDonald's established a franchise in the ground floor of the adjacent building. One of the most remarkable features of the gate is the prominent McDonald's sign over the second arch, a shocking sight to most visitors given the fervor with which European countries protect their historic symbols from commercial encroachment. There's no clear answer regarding how the placement of this sign was allowed. According to an unsourced paragraph in Wikipedia, the Freiburg city council had no power to refuse the sign although they were able to require that the lettering match the sandstone and plaster aesthetic of the rest of the building. ChatGPT on the other hand claims that the sign was installed for a two week period in 2009 with the approval of Freiburg's tourism office as a promotion of the city. ChatGPT believes the sign was permanently taken down at the end of the two week period despite the fact that it is obviously still there, and also has no explanation of why the defacement of a historic landmark with a fast food sign would somehow promote the attractions of the city to tourists. One thing that does seem clear is that the sign is very unpopular among the city's residents and most of its visitors as well.
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Freiburg has had a reputation for independence since its founding as a free market town in the twelfth century. Over its millennium of existence the town has seen several revolts of its citizens against the feudal lords that strove to deprive them of their liberties. There was no trace of rebellion as we wandered through the quiet streets of the center of town. For a few blocks we followed the course of the Gewerbekanal, a narrow and stagnant channel fed by the nearby Dreisam River. The canal and numerous small water-filled gutters called Bächle were created in medieval times to supply water to different parts of the city and remain a beloved feature of the city. We passed several interesting boutiques and spent some time in one that was selling beautiful Japanese furnishings. After that we only had time for a quick lunch before leaving the city.
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When I crafted our itinerary I didn't anticipate that my family would develop a strong antipathy to castles so I naturally included a visit to Hohenzollern as it is unquestionably one of the great castles of Germany if not all of Europe. As we left Freiburg I wondered to myself if the two hour detour would still be worthwhile or if we should just proceed directly to Konstanz. In the end I told them we would be going to one final castle and that they wouldn't regret it. The kids grumbled a bit but they could tell I was determined. Once we had driven about two thirds of the way Mei Ling and I spotted a very unusual-looking structure from the highway near the town of Rottweil. It was a tall, thin grey tower with a spiral structure that appeared to be standing in the middle of nowhere. We made an impulsive decision to try to get closer and eventually took an exit that was marked "Testturm" since I knew that "turm" was German for tower. A small road brought us to the base of the tower and I was able to do a little online research to determine we were in front of the TK Elevator Testturm, an elevator testing tower that had been constructed five years previously. The tower was a breathtaking sight, an incongruous white drill bit ascending into the heavens. The spiral structure is a fiberglass facade that reduces wind resistance and vibration. The observation deck at 232 meters is the highest in the country. Even if the tower had been open the day we visited we wouldn't have gone up to the deck. It was enough for us to enjoy the unique tower from the ground.
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The last part of our drive to Hohenzollern was a pleasant meander through rolling green highways along a two-lane road. The castle announced itself at the summit of a forested hill long before we actually arrived at the parking area. There was an option to hike up the steep hill to the castle but we elected to spend the two euros apiece for the shuttle bus. The bus stopped at the foot of the castle and we walked up a spiral path to the main courtyard.
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Although the existing version of Hohenzollern Castle was built in the mid nineteenth century it has escaped the scorn reserved for other modern revivals of the medieval castle aesthetic such as Drachenburg and Cochem Castle. The castle was built as a family memorial on the same site as prior medieval castles by the Hohenzollern heirs and is still privately owned by royal descendants who occasionally stay there. The courtyard is beautiful and imposing, surrounded on three sides by Gothic Revival brick buildings featuring a pleasing array of towers and spires. On the third side a staircase leads downward to an open area which is currently occupied by a cafe. The castle's lofty position provides extensive views obver the lush Swabian countryside. A guided tour was not even a consideration but we were able to walk through several showrooms in the interior of the castle at our own pace. Even the kids admitted that this castle had been a worthy exception to their rule, as long as it was the last one.
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We arrived in Konstanz at around dinner time. Our Airbnb was actually in Kreuzlingen, a suburb on the Swiss side of the border. The kids thought it was hilarious that we would be staying in Switzerland but having dinner in Germany. Our apartment was on the fourth floor of an apartment complex that lacked an elevator. Had that been an oversight on my part or had it been the best option regardless? I couldn't remember but at this point it made no difference as we lugged our suitcases up eight flights of stairs.
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It was surprisingly difficult to cross from Kreuzlingen into Konstanz. Germany and Switzerland are both within the Schengen area so there shouldn't have been any issues, but all the residential streets that crossed the border on the map were blocked by fences. It wasn't even possible to park in Kreuzlingen and walk into Konstanz. The GPS guided us to one street which still had an old border station but access from the Swiss side was denied, ostensibly due to some street construction. However there wasn't much evidence of any actual construction going on. Eventually we had to circle back to the entrance to the main highway which took us into Konstanz without any issues. The Indian restaurant we had selected in the Königsbau neighborhood had just one table available and it fit us perfectly. It was a pleasant place to have an outdoor dinner even if the food didn't quite live up to the restaurant's online reputation. On the way back we were able to re-enter Kreuzlingen via the border station without any problem. It seemed the route was only blocked when trying to enter Konstanz from Kreuzlingen.
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We started the next morning by crossing back into Konstanz for a morning market in the Altstadt. This time around we returned to the border station and waited for the oncoming traffic to clear, then drove for a block on the wrong side to get back into Germany. The highway detour was just too much when our Airbnb was only five minutes from our destination. Street parking appeared very tight but we found a nice garage on the main boulevard that formed the western border of the Altstadt. In the wide median of the boulevard was a very strange and entertaining fountain consisting of four pools connected by several arches. Lounging in and around the pools were some grotesque, obese nudes as well as some animals with human features. Affixed to the arches were a collection of seated babies, old men, and monkeys holding steering wheels. It was simultaneously repulsive and engrossing and the kids loved it. It seemed to be a light-hearted criticism of modern sedentary lifestyles but it was hard to know exactly what the sculptor meant to convey. I later learned that the fountain is called Triumphbogen, meaning Triumphal Arch, and is the work of local sculptor Peter Wenk.
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The Friday weekly market was held in the parking lot behind St. Stephen's church. Getting a filling breakfast was no problem with the large variety of bread, fruit, and prepared foods that were available. The vendors were friendly and eager to explain their artisanal products.
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The area around the church was filled with beautiful buildings and colorful art. The largest open square in the Altstadt was the one in front of the Konstanz Cathedral which was surrounded by classic German buildings. The cathedral's Gothic belltower can be seen from almost anywhere in the old town. There was another fountain here that resembled a large dish with a notch from which the water empties into a grate at floor level.
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We crossed out of the Altstadt to the green oasis of the Stadtgarten where we got our first look at Lake Constance. I've been fascinated by this lake ever since I researched our first trip to Germany in 2016. I had to cut the lake out of our itinerary that time due to time constraints and now the moment had finally arrived to fix that hole in our European travel map. Three countries share the shoreline of the glacial lake with Austria getting the smallest share. In German the lake is known as Bodensee, which is divided into the Obersee and the much smaller Untersee. Konstanz stands on the land bridge between the two sections of the lake which is traversed by a short segment of the Rhine. From the shoreline we could see the outline of Imperia, another irreverent statue by Peter Wenk that mocks the power of both church and state as inferior to female sexuality.
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We headed back into the Altstadt the make sure we hadn't missed any interesting spots. There was a central shopping street which was quite busy and fun for people-watching. There were also quieter, narrow streets dotted with greenery and more intimate boutiques. Part of the reason for the Altstadt's classic beauty is that Konstanz was able to escape the Allied bombing that decimated many German cities towards the end of World War Two by masquerading as part of Switzerland. The story goes that while other German cities turned all their lights off during bombing raids, Konstanz left theirs on so that the bombers wouldn't notice the contrast with the adjacent lighted town of Kreuzlingen in Switzerland. We probably could have spent more time exploring Konstanz but we already had a plan for the rest of the day which required us to drive back into Switzerland.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 18:21 Archived in Germany Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog hohenzollern tony_friedman family_travel_blog martinstor Comments (0)

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