I HATE to drive. Of all times I needed to take a self-driving tour someplace, it had to be where there is no speed limit. Not only that, I had about the cheapest rental car and my 14-year-old son along. Well, the kid had two years of German in middle school. He could be my co-pilot and my interpreter. Plus, he was/is an artist and we had paintings by relatives hanging in the Alte Pinakothek. He was perfect for the trip.
We used Fodor’s Guide to plan the trip. I also had lots of maps, little books of castles along the Rhine — plenty for both of us to plan the 10-day driving and touring adventure. Fodor’s used to have these neat little tidbits printed in the margins making pulling out the good stuff easy and fun for both of us. Along with a good map we took only a few days to read, plan and book the air. We decided to book some hotels and wing it the rest of the way with my son reading signs for vacancies at some little B&B along the route.
Never would I advise doing what I did to any traveler for any trip I planned. I am always irked when a packaged trip leaves that first day abroad free to explore (meaning, rest). I like to hit the ground running. So, what did I do? The kid and I flew into Frankfurt. I had no interest in spending time there so got the rental car and drove to the Rhine, planning to drive up the Rhine so my son could see the castles on the hillsides and identify from a booklet I gave him. I intended to stop at Koblenz before crossing the Rhine and driving down the opposite side. My intention was to stay, drink local wines and sleep. Along the way we saw a charming town across the river and I sat on the stone wall for my son to take a photo of me with Bopard as a backdrop. Imagine my surprise as we drove through Bopard. And I was also starting to drive off the narrow road. Yep, I had crossed the Rhine at Koblenz and was too tired to realize it. It was time to ask the kid to find a sign that said, “Gausthaus” or some indication of vacancy. It worked. We pulled in and got a room in a home. Two beds and all I wanted was a bath and then food. The kid said he was hungry and would bathe after he ate. I came out of the bathroom to find him sound asleep in tennis shoes and jeans. I removed his shoes and just got ready for bed. There was no way to budge him.
In the morning, we went downstairs and the owners made us a nice breakfast. We paid and on our way to Adventures of Germany we went.
Since we did drive to Stuttgart and then to Heidleberg to stay, then to the Alps to see castles, a drive around Oberammergau, to Munich and museums, a long time spent on the Romantic Road stopping in Medieval Villages to stay, this trip is one that will be revisited.
This story is about backseat driving. And from a kid who had never driven a car. I learned some German the hard way. Driving into Heidleberg where we had to park outside of the walking square where one of our unusually booked hotel was, the Zum Ritter, a lovely Renaissance-style hotel in the heart of old town. The splurge was worth the stay. I asked the kid what road we were on because those German street names are all strung together in one work and in small lettering on the sides of the buildings. He said, “EinbahnstraBe.” I had to tell him that was not the way to street to the garage parking. He said, “Mom, it means one-way street.” Well, at least THIS time I was going the right way. It is a word I will never forget due to all the times I was driving in the wrong direction. Funny kid. I think he was proud to pull a fast one on me.
I will revisit the cities in other blogs because they really deserve attention, especially when we found the family artists from the Flemish period and we have painters back to the Renaissance. OK, so the artist kid and I really enjoyed Heidleberg, even when I lost him as he bounded up the stone stops to the wonderful castle and I had to drag myself up there in the rain. Finally I found him which was a miracle due to the size of this place perched atop the city.
As for dining, I had to eat in all the pubs from the “Student Prince” musical movie from my childhood with the voice of Mario Lanza. “Eine, zwie, drei, vier, lift your steins and drink your beer…” he sang in the drinking song. mugs of beer swinging in the air from the drinkers. Well, this is a college town. I just had to relive that movie. This is old college town.
We were having a great time in the towns, seeing old Porsches, watches castles up along the Rhine, hanging out in the castles of Ludwig in the Alps, getting lost in Munich and finally to the Romantic Road for a portion we could pick up from Munich back to Frankfurt, then our flight home. This is not an assigned road on a map. You have to find the little Medieval village, walled villages and take the turns to get to them.
Did I tell you that I HATE to drive? We did deviate or stop when there was something we just decided to see along the way but first we were on our way, a little off-the-route to see the hot air balloon museum in a lighthouse that wasn’t near water but as we wound up the stairs we read and saw photos and drawings of the advent of the history of the hot air balloon. I love hot air balloons. My son and I used to chase hot air balloon races from inflation to landing. We did go up in a tethered one when he was really young. I went on another over some awesome countryside in Africa a few years later. You got it. You have to await that blog.
We — oops! — I was driving the Romantic Road backwards instead of down, I was traveling up. Well, that was the way we planed the cities we visited and castles we say and oh, those fast Mercedes-Benz racing past me on the atuobhaun. The last Medieval city we stayed in of the three was Rothenberg. By that time, I was sick of the kid backseat driving me. Before we left home, he asked if he could go off on his own. “Sure, when we are in a walled village and you won’t get lost.” What kid that age wants to be seen with his mother? Witness the running up the steps earlier in the week to the Heidleberg castle.
It didn’t help matters when we drove into Rothenberg. Little walled Medieval village with narrow streets. Wow, with mostly Germans vacationing there, wandered those narrow streets with wall to street buildings. And there was mom, who never figured out how to read the signs when I found them. Down the narrow road I drove — the wrong way. “EinbahnstaBe, einbahnstaBe, einbahnstaBe.” hollered the Germans, wagging fingers at me. The kid was ready to crawl under the steat. “Hold on honey, I will go very slowly. No way can I back up. Only one way to go — down.” Certainly didn’t help his mood.
We stayed in the 600-year-old Greifen. All buildings have signs that are wrought iron pieces of art hanging off the buildings from at least the second floor. They are quite small and tasteful. We leaned out our hotel room window and there was a sign hanging for a McDonald’s which we ignored on street level. At least it didn’t show off with Golden Arches.
The kid was most excited about this place because it has the Crime Museum. My son has a dark side and loved the idea of seeing all the torture items shown and explained. Before we went there, we were going to spend a day in the Town Square seeing our list for the day. Here we were on a Sunday and he didn’t want to go to the doll museum, then St. Jacob’s Church and the Town Hall plus a show in the square.
Getting a bit tired of his company as he was of mine, I asked him to please ask the German couple coming toward us where we could get money changed. I didn’t want to go back to the hotel and had no idea where we could go. He asked me why and I was adamant as I stopped the German couple. This was pre-Euro. “Why?” “Just do it.” I pleasantly stopped the couple and my son said, “Gelde, gelde.” They were not understanding him, so he put his fingers together like a pawn broker and said, “Gelde.” They understood and showed him where. We got money exchanged and I handed him a wad a bills and said, ”Meet me at the hotel at 6:00 p.m. for dinner. Have fun.”
That just wasn’t acceptable and he decided he wanted to see the sights. So, off to the Toy Museum for a quick visit. Then to St. Jacob’s Church which is fascinating. The item to see if up the stairs behind the altar, the Holy Blood. That altar is 500 years old and 35 feet high. The church is filled with old stained glass windows and so much to see that having a kid and a schedule didn’t give us enough time for everything. But we did get to the Town Hall and witnessed what lawmaking was like in Medieval times. Seems that after some work, the lawmakers took beer breaks. Hence, the show in the Old Town Square. There is an old clock. Every couple of hours, the animation starts and the beer drinkers come out lifting steins, first in the air and then to their lips.
The next day was probably what the kid waited for all week — the Crime Museum. My artist kid has a dark side. It is housed in an old prison so the rooms are interesting in themselves. As you walk down some stairs to another room, you can look through the a small barred window at the feet of the people on the floor above. The torture items were encased in glass. After two floors my son wanted photos but wanted me to go back and take them, which I did. There were some pretty nasty things like scythes to cut off heads all sticking out a barrel like a bunch of wooden cooking spoons. There were the silly such as a metal headdress with a horn sticking out the front. The offender was someone who played music terribly off-key and for his annoyance to his neighbors had to stand in the town square wearing the headdress and being mocked. There were dunking barrels for those who had too much to drink and were encased in the barrel and dunked into the river. Coins and wax stamps and books of laws were available to view from various eras and rulers. The best present to bring home was the Crime Museum book which I bought for my son.
In the town, he saw a suit of armor standing on a pedestal. He stood beside it and said, “Look, mom. It’s just my size.” My heart melted. If I had the money, I would have bought it for him. Instead he chose a sword. They are not made in Germany due to lack of material but in Spain. Oh well, he was happy to bring it home.
This trip was absolutely wonderful. So memorable in two ways. I loved sharing it with my son and I was so proud of myself for driving through a country with no speed limits and signs I could not read. I think I mentioned this before. I HATE to drive. But Germany was absolutely beautiful and worth it. This is a trip my artist son will never forget and neither will I.