Proximity and The Black Forest

THE PART THAT STILL AMAZES ME about Europe is proximity. We lived here for seven months and I still find it incredible.

Take, for example, our vacation next week. Come Monday we will take the week off from work and school and spend the week in Paris.  We can do that because although its in a different country, it’s about as close to us as Minneapolis was when we lived in Ankeny.   We will hop in our van and be at our vacation home in a little over four hours.  It’s so convenient and close it will actually be our second trip to France in five months, as we drove to Normandy in the fall.

OR TAKE OUR TRIP IN APRIL when we have another vacation planned, but we aren’t sure yet where.  If we draw a circler around our house within a driving radius of, say, six hours, the choices include:  Northern Germany, The Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy,  France, Luxembourg, Belgium, or the Netherlands (to name a few).   Decide to go by Ryan Air or train and the options for 6 hours open up even more. Compare that to driving six hours from our  Midwest home in Iowa…and we’d still be in the Midwest. The scenery barely changes.

OR PERHAPS WE MIGHT FIND ourselves sitting around some morning on the weekend with nothing to do, and decide to take a drive. We could, for example, pack a lunch, hop in the van and go check out the Black Forest. The Northern edge of the Black Forest is about an hour away, and we could keep going and check out a place like Triburg and Germany’s Highest Waterfall, or the Cuckoo Clock Capital of the World, visit a Chocolate shop and buy some very odd looking Chocolate figures (Geldscheisserle, I’ll let you try to translate that yourself).  Then we might go on a stunningly scenic drive on the way back, from South to North, and make it all the way back home for dinner.  I mean, we could do that….if we wanted ;).




Walk to Wolfsburg

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN, opposite of Neustadt’s famous castle Hambacher Schloss, lie the Wolfburg ruins.  It isn’t a spectacular castle, but it makes for a good hike and is only  couple of kilometers away, so that means it is a perfect Sunday afternoon activity.

We parked our car underneath the castle near  the town pool and hiked up…and up, and up, and up.  This week Melissa took up running with her friend and yesterday I sprinted through a workout with 5x400m sprints and 75 air squats mixed in, so today with each step ours legs were reminding us we aren’t quite as in shape as we used to be, but the walk was worth it.

The castle is position atop a hill that provided a fantastic view of the  Neustadt valley.  Some of the walls were precariously positioned,  short enough one one side for kids to climb upon and tall enough on the other to make a parent nervous.  Nonetheless, no one pulled a humpty-dumpty and we hiked down the hill all in one piece.  We also  got a few snaps of the kids in action.


We Lewis & Clark’ed it to Hohe Loog

IN THE HILLS above the castle Hambacher Schloss sits a little wilderness retreat called Hohe Loog. In the summer months during the weekends there is a restaurant featuring brats and sauerkraut and similar German fare, and there is a large play area for the kids in the area outside.   Unfortunately, it is only accessible by foot so we hadn’t made the trek there yet to check it out.   But today, with probably one of the last warm and sunny weekend days for a while we decided to take a little hike. Emphasis on little.

We had tried once before to hike there, but the trail goes up a steep hill and the kids tired out in about 2 km, so that day we ended up  turning back.  We hadn’t ever consulted a map  but sort of figured it couldn’t possibly be that much farther (this is what literary smarties call foreshadowing),, so today we parked the van in the Hambacher Schloss parking lot and headed up hill.

We walked. And we walked. We walked past the point we stopped last time.  Then we walked some more. We stopped and ate lunch, then we got up and kept walking….on and on and on….   The kids buzzing excitement gradually turned into silence, and then moaning, and then outright complaining.    By my count we had hilked 3 or 4 kilometers uphill when Melissa noticed a little yellow sign up ahead with “Hohe Loog” printed on it, causing her to make the ill-advised announcement, “Look, we must be here!”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until we reached the sign that we could read the whole thing: “Hohe Loog: 1.9km”. You must be joking.

By that time, though,  Dad was fully invested. There was no way we were going to walk 5 km and then give up before reaching the summit.  We might as well have been climbing Everest,  we we’re going to make it to the top if we had to spend the night on that hill.  The route got steeper, the trail narrower, and kept winding through the woods.  The kids were so tired there were actually some tears.  But then….we made it….

Hohe Loog was a popular spot! Despite the fact we had only seen a few people on the trails, still there were probably a couple hundred people enjoying the day there. It had a play area that featured a slide whose size and speed would never be allowed in the US, as well as swings, play structures, sandboxes, etc.  Kids climbed all over the toys while parents sat on picnic benches munching on something from the kitchen. It wasn’t long before our kids forgot how tired there were, and were running up and down the slide and climbing all over rocks.

But…they quickly remembered again when we announced it was time to go home. Suddenly all the complaining about tired legs returned.  We hiked on down the hill, this time choosing an alternate route that we thought might be a little shorter (which is was, apart from the 20 minutes we spent completely lost wandering back and forth before getting some directions from a stranger).  By the time we made it back to the van it had been a 5 hour trip, about 10km of hiking and some vigorous play on the hill.  It was a day well spent in the great outdoors.

And like a lot of things now, it was all about little victories. Example: For one of the first times here in Neustadt, we went somewhere and  recognized people.   Chase saw some kids from his soccer club. Camden and Anna saw kids from there school class, and Melissa bumped into a women she occasionally meets for coffee. Secondly, I actually managed a to get some directions from a stranger in German, using complete sentences that didn’t include pointing and  ridiculous looking hand motions.

That’s some progress!