Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fussein, Germany

Before you go to Europe you have to decide on how to get around after you get there.  You can choose to rent a car, or travel by train.  We read several things before we left.  We didn't want to deal with renting a car and dealing with fees, gas prices, and knowing how and where to go to rent a car we could travel from one city to the next and not return it to the same place.  We were also a little scared of driving in Europe.  A train ride seems romantic and you don't have to worry about any of those things.  You can eat and talk to your kids while travelling, you don't have to read road signs, or hyperventilate every time you pay for gas.  We found a much better deal buying our train tickets in the U.S. and reserving a seat on a train was a lot cheaper after we got there.  We bought tickets that were good for anywhere in Belgium, Germany, and France, for 8 days, which did not have to be consecutive days.  We also chose to buy first class tickets, because we were travelling as a family and wanted more space to store our luggage.  In Germany, I'm not sure if First Class was necessary, even there 2nd class cars were really nice, but their first class cars were amazing!  Also a train goes everywhere.  You can go to just about anywhere on a train and use public transportation to get around a city.  If you decided to use a car instead, I highly suggest using a GPS device to guide you!

Our first REAL train ride was kind of exciting and scary.  We thought we did pretty good at figuring out train schedules.  We found a train we wanted to take to Fussein, and boarded the train.  We were comfortable when the ticket person came to check our tickets, and she asked us where we were going (in German).  I told her Fussein, she said, (in English, because apparently my German was SO bad they felt sorry for me), that we had to change trains at a certain stop and we only had 2 minutes to move all our luggage and children to the other train.  That was a bit concerning.  I was worried that one train would be late or early and we would miss the transfer, but trains in Germany are very precise, I could have set my watch to the trains we rode in Germany.  So the real problem was how do you transfer a family of 5, including a 2 month old baby, and all their luggage in 2 minutes?  With the help of that very wonderful ticket lady(/conductor?) who knew we had to transfer and came to our aid!  I think we were on the other train in about 1 minute 30 seconds, so it was all good.  We tried hard to not have a train transfer like that again though.

We originally planned on visiting Fussein during the day, but travelling on to Rothenburg for the night.  For some reason I was uncomfortable leaving all of our stuff in Munich while we went to Fussein, so we hauled all of our luggage with us.  We went to Fussein hoping to put our luggage in lockers there, while we went to Neuchwanstein (the Sleeping Beauty Castle), only to get to Fussein and there were no available lockers.  We were trying to figure out what to do when we saw a sign that said, youth hostel (in German), and had an arrow pointing the way.  You can rent lockers at youth hostels to hold your stuff, so we thought we would just do that.  We started walking, and we kept walking, and walking, and thought, where is this youth hostel?  I asked some people walking by and they indicated that we were going the right direction and it was only a short walk away.  Our 6 year old had to roll one of the suitcases and he really did not like rolling his suitcase on cobblestones, so he started complaining and saying his hand was "bleeding" (It was not bleeding, but it was developing some nice callouses).  I started thinking that we were "insane" and taking your kids to Europe was a new form of torture, and then this really nice man who was riding his bicycle saw us.  He rode by and then circled back and asked if we needed any help.  He asked in German, but when I answered back, he then spoke in English and asked, "Are you American?"  I guess my German was truly awful.  He ended up being from California, and even being an American he could tell from my poor German that I was an American.  He helped us tote all of our stuff the rest of the way to the Youth Hostel which was still over a mile away.  After we got to the Youth Hostel we decided that we were not going to be able to make it to Rothenburg, and so we checked into the Youth Hostel for the night.  We were lucky it was one of the best mishaps of our trip, they were awesome!

We took a bus to Schwangau and went to Neuschwanstein.  I had several Germans tell me that Neuschwanstein was not a "real" castle.  That it was built "later."  To me, who granted I am an American and can be quite ignorant, it seemed real enough.  We also heard that the king was "crazy" and "crazy royalty is often found dead."  I never really understood all that I heard, I think some things were lost in translation, but I did research it later and learned he was considered eccentric and his death was mysterious.  Neuschwanstein was not terribly busy when we were there, it was at the beginning of the tourist season, so there was not too many tourists.  I guess it can get really busy in the middle of tourist season, which is June-August.

To buy your tickets, you have to go there.  I read somewhere that it was confusing to buy tickets, but it did not seem that bad, maybe it gets more confusing with more people.  There are 2 castles you can see, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau and you can buy a ticket for both castles at the same place.  We also took a ride up to the castle, but even with a ride there is still quite a bit of a walk, especially for small children.  A nice thing is that there is a food vendor right by the castle and so we were able to sit and eat ice-cream with the kids to relax.  The food vendor accepted many different forms of currency too, you could tell he was used to tourists, but, at least in the case of American currency, it was a lot cheaper to buy with Euros.  The castle has a rule against photography, but you can get some nice travel books in the gift shop at the end.

Since we were a lot later than we anticipated we knew we would miss the dinner at the Youth Hostel, so we decided to go to dinner in Shwangau.  We had an amazing dinner!  I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was so good!

We went back to the bus stop and we had missed our bus.  There were no more buses that night either, but there was a payphone and a telephone number for a taxi company.  I called the number asked, "sprechen sie English," (Do you speak English) to which I heard the dreaded response, "nein" (no).  All those years of German came in handy.  I was able to tell him where we were,  how many people were in our party, and I ordered a cab in German.  I was so proud of myself!  While we were waiting there another tourist who had missed the bus came and we were able to rescue her too.

Youth Hostels are a great way to travel as a family.  You will get a room to yourself, you won't have to share with anyone but your own family.  It is a room full of bunk beds and our kids really liked choosing which bed they wanted to sleep in each night.  As a family we stayed on the "women's floor," so the boys had to go to the "men's floor" to use the toilet or shower.  You do need to bring your own towels and toiletries.  We were told that we would need a sheetsack to stay at a youth hostel, but we only stayed in youth hostels in Germany and they all provided sheetsacks with the price of our room.  We still used our sheetsacks, it was just nice to have something of our own to use.  Most youth hostels provided dinner and all of them provided breakfast.  The dinner was only served at a certain time, and we usually missed dinner, but even missing dinner the cost was still a great bargain.  Breakfast was a typical European breakfast with meats, cheese, bread, cereals, and yogurt.  We loved it.  The people who check you in at a Youth Hostel usually speak really good English and they know that you are on a budget and will give GREAT recommendations for family friendly places to eat, visit, and how to get around.

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