“Ski break,” as they call it here, takes place at various times in February. The kids had a week off school and we planned a fun family getaway to explore brand new places – this time in southern Germany!
The beginning of our trip landed us in Munich, a city we briefly passed through last summer on a trip with Nannie and Pappi. In July we visited Dachau and the Hellabrun Zoo, leaving very little time to explore the city limits. Pappi and the kids were exhausted from a full day of sight seeing so Nannie (mom) and I took to the streets for a quick tour of Munich by moonlight – and also to the sound of cheering crowds during the World Cup! It was fun to feel the energy of the city – how people responded to their #1 game was contagious and electrifying!
This time, our 2 days in Munich were last minute, fingers-crossed plans that we made with a family friend who happened to be in town for work. Eric is the beloved hubby of Hayley, one of my best Air Force friends who happens to be planning a trip to visit us in May. This was a little bonus visit we were able to squeeze in with Eric – such a special treat for all of us! We are so glad it all worked out (schedules often change, so we don’t get our hopes up) and especially glad we got to share such a fun time touring around Munich. It was Derek’s first time in Munich and he said he can’t wait to go back!
The first night we met up with Eric as the Munich city lights were glittering. Marienplatz was packed with people, but we managed to find seats at a Bavarian restaurant called Paulaner im Tal, which turned out to be darn tasty. You’re not in Germany (or Austria) unless there’s schnitzel and beer on the menu! Paulaner Beer is a local specialty, with the brewery established in 1634 in Munich. Everywhere you turn in Munich, Paulaner is advertised and on tap. Every restaurant we go to, its safe to say the kids will want to order schnitzel, so they were happy campers.
The next day we met up with Eric early and took a nice, long walking tour around the southwest part of the city. (See photos below) Luckily we made it back to Marienplatz in time to see the 11 o’clock glockenspiel production! We hoofed it but it was well worth it – something the kids will always remember. Especially since, from there, we took a walk across town towards Karlsplatz and beyond to catch the first English language showing of How to Train Your Dragon 3! The kids were over the moon (and we were too) to be able to watch it on the big screens, and its pretty much what they talked about the rest of the vacation…especially Beau! We are huge fans of that beautiful trilogy!
We ended the day with a delicious meal and beer garden/playground time at Augustiner-Keller, a huge German restaurant with a massive outdoor recreation area, complete with ice bocce. After that, we walked back to the city center for an ice cream treat at Cafe Guglhupf, a little cash-only hidden gem down a narrow alley off Kaufingerstrauss. All in all, our time in Munich was tons of fun. We did boatloads of walking, all kinds of exploring, had good eats, visited with a dear friend and made some wonderful memories.
Schwangau, Grän & Hopfen Am See
The next part of the journey took us south to nearly the Austrian border. The lovely Bavarian town of Schwangau (more specifically Hohenschwangau) proudly has two magnificent castles – the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Neuschwanstein is famous for inspiring Walt Disney in creating the Sleeping Beauty castle, among others. We were very excited to finally get into the mountains in the winter, see this magnificent castle, and do some snow hiking and playing!
Our first stop was the Teglbergbahn gondola that took us up the mountain, giving us a decent view of Neuschwanstein castle on the gondola (but not at the top). Once at the top, we couldn’t believe how WARM it was. There was no wind, and TONS of snow! The kids had a ball scrambling up snow piles, digging around and sliding down in the snow. I took a quick snowy hike halfway to Branderschrofen, where the views are from over a mile high and absolutely breath taking!
From there we made our way back down the mountain and over to Neuschwanstein Castle. We parked, walked up the street to the ticket booth, and started our ascent. We noticed the hiking trails to Marienbrucke (the bridge with the famous views of the castle) were snowy and “closed,” so we took the road that predicted a 40 minute walk up. The kids were troopers and we made it in 27 minutes! In time to have delicious fresh donuts before our tour, that we had to wait another 45 minutes for. (That’s what we get for walking so fast!) The tours are well organized; they only allow a certain number of people to enter at 5 minute intervals, so you don’t want to miss the time on your ticket! Unfortunately there is no photography inside the castle, but there are plenty of places to buy souvenirs and photobooks. The audio tour was great – especially because all 3 kids could have a speaker and they were well entertained by it. It was fascinating to learn about “mad king Ludwig II” and his lavish taste.
The next day we took a little drive to find more snow, and it took us just over the border into the tiny Austrian town of Grän. There we managed to find a most spectacular valley surrounded 360º by mountains where the kids could play in the snow and the parents could bask in the mid-morning sunshine. Again, there was no wind, and we found the area to be swarming with cross country skiers and winter hikers. As we were driving there from Hopfen Am See, we even saw a blimp and two hot air balloons!
It was a wonderful morning, and it tired out the kids so much that the girls napped on the way back to Fussen and Schwangau. While they napped, I took an hour to hike up to Marienbrucke to see what I could see. It is entirely possible in the winter as long as you are well equipped. As it turned out, I could see a lot! The trails were technically closed (traverse at your own risk) so I made sure to bring my ski poles which helped with the fairly slick, snow packed trails. When I reached the top of the long trail to Marienbrucke (from the bottom of the hill), I wasn’t surprised to see the bridge had been completely blocked by a high series of iron gates and fences. However, I was lucky – along with a few daring other hikers – to find a few good viewing spots of Neuschwanstein Castle atop a bluff nearby. And on the way back down I was even more amazed at the views overlooking Hohenschwangau and the distant alps! Postively magnificent! Well worth the solo jaunt, and I made it back down in time to share more fresh donuts with the kiddos. Then we went back to the nearby Hopfen Am See where we were staying for an afternoon game of charades and dinner. It is an absolutely beautiful place to stay that we highly recommend if visiting the Schwangau area. After dinner we took a lovely walk around the lake and took in the surrounding mountain views! It was a perfect day!
Its time to ski! We spent the next couple of days on the slopes of Garmisch-Classic and had an absolute ball! Willow and Didi took a little private lesson the second day and Willow managed to learn how to stop AND turn in one day! I was so impressed! Didi is the social butterfly of the slopes, making friends at every lift and wanting to exercise her independence by skiing with them. Beau conquered his fears by going to the top of Kreuzeck peak on Kandahar express (several intermediate slopes) where we got the best views of the week. We were so excited about skiing that we already are planning another trip for a long weekend in March. It is the most perfect place for families to ski – affordable lift tickets, beautiful varying slopes, unbelievable views, and a terrific place for military families to stay at Edelweiss Lodge. The kids loved the pool, parents loved the outdoor hot tub, and the food wasn’t bad either! Our favorite eatery was the Lodge Am Hausburg at the bottom of the hill near the Hausburg military ski facility. It had a delicious (and super fast!) selection of schnitzel – probably the best we have had so far in Europe! Overall it was a marvelous holiday break, but it only whet our ski whistle! We will definitely be back!