Let’s pause the struggles of reverse culture shock for a moment and focus on a completely different kind of struggle – traveling alone with kids!
If you’re like me, travel is your drug, and your eyes are always searching for your next fix. Cheap airfare, hotel sales, and shoulder season deals are just too good to pass up.
What kind of risky behavior would you dabble in just for that next vacation high? Would you tolerate three mischievous boys under 7 as your only travel companions if it meant you could see Dresden, a city you’ve always longed to explore?
Months before I was to drive for a couple thousand miles with the three amigos in the backseat, I put on my big girl pants and took a day trip to Dresden with those three amigos, all.by.myself.
For the record, please don’t endanger your family or finances just for a travel score. It’s only a metaphor, people.
I once read a post about a married mom who travels internationally with her kids but without her husband because he can’t take off work (sorry, I can’t find the link). The post sparked two thoughts.
First, I can’t do that (right?!). And second, I wouldn’t want to do that (you, either?). While my opinion on the latter hasn’t changed, my fears regarding the former have evolved into an ever-increasing confidence.
I can’t believe I’m saying this – but traveling alone with your kids IS possible, and maybe (maybe!?) even enjoyable… Okay, the jury’s still out on that last one.
With three boys and a limited budget, sometimes it’s just not feasible for everyone to go on every trip (such as when I took Alpha to Keukenhof to see the tulips or to Firenze to tour the Uffizi Gallery).
Occasionally, we are presented with travel opportunities too good to pass up, such as tagging along with Doc Sci to a conference in a fabulous destination like South Korea.
And, every once in a while, I attempt something I ordinarily never would because the payoff has massive potential, enough to outweigh possibly uncomfortable circumstances. Our day trip to Dresden falls into this category.
Let’s get a bit of background, shall we? After our family said our farewell to Freiburg, we rode the rails east and hung out in Leipzig for a few days. Doc Sci needed to attend one last conference, and I saw an opportunity to squeeze in one last little German travel fling before our expat adventure ended.
Now, I always set my expectations for a family trip itinerary rock-bottom low. But, this time, I managed to reduce those even further. I had only three goals: Get to Dresden, see something, and make it back to the train before it chugs off without us.
I’ve wanted to visit Dresden ever since I was an art history student studying Kirchner and his painting Street, Dresden. The “Jewel Box” is a fascinating place, scarred by World War II and the German Democratic Republic.
I researched and wrote a list of must-see sights. Short of a barfing kid or a broken bone, I was going to make it to those few places to view them with my own eyes. But because I didn’t want to be wandering around aimlessly if we clocked in ahead of schedule, I also made a huge list of options – possibilities if time or interest allowed.
Then, I booked our train tickets and prayed for the best.
I bought the kids a bakery breakfast at the station (something I never do because I’m cheap thrifty) to occupy them on the train. A friend who used to live in Leipzig recommended Lukas Baekerei, and it didn’t disappoint. Imagine a soft German pretzel smothered in melted cheese. YES.
As we polished off the last crumbs, the train pulled into the station. We stepped into Dresden, gained our bearings, and off we trotted down Prager Str. in the direction of the Kreuzkirche.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that interested in the Kreuzkirche. I was more fascinated by the famous Frauenkirche. But, I wanted to climb to the top of the this church in particular for the best and most affordable view of Dresden (plus, climbing stuff is our thing). As is the case in Paris, the best view often isn’t from the most famous landmark but from another tall building nearby.
Sweaty but satisfied with die Aussicht, we descended once more to Dresden’s streets, kids starving and mama in need of a loo. We crossed the pedestrian walkway to the Laden Cafe Aha. I had read good things about Aha, so I ordered a white hot chocolate and the boys busted out their lunchboxes.
Apparently, our actions annoyed the server who thought everyone – kids included – should have ordered a full meal. And maybe I would’ve ordered a slice of cake to go with my hot chocolate had I not received the eyeful and earful the server dished up.
When we had been made to feel as uncomfortable as possible, we left. Expert tip: Come for the chocolate, don’t stay for the service.
I melted the frustration away with anticipation of our next stop – the restored brilliance of Dresden, the Frauenkirche. You can read all about the history of it here (be sure to check out the photos showing it nearly destroyed and the restoration process).
The Frauenkirche is once again a gorgeous gem of architecture; and yes, it’s seriously as beautiful in person as it is in the pictures. This moment right here made the trip for me.
One treasure I had not known about before researching our trip is the Fürstenzug. The funny name might not sound like much, but this piece is the largest porcelain artwork in the world. Just check out my little people walking beneath it to grasp the scale.
At over 100 meters long and over 10 meters high, it’s plastered on the outer wall of the Stallhof of the Dresdner Schloss. It’s enormous in person and really quite amazing.
Luncheon on the Grass, er Park Bench
We wandered around the courtyards of the schloss a bit before meandering along the terrace wall on the banks of the Elbe. We parked ourselves on a bench in the Brühlschen Garten to finish our lunches that had been so abruptly cut short earlier at the café. Not pictured: rather sketchy atmosphere with questionable characters on the bench next door and far too much trash by German standards. Hardly a Manet moment.
While the boys chased each other around the park, I took a much-needed break from carrying Charlie.
We had sold our pram when we left Freiburg since we wouldn’t need it in America. That meant if I wanted to maximize my short hours in Dresden, I had to carry Charlie. Schlepping an enormous two year-old with concrete bones around on my back while simultaneously carrying a backpack with supplies on the front was perhaps the most demanding part of my day. Intermittent whining/complaining scores a close second.
With bellies full and the clock ticking, it was time to zip across the river and see what treasures awaited us in Dresden-Neustadt.
Don’t miss Part 2 when I reveal what nearly knocked the Frauenkirche out of “absolute favorite” position and share a super fun, serendipitous moment on our way out of town. Plus, I’ll include a list of locations we would’ve visited with more time. For Part 2, click here.
Have you been to Dresden or do you want to get there some day? What would you do for your next travel score?