Conquering Kotor, Montenegro

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of KotorMontenegro. Say it.

It sounds… exotic, feisty, mysterious.. even dangerous.

These qualities (obviously) mean I should add it to my list of places to go with three young children, right?

Wait, are we nuts?! Probably. I know there are other families that take their kids even crazier places than we do, but, man, we are so far gone from pretty little Disney holidays.

Today’s adventure takes place in slick little Montenegro, another former YU country (sorry, I know I put it on our bucket list and it’s not technically Croatia, but just go with it). Known as Crna Gora / Црна Гора to locals, most people young, rich, and/or famous know it as a fabulous place to party (Budva).

But, we know it as a (literally) breathtaking place to drink in views of the fjord-like Bay of Kotor.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Bay of Kotor.

Kotor is a popular day trip from Dubrovnik given that it’s supposedly only an hour and a half drive (see Notes at the end of this post). If you like collecting stamps in your passport from random small countries to up your count or exploring old stone cities steeped in history, Kotor might be for you.

Just don’t come here to climb up to St. John’s Fortress like we did.

No, no, no.

The city of Kotor, located on the bay of the same name, is quite small and can be explored in an hour or two. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kotor is cute, and sweet (which is about the opposite of how Montenegro sounds). Plus, it’s less crowded than its flashy friend to the north, Dubrovnik. Cruise ships have started docking in the city, but you can check the schedule in advance and adjust your itinerary to visit on a different day.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

So, what do you do after you’ve strolled the ancient streets? You could do something normal and sane like sit down at a cafe, have a drink, and and enjoy the atmosphere. Or you could set your sights on higher and more insane things like conquering St. John’s Fortress… with children.

I cannot officially recommend schlepping kids up 1,350 stone steps, so I won’t. But I will tell you how it could be done if you thought you might be hare brained enough to entertain the idea. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Pick up a map from the tourist information kiosk just outside the city walls. Or, just walk away from the bay and toward the mountain. You can’t miss it. Bring euros for the small entrance fee as well as water, snacks, and bribes for the hikes. You’re going to need it.

The first thing you’ll notice is that you have two choices: walk on stone steps or a somewhat flattened pile of rocks, both of which are quite slick in the rain (did I mention it was raining?!).

If you’re a parent, your two options become one option. Walk on the rocks while your child walks on the steps. Well, except for the parts of the climb where the low wall that provided a false sense of protection against a nasty tumble down the hillside is, conveniently, missing. Then, you can switch places until the wall reappears.

About fifteen minutes into the climb when you’re soaked to the bone underneath your rain jacket because good golly is this thing steep or what, you’ll reach the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.

Fabulous, you’re nearly there, right? Ha, no. But you can take a rest with the chain-smoker that’s more than happy to sell you an over-priced bottle of water. People watching is, of course, complimentary.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Just passing the Church of Our Lady of the Remedy.

Try to keep your eyes on the route and not on the fantastic panorama unfolding with each step up. You don’t want to slip on those rocks and take the kids down with you. No, no. Oh, and try not to think about why you don’t see any other families along the way.

When you do reach the top, you might want to (again) watch your step. It’s not like the fortress is falling apart or anything, but, well, yeah, it pretty much is. And the edges don’t have secure railings, so you might want to embarrass your kids by tagging along when they need to take a leak so they don’t tumble when they tinkle.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back because that was one heck of a climb. And one seriously ridiculous idea with tots in tow. But the view, the view, the view, THE VIEW!Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

It’s easy to understand why this spot was chosen to fortify. From here, you can see so much of the Bay of Kotor, the city of Kotor, and the surrounding terrain.

Set up the self-timer, and burn up the camera. This is a perfect place to take a family photo. Just don’t position expensive cameras or precious children too close to the edge of anything.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

On the way back down, try to ignore those shaky legs. What are you, a weakling? You just owned that climb up to the fortress! Promise the kids they can have  a n y t h i n g  they want to eat from the grocery store if they just make it down in one piece.

Bonus: Groceries in Montenegro are CHEAP, so they can have the chips, the ice cream, and the juice for all I care.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Why yes I did just sweat my way up and down the mountain behind me, thanks for asking.

I’m (obviously) being cheeky here, and just in case the sarcasm is lost on you (Sheldon Cooper), I don’t want you to think we didn’t enjoy Kotor. In fact, we loved it, and it goes down as one of the best days of our Croatian adventure.

Also, I probably should add that for all my groveling here for the sake of humor, actually our kids made it up with hardly any whining. Reading that statement from my trip notes and typing it again here, I can barely believe it, but it must’ve happened. Just don’t expect a repeat performance, right?Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

By the way, I’m partly blaming my desire to conquer the climb up to St. John’s Fortress on Calli and Travis of Have Blog Will Travel. Their post got me hooked on the idea, and, well, we’re suckers for a good view. If they did it, why couldn’t we? Oh right, because we have THREE LITTLE KIDS with us. And apparently I just skipped over this little line, “The hike isn’t an easy one, as many of the pathways are still a work in progress,” and instead focused on the fact that, “the views at the top are more than enough reward.”

Well said.

To see the fortress walls of Kotor all lit up at night, click here. And then tell me, what would you do for a good view?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Stuck at the border. This line took us nearly 1 1/2 hours..

More Notes on Montenegro:

  • Driving directions will tell you that Kotor is about 1:30 – 1:45 from Dubrovnik. Don’t believe everything you read. Double that time to allow for long lines at the border (maybe triple it in summer). We were only about 12 cars away from the crossing and it took nearly 1 1/2 hours. Apparently there are problems with drugs, guns, money, and the like in and out of MNE so that’s why the checks are thorough. See? I told you, dangerous…
  • The roads were horrific – one lane in each direction, winding and twisting around the water with 40-60km/hr speed limits, slow old beaters and big trucks.
  • Bring loads of snacks and entertainment options (or practice your hand at these games that don’t require any equipment) in case you get stuck.
  • Living in Germany, we have become quite accustomed to not bringing our passports when we pop over to France or dip down to Switzerland. They’re never asked for or checked. But you definitely need your passport with you when crossing any borders in this region.
  • There’s a ferry option to cross the bay of Kotor, but it is not much faster than driving around the bay and the second option is much more scenic. Plus, if you drive around the bay, you can stop in Perast.
  • To up the awesomeness of your time in Kotor, park in Perast and take a boat out to the island of Our Lady of the Rocks. We didn’t make it out there, unfortunately, but I believe the boat costs 5 euros per person. At the very least, pull over and have a look; the two little islands are lovely to look at from the shore (see the second photo in this post). Check out Travis and Calli’s post on getting to Perast via public transport here.
  • Parking outside of the city gate in the town of Kotor is quite cheap (around 1 euro/hr) and convenient.
  • You can find small grocery stores inside the city walls or larger supermarket-type stores a bit further out.

Signature Thrifty Travel MamaThis post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

Hornberg – Castle Ruins For Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hornberg - Castle Ruins for KidsMy weekend usually goes a little something like this.  Learn about something interesting to see within a 1-2 hour drive.  Do a little research, get that familiar travel itch.  Pack a lunch the night before, and rush out the door Saturday morning.  If I can ignore the whining from the back seat (which thankfully has nothing to do with the adventure at hand), I start to get excited.  This is going to be… fun! great! amazing!

But every once in a while, I arrive at a place and think, eh… it’s.. okay.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Hornberg - Castle Ruins for KidsI felt that way about our recent excursion to Hornberg in the Black Forest (Schwarzwald).  We love ruins, even small ones like we found in Staufen.  But the draw, the whole point is to be able to explore them, right?  Unfortunately, the hands-on factor at Hornberg is rather low.  So, why am I writing about it?  Because – impenetrable ruins aside – it’s an amazing picnic spot.  If you find yourself in the Schwarzwald with a sandwich in hand, this is where you should eat it. Thrifty Travel Mama | Hornberg - Castle Ruins for KidsAlso, for little legs, injured legs, or lazy legs, Hornberg is ideal.  A hotel with a restaurant and a biergarten sits atop the hill adjacent to the ruins.  This means you can conveniently drive up the mountain, bypassing the crazy steep trail that would otherwise be your only option.  Inside the building you’ll find restrooms, and kids will quickly discover the playground outside.

We didn’t see any signs stating that the parking was solely for hotel or restaurant guests.  But, with less than 10 spaces, you might need a bit of luck to nab one.  For those willing to make the trek up the road on foot, another parking lot is located at the base of the hill.

Here’s a look at our time at Hornberg in pictures.

First stop - the playground next to the biergarten.  We had the run of the place and felt like kings feasting above the subjects below.  In reality, we were just a couple of foreigners digging into PB&J at a picnic table.  Hey, at least we had some shade.

First stop – the playground next to the biergarten. We had the run of the place and felt like kings feasting above the subjects below. Okay really, we were just a couple of foreigners digging into PB&J at a picnic table. Hey, at least we had some shade and a REALLY awesome view.

Next stop - storm the tower!  We approached the ruins from the back side which is rather unimpressive.  As you can see, we're in backpack carrier territory.

Next stop – storm the tower! We approached the ruins from the back side near the playground which is not as picturesque as the front path. As you can see, we’re in backpack carrier territory.

This locked cage should've been our first clue...

This locked cage should’ve been our first clue…

The tower is locked!  Bummer.  Not only could we not climb up inside, the excessive shrubbery made taking even one decent panorama shot impossible.

The tower is locked!  Not only could we not climb up inside, the excessive shrubbery made taking even one decent panorama shot impossible.  Boo!

Coming back down the steps, I snapped this.  Okay, Hornberg, you might be starting to redeem yourself.

Coming back down the steps, I snapped this. Okay, Hornberg, you might be starting to redeem yourself.

The only other remaining structure besides the tower is the armory.  Again, nice to take a look, but locked up tight.

The only other remaining structure besides the tower is the armory. Again, nice to take a gander, but locked up tight.

The boys did like the "guns" inside once I explained what they actually were.

The boys did like the “guns” inside once I explained what they actually were.

The thrill factor increased for the young crowd once this cave was discovered.

The thrill factor increased for the young crowd once this cave was discovered.

More attempted bouldering ensued.

More attempted bouldering ensued.

On the front side of the ruins, you'll find a secluded bench which would be lovely for a proposal.

On the front side of the ruins, you’ll find a secluded bench with this backdrop which would be lovely for a proposal.

As you can see, visiting Hornberg isn’t completely a waste of time.  But, I would definitely recommend this being a stop along your Black Forest journey, rather than the final destination.  Combine it with a visit to the Triberg Waterfalls for an easy Saturday excursion.Signature-Marigold
More ruins!!

Kastelburg Castle Ruins for Kids in Germany

Kastelburg

Badenweiler Castle Ruins and Spa Town

Badenweiler

Chateau de St Ulrich France - Hiking with Kids

Château de Saint-Ulrich

Badenweiler – A Family Friendly Spa Town

Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownI’m sure I’ve said it before, but holidays can be the hardest times to be an expat.  Beyond missing family and friends, sometimes the celebrations just don’t exist in another country.  American Independence Day is one such holiday.

While we have been to a Fourth of July party in Germany before, it’s still not quite the same.  So, this year, a friend and I decided we would have our own little picnic and try to keep the tradition alive for our kiddos.  She suggested we let the little ones explore the German spa town of Badenweiler before gorging ourselves on an as-American-as-you-can-get buffet.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownBadenweiler is a poser-free spa and resort town and an easy jaunt from the A5 in the southwest corner of Germany.  While most people come for the Cassiopeia thermal baths, I’d recommend staying for the scenery.  The area is simply charming.

So Sound of Music...

So Sound of Music…

Parking is a cinch at any of the designated lots.  We chose the parking garage in between the Schlosspark and Kurpark on Friedrichstr.  However, if you’re looking to save some cash, drive up the hill behind the Schlosspark and leave the car at the (free) south lot.

After loading up our backpacks, we wandered around in the Schlosspark, an area chock full of dozens of different tree species (all labeled).  The boys discovered a small playground completely with funky baby swings.  Should you find yourself in need of some coffee and cake, visit the Kunst Palais Cafe ARTig on the grounds.  Prices seemed reasonable here as opposed to the posh and expensive restaurants on the main drag.

Ruined Roman.

Ruined Roman.

The boys splashed a bit in the fountain on the Schlossplatz before heading up the hill to the ruins in the Kurpark.  You can push a pram up the hill here (and we did), but as always, a backpack carrier is best.  If this kind of crazy workout is your thing, stick to the paved path.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownWe climbed up in turrets and scrambled around inside the nearly intact walls.  We feasted our eyes on the fantastic view, and soaked in the sunshine warming the entire valley.  When the tummies started to rumble, we headed back down the hill and found a shady picnic spot close to the concert house.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownWe smoothed out blankets and spread a feast of hot dogs, baked beans, potato chips, chicken tenders, pasta salad, and apple pie.  At least if we couldn’t have fireworks, we were going to have us some darn good American food!Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThe kids frolicked around the meadow and painted themselves silly with red and blue watercolors while the parents sipped sweet tea.

After lunch, we meandered on down to the Roman bath ruins.  While contemplating whether or not to fork over the five euro family admission fee, the curator offered to let us in for free.  Score!  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThe small exhibit is well done, though signs are only in German.  I really appreciated how the raised walkway allowed us a unique view of the ancient baths.  Doc Sci tried to explain to the boys what they were looking at, but all they really understood was that these old pools look quite similar to our pools today.

Since we needed to let Big Foot take a nap, we skipped the Cassiopeia thermal baths this time.  Unlike the facilities Baden-Baden, this spa is family-friendly, and there is a discount for two adults visiting with up to three children.

On our next trip to Badenweiler (and we hope to return soon!), we’ll make sure to visit the Park der Sinne, a park of the senses.  This free outdoor experience seems like a great place for families to explore.

While I can’t say our kids really learned much about American Independence or why the Fourth of July is a holiday, we did teach them about the importance of embracing and celebrating our American heritage while we live in this beautiful foreign land.

For some decidedly German holidays, read about their Labor Day, Epiphany, and Carnival.Signature-Marigold

Kastelburg – Castle Ruins for Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kastelburg - Castle Ruins in Germany for KidsOne of the things I love most about living in Europe is that we are surrounded by history.  We can barely move a kilometer without bumping into something centuries old.  Castle ruins are some of our family’s favorite odes to bygone ages.  The boys love to explore the old architecture, pretend to storm the walls, and engage in fierce stick duels.

At this age, knights (Rittern) still capture their attention.  When I read about a castle ruin in Waldkirch, Germany, that was accessible by a path guarded by wooden knights, I knew we had to go.

The sword marks the spot.

The sword marks the spot.

Arriving in Waldkirch is easy by train or by car.  We found plentiful free parking near the Bahnhof.  Cross the tracks and head up Heitereweg.  Keep your eyes peeled for a large sign featuring a freaky-eyed lady and a gigantic sword.

The path - not too rocky, but not smooth enough for a stroller.

The path – not too rocky, but not smooth enough for a stroller.

The trail up to the Kastelburg isn’t too challenging even for little legs.  Rest assured, the children will be more interested in searching for the next knight along the path than complaining about the incline.  The way isn’t paved, so I don’t recommend pushing a pram up the hill.  Use a baby carrier instead.

The first knight along the trail.

The first knight along the trail.

I was intrigued by the different armor...

I was intrigued by the different armor…

But all the boys wanted to do was joust!

But all the boys wanted to do was joust!

Seeing as you're made of wood, I don't think you stand a chance against me.

Seeing as you’re made of wood, I don’t think you stand a chance against me.

Each Ritter standing guard along the route is carved from wood, and a small sign announces the story of how this particular man became a knight.  The text is in German, so brush up on your medieval words or create fairy tales on the fly.

A few days before our visit, a storm with unusually high winds swept through our corner of Germany.  As a result, several trees were down, and one even blocked our path to the castle.  No matter, our small company of warriors were still able to charge the castle.

What's that philosophical question.. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

What’s that philosophical question.. “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Eh, what's a 30 meter tree to some knights in training?

Eh, what’s a 30 meter tree to some knights in training?

Several walls and the tower of the Kastelburg are still intact.  The boys spent nearly a half an hour scrambling to explore every nook and cranny of the grounds.  I only saw one old stone window that wasn’t barred; everywhere else was boy-proof.

The VIEW - the panorama is always worth the pain.

The VIEW – the panorama is always worth the pain.

A carving of the castle as it was centuries ago.

A carving of the castle as it was centuries ago.

One of several walls still standing.

One of several walls still standing.

In fact, those without a fear of heights or vertigo issues can climb the steps inside the tower to catch an amazing view of Waldkirch and beyond.  We did this, palms sweating and heart pounding the whole way.  Keep your little ones close; it’s a looooooong way down.

The spooky stairs inside the Kastelburg tower.

The spooky stairs inside the Kastelburg tower.

Should you find yourself at the Kastelburg near the lunch hour, you’ll be pleased to know that picnic tables are located at the base of the fortress.  Bring your own rations, or buy them in Waldkirch before heading up the hill.  We didn’t make use of the tables since we visited in the morning and had already climbed up and down the Ritterweg before it was even time to break out the sandwiches.

Blowing past the picnic tables and charging ahead toward the magnificent view.

Blowing past the picnic tables and charging ahead toward the magnificent view.

In fact, we still had so much time and energy left over that we resolved to visit the hair-raising Naturerlebnispark on the other side of the village.  Read more about that adventure Thursday!

Knights and castles – what fun for the whole family!  I can confidently say we’ll be adding the castle ruins in Waldkirch to our list of easy family adventures to share with family and friends who come to visit.Signature-Marigold

More ruins!!

Hochburg Castle Ruins for Kids in Germany

Hochburg

Staufen Hiking with Kids in Germany

Staufen

Chateau de St Ulrich France - Hiking with Kids

Château de Saint-Ulrich

Vianden Castle with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Vianden Castle, LuxembourgSince I knew we’d only have one day in Luxembourg as part of our BeNeLux week, I wanted to squeeze in one more stop in addition to our morning in the capital.

Our family is totally into visiting ruins these days, so I thought it might be fun to pop in to a castle that has been restored.  Vianden is one such castle, located in a small town of the same name in the northeast corner of Luxembourg.  Lucky for me, this castle was a huge hit with all male members of my household.

Imagining what it must be like to charge up this path hundreds of years ago.

Imagining what it must be like to walk on these stones hundreds of years ago.

If you are able to visit Vianden in the summer during their Medieval Festival, I hear it is spectacular.  But even if you find yourself charging up the stone path while fighting gusts of icy wind, you’ll still enjoy Vianden Castle.

The chapel dome.

The chapel dome.

The castle is restored, and all the rooms are interesting in their own way.  For those concerned about little fingers touching things they ought not to, note that most of the hands-off items are in the first few rooms.  After that, the task shifts to keeping small bodies away from big drop-offs.

Treasures galore!

Treasures galore!

The beginning of the marked route through the the open rooms features old knight armor and weapons from the many centuries Vianden has been standing.  Other highlights include the chapel, the dining hall, the well, and some very Narnia-looking wardrobes.  History buffs will need to brush up on their German and French; none of the exhibit information cards were written in English.

Searching for Aslan.

Searching for Aslan.

In one of the rooms, I noticed a puzzle, some plastic swords, and a few other souvenir-type items in a glass case.  I whispered to Doc Sci, “Be ready – we’re going to be hit with the gift shop on the way out.”

But, I was wrong.  No gift shop.  If you’d like to purchase a trinket bearing the visage of Vianden, you’ll have to do so from the tiny admission booth near the entrance.

Following the prescribed path.

Following the prescribed path.

For those interested in practicalities, Vianden has two sets of bathrooms: one outside the castle, and one inside on an upper floor.  Bring your own baby changing mat.  It is possible to push a pram up the hill to the entrance, but you’ll have to ditch it to go inside the castle.  When we visited, the only refreshments available came from a soda vending machine.  It looked like a cafe was being constructed, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  Until then, bring your own…

My favorite feature of this castle was how it seemed to be forged from the rock itself instead of just sitting upon it.

My favorite feature of this castle was how it seemed to be forged from the rock itself instead of just sitting upon it.

If you’re in need of an ice cream or bottle of water on a warm day, I noticed a small souvenir shop in the town a short walk down the road from the castle.  You’ll have to go further and cross the river for anything more substantial.

Delightful details.

Delightful details.

For outdoorsy types, Vianden is at the top of several hillside hiking trails.  Visit the castle, and then hike your way down the mountain to the river and village below.  We didn’t venture out due to time restrictions, but a quick look revealed the path to be rather steep.  Take care when going down with little ones underfoot.

Doc Sci snapped a quick photo of these hiking routes leading down from Vianden Castle.

Doc Sci snapped a quick photo of these hiking routes leading down from Vianden Castle.

All in all, Vianden Castle is a delightful gem on the Luxembourg – Germany border.  It’s worth your time, but make sure you have plenty of it.  The roads leading in and out of Vianden are rural, winding, and often stop-and-go.

The castle is a short walk from the small parking lots on the side of the hill.

The castle is a short walk from the small parking lots on the side of the hill.

Not able to get to the castle at Vianden?  Consider these other kid-friendly destinations in Luxembourg.

  • Gaalgebierg – A park with animals near Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg.  Free!
  • Parc Merveilleux – An amusement park with mini golf, pony rides, an animal park, playground, and more! Route de Mondorf L-3260 Bettembourg.
  • Luxlait Vitarium – A brand-new, hands-on museum all about MILK!

If you’ve been to Vianden or any other place of interest to little ones in Luxembourg, I’d love to hear about it below!Signature-Marigold

Snapshot: Luxembourg with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Luxembourg with KidsI’ve long wanted to go on a BeNeLux trip, and the week before Easter I finally did it!

In a nutshell, the BeNeLux countries were beautiful, the food amazing, the weather freezing, and the itinerary exhausting.  We had three (three!!) home bases in 7 nights.  I generally do not like to travel this way with kids, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbled this time.  So, ready or not, here comes a whole host of posts (ha!) on everything BeNeLux we could jam into one week.

Welcome to Luxembourg!

Welcome to Luxembourg!

First up, the Lux part!  Doc Sci and I carefully woke the boys up around 430am on a Monday morning and crept silently to our car.  Under the cover of darkness, we made our way through France to Luxembourg.  We were hit with two curve balls – the traffic going into Lux happened to be a lot heavier than anticipated, and the weather in Lux was much colder than predicted.

The Grand Ducal Palace, official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

The Grand Ducal Palace, official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

After finding our way to what has to be the BEST park in Lux, we awkwardly dressed the boys in their day clothes (they slept in the car wearing pajamas), trying to maneuver socks and buttons in our cramped car.  We fed the boys and the baby breakfast, and set out for a walk around the old city.

We were the only crazy tourists out at 8am.

We were the only crazy tourists out at 8am.

Good morning, beautiful church.

Good morning, beautiful church.

Funky fountain near the city's history museum.

Funky fountain near the city’s history museum.

I had envisioned savoring the beauty of the architecture and appreciating the stillness of the morning unclouded by throngs of tourists.  Oh, the streets were empty all right.  But the only thing I thought about was how I could barely feel my feet.  After a few hey-we-were-here pictures, we headed back to the park.

Fancy a bite to eat?  Better have a wad of cash - this child's expression at the ridiculously priced kids meal says it all.

Fancy a bite to eat? Better have a wad of cash – this child’s expression at the ridiculously priced kids’ meal says it all.

I might've ponied up to try this Mexican restaurant (isn't Chi Chi's a cheap salsa in the US?!), but 8am is a little early for me to be breaking out the burritos.

I might’ve ponied up some euros to try this Mexican restaurant (isn’t Chi Chi’s a cheap salsa in the US?!), but 8am is a little early for me to be breaking out the burritos.

On the way back to the park and our car, we found the tourist office.  We stopped in (hello, free heat) and were told that we had caught all the interesting sights.  The only thing we missed and couldn’t do anyway because of our time schedule was the underground casemates tour (a great description of the tour can be found here).  The admission is surprisingly reasonable, and we will definitely do this tour should we have the opportunity to return to Luxembourg.

Even without the cold, we probably could have spent one day in Luxembourg – max.  The city is quite compact, and very walkable.  If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler, prams are okay, but a backpack carrier would be better especially if you plan on walking up and down the fortress walls or taking the casemates tour.

When researching Luxembourg, I noticed a hop on-hop off tour.  I have to say that after seeing Luxembourg in person, that tour is most likely a waste of money unless you have limited mobility.  The tour buses are not frequent, and all the sights are quite close together.

Luxembourg is a city with layers and layers and layers of history.  Seeing the old fortresses was Doc Sci's favorite part of the morning.

Luxembourg is a city with layers and layers and LAYERS of history. Seeing the old fortresses was Doc Sci’s favorite part of the morning.

Another view from the old fortress.

Another view of the city from the old fortress.

Though I loved taking in the view of the Grand Ducal Palace, I know the boys thought the pirate ship playground was the highlight of our morning in Lux.  If you’d like to visit yourself, the huge park is located near the corner of Avenue Monterey and Boulevard Prince Henri, right next to the Monterey parking garage.  Free (warm!) bathrooms are located in the park as well as in the parking garage.  Many cafes are within walking distance should you need a bite to eat.  (More about this park here.)

The gigantic pirate ship playground!

The gigantic pirate ship playground!

Though it's hard to tell, this slide is at least two stories high, maybe three!

Though it’s hard to tell, this slide is at least two stories high, maybe three!

This park ROCKS!

This park ROCKS!

My snapshot of Luxembourg: bitter cold, enchanting, historically fascinating, and very expensive.

Have you been to Luxembourg?  What was your favorite part of Lux to see, do, taste, or experience?Signature-Marigold

Wandering Weekend: Staufen, Germany

Staufen!  Big Foot was also with us, but he was hanging out on Doc Sci's back.

Staufen! Big Foot was also with us, but he was hanging out on Doc Sci’s back.

The German word for hiking is wandern.  It’s one of the words I actually like – short, easy to say, and it actually makes sense.  We’re getting into the German wandering thing and exploring small villages, castle ruins, and the countryside every chance we get.

Two weekends ago we wandered on over to the little village of Staufen.  It’s a wine town, and perched above the grapevines is a smashed up castle.  Exploring such a place on a Saturday morning is definitely our idea of a good time.

Below is a peek at our little trek.  Enjoy!

Why, hello there castle ruin.

Why, hello there castle ruin.

We tried to memorize this map and the various ways to hop to the top..

We tried to memorize this map and the various ways to hop to the top..

but, we kinda sorta took the wrong way and ended up here with the sheep.  It was a happy accident though - the boys loved watching the lambs.

but, we kinda sorta took the wrong way and ended up here with the sheep. It was a happy accident though – the boys loved watching the lambs.

Back on track, we found this walkman just hanging out in a tree.  Geocaching??

Back on track, we found this old skool Walkman just hanging out in a tree. Geocaching??

And German dudes tending to their vines.

It must have been a day for tending the vines because we came across several workers.

It must have been prime time for vine dressing because we came across several workers.  Nice view from the office for this dude.

Nice view from the office for this dude.

Hey there, little village of Staufen!  The view from the top is swell.

Hey there, little village of Staufen! The view from the top is swell.

Even my five year-old thinks you're something to look at.

Even my five year-old thinks you’re something to look at.

Though not as impressive as Hochburg, the ruins were nice enough for a picnic lunch.

Though not as impressive as Hochburg, the ruins were nice enough for a picnic lunch.

Not wanting to backtrack, we took the alternate route down the hill.  And by down, I mean we almost fell down the extremely narrow, steep steps.

Not wanting to backtrack, we took the alternate route down the hill. And by down, I mean we almost fell face first on the extremely narrow, steep steps.

The ruins from the other side.

The ruins from the other side.

Staufen has a little Wii wine shop.  How could you not stop in and buy a bottle?

Staufen has a little Wii wine shop (hehe). How could you not stop in and buy a bottle especially when you almost tumbled down the hill where the grapes were grown?

Nerdy travel alert!  Doc Sci explained to T-Rex how this ancient wine press works.

Nerdy travel alert! Doc Sci had a good time explaining to T-Rex how this ancient wine press works.

Spare bottles in case you want to give it a go yourself?

Spare bottles in case you want to give it a go yourself?

My favorite find of the day - an iron pretzel.

My favorite find of the day – an iron pretzel.

Thanks for letting me share!  Where would you like to wander?

Signature-Marigold

Hochburg – Castle Ruins for Kids

Hochburg Castle Ruins

Hochburg Castle Ruins

We’ve experienced unusually warm temps this winter in Germany.  And by warm, I mean warm for people who are from cold places.  For us Florida folk, it’s still flippin’ freezin’.  But, it doesn’t keep us from going outside in search of adventure.

All sorts of exciting make believe can be found among castle ruins.  Don’t believe me?  Take along two boys under the age of six and suddenly you’re slinging arrows, fending off foes with sturdy stick-swords, and cooking up concoctions that put Stone Soup to shame.

I think I’m teaching my boys about history and culture, but really they’re schooling me.  Seriously, how could I have missed that Spiderman lived in medieval times?

If you want to take your own little critters to this particular castle ruin known as Hochburg, it can be found just outside the village of Emmendingen.  Head in the direction of Windenreute, and follow the brown signs.  The castle can be seen at the top of the hill.  We took the car this time, but I noticed a bus stop at the trail head for those using public transportation.  Parking is adjacent to the road, free, and happens to be in the vicinity of some very smelly cows.  Moo.

Here’s a look at our hike.

Okay, I called this a hike, but it's less than 1km from the parking lot to the castle.  And most of it is paved.  It's certainly doable to push a pram up the hill.

Okay, I called this a hike, but it’s less than 1km from the parking lot to the castle. And most of it is paved. It’s certainly doable to push a pram up the hill.

On the way, we caught a lovely view of the village of Emmendingen.

On the way, we caught a lovely view of the village of Emmendingen.

Since we expected a much longer trek up to the castle, we decided to be properly German and go wandering about the forest.

Since we expected a much longer trek up to the castle, we decided to be properly German and go wandering about the forest.

The boys pretended to be street sweepers, pushing all the leaves away.  But Doc Sci had something more manly in mind.  When we discovered a tree that had fallen across the path, he told the boys that someone was setting a trap for us and we needed to fight them.  We brandished our big sticks, counted to five, and yelled, "CHARGE!" running full speed ahead up the hill for a full 3 seconds.

The boys pretended to be street sweepers, pushing all the leaves away. But Doc Sci had something more manly in mind. When we discovered a tree that had fallen across the path, he told the boys that someone was setting a trap for us and we had to defeat them. All together, we brandished our big sticks, counted to five, and yelled, “CHARGE!” running full speed ahead up the hill for a all of 3 seconds.  If this does not sound fun to you, please do not have boys.

Unfortunately, nothing sounds fun to this kid.  Depressed is the best look I can get from Big Foot whenever we go on adventures.

Unfortunately, nothing sounds fun to this kid. Depressed is the best look I can get from Big Foot whenever we go on adventures.  Please excuse the snot rivers.  I wiped them after the photo.  I promise.

We randomly discovered this little hut which can be rented.  Maybe if I spoke German, I could figure out how.

We randomly discovered this little hut which can be rented. Maybe if I spoke German, I could figure out how.  And why anyone would want to rent a little hut in the middle of the forest.

When I asked T-Rex the next day what his favorite part of the hike just happened to be, he could remember only two things.  The insane amount of mud we trudged through, and the copious amounts of horse poop that littered the trail.

When I asked T-Rex the next day what his favorite part of the hike just happened to be, he could remember only two things: the insane amount of mud we trudged through, and the copious amounts of horse poop that littered the trail.  Such sophisticated knowledge my children are absorbing through these experiences.

After we'd had enough of the mud and poo, we hightailed it back to the castle.

After we’d had enough of the mud and poo, we hightailed it back to the castle along a path strewn with firewood and timber.

Poor baby had fallen asleep by then, burying his face in boogers no doubt.

Poor baby had fallen asleep by then, burying his face in boogers no doubt.  Isn’t this fluffy bear suit ridiculous?

Grape vines surround the castle.  I bet this place is hoppin' come harvest time.

The hill surrounding the castle is crawling with grape vines.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and guess those haven’t been there for centuries.  Thirsty plunderers wouldn’t have stood for it.

The views are nothing short of idyllic.

The views are nothing short of idyllic… if you can enjoy them with shrieking children in the background.

Should you fancy a picnic on the castle grounds, note that there are proper tables and benches surrounding the fortress.

Should you fancy a picnic on the castle grounds, note that there are proper tables and benches surrounding the fortress.

Or you can go rogue and munch atop the old kitchen stove.

Or, you can go rogue and munch atop the old kitchen stove.

The ruins at Hochburg are roomy enough for romping around, but cozy enough for keeping an eye on rambunctious youngsters.

The ruins at Hochburg are roomy enough for romping around, but cozy enough for keeping an eye on rambunctious youngsters.

Should you need a loo after lunch, only slightly medieval bathrooms are located near the entrance.  Unless you happen to visit November through March in which case you'll have to hold it since the water is not turned on in the winter.

If you need a loo after lunch, only slightly medieval bathrooms are located near the entrance. Well, unless you happen to visit sometime November through March in which case you’ll have to hold it since the water is not turned on in the winter.

It seems that everyone in our family relishes a good ruin.  (Well, except for grumpy baby #3, but he'll come around..)  Several down, only 23,971 to go!

We’ve come to the conclusion that everyone in our little family relishes a good ruin. (Well, except for grumpy boy #3, but he’ll come around..) So, here’s to it – several down, only 23,971 more (in Germany) to go!

Do you love a good castle ruin?  Check out our adventures in Staufen and Chateau de St. UlrichSignature-Marigold