Our Unforgettable 10th Anniversary Swiss Getaway

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, SwitzerlandThe last time Doc Sci and I had the chance to escape alone, Charlie was still swimming in my stomach. We went to Milan for one warm, delicious day (the little one must have liked it because we ended up back in Italy to celebrate his first birthday). But with the little guy nearly two (2!!), we were due for another getaway.

With our tenth anniversary on the horizon, I entertained visions of endless days spent lying on Greek beaches, in private villas, and around infinity pools. These images must have been more delusion than dream because who I am kidding?! There’s no way we have the financial or child-care means to support such grand plans.

Instead, we ended up with a plan that was much more “us” than my former imaginations. We booked our trusty babysitter for a day and a half and set off for Switzerland to sleep in the Alps and hike the classic Faulhornweg.

Logistics

Faulhornweg day-trippers need to take the cog wheel train from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte, make their way to First (about 6 solid hours of walking, not including breaks), take the cable car back down to Grindelwald, and then a train back to Wilderswil.

It sounds confusing, but the basic idea is that you must travel up one side of the mountain, walk an insanely long way, and go back down the other side in order to return to your car. It can be done in reverse, but I consistently read that it was recommended to start at Schynige Platte.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

The terrace at Hotel Schynige Platte.

I figured with our limited budget, we’d need to overnight at a hotel in Grindelwald or even Interlaken. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Hotel Schynige Platte reasonably priced for Switzerland. The hotel sits just above the cog wheel train station on top of the mountain and affords diners and sleepers glorious views of the big three: Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger. Rates include both a five-course dinner and breakfast buffet.

Going Up

Since we missed the cog wheel train experience at Pilatus, both Doc Sci and I were eager to cross this experience off our bucket list. We bought tickets in Wilderswil and waited for the last train of the day. We were asked repeatedly if we had overnight reservations (yes) because it would be a cold night alone on the mountain if we didn’t.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

To our surprise, other than a pack of paragliders, we were the only passengers on the train, save one Swiss family with two children. Doc Sci and I were like giddy school kids, jumping over the benches, hanging out the windows, snapping photos every three seconds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Interlaken!

At the beginning of the train ride, we could see Interlaken, Thunersee, and Brienzersee. But then the train went through a series of tunnels before popping out in front of her majesty, Jungfrau.

Just like with the Eiffel Tower, sometimes the best view is not from the monument itself, but rather from a distance.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Why, hello there.

The Hotel

We pulled into the station at Schynige Platte, and checked into our hotel. The Hotel Schynige Platte is marketed as something from “grandma’s time.” The bathrooms are very modern (though not en-suite), the hotel is renovated and sparkling clean, but we had to laugh at some of the cheesy antiques.

All chuckling aside, we could barely speak when we saw the view from our room. I’m absolutely sure we had the best room in the entire house because it was on the corner and we could see the Alps from both windows.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Jungfrau!

Dinner was a curious affair. I can’t remember the last time I ate a five-course meal in a restaurant. I must have forgotten that snobbery is often the only thing that comes complimentary.

When we arrived at our table, the waitress insisted that we must order drinks. We only drink water with dinner at home, and I didn’t see in any TripAdvisor reviews that drinks (or at least water) were not included in the dinner price. She refused to bring us tap water and because we only had a limited number of francs with us (stupid I know, but I was not expecting to be manhandled), we couldn’t just order anything regardless of cost. We awkwardly asked for a menu.

A little heads up on this would’ve been nice, and a little understanding from the server would’ve been even nicer. We finally ordered a half liter of Sprite to the tune of 6 CHF. Yikes.

The worst part was that we realized later that another table had tap water – and a different waitress.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Several of the courses were served on “plates” of stone or wood.

This flap put a bit of a damper on our dinner. We tried our best to ignore it, but this server was intent on remaining surly throughout the entire meal. To make matters worse, it started raining during dinner, clouding up our view of the Alps.

Well, whatever – we were here without kids, and we were going to make the best of it!

The room was chilly, but a space heater did the trick. As I mentioned, none of the rooms are not en-suite, but we never had to wait for a toilet or shower, and everything was very clean. It was odd to sleep in such silence with nothing but an occasional gust of wind to break it. We savored every minute of it.

In the morning, we rose early in anticipation of the long hike ahead. Breakfast was a limited buffet (though they did have hard boiled eggs and an assortment of pork cold cuts in the protein department). We made ourselves Alpine cheese sandwiches to take along, and we devoured the traditional Swiss yogurt and muesli in between swigs of coffee.

The Hike

After checking out, we stepped out into the drizzle. Unfortunately, the rain from the night before had lingered. Never mind that, our spirits were still high. Whenever anything threatened to fizzle our cheery disposition, we just looked at each other and said, “No kids!”Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

But this weather, this drizzle, was to be the best of the whole day. The plus side was that we were the only people on the trail. We could chat with each other or climb in silence. Our exclamations at the beauty of this place, even despite the fog and rain, annoyed no one. Pit stops were possible anywhere one pleased.

We traversed so many different types of terrain – huge boulders, tiny footpaths, bits of snow, gurgling streams. We dodged cow pies in pastures with scary heifers and slimy black salamanders that came out to frolic in the puddles. It was incredible.

The only thing that could have made it any more amazing would’ve been the lifting of the clouds so that we could have seen the peaks around us while we hiked.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

The down side of the nasty weather was that by the middle of the hike, we were already on our way to being soaked. We wanted to sit in shelter somewhere to grab a bite to eat. We came across one restaurant (Berghaus Männdlenen Weberhütte) that rudely shooed us away since we only wanted to take a break and not buy a meal. The only other restaurant (Berghotel Faulhorn) we saw was at the Faulhorn summit. We figured we had about 5 CHF to spare and bought a hot chocolate with that in order to sit inside and warm up.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Faulhorn summit.

Unfortunately, our clothing and belongings were now thoroughly drenched (note to self: check waterproofing on clothing and gear before going on a substantial hike). Putting them back on and stepping back out into the chilly rain and blistering wind sent my teeth a-chattering and my body temperature in a frightening downward spiral. Thankfully, I warmed up again after about 30 minutes, and at that time, we discovered a free hut where we could have eaten our lunch.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Bachsee.

This hut looked out over the Bachsee, a lake popular with tourists ascending from Grindelwald to First. The sea was dead that day – no swimming, no fishing. I had hoped to take a dip in the Alpine water, but no dice. We had to keep moving to stay warm and get to a place where we could finally dry off.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking from Schynige Platte to First, Switzerland

Don’t get any crazy ideas – that’s a camera and zoom lens in my jacket, not a baby bump.

Water literally poured off of us as we stepped inside the cable car at First for the ride back down to the Grindelwald valley. I think the only things that weren’t completely dripping were our feet (thank God), our cameras, and our phones. We rode down the mountain relieved to have made it and eager to get back to our car to change into dry clothes.

Final Thoughts

Would I do this hike again? Absolutely. But, only if I had the assurance of a clear day with no rain. And I think my boys would love this route in a few years. Perhaps we’ll go back for our 15th anniversary.

Doc Sci and I talked about anything and everything during the hike to stay focused, positive, and warm. I am so thankful that we are the best of friends. The fact that after 10 years of marriage, we still have things to talk about really encouraged me. While I would have obviously wished for better weather and more amazing views, hiking in these awful conditions really solidified something for me. I’d rather be in a miserable place with my husband than in a gorgeous one without him.

Have you ever had weather or vendor attitudes threaten to ruin your plans for an amazing vacation? I’m not always this positive – I think the absence of potential chorus of whining helped – so if you have any tips on how you managed to make the best of things, share them in the comments below.Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Hiking with Kids: The Ravennaschulucht

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtI see looooooads of hiking in our family’s future.  Exploring nature – hopping over streams, listening to rushing rivers, searching for perfect walking sticks – is something every one of us enjoys.. well, except Big Foot.

He’s generally grumpy because he has to be bolted into a backpack whenever we wander about.  But I have hope that he’ll come ’round when his legs are strong enough to carry him and his will is soft enough to decide that listening and following directions really wouldn’t be so. incredibly. awful.

We’re rather fortunate to find ourselves within an easy drive of the Black Forest  in Germany which just so happens to be chock full of trails and adventures suitable for little ones.  My friend Nancy (hi, Nancy!) lent me an ADAC book on hiking in the Schwarzwald with kids (this one, if you’re interested) and insisted we take on the Ravennaschlucht.

The Ravennaschlucht is a wild and romantic gorge with a stream and several waterfalls chasing through it.  As if that wasn’t enough of a draw, the ADAC itinerary tacks on other attractions including several saw mills and a glass blowing studio… all in less than 8km.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtFancy a go at the gorge yourself?  Well, grab your trusty boots, and come along!

We followed the route set forth in the guide, starting out at Hinterzarten.  I balked at paying for parking at the train station, so we drove a bit further along Alpersbacher Str. where we discovered a free parking lot.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: Ravennaschlucht

As you walk along Löffeltalweg, you won’t be able to ignore the swelling sound of rushing water.  The Rotbach stream was used to power several saw mills located along the footpath.  My boys were in awe of the gigantic blades and completely confused as to how prickly, uneven logs turned into perfectly flat boards despite Doc Sci’s best efforts to explain.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtLeaving the mills, you’ll be treated to a series of waterfalls, several close enough to touch.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtSoon you’ll have to make a choice – continue on or face the B31.  I wasn’t sure how we’d cross three lanes of whizzing traffic on the “Hell’s Valley” highway.  Fortunately, my worries were needless – a tunnel for hikers and bikers had been constructed underneath the road.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtNext stop – the Hofgut Sternen, a small village composed of a hotel, restaurant, a large glockenspiel, and a glass blowing studio (with a gift shop, of course).  Scarf down a snack or two here, because the path through the gorge doesn’t offer many places for pit stops.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtAfter everyone is fully hydrated, have a look at the artist fashioning everything from vases to earrings to wine glasses to Christmas ornaments from the blazing hot and stringy glass.  I should mention that only well-behaved or independently wealthy children should enter the shop… Everything is within reach of the curious and clumsy.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtMake your way to the Ravennaviadukt, an imposing railway bridge that marks the entrance to the gorge.

Once you climb up the first set of steps, you’re in hand-holding territory.  Though I never felt unsafe, some parts of the path can be rather dicey with steep drop-offs and thinly railed bridges.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: Ravennaschlucht

As we hiked higher and higher, I couldn’t help but wonder when the gorge was going to end.  I don’t like being lost, and the ADAC guide only mentioned that the path would end.  Not when or how or where.

When the trail finally did terminate, I was even more surprised at the lack of information.  You’ll know you’re at the end of the gorge when a lovely biergarten with a playground appears.  I guess this is so German that the writer didn’t think to include it!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtCarrying on, we made our way back to the ferocious B31 and, again, crossed underneath it.  We found ourselves in the company of some lovely cows on the grounds of the Birklehof boarding school.  Once you see the onion dome, take a quick detour around the back of the building.  There you’ll find a fantastic playground and fire pit.

We ended the day with cookies in the car as a reward for excellent little boy behavior.  Hooray!

If you’d like to hike Ravennaschlucht yourself, I’d like to suggest a few variations from the ADAC itinerary:

  • If you have a car, park at the Hofgut Sternen and start your hike from there.  You won’t have to pay for parking near the Hinterzarten train station, and more lunch options will be available in town.
  • If you only want to hike the gorge, I’d again recommend parking at the Hofgut Sternen.  Keep in mind that you will have to double back.  This would be a good option for the littlest of legs.
  • However, if public transportation is how you’ll be traveling, then the only option is to begin and end at the train station.
  • Consider hiking the reverse of the order I’ve mentioned here.  You’ll be walking downhill instead of uphill through the steepest part of the gorge.  The slope near the saw mills is rather gentle in comparison.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtMore family-friendly places to explore in the Schwarzwald area of Germany – Triberg, Kastelburg, Staufen, Steinwasen Park and Schauinsland (from our first month here – four years ago!).

How about you?  Been on any good hikes lately?  Are they within driving distance of southwest Germany? 🙂Signature-Marigold

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

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

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