Cheesy Fun at the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsHave you ever met an internet friend in person? 

Back in the iffy days (as in over ten years ago in the dark ages when Facebook didn’t exist and you couldn’t just look up about anyone on the planet), I took a chance and got to know two people online who turned into wonderful, real-life friends (hi, Jen! hi, Aaron!).

I’ve since met a handful more, none of whom have turned out to be criminally inclined.  It seems that what used to be weird with a hint of creepy, or a chance of freaky is now… well, normal.

Results (not?) typical.  Do (not?) try this at home.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers here at TTM and I started emailing back and forth, excited to discover a long list of things we had in common.  And then, she went out on a limb and invited our family to stay with hers, ya know, because it would thrifty and require travel.

Bingo!

And, so we found ourselves driving to Luxembourg to meet Rosie and her family (you can check out her blog here).  The kids had a blast together, and we felt as if our new friends were already old friends.

Despite it’s bad rap, the Internet really can bring people closer together.

Rosie suggested we spend part of the weekend visiting the Luxlait Vitarium, a milk museum about 30 minutes north of Luxembourg‘s capital.  I had wanted to make a stop here back in March, but we chose to continue on to the castle at Vianden instead.  A few phone calls later, we were all set to drag five kids along on a dairy tour.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Now, we travel a lot more than most families, and I spend an enormous amount of time researching kid-friendly activities at our various destinations (time I could be spent doing things like, uh, sleeping).  I end up chucking most of the suggestions I come across –  museums, zoos, theme parks, blah, blah, blah.

Often these attractions are expensive and rather unextraordinary.  I mean, a zebra is a zebra whether the zoo is in New York or New Zealand.  But, a milk museum?  With interactive exhibits?  And taste testing?  Now, that’s something I haven’t heard of before.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn case you aren’t up on your national milk brands (I’m not), Luxlait is the official dairy product brand in Luxembourg.  The Vitarium is a visitor center of sorts (an interactive experience, really) that’s attached to a ginormous factory that turns a gazillion liters of raw milk every day into ready-to-sell dairy products.

The entrance fee to the Luxlait Vitarium is rather steep, so our two cheapskate families visited on the weekend when tickets are less expensive.  Also, we booked an English tour to make us feel like we were getting more for our money.  And, boy did we ever!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAfter securing our jackets in the free lockers, a staff member instructed us to don on some rather spiffy 3D glasses and a stark white lab coat.  Fully costumed, we were then treated to a hokey but entertaining welcome video.  The two characters in the film served as guides for the next hour, contrasting new and old methods of manufacturing Luxembourgish milk products while leading us through the gigantic factory.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

The kids were fascinated by the robots and machines used to fill, package, and collect the dairy products.  The adults were amazed at the spankin’ new facilities, extensive areas we were permitted to peruse, and that the whole shindig held five kids’ interest for an entire hour.

That alone is worth the price of admission, right?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsWhen the tour ended, our (human) guide allowed each person to select a Luxlait product to sample.  We gorged ourselves on chocolate milk, eggnog, milkshakes, and Luxembourgish cooked cheese (slimy and spreadable yet somewhat solid.. very strange).

Of course, we needed to work off all those whole milk calories, so we moseyed on over to the interactive stations.  Racing, biking, stomping, jumping, balancing, listening, pulling, lifting, weighing… We were huffing and puffing long before we ran out of activities to try!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAll of the forty-plus, hands-on exhibits emphasized healthy eating and exercise… and, of course, how dairy is at the heart of both of those things.

To be honest, the whole experience felt like one continuous commercial for Luxlait products.  But, it was FUN.  Plus, the products are of a high quality and really do taste great.  Well, except for the cooked cheese.

I think the marketing genius behind the Vitarium just received a raise…

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn short, if you’re looking for a uniquely Luxembourgish experience that you won’t find replicated in Sydney or San Jose, make a beeline for the Luxlait Vitarium the next time you find yourself in the Grand Duchy.

For Rosie’s take on our milk museum visit or to simply stop by and say hello, click here.

Practical tips for visiting the Luxlait Vitarium with your family:

  • You can get to the Vitarium by bus or car.  Bus schedule here.  Parking is plentiful and free.
  • Try to visit on the weekend when tickets are cheaper.  Kids under 6 are free.  Current ticket prices here.
  • Book a tour (included in the admission price) in your preferred language at least a few days in advance.  Make a reservation online here.
  • Take kids potty before joining the tour because it lasts one hour and you’ll need to walk a LONG way back to the loo.
  • We brought a pram with us for Big Foot, so I can personally certify the tour is stroller-friendly.
  • Pack a picnic lunch because the cafe and restaurant are expensive.

Signature-MarigoldMore Luxembourg with Kids!  Read about our frigid morning in the city of Luxembourg here and an afternoon spent at Vianden Castle here.

Rhein Falls with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsI have to admit, I’ve never been one to go gaga over rushing water.  The sight of water falling doesn’t thrill me as much as, say, castle ruins.  Victoria Falls is on my lifetime bucket list, but Niagara strikes me as total kitsch.  But, after checking out the Rhein Falls in Switzerland, I think I may have changed my mind.  There’s something elusive, even alluring about the formidable power of an imposing waterfall.

Just south of Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland lies Neuhasen, the closest city to the falls.  The Rhein Falls are an easy drive from Stein am Rhein, Hohentwiel, Konstanz, Mainau, or even Basel or Zurich.

Visitors can access the falls on both sides of the river either through Schloss Laufen or Schlössli Wörth The Schloss Laufen side charges 5 CHF per adult for admission, but parking is free.  Schlössli Wörth, on the other hand, does not levy entrance fees but the car park costs 6 CHF for 2 hours.  We voted Schloss Laufen; well, okay, the GPS chose for us.

Schloss Laufen - not much to see in this castle except the inside of your empty wallet.

Schloss Laufen – not much to see in this castle except the inside of your empty wallet.

View old photographs of the falls while walking through Schloss Laufen.

View old artistic interpretations of the falls.

Part with your Swiss francs or euros at the ticket office.  Take advantage of the free, clean bathrooms around the corner.  Gaggle at the exorbitant food prices as you make your way to the castle.  A cinnamon sugar crepe for 6 CHF ($6.50) or a bratwurst for 7 CHF ($7.50) anyone?  Hey, at least parking is free!Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsSpeaking of free, cheapskates should know that it’s impossible to see anything from the castle without an entrance ticket.  However, Doc Sci and I theorized that it is entirely probable that one could take advantage of a decent view from the boat ramp.

From Schloss Laufen, follow the signs for the train/boat.  Walk all the way out on the dock, but don’t board.  You should be able to catch a glimpse of the falls from there… but you didn’t hear that from me!

A stained glass turret at the beginning of the descent.

A stained glass turret at the beginning of the descent.

After scanning our tickets and walking through the turnstile, we descended via stairs to the first of several platformsWikipedia described the way as “steep and narrow.”  In my experience, they were neither… at least not to the point of annoyance.

Screech kept saying wow, wow, wow.

Screech kept saying wow, wow, wow.

However, families with babies will find the steps a point of contention.  Though an elevator exists, it does little good for those who wish to experience the various platform views.  I noticed one or two parents with prams.  Frustrated, they had folded up their strollers and were lugging them around while the children walked.

Psssst!  If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m a huge fan of backpack carriers for little ones!

The elevator - all visitors exit the falls this way, but those with wheelchairs or strollers can enter here, too.

The elevator – all visitors exit the falls this way, but those with wheelchairs or strollers can enter here, too.

As you climb lower, the falls’ force and your fascination increases.  At one point, the water seems to be rushing straight at your face.  In a small cave near the bottom, you can even stick your hand in the stream.Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsThrifty Travel Mama - Rhein Falls

Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsThrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsFor serious thrill seekers, a boat ferries visitors from the Schlössli Wörth shore to an observation platform sticking straight up from the center of the falls.  Hats off to the skippers who must maneuver the torrid waters several times per hour.  I personally wouldn’t take small children on this excursion; but, if you’re interested, more information can be found here.

That yellow thing is the boat that takes visitors to the rock in the middle of the falls.  The only thing between you and the water is a thin, metal railing!

That yellow thing is the boat that takes visitors to the rock in the middle of the falls. The only thing between you and the water is a thin, metal railing!

Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsAfter you’ve had your fill observing the force of nature, head back up to the schloss and have a look around.  Kids can amuse themselves for a few minutes on the small playground; parents can decide if they’d like to splurge on an expensive fancy meal at the restaurant.

I can’t say I’ve been converted to a waterfall chaser, but I will admit that my interest in them has somewhat increased.  One thing Doc Sci and I have come to learn about ourselves in this expat experiment is that we love exploring all that the natural world has to offer.  So whether it be water or wind or forest or fjord, you can bet we’ll investigate anything once.. kids in tow.

Taking the family to Switzerland?  Check our adventures in Stein am Rhein and Schilthorn with kids!Signature-Marigold

Hohentwiel – AWESOME Castle Ruins for Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsIf you decide to visit only one smashed up castle in Germany, make it Hohentwiel.  In a nutshell, this place is absolutely stunning!  The extensive grounds dwarf the other ruins we have explored.  But, bring a picnic – you’ll be here a while!Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsFirst built in 914, the fortress at Hohentwiel (near Singen) at different times housed both a monastery and a prison.  During its heyday, it was considered unconquerable.  It’s no wonder that Napoleon ordered Hohentwiel destroyed in 1801.  Today, it’s the largest castle ruin complex in Germany, a claim verified by our good friend Wikipedia.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsWe arrived by car, but it’s also possible to come by public transport.  Stop half way up the mountain at the barn-like welcome center, and purchase your tickets (3,50 adults / kids free / family rate available).  It’d be a shame to hack it up the hill, just to be stuck outside the iron gates!

Speaking of that “hill”… it’s a brutal one.  It might look innocent enough at first; hey, it’s even paved most of the way.  But the climb is quite steep. That’s not to say kids can’t or shouldn’t attempt it.  We survived with a minimal amount of whining and, on the descent, observed a considerable number of senior citizens making the trek.  So, buck up!  You can do it!

Leave your pram at home unless you want to keep your arms in line with your ears the whole way.  Even if you did muscle a stroller up the mountain, it’s rather useless inside the complex.

Don't let this benign-looking path fool you...

Don’t let this benign-looking path fool you…

At least you can feast your eyes while your feet are screaming.

At least you can feast your eyes while your legs are screaming.

Screech thought he'd try a horizontal ascent, inching along parallel to the stone path.

Screech thought he’d try a horizontal ascent, inching along parallel to the stone path.  Yeah, that lasted about 3 seconds.

Descending was equally as challenging.  Time to get some walking poles and make life easy on the knees.

Descending was equally as challenging. Time to get some walking poles and make life easy on the knees.

Please do yourself a favor and leave the stroller at home!  I can only imagine what was running through that dad's head...

I can only imagine what was running through this dad’s head… and his kid isn’t even in the stroller!

While we were walking up to the ruins, Doc Sci noticed cords and lights strung up along the path.  When we reached the entrance, we found a stage and loads of equipment littering the fortress.  Boo.  Nothing like a bunch of techies and sound equipment to make a mess of your photographs.

Ugh, look at all this junk!

Ugh, look at all this junk!  And to the right you can see a stage.  We found at least 10 of these around the complex.  No bueno.

Visitors to Hohentwiel have several levels of ruins to conquer.  We didn’t look around the lower part on account of it being chock full of kegs and beer advertisements.  After a quick gander over the wall, we carried on up the steep, rocky path.

On the main level, we found the tower.  It’s not very pretty to photograph due to the cell phone antennae bolted to the side.  The view, however, goes beyond amazing.  On a clear day, you can see the Alps!

Whoa, Nelly!

Obviously, our day was not clear enough for the Alps…

The boys and I decided to investigate the tunnels underneath the original castle structure.  They giggled with delight as their shoes slid around on the slimy stones.  I couldn’t get over how much cooler the air felt; my non-scientific self estimated a 20F difference.  Nothing like free, natural air conditioning!

Deep, dark, and cool.

Deep, dark, and cool.

The best discovery for me lay in a smallish circular tower (real technical, I know) on the south side of the fortress.  Initially, we climbed down to it in order to snap a photo of the view, sans crowd control barriers.  We were delighted to find that we could, in fact, go on the tower.

Down, down, down, we picked our way carefully on the stone steps of the circular staircase.  We found ourselves in a cool, quiet recess.  The boys climbed up the rock in several places.  From here, we could watch the festival worker bees scurrying to set up their ugly equipment.

Don't miss this!!

Don’t miss this!!

Gah, just can't even get over that view.

Gah, just can’t even get over that view.

Keep the kids close; no railings here!

Keep the kids close; no railings here!

We passed this as we climbed down the stairs - a clue as to this area's former purpose, perhaps?

We passed this as we climbed down the stairs – a clue as to this area’s former purpose, perhaps?

Casing the joint.

Casing the joint.

Hello, pretty.

Hello, pretty.

If you want to know how my kids feel about traveling all the time, this picture says it all.

By the way, if you want to know how my kids feel about traveling all the time, this picture says it all.

We spent roughly two hours at the Hohentwiel ruins, and we would’ve stayed longer if we had not made plans to visit a few places in Switzerland later in the day.  As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend bringing a sack lunch.  I noticed several proper picnic tables as well as benches.  Even the most boring salami sandwich can be turned into a memorable meal when this is your backdrop!Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsIf you’re within day trip distance of Singen, add these ruins to the top of your “must see” list.  Unfortunately for us, no ruin in Germany will ever impress as much as the Hohentwiel.  Fortunately, we don’t care – we’ll never stop exploring!

Visiting the Bodensee / Lake Constance area?  You won’t want to miss Mainau, Stein am Rhein, or the city of Konstanz.  What are your favorite smashed up castles, German or otherwise?Signature-MarigoldYou can find this post and loads of absolutely fascinating travel-related posts at the Sunday Traveler hosted by my friend Chasing the Donkey. Check this week’s list out here!

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

Triberg – Towering Waterfalls & Black Forest Kitsch

Thrifty Travel Mama | Triberg, Germany - Towering Waterfalls and Black Forest KitschOne thing we haven’t done much of yet is explore the Black Forest (Schwarzwald).  Train connections can be problematic, and our experience driving in Florida is hardly preparation for braving twisty mountain roads.  But, we’re driving to Italy in less than a month, so we need to buck up.  To the forest we go!  Er, went…Thrifty Travel Mama | Triberg, Germany - Towering Waterfalls and Black Forest KitschTriberg is nestled in the thick of the Black Forest, and its claim to fame rests in the waterfalls, touted as “Germany’s highest.”  To be sure, they’re impressive.  But, exactly three minutes prior to writing this post, our good friend Wikipedia informed me that these are actually the second highest in Deutschland.  Doh!

Lies!!

Lies!!  It should say Germany’s highest waterfall that’s easily accessible.

Speaking of lies, I thought about telling you this was the Triberg waterfall since it is water falling in Triberg, but I didn't think you'd fall for it.

Speaking of lies, I thought about telling you this was the Triberg waterfall since it is water falling in Triberg, but I didn’t think you’d be so gullible.

As I put together the graphic for this post, I double-checked the tourist brochure that assured me, “Germany’s highest waterfalls are a splendid spectacle of nature.”   I guess touting them as the second highest doesn’t exactly do wonders for ticket sales.

While we’re talking tickets, adults admission costs 3,50 euro and children under 8 are free.  Entrance includes the use of patchily paved pathways and a printed pamphlet.  Whoop – de – doo.  Oh, right, and you get to see the falsely advertised waterfalls.

The falls from the first platform.

The falls from the first platform.

This is the first platform, seen from above.

This is the first platform, seen from above.

Highest or second highest, I still enjoyed listening to the furious roar of the foaming falls, feeling the wayward water droplets surprise my skin, and gazing out over the thickly forested valley.  False pretenses may have drawn me here, but the scenery was still worth the drive.

The Triberg Waterfalls don’t go straight down.  This might be a downer to some, but actually I appreciated the walkways built at various intervals in the falls that allowed for a unique perspective.  When was the last time you walked over the middle of a waterfall?

A view of the second platform.

Looking at the second platform.

Down, down, down!

Down, down, down!

My boys are usually game for whatever adventures I cook up.  Unfortunately, this week they were exhausted from swimming and skipping naps, and they whined about everything, including the elevation gain.

Looking at the falls from the third platform.

Looking at the falls from the third platform.

The ADAC (like AAA) guide to Hiking with Kids in the Black Forest lists this as an “easy” and “pram-friendly” hike.  Ha!  In terms of length, sure, it wasn’t too bad.  But the path did go straight up for most of the way.  I saw several families with children in strollers; they must be crazy.  It’s much easier to strap a kid on your back than it is to force a buggy straight up the side of a mountain, even if the walkway is paved.

Carry the kiddos if you must; you need to make it to the top!  A fantastic panorama of the dense Black Forest and Triberg valley waits as your reward.

Yeah, buddy, this is what it's all about!

Yeah, buddy, this is what it’s all about!

After you’ve taken it all in, what next?  Follow the signs to explore one of three trails (Cascade, Culture, or Nature) that should take between 45 and 90 minutes to complete.  The most kid-friendly is the red route (Culture).  We explored half of the green route (Nature).  Crazy people with strollers – the red route is the one for you.

Pick a path and follow the signs, distinguished by color.

Pick a path and follow the signs, distinguished by color.

The Culture Trail meanders out to a playground next to a small lake and a beautiful baroque church.  It then runs parallel to the main road in Triberg, parading right past a handful of souvenir shops hawking Black Forest wares including cuckoo clocks for which this area is known.

This is part of the green route - rocks and roots galore so don't even think about taking Graco along.

This is part of the green route – rocks and roots galore so don’t even think about taking Graco along.

We found some wacky stuff on the trails - this tree stump looks like a hand fused to a giant rock.

We found some wacky stuff on the trails – this tree stump looks like a wooden hand fused to a giant rock.

And this tree was literally growing out of a rock!

And this tree was literally growing out of a rock!

My T-Rex is obsessed with climbing.  He didn't even blink when I suggested he climb this boulder.

My T-Rex is obsessed with climbing. He didn’t even blink when I suggested he climb this boulder.

This playground waits at the far end of the red route.

This playground waits at the far end of the red route.

The Schwarzwald Museum, which my friend says is actually fun for kids.  I might have to come back in winter and give it a try.

The Schwarzwald Museum, which my friend says is actually fun for kids. I might have to come back in winter and give it a try.

Continuing on, the main street is completely overrun with tourist traps.  Fill your shopping bag with Dirndls, Lederhosen, Black Forest Bollenhut hats, beer steins, and cuckoo clocks.  Then fill your belly with Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.  If you’re looking for one town that exemplifies Black Forest kitsch, Triberg is it.

By the way, if you’re super into cuckoo clocks, the world’s biggest one is only a few kilometers outside Triberg.

Hey there, cuckoo clocks.

Hey there, cuckoo clocks.

You can find these funky statues that look like a cross between Easter Island and the Black Forest right near the parking lots across from the falls.

You can find these funky statues that look like a cross between Easter Island and the Black Forest right near the parking lot across from the falls.

Bye, bye, Triberg!

Bye, bye, Triberg!

Though the town was a bit much for me, we really did like the fibbing falls.  In winter, the whole area is frozen.  Since neither Doc Sci nor I have seen a gigantic shards of ice jutting out of mountain rocks, we just might need to make another trip up to the kitschy capital of the Black Forest.

What do you think – should we return when the falls are frozen?  Would you pay to see the waterfalls even though they’re falsely advertised?   Signature-Marigold

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

Naturerlebnispark: An Outdoor Experience for Families

Thrifty Travel Mama | Naturerlebnispark - An Outdoor Experience for FamiliesAfter our romp on the knight hike, our little band of wild warriors marched across Waldkirch to the next adventure of the day, Naturerlebnispark.

The big draw of the Naturerlebnispark is the Baumkronenweg, or treetop path.  In order to reach said path, one must first climb to the top of the hill.  Unfortunately, it’s rather steep, though not dangerously so.  Fortunately, as with the Ritterweg, family-friendly activities line the trail to keep little legs climbing.

Tip: If you combine a hike to the Kastelburg with a visit to the Naturerlebnispark, reverse the order.  The route to the castle ruins happens to be much easier in comparison.

This funky hand marks the spot - start your journey here.

This funky hand marks the spot – start your journey here.

To reach the top of the trees, start out at the fabulous climbing-themed playground that marks the entrance to the Naturerlebnispark.  T-Rex is totally fascinated by rock climbing at the moment, and it was hard to tear him away from the bouldering wall when we began our ascent up the hill.

The awesome climbing playground with a bouldering wall.

The awesome climbing playground with a bouldering wall.

Small signs informed us of our progress every 100 meters or so.  A picture frame hung just so outlined the view of the Kastelburg across the valley.  Displays encouraged passersby to guess the strength of forest creatures and to match animals with tracks.  A memory game introduced children to local animal and plant life.

Keep track of your progress up the mountain with these signs.

Keep track of your progress up the mountain with these signs.

Aha!  The Kastelburg!

Picture perfect – the Kastelburg!

Which log weighs as much as you do?

Which log weighs as much as you do?

About 200 meters from the entrance to the Baumkronenweg, we found a small rope bridge between two trees.  It was an experiment, really.  Could we handle climbing between trees on cables and small slats of wood?  If not, paying to play Tarzan would hardly be worth it.  Thinking the ropes were nothing to sneeze at, we all advanced without hesitation.

Doc Sci and Big Foot on the test track.

Doc Sci and Big Foot on the test track.

A gigantic wooden squirrel marks the spot where visitors must exchange cash for an experience.  Adult admission cost 5,50 euro, children from 5 to 15 years 4,00 euro.  Should you need to use the loo, porta-pottys are located across from the admission booth.

Welcome to the treetop path - the squirrel will be your guide.

Welcome to the treetop path – the squirrel will be your guide.

Beyond the squirrel, we found the hilarious sign, “Enter only if you are sure-footed and free from giddiness.”  Say, what?!  I had to know if this was an exact translation, so I called up my old pal Google Translate.  Sure enough, it’s listed among the options!  But really, the sign should’ve read something related to vertigo, not giddiness.  Ha!

Say, what?!

Say, what?!

I might add that the sign also warned that the path wasn’t suitable for infants or young children.  But since “young children” wasn’t defined and my infant was bolted onto Doc Sci’s back AND we had passed the just-in-case-you-might-get-freaked-out test on the mountain path, we went for it.

Make your way from tree to tree using a series of ropes and cables.

Make your way from tree to tree using a series of ropes and cables.

Would I advise you to do the same?  Uh, no.

My almost-four year-old’s feet slipped a few times.  Fortunately, I was within arms reach, and the gaps between ropes weren’t really big enough for him to completely fall through.  Also, the last bit of the path is a single log, no railing, and only ropes overhead that don’t hang low enough for little arms to reach.

I'm smiling because I hadn't reached the completely freaked out phase yet.

I’m smiling because I hadn’t reached the completely freaked out phase yet.

However, my five and a half year-old and his seven year-old friend zipped across all the ropes with no problem.  The little rascals even scampered across the aforementioned log without the help of the dangling ropes.

The end of the line.  At least this part of the path wasn't as high up as the rest of it.

The end of the line. At least this part of the path wasn’t as high up as the rest of it.

I only freaked out once when several tweens climbed on to the same rope bridge where I was making my way across with Screech.  Impatient at our progress (and clearly ignoring the directive to only have one climber on the bridge at a time), they starting jumping up and down, jeopardizing our balance.  Out came mama bear, and luckily – for them and for me – they stopped their shenanigans albeit momentarily.  We let them pass, and I heard another mama chewing the hooligans out only a few minutes later.

The entrance to Europe's longest high speed giant tubular slide.

The entrance to Europe’s longest high speed giant tubular slide.

Halfway through the ropes, we found the entrance to Europe’s longest high-speed giant tubular slide.  This sucker is not for the faint of heart.  A sign near the entrance warns, “Caution – Black hole effect!”  Riders pay 2 euros for the experience and sit on special mats made to increase speed, racing 190 meters down the mountain in pitch black conditions.

The end of the slide - and yes, you can hear the riders' screams echo as they barrel down the mountain.

The end of the slide – and yes, you can hear the riders’ screams echo as they barrel down the mountain.

To be honest, I was more than a tad bit relieved the minimum age for the slide was 8 years.

After finishing the ropes course, we strolled along the treetop boardwalk.  This wood and steel structure climbs to a height of 23 meters above the forest floor!  A stunning view of the valley waits at the edge of the mountain.  Just don’t look down!

Just in case you needed a reminder of how far you could tumble..

Just in case you needed a reminder of how far you could tumble..

If you’d like to stay closer to earth after these two aerial encounters, take your shoes and socks off to experience the oh-so-German barefoot path.  There’s also a decent playground, though it’s certainly not worth the price of admission just to frolic on the spielplatz.

The view!

The view!

My boys loved the Naturerlebnispark, and I’d recommend it for any family “free from giddiness.”

Though you can't tell from his face, this guy really does want you to come again.

Though you can’t tell from his face, this guy really does want you to come again.

The Baumkronenweg is open rain or shine every weekend from April to October and on public holidays.  The slide is closed in inclement weather.  It’s an easy walk from the Waldkirch train station to the climbing playground at the beginning of the Naturerlebnispark.  Street parking and a car park are available.  Don’t bring a pram – you won’t be able to push it up the hill or take it on the treetop path.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

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