We are planning to take my parents on a tour of Germany this summer. They are both in their early 80s and in good health but are nervous about walking on cobblestones. Do you have any suggestions for towns/cities to visit? I was thinking of renting a car and driving from Berlin to Munich. But, I am open to any ideas.
We had a marvelous German and Czech trip last summer with my parents, in their mid- and late-80's. Since you will find cobblestones throughout Germany, choose cities and towns based on your interests. Once you've decided on a tentative itinerary, bring it to this Forum and you will receive excellent travel suggestions and advice!
I have some suggestions for making the most of this experience with your parents:
- Make sure they have comfortable walking shoes that fit well and are well-broken in. (Better yet, two pairs--one to wear, one to pack as a "back up" pair.) They can break in their shoes by taking increasingly long walks at home (with medical approval, if needed) to build up their stamina and balance.
- Have them check in with their doctor(s) regarding the use of compression socks or other light support socks/stockings, especially for the flight and for other days that involve a lot of sitting. This would also be a good time for them to ask the doctor for suggestions for exercises to build balance. Have them do this soon so they can make the most of these six months leading up to the trip.
- If they use a cane or hiking poles for walking, take these along. Hiking poles usually have to go in checked bags. (Check with the TSA on this.) Pack extra rubber tips--better yet, tips that are larger than those that come on basic poles, available where you buy hiking poles. (Discovered the tips easily get lost between cobblestones!)
- Consider purchasing travel insurance to cover emergency medical expenses.
- Schedule some "down" days, afternoon breaks, even half-day bus tours (mom & dad enjoyed these in Berlin and Dresden).
- A car is unnecessary when staying in a city--plus, parking is very expensive. Look for hotels that are near a tram or bus line so you can use public transportation. Taxis are reasonable when you consider the cost is shared among the group (I'm assuming that "We" means there will be 4+ in your group?). Rent a car when you leave the city to explore smaller towns.
- When you reserve hotels, make sure there is an elevator if it is likely your room will be above the first floor.
- Multi-floor museums will have elevators, but you will usually need to ask an employee to use it (or they may offer it to you and your parents).
Encourage you parents to read some guide books and choose a few "can't miss" sites, then build your trip from there. Enjoy the planning, and have a marvelous trip--you will be sharing the memories for years to come!
Renting a car makes sense if you want to visit also the countryside. In center areas it can be hard and expensive to find parking spaces nearby, maybe not if you arrive at summer vacations from big cities it will be easier. Normally taking trains (www.bahn.com) is a very good decision. Local public transports of Berlin and Munich are excellent, often also good accessible by lifts and / or excalators.
Be aware that walking distances in Berlin are huge for older people. Maybe take a HoHo bus tour which stops at major sights and you can hop on and off as you like. Next buses will come every 15-20 minutes. In Berlin very nice alternatives are rickshaw tours. They drive you around and tell something about sights.
In Berlin's two centers the ratio of cobblestones is very low.
Close to Berlin is Potsdam with UNESCO world heritage listed palaces.
Do you have any suggestions for towns/cities to visit?
What are you and your parents are interested in? Maybe Hamburg or Dresden can be interesting alternatives. Normally between Berlin and Munich I like to recommend Bamberg with nice old town but I cannot the pavements.
Cobblestoned streets are pretty common but they are usually bordered by standard concrete sidewalks. In old-world towns like Nördlingen you will often find streets with stones everywhere, however:
Would these be difficult for the parents? Hard to say. They are not big rounded stones, but generally pretty flat like the ones in the picture above that have been installed for driving and walking across, and they generally do not present nasty trip hazards, though they will often have irregular sloping. You can see some of that at the bottom left. But sloping can happen on concrete as well.
IME with older travelers, the real problems are STEPS and SLOPES and CURBS - combine those with FATIGUE and you may have a problem.
A car for seeing big cities like Berlin or Munich is completely impractical. I would definitely focus on smaller places that are not so demanding but still interesting, towns you can drive into and out of easily and that would not require long periods of walking, places where you can stay in the center and walk back to your rooms when you get tired, places with opportunities for sightseeing on a river cruise. There are thousands of good options. What are your parents' interests?
Here are some ideas for places that tend to be interesting and popular with older folks. There are many similar possibilities of course.
I don't think driving from Berlin to Munich is a great idea, as the train system in Germany is excellent. Do your parents walk with canes? If not, would a walking stick of some sort help them feel more balanced on uneven pavement?
I would recommend also Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig, Meissen, Lübeck. For smaller places, then the towns of Lüneburg, Plön, Eutin/Holstein, Weimar, Halle...all well connected by train.
Cobblestones are really not that bad. Only truly medieval, or Roman, roads are difficult to walk on, but they are rare. I guess fatique could be a bigger problem, especially in a spead out city like Berlin, or the huge gardens of Potsdam.
Do you have any suggestions for towns/cities to visit?
Two ideas for people with reduced mobility between Berlin and Munich:
The Spreewald, one hour to the south of Berlin, is a region in which the river Spree meanders in thousands of small waterways through meadows and forests. Very popular are guided tours in punted barges to the Sorbian villages of Lehde and Leipe (The Sorbs are a Slavic minority).
Dresden, a short detour between Berlin and Munich, has a very compact centre with several world-class museums. To enjoy beautiful suburbs like Radebeul or Loschwitz (with nostalgic funicular and suspension railways), or nearby sites like Pillnitz castle or Meissen, you can use the biggest fleet of paddle steamers in the world, which is a very nice and relaxing way to explore the Elbe valley.