3 weeks with the fam in Germany and Benelux

Just got back! 6 countries, 7 hotels, 13 castles, 3 adventure forests, 5 art museums, 1 french fry museum, 1 race car ride, and an embarrassing amount of schnitzel, chocolate and ice cream. Thanks to all of the great folks here who contributed to our successful trip! I'll try to post a few reflections and tips over the next few days. Museum thoughts: Overall, northern Europe was delightfully NOT crowded. Museum lines were easily avoided by arriving just before opening time (2nd in line at the Rijksmuseum arriving 10 min. early) or following Rick's instructions (no line at Anne Frank's house at 6pm). Longest wait was 15 min. at Pergamon in Berlin. I arranged online tix in advance for several major museums and was glad to have them, but really only NEEDED them at the Green Vault in Dresden, and the Neues Museum and Reichstag in Berlin. NOTE: a timed reservation is now required for the Neues Museum (Egyptian collection). You will not be admitted without it. Supposedly you can walk up and get a timed ticket for the same day, but our hotel told us that rarely works. Throughout Germany and Benelux, most places offered a "family ticket" 2 adults and 2-4 kids. Age limits vary, but most go up to 16. These were a great deal and the cashiers seemed to be willing to flex on the age (my son is 16, so technically too old on occasion.) Many top tier museums admit kids for free. Van Gogh Museum (Amst.) has an excellent scavenger hunt sheet for older kids. I was impressed with it, and our kids really dug into the details because of it. Pretty good when you can engage 12 and 16 yr olds on that level.
Off the beaten path: French Fry Museum in Bruges, DDR Museum in Berlin were both great fun. Armory at the Zwinger in Dresden is by far the best in class!

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
464 posts

French Fry Museum?! That's totally going on my bucket list! Also, there is no such thing as an embarrassing amount of chocolate or ice cream. Can't wait to hear about the adventure forests and race car ride!

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

OK, thanks to a tip, I am modifying my posting behavior. Here's the continuation of my trip report (I'll delete the separate posting I put up earlier.) Trier: Loves: Porta Nigra and meeting a RS tour group in the Zum Domstein restaurant. They got a kick out of my ripped out guide book pages, and the fact we were on our 8th Eurotrip with kids in tow. Hotel Villa Hugel is lovely with huge rooms, swimming pool and nice staff. They will do loads of laundry for a reasonable price. Off the beaten path, we enjoyed a slate mine tour in Fell with a crusty character of a guide, and the brand new roller coaster-style Sommerrodelbahn at Riol in Triolago. Tricky to find but well worth it. Low point: rain.
Rhine and Mosel: Burg Eltz and Rheinfels lived up to expectations, incl. great patios for snacks with a view. Rheinfels has a scavenger hunt sheet for kids in English. Marksburg tour seemed scattered and disorganized, so we didn't get a good feel for the place. Contrary to Rick's tepid reviews, we quite liked Cochem, and Pfalz Castle in the middle of the river. Note: Pfalz closes early if no one is showing up for the ferry by 4:30 or 5. I can't imagine doing the Rhine without a car. It feels like it would be very difficult to use your time efficiently. The little car ferries across the river are fun!

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

Beilstein: Hotel Haus Lippmann has a totally awesome, ginormous family room in the annex. Lovely stay there and the hike up to the castle is nice. Dinner on their terrace was delicious and inexpensive. A rare sunny day!
Oberwesel: Hotel Schonburg (in the castle) is a major splurge but may have won our award for coolest hotel ever. Who cares if it's all "re-created?" Just poking around the place and finding that you can walk out onto the castle walls and such is awesome. Even if you don't stay at the hotel, you can visit the little tower museum and walk around most of the castle with no problem. Off the beaten path: Klettersteig hiking, called Via Ferrata in Italy. Rick tried one of these in a video recently. His route was difficult, but we found an easier one just north of Oberstein with a few ladders and cabled assist sections (no equipment req'd.) It's called the Oeselberg Steig, 5.7km, about 2.5 hrs. Ups the adventure level on regular hiking just a bit!

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

Amsterdam/Bruges: Amsterdam: Love: the "edited" version of the Rijksmuseum. Due to renovation, the museum has been compressed into a few rooms filled with the best works. All the good stuff, not a lot of walking! Playing on the iAmsterdam giant letters. Anne Frank House was somehow disappointing to me. Too museum-ified maybe. The original copies of her diary have been removed for conservation, so everything on display is copies. Bruges: Loves: French Fry Museum, Chocolate Museum, climbing inside a windmill (on the bike path to Daame) and watching the ladies make lace. Damon Chocolate shop-yum!! Hotel Jan Brito has a delightful duplex room for families that incorporates a lofted sleeping area into the heavily beamed attic. Appropriate for older kids-dangerous for little ones. Renting bikes is definitely the way to go for easy zipping around town. Low Point: tummy troubles. Thank heavens I had packed all the tummy meds!

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

NURBURGRING SPECIAL REPORT for gearheads! (And thanks to those who helped me!) Riding a lap in a race car on the Nurburgring was a top item on our list. First, the stats: top speed: 142 mph. Avg. speed: 77 mph. Total time: 9 min, 42 sec. Terrifying and thrilling. One lap was completely satisfying! Here are some details for those who might want to do it in the future (Sorry this is long, but I really wish I could have found these tips beforehand.) Nuts and bolts: The Nurburgring is a "real" road that is used as a test track, race track and toll road (24E/lap) for regular folk to drive on. You can drive your own car on it, but not a regular rental car. Ring rentals are available, including insurance, from local vendors, at a pretty penny. Being completely inexperienced at this sort of thing, we opted to ride a lap in a BMW Ring Taxi, also at a pretty penny, but with the advantage of a professional driver. The archaic system required to do this is mind-boggling. If you would like a detailed walk through of the ticket process, feel free to message me. It's nuts--like buying rock concert tickets with wire transfers. Amazing that BMW doesn't take a credit card!
Visiting the Ring is fun. There is a huge visitor's center that includes a museum, go-kart rentals, shops, etc. My son and I took the backstage tour and enjoyed seeing the pits, historical areas, and so on. It was very exciting because there was a motorcycle race on the Formula I part of the track. You can also find spots along the Ring to park and watch insanely expensive cars zoom by, along with the occasional family SUV. For those less auto inclined, Nurburg Castle is worth a visit too. It is located above the town of Nurburg, inside the Ring.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4879 posts

Thanks for last post. That is on my hubby's bucket list, so it is good information to have.

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

Berlin: Loves: experiencing the thriving vibe of this city, DDR Museum, Reichstag, Museum of the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie. I found the Memorial to the Murdered Jews to be especially moving. Fat Tire Bike Tour highly recommended! 4.5 hours (incl. beer garden stop) on a leisurely ride around completely flat Berlin gave us a super overview of the sites and history of the city. Our guide was a youthful, British kick-in-the-pants who kept the whole family entertained. Encountered the president of Singapore in the hotel elevator. True confessions, we splurged and stayed at the Adlon Kempinski. Before the RS crowd has a total heart attack, let me say that the rates were not crazy for a big city. We paid 230E/night for 5 star, over the top service, and unsurpassed people watching in the absolute perfect location, incl. breakfast. They didn't even blink at our soggy hikers and blue jeans, and were supremely helpful in mailing home my son's souvenir battle axe (imagine taking that thru airport security!) We could have paid that much for a mediocre 3 star. Just goes to show it pays to shop around. Off the beaten path: Transit restaurant, Rosenthaler Str. 68. Inexpensive Indonesian/Thai fusion in a hip setting. Really delicious and different.
Day trip to the ship lift at Niederfinow, 1 hr. north of Berlin. We rode a boat that started on the lower canal, went through the lift to raise it up 60m, and then sailed out the other side. Then we got to go back through to get back down. Unique and very cool. The website says tours are at 11,1, and 3, but they add additional departures as demand rises-we got to go at noon. Only 7E. Kloster Chorin is also in the area, along with lots of mustard shops! Low points: pouring rain and not buying a museum island pass...oops!

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

Bautzen: Loves: really neat town to visit and get the flavor of a smaller place. The Wasserkunst Tower museum is very interesting because the water pump is still operating. Sorbish Museum was very interesting and has a collection of gorgeous traditional costumes. Excellent back door hub for Dresden, Gorlitz and Saxon Switzerland. Bautzen wins the "hotel find" of the trip award. Schloss Schaenke is run by a young couple in a 15th century house and a nearby original tower in the city wall. We stayed in the tower and paid 165E per night for TWO rooms, including yummy breakfast, free wifi, free laundry, and a decanter of sherry in the room. This is your castle dream at a bargain price. Even in 90 degree weather, the tower was nice and cool without A/C. The 3 ft. thick walls completely insulated us from a raging windstorm that demolished the construction site next door one night! You couldn't hear a thing. Low point: nating sweltering heat and raging thunderstorms. Off the beaten path: Why aren't there more people in Saxon Switzerland? Not that I wanted it to be crowded, of course, but was surprised it wasn't more popular given its assets! We saw some Eastern European tourists, but virtually no Americans. The Bastei area with its ancient ruined castle, lovely hiking trails and the spectacular views of the Elbe enchanted us. The town of Bad Schandau has thermal baths and a cool iron elevator from the 1900's that goes up the cliff face. Konigstein Castle is overwhelmingly huge and has the most amazing well. You can stay at the castle, too, in a small holiday apt.!