May has the most holidays of any month in Germany, according to my sister-in-law, and we certainly have profited from them. Kai had two weeks off of school at the end of May (a quarter of our total time in Germany this year!). We decided, somewhat at the last minute, to drive our little car to Hamburg to visit Andreas’ mom and then to Cuxhaven to see his aunts and cousins.
We did this the German way. Although it certainly would have been possible to drive the entire trip in one day (any self-respecting Canadian can drive for 8 hours in one day), we took our time. On the way north, we stopped in the Rhön Mountains, a well-known hiking area in Northern Bavaria. The awful weather meant that we didn’t hike, but we did try out the thermal baths in Bad Kissingen. We also hit Fulda (saw a lovely Romanesque church built in 822), and Hannoversch Münden. Hann. Münden was particularly impressive — it is very rare to find a town that has not suffered any damage in the wars. The timber-frame buildings in Hann. Münden are all intact and lovely. This has to be the best preserved town that I have visited in Germany.
In Hamburg, we branched out and visited some things that we hadn’t seen before. We checked out the Hamburg Museum which was full of models of ships, the development of the city and trains. Kai was happy, in other words. I would recommend this stop for other families.
Kai and I headed to Cuxhaven alone while Andreas recovered from a virus that had got the best of him. Here, we met up with Andreas’ cousin Claudia and her kids. Last year, they came to Freiburg to visit us and Kai knew then that he had found kindred spirits. This visit cemented the deal. It was pure cousin love with the iPad, the beach and on a day trip to Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg.
As we left Hamburg, the weather cleared (seriously, it rained a lot up north this time!). We stopped in Hildesheim on the way south (to see another Romanesque church and a rebuilt marketplace) and in Frankfurt to visit our friends Kai and Kerstin. We topped off the trip with a visit to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, which I had wanted to see for a long time…
I had been desperately waiting for our trip north to eat another Fischbrötchen which is fish in a bun basically. This is one of the specialities of Northern Germany, although thanks to the fast food restaurant Nordsee, you can also get an approximation (note the wording) in Freiburg. I did have a very delicious Fischbrötchen in Cuxhaven, however, the most delicious one I found turned out to be in Mainz (very much southern Germany!). We poked our heads into a small fish store near the Gutenberg Museum and voilà pure Fischbrötchen heaven. It’s on Fischtorstrasse if you are looking to find some of this fish goodness without having to venture too far north.
Some other random discoveries:
1) ADAC atlas. I bought a paper atlas before we left. Ya, that’s right: paper. Actually it is a huge brick of a hard cover book and I got made fun of this purchase. I found, however, that we would often get confused by the directions given by our GPS and I felt it would help to have the big picture in my head. We also learned quickly that ACAD puts little boxes around the names of any interesting cities. This is how we learned about Hann. Münden and our other stops on the way. Well worth it. (And good enough for Andreas to admit (almost) that I wasn’t insane for buying a paper atlas!)
2) Wikihood app for the iPad. (Also available for Android). I have had this app for a while, but really used it this trip. Basically, it looks up any Wikipedia articles that are related to your location. We would arrive in a city marked as interesting in the ADAC atlas and then I would go to Wikihood and read about the interesting attractions. The app has a map which shows your location relative to the locations of the attractions so it was easy to find what we were looking for.
3) DB Tickets app for the iPhone coupled with DB Navigator. (Also available for Android). Loved, loved, loved being able to buy my train tickets on my iPad the night before the trip to Cuxhaven. Also loved not having to deal with paper. I hate paper. DB Navigator tells you how to get where you want to go, and you can monitor your progress on the route (which Kai really liked). Once you find the right route, you can buy your ticket online and it then shows up in the DB Tickets app as a QR code which you show to the conductor.