Monday, July 30, 2012

My parents' visit: Marburg, Rhine Valley, Berlin

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I've been a bit out of touch for awhile due to the end of my summer semester (papers, exams, etc.), trip preparation, and a visit from my parents.  Allow me to get you up to speed...

My parents arrived in Frankfurt on Friday, July 13th.  I rode the train down to meet them, but they did manage to get easily from the airport to the Hauptbahnhof (main station) and meet me at the end of my platform.  They had been able to sleep on the plane so they wanted to store their belongings in a locker and check out Frankfurt while we were there.  Once we hit the streets, I realized we needed a map so I swiped one from a hostel we had stayed at once before.  Really, a lot happened in the first 40 minutes we were altogether and none of it included sightseeing, but it did include confusion, lockers opening and closing, bathrooms, umbrellas, first European purchases, and various other flubs.  Moving past all that...

We began to head toward the river, but along the way I started to get my bearings and pointed out some things my husband and I had done, including the Main Tower.  This was something they liked the sound of so we went ahead and did that.  They got a good idea of the surrounding area and we moved on from there to pass a few buildings they wanted to see.  We had beer/ebbelwein/gelato in a square, saw the "old" buildings (rebuilt to look old after the war) and couple of churches before heading back to Marburg.  I made dinner and the four of us enjoyed it before escorting them on the bus to their hotel for the night.

On Saturday we took them to see Elisabeth's church, the Oberstadt and Markt Square, St.  Mary's (where they were prepping for a wedding), the castle and gardens (where we found the couple taking photos), and then had a drink in the Markt Square (where we watched even more people traipse past to the office for civil weddings).  We wanted to see the University church as well, but there was yet another wedding going on.  Our weather that day was quite unpredictable that day, rotating through a cycle of very windy, short period of sun, and rain.  They could have done without the rain, but they enjoyed our temps in the 50's and 60's in contrast to their over 100 degree weather back home.  They got a look at German supermarket before we separated for afternoon naps with instructions on how to get to our place for dinner.

On Sunday we took a bus to the other side of the valley and up the mountain to walk a trail to the Wilhelm Tower.  They had a great time, but the weather was much the same.  After lunch at our place, we went back into town to see the botanical garden and walked along the river.  The hope was to try a boat on the river or rent bikes, but we had a steady rain at that point.  We found a cafe and enjoyed some hot chocolate instead.  Then we took the path by the river back to our place and helped them with their plans for their trip to Salzburg the next day.  They treated us to a lovely dinner at Altes Brauhaus, the oldest restaurant in town.

Monday morning they arrived at our place and I took them to the train station and bought the correct tickets for them to get to the airport.  I sent them off joking that their "training wheels" were off.  We heard from them most days during the week that they were having a good time.  I spent most of it needlessly agonizing over my final paper for my class.

Friday afternoon my husband came home with our rental car and we got ourselves packed up.  We drove to Frankfurt and picked my parents up at the Hauptbahnof and headed off to Bacharach in the Rhine Valley.  Our accommodations were Rick Steves approved and my parents just loved the place and the town.  We had a great dinner at a nearby restaurant and hit the hay.

On Saturday morning we took a boat ride on the river (north) to Koblenz.  We saw tons of castles along the way and even the sun towards the end.  After arriving in Koblenz, we walked through the city to the train station and rode back up the river (south) to St. Goar to visit Rheinfels castle.  It turned out they were having some sort of festival there that was a lot like the Renaissance Festival in the States, but they have an actual castle to host it in.  It was a great castle to explore and we were finally able to enjoy some sunshine.  Then we took the train back to Bacharach.  My mom and I followed my husband leading us on a Rick Steves self-guided walking tour of the town and my husband and I climbed a tower.  We met back up with Dad and walked to dinner nearby (another dinner that couldn't be beat).  Since the region is known for its wine, we figured a tasting was in order so we settled on a nice place.  The wines were great and we all loved the contraption for holding all the samples.

On Sunday we rented bikes and rode up the river (south) to Bingen.  It was a great day as we were able to enjoy some of the warmest and sunniest weather we've had in a month.  We had a picnic in Bingen and then headed back to Bacharach.  After returning the bikes we drove out to Burg Eltz, one of the best castles in Europe.  Surprisingly, it's not on top of a hill or mountain.  (Though walking back up an extremely steep hill after your visit is required.)  We took a guided tour and emphasized to my parents that this castle and tour were great--we'd recommend them over the Neuschwanstein/Hohenschwangau pair that most tourists favor.  (Neushwanstein is that castle that's blue and white and looks like Cinderella that everyone "pins" all over the place.)

We headed home for a mad packing session so that my parents and I would be ready for our 8:21 train to Berlin the next morning.

My plan was to take the same train my husband takes every morning from our house to the main station for work.  However, while we were waiting the sign said it was delayed--too delayed for me to make my train with my parents.  In a moment of panic, we knew the only way to get there was a taxi.  Luckily we got one there at the station and made it in time.  When we got there though, we realized that because of the first train's delay, the train to Berlin was also delayed.  Oh well.  The challenge wasn't over yet though since we still had to make a connecting train.  We had just minutes when we arrived and had to run like the dickens to get to it in time, but we made it.

Our first day in Berlin we took a (yes, Rick Steves again) self-guided bus tour.  We saw Brandenburg gate, the Holocaust memorial to the Jews, a museum about Berlin, and had a fabulous dinner.  The next day Mom and I checked out the Pergamon Museum which was just great--they had a huge gate reconstructed from ancient Babylon.  Amazing.  We also took a hop-on hop-off bus tour and saw the Museum of the Wall, the German Dom, the French Dom, and St. Hedwig's.  Mom picked our spot for dinner since it was her special day :-)  On Wednesday we took a train out to Potsdam to see Sansoucci palace.  The grounds were beautiful and we saw the private art gallery in a separate building.  Impressive collection.  We enjoyed ice cream sundaes in a biergarten before taking the train back into Berlin and having a great dinner at a burger spot close to the hostel.  On Thursday we planned for a picnic lunch in Tiergarten park after seeing the memorial to the book burning that occurred under the Nazis.  The park was lovely and the shade much-appreciated.  We had a nice lunch and then enjoyed drinks at the biergarten inside before heading to the train station to go home.

Our train was delayed about 15 minutes, but we weren't too worried since we had and hour and fifteen minutes to wait for our connection.  However, once on board, technical difficulties and problems with other trains led us to be on the train for a full two hours longer, missing our connection.  Luckily, we had a nice young German woman in our compartment who was lovely to chat with and kindly translated all of the announcements for us.  It turned out we were part of a huge debacle with all the trains in a large area because of some electrical problems.

My parents came over to our place on Friday morning after walking around town a bit.  My dad accompanied me to the grocery store while Mom packed and then we enjoyed some time at the local (extremely crowded due to our sudden heat wave) pool.  The four of us had a nice dinner and spaghetti eis at our favorite place.

All in all, I think it was a great visit and they thoroughly enjoyed their first trip to Europe.

Links to more photos:
Rhine Valley
Berlin

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