Monday, June 8, 2009

Strasbourg, Ulm, and Innsbruck

I am rewinding way back to when Connor and I put Mom on the plane back to the USA in Paris. Since it was a holiday weekend in Belgium we took the TGV train directly from the airport to Strasbourg where Kirk drove to meet us after work. From Strasbourg we had planned a long weekend road trip through Austria and Germany. Very exciting! I think there are 4 (?) Belgian holidays in May. We could get used to this type of mandatory vacation!

While we waited for Kirk to join us we checked into our hotel and went to the Orangerie park near the EU buildings. It was a gorgeous day and Connor had a great time running, playing on the playground, and marveling at the monkeys in the trees! We grabbed a picnic dinner from the grocery store. Gotta love European grocery stores. It is such a money and time saver versus going out to dinner. And I think Connor gets a kick out of helping choose items from the shelves. We are becoming pretty proficient picnic-ers!
The next morning we toodled around Strasbourg before setting off on our road trip. I was shocked. Strasbourg is spectacular. We started in the "Petite France" area, aka "the district on the waters." The half timber houses were an unexpected surprise. Juxtaposed with the water running level with the streets, it was a fairy tale type neighborhood. I half expected to see a princess waltzing around or for the townspeople to burst into song!

We walked across town to the Strasbourg Cathedral. The pink sandstone masterpiece of Gothic architecture was indeed breathtaking. You might think that we tire of seeing cathedrals given how many we have seen in Europe. But honestly each one takes my breath away with its ornamental intricacy and enormity. It must have taken unwavering faith and devotion to God to
plan, fund and execute such incredible building projects over so many consecutive lifetimes. The Strasbourg Cathedral took over 400 years to build but when completed it was the "highest building in the Christian world" for 600 years.
After skipping through the fairy tale city of Strasbourg we loaded up in the car and drove right through Germany's Black Forest region (where I want to return one day!) to the city of Ulm. Kirk randomly found Ulm in our guidebook and thought it would make a fun lunch stop. Ulm is a picturesque city right on the Danube River. It is the birthplace of Albert Einstein and Albrecht Berblinger, a tailor who invented the hangglider! The map below shows where Ulm is located:
The day burst forth from grey and gloomy to gorgeous crystal blue skies. We ate lunch at Zunfthaus der Schiffleute where they serve the traditional Swabian food in a German beer hall type atmosphere. The waitresses doted on Connor, the food hit the spot, German beer was consumed and to our delight we felt like we dropped right into one of the most authentic German spots without being too touristy. I don't know why Ulm isn't a highlight in more tour books; it certainly should be given the charm and ambience.
After lunch we headed to the Ulm Munster. This Lutheran church is noted as being the "tallest church in the world" so you know we had to check it out! The church was again absolutely stunning. We toured all around. The way the light hit the altar and the crucifix made the interior particularly dramatic.

After taking in the magnificent church, Kirk left us to climb the 768 spiral steps to the top for the view over Ulm. Obviously not an event for Connor, so the two of us stayed inside the church. The sun was beaming so hot and bright that I thought the cool, dark church would make a good spot for us to wait and prevent sunburns. It was while we were waiting that one of the more touching memories of our trip occured. Connor was due a nap and I wasn't sure exactly how to keep her entertained for the 45 minutes while Kirk treked to the top. I decided the church was large enough for us to play a game without being disrespectful. Our "game" consisted of running up and down the gigantic ruby red carpet of the aisle. So up and down, back and forth we went. We sprinted, we skampered, we skipped and we tip-toed. And most of all we laughed! And miraculously it worked. Traversing that aisle on the plush red carpet held Connor's attention. The tour groups chuckled as we weaved around them. And Connor sang all her songs up and back, step by step. Here are the photos from Kirk's ascent:

We could have spent more time in Ulm, easily. I loved the Bavarian yet urban feel. Because it was a holiday the locals were out and about enjoying the rays too. Everyone just seemed so happy. But we still had places to go and see so it was back in the car. And can you guess what was next? Here's a hint:
The Hills Were Definitely Alive With the Sound of Music!!!!!!
We drove to Austria and spent the night in Innsbruck in the Tirol region. We stayed right in the pedestrianized old town near the famous "Golden Roof Palace" at the Hotel Weisses Kreuz. The views were indeed tremendous and the town lovely...

...but can I tell you something? I didn't love Innsbruck. I can't say why in a nutshell because it had breathtaking mountains, our hotel was a great fit, and I really liked the idea of being in a city that was the sight of TWO Winter Olympic Games. But I found the place laden with tourists, a little claustraphobic and there wasn't a lot to take in except for the gimmicky shops. Rick Steves calls Innsbruck "stale strudel" in his guidebook and I reluctantly had to agree. I was thankful we only allocated a few hours to Innsbruck so it ended up being just enough. And on the plus side, there were all of these cute Austrian men in suspenders and lederhosen outside our hotel - so that was pretty cool!
I think maybe I was just too keyed up for the next leg of our trip. My very favorite! Stay tuned for more of our Austrian adventure....

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