Downer

Downtime

Hello again! Yes, it’s been quite a while since I’ve updated you on our travels. We’re back in the states now and back to reality, but we still have many stories from our trip to tell!

I left you in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, only the second stop of our adventure. The story continues…

The day we left Rothenburg, we weren’t totally sure what the next destination would be. We intentionally left a few free days in our plan in case we wanted to stay longer somewhere or add a new city to our list.

My aunt lived in Germany for a while and highly recommended going through the Black Forest, so we decided that would be our next move.

After the first three train rides of the day, we stopped at the Karlsruhe station for lunch.

IMG_3894Craving anything but schnitzel (Yes, you can definitely have TOO much schnitzel), we ate Subway. Don’t order wheat bread there, because they don’t carry it!

Mom looked into renting a car to drive through the forest, but the only automatic transmission available was a large Mercedes that cost way too much munz to justify spending for only an afternoon drive.

So we hopped on the three-hour scenic train to Singen, Germany, after John finally got some new batteries for his Beats. Thank goodness, because John really enjoyed the train ride.

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But on the way to this train, part of John’s wheel broke on his suitcase. The plastic exterior surrounding the metal wheel started coming apart. It wasn’t long before the other wheel broke too, allowing John to leave pieces of his suitcase wheels all throughout Singen and Switzerland, our next stop. We successfully left our mark on sidewalks, in trains and in hotel rooms.

Random fact about Singen: it has an extinct volcano. (Long-extinct. I made sure.) It looks like one random mountain all by itself in the middle of the city…which it is.

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In Singen, we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, where we had free wifi and air conditioning for the first time in Europe.

From pixable.com.

From pixable.com.

At first, none of the light switches or the TV worked in our room. We were so confused, and Mom was about to call the front desk when she noticed a slot by the door. She figured out that you have to put the room key in the slot for the power in the room to work. A few more hotels worked this way later in the trip, so we felt like pros for immediately knowing how to turn the lights on.

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This sparked my interest, because I also noticed during every train ride through Germany that the Germans seem to be very efficient. We saw a lot of solar panel roofs and windmills. So I looked into it, and turns out Germany was named the most efficient major economy this year. Pretty cool, Deutschland.

We ate dinner at a restaurant near the hotel, and John got an ice cube in his Coke. Behold, the first ice cube we saw in Europe.

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And the next morning, we hopped on a train to Switzerland and said auf wiedersehen to Germany!

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Peace up, Downers out.

Caroline

Up the wall

Leaving our last stop in St. Goarshausen, our train to Frankfurt took about 1.5 hours. Then we took an hour-long train to Wurzburg, and most of that time was spent finding a seat. Not three seats, but A seat. Word to the wise, just jump on the car that’s right in front of you. It’s not that important to have a nice seat if you don’t have a seat at all.

We got seats on all of our other trains that day, made it to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, our second stop, and washed a load of laundry before heading to the hotel. No lie, our hotel looks like it was a model building for Snow White.

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And if you’re wondering about the title of this post, Rothenburg (according to its website) is “considered the most perfect walled city in Europe.”

After we got settled, we headed out for dinner and then went to the Night Watchman Tour.

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It was an obvious hot spot for tourists, because there were AT LEAST 200 people there, and over half were American teenagers. We later found out that there were so many American teenagers there because they’re part of a high school Ambassadors of Music band tour.

The next day, we ate a (free) breakfast at the hotel, and the hotel owner said my mom is a “spoiler” who “eats like a chicken” because she didn’t eat everything she touched. Barb responded with a hesitant “haha,” and then he said Obama needs to teach Americans how to eat. What.

John still hasn’t recovered from this encounter, and he has eaten absolutely everything put on his plate (whether he likes it or not) in fear of being called a chicken.

We attempted to follow the Rick Steves’ walking tour through town, but we stopped at town hall to walk through a museum detailing the history of Rothenburg. This is what 12-year-olds do in museums:

 

Then we toured the Christmas Museum, and John really liked that one too.

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After the museum, we shopped at the Christmas store. Literally any Christmas item you could ever want is in this store. Including a revolving 15-foot Christmas tree. Heavennnn.

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We listened to the Ambassadors of Music from New England and Nevada play in the square while we ate lunch. They played nothing but American marching band music, making the atmosphere spot-on just like Main Street USA in Disney World. They played for an hour, just beating a short afternoon shower.

While it rained, we visited a store and bought a beer stein and a nutcracker. While we were shopping, a loud shatter got the attention of everyone in the store. As I turned to see what happened, all the color had drained from John’s face and his jaw was on the floor. A glass display head that had previously been wearing a beanie John was definitely going to ask for was now in 100 pieces all over the floor. (And, of course, I snapped a picture of it.)

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The owners are really nice. They told us things happen and not to worry about it, and they didn’t let us pay for it. Then they gave us two free ornaments, two free postcards and a free bag.

You get a car gif

From gifsoup.com.

John didn’t ask for anything else the rest of the day.

We went to the The Medieval Crime Museum, which was interesting, but repetitive. Once you’ve seen one shaming mask, you’ve seen them all.

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I did find out, though, that they used to put bakers in cages in the middle of the square if they “baked their bread to small.”

Michael Scott what gif

From justgif.com.

Then we hung out at the museum’s patio and tried schneeballen. It’s basically a ball of fried dough, but we unanimously agreed that beignets are better – we’re all Louisiana-bred.

We ate dinner at a little restaurant right by one of the medieval gates. This is what you get when you order a sandwich there.

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Oh, Germany. Here are some more pics for ya.

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Peace up, Downers out.

Caroline

Down the Rhine

Vacations with the Downers are always interesting. There is story for all parts: the beginning, the middle and the end. This is how our adventure started.

Dad left work early to bring us to the airport. We wanted to leave our house by 3 p.m. for our six o’ clock flight, because it takes about an hour to get from our house to the airport – Houston is massive like that. So naturally, we left at 3:45.

As we loaded up the car and pulled away from the house, John let us know that he could not find any AAA batteries for his Beats headphones. Why he waited until then and why headphones even need batteries, I have no idea. Dad turned the car around, went back into the house and grabbed AA batteries after Mom honked the horn because he took longer than 45 seconds. So then we had three testy people in the car: Dad and John, because Dad grabbed the wrong batteries, and Mom, because she was convinced we were going to miss our flight.

Mom then proceeded to passenger-seat drive while Dad recited all the routes he thought he was supposed to take (none of them correct). Barb’s commentary: “You can drive a little faster.” “Now, they will pull you over here.”

We finally make it to the airport…at 5 p.m. John and I did not have validated passports yet, so United wouldn’t allow us to check-in early. Then things got crazy. Basically, if you’re not checked in two hours before your international flight, the airline could sell your seats to someone else. Uh…so Mom had a mini panic attack as they told us “you’re lucky” that we still had seats. Our plane was also boarding in 10 minutes.

Then, my mom got that look on her face that either she was going to pass out or that it just might be the end of the world.

A miracle happened as we made it through security at 5:19, one minute before our plane started boarding. Then came the sprint.

Jack-sparrow-run-gif

From victorious.wikia.com-.

We got to our gate just in time, but we didn’t stop to buy bottles of water, no NyQuil, no nothing. Uh oh. The movies available on the flight were pretty good, and thank goodness for that. John and I didn’t sleep a wink. Not at all. We were completely wide awake for a 10-hour flight, and we arrived in Frankfurt at 11:20 a.m., 4:20  in the morning central time.

Our airplane parked nowhere near the terminal, and we took a bus to the gate. Weird. And Frankfurt’s airport is warm. Like, really warm. We got lost trying to find our way out of the airport, of course, but everyone that works there is very nice, and they helped us find our way to customs.

After validating our Eurail passes, we hopped on the correct first train, then got on the wrong second train on the way to St. Goarshausen. Basically, we added two hours to our travel time. We thought we learned our lesson then…

By the time we made it to our destination, around 5 p.m., we discovered that our hotel had no air conditioning despite having a nozzle that looks like a snowflake.

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So, because it was hot and we were exhausted, we had German beer on a terrace and planned out the next day.

The lack of sleep caught up with me as I literally fell asleep at dinner. I hardly remember the ferry ride and walk back to our hotel, and I unintentionally passed out completely dressed – jewelry on, contacts in, the whole shebang.

Mom woke us up to get ready for the next day at 6:30 a.m. By this time, we were well-rested and woke up easily, got dressed and were ready for our hotel’s breakfast to start. It was so odd to us that by eight o’ clock, there was still no hint of a sunrise. It was then that Mom noticed her phone said the incorrect date. So, what happened: Mom’s phone never changed time zones…and it was actually 3 a.m. We were dressed and ready to go. And it was three in the morning.

We called Dad, because it was only 8 p.m. in Houston, and we watched the only English channel available, CNN. We all eventually fell back asleep and woke up again at the actual 8 a.m.

Our free breakfast consisted of cold cuts, cheese, scrambled eggs and bread. After that, we were on a literal hunt for bottled water. It is completely foreign to us Texans that there aren’t convenience stores on every corner. After walking for what seemed like hours, we gave up and visited a coffee shop. We finally bought bottles of water listed as “table water,” making it the second (but definitely not the last) time that we accidentally bought the carbonated stuff. For any future travelers, save yourself the heartbreak of carbonated water and buy the water that says “still.”

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IT’S A TRICK!

The Eurail app is awesome for tracking trains and making plans, but it does not list platform numbers. We learned later that the DB Navigator app is way more helpful – it will tell you if your train is on time, early or late, AND it lists the platform numbers. Hoorah.

So after we missed our train to Braubach (because we were on the wrong platform), we figured out that the K-D ferry lines are all listed on the Eurail app as well (as St. Goar KD, Braubach KD, etc.), because they’re included in the pass. So instead, we hopped aboard the boat and took an hour-long ride down the Rhine. It. Was. Perfect. The ferry has a restaurant inside, a Subway and two large decks with a bar to watch the mountains and castles while also catching some rays.

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In Braubach, we ate at a restaurant in the middle of the marketplace, away from the main road. It was very quiet, basically dead quiet. The marketplace looks exactly like something you’d never believe was real. In the least-cheesy way possible, it was like stepping into a fairytale.

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Right up the mountain is a large Cinderella-like castle called Marksburg.

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There’s a train that leaves from the main road by the train station and takes you all the way to the top to see the castle, so naturally we opted for that instead of making the hike.

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Our tour was 100 percent in German, but we had an English guidebook to follow along. The castle was enchanting, massive and ancient. I was completely in awe of the history surrounding the structure and found myself making every attempt to touch all the items that say “DO NOT TOUCH” in three different languages.

One thing I learned from the castle: The stairs are very steep. So steep that they’re intimidating to walk up and scary to walk down. I’m very surprised they don’t make you sign a waiver before the tour, because it’s almost too easy to trip, take a tumble and take the tour group with you.

We took the train back to St. Goarshausen, had dinner at a hipster restaurant and drank some Rhine wine to wrap up our time in St. Goarshausen. Now, we just concluded our time at Rothenburg ob der Tauber, our second stop, and I’m hoping to get that post up soon.

Stay tuned, friends.

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Peace up, Downers out.

Caroline

 

 

Power down

We are a family of many electronics. We love our phones, computers, iPads and Kindles. Mom uses her devices mostly to make travel plans, read and (if you’re lucky) text you back. I’m the social media junkie, and John likes to have his phone so he can strut with his Beats by Dre (with or without music actually playing).

CD JD on plane beats

So of course, we needed to find a way to use the European outlets…which was more confusing than I thought. Did we need an adapter, converter, both?! I’ve heard horror stories about frying appliances from my friends that traveled and studied abroad. And sure, fireworks look nice in the sky, but no one wants to see this in their hotel room:

firework

From blog.photobucket.com.

So for all you future travelers: I consulted Google for the answer to this predicament, and this electricity guide was the most helpful.

Learning that the Euro-outlets are twice as powerful and can barbecue your electronics is a real motivator to not pack more than you need. And hearing that one of my friends fried and ruined an expensive flat iron in Spain made the decision not to bring mine a done deal.

I said before that the Brettster is staying back in Houston, and I wish he was coming with us on the trip. But I would really worry that despite the fact that American plugs look like this:

And European plugs look like this:

He would still do this:

chevy chase

From higheredlive.com.

(And Mom wouldn’t smile about it.) Four days til we say toodaloo to the states! Any suggestions? We want to hear them!

Peace up, Downers out.

Caroline

Pack it up

I mentioned in our first post that we were only taking one carry-on each. For chronic over-packers like myself, figuring out how to do this was a feat in itself. But I took the goal head-on.

From 9e3k.tumblr.com.

From 9e3k.tumblr.com.

Because we’ll be in mountains, on lakesides, walking through cities and constantly riding (and sleeping!) on trains, I needed numerous multi-purpose pieces that I could easily roll up, wash and wear again in different combinations. So I will be outfit-repeating a few times, but I’ll also be in Europe. I’ll live.

John and I are using the same bags our parents took last time they visited Italy and France, and Mom got a new bag for herself (because she’s the boss).

All of our bags have hidden backpack straps, wheels and an extending handle, so we can either rock the rolling backpacks or tote them on our shoulders.

From lifelemonsvodka.blogspot.com.

From lifelemonsvodka.blogspot.com.

Either way, we’ll definitely look like straight-up tourists.

Packing for guys is always and forever WAY easier. It only took about 15 minutes to figure out John’s packing situation, and most of that time was devoted to deciding on which pairs of Nike Elite socks to bring.

John's bagCD's suitcase

 

But hey, we got it all to fit!

We’ll keep you updated on how well we outfit-planned: what was essential, useful and useless. Only five days away! Any suggestions? We want to hear them!

 

 

Peace up, Downers out.

Caroline

The lowdown

Germany. Switzerland. Italy. France. England.

This is our sequence of countries we’ll venture through during our two weeks overseas. Five countries, four languages, three Downers and close to a million trains.

We’re flying out of Houston direct into Frankfurt, Germany, and we’ll fly out of London direct to Houston. We seriously lucked out with avoiding layovers and connecting flights. The beauty of flying in and out of two different countries is that our route can change on a whim, but we have a plan to work from once we touch ground in Europe:

1. Germany

Our first stop is the Rhine River.

We’re taking a short boat tour that comes free with our Eurail pass, from Bacharach to St. Goar. From our research, that’s the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine. Famous for its wine (yahoo!), we’ll be sure to have a least a bottle (or three) while we’re here. Don’t worry about John though, grape juice is the closest he’ll get to wine.

Following the tour, we’ll spend two nights in St. Goarshausen, just a ferry ride across the river from St. Goar. Side note, all of our hotels are equipped with A/C and free breakfast. Told you Barbs was travel-savvy.

i win

After that, we’ll hit up Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which resembles storybook Germany and looks a lot like Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World.

Photo from beauty-places.com.

Photo from beauty-places.com.

Told ya. We’re spending two nights here to wrap up our time in Deutschland. What drew us most to this place? It’s where Christmas NEVER ENDS.

2. Switzerland

We’re making a two-night stop in the Swiss Alps next. The Jungfrau mountain caught our eye, because you can actually take trains and gondolas to the top! Scary, but worth it. Our hotel is in Lauterbrunnen, a train ride up from Interlaken.

Photo from switzerland.isyours.com.

Photo from switzerland.isyours.com.

This is the train, the Jungfraujoch, that takes us to the top. Prepare yourself from some insane pictures from this leg of the trip.

3. Italy

Next up: two nights at Lake Maggiore in northern Italy.

Photo from commons.wikimedia.org.

Photo from commons.wikimedia.org.

Self-explanatory.

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From gif-central.blogspot.com.

Then, we’ll move down to Florence and Pisa.

But seriously, is that place even real? Aside from seeing the gorgeous architecture, I cannot wait to eat some serious Italian food. Yum.

4. France

From there, we’ll travel back up to Milan to catch a night train to Paris. I’ve never ridden a passenger train in my life, but something about sleeping on one is both hilarious and exciting. And waking up to a view of the Eiffel Tower is pretty nice, too. 

We haven’t planned out activities for Paris yet, but it’s Paris. We’ll find something to do!

5. England

Our grand finale: London, a slow transition back into native English speakers, even if they call fries “chips.” We’re taking The Chunnel from Paris to London. It goes underneath the English Channel at crazy-fast speeds and takes passengers 250 feet below water

Although my mom has been to Europe twice, she’s never seen London, and John and I are complete Euro-noobs, so we’re all really excited to see one of the biggest cities in the world first-hand. Again, we haven’t set any plans for this great city yet, but rest assured, we will find something to do. 

So if you couldn’t tell from my post, I’m just a little excited about our tour through a new continent. We’re six days away, and we’ll be back to share more! Any suggestions? We want to hear them!

Peace up, Downers out.

Caroline

What’s up?

If the title of our blog didn’t give it away, we’re the Downers! And we’re going to Europe!

A week from today, we’ll be taking off for a two-week journey through multiple countries and climates with only one carry-on each, and we’re pumped to share our triumphs, mistakes and stories with you as we battle language barriers and tackle train stations.

So, who we are:

I’m Caroline, Carolinea 22-year-old recent LSU grad who was treated to the trip of a lifetime by my mom,

 

mom

Barbara – a travel-savvy corporate diva who knows how to use United’s frequent flyer miles (No lie, our flights were FREE aside from airport fees. Say what?).

JohnAlong for the ride is my 12-year-old brother, John, who is truly along for the ride. He took a step back from planning our adventure aside from ensuring he would have a stellar 13th birthday, which will be spent in Paris. No big.

 

photo 1

My dad, Brett, one of the most fun and interesting travel companions (he’s earned the nickname “travel diva”),

photo (13)along with our senior dog, Bella, will be holding down the fort in Houston for us while we’re gone. Why my dad turned down an amazing trip, I’ll never understand. However, he’s ventured across the seas before with my mom, so maybe he just had enough wine and cheese? But who can really have enough wine and cheese, right?

 

We planned out our whole trip from beginning to end with some serious tips from Rick Steves himself, along with some suggested train routes we found on the Eurail website. Stay tuned for our next post, which will detail each stop. Any suggestions? We want to hear them!

dog waving

Peace up, Downers out.

Caroline