With two teenage kids who are in the process of fleeing the nest to live back in the UK, we are unable to have proper family holidays at the moment. This means we appreciate even the shortest of breaks, the most recent of which was a trip to Europa Park and the mountains of the Black Forest in South West Germany.
We set off from Bonn quite late as we had to wait for our daughter to finish work at a local restaurant, and we arrived at Kenzingen just in time to enjoy a lovely meal in the hotel restaurant. The hotel was in a quaint little town where there was little happening – no cars or people on the streets, many window shutters closed, old-fashioned street lamps that had probably been there since before electricity. The only sound was the small fast flowing river which has to navigate the tiny island on which our guest house stood. It was a perfect retreat from the busy Autobahns.
We woke up early the next day, had a nice breakfast, and set off for the theme park which is surrounded by beautiful countryside – I was already thinking ahead to the next day when we would go exploring. We bought a ticket in advance from a local service station and was soon inside the park. As the excitement inside me began to build, my little concerns about our life dispersed leaving me with a child-like feeling of wonder.
The theme park includes 13 European themed areas and, even if you don’t like the incredible rides that are on offer, you can simply enjoy strolling around, imagining yourself in other parts of the continent such as Spain, Portugal, France or Switzerland. The smell of popcorn, fast-food and the distant screams of people being flung around on the roller coasters helped to evoke memories of previous visits to themes parks, stretching back perhaps 20 years or more.
We spent 11 hours at the theme park, and perhaps the most enjoyable ride was Arthur where we purchased the lovely family photo below. The kids were happy to hear the rapping song D.R.E. by Dr. Dre. – its rhythm was a perfect accompaniment to the magical indoor section of the ride, although we were not sure the lyrics were a good fit! Towards the end of the day, the kids braved the terrifying Silver Star ride. Neither my neck nor my nerves were up to it after an earlier ride on the massive WODAN – Timburcoaster ride, which according to the Europa Park website travels at 100km/h – quite fast for something made of wood! We instead chose to stroll around Greece whilst the girls had the ride of their lives, and the warm evening sun made me feel like I really was in Greece.
We all slept well that night and the next morning decided to take a drive into the Black Forest. We drove through a wide valley that was a patchwork of colours – small orchards with red and green apples, fields of maize, sunflowers, wild flowers, vineyards, and meadows that rose up to the dark green trees gathered on the steeper hills above. These neatly arranged plots of land were dotted with large wooden houses that had piles of logs stacked outside ready for the harsh winters that are inevitable in a region like this. The large steep roofs were probably designed for the heavy snow fall – not that I’m a roofing expert – and the balconies displayed their deep red geraniums with pride. It is amazing that the mighty river Danube begins its journey from somewhere in these mountains and flows through 9 countries and 4 capitals – Vienna, Bratislava, Belgrade and Budapest – on its way to the Black Sea. The road narrowed and blended into the surrounding grass that had been recently cut for the winter hay. We smiled as we passed a man peddling his way up the steep hill on one of those bicycles where you lie down, it’s great how some people are so passionate about such things.
Of course, Germany didn’t become the world’s fourth largest economy by leaving its landscape completely unspoilt, and we did pass the odd quarry, the odd ugly building, the odd small industrial estate. But this area appeared predominately unspoilt and I found its open beauty breathtaking. Open because I am used to the fields of England which are boxed in by miles of hedgerows. The English fields are also beautiful, but travel is all about appreciating differences, and these vast open spaces gave me a sense of freedom, as though I owned the entire valley!
Our first stop was Triberg where we found the highest waterfall in Germany. The information post lists many famous people who have visited. The one name that caught my eye was Ernest Hemingway. This landscape is not that dissimilar to the one that I had imagined whilst reading For Whom The Bell Tolls, although of course that was set far away in the mountains of Spain. We zig-zaged our way up the steep paths that have been well designed to allow walkers to climb the rock face down which the water falls with enough energy to light up the streets of the town below – which actually my Lonely Planet guide told me it did back in 1884!
We were all feeling a little jaded after our big day in the theme park, and after seeing some cuckoo clocks, a steam railway and grabbing a bite to eat in a nearby village, we began the journey back home where we could rest before preparing for the next chapter in our life…
© Chris Robinson 2014. All rights reserved.