Wednesday, February 15, 2017

German Christmas 2016, Part 1 - Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The most storybook, enchanting place I’ve ever been. This was our first time visiting Germany, and our first destination was Rothenburg ('ob der Tauber' - which apparently means "over the river Tauber"). We flew out of London at 8pm on Monday night. It was only a 2 hour flight into Munich, but it’s never as easy as that, is it. Packing and getting everything ready, taxi to the bus station, waiting for our bus to arrive, riding an hour to airport, going through security and checking in, waiting to board, squishing into our seats, putting a movie on for the 3 and 5 year-olds and trying to keep the 18 month old entertained for 2 hours cramped on your lap (with the required, is-this-a-joke lap belt for her that she HATES), exiting the plane with all the luggage and children, navigating the airport to find a taxi to take us to the hotel, checking in at hotel where the man at the desk gave us a hard time for squishing 5 people into a 3 person room ( seriously guy? 3 of the five are less than ½ half the size of an adult person!) But it was midnight and I think he could see the half crazed, half glazed look in all of our eyes, especially the kids, so he gave us a break. Last step: Settle into the room and get everyone in bed. Man, traveling is so exhausting! Haha I had to keep reminding myself that it was NOTHING compared to getting from Utah to London like we did in September. But, regardless of  the length, air travel is always draining.

Anyways, Rothenburg! It was a bout a 2 hour drive from Munich. We got to drive through the countryside a bit and that was a fun introduction to Germany. I just had to imagine what it would all look like when it was alive during the warmer months. Max was loving driving in Germany because it’s so much like driving in the US. Nice big, smooth roads and driving on the right side again. Much more relaxing. One of the first things we gigglingly noticed was all the "Ausfahrts" (exits). Felt like we were schoolchildren, laughing behind covered mouths, glancing at each other slyly at our subtle, potty-humor inside joke every time we saw it, especially because Max couldn’t help but announce another “A#$fart” in a loud booming voice every time we passed one.

We had to pull off the highway at one point to fix the car’s navigation system and stopped right in front of this view. It just felt like such a “BOOM this is Germany!” moment I had to take a picture. The contrast of this impressive, majestic bridge with structures I've gotten used to seeing in Great Britain is so poignant. This bridge is so streamlined, powerful and perfect opposed to the quaint, picturesque, ancestral, crumbling, mossy, but beautiful structures in Great Britain. I know the bridge doesn't look very impressive in this here photo but, believe me, it was magnificent!

As soon as we drove through the old city's walled gates of Rothenburg I knew that we had made the right choice and that it was going to be everything everyone said. It did not disappoint. Everywhere you looked it was storybook Christmas!  Cobblestone streets and stone buildings and every door and window decked out in Christmas! We drove around the winding story-book streets for a while trying to find our Bed and Breakfast. It was pretty confusing at first because on every single road there was a sign that we thought meant you couldn’t drive on it… a big red X looking thing, but that couldn’t be what it meant… not on every single road! Never did figure it out, but we did find our Bed and Breakfast, and after the TINY cramped room  in Munich it felt like a palace! The girls were in heaven. Jumping on the beds and running around and playing with the pillows. They needed to get some wiggles out after the confinement of travel over the previous 24 hours. And they probably would have left Rothenburg completely, 100% happy if they'd spent the entire time in that hotel room. We had to keep reminding them throughout the whole trip that we didn’t fly to Germany to stay in our hotel! We’d be out walking around the city and they’d beg to go back to the hotel! Granted, it was really cold, and we probably didn’t bring warm enough shoes for them. Poor Jane would hit limits and just break down and cry because she was freezing.

Here they are bouncing around the Bed and Breakfast room we got. Lots of jumping, looking out windows, exploring every corner. Such happiness!

 Everyone had their own bed! Even little Claire. We realized in this room that Claire does still need to be barricaded in, with walls, on a bed haha. I barricaded her with big huge pillows so she wouldn't roll off. But that didn't keep her from actually leaving her bed at night. We couldn't put her to bed while she was still awake because she'd just get down and run back over to me. Obviously. Girl loves me.  While we were staying in this room I had been snuggling her in our bed trying to help her go to sleep. She finally quieted down and seemed half asleep. The lights were all out and it was completely dark - conducive to sleep, so I slowly and quietly walked her over to her bed, laid her down, and slowly and quietly crept back to my bed. I lay down and was reading on my phone while I listened to her rustling and wiggling in the darkness, rolling around like a puppy trying to settle in and get comfy. But then all of a sudden I saw a miniature, dark shadow noiselessly creeping towards me in the darkness. Holy moly it took some mental effort not to freak out! That child made zero sound walking over to my side of the bed after sliding off of hers. In a split second my mind registered that it was just baby girl but it gave me a shock and a fright!  Max and I laughed about that one for a while. Silly Claire.

I felt like super mom when I whipped out this Christmas tree craft for the girls to work on while we had some quiet time at the B&B and let Claire sleep for a little bit. They LOVED it. 

After resting for a bit we bundled up and went to check out the Christmas market. We were trying to go out and see Santa’s grand arrival at the market. This is the view down the street after exiting our B&B's entrance. Not too shabby. Lovely cobblestone, pretty houses, cheerful colors, mossy, tiled roofs. Tower in the distance. Yes.

One of the first things I noticed about the cute town was that in place of hanging signs above doors and shops they had mini, lit-up Christmas trees! Oh, they were so adorable! Nearly every door had one. So Christmasy. Just like everything else in this town. That's Alice and Max below, turning the corner after walking underneath one.

Hello little baby Christmas tree!

There were lots and lots of adorable little story-book looking shops and restaurants. I love how this city has kept its architecture so traditional and, for lack of a better word, old fashioned. It's incredibly quaint and perfectly enchanting.

And here we have our first view of the Christmas market! The Weihnachtsmarkt! The Christkindlmarkt! We walked up to the square which was bordered on all sides by wooden stalls which in themselves were works of art. They were covered completely in pine boughs and greenery, with twinkle lights and draped, red fabric. Beautiful. Walking through the gap in the stalls my first impression was how it was interestingly cozy for being out of doors in frigid temperatures. How can you not feel cozy when you and everyone around you is bundled up in large, bulky coats, mittens, scarves, knitted hats with furry bobbles on top or fuzzy ear muffs, each hugging with their fingers and palms a ceramic mug of steaming beverage. That steam is what gave off the distinct aroma of their mulled wine. Pungently fruity and steamy with a warm spiciness - cinnamon, citrus, probably some cloves. That smell translated through all the markets we saw. That smell means Christmas Market. So we walked through the gap and were greeted with that tart, aromatic, homey scent and the milling, cozy-looking crowds. And of course the beautifully lit up and decorated stalls. So entrancing in the evening atmosphere with their Christmas goods on display in the twinkling light. Ornaments of sparkling glass, glinting metals and bright colors; breads, cookies, and candies; mittens and hats and more.

Isn't it just perfect?

In the center of the square was a giant Christmas tree covered in twinkling lights. To the far right you can see Max in his blue coat next to Alice, with Jane, stroller-bound. We were hoping that once we got there we'd see some sort of signage telling us where Santa was expected, or maybe a crowd of people, or maybe a gazebo or "Santa throne" like you see in the U.S. But no, there was none of that. I have no clue where the darn Santa ended up, there wasn't a trace of him anywhere. But we managed to have just as much of a jingling, happy, festive night without him.

Alice turning in circles trying to take it all in. So much to see! An explosion for the senses.

After meandering around on the cobblestones for a while, taking it all in, we were driven in to eat dinner, I think by the cold more than hunger. Man, it was cold! Biting cold. We definitely weren't in Oxford anymore. We found a place right off of the main square - basically the first restaurant we saw. "Why not try here?" we thought, looks as good as anywhere. Ratsstube was the name. See:

It was pretty cool looking inside. Arched ceilings and doorways, definitely gave off that old, tavern/inn vibe.  

I can't remember what we ordered the kids, I think it was lasagna. Max and I both got their Wiener Schnitzel. I wish I had taken a picture of it! Thin, breaded veal-yummy. The food took quite a while to cook so to entertain the girls, who were obviously getting antsy and wiggly (no buckets of crayons and coloring pages here - much too classic for that). We found lots of cool stuff and the girls were pretty good at spotting little things all over the restaurant.
Typical Claire - preferring her thumb for dinner over her plate of food, or in this case, her leaning tower of bread.

Cute Santa farewelled us as we left the restaurant feeling warm and cozy and fully satisfied. 

Before we had left our B&B we looked through a pamphlet the owner had given us about Rothenburg (which was where we read about the elusive Santa Clause). It mentioned that we needed to try the famous Schneeballen confection, (snowballs in English). Basically a long strip of shortbread rolled over onto itself in a ball shape filled with various sweet things and dipped, covered, or sprinkled with various others on the outside. Sounds good right? Here was our first sighting of them:

Oohing and Aahing through the window.

This sweet German lady was so nice, helping each of us pick our Schneeball and smiling at the girls trying to make conversation with them. Jane wanted to see what was happening on that counter so bad!

Packed with several varieties of Schneeball to try we began making our way home. And of course encountered more CHRISTMAS all the way! Trees and lights and shop windows and garlands and lamps and more window displays and everywhere was Christmas and Christmas and more Christmas. It was just the best.

By the time we got home poor Claire was OUT. Haha, head lobbing around completely asleep. It had been a long day.

Once we got inside, and peeled off all our layers, we pulled out our treats to try and lined them in a row so we could admire them. We got the traditional powdered sugar, a dark chocolate, a milk chocolate with Oreo, and I believe a marzipan. We were all excited to taste them.

But we made the girls wait for like 5 minutes while I tried to get the perfect picture. Yeah, never did. Bad lighting, tired kids, both hard to work with. Haha, but every time I look at this sequence of pictures I cannot help laughing because of Jane's hilarious face in every. single. one! Seriously, I've been working on this post on and off for about a week and a half and literally each time I end up cracking up as I scroll through and organize the photos. Just cannot help it. Laughing as I type, right now.
She was so exhausted, her hair was a mess from putting the hat on and off, she wanted to eat a darn treat but we were forcing her to smile for a picture. 
But apparently she just couldn't bring herself to do it and all we ended up with was this half-hearted squinty, grimace. Aaaahhh, I love her.
And one more. Couldn't even open her eyes for this one. Meanwhile Al is getting pretty bored. Just let us try them already, those eyes are saying.

I did finally give up and let everyone dig in. Our verdict: sad to say, we didn't think they were quite as tasty as they looked. The shortbread was really really dry, and actually somewhat bland. Like it tasted almost stale. Which could mean that we just didn't go to the right shop for them? But looking at them I was expecting something much more soft and moist, kind of like a donut or pastry. I was not expecting it to be cracker-like. And while there was tons of topping on the outside, the inside layers and layers of shortbread strips, which were quite dense, didn't have much of it so after that first layer it was pretty unexciting to eat.

I wanted to like them so bad! Forgive me Germany, (or Rothenburg, not sure how big this tradition is in Germany, maybe it was more of a local thing). We just did not really like them. If you've tasted one better than what I'm describing, comment and let me know! I'd love to hear of a better experience with them than ours!

After finishing up with our treats it was bed time. So we eventually got everyone tucked in, each in her own little bed (which was when the "creepy Claire" incident happened haha). And so concluded our first day in Germany!