Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Longer Travels {Germany -- Saxony Region}

We recently got back from a week long trip to Berlin and some surrounding cities.  It was a much much better trip than our last trip to Germany when we all got sick and had to cut our trip short!  We spent the first four days of our trip exploring some cities and areas mostly in the Saxony region before heading back to Berlin for the last few days.  This post will cover the details of our time exploring the areas outside of Berlin -- the Spreewald area, Görlitz and Dresden.

We flew into Tegel Airport (one of two airports in Berlin) and rented a car.  While we could have done this portion of the trip with trains, the car just gave us more freedom and flexibility (and it was cheaper to rent a car for four days than to train to all of these places).  Driving in Germany was fairly easy, according to Trevor.  The autobahns we drove on did have speed limits and driving in the cities wasn't bad -- we have a pretty good system of me navigating and Trevor driving.  We also stayed a little outside the main parts of cities which helped since then we didn't have to navigate small narrow roads.

We went to the Spreewald area first which is about an hour outside of Berlin.  The Spreewald area is a Unesco biosphere made up of canals and channels in the middle of gorgeous forest.  You can take a punt boat throughout many of the channels but we opted to not be stuck on a boat where you can't move around with an active toddler -- but it sure did look like a gorgeous way to spend a few hours.  We stayed the night here and it was awesome, perfect location to wake up and explore the area the next morning.  The Spreewald is mainly between two towns -- Lübben and Lübbenau.  Lübbenau is a little bigger and has more to offer so we focused our time there.  We went to the Freilandmuseum Lehde and it was actually really cool (park in the bigger parking lot and walk down the road/path a ways to the museum).  It is an open air museum focusing on what life was like in the area over a century ago.  There were a few activities you could try (apple picking, getting water from the canal and milking a fake cow) which entertained the kid.  We ate lunch at a great little Italian place in Lübbenau and it was so good, also a very cute town just to wander around in.  Just fair warning -- we were the only English speaking people that we saw and no one really spoke English so made for a fun adventure.

Our next stop was Görlitz, a small town right on the Germany/Poland boarder just for one night.  We chose Görlitz partially because we wanted to go to Poland (and time didn't allow us to go more than a few hours).  Görlitz is known mainly for its architecture, surprisingly having survived destruction during WWII.  We stayed here and it was awesome -- great location and right on a tram line.  We ate at Görlitzer Kartoffelhaus (Görlitz Potato House) for dinner and it was super yummy and super kid friendly -- and shockingly did have an English menu even though none of the workers spoke English.

So while Görlitz does have museums (and also has a very close replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem), we spent a lot of our time unexpectedly at the zoo (website only in German and Polish).  Our sweet little lady woke up with the sun each morning (thanks to no blackout blinds in any of the hotels), so we needed something to kill some time before other things opened -- so off to the zoo we went.  And OH WOW -- seriously THE BEST zoo we have ever seen.  It was small but had so much to offer.  It was basically one big petting zoo and you could go into every single enclosure (and some animals didn't even have an enclosure).  Serafina became obsessed with the guinea pigs that you could play with and feed.  So needless to say we spent way too much time here -- and then walked around and enjoyed the gorgeous architecture Görlitz had to offer before having the most amazing lunch in Poland at Przy Jakubie (Jacob's Inn).  We purchased some bison grass vodka that you can only get (in its true form) in Poland.  Again another small town where we encountered almost no one who spoke English but made for some fun interactions (and a little scary food choices for me). 

looking back at Germany

Our final stop in the Saxony area before heading back to Berlin was Dresden -- which was another amazing city.  We had heard great things about the town from our friends and we agreed; Dresden was awesome and the new part of town reminded us both of Seattle and Portland. We stayed here, a little outside the main city area but right on a tram line (we bought the family day pass at the kiosk at a tram station and it was cheaper than individual day tickets, we couldn't figure out how to validate it and never saw anyone checking tickets*).  We used the trams quite a bit so I do recommend a day ticket, especially if you plan on going back and forth between the old and new town.

Dresden has a rich history, most recently being almost leveled by allied bombs in 1945 (most of its treasures were removed and stored safely).  August the Strong was a (most well know) past ruler and is responsible for many of Dresden's treasures and gorgeous buildings from the 18th century.  But most of the buildings in the old part of town are reconstructions after the bombings in WWII (but they are made of local sandstone which has natural oxidation and turns the stone black eventually -- so the buildings look much older than they actually are).

So now that you have a brief history of Dresden, you can enjoy many of its sights!  We walked a ton and covered a lot of ground during our full day in Dresden but it was worth it to see most of what Dresden has to offer (for reference we followed Rick Steves' Dresden Walk but went out of order to make it work for us).  We visited the Green Vault (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe) first thing in the morning as it requires a timed ticket -- best to book in advance, saves money and they were also super strict on the time (our ticket got checked a lot).  It is the Baroque treasury collection that was started by August the Strong and now includes treasures from the royal family -- it houses a lot (and I mean A LOT) of ivory which knowing where it all comes from can be a little disheartening, but still worth going, especially for the jewel room.  No pictures allowed and a very long (but good) audio guide and everyone is super quiet.... so some good headphones and a high interest show/app is a must for any toddler.  We also toured the New Green Vault (Neues Grünes Gewölbe) which is worth a quick run through for the amazing Dresden Green diamond.  You can also tour the palace but our little lady needed to walk and run, so outside we went to continue on our walk....
made of ivory (Serafina took this picture)
We wandered past the Theaterplaz and Semperoper (Opera House) before crossing the bridge (sadly lots of construction going on so not a great view from the bridge or of the bridge itself) into the new part of Dresden.  While Rick Steves' Dresden Walk ends at the grand (and huge) Albertplaz, we kept going to eat lunch at Curry & Co -- and had amazing currywurst (sausage with a curry sauce and fries).  It was well worth the nice (but long) walk out there.  Right in that same area is also a great bar to eat at and grab a drink (recommended by a friend) -- Bottoms Up.  This whole area of Dresden was super hippy and amazing and looked like so much fun to hang out in.... if we didn't have a toddler in tow (oh well)!
After lunch, we headed back to the old part of town and to the Zwinger -- gorgeous Baroque buildings and courtyard that once were used for royal court celebrations and now house three museums (you can buy one ticket and it will get you into all three).  We went into two of the three museums -- Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery) and the Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection).  Both were worth a quick visit -- the art gallery was much more stroller friendly than the porcelain gallery.  But we had a lot more fun in the courtyard taking pictures (Serafina did a lot of the picture taking) and letting the toddler run around.

Peanut took this one...

...and this one

We continued our walk past the Fürstenzug (Parade of Nobels) -- an insanely long mural painted on Meissen porcelain tiles (Dresden is famous for gorgeous porcelain but holy cow is it expensive).  The mural tells the story of seven centuries of Saxon royalty and shockingly the tiles are original as they survived the bombing in 1945.  We walked into the Nuemarkt (New Market Square) to admire the statue of Martin Luther, who came from the Saxony area of Germany and also to see the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).  This church is massive and sadly was destroyed by the bombs, but was rebuilt -- but you can still see a hunk of the rubble in the square.  You can go into the church but we happened to time it wrong and something (service, celebration... who knows) was going on so we couldn't go in.  We also did a little shopping along Prager Strass since the weather was a little colder than we expected and I didn't pack us enough warm clothes -- oops!  We ate dinner at a food stand somewhere along this street that was packed with Germans and it was delicious bratwurst that Serafina also loved.

Dresden has plenty more to offer and you could easily fill another day here -- we loved our time in this city (and the whole area) but now it was time to head back up to Berlin for a few days...

*Trevor and I both always buy tickets for the metro, tram, bus... whatever.  We have both (studying abroad in college) been caught on public transportation without tickets -- luckily nothing happened and we each only had to pay a small fine, but it taught us an important lesson: even if it adds a few minutes, figure out how to buy a ticket!  While we may not always know how to validate the ticket, we at least have one on hand in case we ever get stopped.

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