When my daughter expressed interest in doing a study abroad program through Michigan State University, I thought it would be a great opportunity to do another family trip in Europe before she began her 4 week program in Cambridge, UK.
While we had traveled in Europe before, it had always been in early spring with cooler temperatures and we were all looking forward to experiencing Europe in the summertime. We started our trip in the beautiful and historic Prague, Czech Republic. From the moment we arrived in the Old Town area where we were staying, we were captivated by the grand architecture and bridges found throughout the city and the narrow, winding medieval lanes that connected you from one spectacular view to another. As beautiful as Prague was during the day, it is even more spectacular at night with its night-time illuminations of the old gothic bridges, buildings and castle overlooking the river.
We stayed at Hotel Cerny Slon, a small and comfortable historic hotel from the 14th century conveniently located just a few steps from the Old Town Square where you can enjoy the outdoor cafes, daily entertainment in the square, or just sit back and enjoy the people watching while sampling something from one of many food vendors in the area. This was the summer of 2010, which meant the 2010 World Cup was being played and if you’re a soccer fan, Europe is a great place to be to watch the matches. There were several Jumbotron large screens set up in the Old Town square and it was a very festive atmosphere before, during, and after the matches. We got to watch a great match between Brazil and Netherlands with a couple hundred cheering fans and it was fun to watch the fans from both countries conversing and laughing with each other after the game.
As in past trips to Europe, we have found guided bike tours in the major cities to be a great way to learn more about the city, get acquainted quicker with the area, and if traveling with kids as we were (ages 16 and 19), it’s something they’ve always enjoyed as well. The tour guides are generally charismatic history buffs and combine both historical facts and humor to keep everyone interested. Some of the highlights of the city to see whether on foot or bike are the Charles Bridge, the Jewish Quarter, Old Town Square, and the Prague Castle.
One of the things my husband always enjoys while on vacation is to find a good place to run. One of the places recommended was Lenta Park situated above the city offering great views of the city below and an array of wide walkways great for running, rollerblading, or a leisurely stroll. This is the famous park where a 49 feet monument of Stalin once stood during the Communist era. Long gone is the Stalin monument and is now a vibrant place for all ages to enjoy the warm summer weather ranging from everything from tennis, soccer, running, or just hanging out at the beer garden conveniently located in the park. My husband was pleasantly surprised to find a concession stand selling Pilsner at the end of his run. Have I mentioned Prague has great beer? If you are a fan of Pilsner, a clear golden beer that they’ve been brewing the stuff since the late 1200’s and they’ve gotten pretty good at it, you can find it everywhere you go extremely cheap. My husband loved to say the beer was cheaper than water.
After a fantastic and memorable 3 days in Prague, we were off to Munich. On arriving in Munich, the city was celebrating their win earlier that day over Argentina and cars were honking and people cheering everywhere. We stayed in a hotel in walking distance from the train station which made it convenient for the day trips we had planned to Neuschwanstein Castle, Salzburg Austria, and the Dachau concentration camp. We were also in walking distance of Marienplatz, which is a central square in the city center of Munich. Here, you can catch many different types of bike, walking tours, and excursions. We did a guided bike tour and saw many historical sites on our first day. Munich was severely damaged at the end of WWII, but unlike Berlin which was rebuilt with more modern architecture themes, many of Munich’s buildings were rebuilt to restore the look of the city before the war. The city is very easy to get around on foot and there are bike lanes everywhere. We rode to the English Gardens as part of our bike tour and one of the things Munich is known for is the beer gardens spread throughout the city. You can go anywhere in the city and find a beer garden nearby, each with their unique style.
Our excursion to Neuschwanstein Castle was about a 90 minute bus ride from Munich. It was a fun packed day that included alpine sliding down the mountain and then a bike ride to a remote lake, but even though it rained (OK, poured) during the bike ride to the lake, we had a great time. By the time we were finished with the bike ride and had lunch, the sun came out just in time for our hike up a trail with amazing views all the way to the castle that the Sleeping Beauty Castle was based on.
Our excursions to Salzburg, Austria was amazing as well. Located in the northern boundary of the Alps, the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the famous Sound of Music, it was a great place to spend the day and I’d like to go back someday to spend more time. We took a Sound of Music tour, which visited many of the famous scenes from the movie including the Von Trapp family house, the Abbey, the gazebo, and the church they were married in.
From Germany, we headed to Cambridge for a couple days and had the opportunity to experience the historic university town with colleges built as far back as the 13th century. A great way to see the various colleges is down the river in a boat or “punting” pushing the boat down the river using a long pole. After another great family vacation experiencing new places in Europe, it was time for us to go back home and drop our daughter off to begin her own adventure at Cambridge University. While there was a lot of time involved planning a trip like this, the many new experiences and memories made it all worthwhile!