26 March 2010

Castle Braunfels & City + Train from Frankfurt to Vienna with Amy and Amanda

Day 2 begins with more pastries. This time it was "Tiroler Art". Tirol is a section of Austria, and it's funny that the Germans did a better job making the Tirolian pastry than we have ever had in Austria... Gooey, sour cherry, sugary, creamy pastry... yum!

We took the train passed Chris' old home town in Wehrheim. The city we were going to this day is called Braunfels. It's way out in the country side, but the interweb said the train/bus transfer should be easy.

Unfortunately, the interwebs didn't say anything about the train suddenly stopping, making a single, muffled announcement over the crackling loud speaker, before starting up again and then stopping in the middle of the tracks in the middle of no where. Huh? What's going on? We've got 2 more stops. We poke our heads out, and see the conductor getting off the train. He tells us he made an announcement. We couldn't understand it. But apparently, here is what happens.

In order to save a bit of energy, 2 stops before the end of the line, the engine and the front car of the train separate from the rest of the cars and keeps moving until the end destination. The rest of the cars get left in the middle of the tracks, away from the station. You'd think they would announce it more than once, have some signs up, etc. Sheesh... so we had to climb several feet down from the train with the stroller and make our way back to the platform. And wait another hour for the next train to come. We were careful to get on the first car this time!

We finally arrived in Braunfels. It's a beautiful medieval German city with a large castle right in the center. Elora was very happy to have plenty of hands to hold. Here she is with Amanda. She was confused the first couple days and kept calling Amanda by the name of Amy. But now she has it figured out I think.

Here's Amy and Amanda in the old town. The buildings are very picturesque. More on that later.

Amanda wanted to try out the stocks right next to the main entrance of the castle. Stocks were a form of public humiliation, as the offender would be placed right in the center of the town square. It's interesting that Amanda just jumped right in, but Amy refused to give it a go!

Here's an old well, which Oliver was excited to play around on.

Unfortunately the interior of the castle was closed today. But we were able to walk around most of the grounds. Usually these medieval castles are only impressive on the outside anyway. The insides are usually pretty bare, both from age and because they didn't have that much elaborate decoration until a couple hundred years later. That's what we're telling ourselves anyway!

Castle Braunfels was first built in the 1300s, but there was a fire in the late 1600s that burnt it down.  Here the girls can be seen exiting the castle bathroom. Amy and Amanda didn't have much to say about their first public restroom experience in an old castle, other than, "It was cold..."

We decided to sit in the grass outside the castle walls and let the kids play around.

Oliver and Elora quickly found some sticks and knew just who to start beating with them.

It took a lot of coaxing, but eventually we lured Elora away from the sticks and back to the town so we could find a place to have lunch. The sun came out, and Elora was excited to put on her sunglasses and sit down on someone's front porch.

All of these houses were inside the castle walls. It would be pretty cool to live within the walls of a castle! We found this particular house quite interesting. The wooden frame, made from huge beams is all crooked. Probably due to settling in the ground, and sagging weight on the frame.

Karen was just explaining to us how she learned about the houses in one of her design classes. The large wooden beams built the frame of the house, then they would fill in the area around the beams with mud, straw, and mortar. In later years, the filled in the middle of the frame with brick, but kept the wooden beams for the aesthetic. Not five minutes later we walked by one of these buildings under rennovation and we could see it was one of the original buildings made from mud and straw! Still standing 400 years later! Seeing a house built of mud, straw, and wood still standing all those years later makes us feel better about our house in Glendale.

One last look at the detailed work on the houses. If you look close you can see there is a scripture verse (in German) carved across one of the beams. You can also see the wooden beam visibly sagging under the weight of the house.

We left the castle interior and went back out into the public square. Karen and Amy posed by the castle doors. The weather was a little bit cool, but really nice compared to what it has been.

We're not sure why. But for some reason when Elora saw this grate, she ran right up to it and laid down and smiled. Apparently, this dirty, dusty spot on the street just called out to be laid down on?

Here we are at lunch, next to the castle tower. Everyone but Chris got some variety of Schnitzel. Christ got Tiroler Grostl. Again, it's interesting to note the food was Austrian style, but cooked better than most of the restaurents we've eaten at in Austria! We could even hear the waitress pounding out the Schnitzel from inside the kitchen (no frozen stuff!).

Every town has one of these large springy things. The kids love them. This one was randomly placed in the middle of a sidewalk in front of someone's house.

And this oddity was something just begging for a picture. It's a meat delivery truck. You've heard of the ice cream man that plays a little jingle and the little kids come running from several blocks away to get a treat? Well, this is the meat man for adults. We didn't wait long enough to hear if he had a "meat man song" that acted as a siren call to lure in the little old ladies.

And the next day we boarded the high speed train back to Vienna. Seven long hours. But it did not end there. The trip required a bit of symmetry. Read on...

Remember that bit about the German trains presumably saving energy and disconnecting the back half of the train while the front half continued on to the final destination? Three hours into our trip, with kids about to fall asleep and our little wagon strewn with toys, books, etc. the conductor gets on the loud speaker and tells everyone to get off the train and move to the front cars. What?!? You've got to be kidding me... on a long distance train? So off we go, frantically packing up computer, toys, snacks, etc. Two minutes later we're running off the train with the stroller and kids in two, making our way to the front car. But so is everyone else.... We get inside the front cars and its standing room only. The hallways are all lined with people. Amy and I (Chris) have the urnfortunate position located right in front of the toilet. And when you've got a few hundred people piled into a couple cars, it meant there was literally someone going to the bathroom every minute for 3 hours. Fun fun. Not really. Vienna to Frankfurt by high speed train takes 7 hours (10 hours by normal train). By plane it takes 1 hour (plus an extra hour waiting at the airport). The Germans sure are doing their best to make sure the plane looks even more attractive. But even worse, as we stood there with people shuffling by every couple minutes to the bathroom, the thought kept coming into my mind... "Why is it when the Germans need to find a solution to their problems, people end up crammed into railway cars..."
(ok, that's unfair and overblown, but what a terrible decision to pile hundreds of people and their luggauge into a train that can't fit them.)

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