As any intrepid traveler knows, sometimes you just need to bravely toss your guidebook aside and let your heart lead the way.
That was how we ended up near in a two-bedroom chalet in Gitzwenweiler Hof, close to the area’s star attraction, Lake Constance.
I had imagined us whiling away idyllic summer days by a shimmering lake, me a picture of serenity as and tut-tutting maternally as the bubba gets himself into yet another minor trouble.
But yeah, this did not happen.
Because while I was well aware of Lake Constance’s reputation as the biggest lake in Germany, I didn’t know it looked like the friggin’ Pacific Ocean.
It’s so big and unwieldy, we spent most off our time in the car like a bunch of traveling salesmen. It was not fun and, to top it all off, I had been to dams that were much more scenic.
Our first stop was the island of Lindau, allegedly one of the lake’s prettiest villages. It was no Bellagio, if that’s what you’re wondering.
The old town was ho-hum. After three weeks of traveling with your stroller, cobblestone streets have lost all their charm. You look at it and go “Ah, f*ck” as your toddler bounces around in the pram like a Mexican jumping bean called Alberto.
Everyone spends time at the harbor and lighthouse in Lindau — the town’s claim to fame. It’s certainly not as glamorous as I had expected Germany’s riviera to be — in fact, we were surrounded by a good number of stern-looking German retirees clad in windbreaker and shorts. But it was nice enough.
The next day, we went to the lakeside university town of Konstanz, because I was determined to journey to the farthest reaches of the earth to seek out the astounding beauty that so captivated members of TripAdvisor.
I don’t know about you but, after traveling an hour and a half one way, my expectations were high. I wanted to see a Gaudi or a Guggenheim. Heck, I didn’t mind meeting a man-eating ogre either, just…Not. Another. Damn. Cathedral.
Then bubba was the least disappointed of us all. It doesn’t matter if he is in Timbuktu or Syria — any destination is an ace destination as long as it has a playground. Konstanz has a nice one by the harbor, and we ditched our sightseeing plans and had a picnic instead.
I also met a parent from Switzerland who said she came by almost weekly to do her shopping. That was how big Lake Constance was — it is bordered by three countries: Switzerland, Germany and Austria. I couldn’t figure out why someone would drive all the way to Germany just to some shops and a playground…until we hopped across the border to visit a nondescript Swiss town the very next day, just out of curiosity.
Man, it was so dull I fell asleep in the car. When we got back, I gave my Rick Steves’ guidebook a hug and a kiss, and vowed never to abandon it again for as long as I live.
Fortunately, things could only improve from here. And I’m glad to say the Black Forest — home of the cuckoo clocks and the black forest cake — is great. We stayed near Triberg, a little town surrounded by hills blanketed in dark pine forests. There was a petit train to take tourists around, but we found that funny since the town was only made up of one main road.
We had lunch in what seemed like the town’s only restaurant and it was surprisingly good, even though they only had antelope meat or whatever it was that they hunted that morning.
If you think cuckoo clocks are the best invention since birth control like me, The House of 1000 Clocks is where you want to be, despite its terrifying horror-film-sounding name. The place was stuffed with cuckoo clocks — there were small cuckoo clocks, giant cuckoo clocks, beautifully carved cuckoo clocks and, for those on a budget, Made-in-China cuckoo clocks.
Our little man had the time of his life. And we didn’t even have to pay for admission.
Just outside of town, there was a cuckoo clock so massive you could literally walk into it and see how it works like on the inside — unless you had a phobia for giant wooden birds. People thought it pointless to build an even bigger cuckoo clock (not me) so it has remained on the Guinness World Book of Record as the world’s largest cuckoo clock since 1997.
We tried taking advantage of the Black Forest’s countless hiking opportunities by going for a stroll among the dense pine trees that gives this region its name. But we were stopped by an angry bull (true story), who was probably seeking revenge because we ate his Cousin Edna for dinner. Or maybe he’s just racist.
From Triberg, we went to Europa-Park, one of the biggest and best known theme parks in Europe after Paris Disneyland.
Europa-Park’s mascot is Ed Euromaus, also a rodent like Mickey Mouse but with plastic surgery, as well as a better haircut and wardrobe.
Thankfully, the rides were a little more imaginative.
The place is not without its charm: it’s divided into 15 European towns all bearing recognizable cliches, like white cube houses in the Greek zone and alpine trees and wooden huts in the Swiss area. It’s child-friendly too — even the bubba could go on a one or two rides by himself without it being a safety hazard.
There was also a section devoted to the Brother Grimm’s fairy tales, because the stories originated from this very region.
Apart from the multitude of trees, the Black Forest is also known for its spa towns according to Google. I don’t exactly know the exact definition of a spa town but it sounds relaxing already. And so we headed to Baden-Baden, one of the most famous spa towns in Germany with its elegant shops and pleasant tree-lined boulevards.
People have been coming here since ancient times to bathe in Baden’s Baden’s curative mineral waters, including Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain and a litany of Russian princes. You can even see ruined spas meant for Roman soldiers at the Ancient Spa Museum.
Today, you can indulge in far more luxuriant surroundings at Friedrichsbad, or the Roman-Irish Bath. Opened in 1877, this place is a bit of a neighborhood fixture, pampering the rich and famous who flew in from all around the world to luxuriate in a 17-step bath ritual in its lavish interior. The catch? You wear nothing but your birthday suit and the bath facilities aren’t separated by gender. Yes, the men and women mingle, and it’s supposed to be a very respectful and classy process.
Despite being 8 months pregnant and ungroomed for months, I was all like #yolo let’s do this. But then any determination I had was extinguished the moment stepped inside and saw a bunch of blokes from China queuing up. Le hubby was like ‘are you serious?’ and I was like hell no.
I soon discovered that any time is a good time for a stroll in Baden-Baden. We walked from the Kurhaus (casino)…
…to the Liechtentaler Allee, a pleasant riverside promenade passing tennis courts, graceful mansions and manicured gardens, to the delight of our little man. There were people taking their pet horses out for a gallop every now and then. Because why bother with a dog when you are flushed with cash?
We then had a slice of cake at Cafe Konig, the place to go if you love to gawp at beautifully dressed old ladies whose facial expressions never change from all the botox. There are dogs here — but mostly of the small and annoying kind.
I’d love to continue living it up in Baden-Baden, but the only way to do it was on the sidewalks. We’ve been on the road for almost a month, and we’re all out of euros. No matter how much I tried to convince him, le hubby was not keen on auctioning himself to the highest bidder. Therefore, ’twas the time to head home.