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Northumberland, England

Otherwise Known As: The Trip Where Everything Was Closed

Destination: Northumberland, England
Date of Travel: November 2011
Travel By: Car
Length of Trip: 5 Days total, 3 full days of sightseeing
Travellers: a Mom, a Dad, an OlderBoy (age 7), a YoungerBoy (age 3)

Hadrian's Wall path

Initial Itinerary: Hadrian's Wall, Alnwick Castle & Gardens, Dunstanburgh Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Newcastle upon Tyne. We knew it would be chilly in November, but did not realize that all the castles would be closed or have limited opening times!

Base Camp: We rented a small but lovely converted barn/cottage in the city of Warkworth. We found this was a good base for getting to all the sites we wanted to see, and the city itself had ruins of a castle we could walk to see from the cottage.

Our cottage in Warkworth

Trip Report: On our first full day of sightseeing, we headed out for a walk along Hadrian's Wall, and we were lucky that it was sunny and beautiful to make up for the November chill. We left our car at the car park and started at the English Heritage site of Housesteads Roman Fort. We explored the fort before travelling along the wall (left from the fort) towards the Steel Rigg Car Park, which was probably a walk of around 3.5 miles. The walk does not actually require you to walk on top of the wall - mostly, you are next to the wall on the grass - although there are some parts where you can. There are many hills along the way, but nothing too steep - my 7 year old clambered up and over them with no problem. However, sometimes the steps going up the hill are very rocky, so we would give our 3 year old a hand with those (much to his dismay). Also, the very last hill down towards the Steel Rigg Car Park is quite steep - it took me awhile to figure out how to get my 3 year old down it and I thought there should have been rails of some sort. If it was raining, it would have been a real problem.

Starting the walk on top of Hadrian's Wall. Swords are not optional.

The walk leads onto crags and overlooks the lake Crag Lough (held on to the kids hands for this part!) and goes by the famous Robin Hood Tree, officially known as Sycamore Gap. The tree was used in the movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves - the part where Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman are walking along the stone steps and little boy runs up a tree to escape from the Sheriff of Nottingham's soldiers? Yeah, it's that tree!

Morgan Freeman, Kevin Costner and I all stood under this tree. Not at the same time.

Once we ended our walk at Steel Rigg car park, we had to figure out how to get back to our car which was over at Housesteads. I believe there are some buses that will take you back, but in the end, my husband just ran the entire way back, got the car, and picked us up. I should mention that a) he's a runner b) he's a little nutty and c) he headed back just before we noticed the last hill to get down to the car park where I had to help the 3 year old. It took that long!

On our second day of sightseeing, we started off the day by heading to Dunstanburgh Castle, also an English Heritage site. This is a ruined castle, perched on top of a hill overlooking the North Sea. We parked some distance away and took a path that was marked just off a golf course that lead towards the castle. Once we reached the base of the castle, we walked up the hill, only to get to the top and find out the castle was closed! However, the walk was fun and the views were incredible, so the journey was well worth it. On our way back, my husband and older son took the rocky walk along the coast while I chased the younger boy back down the grassy path we originally had taken.

Walking towards Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstaburgh Castle

Since this castle trip was cut a bit short, we decided to head to another nearby castle, Bamburgh Castle. This castle claims to be open all year, however starting in November, it's only open on the weekends. We did not visit on a weekend.

Bamburgh Castle, Not Quite Open All Year

Next up, Alnwick Castle, also closed starting in November. The gardens on the castle grounds were open, but some of the exhibits were closed and the price did not seem worth it to visit (especially since it was cold). But on the grounds is a Treehouse Restaurant, where we had lunch. The boys thought this we neat (okay, we all thought it was neat!) and the food was very good (kids menu included). Not more than 5 minutes away from the castle is a pretty well-known used bookstore, Barter Books. It's large, has lots of kids books, and a toy train that moves along the tops of the bookcases. We all enjoyed our visit and stocked up. (I also learned later that the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster was a lost English propaganda poster during World War 2 that was never used and was found here - neat!)

Alnwick Castle, also used for the Sheriff of Nottingham's Castle and partly filmed for Harry Potter

Treehouse Restaurant

For our last full day of sightseeing, we headed up to Newcastle. We explored the city and headed over to the Millennium Bridge, because according to the website, it was going to tilt up at 11 am that day to allow boats to pass underneath it. But according to the schedule at the actual bridge, it was not scheduled to tilt that day at all.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Tilts, occasionally.

No worries, we visited what was left of the castle keep in the city, ate lunch at a sandwich shop and headed to see Tynemouth Priory ... which was closed. It was actually supposed to be open, but they were filming some sort of documentary that day and had closed it to the public. Honestly, we would have been surprised if it was open. But we realized that we were not far from the Metro Centre in Newcastle, a shopping center that is one of the largest in Europe and open until 9 pm. Having lived in a small town in England for awhile - where there is no major shopping mall and stores that all close around 6 pm - we decided to head over. We browsed, ate dinner at Wagamama's and stayed out LATE!

During the course of our days as we headed back to base camp, we explored the town of Warkworth. The castle was closed, but there was a wonderful walk around the castle, alongside the River Coquet. And not far from town is the coast of the North Sea, which perhaps during a month other than November would be suitable to swim in. But then again, this is England; to my American temperament, there is no time in England suitable to swim in the water.

Warkworth Castle

Bridge over the River Coquet

This was supposed to spell out North Sea. But writing in the sand can be tiring.

Posted by ThisMomTravels 07:18 Archived in England Tagged england history kids countryside castle walks uk hadrian northumberland alnwick family_travel

Bavaria, Germany

Otherwise Known As: The Land of Beer and Pretzels and Schnitzel and Castles and Tobogganing At Your Own Risk

Destination: Bavaria, Germany
Date of Travel: November 2010
Travel By: Flight from London to Munich, Rental Car in Germany
Length of Trip: 6 Days, 4 full days of sightseeing
Travellers: a Mom, a Dad, an OlderBoy (age 6), a YoungerBoy (age 2)

Neuschwanstein Castle

Itinerary: Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Palace, Ettal Abbey, Sommerrodelbahn Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Zugspitze, Munich

Base Camp: Although our flight landed in Munich, we took our rental car and drove to Garmisch, which was our base city.

Trip Report: On our first full day of sightseeing, we headed out to Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle is famous for being the inspiration for Cinderella's castle at Disney World. "Mad" King Ludwig II was the one who built it, and he went bankrupt as he tried to build it - it was never fully completed!

Getting up to the castle is an adventure itself: it's on top of a hill, and we had the choice to walk, which takes about 20 minutes, or to pay for a horse-and-carriage ride. We opted to walk, with our 2 year old in a stroller and our 6 year old walking alongside us. It wasn't bad and manageable for all, especially as we distracted the walking child with a game of I Spy. Also, once we get closer to the top, we found some food stands that motivated us to keep going - we got some pipping hot German donuts, delicious!

We toured the castle (which did not take long, since there are not too many rooms built), and then we went across the way to Mary's Bridge to take in another view. This bridge is high up and also very crowded, with adults and children alike. We stayed on long enough to snap a few pictures, but then we all wanted to get off quickly!

Mary's Bridge

View of the castle from the bridge

The next day we headed out to another palace that the Mad King had built, Schloss Linderhof. It was his summer residence and it is supposed to have some very beautiful gardens, but we went in the winter and much of the outside was boarded up. We had a quick tour around the inside - if I recall correctly, the tour was given in German and there were some English handouts to read.

Linderhof Palace

Not far from Linderhof was Ettal Abbey, a beautiful church we stopped to see.

Ettal Abbey

Since I had picked the two destinations in the morning, I handed over the reins to my husband for the afternoon. He had specifically looked up Sommerrodelbahn Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is a summer tobogganing course. My husband and my 6 year old got on together on one toboggan ... and they realized they had complete control of it. As in, once you go down the hill, you better be careful how you handle the brakes, otherwise you will fly off the course - and there are curves! But both of them thought it was fun and they went on five times. (I went on once with my son, but went very slow and held the brakes tightly the whole time. He didn't want to go on with me again after that!)

Going up the hill to start the journey

The route

My son held on the camera during one of the rides. I assure you the screaming was for show.

On our 3rd full day of sightseeing, we took a mountain train up the Zugspitze, which is the highest mountain in Germany. It was covered in snow and there were lots of skiers out, but we were able to rent some sleds on the mountain and have some fun! There is also a glass-walled restaurant on top of the mountain where we sat, had some hot chocolate and soft pretzels, and watched the skiers.

The ski-level is not the highest point of the mountain. To get there, we took a cable car from that point to the very top. The views are breathtaking (and cold!) and at one point you can cross the platform and get from Germany to Austria.

To get back down from the highest point, we skipped the train and took a cable car all the way back. Even though my kids got a little weirded out from walking on a platform on the Zugspitze, they LOVED the cable car ride and my 6 year old was plastered to the front window, watching our descent. (Plus, this way was much faster.)

View from the top. Beautiful and much better than a Gwyneth Paltrow movie of the same name.

The cable car all the way down

On our last full day in Germany, we decided to take the train to Munich for a day trip. (If we had planned this better, we would have driven to Munich and spent the night there, but we had already paid for our lodging in Garmisch.) The train ride was about an hour long and easy. Once in Munich, we headed over to the giant cuckoo clock, the Glockenspiel, for its daily performance at 11 am. It was hard to see the golden bird, but the movement of the other dancing figures were visible. It lasted about 12 minutes.

This cuckoo clock will not fit on your wall.

We went to the Deutsches Museum, which is the world's largest museum of science and technology. We enjoyed looking through everything, and once the kids were getting bored, I pulled out a surprise: underneath the museum is a large kids play area, complete with a water area (be careful, my kids were soaked), building blocks of all shapes and textures, and a giant fire truck right in the middle of the room. The boys were in heaven!

After the museum, we headed up the clock tower for a view of the city. And dinner was at the famous Hofbrauhaus! It was crowded, noisy, full of atmosphere, music, and scantily dressed Bavarian ladies selling soft pretzels the size of your head - in short, it was amazing. There were plenty of kids there around 6 pm, but I probably wouldn't have wanted them there past 8. We had a delicious dinner and took the train home.

Posted by ThisMomTravels 10:39 Archived in Germany Tagged kids germany museum castle munich garmisch bavaria neuschwanstein family_travel linderhof zugspitze ettal sommerrodelbahn toboggan

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