It was planned. It was organized. It wasn’t perfect. Sometimes research and detailed steps to put a trip together are really all you can do to ensure a seamless vacation. But, even with all the care and thought, missteps can occur. It’s times like these that the saying, “Make lemonade from lemons” come to mind.
We wanted to join our college-age daughters at the end of their Junior year abroad experience. They had been in Europe for four months, and we decided to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to extend their trip and travel as a family. Great right? And for all intents and purposes, it was. Looking back on it now, I wish that one little glitch didn’t occur to make one of the best trips we have ever had, come with small regrets, “If only we…”.
I knew that the time frame of our visit to Germany and Austria was during the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. I was excited to experience the Christmas markets in Munich, the fairytale – Neuschwanstein Castle, and the historic city of Salzburg, Austria. It would mean that our regular traditions would look slightly different and that we would be celebrating our holiday abroad. I took requests from each person and worked with a travel company to plan an itinerary that we could all enjoy. I must have had ten conversations about tweaking excursions, deleting cities or shifting locations to make the trip run smoothly from start to finish.
It is not easy to plan a vacation and find activities that would appeal an entire family unit, but somehow, it came together to form an experience we could all get behind. I led with the mantra, “If it is not your cup of tea today, it will be tomorrow.” Everyone agreed that they were game for all of it.
The day came, and we all met in Munich. I was thrilled to start this adventure with the people who mean the most to me in this world. We love to travel, and the trip started swimmingly. The hotel was clean, spacious, and located perfectly. Bavaria was even more beautiful than I expected and we also got some snow! That first visit to the Christmas Market in Munich filled us with delight and awe. We enjoyed the traditional foods, hot spiced wine and the stalls of handmade crafts. The warmth of the people added to the incredible experience.
We headed to Salzburg and loved the city, the market, and the lake district. Did everyone like the Original Sound of Music Tour? No, but those who weren’t entirely on board accepted that others were really enjoying the experience. We made up for it by visiting the ancient Hohensalzburg Fortress. The views from the fortress were breathtaking and the exhibits about medieval life, weaponry, and armor, were fascinating. All good.
As the days flew by, we sat around our dinner table and discussed the wonders of discovering each new place and all that we had learned. The trip was going way too fast, and soon we were in a new city with essential areas to explore or scenery to admire. I was really looking forward to visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a thousand-year-old town located in the middle of the Tauber valley. The day we scheduled our visit fell on Christmas Eve. What we didn’t realize was that much of the town was closed in observance of the holiday. Our tour guide offered to take us for a two-hour visit and drove us an hour each way so that we could see the medieval city and walk on the ancient ramparts. We went, but we were not entirely sure how little we would get to see. In the end, I am glad we took the drive, but the entire town was shut down. To say we were all saddened would be an understatement.
Was it poor planning? Hadn’t I hired a tour company to help me navigate situations like this? Yes, but sometimes it is hard to know precisely what the local customs dictate in different places. Since we didn’t have much time in the region, and because the only day we had to explore the town fell on a holiday, we decided to take our chances. We didn’t have an awful experience, but we were saddened to get to the charming town of my dreams and find it completely quiet as the residents prepared to celebrate the holy holiday.
Unfortunately, when we arrived back in Nuremberg, the holiday markets began to shut down. The only restaurants that were open were booked and did not have any extra seating. Luckily, we found a Spanish tapas restaurant that was open and had a hefty late lunch. We went back to relax at our hotel and later that evening emerged to try and find a snack. To our delight, an Irish pub was open and quite busy. When we went to order, we were informed that the kitchen was closed. We laughed and chalked it up one more snafu to round out our totally imperfect day. We had a glass of cheer and went back to order room service. At our hotel, the kitchen was overwhelmed with parties. It would take three hours to get our order.
We weren’t starving. We were warm and safe and together and we had some incredible chocolates that we picked up on our travels. We played games and ate chocolate for dinner. To put it in perspective, our trip was idyllic up to and after that. It is one more memory to chuckle over, but it does remind one that you can’t be too prepared.
If I had one piece of advice, I would recommend asking your travel consultant or hotel staff what the restrictions might be if you are visiting a city during a holiday. Make reservations for all your holiday meals and check to see if museums or sights of interest are opened during your stay. Check public transportation and holiday schedules as well.
Travel is always an adventure. That is why we go. I love a good story, and this ranks right up there with all the ones I have collected along the way. Many people I talk travel with like to “wing” it. I am a planner but wanted some things to unfold organically. It is a memory we will laugh over in the years to come, but it will also inform my future travel decisions when heading out for my next holiday vacation.