Europa Park in Winter (Germany)

For those looking to head off the theme park beaten track (i.e. away from Disney and Universal), Europa Park is the Holy Grail. Europe’s second busiest park (to Disney) and most jam packed full of rides. It’s a one of a kind; producing its own rides through its own company Mack Rides.

Europa Park marked our 8th theme park in the last 8 months. Because of time restrictions we were only able to visit during their Christmas season; a quieter season with many of the rides are closed due to the weather and compensated by decadent Christmas theming. I say compensated but at the time of visit, I wasn’t sure if this would really be the accurate descriptive word as many of the key rides were marked off as closed on the park map; including the silver star, blue fire and all of the water rides. Furthermore, the park had limited opening hours, all and all I was skeptical.

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As it turned out, we had nothing to fear, we finished the day very much satisfied & unsure how one could pack more into one day even if more time and rides were available, largely due to the lack of any lines (the most we waited was 10mins, the rest were walk-on)! We were also pleasantly surprised to find that despite it was marked as closed on the map, blue fire was up and running, a truly world-class launched coaster (which I expand upon below).

Here are a few of our highlights from Europa Park:

 

Blue Fire

Smooth thrills, located in the Iceland area of the park. Themed around a gas plant this ride provides an explosive launch of 0-100km/h in 2.5 second. For a little bonus fun, this ride also comes with a heart rate monitor built into the handles!

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Wodan

I find that old wooden rides have the tendency to become a little uncomfortable, so rarely do I find wooden rides that I’m really into. This rides is one of those exceptions, I am very much into this ride. Also in the Iceland section of the park, the ride is named after the Nordic God ‘Odin’ (but written in Germanic style) any my goodness, its not for the faint of heart, as the name suggests it’ll definitely put the fear of god in you. I personally found myself reaching new surprising new decibels of scream as I made my way around the track.

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Arthur

POV video don’t do this ride and themed area justice. Elaborate, well thought out and fun! You don’t need to have seen the movie to enjoy it! The kingdom of the Invisibles shrinks you down to the size of bug with food, drinks and kids play areas that appropriately play with the theme. The Arthur ride itself move both indoors and out through 7 scenes that incorporate both visual sets, sounds and 4D elements such as vibration water and smells.

 

Eurostat

A mad combination between Disney’s Space Mountain & Disney’s Spaceship Earth, this fun ride with space theme take’s you up a spiral lift, then launches you into space complete with techno music, a bundle of fun!

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Alpenexpress VR-Ride

Our first experience into the world of Virtual Reality technology used on roller coasters and very effective! The simple use of this technology transformed a ride in the twilight years of its life into something original and new, transporting you into a whole another world. I was amazed to see how much the VR messed with my senses, the VR depicted us looping & it actually felt so despite there being no inversions on the ride!

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Bob Sled Run

Like a scene from Cool Runnings, the Europa Park Bob Sled Run ride sends ride carriages down through a series of guided (like bumper rails in 10-pin bowling) twists and turns allowing the weight and momentum to determine the exact path. The uncertainty of it all definitely adds an element of excitement!

 

Further Highlights:

-The park is huge, a total of 16 themed areas!

-The winter chill adds to the high speed roller coaster experience

-Ice Skating and tobogganing available during winter.

-Europa park distributed during a show glasses that visually transform any light-source into snowflakes (as can be seen in our Cologne Christmas Markets Article), these are very cool and now amongst my prized possessions.

-Originality, where else would you see a gaggle of geese wearing bowties being led through the park by a whistle wielding jester.

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-Open fires throughout the park to warm up by (large logs wedged open into quarters and one end with fire in the middle, genius)

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-A poor man’s haunted mansion ride – many of the rides feel inspired by Disney’s greatest  hits albeit at a much more reasonable rate.

 

In conclusion, of the 8 theme parks we’ve visited in the last 8 months, Europa Park is very much near the top, world class; even when its not at its full running capacity. So if you ever get the chance to visit, don’t be dumb, take it!

 

P.s. if you’re curious about how we’d rank the European theme parks we’ve visited, stay tuned! The article is not far away!

Cologne Christmas Markets

Being from New Zealand, we’ve only ever experienced a Summer Christmas. I’m still waiting for Hollywood to produce a Christmas movie to reflect the New Zealand Christmas experience. I think I will be waiting for a long time, because it seems that we are primed to accept that Christmas is meant to occur in winter. We dream of a white Christmas, it’s almost religious (although it’s humorous to think of Jesus trying to make a snowman in his original setting in Israel).

All this is to say that given the opportunity, there was no way that we weren’t going to embrace every opportunity celebrate Christmas in its gloriously chilly winter context. What better way to experience such a phenomenon than to check out the German Christmas Markets of Cologne! (or KÖln in German)

 

The Best Markets:

A fun market that oozes quality. It’s huge, it’s got a great theme, delicious food, unique products & best of all; a very large ice-skating circuit. If you had to pick just one market to visit, this is it!

 

Picturesque. Situated below the massive Dom (Cologne Cathedral) & lit up with thousands of lights surrounding a central Christmas tree. This is the perfect place to pick up a glass of eggnog and window-shop the delectable food and crafts of display. Make sure you allow plenty of time for oogling up. It also has a handy live online webcam feed so you can check out the Christmas action on the square before you arrive!

 

This is the most down to earth market of the lot with an emphasis on handcrafted goods. It’s situated in the corner of Cologne’s oldest public park which complements it’s laid back vibe well. This a great place for a tasty bite to eat. Best of all, the stalls here are rented on a weekly basis, so timing it right you can visit a variety of different stalls in two visits. Just check out the market website for exhibitor details or pick up a market brochure that will outline which stalls are present on which weeks and their location within the market (both are in German but easy enough to figure out/use google translate online #ilovechrome).

 

Possibly the most well rounded of the markets, sporting an angelic theme and complete with angels roaming the market. Nice wide avenues make for a fun excursion to this market.

 

Honorable mentions:

Average Markets (i.e. not that memorable compared to those listed above):

 

Handy Tips:

  • You’ll spend most of your money on food, delicious food. We recommend trying:
  • Swiss cheesy Raclette (Choose the potatoes, ham & gherkins option – it tastes way better than it smells)

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    Raclette (Thats a half wheel of cheese under a grill), smells weird but tastes amazing

  • The kale & chorizo stew (Grünkohleintopf) is actually amazing
  • The handcraft market, while not the cheapest gives very generous portions of various dishes in proper ceramic plates and bowls which is a bit easier than cardboard dishes used elsewhere

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    Pretzels are cheap and filling

  • The mushrooms are also a champion dish 😉
  • There is a (returnable) deposit on your mug if you don’t want to keep it as a souvenir which is also fine

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    We decided to forgo our deposit and keep this mug from Rudolfplatz, das boot

  • Don’t bother looking for a stein of beer because Cologne has Kolsch; a specialised local brew that commonly comes in smaller quantities (i.e. 200mls). Kolsh is cost effective and worth trying but make sure you put your coaster on top of your glass to show you’ve had enough otherwise your glass will be refilled automatically (and billed to your table)!
  • If you try something on, there feels like a much higher expectation to buy it than in other countries/cultures
  • As with most markets, card is sometimes accepted by stalls with bigger ticket items but cash is always king so try to always have some on you to avoid disappointment or having to waste valuable time finding an ATM. We didn’t find security to be an issue at all in Cologne but do be cautious as you would at any tourist attraction/area
  • Entry to the Dom (Cathedral) is free and really worth checking out! Make sure you go all the way to the end of the church to see the huge golden chest said to contain the bones of the magi/three wise men)
  • It rarely snows in Cologne, so if you’re looking for that white Christmas, you may wish to look elsewhere.
  • In a rush you could probably check out all the eight main markets in around 2.5 days, but as most of the markets are best experienced at night we’d recommend around 4 days to get the most out of your visit – this felt like a comfortable pace to us and allowed us to see each of the markets in their prime

 

 Accommodation:

Accomodation in Cologne during the Christmas season (around the end of Nov onwards) is extremely popular and so can get expensive. We highly reccomend booking well in advance (i.e. by around Sept/Oct) to avoid having super limited options. Being on a backing trip we usually check out Hostel World and AirBnb to find our best options.

After some research Jenny found a sweet hostel (Die Wohngemeinschaft Hostel – roughly translated to “The flatmates hostel”) with really cool themed rooms and cool hipster vibe which was a definite highlight. We stayed in the “Juri” space room which was visually stunning and came with a selection of space themed DVDs and books which completed the experience. Several other themed rooms (private and dorms) are also available. Another definite highlight of the hostel was the 24 hour access dining room  with a free espresso machine, an excellent wide selection of free organic teas and a fridge of (charged) cold drinks (soft drinks, beer etc).

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So there you have it, the inside knowledge from your friends at forpureadventure.com

Got any questions or suggestions? Be sure to drop a line in the comments section below.

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Comical christmas bins

Berlin

Germany; known for its movie villains, its time efficient ethic, its fast cars, its unique accent & as of this trip, for us, its awesome cities! Ever since taking German in year 9 & being in awe of Oliver Khan’s football saves, I’ve wanted to visit! We definitely loved our time.

We managed to tick off a lot of the tourist sites and have produced a list of things for next time. Berlin itself feels like quite a new city, having largely been bombed in the war, many of the buildings have been built in the last century.

Art instalment on a backstreet of Berlin

Art instalment on a backstreet of Berlin

This can be quite a nice change, we’ve visited a lot of old cities on this tour and while we haven’t yet reached it we’re told that ABC syndrome (Another Bl**dy Church/Castle) is common for travellers. So this city provides great reprieve for that with its modern architecture. Its also so refreshing to be in a place with such modern history (WWII, Cold War, Fall of the Berlin Wall etc), it really brings the history to life!

Here was a couple our favourites areas and attractions to explore:

Original Berlin Walks (The Infamous Third Reich Sites Tour)

This was easily the best walking tour we’ve taken so far, run through the Original Berlin Walks in English, the Third Reich tour took us through a series of notable Berlin landmarks (& former landmark locations) that related to Nazi Germany. The tour took us to the Reichstag, the Romany Gypsy memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, The Holocaust Memorial, the sight for Hitler’s former bunker where he ended his own life, the former propaganda building, the Elser memorial,

The Elser memorial, recognising one of the earliest assassination attempt on the Nazi party leadership.

The Elser memorial, recognising one of the earliest assassination attempt on the Nazi party leadership.

the Nazi air force building, Typography of Terror and parts of the Berlin Wall (which I’d ignorantly thought was put in place by the Nazis haha – so wrong). We had a really excellent guide Emily who managed to compact Germany’s history in a concise & understandable way, we were so impressed. Having grown up in Germany her whole life but having North American parents, Emily was also very easy to understand accent-wise (We’ve found that it sometimes take’s quite a bit of concentration to understand your walking tour guide over here in Europe for us Kiwis with the mix of accents around here.) Overall, I can’t recommend this walking tour enough; affordable, informative and far more efficient than trying to construct your own walking tour of the main sights!

The Reichstag, Germany's parliament. They replaced the destroyed dome with a glass one that with an advanced booking you can walk up and look down into the parliament chambers - symbolising the importance of transparency.

The Reichstag, Germany’s parliament. They replaced the destroyed dome with a glass one that with an advanced booking you can walk up and look down into the parliament chambers – symbolising the importance of transparency.

Our fantastic guide Emily

Our fantastic guide Emily

The Brandenburg Gate, perhaps Berlin's most recognisable symbol.

The Brandenburg Gate, perhaps Berlin’s most recognisable symbol.

Typography of Terror

Typography of Terror

Holocaust Memorial The Holocaust Memorial is very very well done. The memorial itself is an acknowledgement of the 6 Million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust (alongside many other groups including members of the LGBT community, those who were disabled, Romany Gypsies, political opponents to the Nazi party & prisoners of war) and consists of over 700 unique coffin like shaped concrete blocks located in a large park left vacant from the Berlin Wall ‘Death Strip’. No two concrete blocks are alike, varying in heights and angles. The designers have decided to go with an approach whereby minimal information is given and there is a high emphasis on a participant’s interpretation of the installment. I would normally consider this annoying but in this case I believe the designers have ‘hit the nail on the head’. I highly encourage you to visit!

The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial

Checkpoint Charlie Checkpoint Charlie is most notable for being one of the focal fronts of the Cold war between the USA & Russia. The area surrounding the checkpoint has a lot see and do, points of interest include:

  • Visiting the replica checkpoint. On the sign next to the check point you will find a double sided image (on one side an American soldier, on the other a Russian soldier) symbolizing the point of stand off, both sides perpetually stuck looking at each other, very cool. It’s also worth noting that the men in military uniforms in front of the checkpoint charging money for photos with them are not real soldiers.
    Checkpoint Charlie facing the East

    Checkpoint Charlie facing the East

    Checkpoint Charlie facing the West

    Checkpoint Charlie facing the West

  • Visiting the Checkpoint Charlie museum which highlights the many ways people attempted to escape across the border. We’re told that this museum is worth a look, something for our to do list!
  • Just around the corner you can take a controlled air balloon ride up in the air, giving you an areal view of the surrounding neighborhoods.

    The air balloon on its way up

    The air balloon on its way up

  • Next to the air balloon you can find a tour company that offers you the opportunity to rent out cars from the communist era for a self-driven tour of the city.
  • Half a block north of checkpoint Charlie you’ll also find a beach food & drinks area complete with real sand and beach chairs, this looks very cool and tempting for a longer Berlin intinerary.
  • Berlin Wall Museum & Berlin Wall Panorama. {Insert Link}

Local Delicacies Wherever we go, we try to eat the local delicacies, if you’re in Berlin, you’ll quickly find that the standout dish is curried sausage and fries (with mayonnaise). This is pretty cheap & tasty and adds a bit more flavor to the surprisingly plain sausages we encountered around the city – perhaps we were looking in the wrong place.

To do list for next time:

-Explore the underground ping-pong bar scene

-Eat at the Checkpoint Charlie Beach area.

-Further explore the shopping area of Mitte & in particular the weigh and pay clothes store

-Come back for the German Christmas Markets.

Munich & Dachau

Our visits to Munich & Dachau were flying ones, with just an evening in Munich and two hours in Dachau so forgive me as I lump the two together in one post (given more time both would be very much worthy of their own post).

The highlight of Munich had to be our visit to a traditional German beer house/garden. Not being much of a beer drinker myself (mainly because of the taste) Jenny and I went along with an open mind seeking an authentic German experience. We were not left wanting!

The German beer house/garden we visited was a place called Augustina Keller. We were taken aback by the scale of this place, garden seating as far as the eye could see, on different terraced areas, surrounded by lush green trees. A trip inside to use the rest room revealed a grand hall filled with further seating, a stage & giant chandeliers all in a dark wooden hue.

Augustiner Keller, I can't reccomend this place enough! Order a big beer (even if you don't like beer) & the pork knuckle...you will go home happy!

Augustiner Keller, I can’t reccomend this place enough! Order a big beer (even if you don’t like beer) & the pork knuckle…you will go home happy!

Being in Germany we decided to put our distaste of beer aside and order the local cuisine. We had the Pork Knuckle (E

isbein) which was HUGE and extremely delicious & ordered the house beer (just 500mls – we weren’t brave enough to attempt the huge litre tall mugs with our visit to Prague coming up the next day. I was very surprised to find that this beer was actually quite tasty and sweeter than the beer I’ve tried back in NZ. I’m not exactly sure of the difference but I am told that the local government has very strict laws around preservatives & as such locals say that this also prevents hangovers…so maybe it’s that?

Overall, we had such a good time, I cannot wait to visit again, perhaps Octoberfest isn’t off the cards afterall?

Dachau

On the left the museum, the forecourt where thousands were killed and the barracks on the right

On the left the museum, the forecourt where thousands were killed and the barracks on the right

As I mentioned, we had a couple of hours to visit Dachau concentration camp, the first concentration build under the Nazi German regime. As you would expect, this was a very sobering experience. Walking through the museum & exhibitions you come face to face with inconceivable figures of death, abuse & a loss of dignity. I knew the Holocaust was really bad but sometimes it takes a trip like this to really bring the atrocity to life!

Communal Basins in the Barracks

Communal Basins in the Barracks

Bathroom facility of the barracks

Bathroom facility of the barracks

Concentration Camp Bunks at their worst

Concentration Camp Bunks at their worst

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Each of these foundations represents another concentration camp barracks

Each of these foundations represents another concentration camp barracks

I highly recommend visiting the 10am film that summarizes the conditions leading up to, the day-to-day life of the camp and finally the liberation. The museum is extensive, you could spend days reading everything so you need to plan out your time, I definitely allowing sometime to get out of the museum and to explore the site, in particular the housing barracks. We opted for the audio commentary (3.50 Euros pp) because we have visited a number of sites recently with very little written commentary but with the vast written commentary of this site the audio commentary became a bit of a distraction – you really are forced to pick one or the other (reading or audio) to make the most of it but if you’re not in a reading mood then could be helpful.