It was years ago, around 2012 when our friends had decided to pursue a better future in central Europe, Germany specifically, and when we had informally promised to visit them wherever they would find a “home”. So it was just a matter of finding the correct time to visit them once they had decided to live permanently in Karlsruhe. And it was in the 2014 summer when we had informally vowed to execute the trip before we met the next summer.
1st of May was a public holidays for most of Europe so it was easy-peasy to pick that long weekend as the one! Surprisingly enough, for those dates, tickets were…almost dead cheap which meant that it was just a matter of …minutes before booking the tickets – 320 Euros for two adults and two kids.
We were flying to Baden-Baden and the destination reminded years ago when i landed there and then me and a good friend had decided to spend one day in Ulm and then rent a car, drive up to and camp just on the outskirts of Hockenheim in order to watch the German F1 race. This was in 2005 and the highlight, apart from the race, was the outdoors drinking sessions among numerous campers around us who were also executing similar sessions. For some reason I remembered nothing from Baden Baden airport, but the sentimental bond was there! I could feel it! (For more on this trip take a look at https://ourperpetualjourneys.com/2014/07/25/camping-in-hockenheim-the-f1-experience-continues/)
When we exited the airport we were greeted by a glorious rainy weather. Apparently there was an … island of time of 5 days of torrential rains (stretching from the previous day of our trip to Germany) in the middle of an ocean of glorious and spectacular sunny and warm days. What the hell. We decided we could make a great place look fantastic even on a grim weather.
Alex picked us up and after a 40-minute drive under heavy rain we landed ourselves in Karlsruhe.
Friday was a simple yet truly amazing day.
After spending the first hours chatting with our friends while the kids were going ballistic opening presents and playing with each other we decided to walk around the area. The rain had stopped and we found a great opportunity to feel like the locals. We walked around the eastern part of Karlsruhe, we appreciated the architecture of that modern part of the city and once we walked the whole neighbourhood and took a good sniff of how the city presented herself, we decided to have a pizza and some beers – remember we were in Germany.
We chose a local place. It was an Italian restaurant. A big table next to the glass wall in a quiet area was ready as if they were expecting us.
It was great. It was awesome. The kids surprisingly were very gentle playing with each other and we enjoyed a nice dinner. From time to time I was looking through the glass wall to the Friday life of the city happening just meters away from me, gathering info into my memory banks of how this city breaths and lives. I utterly loved the moments. I have to say sometimes you travel to the other side of the world, you climb the Himalayas or you dive the Great Barrier Reef but yet these simple, civic, family, relaxing moments feeling just like the average man in an average city eating pizza and drinking beer, truly stay in one’s memory and heart much more than anything else.
The dinner was a nice opportunity to compose a quick and dirty plan for the … whole period of time we were to spend there. You see, we only had two days and we needed to use time efficiently.
The next day it was Saturday and the plan was simple. Get to know Karlsruhe! We set off early in the morning and through a … garden of playgrounds for children, I counted around 4-5 within a walking distance of 20 minutes, we made it to the Karlsruhe zoo. Large cities of greater magnitude cannot boast and take pride of such a great zoo.
It had everything – from lovely goats and funny penguins to menacing lions and the Burj-Al-Arab of the animals – giraffes. We spent around two hours and then after taking a lovely boat trip of 30 minutes in the small lake in the middle of the zoo we sampled the local ice creams (great but no match to the greatest – to my personal view – ice cream I had ever eaten in Palermo Sicily) and then we made it to the city centre.
It was a beautiful day. It was Saturday and the market was open. We walked up and down, on and off Marktplatz. We checked some shops and then as it was already 4 pm, we decided to grab a table in a local restaurant and have some beer and some food – beer being the first priority!
The locals were out and there were a couple of small outdoor markets with events which really spiced up the whole day. Of course Karlsruhe cannot boast glamour and lights but it is definitely a down to earth place to live and for sure a place to spend some days.
When we finished our beer and food, we split from our friends and we paid a visit to the palace, Schloss Karlsruhe, the reason for the very existence of Karlsruhe. Apparently, as the story goes, Charles III Willian Margrave of Baden-Durlach founded the city (17 June 1715) after he took a small nap from his hunting trip and he saw a new city in his dreams – in his peace, quietness, “Ruhe” in German – in that very place which triggered him to start building the city and the new palace!
The palace was closed so we only got some photos and then we made it back to the house. It was a full day and we had to rest and get ready for the next day, although we still had not decided what to do. The evening ran smoothly and casually with our friends.
The next day we woke up at 7 am as we needed to take a decision on whether to visit Strasbourg. As it would be a shame to miss it, after too much talking, we decided we should give it a try.
As we had to be at the airport by night, we could only spend literary some hours in Strasbourg. So what we did was take the train and made sure we were back by 15.00.
We only spent there 4 hours there, but we managed to take a good sniff of the city – the main attractions we saw being Petit France and The Cathedral. For most of the time we walked. We also bought some memorabilia, had a couple beers and orange juice for the kids and bought some chocolate. If you are interested on reading more on Strasbourg check out https://ourperpetualjourneys.com/2015/05/24/strasbourg/
On our arrival to Karlsruhe, full of sweet pictures from Strasburg and with the unwritten vow that we need to visit the Alsatian capital sometime in the future, we went straight back home to our friends.
A simple, yet beautiful pasta with a great sauce along with a glass of beer suited us greatly before we relaxed with a cup of coffee in the sitting room doing a recap of our extra small visit to Karlsruhe. We chatted, made plans for the summer, let the kids play and then packed our stuff. We needed to be at the airport any time before 23.00 so as to get a good sleep for the early morning flight the next day.
I have to say that I did felt slightly sad of leaving. Even though we had barely spent three days there, we had such a great time seeing our friends. I think we formed with the city such everyday bonds that I wished I could stay more there! Our visit did not involve seeing tourist attractions and as such it felt like a couple of days out in our own city. What is more, staying at our friend’s house did make a difference as we had plenty of time to spend with each other.
We said goodbye and we drove to the airport. The strategically built hotel, literary on the other side of the road of the airport, did make a difference in flying out of Germany in style. Waking up at 4am (with the kids) and leaving the flat at 5.00am to be at the airport at 6.00am could definitely add too many risks and difficulties into our departure, so it could not be a better option to stay there.
Of course the airport and the surrounding area cannot take pride of the … options one has in doing things. There is not even a decent place to eat. When we arrived the airport was deserted and there was not a single place open, even to buy a bottle of water. When we enquired, we were informed the only place to get something to eat could be reached by a taxi and as we would not be bothered we just went back straight into the hotel. The last option we had was a … decent vending machine that helped us with some chocolate, soup and a couple of beers.
The next day, we woke up, packed our stuff and just crossed the road and in less than 10 minutes we found ourselves into Departures! I thought that after so much travelling it took me more than 15 years before I marked another first – the smallest distance ever travelled between a hotel’s exit and an airport’s departures!