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Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt Berlin

Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces. –Judith Viorst as seen at Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt Cafe in Berlin

My parents love Ritter Sport chocolate. I’m not sure how well-known it is in the US, it is sold at some Targets and other grocery stores. In my family, Ritter Sport is THE German chocolate. Scratch that – it is THE chocolate. The one thing my parents answer when I ask what they want from Germany.

Berlin even has a whole store dedicated to Ritter Sport chocolates and products. Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt (Ritter Sport Colorful Chocolate World).It’s popular enough to be one of the recommended sites for families from Visit Berlin and their Berlin Welcome Card. I never really understood why. There are a ton of family friendly activities in Berlin – does a chocolate store selling chocolates found on every corner deserve a place in a “top 10” list?

For my parents – it did. Since they were visiting and our itinerary included an overnight in Berlin, I had to take them to Schokowelt. This was not my choice. I had so much I wanted to show them in Berlin. But, they flat-out told me, “skip it – take us to the Ritter Sport Store.”

Ok, mom and dad.

Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt

What to expect

For those unfamiliar with Ritter Sport, here’s the gist.

Delicious chocolate. Many flavors. Colorful packaging. Squares.

I love their branding.

The shop in Berlin includes a very small museum, a cafe, a cafeteria, and the store selling tons of chocolate and Ritter Sport items.

SCHOKOLATERIA

The ground floor cafeteria is the first thing you walk through. Immediately to your right: a counter that seems to be a place for Ice Cream sundae toppings. On further inspection you find out it’s a place where you can your own SCHOKOKREATION. (More on this in a moment).

The Schokolateria offers an assortment of drinks and chocolate snacks. The setting (chairs, signs…) fit the brand by relying on colorful and square design. It’s lots of fun.

SCHOKOKREATION

RitterSport_BunteSchokowelt_SchokoKreation

 (Photo Credit: Ritter Sport)

Within the Schokolateria you get to become your own Willy Wonka and make a chocolate bar with your own fillings. There are over 21 choices, and you get to pick 3 fillings plus the type of chocolate you want. I picked gummy bears, rice cereal, and gold stars in dark chocolate.

It was amazing.

The staff mixes the chocolate, throws it in a mold and gives you a ticket to pick up your chocolate 30 minutes later.

(Obvious tip: place your order first thing so it’s ready when you leave.)

The downside to the SHOKOKREATION

This could easily be a memorable, exciting, and tasty experience. Unfortunately, I think I caught someone on a bad day.

I imagined a Marble Slab-type experience. Pick my chocolate flavor and add-ins from the display, then watch as they mix it in a bowl. That’s what the people in front of me did. That’s what the people were doing when I walked in.

When the staff member got to me, though, she pulled out the card to note what I wanted. There was still a family ordering in front of me. I thought we were going to wait for them to finish so I could see the options. Instead, the staff member huffed impatiently. I told her I couldn’t see the choices. She pointed to the sign behind her with the listed items and didn’t say a word. As I was trying to figure out what some of the things were, she tapped her pen against the table. There was no one behind me, but I felt rushed. I gave her my 3 add-ins expecting to at least watch her put the chocolate and add-ins in the bowl and mix (again, as I’ve seen others do). Instead she handed me a ticket and told me to come back in 35 minutes.

I recognize that this may seem ridiculous. However, I think I missed out on part of the fun of making your own candy bar. Plus, I paid for it. A regular candy bar in the store is €0.85. This “experience” was over €3 and I’m willing to bet that the show of picking flavors and watching them mix-it is supposed to be part of the attraction. If it’s not, then they’re really missing out on a great opportunity and should reconsider.

SCHOKOSHOP

Directly behind the SCHOKOLATERIA is the SCHOKOSHOP. The walls are filled with small and large squares of colorful chocolate packaging and flavors. There are options to fill bags, buy already assorted bags, get a meters worth of chocolate and more. There are also branded polos, backpacks, and soccer balls. My absolute favorite was a cooler bag for regular sized Ritter Sport bars to fit in perfectly.

Again, the only fail in the SCHOKOSHOP was the staff. My dad had asked for help finding the caramel chocolate, and the employee said they don’t have it. I was confused when my dad told me this because I saw the caramel variety in the mini-chocolate section. My mom went in to look for herself, found a giant bar, and purchased it within 5 minutes.

SCHOKOPFAD

shokowelt3

Upstairs you’ll find a small walk through area where you learn more about Ritter Sports process in making the chocolate. The explanations are in English and German. The displays are interactive. My three-year old loved them. Afterwards, there’s a short film, old commercials, and a place to take your own photos.

shokowelt4

SCHOKOCAFE

And finally, the Schokocafe (also upstairs). In addition to the chocolaty goodness on display at the SCHOKOLATERIA downstairs, the cafe has breakfast, lunch, and chocolate items. Things like chocolate soup (with churros), crepes, and varieties of fondue. Perhaps this is just a little slice of heaven right in Berlin. (Whatever you do, don’t click on this .pdf to the menu – I warned you!)

shokowelt5

Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt: Great products, not so great staff

Almost every employee we encountered seemed uninterested in their job, impatient with the customers, and bored. Especially at the Schokocafe upstairs. But, it’s hard to let them get you down when you can simply ignore them and enjoy the surroundings. Because it’s so conveniently located it’s worth at least a stop inside for a snack and a drink and to stock up on some tasty treats for friends back home. Just don’t expect the colorful and cheery atmosphere of the brand from the staff.

Thinking about going?

  • Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt is conveniently located a street away from Unter den Linden and a few blocks from Gendarmenmarkt and Checkpoint Charlie. It is among some of Berlin’s higher-end shopping, but also close to places like H&M. The Friedrichstr. S-bahn and U-bahn stop are only 2 streets away and the U-6 at Franzoeischestr. leaves you right around the corner from the shop. In other words, it’s easy to make it part of your Berlin itinerary.
  • For those with strollers, the shop is small and can easily get crowded and difficult to navigate with the strollers. The elevators are kind of hidden in the back to get upstairs.
  • If you have children between 7 and 18, you can sign them up for a Chocolate workshop. You have to do it online in advance. You will find more information here: Bunte Schokowelt Schoko Workshop.

Who should go?

This is definitely not just for kids, but is obviously kid-friendly. You’ll likely end up somewhere near this shop and if so, stop in! It’s worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity. For those with Berlin plans outside of this central area don’t go unless you really love Ritter Sport or need some branded trinkets to take home. It’s a small shop, museum, and cafe so it does not take up too much time.

For more information

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Neuschwanstein’s big surprise

If you’re familiar with the area around the Disney World Resort in Orlando (I-drive, 192…), you’re familiar with tacky tourism souvenir shops, chain restaurants, mega hotels, and heavy traffic.

You’re probably also very familiar with this – Disney’s iconic Cinderella Castle.

Walt Disney Castle photo

It’s not just centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom. It’s also the symbol for Disney movies and television credits.

Most people also know that the main inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle is Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle.

So what’s so surprising about Neuschwanstein?

So many touristy activities in the town of Schwangau.

Neuschwantstein is often pictured secluded in the hills of Bavaria. It’s easy to imagine the tranquil setting. However, the bottom of that hill (Schwangau) is the German equivalent of tacky tourist area. Which is a slight exaggeration, but the area does seem to personify every Bavarian (and thus, German) stereotype.

Instead of Mickey ears they sell lederhosen.

Instead of all-you-can-eat buffets they have currywurst and spaetzle.

Instead of miniature fun parks there are multiple nature hikes in the mountains and lakes.

Instead of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum visit King Ludwig II’s museum or the lesser-known castle practically next door to Neuschwanstein.

Instead of grand resorts with pools and valet parking there are private vacation rentals in half-timbered homes.

Instead of traffic jams people rely on great public transportation options or horse-drawn carriage rides.

Basically bottom-of-the-hill Neuschwanstein is surprisingly touristy, but equally charming.

If only I had known.

Unfortunately, most accounts of Neuschwanstein are pretty clear that it’s pretty shallow. Beautiful on the outside, drab on the inside. I made a decision to just make a quick stop en route from Stuttgart to Garmisch instead of dedicating the day to explore the area. And unfortunately, the GPS system played a few tricks with our routing which made us later than expected. So we really did not have enough time to see everything the area had to offer.

Hikes around the Alpsee are a fun family-friendly activity.

Neuschwanstein: Things to do

Our less than 2 hour visit was filled with schnitzel sandwich snacking, postcard browsing, sign reading, and posing for photos in front of gorgeous landscapes. Here are some things I would have been happy to do if we had a few more hours.

  • Take a hike: Pick up a map at the tourist center or follow one of the signs. Everything is clearly marked with expected completion times and routes. Plus, how often can you hike up to a castle, or around a clear lake with Alp views?
  • Learn more about the crazy King: This area of Germany meant a lot to King Ludwig II. He spent his youth there and built one of his three castles there. Visit the museum dedicated to his life and story.
  • See a castle, no not that castle: I knew Hohenshcwangau was near Neuschwanstein, I didn’t realize they were neighbors. Ludwig lived in Hohenschwangau (when it was called Schwanstein (for language buffs Neuschwanstein means NEW Schwanstein and when naming Neuschwanstein, they changed the name of Schwanstein to Hohenschwangau – and believe me this can be more confusing, but I’ll leave you to finding the sign with more information (or you can email me if you want to learn more))) and although not as iconic from the outside it is worth a tour indoors.
  • Perhaps a paddle boat: Between the castles and next to the Ludwig Museum there’s a large lake. Other than the estimated 90 minute walk around the lake, with gorgeous views of mountains and castles along the way, paddle boat rides are available in good weather.
  • Marienbrucke: For excellent views of Neushwanstein, head to this bridge that dates back to the 1800s. It’s a little scary for my taste, but the more adventurous are rewarded with a better story and photo.
  • Eat more Bavarian food: There are several restaurants, many with postcard views of something memorable. Try popular Bavarian dishes in the quintessential royal setting.
  • Shop for tacky souvenirs: Ok, some of the souvenirs are not so tacky. The shops at the bottom of the hill sell both Bavarian and German branded items (most likely the cheap things actually made in China), to the quality brands Germany is known for (from Christmas ornaments to Steiff Teddy Bears to cuckoo clocks and biersteins).
  • Compare and contrast the details of Ludwig and Cinderella’s castles: What parts of Neuschwanstein did Mr. Disney use as inspiration?

So much fun stuff to do around Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.

Thinking about going?

  • Schwangau is about two hours from Munich, Innsbruck, and Stuttgart making it a good base to explore many areas.
  • There are plenty of day trip operators, especially from Munich, available. Otherwise there a combination of trains and buses will get you there, but you should purchase your tickets in advance online if you are interested in touring the castle.
  • For those driving, there are many parking spaces available for a small fee (at the time of our visit in the Spring of 2014 it was 5 Euros). While we had no issue finding parking, if the lots are full consider parking in nearby Fussen and taking the busses to Schwangau.
  • You can easily make this area an all day – or longer – destination. There is more than enough stuff to do in the area, especially if for nature buffs.
  • From my perspective, there were several trail opportunities that appeared stroller-friendly, though we didn’t do anything too extensive.

Who should go

I recommend this area of Germany to families who like to hike. Between the two castles and the museum there are definitely enough activities to fill a day, but I don’t know if those things alone would be enough for young kids. The trails, however, would be a fun way to explore the area.  If you’re a King Ludwig II fan – you don’t need convincing. If you don’t know anything about him, I’m sure you’ll learn to appreciate him after a visit. Is this a must-see for Germany visitors? Well, my first visit to this castle was after living in the country a total of 7 years, so I guess that depends on you!

For more information

  • Check out my post about another Ludwig castle, Herrenchiemsee.
  • Neuschwanstein‘s official website
  • Hohenschwangau‘s official website
  • A great post from Little Siteseers and their day in the Schwangau area (hint: they did a lot more than we did).
  • Monkeys and Mountains has visited many castles in Germany and didn’t like this one. But, she does still give great tips for those who want to go.

Photo by Christian Lambert Photography smartshell macbookclicking hererent a room in a house for a night

Le Jardin d’Acclimation Paris, France

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This is my 100th post! It’s been slightly over a year since I restarted this blog. Last month I wrote a little over 1/4 of the whole blog’s post as part of the A-Z challenge. I enjoyed that challenge so much, that I decided to make up my own challenge for May. Twice a week, I write a post about an attraction we’ve visited and haven’t written about before here.

Why? To encourage people to travel or to help someone trying to learn a little more about a place on their to-do list. See, for me, my travel researching style includes reading posts about what people did at a place. From there, I’ll usually make a decision that it’s a good fit – or that it’s a bad fit. The problem is there’s nothing I can say about our time at Le Jardin d’Acclimation in Paris, France that would justify a decision either way.

The tale of why my recommendation of Le Jardin d’Acclimation is not too reliable

If you’re unfamiliar with this park – it’s part botanical garden, part amusement park, part zoo, part playground and completely everything that could possibly answer “what would a child like to spend their day doing”.

And that would be reason enough to go.

I first heard about it long before we even moved to France. A blogger I read at the time celebrated her daughter’s first birthday in Paris and wanted to do something very Parisian that day. After some research, she discovered there was no more-Parisian way to celebrate a first birthday than by going to the garden opened by Napoleon III in 1860. And when we moved to Germany and had a baby, I figured, well this sounds amazing.

And that would be reason enough to go.

We spent a week in the city of love, loving on our little soon-to-be-one-year old boy. Our days were filled with trips to parks, towers, museums, coeurs, rues, baguette shops, and – oh, yeah – we also spent a day at Disney. On the one year anniversary of my son’s birth, the day before we left, it decided to rain. The rain was not torrential and we went anyway. Unfortunately, non-torrential rain means one thing: the park is still open, but most of the rides are not. On a good note: most people in Paris seem to skip Le Jardin when it’s wet – there were no crowds. Plus, our one year old, didn’t really care.

And because of this, I can’t say that our experience is a good indicator either way of if you should go or not.

We had a great time. We looked at the animals, ate some croque monsieur, spent a few Euros to ride the petit train – a train that takes you from the park to the parking lot, and made notes on how very Parisian this place was. Coming from Orlando, where rides continue in most weather scenarios, this place was as far away from everything the Orlando parks are known for – and that would be reason enough to go.

Thinking about going?

  • Le Jardin d’Acclimation is in the 16th Arrondissement in the Bois de Boulogne. For those taking public transportation, which I recommend, it’s the Sablon metro station exit 2. Follow Rue d’Orleans until you get to the park. There are plenty of signs.
  • Entrance fees, and attractions are inexpensive. Purchase a book of 15, 25, or 50 tickets to save even more money. Kids under 3 do not pay to enter.
  • You do not need to have a car parked in the parking lot to ride the Petit Train, but I suppose this ride could be busier on warmer days.

Who should visit?

Le Jardin d’Acclimation is definitely a park for families. Because the rides are aimed towards younger children, this may not be the right choice for older kids. It is definitely a park that can take a whole day to visit, however you can also be comfortable spending only  a few hours there because of the low entrance fees.

Great links for further reading

  • We visited Le Jardin d’Acclimation on a rainy day, here are other things to do in Paris when it’s raining.
  • Since the garden dates back to 1860, there is a lot of history in the place. Check out the official website and hit “google translate” to learn more. Be on the lookout for: the famous other at the inauguration, the zoological society’s purpose for the acclimation garden, the “Pigeons of the Republic”, which country’s successful amusement park encouraged the garden to add attractions, and which other countries are represented within the gardens.
  • Here’s a pdf of the brochure in English.

 

 

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Open Air Museum Arnhem, NL

If there’s one aspect of travel I can’t seem to shut-up about it’s the importance of knowing some of the history of where you are traveling to. And I don’t mean you have to dust off your old books from Mrs. Miller’s class (this was actually my European History teacher’s name in 9th grade), though that would be nice.

There are multiple ways to get a crash course in history when you visit someplace new to you. One of my recent favorites are Open Air Museums. In the U.S. the places I think of that are similar to Open Air Museums in Europe (places like the Jamestown Settlement or Old Sturbridge Village) are referred to as Living History Museums. I’m not sure if there are more differences than just the name, but thinking of these in terms of being similar to what I’m familiar with helped me understand it more. That’s a mouthful.

In the Netherlands, head to Arnhem to catch a historical and cultural examination in their Openluchtmuseum.

Open Air Museum Arnhem

Child Friendliness

As with most things Dutch, I find this museum to be extremely child and family friendly. The idea is not to learn by seeing, but by doing. Throughout the exhibitions there are opportunities for families to get dirty, to try things themselves, and to be involved in the process. As if that’s not enough, there is also a cable tram running throughout the park, a small tram depot, a playground, a boat dock, mini cars to play in at the cafes, and plenty of pancakes and poffertjes to go around.

Open Air Museum arnhem

Go back in time

Scattered throughout the property are representations of life back when. Many of the buildings are either replicas from one of the Netherland’s cities, or the original building relocated for educational purposes. Through informative plaques and hand-on activities, it’s easy to let history soak in. One of my favorite attractions is a typical street with the same home repeated several times. As you walk into the home you see what life was like in that same place at different points in history. Pretty cool.

Open Air Museum Arnhem

Cultural significance

When talking about Dutch culture there are certain images that come to mind: windmills, boats, cheese, Indonesian food, tulips, royalty. It’s all there. Many of the exhibitions are perfect for learning the country’s history, there are significant tributes about the modern society as well.

Open Air Museum Arnhem

It’s fun

Seriously. It almost felt more like a really cool playground than a glance into important aspects of entire country. It wove the education seamlessly. It’s impossible to walk out without both a smile and a brain filled with interesting tidbits. The perfect way to start any Dutch adventure.

Thinking about going?

  • It’s only an hour away from Amsterdam via train (and a bit more via car) close to the German border. Then take public transport to get there from the train station. There is plenty of parking available for those driving, just remember to pay for your parking token when you enter the park.
  • It being an Open Air Museum lends itself to being a good option on a sunny day, but there are several indoor exhibits if the weather isn’t perfect. So, bring your raincoat if you see grey skies.
  • There are plenty of restaurants and cafes on site. Many are connected to a play area for kids. It’s also very stroller friendly.

Who should visit?

This is an ideal destination for anyone interested in Dutch culture and is looking for a day trip (or longer) outside of Amsterdam. While it is definitely toddler-friendly, the exhibits would be interesting to people of all ages.

Great links for further reading

  • The official website for the Openleuchtmuseum (with a drop down menu to change it to English).
  • My own post about something that happened during our visit.
  • Reviews from Tripadvisor (seems like it’s a nice Christmastime destination, too)

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Herrenchiemsee: Ludwig’s Versailles

I had a slight obsession with King Ludwig II of Germany when I was in high school. And even with this obsession, I had never visited any of his castles. So, when we headed down to Prien am Chiemsee for a month of intensive language learning (specifically German) and I discovered that the nearby castle was one of his, we went.

Herrenchiemsee

Bavaria’s Versailles

For me, the main point of interest with Herrenchiemsee is that it’s a replica of Versailles in France. The major differences being that’s it’s even more ornate than Versailles. For those that have only been to Versailles (I haven’t been there, so I don’t know) they’ll probably think that’s impossible. Well, the news for them is that it is actually an incomplete, more ornate Versailles. Ludwig II died before construction finished.
Another thing that surprised me about this is that it was not built to compete with the original. Instead it is a tribute to France’s King Louis XIV, the Sun King. And that is equally crazy and cool.

Getting to the Herrenchiemsee Palace

Ferry to Herrenchiemsee

The Palace is on an island in the middle of the lake. Herreninsel. There are several cities along the Chiemsee that offer transportation to both Herreninsel and Fraueninsel (Men’s Island and Women’s Island.)

We were there in the winter and the only comfortable way to get to the island was via a short 15 minute ferry ride. The boat was almost empty, which made it easy for us to roll our stroller on board.

From the ferry we walked directly to the palace to buy our tickets and waited the next available tour in English.

Off-season at the Herrenchiemsee Palace

Herrenchiemsee during low-season

Here’s the thing with off-season, specifically wintry destinations in Europe. Specifically castles. Specifically Herrenchiemsee (and Salzburg, which I will write about later this month.)

Off-season travel is great because there are practically no crowds so it feels like you have the place to yourself. One of the big negatives of touristy places are the crowds. Go off-season, though, and you get the benefit of visiting a touristy place without suffocating.

Off-season travel sucks because there are practically no season-dependent decorative items on display. Especially outside. Prien, Chiemsee, and the surroundings are beautiful in the winter – don’t get me wrong. The snow-capped mountains of the alps and the very stereotypical quaint German village makes visiting this area of the world in the winter a good thing. However, the big draw to Herrenchiemsee is the comparisons to Versailles. Part of the appeal of Versailles is its gardens. Obviously, the gardens at Herrenchiemsee are not in bloom in the winter. Also, the fountains? They are turned off and covered to protect them from the weather.

Once inside, we had more of the pros and cons of the off-season travel. Our English-speaking tour group was small – yay!. Some of the rooms were undergoing refurbishment and were missing some items – boo!

 Our impressions of Herrenchiemsee

Still, with all the negatives of being there without getting to see the gardens in bloom and the full-picture of the interior it was spectacular. I’ve never been to Versailles, nor have I had much interest in it. But seeing Herrenchiemsee actually made me want to see the original.

My three-month old must have loved it because he refused his stroller and preferred to look around. I’m betting he was hoping we were leaving our 600 sq. foot apartment and trading up for serious royal treatment.

My favorite part of the tour was the visit to the Great Hall of Mirrors. I’m familiar with the idea of the room because of the popularity of Versailles version. As I mentioned earlier, Herrenchiemsee is even MORE ornate so this room is even more spectacular than the original. Whereas Versailles has paintings, Herrenchiemsee has 3-d artwork. Also the windows are slightly larger meaning the room is bigger.

Though we only went to Herreninsel to see the palace, there are other activities for people to do on the island. There are paths within the woods, a monastery, and a King Ludwig II museum. For us, though, we wanted to escape the cold and head to the indoor pool on the other side of the lake.

Lake Chiemsee

Thinking about going?

  • At only 60 km from Munich it is easy to get to the island by taking a train from the city’s main train station directly to Prien. From Prien’s train station it’s a nice walk (perhaps 30 minutes),  or you can take advantage of a small shuttle-train that runs in the summer. Once you get to the dock, just hop on a ferry over to the island.
  • We didn’t take the shuttle-train, but everything else we did while there was stroller friendly. The palace doesn’t have elevators, so we had to carry the stroller up the stairs. They also have strollers and baby carriers for rent at the palace.
  • There are several ticket options available, and a few English-language tours throughout the day. The tour is the only way to see the interior of the palace, and you can only enter at the time-stamped on the ticket. The other sites can be seen at a more leisurely pace.
  • There is a small cafe serving select items within the palace. I didn’t feel it was overpriced. There are also several restaurants on the mainland near where the ferry docks, and on the walk between there and the train station.
  • Photos are not allowed within the palace.

Who should visit?

I think this is a good side trip for anyone staying in Southern Bavaria or looking for a stop on a journey between Salzburg, Austria and Munich. Especially if you have an interest in Ludwig’s castles (or castles in general). I would also recommend it to people who are visiting Germany and don’t want to trek to France to see Versailles, or people who have seen Versailles and want to figure out for themselves how this one compares.

This is the biggest attraction within the Prien vicinity and can take from 2-4 hours to the whole day depending on how casually you visit the island.

Herrenchiemsee

Great Links for further reading

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