It will surprise no one reading this, well acquainted with us as you are, to hear that Armin and I do not have the best track record with holidays. Planning them, taking them, organising them. We tend to forget to make holidays happen, unless we have a pressing need to visit someone, and when we do take a trip, we may completely fail to realise, say, the impact of the season (top tip: in Britain, the “off season” really means OFF, as in, closed! In SA everything’s just a bit quieter and cheaper, ie really great), or which bit of the place we’re visiting is actually nice to visit. We’ve also had astonishingly bad luck with weather, during our 11 years in the UK. A wet week in north Wales in November is to be expected… but lashings of freezing rain in Dorset in June, not so much.
So it shouldn’t be exactly surprising that everyone we told we were spending a week in Solingen, northern Germany, responded with a variation on “Hahaha… oh, you’re serious.” Or more simply: “WHY?” The why was actually pretty simple. We were invited to a wedding there, and being slap bang in the middle of Claudia’s autumn break, we figured we’d make a proper holiday out of it. Originally the plan was to go on to Hamburg, but friends there weren’t available. Berlin, we decided, was a bit too far. Saxony-Anhalt sounded good… but then we found a really nice-looking guesthouse in Solingen, and we thought about spending less time driving cranky kids around and more time exploring our surroundings, and it seemed like a pretty good idea.
Surprisingly enough, we were right. Solingen is… well, it’s kind of a dump. A grimy, depressing industrial city that had to be rebuilt almost entirely after the war. It’s nobody’s idea of a beautiful destination. But our holiday house was fabulous – a 300-year-old farmhouse with floors that tilt like a ship at sea, with extremely welcoming and helpful hosts right next door, bringing us delicious, generous, amazingly cheap breakfast every day and an endless supply of toys for the kids. You arrive via another depressing semi-industrial street, but then suddenly you’re looking at fields and horses and perfect rural charm.
You see here one of the key contributors to our good experience: just two of the assorted scooters and bikes, in appropriate sizes, that were made available to us. (There was also a swing, and a goodly number of indoor toys, including masses of matchbox cars and a long ramp for racing them down.) Max’s first word every day (after “Mammaaaa…” and after having a good long drink) was “Tooter!” (Meaning scooter, meaning also bike.) Then, “Tooter?” Then, and for most of the rest of the day, “TOOTER TOOTER TOOTER TOOOOTERRRRR!” (Please to imagine that last word in a really deep, guttural, full-throated roar of absolute enthusiasm.)
So he quite liked it there.
Solingen also provided just enough by way of outings and attractions that we had something to do every day, in a gentle way, without feeling any pressure to pack everything in. In better weather, and with bigger kids, I expect we could have enjoyed a lot more traipsing about (visiting Cologne and Düsseldorf, hiking and such), but we took it easy, and relished it.
On day one*, which was on the grey and drizzly side, the morning was given to grocery shopping and settling in. In the afternoon we went to check out Germany’s highest railway bridge – underneath which is a large, newish and rather lovely park, with a smithy producing interesting art, and a Schwebefähre, or “floating ferry” (powered by the vigorous pumping of those who wish to cross, as well as the ferrymen).
Day two was a bit sunnier, and looked likely to be the best day of the week, so we headed to the Wuppertal zoo. Zoos have never been high on my list of must-dos, but I’m starting to change my mind on that. A lovely zoo is lovely, and they all have such distinct flavours, it’s always a pleasure. Going to the Wuppertal zoo had the bonus of giving us a chance to take the Schwebebahn, or “floating railway”. (The more usual English translation would be overhead/suspension railway, but I love how “schweben” here becomes a verb in the London sense of “tube”. Ads urged passengers to “float to the theatre” etc. Marvellous. Plus, the Wuppertal region clearly has a Thing for floating-type transport; good on ’em, let’s all take a leaf, etc.)
On day three we embarked on the grand adventure of seeing three countries in one day – visiting Armin’s aunt Gudrun in Maaseik, Belgium, and then going with her and her husband Ricky to an animal park in Born, Netherlands. Armin wasn’t entirely convinced about this plan, having just done the zoo, but I really enjoyed it. The park is located around a ruined castle! How can you not love a chance to eyeball camels, peacocks, flamingoes and lynxes underneath a ruined castle? Plus, curious goatses.
Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, day three concluded with Max sicking up repeatedly at Gudrun’s place. Unpleasant (especially for him, poor baby, he’s never ever done that before) and inconvenient. Luckily Gudrun has a grandson just three months older than Max, and so was well provided with muslins etc, even lending us a sleepsack to take him home in (his clothes being, well, sicked on). In the morning, just as we thought he was all better bar a touch of diarrhoea, he Exorcisted all over me, and himself. So day four, our last full day, was mostly spent at home, making sure he really was recovered. (I did however take Claudia off to the local shops to procure emergency clothing for Max. The local shops were about as dreary as you might expect, with the delightful and unexpected exception of a truly excellent yarn shop, the wonderfully named Woll-Fühl Oase. The owner gave Claudia a bag of gummy sheep, so she kept wanting to go back.) In the late afternoon, when we could see his tummy was properly settled, we went to a swimming pool. Which turned out to be Claudia’s favourite part of the whole holiday, because since acquiring goggles, taking classes and learning to go underwater without fear, she is 100% hooked on swimming. (And learning to actually SWIM btw, not in class but off her own bat. I am so dang proud. Max is also learning to float by himself (with wings) and loving it. Yay waterbabies!)
Day five was home time, but we stopped off at the local castle on the way. It’s either Schloss Burg or Burg Schloss, I can never remember. Either way it was a proper European castle and much enjoyed.
We also stopped at Bad Krözingen, in (I think) Hochschwarzwald, where I completely failed to take any photos but enjoyed the scenery very much. It felt a little bit like driving through the Cape winelands. But only a little bit. Not nearly as gorgeous, obv, nothing could be; but very nice natheless.
And then we crossed the border into Switzerland, and suddenly we could see Alps, and the light was gorgeous, and the landscape was gorgeous, and I couldn’t quite believe this was now home. The next day we went for a walk around Regensberg, the little medieval hilltop village/castle just behind where we live. It was without a doubt the prettiest part of our holiday. And we weren’t even on holiday any more.
Don’t get me wrong: the actual trip was great, and we thoroughly enjoyed everything we did and saw, and of course the weather is just luck of the draw. But it’s pretty amazing to come back and have the opposite of that deflated post-holiday real-life feeling.
(More hopelessly overprocessed pics here. Armin’s still to come.)
* Excluding the night we spent with Armin’s aunt Brigitte in Heidelberg on the way up, and the wedding, though both were lovely.