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Amsterdam in a Day

Amsterdam in a Day

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Can you do Amsterdam in a day? Well, no. This spring we hopped around the Netherlands exploring all sorts of things, and we ended up doing Amsterdam in a day. Obviously we could never cover everything, or even more than one museum, but it was a good first taste. We are city wanderers and history lovers, and so planned our day accordingly. There were a couple things we would not have bothered with had I known a bit more, so I’ll share what we learned.

I could stand on canal bridges and photograph houses forever.
I could stand on canal bridges and photograph houses forever.

I could have spent an entire day just photographing boats, houses, and bicycles! Definitely make time to just walk and wander, this city is full of little side streets, and side canals, that are worth exploring and experiencing. I really recommend not limiting your visit to museums and sights –– take time to for an unscheduled wander and see where you end up. 

Even when the trees are bare, Amsterdam is fun to photograph.
Even when the trees are bare, Amsterdam is fun to photograph.

Hop-on hop-off… on a boat

We always like to do a city tour when we arrive somewhere new, and because so much of Amsterdam is canals, we decided to go for the City Sightseeing Amsterdam boat and bus hop-on, hop-off tour, which worked out really well. We like these particularly with kids as it allows you to grab a place to sit and still see things while kids chill out and maybe even nap. The Amsterdam City Sightseeing folks have an app, which I highly recommend downloading ahead of time (Google Play or Apple), which shows you where the buses and boats are. It cuts down on waiting times tremendously. Tip: don’t bother with their free tour of the diamond-cutting museum, it is very boring and you are herded around in huge groups, you hardly see anything at all. The boat tour itself was quite lovely, and we enjoyed sliding through the quiet Jordaan neighbourhood the most. Do check what time they finish running and make sure you’re in the neighbourhood you want to be in –– the last boat was doing its rounds about 5pm. We just hopped on a regular tram to get back to the station, but if you want to avoid paying for more transit, keep an eye on the time. 

The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. And yes, you get to go on that ship.
The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. And yes, you get to go on that ship.
The beautiful Amsterdam, a replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship built by young people in the 1980s
The beautiful Amsterdam, a replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship built by young people in the 1980s
Climbing all over the Amsterdam at the National Maritime Museum.
Climbing all over the Amsterdam at the National Maritime Museum.
There's an amazing climbing area in the cargo hold of the Amsterdam.
There’s an amazing climbing area in the cargo hold of the Amsterdam.
The crew quarters on the replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship Amsterdam.
The crew quarters on the replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship Amsterdam.

The National Maritime Museum

You can get the full description of our visit to the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam soon, but tl;dr version: it is so cool definitely go, even if you don’t have kids. If the big restored ship in the harbour doesn’t grab your attention, know the galleries are designed well with lots of interactive pieces to explore, and story narratives to take you through the history of this sea trading nation. It doesn’t shy away from the Dutch history with slave-trading and colonialism, which I found lacking in lots of other tourist narratives around the city. You can clamber all over the Amsterdam, the incredible replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship moored outside as well, which was definitely a highlight. It’s worth noting you have to put large bags and coats in lockers downstairs before visiting the main galleries, and the ship – though you can grab your coat before you head outside to the ship. What we skipped: the NEMO Science Museum. I hear lots of cool things about it, but we had an excellent hands-on science centre in Vancouver, and incredible huge technology museum near us in Germany, so we didn’t feel compelled to go. 

The gates of the co-op playground in Amsterdam.
The gates of the co-op playground in Amsterdam.
Co-op playground in the centre of Amsterdam
Co-op playground in the centre of Amsterdam

Wandering with a goal… sort of

We walked around a section of the city and found little sidewalk playgrounds, and a wonderful co-op playground in the middle of some houses. We played in one of these in Haarlem as well, and they look like such a wonderful resource for parents with small children. It reminded me a lot of our housing co-operative in Vancouver. They are open to anyone, so definitely drop in to let your kids blow off some steam. Peering into living room windows, canal boats, and just about holding my bike envy in check, we wandered with a general direction in mind. No garden space means Amsterdammers take their container gardening to the next level, lots of front steps were surrounded by 10-15 pots of herbs, flowers, and shrubs. 

Beautiful and classic canalside scenes in Amsterdam.
Beautiful and classic canalside scenes in Amsterdam.
Super cute bottles in an Amsterdam window.
Super cute bottles in an Amsterdam window.

Floating flower market: should have skipped it

One of my goals was to visit the floating flower market. I imagined open boats with flowers spilling out everywhere… I should have checked Google Images first! It’s a row of greenhouse-shaped shops that are indeed floating, but you can barely tell if you walk along the canalside. Also, in mid-spring there isn’t much to see except bags of bulbs, and lots of tourist tat. So, if you happen to be nearby it’s worth a little look, but definitely don’t walk for ten minutes to get there! Though if we hadn’t we might not have seen the best sandwich shop sign ever.

Best sandwich shop name ever? I think so.
Best sandwich shop name ever? I think so.

Where we ate

By complete accident we ended up in Betty Blue for lunch, a quirky cafe and restaurant with a sort of Mexicanish slant. We had nachos, burritos, and a sandwich, and some excellent coffee –– fairly reasonably priced for Amsterdam. They had a great selection of cakes as well, it would have been a perfect coffee and cake pitstop as well. It’s definitely not a tourist spot. By dinner time, we slide into the back garden of Herengracht, a bit of a low-key hipster restaurant with lots of seating out front by the canal and in the back in their garden, plus a few seating areas scattered inside an old house or two. This was a bit pricier but excellent, with local craft beer and decent house wine, and great nachos (they don’t serve them much where we live in Germany, so we were taking advantage of the great cheese and going a bit nacho crazy!). My son and I split steak frites, and my husband had a burger, everything was excellent. Not geared for families in particular, but we had no trouble finding things for our eight year old. Interestingly, this seemed to be a locals place, because we heard nothing but Dutch all around us. 

Love this neon in Betty Blue.
Love this neon in Betty Blue.

A friend of ours was visiting her family in Haarlem, and canvassed her relatives for restaurant recommendations – they suggested Moeders for some classic Dutch cuisine. They were booked up unfortunately, but the menu looks amazing: rijsttafel, stamppot, and spareribs. 

Tip: if you want to eat somewhere in particular, you need to book as much in advance as you can! Several places we wanted to try were fully booked up. 

A very skinny hotel in Amsterdam.
A very skinny hotel in Amsterdam.

Hotels in Amsterdam

It’s a pricey place to stay, and there’s no way around that, but some digging on booking.com will throw up some deals.



Booking.com

However, we took the popular choice of staying in Haarlem, a short train ride away, and saved quite a bit. The Ibis Styles is a short walk from the Bloemendaal train station (one beyond Haarlem Central) and super easy with kids or without. Their breakfast is often bundled with the room rate. 

We felt like we got a good taste of this famous city, and are looking forward to coming back for a few days to really dig in. What do we need to see next time?

Fifi and HopTwo Traveling Texans
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Five castles to visit in Germany that aren’t Neuschwanstein

Five castles to visit in Germany that aren’t Neuschwanstein


If you follow me on Instagram (and if you like castles, you really should because I am obsessed) you know my family and I visit a lot of them. The thing is, southern Germany is wall to wall with castles. I didn’t know that until I moved here, and if you look at Pinterest, you’d think the only one is Neuschwanstein. Oh no, my friends, there are more. So. Many. More. It’s also worth noting that the entrance fees of the castles on this list are half of what you’d pay for Ludwig’s folly, and they will all be much less busy.

A bit of history

Germany has only been a country for a short period of time really, and before the 19th century, it was a land of hundreds of little principalities, duchies, Free Cities, and more types of city states than you can rattle a sword at. Even more confusingly, due to the mind-bendingly complicated inter-marrying of all these ruling families, lots of these kingdoms would include little islands of land scattered across the countryside. Each of these places would have a castle or two, to show they were the boss, to serve as a reminder you had better pay your river tax, and defensible places for the Duke or Prince Elector or whomever to hole up when the going got rough, or to lavishly entertain other Dukes and Prince Electors. That explains the truly incredible number of castles.

Not all castles in Germany are all that old

There was a bit of a trend in the 19th century, everything medieval was cool. People wrote cheesy approximations of medieval music, and other people with too much money and rotting castles no longer needed for defence, built incredible monuments to castley-ness. That doesn’t make them any less interesting to visit, in fact they are often stuffed full of CASTLE things – crenellations on all available surfaces, over-elaborate knights halls – the whole bit. Neuschwanstein falls into this category, as do a couple of the ones on my list. These castles are often built right on top of an older castle site. The stone was there, right?

Guided tours – don’t miss them!

As with most German castles, you won’t be able to see interior rooms without going on a guided tour, and sometimes these are only available in German. There will always be an info sheet with the translation available, so don’t skip this! You will miss some amazing views, interiors, and furniture. Often the guide will speak some English anyway, and can answer questions.

On to the list! Five castles to visit that aren’t the super busy Neuschwanstein:

Heidelberg Schloss
Heidelberg Schloss is an extensive Romantic ruin.
Heidelberg Castle

This is a favourite of the river cruises, and our local castle. It is in ruins, but what ruins! They have inspired generations of writers and artists – Turner, Mark Twain, and Goethe. A portion of the castle has been restored with period furniture, and you can visit it on a guided tour. My favourite stories of Heidelberg Castle come from Princess Elizabeth Charlotte’s time there as a child, though she’s more famous as Liselotte, sister-in-law of Louis XIV. She loved the castle at Heidelberg, and urged her family to restore it when she was living in France. In her letters, she reminisces about climbing the cherry trees in the gardens early in the morning, and eating fruit until she was too full.

You can easily visit on a day trip from Frankfurt or Stuttgart, and if you do, I have a list of kid-friendly things to do in Heidelberg here besides visit the castle.

Cochem Castle on the Mosel river
Cochem Castle on the Mosel river
Cochem Castle

Cochem Castle is a gorgeous 19th-century renovation right on the Mosel (Moselle) river and sits above a cute little town. This is a great weekend trip, and if you love wine, this is the best castle-plus-wine spot ever. Yes, those are vineyards lining the hill up to the castle, and you can try plenty of the excellent local Riesling in the local restaurants. The tour is particularly good at this castle, and kid friendly if you’re traveling with little ones.

High above the forests of the Palatinate, Burg Berwartstein is a proper haunted castle.
High above the forests of the Palatinate, Burg Berwartstein is a proper haunted castle.
Burg Berwartstein

Were you hoping for creepy tales and ghosts in your castle visit? Then Burg Berwarstein is the one for you. One of the most intact of the old Rhineland cliff castles, this one has loads of excellent stories of robber barons, tragic ladies, and ghosts. You can just see another tower poking out of the trees on the other hilltop in the photo above, and there’s actually a tunnel leading to it from this castle. You can’t visit that tunnel, but they do take you underground into candlelight caverns chiseled out of the sandstone hundreds of years ago.

Castle Lichtenstein
Castle Lichtenstein has an impressive entrance. That’s stabilizing work they’re currently undertaking on the tower. 
Lichtenstein Castle

This castle is all over Pinterest and Instagram, and understandably so, as it’s very cute. A short drive from Stuttgart, Lichtenstein Castle is not actually in the country of Lichtenstein, but was named after a famous Romantic German novel that was inspired by the original medieval castle on the same site (got that?). In any case, ‘Lichtenstein’ in German is roughly translated as ‘shining stone’ – and you will noticed immediately that the castle is built on an outcropping of white rock. The current castle was built in the 1840s and is full of Gothic Revival castleness. Again, you will need a tour to see the inside, but the tours are only in German. There is a useful brochure with the details in English. My favourite spot? Inside the dining hall, there’s a large gilt grate that allowed the music from a small orchestra to filter down so Duke Wilhelm von Urach could dance with his guests.

Burg Eltz
Our favourite German castle, Burg Eltz is gorgeous and just what you imagine a castle to look like.
Burg Eltz

This is my favourite German castle, and I’ve dedicated a whole post to it over here. The tl;dr version is this: it is one of only three Rhine valley castles to have survived unscathed the many wars that ravaged this countryside, and is one of the most beautiful. The interiors are breathtaking. My favourite is the bed chamber with wall paintings preserved from the 15th century. Incredibly, the same family has owned the castle for the past 33 generations, and they still have quarters there. In fact, the Countess puts huge vases of fresh flowers in the public rooms every day. Burg Eltz is a short trip from Trier, Koblenz and Cologne.

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Burg Eltz: My Favourite Castle in Germany

Burg Eltz: My Favourite Castle in Germany

Burg Eltz: I will say right up front, this has been my favourite castle I’ve visited so far. If you follow me on Instagram (and if you like castles you really should), you know we visit a lot of them. Ruins, restored, popular and empty – I love a castle. If you love this one, check out my list of four other castles less busy than the ultra tourist mobbed Neuschwanstein.

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But Burg, or Castle Eltz, in the beautiful Moselle valley, is my favourite. And it’s nowhere near as crowded as some of the more famous castles. If you’re curious, a Burg is a castle built for defence, as opposed to a Schloss, which is generally more of a home for nobility, or a palace. The lines can become blurred, however, as many of these structures were destroyed and rebuilt many times, changing their functions through the years. However, it’s never Berg Eltz, as that would be referring to a mountain called Eltz!

The gorgeous Burg Eltz nestled in its green valley.
The gorgeous Burg Eltz nestled in its green valley.

Burg Eltz History

This castle has been in the Eltz family for 33 generations, and through clever alliances it has remained in good condition all that time. It’s one of three Rhine castles never to be destroyed at some point. Coming through the Thirty Years War unscathed is a Herculean achievement, really. It’s a familiar refrain in the histories of all the other castles in southern Germany: ‘but in the Thirty Years War it was completely destroyed…’

The castle itself is built on a rocky point jutting out of a valley over a ridge from the Moselle River. There is actually a very small tributary of the Moselle that runs around the castle, and this funny little valley was once a major Roman trade route, making this a perfect place for a castle.

Inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.
Inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.

A castle of many parts

Like many castles of this age, the complex grew organically over the years as each successful generation wanted larger apartments, or just something a bit… different. The oldest part is from the 9th century, with another large portion built in the 12th century. My favourite area of the castle is from 1472, with a gorgeous bedchamber and original wall paintings of thick ivy climbing all up the walls and onto the ceiling. Each little section of the castle would house a different branch of the Eltz family, with some shared kitchens below stairs, one of which you get to visit.

Should you do the Burg Eltz guided tour?

It’s worth noting you cannot see the inside of the castle without a guided tour. Just ask when you buy your tickets when the next English guided tour will be, and you can plan your snacks or meals around it. You can visit the Treasury (described below) on your own, so you can always spend a good half hour there. It is absolutely worth going on the tour. I’ve been on several, and the guides are very patient with young children. You get to see one of the children’s bedrooms, miniature (functioning!) canons, and child-sized suits of armour. You won’t be able to bring a buggy with you, so ask your tour guide if you can leave it in their office while you’re on the tour. Be prepared: like most German castles, you can’t take photos of the castle interior, but the Rick Steves clip from this area had permission to film inside if you’re curious.

A suit of armour in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
A suit of armour in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
An extremely detailed stein in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
An extremely detailed evesin in the treasury at Burg Eltz.

Treasury

The treasury is a little section of the castle you can visit on your own, and houses the usual collection of Roman bits, a few Ottoman swords (all the castles have them as they sent men to fight the Ottomans in France in the 16th century), a couple suits of armour, some truly wacky looking little sculptures, and an adorable set of drinking steins all painted with children’s names. This little gallery has been nicely curated, and we spent a pleasant half hour peering at everything.

External courtyard at Burg Eltz.
My son loves climbing on the rocks in the courtyard at Burg Eltz.

Is Burg Eltz good for kids?

Oh, it’s great for kids. It is so castle-y, and refreshingly under-visited, so you’re not battling your way through crowds to see things. The tour was 45 minutes – and like all German castles, this is the only way you can see the interior – but the guide was patient and kept it as relevant as he could for the small people. As usual, you won’t be able to bring buggies or big hiking carriers (the backpack ones with a frame) on the tour, but babes-in-arms are fine, as are toddlers. There was a baby, plus two or three toddlers on our tour, all of which started complaining and wandering throughout the tour, but no one minded. There’s lot of space to run around outside near the castle, lots of places to clamber over rocks and burn off steam.

 

Courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz.
The courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz is a lovely place to have lunch.
Courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz.
Lovely spot outside the castle for lunch.

Visiting Burg Eltz

When visiting these castles throughout Germany, you have to remember that no central organization runs them – each noble family chooses to open them to the public or not, and arranges staff and restaurants and all that. Consequently, the quality of staff, displays, food, and toilets varies dramatically from one to another. Burg Eltz is obviously well loved, because all the staff were friendly, and everything is clean and well organized.

It’s worth noting that this castle is only open from April to October, so no, you can’t visit Burg Eltz in the winter. Which is too bad, I think it would be beautiful in the snow.

There are two cafes on site, both with tables outside on the terrace in front of the castle. It’s the usual selection of very German food, so expect schnitzel and wurst with fries, as well as some surprisingly good pasta dishes. They have some nice beer on tap as well. Don’t forget to return your beer glass directly to the cafe and ask for your ‘pfand’, that’s a deposit you paid when you bought your beer – it’s €4 so well worth it. I watched two tourists leave them on their trays! You can, of course, take them home with you as well.

Fairy tale inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.
Fairy tale inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.

Getting there

Burg Eltz is not the easiest one to get to, this is true. It’s about an hour’s drive from Trier, and not right on the Moselle, so the tour boats don’t stop there. You can get a tour from Frankfurt that will drive you there and back. If you’ve rented a car, it’s an easy day trip from Frankfurt, Koblenz, Trier, or Cologne. See below for our favourite place to stay in the Moselle Valley.

When you arrive, there is a short hilly hike to the castle from the parking lots, or you can take the little shuttle bus for a small charge. I recommend the shuttle bus, there is a lot of walking on the castle tour and around the outside, no need to tire out little legs before you even start. Get ready for the view of the castle about two minutes into the shuttle bus ride, it is magical.

By train: on weekends and public holidays from May to October you can take a train to Hatzenport or Treis-Karden, and then the Burgenbus that goes straight to the castle. Outside these times, take a train to Moselkern, and then you can take the 5km hike or take a taxi up to the castle. You can book your train right here, in English:




Alter Pfarrhaus, our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz
Alter Pfarrhaus, our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz

Our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz

We stayed in a small village along the Moselle river, right in the middle of vineyards, about halfway between Trier and Burg Eltz. The Altes Pfarrhaus is a lovely old house run by a Dutch couple {affiliate link}. Very affordable, and the food is great. If you’re driving, it’s a very easy place to stay en route. We had a lovely dinner on their huge outdoor patio, with wine from the hills across the river, and it was heavenly.

 

Part of a #CulturedKids linkup.

CulturedKids
Last updated: 16 March 2018
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Visiting Burg Hohenzollern with kids

Visiting Burg Hohenzollern with kids
A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.
A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.

The Hohenzollern family has a long and illustrious past in Prussia, so it might cause some confusion to find their ancestral seat down south in Baden-Württemberg. Prussia was one of their more famous holdings, but the family originated in Swabia (which is partially contained in the current state of Baden-Württemberg) near the site of this castle.

The current castle is the third to be built on the Berg Hohenzollern, and it’s more of a memorial to the might of the Hohenzollern family than a home or even a fortress. When it was built in the mid-19th century, there were upheavals all through Baden, Bavaria, and the Palatinate as the many smaller states made their shuddering way into Bismarck’s German Empire. Burg Hohenzollern version three came to be right in the middle of this, and I’m sure the giant idealized castle on a hill was a bit of a heavy-handed exercise in Making A Point.

They don’t get into it on the tour, however, probably because the castle is privately owned by the Hohenzollern family.

Burg Hohenzollern

Interestingly, neither of the previous versions of the castle were destroyed during the Thirty Years War, which ravaged so much of this end of Germany. The medieval castle built in the 11th century withstood a year of siege by the collected armies of the Swabian Free Imperial Cities, and a junior Hohenzollern brother, before it was completely destroyed in 1423. The second one was constructed about 100 years later, and it flipped around between the Habsburgs and the French before everyone seemed to lose interest in it, and it was abandoned from 1798 onwards. This is all detailed in a mural in one of the hallways inside the current castle.

Burg Hohenzollern Burg Hohenzollern Burg Hohenzollern

What to see and do

When you come to visit Burg Hohenzollern, you can see it from kilometres away, standing proud and exceptionally castle shaped on top of its little mountain. It does look like a very large child has dropped it from the sky.

You can approach the castle on foot from the parking lots, or by taking a minibus up for about 3 Euros. If you’re going as a family, definitely take the minibus as the walk up is an energetic hill climb, and there will be walking once you’re up there. You buy your tickets at the bottom, and they are checked as you enter the castle. You will want to arrange your places on an English-language tour when you check in at the top castle gate – it is the only way to see the interior rooms. This is a common feature of castles in the region, by the way. The tours are fairly quick, about 45 minutes or so, but buggies are not allowed inside. On the tour, the kids get to wear ‘royal robes’ which feature heavily in the family portraits on the walls, so my son was pretty chuffed about that. If you have a squirmy one under 5 years old, the tour may not be worth it. It’s worth noting you can’t take photos of any kind inside during the tour.

Burg Hohenzollern

There’s an outdoor cafe kiosk serving pommes frites, snacks, coffee, hot chocolate, ice cream, and that sort of thing in the courtyard. There are lots of tables, and it’s quite beautiful really, so if you need to kill time while someone else does the tour, it’s not much of a hardship. There’s a white tablecloth restaurant inside, but if you’re wrestling small people, this is probably not your deal either.

The winding walk up to the castle courtyard, and the exterior walks, are beautiful and afford pretty astounding views out over the countryside. The walls along the edge are not very high in places, however, and there are not the railings you may be used to, so it’s best to keep firm hold of little hands.

Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern
Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern

The best photo spot

The dramatic photos of the castle from a distance are taken from a specific view point about a half an hour drive away. This sounds like an extra thing that is too much of a pain with kids in tow, but to be honest, there’s a good 20-minute walk up a trail before you get there, and it was a really good break from all the driving in the car. The viewpoint itself is amazing, even if you don’t take many photos, but it is very unofficial, and it’s literally a rocky outcropping with a steep drop-off. There is no railing, and it’s a bit intense. If you have a under-five that likes to dash away from you, this is best viewed back from the edge with firm hand-holding. My active seven year old was fine, and there are a few benches. We were there firmly in the off-season, and it was FREEZING, and there were three guys having beers sitting on the rocks, two other photographers fussing over their shots, and us. I can imagine this spot gets very very busy in the summer. To get there, park in the lot next to the Zollenstieghof, and take the white gravel path that goes around the back of the hotel. I found this place thanks to Be My Travel Muse. I think it’s really worth finding this spot, the drive there is through several picturesque little German towns and the walk is lovely. The view is truly breathtaking, coming out of the trees and seeing this spread out before you.

Where to eat: Ochsen

While driving home, we decided to find somewhere other than a fast food place, and a rapid translation of German Yelp netted us this local gem in Balingen. Ochsen is a very local place. Like ten tables, and at least three of them seem to know each other in that neighbours running into each other at the grocery store kind of way. The single waiter was very friendly, and we had a selection of Swabian dishes that were wonderful. Pork and beef in paprika sauce, käsespätzle (noodles with cheese sauce), and excellent pommes frites. There’s a small kids menu too. You’re going to need your Google Translate ready to go if you can’t read German – there are no English menus and we had all our conversations with the waiter in (simple) German. It’s also cash only, but there’s a ATM just up the road. Walk off your meal in the beautiful village of Balingen, with half-timbered houses all over the place. This is not on any tourist trail, so enjoy this little corner of the proper Swabian countryside.

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