Der Schönbuchturm in Herrenberg!

Last weekend, Herrenberg opened Der Schönbuchturm, its long awaited new tower that overlooks the forested areas surrounding the city.  I considered visiting the tower last weekend, but since it was the first day, I figured it might be better to wait a week.  I’m glad we waited.  We had perfect weather this afternoon to see the brand new tower– a miracle of German engineering.  Bill pointed out the tower as we drove down the hill from Jettingen.  I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed it before.  It sticks up from the trees in the distant hills overlooking Herrenberg.

First view of the tower.

Der Schönbuchturm, which reaches a height of 35 meters, is located across from the Schönbuch Naturpark, right next to the Naturfreundehaus am Schönbuch, a self-serve restaurant and Biergarten.  We parked there at about 3:00pm.  There was a fairly decent sized crowd there, but it wasn’t too obnoxious.  We easily found a parking spot and then began the 400 meter mostly uphill hike up to the tower.  I was pretty breathless by the time we reached the new engineering marvel.  Some people were biking up and there were plenty of places for people to lock their bikes.  It costs nothing to visit the tower, which is open until 7:00pm nightly.

At the start of the trail, there’s a sign welcoming visitors and a place to lock bikes.

The trail to the tower is covered in gravel made of small stones.  Part of the trail consists of steps.  I noticed a steep bike trail to the side of the steps, but I don’t think that would be suitable terrain for a stroller or a wheelchair.

A bit closer… I stopped to catch my breath after the short uphill hike.  As you can see, you can stop at two vantage points on the way to the top level.


Some interesting stats.  The trail to the tower also has little information points like this one.  Since my German blows, I mostly ignored them.

There are two stairways.  Seems like one should be designated as the “up” stairway and the other as the “down” stairway.  However, both stairways are open to either direction.  Consequently, you may have to stop to let someone pass in the other direction.

These pictures are from the first vantage point.  To be honest, as sturdy as I know the tower is, I was feeling slightly anxious with each new level.  The tower has been designed so that there’s little to obstruct your view.  It can be a bit unnerving.

Wire fencing and “handrails” rather than solid metal…

The above pics are from the top vantage point.

On the way down… phew.  The tower wobbled a bit with the breeze.  It reminded me a little of our visit to Highline 179 in Austria.  I’m not sure I’d want to climb the tower during bad weather!  Today, it was kind of a thrill.  

I think I like this view the best!  

Our visit to the tower only took about a half hour.  It occurred to me as we were enjoying the views that last weekend, we climbed a 35 meter tower that was originally built in the 12th century.  Today, we climbed a 35 meter tower that has only been open for a week!  And both activities were completely free of charge with no one hanging around to enforce the rules!  Gosh, I love Germany!

Last week’s climb was just as high as today’s climb, but today’s was less painful.  Instead of a tight spiral staircase, there’s a much gentler climb.  I noticed a lot of children climbing up, including one adorable little girl with intense blue eyes crawling on her hands and knees!  As nervous as the climb made me, I have to admit the view at the top is breathtaking.  You can see for miles.

Although we could have gone to the Naturfreundehaus for a snack, Bill and I decided to visit La Piazza Gelataria for ice cream.  The outside seating was full of people who had the same idea we did.  I will note that the Naturfreundhaus, while no frills and self-serve, also has a little playground for kids!

The church bells played a hymn we used at our wedding in 2002… “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Bill had a Waldbeere Becher (wild berry cup).  It was strawberry and vanilla ice cream with blueberries, strawberries, currents, and cherries, along with lots of whipped cream.

I had an After Eight Becher, made with After Eight mints.  My mom used to love those things!  It had chocolate ice cream, mint ice cream, mint sauce, and chocolate “streusel”.  We also shared San Pellegrino.  Our total bill was just over 16 euros.  Today was “cheap”!  I don’t think I’ll need dinner, either.

For the first time, I noticed the really cool looking balcony on this building, along with its terrace on the roof.

Fun scene in Herrenberg.  Little kids were enjoying the fountain.  I couldn’t help but muse about how pleasant life in Germany is… for me, anyway.  It’s so nice to be able to sit in a square that looks like it’s out of a fairytale and eat ice cream while children play in the fountain.  

One last shot before we went home.  

I’m pretty happy with how today turned out, especially given how it started off.  Next month, we’re going to Ireland to see Paul Simon in concert.  I bought tickets for the show in February and put them in my usual safe keeping spot.  Somehow in the past four months, the tickets got lost.  This morning, we spent about an hour trying to call Ticketmaster in Ireland to get duplicates made.  For awhile, it looked like we weren’t going to get through to a human being and I was getting pretty pissy.  But we were finally successful.  A lovely Irish lass helped us out and for a six euro fee, I hope to have duplicate concert tickets in my hands for next month’s concert… the second of four we’re planning to attend this year.


Cheap thrills in the Czech Republic! Ten things I learned!

Every time I go somewhere, I like to make a list of ten things I learned on my trip.  The Czech Republic is no exception!  Here goes!

In Cesky Krumlov…  another place I need to see again.  I climbed this tower, too.  Phew!

10.  It helps to speak some German if you go to the Czech Republic.

A lot of younger people do speak some English, but you’ll find it’s not as prevalent there as it is in other western European countries.  Bill and I have noticed that a lot of people speak German and some speak more German than English.  So, if you’ve been trying to come up with a reason to try harder to learn German, that’s one right there.  It might help you communicate better in the Czech Republic.

9.  It’s still super cheap to visit the Czech Republic!

Although it’s in the EU and its economy has picked up in recent years, the Czech Republic still has its own currency.  And it’s still really a cheap to visit this country.  For our three nights in a rented house, food, gas, and beer, we spent about $635.  And we didn’t economize.  If you’re looking for cheap and work at it, you can really score a bargain by visiting the Czech Republic.  However, if you want to save money when changing money, don’t go to a Wechselstube.  Visit a bank or ATM instead.

8.  There’s a lot to do in the Czech Republic… so much so that you may have trouble choosing.

Especially if you like beer, which Bill and I do.  You will have plenty of breweries to tour, beers to taste, and even some to soak in it if you are so inclined!  But if beer isn’t your thing, you can still visit churches, museums, zoos, and take tours of other historical sites.

7.  If you are an aviation or military buff, you should try to visit the Air Park in Zruc-Senec.

For about five bucks a head, you and your buddies can walk around a very cool museum where there are tanks, airplanes, helicopters, and the like.  In the summer, there are guided tours, though in the winter, you are less likely to encounter crowds.  The museum has been open since 1993 by a father and son and is continually expanding.

6.  I love garlic soup!

Garlic soup is a Czech treat and it supposedly cures hangovers.  That’s a win for me.  I would also imagine it’s great for when you’re sick with a cold or flu.

5.  Parking is cheap or even free.

I was surprised to find out that parking at Pilsner Urquell is free.  The nearby parking garage, which is within walking distance, is super cheap and secure.  It also has clean bathrooms that are free to use.

4.  I’m still fit enough to climb 301 stairs and not collapse.

Self explanatory.

3.  It’s okay to do yard work on Sundays.

This is only a surprise if you’ve lived in Germany for awhile.  I’ll probably go through another culture shock when we move back to the States someday.

2.  What Czech cities lack in aesthetics, they make up for in heart.

I’ll admit my first impressions of Plzen after a nine year break were kind of negative.  It’s an industrial city and there are lots of factories belching filth into the sky.  There are lots of ugly communist era buildings.  There’s plenty of trash and pollution that we don’t necessarily see in Germany or France.  However, once I was there and mingling, I realized that Plzen has sort of a scrappy charm that appealed to me.  I noticed the ugly factories less and focused on the older architecture, the delicious food and beer, and the warmth of the people, who were welcoming and kind, especially to our wallets!

*Note- Prague doesn’t count as lacking in aesthetics.  It’s still a beautiful city!  And cheap, too!

1.  I want to go back… soon!

There are still parts of the Czech Republic I want to discover.  High on the list is Brno, which I hear is an undiscovered and unspoiled gem.  I’ve heard it’s even cooler than Prague is, which is a tall order indeed.  If we stay here long enough and run out of places to see, maybe we’ll do a Czech tour of sorts.  I think that could be a fascinating trip!

Five Petalled Rose Festival in Cesky Krumlov, back in 2008.  That is a great time to visit the medieval town, because people dress for the occasion!  This festival takes place in June.


Cheap thrills in the Czech Republic! Part one

My husband Bill and I just got home from a long weekend near Plzen in the Czech Republic.  It was not our first visit to the area, but it was the first since 2009, when Bill and I celebrated President’s Day weekend and Valentine’s Day in Chodova Plana.  Chodova Plana is where Chodovar, a brewery and “beer wellness land”,  is located.  We had really been looking forward to visiting Chodovar and enjoying a soak in one of their beer baths, which we learned about while watching a drinking show called Three Sheets.  It was my very first visit to a beer spa.  I have since become something of a beer spa connoisseur.

I remember that trip very well because Bill had just gotten back from from a TDY assignment for EUCOM.  Just before he got home to pick me up for our trip to Chodovar, Bill received a cryptic email from his narcissistic former boss, who had tormented him for six months in Iraq.  The guy had asked Bill how he was liking Germany.  Bill said he loved it here.  The guy then said that sometimes the Army takes you in places you don’t expect to go.  Indeed, that cryptic email set off a series of moves that would keep us hopping through three states over five years.

After our fabulous weekend in Chodova Plana, during which we visited Karlovy Vary, Plzen, and Marianske Lazne, soaked in beer, got massages, and bought art from a Russian painter, we found out that we would be leaving our Germany assignment prematurely.  Bill had been requested by name for his next assignment at FORSCOM, which was at that time located at Fort McPherson, near Atlanta, Georgia.

We knew we would not be in Georgia for long, since Fort McPherson was slated to close in 2011.  Indeed, we were only there for 16 months before we moved to Fort Bragg for 28 months, then spent a year at Fort Sam Houston.  Then, Bill mercifully retired, and we wound up back here in Germany.  If we’re still here in August, and I’m sure we will be, this will have been the longest period we’ve spent in one place since we got married in 2002.

You might say that visit to the Czech Republic and the email that preceded it even inspired me to start blogging.  It was when we were living in Georgia that I started thinking about how my best laid plans had gone horribly awry and I wound up an “overeducated housewife”.  I no longer really complain about it, though.  I have a pretty good life, at least right now.  I’ve gotten to see and do some pretty cool things because I’ve followed Bill around for the past fifteen years.

In any case, since we’ve been back in Germany, I’ve made a point of getting away as often as possible to see places in Europe I either want to see for the first time or revisit.  The Czech Republic was one of our favorite places when we lived in Germany the first time.  We barely got two years out of our first stint here, yet we still managed three visits to the Czech Republic.  Although getting there takes the better part of the day by car, it’s pretty much all autobahn.  And though the Czech Republic still has plenty of remnants of its Eastern Bloc past, its people are warm, friendly, and downright cool.  Plus, if you love beer– and Bill and I do– it’s a must see country.  The Czechs drink even more beer than the Germans do.  In fact, they drink more beer per capita in the Czech Republic than anywhere else in the world!  Plzen is also the city that birthed a very popular beer style, the trusty pilsner.

I’m surprised to admit that we’ve been back in Germany since 2014 and this past weekend was our first time back to the Czech Republic since our return.  And… it was all we’d hoped it would be!  God willing, we will get to stay here a bit longer so we can visit a couple more times.  There’s a lot to see and do in the Czech Republic and, for you bargain hunters out there, it’s pretty damn cheap!

Just before he left to go pick up some groceries at the Real, Bill informed me that over our three nights in the Czech Republic, we spent a grand total of $635!  That figure includes what we spent to rent a freestanding house, two extravagant lunches, groceries, gas, excursions, and lots of beer!  Granted, the weather kind of kept us from doing a whole lot, but we did enjoy ourselves for not much money.  So if you’ve been wondering about the Czech Republic and want to go somewhere besides Prague, stay tuned to this series.  I’m already dreaming up more trips to this formerly forbidden place.

But I won’t be traveling by plane… especially not one of these!


Feeding frenzy at Wildpark Pforzheim…

Today, Bill and I discovered yet another kid friendly local attraction that we should have discovered years ago.  I am not sure how we missed it after being in this area for a total of five years.  Nevertheless, this afternoon we visited Wildpark Pforzheim for the very first time and we both had a blast.

The Wildpark Pforzheim is a really cool park full of wild animals, many of whom are no longer all that wild.  Quite a few animals at the park can be fed zoo feed, which you can purchase at the park.  A few animals can also be petted in the petting zoo.

Amazingly enough, there is no entrance fee for this park.  You just pay for parking– five euros for three hours (ETA: I’m told it’s only two euros on weekdays).  And, if you want to feed the animals, that’s another two euros.  Naturally, there’s also a biergarten.  I think we spent a grand total of 21 euros for parking, one little bucket of food, and a snack of wurst, fries, and beer.  We did pay six euros total as a pfand for the beer glasses, but that was refunded after we returned them.

Anyway… here are some photos I took today, along with some lightweight commentary.  I think this will go down as another great weekend activity, especially if you have kids who love animals.  Dogs are also allowed at the park, as long as they are on a leash (though I did see a couple who weren’t).

This is the entrance to the park.  It’s a surprisingly big place.  Several parking areas are available, but it was still a bit crowded today.

The first thing Bill did was buy some food.  You can buy it at a stand near the biergarten, or at one of the many machines scattered around the park.  The animals that get this food are quite ready for you to offer it to them.


The animals that can be fed will have green signs on their enclosures.

The ones that aren’t allowed to be fed will have red signs.  Be careful with this.  If you get caught feeding animals that aren’t supposed to be fed, you will be stuck with the vet bill and kicked out the park.


Bill being the good provider…

There are cool carvings all over the park.

These two alpacas were very keen to be fed.  They stuck their heads out in an attempt to vacuum some food from my outstretched palm.  

A honey exhibit.  We stopped in on the way out of the park.  They show you how they collect it and sell some products there.

A very friendly creature… followed me eagerly down the fence line begging for food.

This one was not quite as eager.

I love donkeys and they had several lovable ones at the park.

The Highland cow was a little bit tricky.  Basically, the mouth opens, the tongue sticks out, and you dump some food on it.  

In the honey bee exhibit…

There were also a couple of aquariums.


A fish otter… sleek and shiny slips out of the water.

This deer got the last of my food.  She was working it.

So was he!  

A cooperative owl.

Wild cats…

The Wildpark Pforzheim also has a small ropes course, complete with ziplining, rope bridges, and climbing walls.  

I wish I were more athletic.  Parts of this really looked like fun!  

Smaller kids also have lots of activities to occupy them.  I took notice of several play areas for kids under age twelve.  The equipment was very sturdy looking and was well attended by happy children.

Kissing geese.  The animals in this area had signs on their enclosures showing the people sponsoring their care.

Donkeys grooming each other.

These two started butting antlers after I gave them a snack.

I’m not certain, but I think these pacifiers are left by people looking to have kids.  Someone can correct me if I got the wrong idea.  They were over by the chickens.  ETA:  My German friend Susanne has corrected me about the pacifiers.  Here’s her explanation…


LOL – I have to correct you, because you got the wrong idea about the pacifiers.  You even have the answer written on one of your photos. It’s a so called Schnullerbaum. An idea born in Denmark (1920’s). It’s for the children to help them to say goodbye to their pacifier often combined with a nice ceremony. ‘Ich bin jetzt ja schon groß und lasse meinen Schnuller los. Dem Taubenhaus geb ich ihn her, jetzt hab ich keinen Schnuller mehr! Die Tauben haben ihren Spaß: und ich geb jetzt ohne Schnuller Gas! – oder so ähnlich, couldn’t read the whole text because of the pacifiers.

Ein Schnullerbaum dient der einfacheren Schnuller-Entwöhnung eines Kleinkinds. Es kann sich sowohl um…

I loved the owls.  They were so majestic!

There was one mini horse…

A good snack for after our walk.  They also had ice cream, soft drinks, and wine.  The nearby bathrooms were clean and ample and there was no Klofrau looking for 50 cents.

Another play area for small kids.  

I do love animals very much, but even I was surprised by how much fun I had interacting with all of them at the Wildpark today.  Most of them were really tame and happy to take food gently.  A few were bonafide hams in front of my camera.

Bill and I were marveling at how many awesome things there are to do in Germany… and how little they cost to do.  I was telling him that in America, it would probably cost $40 a person to attend a place like this, plus parking, overpriced food, and constant encouragement to buy souvenirs.  Also, there would be a lot less animal feeding going on and constant supervision by bored minders.  I love that here in Germany, there are places like the Wildpark where people are trusted not to be stupid… and you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to have a good time.

So… I highly recommend the Wildpark Pforzheim, especially if you have youngsters who love animals.  It’s a really good time!  I think I liked it even more than Monkey Hill.


Barfuss in the park…

The Barfuss Park is open daily from 9:00am until 8:00pm.  

Some time ago, there was talk in one of the local Facebook groups about “barefoot” parks in Germany.  Apparently, walking barefoot on trails is a thing in Deutschland.  I was immediately interested because I love walking barefoot.  I never wear shoes unless I have to.  I don’t even put on shoes when I have to take the trash out in the snow.

Anyway, the idea of visiting the BarfussPark in Dornstetten stayed in the back of my mind for some time.  Then, two weeks ago, Bill and I took an overnight trip to France and passed signs for the BarfussPark on the way there.  I decided then and there that it was time to try out walking barefoot in the park.  A bonus is that the park is not even thirty minutes from where I live, as long as there aren’t any farm vehicles on the road!

We were blessed with beautiful sunny weather and agreeable temperatures this morning as we set off for our outing.  We left the dogs at home, having read that they aren’t welcome in the park.  And really, if you think about it, that makes perfect sense.  While you will likely get dirty walking barefoot in the park, no one wants to get dirty by stepping on what comes out of Fido during a good walk.  😉  We did see one dog at the park today, though, and no one seemed too upset about it.

We arrived at the park at about 11:30 or so; it’s pretty much right off B28 heading west.  The parking lot wasn’t full at that point.  In retrospect, it was a good idea to get to the park somewhat early because by the time we left at a little after 1:00, the lot was full and some people had parked on the side of the road coming into the park.  We took advantage of the handy WC near what appeared to be the bigger of the two parking lots we encountered.  Then, after Bill paid for three hours of parking, we headed to start of the barefoot trail.

It is forbidden to wash your feet in the bathroom!

The big sign before the park… there are ads for restaurants and a map of what’s on the trail.


These handy little “foot” markers show you where to go.  The trail can run as long as 60 minutes if you go the long way or 30 minutes if you take a shortcut.


There are lockers for those who want to lock up their stuff.  We opted to just carry ours.


But it’s there if you need it!


I was really enjoying walking on the grass toward the first part of the park, which appeared to be an area geared toward children.  There was a cold little puddle to walk through, then a few other water related activities.  Only one of the activities appeared to get people wet.  I didn’t try it because I didn’t come prepared with a change of clothes.  And actually, after what happened on our walk, I would definitely recommend bringing something to change into, just in case.  😉

This water was frigid!  But it felt really good after we stepped out of it.


Probably my favorite part of the trail was the trampoline.  I could see it was very popular with others, too.  I watched several little kids gleefully bounce the length of it.  For once, I didn’t let Bill discourage me from indulging my inner child.  I gave him my purse and hopped across.  Then I goaded Bill into it.

We were both smiling after bouncing on the trampoline!


We encountered many different walking surfaces.  There were rocks, sand pits, wooden beams, and even a couple of glass beds.  We encountered a rope bridge, a pinecone pit, and a surface comprised of nail heads.  Although I did see some glass shards on the trail, the glass wasn’t sharp and didn’t cut my feet.  The rocks, on the other hand, were a little painful, even for someone like me, who isn’t a tenderfoot.  You always have the option of walking around or skipping an activity you don’t want to do.

Here’s a video of us… the last part is pretty much why I recommend bringing at least a towel and perhaps even a spare pair of shorts!

After we walked through the mud, we stopped by this bed of straw…  it kind of helped get the mud off, but you’re going to have to rinse off at the end!  A bunch of German ladies laughed at me as I tried to shake off the very sticky mud.

Some people wiped off on the tree.


Bill helped me across these logs, due to my honkin’ big purse full of shoes and stuff…


Rope bridge!

Nail heads!


Rocks (these were the most painful for me).

Those who have upper body strength can make like a monkey and swing on the bars!


All through the park, there are cool wood carvings.  I saw totem poles, an owl, and the gnome above.  

At the end of our walk, it was definitely time to rinse off…  


And beer…

What’s the wurst that could happen?

Well deserved suds!


All told, this was a very cheap activity.  We spent a total of about twenty euros including the two euro donation (on your honor), parking, and wursts and beers.  The snack bar has ice cream and other beverages.  I’m thinking this would be the perfect place for a BBQ.  😀  As long as it’s not too cold, anyway.

We had a great time at the BarfussPark and I’d love to go again.  Bill and I were both grinning ear to ear at the end of it and the walk was just long enough to get our juices going.  Next time, we’ll bring another pair of pants in case of a fall.  At the very least, don’t forget to bring a towel!  I would say I enjoyed this activity even more than the famed “Tree Walk”, which we did last year.  The Tree Walk is also a lot of fun, but I think you get more bang for your buck at the BarfussPark.

My feet handled all of this very well!

Helpful facilities for those who can’t wait for the WC…  I always get a kick of the illustrations on these portapotties…  Pretty much the universal sign of people who need to pee!



If you want to grill, there are facilities.  We saw one group enjoying a picnic lunch at a nice table out in the woods.