One of the places I had done a little bit of research about before we came to Europe was Hitler's private retreat on top of the Alps, called 'The Eagle's Nest'. I had read a blog post from another traveling family who'd had an amazing day out with their kids. They had experienced the perfect combination of interesting historical education, breathtaking views, and delicious treats. They had wonderful photos and they all looked so happy together while discovering and learning in Europe as a family. Smiling kids, beautiful scenery, and just a great adventurous day out. I wanted to create this for our family. I was sure that we would have just such an amazing experience and I would blog about how fantastic it was......
It was a disaster.
It began as a lovely clear day and I was looking forward to the spectacular views and interesting sights we had planned to see. 'The Eagle's Nest' sits on a mountain peak high above Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. Weirdly, Hitler's cosy retreat is now a restaurant where I had heard you could get giant cream puffs ( this was a great point of motivation for the kids in going, not really the history or the view ).
So we drove to a car park and after about half an hour of getting sunscreen, hats, bags...finding a loo, yelling at the kids to stop banging the car doors onto other cars or to stop running around the car park like hooligans.....we were good to go. At each point when we are going to visit a sight, we have to make a decision about whether to take the stroller or the baby carrier. This is often a very important decision and can be crucial to the success of the day. We prefer taking the stroller because it is good for loading up with snacks, water-bottles, and general paraphernalia, but we have to be able to push it around - not possible if we're going to a sight with many stairs and very uneven cobbled streets. If we take the carrier, Bo is more likely to sleep, but then one of us has to carry him around for hours and that can be a strain. Often we take both, but sometimes we forget to take the carrier as well as the pram, and we end up in a bit of a fix. This was just such a time. Sometimes it's hard to know what it will be like once we get there. Tourist sights don't often make it clear if a place has stroller friendly paths or not, we just have to guess.
Well, we had the stroller and not the carrier that day. We had to get tickets for a special tourist bus to get up to the top of the mountain. I remember commenting to Ross that I didn't see why we couldn't just drive up, and that it was totally dodgy to make us each pay for an expensive bus ticket. I later found out why. The road is nuts!! The buses are on a switch routine and only one can go up or down at a time. It was incredibly steep. But before we got to experience this hairy-scary bus ride, on the way to the bus terminal, Amira and Levi were mucking around and Amira fell onto the concrete and hurt her wrist. I wasn't sure if Amira was being a drama queen or she was genuinely hurt, but we had just purchased our tickets for a particular time and we had to get on the bus or miss out. She wasn't bleeding and she wasn't going to die, so we got on the bus.
It was very hot weather and my kids were a bit crazy that day. We had to wrangle the pram and kids onto the crowded bus, Amira was moaning and complaining the whole trip, Zahli felt car sick, and it was generally stressful trying to keep them all in line and sort of happy while we rode up the mountain. I do however have a particularly vivid memory of the information being given from a loudspeaker on the bus. A beautiful woman's voice with a charming German accent was giving us information about the area and The Eagle's Nest. As she described in a placid and pleasant tone all about Hitler and what he was up to at his beautiful country retreat; she said sweetly...." as Hitler and his trusted companions in the Third Reich plotted and planned Genocide....." Ross and I looked at each other in absolute horror! It was such a contrast; the beautiful sunny day, a bus ride up the mountain, the pleasant tone of the woman's voice......and the horrific subject matter. What a strange thing to be going to a beautiful place, to eat cream puffs and check out the view, and yet where such terrible things were planned and carried out.
Well, by the time we arrived at the top, we decided we had to do something about Amira's wrist. Great timing, we were on top of a Mountain! But I took Amira and found a door that looked like it could be a medical sort of place, knocked, and commenced charades with a few official looking German men in the hopes of getting some aid. They were actually very helpful, and they assessed her wrist and after she iced it a bit and bandaged it up, we were fine to go on with our day.
Ross was looking a bit frazzled once I joined him, it was pretty hot and there were heaps of people there. But onwards we went. Next step was to walk down a creepy Nazi tunnel and catch an elevator to the top. Again, it was really crowded and we had to use lots of energy trying to keep Bo happy and our kids not too crazy.
Finally we made it to the top. Bo was fairly happy in the tunnel, but once we emerged from the elevator, he absolutely cracked it. With him screaming, and crowds of people in the heat, we told the kids we would get some cream puffs.
Not a good idea. All the tables were full, and when I peaked on a menu, there were no cream puffs. Plus everything looked way too expensive. It turned out to be a terrible place to take a pram. Maybe I should start a website that provides stroller accessibility information for locations around Europe? We didn't have the baby carrier and we couldn't push the stupid stoller up the hill to see the view. With Bo screaming, kids squabbling and complaining about the lack of cream puffs, the relentless sun, and crowds of people, my blood pressure was through the roof, and I absolutely cracked it too. I had a fit of martyrdom and growled at the rest of my family to HAVE FUN without me.
It was horrible. I wanted to disappear. I did NOT want to be a mother at that point. Everyone else left to see the view and I tried to settle Bo. I had to breastfeed him......but where? I felt like I had no where to go and so I ended up perching on a bench with other tourists and flashing the world in the blazing sun. Boy was it hot up there. I was stressed about Bo getting sunburnt, and my back was killing me, and I was so worked up with anger and stress that I was thoroughly miserable. I think it was worse because I had built up in my mind what a picture perfect wonderful day we were going to have, and then it was turning out so much the opposite.
I did not manage to settle him. I tried feeding him, multiple times. I tried parking him in the shade and letting him cry ( a few nearby tourists were not that thrilled with that one ). I tried walking away a little and pretending that he was not my baby ( again, not a popular option ), I tried food, drink, songs......aarrrgghhhh!!! What hell. Seriously, it must have been the evil vibes of the place seeping through to curse our very existence. Those bloggers were liars!
Eventually Ross and the kids came back, I dumped Bo on Ross and stalked off to walk where Hitler walked. Not the most inspiring thing to say is it? Even with the creep factor, the views were stunning. It's so eternally tragic that such sweeping magnificence did not inspire more magnanimous actions Germany's leader.
No one enjoyed it. Especially me. Even to this day, if I mention 'The Eagle's Nest', one of my kids are sure to give me a funny look and remind me how horrible it was and that I had totally cracked it that day.
It all took so long that we missed the chance to do the second activity that I had planned to do for the day - a boat trip on Konigsee. So we hiked all around the stupid thing to find a place for the kids to swim. We'd had to walk through tourist crowds to get to the swimming area and by the time we got there I was cross all over again."Sigh"
Writing this in hindsight, I feel a bit like an idiot.
Why didn't I just chill out?
Because I had reached breaking point. Unfortunately, travel seems to push me there far more often than my nice life at home. We probably chose the wrong kind of travel. We probably should have just gone to the Jungle of Brunei and then the kids would have been wild and happy. But we didn't. And there have been good experiences along with the bad ones.
Even though it had been a hot summer day, the water of Konigsee was absolutely freezing! There were some young adults there daring each other to jump in just for a few minutes and then acting all tough when they did. My kids went in for 15-20 minutes at a time, haha!
There was no way that Ross or I were getting in, but we dipped Bo in a little. Good way to cool off from all that crying, lol.
So what did we learn from this experience? Mmmmm, maybe that we need to relax a bit and lower our expectations for how a day will go, but that is easier said than done. Maybe we need to visit places where the vibes coming through emanate from a more peaceful person? Maybe it's time to visit Israel?
However, despite our setbacks, and an awful day here and there, it does help us to appreciate the times when things go well. And even though he made the day absolutely awful, I am eternally grateful for my beautiful baby. He brings us all so much joy, and so I'll take the good with the bad.
- Here is an inspiring account of one family's visit to the Eagle's Nest, complete with cream puffs and without all of the mishap... maybe one day we will meet and discover their secrets!