Enjoying the Quintessential German Vacation at Lake Constance

Enjoying the Quintessential German Vacation at Lake Constance

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Summer goes by fast in Germany, so it’s important to do it right. Lake Constance (the Bodensee) is a popular destination for vacationers of all ages to relax during this short-lived season. Being that there’s not so much coast in Germany (not to mention the other lake neighbors, Switzerland and Austria), the lake sort of fills the role of a beach vacation. Here’s how to do justice to a Lake Constance vacation.

Lindau

To Do:

  1. Stroll around with an ice cream

Gelato

Meersburg am Bodensee

Meersburg am Bodensee

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City of Meersburg

Italy isn’t so far away so there are gelato shops on every street corner in the quaint lakeside towns. Enjoy the traditional Fachwerk architecture of the guesthouses, restaurants, and stores – most of which are complete with colorful flowers under each window.

  1. Drink wine lakeside

Vineyard in Liechtenstein

Konstanz

View from Garden Terrace Restaurant in Lindau

If you go from town to town, you’ll notice rolling vineyards, in addition to orchards and hops fields. Most of the wine in this region is white. Be sure to sample a glass from an outdoor café so you can watch the sailboats, standup paddle boats, motor boats, ferries, cruise ships, Zeppelins, and hot air balloons. Try the local fish or seafood along with it. (Jump to restaurant recommendations here.)

  1. Visit a castle

Meersburg in Meersburg am Bodensee

Meersburg

Inside Meersburg

Meersburg, for example, provides a good amount of information on its layout and history. It’s the oldest privately owned and still inhabited castle in Germany – built in the 7th century! Beautiful views of the lake and surrounding area can be seen from its once-freestanding tower, possible for a small added fee that includes a short guided tour.

  1. Keep an eye out for festivals

Seenachtfest in Konstanz

Boat ride from Konstanz to Meersburg

This actually goes for all of Germany year-round, but is a nice plus on a vacation. Last weekend was the Seenachtfest (Lake Night Festival) in the city of Konstanz with concerts and fireworks, among the standard fest fare.

Whether you’re trying to reach a festival or not, try taking a boat ride from one city on the lake to another to enjoy the scenery (including the majestic Alps) from different perspectives.

  1. Drive to Liechtenstein

Prince of Liechtenstein's Home

View from Prince's Home

From where we stayed in Kressbronn, the small principality of Liechtenstein was only about an hour south. Check your route in advance to see if it involves driving through Austria and/or Switzerland as it did for us. In that case, you’ll need to stop at a rest stop to buy a Vignette, a toll sticker that attaches to the windshield.

What is there to see in Liechtenstein? A steep winding road from the center of the capital city Vaduz leads to the Prince’s home, which can be viewed rather up close from the outside only. The wooded hiking trail that leads here has a series of signs with information about the castle, the royal family, and Liechtenstein’s history. The Prince’s wine cellars are also nearby and open for the public to patronize (unfortunately closed on Sundays).

Post Museum

Beyond that, Liechtenstein is known for producing stamps and Vaduz has a tiny but free Post Museum. Not far from the capital is Gutenberg Castle. Tours are by pre-appointment but the chapel and rose garden are open on Sundays. If you’re lucky like we were, maybe you’ll chance across a small wine walk while hiking through the vineyards of the hill. This is also a great place to see the Rhein River, relatively close to its source.

Gutenberg Castle

View from Gutenberg Castle

By Gutenberg Castle

Rhein River

  1. Travel back in time and visit a prehistoric settlement

Pfahlbau Museum

Pfahlbauten

The Pfahlbau Museum in Unteruhldingen gives visitors the opportunity to interactively explore recreated homes on stilts built on the lake. The construction of the interconnected buildings is based on fossilized building and artifact remains dating back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. There are lots of hands-on activities here, currently a temporary exhibit of Stone Age “Olympics”.

  1. Feed popcorn to monkeys

Sleeping monkey

Monkeys

Tourists at Affenberg

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Yes! At Affenberg (Monkey Montain) animal reserve in Salem, you can do exactly that. Note that there are more animals to see than just monkeys here. Particularly striking are the flocks of storks that make their bulky nests along the eaves of the bordering buildings. But the main attraction is definitely the opportunity to wander along through the Barbary macaque monkeys’ free range forest habitat. The monkeys will pick popcorn kernels right out of your hand, barely grazing your palm in the process. (Obviously many instructions to ensure people and animal safety accompany the free handful of popcorn before entering this area.)

 

*Bonus* Lake Constance restaurant recommendations:

  • Kressbronn Seegarten Kressbronn Pricy but delicious seafood (among other options like schnitzel, wurst, and salads) by the lake with a gorgeous view.
  • Meersburg Hotel Wilder Mann Outdoor terrace along the lake set under a shady awning of trees. Standard and creative menu choices, relaxing live music and a dance floor.
  • Lindau Garden terrace of the Stolze-Spaeth Hotels – Fancy menu and hotel atmosphere overlooking the lighthouse and lion statue in the lake.

Kressbronn

Rafting Across the Pacific and Other Impossible (But True) Voyages of Thor Heyerdahl

The Kon-Tiki raft
The Kon-Tiki raft

I almost overlooked the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo completely because, although it’s a highly-rated attraction, I had never heard of the incredible expeditions of Norwegian researcher Thor Heyerdahl.

Every aspect of the story of his first mission to raft from Peru to Polynesia is more impossible to believe than the last. And yet, it succeeded. And was followed up by more, equally against-all-odds expeditions. And even though some of Heyerdahl’s theories are no longer or only partially supported, his incredible death-defying sense of adventure in the name of science and humanity is beyond inspiring.

Let’s start with the first voyage of the Kon-Tiki. Heyerdahl noticed similarities between South American and Polynesian cultures, and theorized that ocean travel in the direction of east to west had occurred in the past. He believed there to be truth in a Peruvian legend about a man who had sailed west on a raft to a faraway land.

To prove that this was possible, Heyerdahl studied materials and traditions in Peru and built a balsa wood raft in 1947 to complete such a voyage.

Yes, you read that correctly. Balsa wood. The same lightweight material used to make dollhouse furniture. The raft was essentially a cork bobbing along with the ocean. Even gathering the light wood proved death-defying, as the only available sources left were deep in the forests. One of the six men involved in the project was bitten by a poisonous spider during this early phase.

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But bobbing along sounds a bit exaggerated. At least the crew were experienced sailors who could steer the raft, right? No and no. Thor Heyerdahl himself was completely inexperienced at shipbuilding and sailing, and the raft was specifically built to be at the mercy of the currents, i.e. unsteerable.

More unbelievable still? Heyerdahl was not a strong swimmer and was afraid of water.

The U.S. army proved to be one of the only organizations crazy enough to donate supplies to the expedition, by all accounts considered by most (for obvious reasons!) to be a suicide mission.

But succeed the voyage did, despite a particularly perilous run-in with a whale shark, the largest fish in the sea. It seemed that the raft was doomed to capsize until crew member Erik Hesselberg attacked the monster of the deep with a harpoon.

After 101 days, just one day more than estimated, the raft of foolhardy adventurers washed onto the shores of the Polynesian Islands, proving that it could be done.

While it was the adventure of a lifetime, Heyerdahl didn’t stop there. After turning his research to Easter Island, bringing its culture and history to the attention of the western world, he returned to the sea.

The Ra II
The Ra II

In the late sixties to early seventies, he constructed more vessels to prove seemingly impossible theories. The Ra and Ra II, ships built of papyrus (!), were built to traverse the Atlantic. The second attempt, Ra II, succeeded in completing the voyage from Morocco to Barbados.

Heyerdahl specifically selected an internationally diverse crew for the Atlantic venture to show that people from different cultures could cooperate to successfully complete the project. Along the way, the crew discovered and collected samples of pollution in the ocean, presenting their findings to the United Nations upon completion in an effort to improve environmental sanctions.

Continuing in the spirit of humanitarianism, Heyerdahl chose to burn his last boat, the Tigris, whose passage through the Red Sea was blocked by warring nations in 1978. The reed boat’s mission was to prove the possibility of navigating the sea, as Heyerdahl theorized cultures from Mesopotamia and modern-day Pakistan and western India had done in the past. Burning the boat, as Heyerdahl spoke out to the UN, was intended to protest the inhumanity committed by civilized cultures:

“Our planet is bigger than the reed bundles that have carried us across the seas, and yet small enough to run the same risks unless those of us still alive open our eyes and minds to the desperate need of intelligent collaboration to save ourselves and our common civilization from what we are about to convert into a sinking ship.”

At the center of Heyerdahl’s incredible life and work seemed always to be the pursuit to understand the world’s people and improve our common home. And while newer studies contradict Heyerdahl’s anthropological theories as to the travel patterns and intercultural exchange of the past, I’d like to think he would appreciate the ongoing nature of the research and the continuing quest for seeking knowledge about our world and its peoples. After all, isn’t that what science and discovery is all about?

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Figure of Thor Heyerdahl in the Kon-Tiki Museum
Figure of Thor Heyerdahl in the Kon-Tiki Museum