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Rome with Kids

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We went to Rome for Christmas.

This was our family gift. We didn’t have presents under the tree. Experiences over stuff.

Then my son asked afterwards if we can stay home next year and do presents. Sigh.

We flew on Alitalia from Frankfurt to Rome Ciampino. I know Ryanair often has really cheap tickets, but I couldn’t find any when I was planning our trip, and honestly, it was so nice to fly and check bags and get free snacks.

A driver was waiting for us. It was so much easier than worrying about how to get to our apartment. Worth every penny. We asked for a return to the airport since we left early.

We stayed at Peter’s Nest in Vatican + St. Peter, about a block over from the entrance to the Vatican Museum.

We got fresh cornetti every morning from our hostess and she kept us stocked in fresh milk and juice too! A little Carrefour Express grocery store was right beside our building, so if I had known that, I wouldn’t have paid for the pastry delivery, but it was still nice.

Our Christmas Trip to Rome

The courtyard to the apartment building had a lovely floral fountain.

Peter's Nest Courtyard Fountain
Day 1

After we got settled and freshened up, we walked over to St. Peter’s Square.
St. Peter's Square Christmas Tree
We loved seeing the huge lifesize nativity scene.
Vatican Nativity Scene
Then, we went through security to go into St. Peter’s Basilica.

And I got to see Michelangelo’s Pietà.
Michelangelo's Pieta
We walked down to Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II to see Castel Sant’Angelo.
Castle Sant'Angelo

We love the statues lining the bridge.

Angel Bridge

I highly recommend L’Isola della Pizza for incredible food. Glad we got there early for dinner – it was soon packed with locals!

The waiters brought out a medley of appetizers and salads and the kids all ordered pizza.

I love all the salads and breads and prosciutto. They brought arancini (fried rice balls) for the kids but Aaron and I loved it too! The fried artichokes were amazing.

L'Isola

It was too much food, but so amazingly delicious.

Day 2

We were at the Vatican Museum before they opened and we were ushered right on in.

I’m so glad I ordered basic tickets online. I had also ordered 4 audio guides for the kids and 2 adult audio guides for Aaron and me. The kids got great little scavenger hunt maps. We loved the guides!

We began in the Pinacoteca – the Picture Gallery.

Entrance to the Pinacoteca

It was completely empty.

We were following our audio guides and the kids’ scavenger hunts.

If I had known, we’d have scooted on down to view the Antiquities and Sistine Chapel and left the Picture Gallery for last.

We got to stare at Raphael’s tapestries and study paintings undisturbed.

I especially liked Leonardo’s St. Jerome in the Wilderness.

St Jerome in the Wilderness by Leonardo da Vinci

Then we went to the Egyptian and Etruscan Museums.

This was especially exciting for the kids since we didn’t get to experience anything or travel for those units.

Alex and Katie really loved seeing the mummy.

Mummy at Vatican Museums

Love the colors here!

Sarcophagus

They save the best for last: The Sistine Chapel.

No pictures and they have guards to hush people.

But by that time, we were hot and almost exhausted. We stayed a while, getting a crick in our necks and trying to sneak pictures with our phones.

We got takeout pizza at Forno Feliziani for lunch.

Forno Feliziani

The best gelato is at Old Bridge. We got some every single day. Super great prices and large portions.

We went to the Colosseum in the afternoon.

I ordered our tickets online and they were good on any day.

At the Colosseum

I don’t know that I’d recommend doing quite so much in one day, but we thought we could handle it. We realized our tickets included the Roman Forum and the tickets are only good for two days and we didn’t think we’d have time to go back down there the next day.

We got to look down upon Circus Maximus.

Circus Maximus

The Forum must’ve been very crowded. There was so much in such a small space!

Roman Forum

It about did me in. We barely got through it before the loudspeaker announcement that they were closing. We rushed up the stairs.

I was about ready to collapse, so I begged to take a taxi back since we had no idea where the nearest subway was and I couldn’t walk anymore. The 6-seater taxi van from Piazza Venezia to St. Peter’s Square was only €8,00!

We got takeout pizza at Forno Feliziani (yes, again) for the kids for dinner. I love that place.

Aaron and I went to The Angry Pig for gorgeous sandwiches. Our contact recommended it and the eggplant pork tenderloin sandwich was divine.

The Angry Pig sandwich

Day 3

This was Christmas Eve.

We walked to the Galleria Borghese.

Again, I bought tickets online. I super recommend that.

On the way, we stopped by Santa Maria del Popolo.

Santa Maria del Popolo

We got kicked out because they were about to start Mass. But I got a picture of the Chigi Chapel first.

Chigi Chapel

The Borghese Gardens are peaceful and lovely, even in winter.

We checked our backpack, used the toilets, got the audio guides and waited for our entrance time. The tour main entrance is outside and up the steps.

There wasn’t really any instructions for that, but I followed the crowds who seemed to know.

I was really there just to see the Bernini sculptures.

The Rape of Proserpina is amazing with its emotions and realism.

The Rape of Proserpina Front
The detail of the finger impressions:
The Rape of Proserpina

Apollo and Daphne

Apollo and Daphne

Bernini’s David in mid-action (and a self-portrait)

Bernini's David

We walked to the Spanish Steps. They were closed for repair.

But we love this fun fountain by Bernini – The Ugly Boat.

Fontana della Barcaccia by Bernini

We walked to the Trevi Fountain. Super crowded and noisy. We threw our coins in and went to find lunch.

Trevi Fountain

Nowhere on my list was open for lunch. We finally walked back to this place that smelled good when we walked by.

We got gnocchi, salad, pizza, pasta (carbonara and Bolognese), fried cod, and broiled fish.

It was delicious.

Locanda Giulietta e Romeo on Via del Lavatore:

Christmas Eve Lunch

We walked to the Pantheon. Right at dusk. Super crowded. Lighting is terrible for photos.

Pantheon at Dusk

We walked through Piazza Navona on the way back. We really weren’t that impressed.

More Bernini fountains though!

Fontana del Moro by Bernini
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini

We rushed back to the Carrefour Express next to our apartment building to buy some food to prepare for Christmas Day. We knew everything would be closed for the holiday.

Then we got overly expensive takeout from the only open cafe a couple blocks over. It was just ok.

Day 4

Christmas Day.

We went to St. Peter’s Square to wait for the Pope’s Christmas address.

It didn’t seem so crowded, so I wanted to wander around inside the Basilica to look at the chapels again.

We got to witness the Pope’s Christmas morning mass.

Altar of the Chair of Peter

Above the Chair are two angels bearing the tiara and keys and then a gorgeous window of Bohemian glass, divided into twelve sections as a tribute to the Twelve Apostles, and in the center, a brilliant dove.

On the left, Sts. Ambrose and Athanasius and on the right, Sts. John Chrysostom and Augustine.

St. Peter’s Chair and Canopy were both designed by Bernini.

I asked a guard if we could view the The Altar of the Crucifixion of St. Peter. He led us around the velvet ropes to a little side chapel.

Ancient tradition claims that St. Peter suffered martyrdom precisely where this altar stands. Part of the basilica is actually built on the site of Nero’s Circus.

The Altar of the Crucifixion of St. Peter

Then we heard the Pope’s Christmas address.

Pope Francis Christmas Address 2015

We went back to the apartment for lunch.

We walked through the Jewish district and found Bernini’s Turtle Fountain. Tori loves turtles.

Bernini's Turtle Fountain

We kept noticing these little plaques in the street. Later, we learned about Stoplerstein.

Stolperstein

We walked along the river, crossed over at the island, and just leisurely walked back.

Surprisingly, several restaurants were open, but we made the pasta and sauteed chicken we’d bought for dinner and it was great.

Day 5

St. Stephen’s Day. Most shops and restaurants are closed.

We visited some churches in the morning.

All the walking had been killing me, so we took the subway and it was great. Only €4,50 for our whole family one way.

Our first stop was the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Papal Archbasilica of St. John in Lateran

Across the street is the Triclinium of Leo III, the apse mosaic of the former papal dining hall of remains of the old Lateran Palace.

Triclinium Leoninum

The mosaics depicts Christ with the Apostles in the center, Christ with Constantine and Pope Sylvester I on the left, and St Peter, Pope Leo III, and Charlemagne on the right. Pope Leo III has a square nimbus, showing that he was alive when it was made. The mosaic has been dated to the year 800, when Charlemagne was crowned in Rome.

The Scala Santa are inside that building, but can only be viewed on guided tours.

We ate lunch at Hosteria La Vacca M’briaca.

We looked a couple more churches.

Aaron wanted to see the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli.

We finally made it to the Musei Capitolino.

Capitoline Hill

The museum is HUGE. The kids got audioguides and scavenger hunt papers. And they wanted to make sure they completed them.

There are many levels and courtyards with lots of sculptures and art.

Neptune Fountain

Alex was THRILLED to finally see his wolf!

Romulus and Remus

We also saw The Dying Gaul.

The Dying Gaul

We stopped in at the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. They’d already closed their Holy Door.

We loved going to Ai Balestrari on our last night. The pizza guy made our son a reindeer pizza as a gift after we watched him prepare pizzas.

Reindeer Pizza

We were exhausted and ready to go home. Rome is lovely – busy and crowded, yet so full of art, good food, and life.

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Our Trip to Ireland

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It’s long been my dream to visit Ireland.

Since I turn the big 40 this month, we took a short trip to visit some key places in Ireland!

Our Trip to Ireland

We flew into Kerry from Frankfurt Hahn on RyanAir.

We rented a car. That was an interesting experience for my husband, driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

We stayed at Ashford Castle.

Ashford Castle in the Morning

Day 1:

We visited Kylemore Abbey.

The drive through the hills was lovely!

Kylemore Abbey

We had a lovely tea at Ashford Castle in the afternoon.

Day 2:

In the morning, we went on a Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle.

Falconry

We walked around Galway City in the afternoon.

Day 3:

We drove over to County Meath to see Trim Castle, Newgrange, The Hill of Tara, and the City of Kells.

It was a loooong drive but all of those places were close together once we got there.

We got back to the castle pretty late that night.

Our trip was too short.

We lost two days just traveling there and home – and I had hoped we’d have more opportunity to take side trips on the way to/from the castle/airport on those days.

There were several places we longed to see, but we just ran out of time.

The speed limits on the crowded little 2-lane country roads and the rainy weather made the going very slow.

I’d love to go back to Ireland to see The Cliffs of Moher and The Burren and to visit Dublin to see The Book of Kells.

Ashford Castle

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Porto with Kids

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We needed sunshine.

Ryanair ran a sale for €10 tickets.

We went to Porto, Portugal, for Thanksgiving weekend.

It was 50* and sunny!

Our Trip to Porto

We stayed at Look at Me Loft apartments. Right around the corner is a market where we bought breakfast pastries, eggs, and juice.

Look at Me Loft

Our first stop was to Santiago for lunch to try the Francesinha sandwich:

Francesinha Sandwich from Santiago

The girls and I ate fish. Alex enjoyed an omelet.

Fish at Santiago
Santiago

We loved all the tile on the buildings.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

These are the Carmo and Carmelitas churches with a tiny house in between which was to keep the monks and nuns separate.

Carmo and Carmelitas churches

The churches are gorgeous inside.

Church Altars

Porto Cathedral is lovely.

Porto Cathedral

We went to the Bolhão Market and bought souvenirs and had a port tasting.

It was by far my favorite port, perhaps because of the personal service.

We bought canned tea for the girls at a shop across the hall and the waiter brought the girls glasses. It was sweet and a nice respite from walking all over the hilly city.

Bolhão Market

Nata Lisboa serves the best and freshest natas.
Nata Lisboa

We climbed Clerigos Tower for a lovely view.

Clerigos Tower

Lello Book Shop is a must-see for any book lovers.

We bought tickets at the little red booth:

Lello Bookshop Ticket Booth

The kids loved the bookshop.

Lello Bookshop

We love the pretty pastel buildings by the river.

Don’t bother eating in any of the overpriced touristy restaurants.

We walked a few blocks in and ate at Largo de São Domingos – or the LSD Restaurant.

Also recommended: Cantina 32, but their menu was a little too fancy for our kids.

Listening to Street Guitar

Across the bridge, are the port caves.

We walked along the lower car bridge to get to the port caves and returned by the upper train bridge so we bypassed the lower riverside and didn’t have to climb back.

Ponte Luiz

The Sandeman Port Tour was the highlight of the trip for all of us.

My kids are now well-versed on how port is made.

There’s a great little museum open to the public.

The comprehensive basic tour had a costumed guide who taught us how port is mixed and bottled.

She explained temperature and vat levels and showed us how they keep the humidity level stable.

There’s a wall showing the river floods thoughout the centuries.

The kids got glasses of water when we got our port tastings.

Sandeman Basic Tour

Everyone had fun dressing up and posing as the Don.
Sandeman Port Tour

The Calem Port Tour was ok.

Calem Port Tour

We had pizza for lunch at San Martino. It was very good!

We also visited the famous tiled São Bento train station.

The Equador Chocolate Shop is a feast for the senses.

Equador Chocolate Shop

Just look at all that gorgeous chocolate!

Equador Chocolate Bars

We had our Thanksgiving Dinner at O Buraco.

I liked Antunes better. It was more cozy and the food was tastier.

Thanksgiving Dinner at O Buraco

We enjoyed our little vacation to Porto. It was a much-needed break from clouds and cold.

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Our Greece Itinerary

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I’d looked at cruises and travel packages but none of them really did what I wanted.

In our homeschool, we studied ancient times in history this year and I wanted to go to Greece to see the places we learned about.

I’ve always wanted to go to Greece!

I used Airhint to find great flight deals with Ryanair. I used Booking.com for hotels. We rented a van in Athens and in Thessaloniki with CarRentals.com.

We flew from Frankfurt Hahn to Thessaloniki, then to Athens. We drove all over the peninsula, then back to Athens, flew back to Thessaloniki and explored for a couple days, then flew home to Frankfurt Hahn.

I wish we’d had more time to explore some of the islands and some other historic places.

Our Greek Itinerary

Here’s our itinerary for our weeklong tour of the Peloponnese:

We arrived late into Thessaloniki, ate a lovely meal at the hotel and crashed before our next morning early flight into Athens.

Athens

We rented a van and parked it the whole time we were there. We spent 2 days exploring the city on foot. It’s charming and friendly.

We were able to spend the afternoon at the Parthenon Museum and have the best meal of our entire trip before crashing our last night before flying back to Thessaloniki.

Mycenae

We retrieved our rented van and drove all over the Peloponnese. We visited the archeaological site on the way to Kalamata.

Kalamata

We spent 2 nights at this beach resort. It was a much-needed rest.

Olympia

We took a day trip to the training grounds for the first Olympics while staying in Kalamata. We were surprised how much we loved this!

Nafplio

We visited this picturesque town in the morning on the way back to Athens. Great views and a bead shop.

Epidaurus

We stopped by the temple of Asclepius and the ancient theatre in the afternoon on the way back to Athens.

Thessaloniki

We rented a van and spent 2 days exploring this lovely city before flying home.

Check out our Eating Through Greece post!

Tips for traveling in Greece:

  • I bought Rick Steves’ book on Athens and the Peloponnese for my Kindle app on my iPad mini so I got to view it as we walked around. It was SO helpful!
  • Be very aware on public transportation. We didn’t even use it, but we still put our extra money and passports in our hotel safe so it wasn’t a worry. We were even warned about the metro and the Central Market by our hotel clerks.
  • Restaurants serve ice-cold pitchers of tap water. I love that! Be aware that some places add a charge for it. We noticed a Euro or two for water and bread on some of our bills. It didn’t bother us because we needed it after walking all day long, but you can always ask and decline if you’re on a budget or gluten intolerant.
  • English is spoken very well almost everywhere. Euros are the accepted money. ATMs are widely available. Cards with the pin and chip are accepted at most restaurants and shops. Cash is still needed for lots of places.
  • Don’t throw anything – including toilet paper! – into the toilets. There are handy little containers to place everything into beside the toilets. The pipes are apparently so easily clogged in Greece that this is the solution.
Toilet Paper

We loved our trip to Greece.

We’d love to return someday and explore the islands and other cities we didn’t have time to see.

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Eating Our Way Through Greece

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We fell in love with the food in Greece.

We love the olive oil and oregano and fresh salad! We love the bread and grilled meats – and Tori and I love the fish!

Eating Our Way through Greece

Where we ate in Athens:

Enteka for lunch the first day.

Kid-friendly. Affordable. The staff is very friendly and fun.

Amazing souvlaki and gyros. Fresh and quick.

Enteka Grill in Athens

We went to the Horiatiko Bakery for treats.

It just beckoned to us every day as we walked by.

Super friendly. Gorgeous, pleniful selections of cakes, pastries…BAKLAVA.

The Horiatiko Bakery in Athens

Street food!

Roasted corn on the cob.

Pretzel and sesame bread rings.

Nuts and coconut strips.

The kids loved it all.

Athens Street Food

One morning, we went to Grand Dionisos for omelets.

I finally got to try Greek coffee (Ellinikos Kafes). It is SO good. We bought a set to bring home!

It’s thick and sweet and gorgeous. It comes in these little copper pots that make the coffee taste better than anywhere.

Greek Coffee

After the Acropolis, we had lunch at Dia Tauta, a touristy little place on Adrianou, near the Ancient Agora. We were starving and got a couple platters of mezes that were plenty for all of us! Delicious salad, bread, olives…and pitchers of ice-cold water kept coming! This was a place we noticed a small charge on our bill for that, but it was well worth it.

The advantage to having a teenager is that we can let the kids have street food in the hotel for dinner and go out for a date!

Great local mezes at Rozalia in the Exarcheia district.

We got zucchini fritters (Kolokithopita), meatballs (Keftedes), hummus, gorgeous salad, and wine.

Mezes at Rozalia

Amazing organic local food at Yiantes – also in the Exarcheia district.

I wanted to try Taramosalata (fish roe dip) and I LOVED IT. My husband? Not so much. We also got some hummus so he was happy.

I got the fish with onions and tomatoes (Psari spetsiotiko).

Aaron got the hamburgers (Mpiftekia). These are not ordinary hamburgers. They are flavored with cumin and oregano and oh, so moist and tender!

Yiantes Restaurant in Athens

The best food we had in Greece was at To Kati Allo, around the corner from the Acropolis Museum. 

We felt like family staying for dinner. They didn’t have my first choice from the chalkboard menu – he said it wasn’t good enough quality to serve – so he kept bringing us dishes of everything they had.

Roast chicken, roast pork, stuffed zucchini (Kolokithia Yemista), ratatouille (Briam), salad, pita, and this amazing tomato rice pilaf (Pilafi me Saltsa Domata).

He hugged and kissed us when we left.

We all plan to go back someday. It was that good.

To Kati Allo in Athens

Where we ate in Kalamata:

We ate at the hotel the first night and had lovely pork chops and pasta with salad. Even simple food in Greece is just amazing.

Look at that gorgeous sunset!

Hotel AKTI TAYGETOS

The second night we ate at Lemoni.

It was expensive and there was a huge wedding party that arrived a few minutes after we did. I think we might have done better at one of the cafés on the beach strip.

I got the fish special and it was good. Tori got this shrimp spaghetti that was good, though not fresh. I think since it was the end of the season, they didn’t have as much to offer. The chicken souvlaki Liz got was tough but flavorful. But you don’t go to a restaurant on the dock and not get seafood.

Lemoni Lounge Kalamata

Where we ate in Nafplio:

We stopped first at Antica Gelateria Di Roma for really delectable gelato.

So many flavors! Tiramisu, hazelnut, fruits…decisions!

Antica Gelateria Di Roma in Nafplio

We had lunch at Epi Skinis before heading out to Epidavros for the afternoon.

I got the amazing moussaka. We shared the saganaki (fried feta cheese).

The kids had fun signing the guest book and looking at the decor.

Epi Skinis in Nafplio

Where we ate in Thessaloniki:

The first night in Greece, we ate at our hotel.

Salad, soup, and pasta.

It was divine.

Greek Salad

I’m not a big fan of white wine, but I love Greek white wine!

Greek White Wine

The Last Slice for lunch – for the most amazing fresh pizza. Just a fun little corner place.

The Last Slice

We watched them twirl the dough and top it for the oven. We kept going back to order more!

The Last Slice Pizza in Thessaloniki

Plaisir for amazing waffles and ice creams. Fun sugary goodness!

I got a sandwich and coffee. But it came with brownies and cookies!

Plaisir in Thessaloniki

Oval Cafe for a very expensive dinner. Nice view of the White Tower and bay.

The pastas and hamburgers were really very good. Homemade lemonade was a hit with the kids.

The desserts were pretty amazing. Rose lemon custard and this cheese tart (Kalitsounia) from Crete. It was a like a cream cheese-filled sopapilla.

Oval in Thessaloniki

Greek beer is refreshing and flavorful. Fix was our favorite. Mythos and Alfa were also good. These are all lagers.

Aaron likes ouzo but I did not care for it. The presentation is neat though.

Ouzo and Beer

We loved, loved, loved Greek food!

View our MAP of where we ate in Greece!

Check out our whole Greece itinerary here.

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Monkey Mountain

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Our whole family enjoyed a visit to Monkey Mountain, La Montagne des Singes.

This zoo is about 45 minutes from Strasbourg, so it’s a perfect side trip.

Monkey Mountain

Information:

More than 200 Barbary macaques roam free in 60 acres of beautiful forest.

  • The visit lasts approximately one hour
  • The path is 800 meters long
  • No pets are allowed in the park
  • Popcorn given  at the entrance is the only food allowed in the park
  • Feeding talks are about every 45 minutes

The guide at the entrance opens the gate and scoops out about a handful of popcorn for each group. There are guides posted around the park to ensure safety of both the humans and monkeys.

The boys were a bit nervous at first.

Feeding Popcorn to the Monkey

The kids enjoyed feeding the monkeys.

Only 1 piece of popcorn in a flat, outstretched palm.

The monkeys interested in eating perched on the fences and benches.

Kids Feeding the Monkeys

I felt like I was in my very own National Geographic special – up close with all these gorgeous monkeys!

Mother and Baby Monkeys

I love how the babies get piggyback rides.

Piggyback Ride

There’s a lookout point on a hill that gives a nice view of much of the park.

Lookout Hill

This little guy was all by himself, playing on the logs at the base of this tree.

Baby Monkey

These acrobatic monkeys romped on the ropes and tree. One fell in the water and looked mighty embarrassed.

Funny Monkeys

These “teenage” monkeys displayed by shaking this sign  and screaming.

Young Monkeys

I made sure everyone had fed the monkeys plenty before I had my turn. They’re very quick and gentle with soft fingers.

Feeding the Monkey

This was a memorable trip. The kids all loved seeing the monkeys up close and feeding them!

Opening times 2016:

Open every day from 19 March to 6 November. Also open on the 11, 12 and 13 November.

March*, April: 10.00-12.00 / 13.00-17.00
May, June: 10.00-12.00 / 13.00-18.00
1st July – July 10: 10.00 to 18.00
July 11 to August 23: 9.30 to 18.00
August 24 to Aug 31: 10:00 to 18.00
September: 10.00-12.00 / 13.00-18.00
October, November**: 10.00-12.00 / 13.00-17.00

* from the 19 March
** only from the 1 to 6 and on the 11, 12, and 13 November

On Sundays and Bank holidays, the park is open without a break at lunchtime.

Last entrance: ½ hour before the park closes

Prices 2016:

Adults 9,00 €
Children (5 to 14 years old) Free

Monkey Mountain is about 2.5 hours from Ramstein and 3.5 hours from Spangdahlem.

See our entire Black Forest Weekend Itinerary.

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