***image1***(Editor’s note: Second in a three-part series highlighting European travel for families.)
Military families facing tight schedules and tight budgets need not fret if they don’t get to Paris, London or Rome. Within an hour of the KMC are many delights and treasures to fill a day or a weekend.
My own kids, ages 12 and 9 and affectionately known as Thing 1 and Thing 2, are notorious homebodies. Sightseeing is not their favorite activity. They would much rather stay home with the cartoons and video games than be dragged by the ears off to some “dumb old city” again.
Here are some spots we’ve discovered that make both parents and kids happy, and won’t break your budget or your leave balance. T1 and T2 have given each of them their own 1 to 5 rating, 5 the highest.
Summer or winter, the indoor pools are a guaranteed day of fun.
The Azur in Ramstein-Miesenbach and the Monte Mare near the A6 Kaiserslautern-Ost exit are both heated, with multi-story slides and channels flowing outdoors into outdoor Jacuzzi areas. Cafés serve lunch foods and drinks. Tanning beds and saunas are available. For times and prices, call 06371-71500 or visit http://www.ramstein-miesenbach.de/06.Freizeit/ 03.Azur/index.php?theme=2& lang=en.(T1: 4, T2: 4)
Monte Mare offers saunas, tanning and wellness packages. For times and prices, call 0631/3038-0 or visit http://kaiserslautern.monte -mare.de/?url=/standorte/kaiserslautern/ preise/default.asp?.(T1: 5, T2: 5)
Riding the rails on pedal cars along riverbanks, and through vineyards and forests, is a unique experience available from two towns just north of Ramstein, either Altenglan or Lauterecken. Called Draisinen, the cars are now the only users of a 40-kilometer stretch of abandoned railway between Altenglan on highway B270 and Staudernheim. Users rent the cars for 39 EUR, with each car carrying up to five passengers.
***image2***Pedalers can choose either a 20-km half-route, or the full 40-km stretch. The cars run north-to-south only, or opposite, on even and odd days. The 20-km Lauterecken to Staudernheim route is particularly scenic, with restaurants, wineries and pull-outs along the way. Family and professional groups often link their pedal cars for a barge effect, and bring along coolers and snacks for the trip.
Halfway along this route is the beautifully restored medieval village of Meisenheim, a great place to stop for lunch or an ice cream.
Weekends and holidays it is best to make a reservation. For details, call the Kusel Tourist Information office at 06381-424-275 or visit http://www.draisinentour.de. (T1:4, T2:4)
Deep in the forested hills of the Pfalz, about 20 miles southeast of Kaiserslautern just off of highway B39 near Wachenheim, lies the wonderland of Kurpfalzpark. Not really an amusement park, but more like a huge series of giant, extravagant playgrounds surrounded by a wild animal park.
The highlight of the park is a rodelbahn, a kind of warm-weather bobsled, where kids and adults can speed down the hillside metal tube track. Entry to the park is 12 EUR for adults, 10 EUR for children ages 4 to 14. Family and group discount tickets are available, and everyone can enter free on their birthday, with ID. For details, call the park at 06325-959010 or visit http:// www.kurpfalzpark. de/. (T1:3, T2:4)
Less than 15 minutes from Vogelweh is the enchanting Karlstal, or Karl’s Gorge. Follow the signs to Trippstadt off highway B270. Starting at the Klug’sche Mühle restaurant with playground, the gorge winds through towering beech trees and house-size boulders. Monuments from ages past evoke mysteries, including a mid-stream boulder with the evocative carved message, “Bitte hier klingeln (ring the doorbell here).”
Stairways and bridges run up and down the banks and over the shallow stream. At the center lies a gazebo, inviting hikers to savor the scenery. About 1.5 miles long, the gorge is just as exciting on the return hike. For photos, visit http://www.pfaelzerwald-touristik.de/trippstadt/en/ tourism/ sehenswert/karlstal.html. (T1:4, T2:5)
Towering over the Ramstein area hills is the Potzberg, with its tower, animal park and restaurant and terrace. Climb the tower for an unparalleled view of the hill country, or enjoy it on a sunny day from the restaurant terrace.
Families should not miss the Bird of Prey Show, daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Hint for the show: wear a hat. For details, call 06385 – 6228 or visit http://wildpark. potzberg.de/. (T1:4, T2:3)
Burg Lichtenberg is a large castle ruin near Kusel, about 10 miles north of Ramstein. Ruins are often more fun for kids than ornate palaces, as they can be clambered over and climbed through without much further chance of destruction. This castle features a small but fascinating natural history museum with hands-on exhibits giving the geological and biological history of the area, with fossils to touch and examine under microscopes. For more information, visit http://www.burg-lichtenberg.de/. (T1:3, T2:5)
For living history, the new Celtic village in Steinbach on the Donnersberg mountain is both fascinating and entertaining. Houses constructed and decorated in authentic Celtic style contain furnishings, crafts and tools that would have been used during the local Celtic civilizations, 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. Kids like it for the hands-on crafts of clay-molding and stone jewelry carving, and even archery lessons. The Donnersberg mountain is the site of the largest Celtic settlement in Germany, and the location of many legends and tales from German mythology. For more details, visit http://www.keltendorf-steinbach.de/. (T1:5, T2:5)
When it comes to European-style fun for kids, “castling” through numerous ruins sprinkled throughout the Pfalz region is a great way to spend a day. Since they are usually located on steep hilltops, a rigorous hike is topped of by wandering through stone chambers and fallen windows and doorways, imagining the lives of those who came before. The castles are already in ruins, so no need to tell kids “be careful,” or “don’t touch.” Any highway map will have the ruins marked, usually with a tilted flag symbol. Look throughout the area south and southeast of Kaiserslautern for more ruins than could be explored in a year of sunny Sundays.
For starters, try Burg Nanstein just above the city of Landstuhl, or the ruin in intriguingly-named town of Frankenstein, on highway B39. For a list and details on various ruins, visit http://www.burgen-rlp.de/burgen/. (T1:4, T2:4)
For cool fun in the summer, or indoor fun in the winter, try a day in Homburg. First, explore the extensive sandstone caves. Taking highway B40 into Homburg, follow the small brown signs to the Schlossberghöhlen. The caves are located near the ruins of the city castle, and a Roman museum with extensive reconstructions. For hours and entry prices, call 06841-10 1166 for the caves, or 06848-875 for the museum. More details are available at http://www.homburg.de/index. htm?/Homburg/ schloss.htm. (Still on our to-do list.)
For nearby swimming, boating, fishing and picnics, visit either the small Ohmbachsee lake in Shönenberg-Kübelberg or the larger Bostalsee lake just off of A 62 toward Trier. For more details, visit http://www.bostalsee. de or http://www.campingpark-ohmbachsee.de/. (We’ll head there next summer.)
***image3***Some of the Web sites are German language only, but prices and opening times are usually obvious. Any Web site can be automatically translated through any language tools Web site.