VIP had the opportunity to accept a group school trip to Aachen in Germany – to test the waters, if you like, on a potential trip for his school.
Lucky for me and the kids, we were given a big discount if we went with him. How could we refuse?
For two nights' accommodation, coach travel and all food, activities and transport to the entertainment such as the Christmas markets we paid around £75 each – a bargain!
On Friday night – when I would have been settling down to watch Gogglebox, we were making our way to Maidstone Roadchef (Junction 8). It would have cost us £20 a day to park there but instead I managed to get a Just Park space for £14 for the weekend (have a look here & get £10 off your first booking), which ended up being much cheaper. We then got a cab to the service station to pick up our coach.
After driving through France (via the shuttle), the coach made a quick pitstop in Belgium, before continuing on its journey to Hellenthal in the Eifel region of Germany, which sits close to the border with the Netherlands. In total we were on the coach around 8 hours.
When we arrived at the Hellenthal youth hostel, we climbed straight into bed to get a couple of hours' kip before a breakfast buffet was served.
The onsite activities
Then it was time for the fun to begin. The itinerary gave us the low down of the activities; the Giant swing, high ropes and archery.
The kids were keen on archery and after watching everyone else give it a go (and mentally taking notes), I decided to give it a shot. I wasn't going to as the last time I tried archery I remember pinging my boob and it hurt like hell, developing into a massive welt, followed by a bruise that took a couple of weeks to disappear.
Klaus was our instructor and he was very German, if you know what I mean – not just the accent, but his clothes, his face, his demeanour. But he was also very patient and made the activity fun by encouraging us when we (I mean when I), cocked up. But I'm pleased to say that out of the 10 arrows I was given, seven of them hit the target – a marked improvement on the last time.
After that we headed to the giant swing in the woods. The scenery is stunning – I can imagine coming here for a weekend of writing and relaxing.
The giant swing looked easier to operate than it actually was – it's quite a procedure and involves the hands of a few volunteers.
The only person in our party who was willing to give it a go was Nadja. Unfortunately something went wrong with the ropes when she was just about to be released and she lost her nerve. She wanted to come back down but the crowd convinced her to be lowered a little to have a little go.
Mission accomplished and by that time, we had enough time to freshen up in our room before lunch was served, which was actually really nice.
Something that did have me in stitches though was watching VIP try and navigate himself down a steep hillside. He set off edging himself bit by bit and then started taking little steps really quickly down the hill.
I realised he couldn't stop himself from running when he shouted at Nadja to move our of his way before he ran right into her. So of course I really couldn't stop myself from laughing. The only thing that would have made the whole episode much sweeter is if I'd recorded it on my phone so I could watch reruns of it. I'll know for next time!
After lunch we enjoyed a bit of downtime before the coaches came to pick us up at 3.15pm to take us to Monschau, which is where the Christmas Markets were at.
After getting dropped off at a bus depo, we then picked up the ‘Park and Ride' bus that would take us to the markets. We arrived at 4pm and by this time it was dark, which was lovely as the Christmas lights of the markets made it all feel very festive – and romantic.
We were left to browse at our leisure for a few hours – and sort ourselves out with dinner, which meant we had a choice of options – from laid back and rustic to fancy Dan. We opted for a cafe come restaurant come hotel, just because we were all dressed down and settled on a place called Alt Montjoie.
The food was traditionally German – I chose pasta with seasoned vegetables, the kids had pizza and VIP opted for pork. I used my Currensea card to pay for the meal (it's a debit card that connects to your high street bank account and saves up to 80% on charges) and within an hour I had an email confirming how much I spent – €65.20 (£55.42) if you're wondering. You can read more about the card in this post.
The Christmas markets themselves were wonderful – the sights, sounds, smells all got us in the festive mood. However, as we were walking through the cobbled streets admiring all the quaint shops (which ranged from clothes and gift outlets to chocolate retailers and restaurants), we asked one of guides where the actual markets were and she explained that the shops that lined the cobbled streets were referred to as ‘the markets'.
We envisaged little wooden huts selling all sorts of quirky goods – and although there were a few wooden huts clustered here and there, most of them were selling fast food or gluwein. Naturally, VIP got himself a gluwein and chose a really nice glass that came with it for around €5 which was a nice buy.
On making our way back to the bus depot in the park and ride we spotted a huge Lidl and decided to have a browse in German's most well known supermarkets. The kids ended up buying more chocolate (as did we).
When we jumped back on the coach, one of the hosts asked if we minded going to Kausbarn – a huge supermarket for 20 minutes. It was our opportunity to remember to pick up some shampoo to have a shower back at the youth hostel and some chocolate eclairs for our coach driver, Michael. Having bagged the front seat on the coach we noticed that he liked his chocolate eclairs – don't we all?
When we arrived back at the hostel – it was a quick shower for us all followed by a decent night's kip.
After breakfast the kids went back to the room to play on their phones while VIP and I had a few minutes' respite. As we were sitting there doing a spot of people watching and making observations about the people in our group, one of the hosts came over to wish me well with the rest of my cancer treatment and then told us that she had noticed that VIP and I had a special aura about us as a couple.
Of course VIP had to joke that he hoped it wasn't his smell aura, but that was a lovely thing to say to us and reminded me that it's nice to pay someone a compliment every day – even if you don't know them very well. It can make someone's day.
So our last day was a visit to Phantasialand and the coach departed promptly at 9.30am. It took about an hour to get to the theme park – and all the while it was tipping down with rain. The youth hostel had provided us with ponchos which we had conveniently left in the main bags which were in the hold.
As it turns out, it rained all the way to the park, stopped just before we got off the coach and then sky a minute after we got on the coach to come home, absolutely tipped it down – amazing! I mean, when did that sort of thing happen? We were really lucky!
Phantasialand is a lovely theme park. It's split into different zones and the architecture and design of each of the zones are second to none.
The Berlin zone seemed to have loads of choices for eateries and from an aesthetic point of view I really like the Mexico area. The Germans really know how to put together a theme park, complete with fine detail and plenty of great attractions.
As a family of thrillseekers they've got some great rides – our favourite being Taron, a newly opened ride in 2019. Although there were no loop the loops on the ride, what I really loved was its speed, twists and turns and the fact the ride suddenly accelerated handset through – as if we weren't going quick enough in the first place!
I'm so pleased we had the opportunity to have fun in the park. It's most definitely worth a visit. And afterwards – we had to have a German waffle with loads of cream on top – naturally.
My top tips ahead of going to Phantasialand would be to download the app, pick up a map at the entrance (signs and maps are not a strong point in the park) and bring a poncho just in case it decides to rain!
We left the park at 2.30pm for a five hour drive back to the shuttle, stopping briefly for a refuel and so the driver could have a rest.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip – really well organised and with some great highlights along the way.
Have you got any quick getaways you're looking forward to?
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