There are just a few more random experiences we had in Germany and Switzerland that we want to tell you about before we move on to our next home-away-from-home in Mexico.
All that time in the Dominican Republic floating in the pool allowed me to contemplate all the products we know of that are made in Europe. I decided that we should see some of them while we road tripped around. Enough of the history, let’s see some stuff that bump into in our daily lives! The girls replied: yesssssss.
Volkswagen Factory Tour
What better place to explore car manufacturing than in Germany! We booked ahead and got a coveted spot on a tour of the Volkswagen Factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. It’s a good thing we arrived early because this place was a huge maze of a city with NO clear signage. I kept telling Dan that we, the tourists, were not the reason the place existed! We finally asked a guy who was operating a forklift. He took me inside his office and showed me a map. It’s a good thing because we were way off path!
In any case, we arrived and after a 20 minute movie (read: Volkswagen commercial), we started our tour with about 30 other people. The tour consisted of being whisked around on a convertible golf cart system and told all about the manufacturing process. So cool!
A couple of key take-aways from the tour:
- They produce a new car every 18 seconds. This is almost as fast as we changed countries on our road trip.
- The process is 95% automated. It looked a little freaky to see SO MANY robots in there, doing so many things all at the same time.
- They have three shifts that work around the clock, but weekends they don’t produce cars. That’s the time to tend to all the robots.
- Volkswagen produces their very own sausage. They made 6.8 million currywursts in 2017, which is higher than the number of cars they manufactured in the same timeframe.
- They have their own garden on site. We saw quite a few plants scattered throughout the factory. They made a big point of showing us all the employee-friendly policies like break rooms and ergonomic chairs and wooden floors that are easier on legs and backs. Zoe said if vet school doesn’t work out she’d like to build Volkswagens. Me: SAME. I found myself wishing I could work in a car factory for a week, it looked so cool!
- The factory was bombed by the Allies in WW2 and you can still see some mortar damage in the steel rafters.
- There was a very brief mention of the factory’s production of “war materials” during WW2. Given that the factory is in Germany and Germany was the enemy… well… #awkward.
All in all it was really interesting. We were there on the very last day before the plant closed for 3 weeks for vacation. So not only was there
loud noise a band playing in the foyer of our meeting spot, but there was free ice cream, too. We also got our tour for free because it was the last day and everyone was so happy! But more likely, the person who processed all the payments probably got off early or something. No complaints from the Shermanos! Surprisingly there was no real gift shop at the end of the tour. We love gift shops, even if we don’t usually buy much. But we had to HUNT for a shop in a different area (where customers who buy direct from the factory pick up their cars), then we were told we had to pay to enter it (not true) and then when we finally went in it was so disappointing! We could not even buy the sausage. Come on, Volkswagen! Get it together and sell me a sausage! (That sentence is the current favorite for my tombstone.)
Rittersport Chocolate Museum and Factory Store
The girls are big fans of Ritter Sport chocolate bars so once I figured out that they are manufactured near Stuttgart, Germany, I built it into the itinerary. It fit nicely into our trip south, back to France where we had to return the rental car. This was a great store, and a great museum!
From Germany we continued south and made our way to Brunnen, Switzerland. On our way we decided to add 45 minutes to our journey and go through Liechtenstein, just to add one more country to our list. Turns out you have to go through Austria first! We got two new countries in one day for the price of one! Three if you count that day’s final destination of Switzerland. I don’t think we got out of the car in Austria so I’m not sure we can count it. We did get out of the car in Liechtenstein but only to use the bathroom at a pretty church. We contemplated the idea of staying for awhile and exploring the castle up on the hill but the parking meter only took Swiss Francs, which we had none of, and no credit card options. The girls said that was a sign that we needed to keep moving. Methinks somebodies have castle burnout.
We had a great Airbnb that night. We were planning on a hotel because we were staying just one night, but the hotels 1) were more expensive than Airbnbs and 2) required us to rent TWO ROOMS because of the age of our kids. Some of the lowest prices we saw were $250 for ONE ROOM! So we found an Airbnb for less. We rented a converted apartment in someone’s attic, which was a huge departure for us. We never do this! But it turned out to be an excellent stay. The attic was comfortable and clean and our hosts were lovely people from Switzerland (husband) and Lebanon (wife). They even fed us a delicious dinner (for an additional cost, although it was cheaper than any restaurant would be). They also accommodated our annoying food intolerances like champs. We really enjoyed our night there. We hardly ever recommend specific Airbnbs to our readers and we never give hosts the info on our blog but in this case we did both!
Swiss Army Knife Making
The next day we set off for our knife-making workshop. Zoe is a huge fan of Swiss Army knives so it was only logical that we try to explore them a little deeper while we are in Europe. This was one of our last Worldschooling experiences that we would have with all of us together and it was fantastic! Zoe cried happy tears when it was over.
Fun fact about Switzerland: they have fairly strict animal regulations!
While driving through Switzerland we pulled up our handy tour guide Google and discovered a few interesting laws on how residents can treat pets and other animals.
- Animals classified as “social species”—such as guinea pigs and parrots—will be considered victims of abuse if they don’t live or interact regularly with others of their species.
- Dog owners will need to pay for and take a class. The first section of the class focuses on dogs’ needs and wishes. The second section explains how owners should walk their dogs and deal with different behavioral situations.
- Anglers—those who catch fish with hooks—will need to pay for and take a class on catching fish humanely.
- Farmers won’t be allowed to tether horses, sheep, or goats or house pigs and cows in buildings with hard floors.
- To promote fish health, fish owners must use aquariums with at least one opaque side and make sure that the fish experience night and day light cycles. Flushing a sick fish down the toilet won’t be permitted either; special chemicals must be used for euthanasia.
From there we pressed on with our journey, arriving at 9:30pm at our final European Airbnb in Lyon, France. Laundry facilities and lightning-fast WiFi greeted us and it served as an excellent base in which to re-group, get updated on the blog posts and pack for our next transition: USA (for Dan) and Mexico (the girls and me).
That’s it for our epic European Road Trip, guys! We all agreed that Europe version 3 (version 5 for Dan and me) was our favorite. We did the right amount of moving around and staying put. We did the right amount of epic, iconic sights, and seeing things that were interesting and personal only to us. We had great weather, learned a lot, and didn’t kill each other in the process. We didn’t go broke, but almost. We feel like Europe and the Shermanos are parting on good terms. And we have a huge box of momentos ready to fill up our house, waiting for us when we return to Arizona. I can’t wait to use my Stonehenge wooden spoons and Starbucks mugs! If only I had a sausage accessory from Volkswagen.