Germany

Hiking Kallmünz Castle

One of the things I love about Europe is that in every town you can find houses that are older than the United States of America. Your perspective of “old” totally changes. Even more fascinating is being able to hike up to the 800+ year-old remnants of a castle in which knights or royalty once lived only a short drive from your house.Just a 15 minute drive from Hohenfels is a town called Kallmünz, which is home to such a castle. People have lived in this little corner of the world since the Bronze Age. You guys, that’s like from 500 B.C.! People started building primitive outer walls of this castle possibly as early as the 900’s and by the 13th century the castle’s inner walls were fully constructed and its residents were being mentioned in early Bavarian chronicles.

Just a 15 minute drive from Hohenfels is a town called Kallmünz, which is home to such a castle. People have lived in this little corner of the world since the Bronze Age. You guys, that’s like since 500 B.C.! People started building primitive outer walls of this castle possibly as early as the 900’s and by the 13th century the castle’s inner walls were fully constructed and its residents were being mentioned in early Bavarian chronicles. From 1459 to 1641 the castle bounced back and forth between Bavarian and Palatine hands and then it was ransacked and burned during the Thirty Years War by the Swedes (dang it, Swedes!). Since then it’s been ruins and people pillaged the rocks from the castle to build other stuff until it was set up as a historical site.

I found MilliGFunk’s blog post and followed her directions to figure out where to park (thanks!). Once we got there I strapped our new-born to my front and my husband strapped our two year old to his back and we walked about a half a mile up a hill to Kallmünz castle. The path was a little rocky, but if you have a stroller with good tires you would definitely be able to push it up without any issues. There is no cost for parking or to get into the castle.view-from-kallmunz

When you get up to the castle you can take in a great view of Kallmünz and the river Naab below. It is also really neat to walk around and look at the ancient well, stone outlines of castle rooms, imagine being an archer looking through tiny windows, and try your best to read the German signs (or use an app to translate if you’re fancy) so you can learn a little history.

If you’re up for a hike and you want to get in touch with your inner princess (or medieval wench – whatever, no judgement), I highly suggest taking an hour to go check out Kallmunz Castle. Let me know how you like it! 



Berlin on a Budget

I think those who travel the world with children are a special breed of crazy. We are the rare few who have vision in abundance (I’m going to see the world! If we just pack this stroller, and this carrier, then we can make it to this city in this amount of time and for only this little amount of money!), persistence to the point of self-harm (I don’t care if baby is teething and toddler is potty training, we’re going to see Greece, dangit!), passion that exceeds natural human caution (oops, we’re pregnant again), and a lack of patience and discipline (sure, I could see Europe when I’m financially secure and don’t have 3 small kids in tow, but I’m here NOW and therefore need to see it NOW).

I also think this crazy is genetic. My mother is this breed of crazy. The last time I was in Berlin I was a baby and my mother took my brother and I on so many trips around the city that she “wore the wheels off” of the umbrella stroller she pushed me in. So that’s where I get this from. And that’s why I wanted to go to Berlin again – to see if I could find some thirty-year-old stroller tires.

I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things.I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things. My parents suggested the zoo and this blog post by Not a Ballerina had a great list of museums. We decided on the natural history museum because my boys love dinosaur skeletons. We also decided on a free walking tour of Berlin through Sandeman’s (we also went through this company in Amsterdam and attempted to use them in Prague).

We left on a Friday after school and battled through the traffic to arrive at the hostel we were staying at before nightfall. This was our first experience with a youth hostel and honestly, it wasn’t bad. We had a family room which meant we were not sharing our room with any other people and we had our own bathroom. Breakfast was served buffet style in a small cafeteria, there was free Wi-Fi, and plenty of vending machines and Foosball tables.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was in a good location (near the subway and free parking), affordable and quiet. We were able to park our car near the hostel and then just buy day passes on the subway to get around the city, which worked out really well.

Saturday morning we got up and ready and headed to the Berlin zoo by subway. First of all, let me just take a second to mention how great the subway system was in Berlin. The trains and stations were clean, timely and not at all crowded. I remember when we went to Paris trying to get on a train was nerve-wracking because there was hardly enough room to shove your way in and never any room to sit down. Later on our tour of Berlin we learned that the city had been expected to grow to a population of 10 million people by 1950 but due to war and then the division of East and West Germany, the population dwindled and to this day is only at about 4 million people. This means that although it is a big city with great facilities, transportation, and lots to do, to me it never felt crowded or too busy which I liked a lot.

Anyway, back to the zoo. It was AWESOME! Seriously, the Berlin zoo is one of the bestzoo
we’ve ever been to (definitely better than the Zurich zoo). It is beautifully landscaped, you are close to the animals, they have a great playground for the kids and of course great German restaurants on site. My oldest especially liked the nocturnal animals exhibit where you get to go underground in a dark room and see lots of animals that are only active at night. I enjoyed the exhibit too. I remember going to the Honolulu zoo and seeing the anteater, which was always just lying there, and wondering if he ever moved. Turns out they’re nocturnal so I actually got to see an anteater moving in Berlin. So cool! (I know, I know. I’m a nerd.)

We spent the morning and lunchtime in the zoo and then headed back to the subway toward the Brandenburg Gate to catch our afternoon walking tour. The tour was a nice way to get around and learn a little something about the major sites of Berlin. We got to see things like the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Concert House and the place where Hitler supposedly committed suicide. Our guide was very informative and interesting. After the tour we got some Döners (mmmm…) and headed back to our room for the night.

jarsSunday morning we went over to the Berlin Museum of Natural History. They have the largest fully assembled dinosaur skeleton in the world displayed in this museum. They also have a T-Rex skeleton, displays on how taxidermy is done, all kinds of weird creepy jars of things in formaldehyde, models of the solar system and all kinds of rocks and crystals. The building itself is not that big. It only took us maybe two hours to see the whole place so it is a nice thing if you only have a little while to spare. After the museum we went back to the hostel, packed up and checked out and headed home.

All together I found Berlin to be a very child friendly place with a lot of fascinating history. With all the things to do and see in the area I think we could have easily spent a wholet-rex week there, but I was pleased with how we planned our weekend and think that our whole family really enjoyed it. Check out the city for yourself and let me know how you like it!

P.S. Still didn’t find those stroller wheels. Guess I’ll have to go back again someday…



Ultimate Oktoberfest Roundup

Guys! Oktoberfest starts THIS WEEKEND! Eeek! I’m so excited! I’ve been to other fests, but this year will be the first time I hit up Oktoberfest. In honor of this momentous event, I’ve rounded up posts on everything to do with Oktoberfest so you (and I) can be ready. Here we go!Ultimate Oktoberfest Roundup

General Overviews of Oktoberfest:

Insider’s Survival Guide to Oktoberfest

5 Honest Tips for Oktoberfest from Someone who has Actually Been

Oktoberfest, Munich – A Beginner’s Guide

Dates and Times:

Dates and General FAQ’s

For fests all over the area check out #6 in my post 10 family activities for under 10 Euro near Hohenfels

Transportation:

Driving

Taking the Train

Bus trips Through Graffenwoehr MWR or Hohenfels MWR

How to find Last Minute Oktoberfest Accomodation and Transportation

What to Wear:

Understanding the Lederhosen Culture

How to buy a Dirndl

Guide to Buying and Wearing Lederhosen

Guide to Buying and Wearing a Dirndl

What to Eat and Drink:

What to eat at Oktoberfest in Munich

7 Badass Bavarian Foods you Must Try

Best Oktoberfest Beer Tents

Festing with Kids:

DOWNLOAD NOW! (1)
Just click the picture… you know you want to!

Give the kids something to do while you have a beer – download my Oktoberfest Scavenger
Hunt! >>>>>>

Munich’s Oktoberfest – fun for Kids too!

Children at Oktoberfest, for sure

Travel Stories: Oktoberfest with Baby ist Wunderbar!

Can’t make it to Oktoberfest this year? Throw your own party:

Oktoberfest Party Fun

Prost! Here’s Everything You Need to Throw an Epic Oktoberfest Party

I hope you find this useful! If you want more info, check out my Oktoberfest Pinterest board.

See you Saturday!



37 thoughts you have when you return to the USA from Germany

It is amazing how much you forget about your own culture after you’ve lived abroad for a year! Things that I used to take for granted blew my mind when I visited home for a few weeks this summer. Here are some of the things I thought when first arriving back in my amazing homeland. USA! USA!It is amazing how much you forget about your own culture after you've lived abroad for a year! Things that I used to take for granted blew my mind when I visited home for a few weeks this summer.1. I’m so excited to be here!
2. Yay, everybody’s speaking English!
3. People are so friendly!
4. The roads are so BIG!
5. The cars are so BIG!
6. The parking lots are so BIG!
7. The parking spaces are so BIG!
8. The yards are so BIG!
9. The trashcans are so BIG!
10. Ugh, why is everybody driving so slowly?
11. I can pay for my gas at the pump!
12. There are so many television channels and they’re all in English!
13. But why do they have so many commercials?
14. That’s okay, American Netflix is awesome!
15. People really are kinda chubby here…
16. Mexican food!
17. Chinese food!
18. Sushi!
19. Pancakes!
20. Buffalo wings!
21. I’m gonna get kinda chubby here…
22. Yes! Everything is open on Sunday!
23. And everything is open after 8pm!
24. Walmart, how I missed you!
25. Target, I missed you even more!
26. Everything is so cheap!
27. I don’t have to pay in cash!
28. I don’t have to pay to use a shopping cart!
29. I don’t have to pay to go to the bathroom!
30. I don’t have to pay for my grocery bags!
31. Or meticulously sort all of my trash and recyclables!
32. Is that grown woman really wearing her pajamas to go shopping?
33. Oh well, at least I know I won’t be judged for wearing my flip-flops around town!
34. Why is there so much trash on the side of the roads?
35. I think I actually miss Germany?
36. Oh! Is that a drive through Starbucks?!
37. Never mind, there’s no place like home!



I flew space-a and survived!

This summer I found myself with three weeks of use or lose leave and no plans. My boys had a few weeks of school left and we had just done back to back to back vacations on four-day weekends so our bank account was looking a little skimpy. My 6-month old daughter had not met my dad yet and it had been almost 2 years since I’d visited my home. I thought it would be nice for me and my daughter to go on a trip to Ohio together. With a tiny budget but quite a bit of time I decided to give a space-a flight from Germany to the USA a shot.

If you aren’t familiar with space-a, the premise is that the Air Force has missions flying all around the world every day and if they have extra space available in their planes they would rather give it away to eligible passengers than just let it go to waste. If you are in the military you can compete for these seats.If you aren’t familiar with space-a, the premise is that the Air Force has missions flying all around the world every day and if they have extra space available in their planes they would rather give it away to eligible passengers than just let it go to waste. If you are in the military you can compete for these seats.

While these seats are virtually free ($34/person for taxes), it can be incredibly frustrating to actually get one. There is no way to know more than 3 days out what flights will be going where, how many seats will be available, and how many other people you are competing against for potential seats. Even within the 3 day window you can see the flights available, but they are subject to change at any time and you still don’t know how many other people are trying to compete for the same flight as you are.

I knew all of this, but I determined the stress of unpredictability was worth more than the $1,000 or more per person it would cost for me and my daughter to go visit my home town. So off we went on our space-a adventure!

We did make it on a flight, but I found it really difficult to get all the information I wanted before I flew. Fortunately for all of you, I’m a little bit of a bossy know-it-all, so I would love to save you from having to scour the internet for relevant space-a information as I did and tell you exactly what you should do if you want to get on a space-a flight!

Step 1: Determine where you want to go and make a list of passenger terminals

When I flew I knew we wanted to go from Germany to the USA. However, maybe you’re flexible and want to go on an adventure wherever a plane will take you. To find out where space-a passenger terminals are, check out the AMC web page. They have a list of all passenger terminals and when you click on a specific terminal it will take you to the link for their Facebook page or contact information.

If you have a specific area of the USA you are trying to get to but don’t see a passenger terminal listed, look up what the closest Air Force Base or Air National Guard base is to your home town and then go to spacea.net to see if they have contact information for the passenger terminal there.

For example, my parents live like 2 minutes from Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, but they didn’t have a passenger terminal listed on the AMC website. After some research, it turns out that the passenger terminal there is run by civilians, not AMC, but you can still take space-a flights from there. It is not as user-friendly since they don’t have a Facebook page to check the flight schedules, but spacea.net will provide you with the number you can call and get a prerecorded message on their upcoming flights.

Odds of you getting to a specific passenger terminal on the specific day you want are very slim, so a good strategy is to make a list of terminals you wouldn’t mind flying out of (if you’re leaving Germany, it’s pretty easy. You’re only options are Ramstein and Spangdahlem) and a list of terminals you wouldn’t mind flying into. I went with anything on the east coast or Midwest, which gave me a solid list of over a dozen possible places to which I was willing to take a flight or leave from on my way back. On your list make sure to include their Facebook page (if they have one), email address, and phone numbers to the passenger terminal so you can monitor flight information.

Step 2: Get an idea for flight trends and determine when you’re going to fly

Once you have a good list put together, start checking to see the flight trends. I knew I wanted to leave out of Ramstein, so I went to their Facebook page and looked not only at the 72 hour upcoming flight schedule, but their weekly report of what flights actually flew and how many seats they gave away. This gave me a good idea of how likely it would be for me to get to any area of the country. For example, flights to rinky-dink Air National Guard bases on the west coast on cargo planes never seemed to fill up, but those to Baltimore-Washington International on passenger planes filled up instantly. If I wanted to get on one of the later types of flights, I now knew that it might take several days of waiting.

Look for what days of the week seem to leave the most open seats and what flights happen the most often to get a better idea of the flight you might want to shoot for. This is not an exact science and any of these trends can change at any moment, but it does give you a better idea of how early you need to sign up to try to get to a certain location.

Step 3: Sign up for flights

Signing up for flights is actually pretty easy. All you do is send the terminal an email with the following information:

  • Email address
  • Start/end dates of your leave
  • Rank
  • Full Name
  • The country to which you are flying
  • Service branch (Army, Navy, Airforce, etc.)
  • Status (Active, Guard, Reserve, Retired)
  • Passenger names
  • Travel category (Category I: Civilian or Military on Emergency Leave Category II: Environmental Morale Leave (EML) Category III: Active Duty on Ordinary Leave/PCS House Hunting Category IV:  Unaccompanied Dependents (EML) Category V: Permissive TDY/TAD or Command Sponsored Dependents Category VI: Retired Military)
  • Total seats required

I also attached my leave form to the email.

I composed two emails; one to the airports I was trying to fly out of to leave Germany and one to the airports I was trying to fly out of to leave the US and get back home. Send all you emails at the same time! Don’t wait to send the emails for your flights home!

Since space-a seats are given away first by category and then by time you sign up, you want to send your emails as soon as possible. Even if you have to wait a while to get a flight out, you at least should have pretty good luck catching a flight back if you make sure to send all your emails as soon as your leave starts.

Step 4: Go to the terminal on the day you want to fly

I had been watching the 72 hour flight schedules of both Ramstein and Spangdahlem religiously and finally a flight to Wright-Patterson AFB popped up. I decided this was my time to go try and catch a flight.

The flight schedule will say what time roll call for each flight is. Get to the terminal at least an hour before roll call for the flight you want to take.

When you get to the terminal look for long term parking. At Ramstein, this was pretty obvious as there were signs everywhere, but it is a good idea to look up where the parking is ahead of time so you can put it in your GPS. Also, the parking was free (yay!).

Take all your bags and passengers and head into the terminal and look for the “space-a” counter. This is where you check in and say you want to compete for flights. They will get all your information and put a time stamp on your leave form. Now you are checked in for 24 hours

I had wondered if I needed to call ahead of time to let them know I was going to compete for a flight or to make sure they got my email, but you don’t. If you’re worried that they did not get your email, make sure to print it out and take it with you. When you get to the terminal and check in, even if they did not have you in their system they will honor the time that your email was sent.

Step 5: Roll Call

Now things get stressful. Sometime around the time roll call is scheduled they will start announcing the names of people who have made it on the flight. At Ramstein they will call your name twice and if you do not respond, you go to the bottom of the list, so be sure to be where you can hear the announcement and pay attention!

You have to be ready to fly at the time your name is called or your name will go to the bottom of the list. This means have your ID, passenger’s passports, passengers present and ready to go, and bags in hand and ready to be checked. Also, don’t wear your open-toed, open-healed, or high-healed shoes or they can keep you from getting on the plane.

If they call your name, awesome! Go on to the next step! If they don’t call your name, it can be a real bummer. I didn’t make that flight to Wright-Patt that first day and was really frustrated. Decide ahead of time how long you are willing to wait for a flight (my limit was three days) and stick to it. Have a plan B that you can live with just in case you don’t make a flight in your time limit. I waited two days and finally caught a flight to Baltimore on my third day at Ramstein. As soon as I found out I wouldn’t be flying for the day, I went over to the hotel and tried to book a room. If they are full (like they were on my second day of waiting) you can ask for a list of hotels available on the economy and start making some calls.

Step 6: Getting to the plane

After roll call I waited in line for over an hour (I am not exaggerating) to get my boarding ticket. One nice thing about traveling space-a is that on most planes you can check two 70lb bags and take a carry on for free! Also, car seats and strollers do not count against your baggage allowance and you can gate check them so you can keep your kids restrained until you actually get on the flight. Although the baggage allowance is nice, if you can avoid checking bags I highly recommend it. At the end of the flight it took people who checked their bags forever to get them back.

Once you finally make it up to the boarding ticket counter, check your bags, and get a seat assignment it is time to pay. It’s about $34/person for a space-a flight because you are paying the taxes. They took credit/debit cards at Ramstein, but check ahead on the terminal’s website or just bring cash if you aren’t sure. Once you pay you get your boarding ticket and then it’s off to another line to get through security!

The security line was just as long as the ticketing line. It is the same security rules as at a civilian airport. After security a customs officer will glance at your passport or ID card and then you go wait in another line (surprise, surprise) to actually get on the plane. This is the point at which you gate check your strollers if you have them.

Step 7: The flight

They will usually let families with small children get on the flight first. Once you’re on the plane settle in and get comfy! The plane we were on was an actual passenger plane, so it was the same as any other flight I’ve ever been on. However, you could be on less comfortable military aircraft so be sure to come prepared with blankets, pillows, headphones, or whatever you think you’ll need to be comfortable.

Step 8: Arrival

Congrats! You just finished your first space-a flight! But you aren’t done yet! If you just crossed an ocean now you get to wait in…hold on, let the suspense build a minute ‘cause I bet you’ll never guess… another line! This time it’s for customs.

Once you finally make it through customs it’s on to baggage claim. Even if you have a follow on flight you have to get your bags and then re-check them with your next airline. By this point you are probably sick of waiting which is why I suggested to only do carry-ons if at all possible.

Step 9: Getting where you actually want to go

Odds are you did not fly directly into your home town (or wherever your final destination actually is). Since you weren’t sure you would actually get a flight and/or where a flight you could catch would land, now you need to go to a ticket counter and buy a ticket home. If you landed at an Airforce base instead of an airport, ask at the counter for the number for an airport shuttle, and then take the shuttle to an airport and buy a flight to your home town. At the ticket counter be sure to show them your military ID because they probably have a military discount.

Another strategy (which I tried but my stupid iPod wouldn’t connect to the internet) is once your name is called during roll call and you are waiting for hours in a line to get your ticket, get on the internet and book a flight. I would have saved $35 had I been able to do this since they charge you extra for booking flights at the ticket counter.

Step 10: Do a happy dance

OMG, you endured days of waiting, but you saved literally thousands of dollars! Time to celebrate!

Even with all the stress and time spent, I would do space-a again. I mean, it’s a $34 flight! At least now I know what I’m in for and hopefully after reading this, you do too!

Have you ever taken a space-a flight? Let me know about it in the comments below!



10 family activities for under €10 near Hohenfels

Exploring Europe is awesome, but often times it can be time consuming and expensive to plan and take exotic trips with your family. Sometimes all you have is an afternoon to kill and a few bucks in your pocket. From numerous Google searches I know that it can be hard to find something to do nearby when you don’t even know the language or what to look for online. I’ve done the “work” for you and checked out all kinds of cool places with my family just so I can share them with you (I know, it’s a hard job but someone’s gotta do it)! Here’s a list of fun stuff for you and your kids to check out near Hohenfels all for under €10 per person!

P.S. If you’re looking for more fun things to do without going too far check out my post on Boring Sundays in Bavaria10 Family Friendly Things to do near Hohenfels

  1. Explore a cave in Velburg

The entrance to this cave is located in the Erlebinswelt Velburg complex which has a high Caveropes course, ATV tours of the forest, a biergarten and hiking trails. All of these things look pretty awesome and if you have older kids, be sure to check them out, but with little ones and a small budget you’re probably better off sticking with the cave. You have to buy tickets at the booth for a guided tour as you are not allowed in on your own but it’s only €4 for adults and €2,50 for kids ages 3-15. We ended up going on a tour with a group from a nursing home which actually was nice because they all seemed to find our children endearing rather than annoying. The cave is nice and cool so this is a good activity for those hot summer days!

  1. Check out a monument to victory over Napoleon and a medieval castle near Regensburg

Befreiungshalle Kelheim (Kelheim Hall of Liberation) was built by King Ludwig I to commemorate both the victorious battles against Napoleon and the unification of all the German races. Check out the giant limestone and marble statues and enjoy the view of Bavaria. Nearby is Burg Prunn which is a medieval castle which dates back to the year 1037! The castle has interactive exhibits so you can truly get an idea of what it was like to live in the middle ages. Buy a combination ticket and see both in one afternoon for €7,50 (or use your Bavarian Castle Pass and get in free like I talk about in this post).

  1. Go to a Chocolate factory

Chocolate? Check. Coffee? Check. Gummy bear cave? Check. Animatronic elephants? Check. I love it when a place is less than 20 minutes from my home and easy to find – like, you literally can see it from the highway easy to find. This little chocolate factory is fun for younger children and the only cost you’ll incur is that of the delicious chocolate you will WildLifeParkinevitably buy.

  1. Play at the Free Wildlife Park

This place is only 30 minutes from Hohenfels, is open all the time and is free! They have deer, pigs, donkeys, sheep, a lake with waterfowl of all kinds, nature trails and an awesome playground. Plus, they have an automatic animal food pellet dispenser so you can feed the animals for 50 cents. Read more about it in this post by MilliGFunk!

  1. Step back in time with the Open Air Museum

This is an outdoor museum set up like an old-timey farming village where you can experience what it was like to be a farmer, beekeeper, black smith and many other things. Sundays you can buy bread that’s baked in their antique oven, they hold special historical and cultural events throughout the year and of course they’ve got a playground too. Only €12 for a family day pass.

  1. Go to a fest

If you want to experience Bavaria in all its glory (think beer and lederhosen) then you need to check out some fests. Everybody knows about Oktoberfest in Munich, but throughout the summer and early fall almost every town in Bavaria has some type of Volksfest. Click on the “Go to a fest” link above which has all the major fests in Bavaria listed alphabetically by town.

  1. Fossil hunting and museum

I don’t know about you, but my boys absolutely love dinosaurs. Bring out your inner paleontologist by checking out this fossil museum. Buy the combo ticket and rent some chisels and shovels (combo ticket and tool rental comes out to less than €5/person!) and start excavating the nearby dig site. You can take the fossils you find home with you too. Super cool!

  1. Take a guided city tour Amberg or Regensburg

Take a tour of a city you think you’re familiar with and you’ll be surprised how much you can learn! Walking tours are a great way to get some exercise and discover hidden secrets nearby. Amberg and Regensburg tourist information offices both offer guided tours in English. Amberg’s is only €9 for a whole family! Regensburg is not as cheap at €16 for the family ticket but they also offer special kids tours in English if you have a group of kids (perhaps a scout troop or playgroup) that look pretty cool.

  1. See Walhalla & take a trip to Ikea

Perched on a hill overlooking the Danube is a giant memorial modelled after the Parthenon IkeaIceCreamand named after the home of Viking gods. Inside it is filled with busts of famous Germans. It only costs €4 for adults to go in and look around. Staying outside and taking in the spectacular views is free. Walhalla is basically just one big room so it probably won’t take you more than 30 minutes to see the whole thing. Why not go ahead and take the 12 minute drive to Ikea afterward to grab yourselves some 50 cent ice cream cones? Is this just an excuse to go to Ikea? Maybe. “Honey what did you and the kids do today?” “We went and saw an architectural masterpiece/treasure-trove of German culture and history and went to Ikea”

  1. Give glass blowing a try

I haven’t been to the Joska glass center yet but really want to check it out! Apparently Bavaria is famous for glass making. There are driving tours of eastern Bavaria that take you through numerous towns renowned for their glass making abilities. This place is one of the stops on the glass route that looked the most interactive and kid-friendly. It has a huge kid’s play area, restaurants, shops and – wait for it – you can blow your own works of glass to take home with you!

Phew! That list should keep you occupied for a while! Let me know if you’ve tried glass blowing and how it is or if you have any other things you would add to the list in the comments below! Don’t forget to share this with your friends on Facebook and save it on Pinterest for later!



5 Days in the Netherlands: Part 1

Of the time I was in Germany I spent two months waiting on passports for my boys, nine months pregnant and not willing to leave the country, and another two months waiting for my baby girl’s passport to arrive after she was born. As soon as that sucker came in the mail I planned a trip to the Netherlands. Why the Netherlands? Well, it was within driving distance and I remembered my mom saying it was one of her favorite places to visit when she lived in Germany as a child. So I did my research, planned our route, booked rooms and tours and we headed out on our five day journey.

Day 1: Driving

We left early-afternoon Friday so the boys wouldn’t miss too many days of kindergarten. Schloss BergWe drove and drove until we got to Solingen, Germany which is near Frankfurt and Cologne off the A3. I chose this location because although we could have driven straight to the Netherlands, it would have taken 7-8 hours without traffic or any stops. That means that for our family it would have taken about 12 hours because we have to stop practically every hour to pee, or to breast feed, or to get gas, or for dinner, or to get coffee, or… you get the idea. Plus there is always traffic. Like always. Every. Single. Time. Anyway, Solingen was a little over half way and I had done a Google search for “castles near Frankfurt” and Castle Burg in Solingen had shown up. I figured the stop would give us a break from driving overnight and something cool and inexpensive to see the next day. The drive went pretty much as expected. Lots of stops, lots of traffic, lots of my husband swearing this was the last vacation we were ever going on. What should have taken 3 hours took 5. Fortunately I had downloaded some children’s audiobooks to my iPod so we had some entertainment for the trip. This was the first time I had thought to do this and it was seriously the best idea. My only regret was that it was such a good idea that we listened to all the books I had downloaded before we started our drive home.

We stayed at an AirBNB property in Solingen that night. This was the first time I had used AirBNB and I was pleasantly surprised. I made sure to book with one of the people that the website recommended as reputable that had a lot of good reviews since I had heard horror stories of people canceling their bookings on visitors the night before or the property being really shady, etc. Fortunately, the apartment was really cute and in a quiet neighborhood. It was the whole top floor of a large house and was set up like a 2 bedroom apartment with a little living area and our own bathroom/shower. The beds were so much more comfortable than regular hotel beds and it was really nice having a separate bedroom for the boys so we could actually all get some sleep. Plus, the gentleman that owned the house and lived on the lower floor left chocolates on the adult’s bed and Kinder Eggs on the kid’s bed, which our boys LOVED. The showers were nice, the rest was great, and we woke up in the morning to some fresh coffee.

Day 2: Burg Castle and more driving

Jonah and daddy castleWe got up, packed up, and moved out. On our way up to the castle we stopped at a McDonalds drive through (I know, I know… we’re soooo American) and grabbed some croissants and coffee for breakfast. Burg castle was awesome. Up on a mountain, like so many German castles, it had a great view (it would have been better if it weren’t cloudy that day, but still). There is actually a ski-lift type thing you can ride to the top, but with a 5-year old, 2-year old, and an infant we thought it best to skip that attraction – I could just imagine my boys squeeling with excitement as they squirmed off the ski lift chair and plummeted to their deaths, so nope. The castle is a whole compound with shops, restaurants and cafes surrounding the center palace museum. The inside of the actual castle building is really cool with all kinds of medieval artifacts, taxidermy, weapons and artwork and a huge tower that you can climb all the way to the top. Of course all the signs were in German, but with three little kids who has time to actually read the signs in a museum anyway? They also do some kind of German version of medieval LARPing on the castle grounds, so there were a bunch of people dressed up as knights and peasants as we were making our way out. One of the “knights” even let our 5-year old hold a sword which, unfortunately for the “knight”, our son was unimpressed with. Sorry knight. Bring a lightsaber next time or something, then maybe we’ll be impressed.

After exploring the castle for a few hours we had lunch at a little waffle restaurant in the castle compound and then made our way out. Overall review for the castle: it’s a good family activity, maybe better for kids over 4, or at least those that can walk on their own. There are a lot of stairs and narrow passageways so a stroller wouldn’t really work – if you’ve got tiny ones, bring a carrier. This is a decent rainy day activity as there is a lot to do inside the castle. You do have to walk outside a little bit, but it’s not bad. Cost is not bad a few Euro for parking and €5 for adults, €2,50 for kids ages 3-18 to get in. I’d do it again if I was nearby.

We continued on our way and drove to our campsite in the Netherlands. The drive was not nearly as bad as the previous day’s as most major cities were behind us. It was amazing how as soon as you cross the border into the Netherlands you go from hilly forest country to flat farmland. The farther into the Netherlands we drove the more canals we saw and finally we started seeing a few windmills off the highway here and there. The campsite we stayed at was about half way between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. I am used to Germany which is a big country with cities that are far apart, so when I was looking for the best location to stay I was stressing out because the windmills were on one side of the country, Amsterdam is on another, Maurodam is somewhere else, the tulips aren’t near the windmills, ack! However, once we got there we quickly realized that all these “far apart” things are only like an hour from each other. The country is really small. If you have a car, it doesn’t matter where in the Netherlands you stay, believe me, you will be able to see everything in a few days. Driving in the Netherlands is pretty easy, the roads are nice, there are no tolls, plenty of gas stations and traffic isn’t bad at all.

Finally we made it to our camp site. We rented a trailer at a camp ground. We got this idea from our vacation last summer when we went tent camping through France. We noticed from our sad little tent that there were happy people on the other side of the campsites who had trailers with real beds, real kitchens, and *gasp* their own private toilets! Once we got home from that trip I got online and discovered that many campsites across Europe have trailers like this and they’re pretty affordable. For example, a spot to pitch your tent for the night usually costs 20-30 Euro per night. Our trailer cost us 75 Euro per night. A hotel would have cost us at least 100 Euro per night for a family of five, and it would have been a single room in a hotel that may not have been so nice and probably would have either had no onsite parking or very expensive onsite parking. The trailer had three bedrooms, its own kitchen stocked with utensils and cook ware, our own bathroom, cable tv, free Wi-Fi, a little private yard, easy parking, a playground, bicycles to rent and indoor swimming pool on the campsite. And we were there in the off-season, if we had been there from April-September they also would have had a little grocery store, restaurant, and kids club available. If you’re cheap, but don’t want to have to deal with packing a ton of your own stuff, I think a trailer is the way to go.

That night I went to a nearby grocery store, grabbed some food to make for dinner and breakfast the next day, and we enjoyed an evening in our little trailer.

Day 3: Tulip Fields and Windmills

So the tulips. Yeah. Okay, so I was thinking “we’ll go to Holland and we’ll just be driving through fields and fields of colorful flowers”, and the websites all said “you’ll go to Holland and you’ll just be driving through fields and fields of colorful flowers”. I did my research. I Googled the best driving routes. I read reviews. The internet told me there would be flowers as early as January – sure the tulips bloom in April, but all other sorts of flowers should be blooming before then! Nope. We were there in March and it was too early. We drove around for a few hours and saw a few fields of daffodils and aNate beach lot of fields of dirt which I’m sure a month later would have been beautiful and full of tulips. So don’t do that. If you want to see the flowers really wait until April.

Since I didn’t want to have driven an hour in one direction and NOT see ANYTHING, we decided to head to the beach. Yes I know it was March. Obviously we didn’t swim, but it was nice to get out of the car and see the ocean. The boys enjoyed running around, playing in the sand, and picking up sea shells. There were people riding horses and my 2-year old really liked looking at the horsies. The baby wasn’t a big fan of the wind, so after a while we headed back to the car and fed her and made ourselves some PB&J sandwiches before our drive back to our camp site.

By the time we were back at our trailer it was early afternoon. We put the little ones down for a nap and I looked up the best places to see windmills. Originally I hadn’t planned on going to see the windmills because the site that had the best reviews (Kinderdijk) was the opposite direction of the flower driving route and also didn’t really look to be near Amsterdam, which was on the agenda for the following day. However, as I mentioned earlier, the Netherlands is a small country. So although it’s noIn the windmillt right next to Amsterdam, the windmills were less than an hour away from our campsite. I checked to see what time they would close (5:30pm) and once we realized we had plenty of time we got the kids up and ready and headed out.

I am so glad we decided to squeeze this into our vacation because Kinderdijk was our FAVORITE part of the whole trip! On the drive there our GPS led us on a route that took our car across a river on a ferry boat (like 2 Euros we hadn’t planned on but soooooo cool for little boys), which was neat. The town the windmills are in is really cute. You pay a few Euro for parking and then you can just walk right on down to the windmills. You can either just look at the outside of the windmills or pay €7,50 per person to view an informational movie and go inside two of the windmills. We did the latter. The movie was really informative and I learned more about windmills than I ever will need to know. It was Dutch with English subtitles, so between chasing down our kids in the theater and trying to read we caught maybe 2/3rds of what the movie actually said, but between my husband and I we were able to put the story together. Also, while we were waiting for the movie to start in our language we had a nice conversation with a Dutch man that works there and he was able to tell us boys windmillsmore facts about the Netherlands and was very patient with our inquisitive 5-year old who wanted to know everything about how the canals work. After the movie we walked down the row of windmills and went inside the two windmills that they have set up as museums. It was so cool! You could see all the giant gears turning and look at the recreated living spaces and imagine how it must have been to live and work in one of those windmills. My 5-year old especially loved it.

I highly recommend the windmills, and I’m sure if you go the right time of year the tulips are great too. It’s nice because you can do both in the same day, and both of these attractions are available to do on a Sunday (that’s the day of the week we went) when most other attractions/businesses are closed. They are both good, affordable family activities. You could definitely take a stroller to see the windmills if you wanted to, but you would have to leave it outside when you actually go in the windmill and you might still want to have a carrier if your baby can’t walk because there are ladders to climb to get to the top floors of the windmills.

Phew! We did a lot in three days! Next post I’ll let you know how the rest of our trip went. Leave your comments below!



Hohenfels Castle

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I lived five minutes from Hohenfels castle but it took me over a year to go explore the place. Part of the reason was that when I would drive through the town of Hohenfels, I just didn’t see an entry way anywhere. Most of the reason was that I just got too busy with life to look at what was right in front of me.

Most people in the world have probably never heard of Hohenfels, Germany. I know about it because I was stationed at the Army post in the town. In the town there are castle ruins that sit atop the hill that overlooks the town. There is still a huge tower that is mostly intact that you can see clearly as you drive through the town. So finally, while I was on maternity leave and had no excuse about not having the time to go up to the castle, we decided to go figure out how to get up that hill.

Capture
Red=Parking Area Yellow=Little Yellow Church Green=Castle Tower

At first I looked up online how to get to the castle, but I couldn’t find anything. There was a little information about the history of the town and castle. As it turns out the castle dates all the way back to the 1200’s! Perhaps if I knew what to search for in German, I would have been able to find more. As it was, we took the main road into the town and parked near a tiny church that looked like it was near a road that might lead up to the castle. If you are ever in Hohenfels and want to know how to get there, take the main road that goes past JMRC into Hohenfels and park in the parking lot on the right-hand side across from the little yellow church where all the glass recycling bins are. Once you’re out of your car cross the street and just walk up the road near the little church toward the castle. There is no trick or turns or anything that you have to worry about, as long as you are going up toward the castle, you’re on the right path.

We followed the little path and then we came to the castle. It is mostly just ruins, but you can walk around where the castle used to be and look at the old rock walls, stand near the tower and imagine how it must have been to build something so huge and high up so many years ago, and enjoy a great view of the town of Hohenfels. It really is beautiful, especially in the spring when the flowers are blooming or in the few weeks of fall when the leaves are all different colors. After you are done taking in the sights it is  just a short walk to the center of town where you can grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants.

This was a good family activity. It’s free, so that’s always awesome. The walk was not bad at all. Even with little kids it took us about 10 minutes to get to the top from the parking lot. The only caveat is that this is not stroller friendly and you need to hold on to your kids while you’re up on the castle because it is literally on a cliff. We had the baby in the carrier and kept hold of our two boy’s hands at all times and did fine. Happy hiking!