Thursday, September 27, 2018

Weekend Adventures {Germany + Oktoberfest}

Well, I had an amazing chance to head back to Germany (just a few short weeks after our family trip -- just one of the perks of living in Europe).  The main purpose of the trip was to go to Oktoberfest but also go to Nürnberg (Nuremberg) to go to their Nürnberger Alstadfest (Old Town Festival).  This was a kid/husband-free trip so it was a tad wild and super busy but a lot of fun.

I went with two other friends (and we met up with some other friends at Oktoberfest).  We flew into Frankfurt as it was the cheapest + closest airport to München (Munich).*  I had been to Frankfurt two years ago and it wasn't the best trip (we all got super sick and spent our whole trip in a hotel room) so I was looking forward to exploring the city a bit more this time around.  I flew in a good eight hours a head of my friends so I had almost the whole day to explore by myself.  Frankfurt does have some great museums, but I spent my time wandering, eating and doing a little shopping.  We all stayed at easyHotel Frankfurt -- a no frills hotel that was actually great, but be prepared to pay for anything extra (wifi, cleaning if you want it, a remote for the TV, etc).  This place is good for dinner but the portions are large and the food is rich (but still really good) and I cannot recommend The Kinly Bar enough -- it is a speakeasy so no sign, just a black door in a little sketchy neighborhood but some of the best cocktails I have ever had (cash only!)**

The next day we then took the train to Nürnberg where we met up with my friend's brother in law.  We grabbed some food at random street vendors and went to the Nürnberger Alstadfest which was quite fun.  We started out at the bierwerk tent (really more like tables with a canopy over some of them) where we had super yummy beers and just hung out -- chatted, played some card games.  We took a short break from the festival and wandered through the pedestrian only part of Nürnberg.  This area is actually really large and leaves you feeling like Nürnberg is a small town when in reality it is quite large.  We know that there are plenty of amazing things to do in Nürnberg but our sole purpose for this trip was festivals, so we went back to the festival to experience a different tent and just the whole German festival experience (sharing tables, drinking, eating all the yummy Germany food, singing, people watching, etc.)!

Our next day was a day trip to München for Oktoberfest.  We opted to stay in Nürnberg as it was considerably cheaper and while Oktoberfest is truly amazing, we really only needed one day.  We took a super early train from Nürnberg to München and it was a rowdy train even with the early time.  We arrived in München and it was a little rainy so we went straight to the fairgrounds where Oktoberfest is held.  We took the obligatory pictures in front of the opening gate.

First,  Oktoberfest is a huge (HUGE) festival that lasts a little over two weeks each year (always in mid/late September).  Oktoberfest is basically like  Spain's feria but on a much larger scale and with beer -- traditional drinks, traditional outfits/costumes, traditional music and traditional food.  Oktoberfest is held on fairgrounds with make-shift (but insanely elaborate and large) tents, rides, food vendors -- just a much more fun, amazing and better county fair :)  The tents are HUGE and made to fit thousands (and thousands) of people.  Each are highly decorated (the ceilings in them are super elaborate) and worth a walk through.  Each tent serves beer and food, typically only one special festival beer in one liter size only and the food was amazing (so order a lot).       

You can only be served if you are sitting at a table, so the goal is to get a seat -- tents typically have inside and outside seating.  Most people want to be inside as the weather can be unpredictable (and in my opinion, inside is more fun).  The for sure way to get a table inside is to reserve one, but that can get expensive.  So be prepared to not get a seat at an inside table... However, we somehow got extremely lucky and got a seat at the Hofbräu Festzelt (Hofbräuhaus) tent so we sat, ordered a beer and didn't leave... met up with our friends who were also in München, met a lot of really great people who shared our table, ate amazing food, drank a good amount of beer, sang some German songs and overall had the time of our lives.

Our last full day in Germany was supposed to be another day trip on our way back to Frankfurt before our flight -- we were planning on going to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  However, there was a huge storm that rolled in the night before and caused some serious damage to many of the train tracks, including almost all the "fast train" train tracks heading out of Nürnberg... So our train to Rothenburg ob de Tauber was canceled.  Along with tons of other trains that day.  We opted just to get back to Frankfurt as we weren't sure how long it would take us.  It all worked out in the end and we had a relaxing end to a very fun trip.

*Getting to and from the main Frankfort Airport is fairly easy but does take a bit of patience and sign reading.  If you land in terminal one, just go straight to the train station and catch an S-bahn train that is going into the city (it will be about 5).  If you arrive in terminal two you can take the airport shuttle bus or the airport tram to terminal one and then walk to the train station and take an S-bahn train into the city... basically just follow the opposite route for getting to the airport from the city!

**Germany is a cash economy.  They use cash for everything and many many places don't take credit cards (even some hotels).  Oktoberfest is cash only for everything, so be prepared to have cash on hand.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Travel Tips {Travel with a Preschooler}

Our little Peanut is growing up, so I thought I would update my travel tips -- this time with a preschooler (where did the time go?).  I wrote about plane travel with a (pre)toddler here, and our favorite gear here and tips for day trips (by car) here.  And while some of it is the same, some has changed, so I figured I would combine all my tips for traveling with older toddlers/preschoolers here!

Gear -- Stroller + Carrier + Car Seat
No matter where we are going or for how long, our stroller comes with us -- it can hold our bags, our kid will gladly sit in it, she can sleep in it, it holds stuff for the day when we are out exploring, and more.  We pack in some pretty long days when traveling and while our little lady can walk (and loves to), she struggles to keep up and cover all of our ground.  A stroller just makes our lives easier.  I love traveling with a stroller and I love the City Mini in particular.  I have talked about my love of our stroller many many times on the blog (herehere, and here just to name a few).  This bad boy folds up with one hand, is extremely sturdy and has been able to do small towns and big cities and everything in between.

I do bring our toddler Tula to use on travel days -- usually in the airport and getting on and off the plane.  Just keeps us all safe, usually we have to walk onto the tarmac to get to the plane when using budget airlines.  We don't typically use the Tula when we are in cities or day tripping but it is handy to have just in case.

If we are renting a car, we take our new car seat -- we upgraded to the next size as our Peanut was fast out growing our other travel car seat (we loved this one, lasted us two and a half years).  We took our new car seat on our recent trip to Germany and it was amazing!  Extremely lightweight and still fit in our car seat bag (which I highly recommend).  The massive benefit of bringing our own car seat is that it is checked for free -- we've never had any issues with the multiple budget airlines we've flown.  We load up the car seat bag with lightweight stuff (I make sure the bag weighs no more than 10kg) and no one has questioned us so far (fingers crossed).  And when we usually have to pay a hefty fee for a checked bag, this is a huge win!

I'll start right off with the big guns -- our tablet. We have a lower end older Samsung tablet (can't even find it on Amazon) that we are currently using strictly for travel.  We have pretty much used up all the storage on ours, so if anyone has any recommendations for a new one, let me know!  We also bring our kid headphones for Serafina to use.  And we load our tablet up with:

Apps: We use a combination of educational apps and just plain entertaining apps.  Honestly, there are times for both and Serafina will gladly play both.  Really our only requirement is that the app works without wifi as it often isn't available.  Our current favorite apps are: Daniel Tiger (PBS Kids doesn't work in Spain so we have to download all PBS apps separately), Endless 123Endless ABC (for both Endless apps we have paid for the full app), Busy Shapes and Khan Academy Kids (this one does require wifi so we typically only use it when we are in the hotel/apartment for the evening).  We are always looking for new apps to change it up, so please let me know your favorites!

TV Shows/Movies: Again we typically go for high interest shows, but our kid actually likes the educational ones so it works!  And we have had to get creative with our downloads as we can't purchase/download some things because we live in Spain.  But our current favorite shows and movies are: Daniel Tiger, Little Einsteins, Paw Patrol, Blues Clues, Trolls, Frozen, Cinderella, Snow White... 

Other Entertainment: We almost always bring a super cheap coloring book and crayons/colored pencils (picked up from Spain's version of the dollar store); I can usually find cheap sticker books too and bring those.  We also travel with a few Melissa and Doug On The Go products -- our favorites are the Water Wow, the Magic Color and the Color-N-Carry (I usually stock up on a few at a time during sales).  We also really like the Crayola Color Wonder as then we don't have to worry about things getting colored that shouldn't be colored!  And finally, I cannot take credit for this but I tell everyone about this trick :)  Save all those stupid Happy Meal toys, birthday party trinkets... all the little toys that cost you next to nothing.  And throw them into a bag -- I personally use one of my Ipsy bags -- and call it good.  If you lose one of those toys, who cares but they will entertain your child for hours!  This bag of toys comes everywhere with us, not just traveling and I change out the toys frequently.  And finally, we usually travel with one new book that we pull out right when we get on the airplane. 

Because I have food allergies we always bring a few granola bars with us (and also helps that Serafina will eat the granola bars too if needed).  We prefer to stay in apartments if we have more than one night in a city, so we also pack one or two of these nasty rice packets (no judging, I know they are gross and unhealthy) to use if needed.  Serafina eats them, they are super easy to make, cost next to nothing and take up no room in the suitcase.  Our sweet girl is not a huge fan of eating while traveling (too much to see and do) so we resort to anything and everything to get her to eat -- the rice packets, lots of french fries, croissants, bread, platefuls of cucumbers.  I would not consider our kid a picky eater, until we travel (ugh)!  We also pack some snacks for the airplane -- sunbutter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, goldfish crackers, and a treat.  Serafina loves M&Ms and Smarties so we bring a package and slowly dole them out on the plane (ask for an extra cup from the flight attendants to use to hold the candies -- works great).

Other Tips:
European airports are often extremely kid friendly and most have a play area for kids centrally located (even the super small airports) which is where we will typically hang out before going to our gate -- we are usually one of last ones to board.*  But if your airport doesn't have a play area, just let kids run up and down the airport!  Our kid really likes airplanes and airports, so for the most part she is well behaved which makes travel days just slightly easier.  

Our kid also likes museums, not as much as she used to so now we make games out of going to museums -- scavenger hunts for animals in pictures/sculptures, different colors, etc.  We point out our favorite paintings/sculptures and ask her for her favorites.  We also let her take pictures of what she likes which really helps -- and she comes up with some amazing pictures!  We do have this camera that she uses at home and we will for sure be taking it on our next trip.

So we do a healthy mix of museums/adult activities, usually in the morning when she is less tired and in a better mood and then add in fun/kid activities as well, such as interactive museums (natural history museums), parks, zoos, etc -- and bribe her with ice cream when all else fails :)  When planning our trips, Trevor and I discuss the places/museums/etc we most definitely want to see and we make those a priority, then add in other activities for all of us to enjoy too.

And just like when she was little, we always travel with a backpack full of the usual necessities: wipes, change of clothes, a few snacks, and the entertainment things we will need for the day/airplane trip (we always bring the tablet and kid headphones, the bag of toys and at least one or two art activities -- whatever else we have brought with us stays in the hotel room and we rotate the art activities/books, etc. if needed).  

While traveling with kids (at any age really) can be difficult, it is also so rewarding.  We see and experience things we never would have if it weren't for Serafina which makes our travels that much more fun -- the key is to laugh a lot and be flexible.  Hope you all enjoy your travels and leave any other tips and tricks in the comments!

*I know there is much debate on first or last to board with kids and we have done both.  With budget airlines, unless you have paid for a priority ticket (which we never do), you are forced to wait in a LONG line so.... we let our kid play until the line dies down and then we board.  Flying budget airlines is an adventure in itself and probably does deserve its own post one day!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Longer Travels {Germany -- Berlin}

After we spent a few days in the Saxony region of Germany, we returned to Berlin for a packed two and a half days.  We turned our car back into the airport* and got our time in Berlin started!  Fair warning, we did all of this in two and a half days.  We wanted to see as much as possible so our days were long and busy but actually really amazing.

Some general tips for Berlin -- we flew into Tegel airport and while there isn't a train going to the airport, there is a direct bus that will take you to various main spots in the city.  We opted for a taxi as it was just easier with Serafina and all of our stuff (and cost only 20 that included a tip).  We stayed here and it was just a tad sketch but it worked for us -- the neighborhood was a really weird mix of run down/a little ghetto and super high end with designer stores but also amazing food and we felt perfectly safe.

Berlin is huge and has an extensive bus/tram/metro/train system and you will be using it to get around a lot or at least we did since we covered a ton of ground during our time in Berlin.**  We purchased a multi-day pass online prior to arriving.  We went with the Berlin Welcome Card and did the 72 hour card that included admission to all the museums on Museum Island.  You need to print the card at home and you need A4 size paper (European standard size)... although I am fairly certain the only part you need would print just fine on regular paper (8 1/2 x 11).  But the nice thing is that your card is truly 72 hours, you put in the time you want it to start and it expired exactly 72 hours later which worked in our favor and saved us money.  Most city cards like this claim to be 72 (or 48) hours but it really means that number of days and if you validate your card in the evening on day one, you just wasted a full day of your card, make sense?  Berlin also has a museum pass but it didn't make sense for us personally as most of what we wanted to see was free.

Also, if you want a cheaper version of a hop on/hop off bus, take the #100 bus throughout the city -- lucky for us we happened to be staying right by a stop for this bus so we took it frequently.  It went past a lot of the major sights in the city and was pretty fun to ride (especially the double decker ones).***
So what to do in Berlin --

The Berlin Zoo
The zoo was seriously amazing.  One of the best we have ever seen -- big and awesome and so much fun.  We met up with our friends from Spain who also happened to be in Berlin and our girls had a blast running around.  We spent hours at the zoo and still didn't even see all of it!  The girls found an amazing playground and hung out there for a good hour.  Seriously, go to the zoo just for this playground!  There were so many animals and so much to see, if you like zoos -- highly recommend this one.
Museumsinsel (Museum Island) and Berliner Dom
Five of Berlin's top museums are on this island -- housing many of Berlin's most famous artifacts.  The island also has the Berliner Dom (Cathedral) that is the slightly over the top cathedral built during Kaiser Wilhem's rule -- worth a look and a picture as you walk past it on your way to the museums.  Right now the whole museum area is going through a huge renovation so some museums are only partially opened and not all items are on display.  We bought tickets ahead of time (along with our Berlin Welcome Card) so it was nice to cut the line and go right in.  We went to two of the museums -- the Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum) which houses artifacts from the ancient world.  We were all wowed by the Ishtar Gate -- gorgeous blue mostly reconstruction (some original tiles) of the gate Nebuchadnezzar II built to enter Babylon is 575 BC.  It was seriously impressive and because we went first thing in the morning we were there with very few people (... for about 5 minutes!).  Sadly the namesake of the museum -- the Pergamon Alter -- is closed during the renovations until 2019.  We also went to the Neues (New) Museum which really has nothing new in it... it houses the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti, housed in a room by herself and no pictures allowed but seriously awesome to see.  Both of these museums were really great and while not insanely toddler friendly (both were pretty quiet), they each had really good access for those with a stroller.

Checkpoint Charlie
The main way for foreigners and diplomats to get between the two Berlins during the Berlin Wall era (and also famous for the stand off between US and Soviet tanks).  Nowadays the actual border crossing has a museum and is a slightly tacky/tourist trap including a mock-up of the original guard station including actors posing as American guards.  You can technically get your passport stamped here (for a fee) but we read it invalidates your passport...
Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror)
We hadn't planned on going to this museum but Serafina fell asleep in the stroller and we were nearby so we went... and wow.  The exact area of the museum was once the headquarters for the Gestapo and SS during WWII -- it focuses on how the Nazis came to power and carried out their awful plan.  This was well worth a visit (and free) but note that it was practically silent in the whole museum so if you take kids have them be sleeping or distracted.  There are no artifacts, it is pictures and very detailed descriptions that you read, but still so very powerful.  Outside there is also a good portion of the wall still intact so worth a walk by to at least see the wall.
DDR Museum
The DDR Museum is an interactive museum showing what life was like in East Germany but without the negative spin most people/museums give it.  This place was awesome!  Our little lady had SO.MUCH.FUN touching everything and playing with everything... there was a whole room dedicated to what a nursery school/kindergarten was like in East Germany and well, we hung out there for a good while.  Fair warning, I guess the East Germans were nudists (or liked to sunbathe nude) so there were some larger pictures and video of a lot of naked people with no censoring whatsoever.

Reichstag Building
The Reichstag Building is German's parliament building -- and completely worth going.  It was built in the 1890s, the German Republic was proclaimed here in 1918 but then the building almost burned down in 1933 and was barely used until 1999 when German parliament meet here again for the first time in 66 years.  The building now has a gorgeous class dome/cupola that the public can visit for free but reservations are absolutely required -- you can request a time slot reservation here (and it is a few step/day process: request three times slots, you will get an email, respond to the email, then you'll finally get another email with a letter/ticket).  Security is tight (makes sense, it is a functioning government building) so make sure you have ID and your ticket for everyone in your group.  Once on the top of the building, get the free audio guide which automatically narrates the view as you walk up the spiral ramp (yay for being stroller friendly) of the dome.  It is quite impressive and gives you a very cool view of the city as well as an awesome history lesson!

Brandenburger Tor (Brandonburg Gate) and Unter den Linden
One of Beriln's most famous landmarks -- a huge columned gateway at the end of a gorgeous tree lined street (Unter den Linden) and also at the former border of East and West Berlin.  The Brandenburger Tor was a symbol of Prussian Berlin but is more well known for for being the symbol of a divided Berlin and became the sight of great celebration when the wall fell in 1989.  Unter den Linden was the most elegant street in Prussian Berlin and today it is under a lot of construction to build a new tram/subway (something) line.
Denkmal für die Ermordeten Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe)
This Holocaust memorial was completed in 2005 and has 2,711 gravestone-like pillars rising in different heights, creating a maze over a large area that you can walk through.  The memorial itself is somber and definitely worth seeing, but to get an even bigger effect go underneath the memorial to the Informational Center (it's free) which delves into the victims of the Holocaust, mostly through pictures and written explanations.  It is moving and powerful and I did not leave with dry eyes.  And yes, we took Serafina.  We put on a high interest app/TV show on her tablet, put on her headphones and the large canopy on the stroller down so she couldn't see or hear anything and it worked for us.

Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial)
The Berlin Wall ran right along Bernauer Strasse which now has a few exhibits remembering the wall and what life was like during the division of Berlin.  The Memorial has a welcome center, a good stretch of the wall still standing, a documentation center and more -- it spans a good couple of blocks of the street.  The documentation center is worth a visit because it is the last place that has the wall system (inner and outer wall) intact showing the no-man's-land death strip -- walk up to the top of the building to view over the wall.
Throughout the city there are random places that still have fragments of the wall standing and also on the ground there are stones/tiles marking where the wall once stood.  We never made it out to the East Side Gallery where more of the wall still stands and is decorated with famous works of art.  

Museum fürNaturkunde (Museum of Natural History)
This museum is really only worth a visit if you have kids and especially if you have kiddos who love dinosaurs -- the museum has the largest dinosaur skeleton ever assembled.  And currently has a huge skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex that just amazed our little lady. 
Berlin has plenty of gorgeous plazas/squares to walk through and most likely you will see many of them just as you are touring throughout the city.  Alexandarplaz was the commercial pride of East Berlin and nowadays this area is a transportation hub and known for its retro World Time Clock and Fernsehturm (TV Tower) -- we chose not to go up the tower but you can, just make sure you reserve a time slot/ticket in advance.  Potsdamer Platz is a huge commercial center and nearby is the Mall of Berlin that has a super extensive food court if you are looking for diverse fast food.  It also has a two-story slide that I do not recommend going down (it goes super fast and I lost a few layers of skin on my elbow).  Gendarmenmark is another cool square with two large and gorgeous churches but more importantly, it has Rausch Schokoladenhaus a super yummy chocolate shop which is a must for any chocolate lover -- to grab a treat and to see the amazing chocolate sculptures.  We also wandered through parts of Humbolt University (famous for being one of Europe's greatest universities) and saw the memorial to a notorious Nazi book burning in 1933.

Mall of Berlin
chocolate shop sculptures


Humbolt University 
So where to eat in Berlin -- well, Berlin has a lot of offer in the way of yummy and amazing food and has so many different options.  We usually had breakfast in our apartment, but there were plenty of bakeries that we often got pretzels at as a mid-morning snack.  We ate lunch at House of Small Wonder and holy cow was it good, it has an all day brunch menu that is American, European and Japanese fusion.  This beer garden had great beers and had a huge area for Serafina to run around.  We grabbed a beer and a bite to eat at the Stone Brewing Tap Room (a San Diego brewery for anyone looking for American style beers) -- the beer was good and the food was so-so.  We ate here for kebabs and it was also amazing, really good french fries that our kid inhaled.  Stavros Grill was amazing Greek food with the best tzatziki ever (they had an English menu but for sure no one spoke English here).  And finally we had great burgers at Upper Burger Grill and really good sweet potato fries.  We pretty much ate and drank our way through Berlin (and all of Germany). 
Berlin was so much more than Trevor and I ever expected.  I had been once -- a good twenty (or more) years before and didn't remember much...  This city was amazing, a perfect combination of things we love about other European cities.  And fairly toddler friends, everyone we encountered was extremely nice and helpful to us.  Berlin is easily now of our favorite cities -- and comes highly recommend by this blogger (and her family)!

*Berlin currently has two smaller airports rather than one big large international airport -- in fact the airports in other German cities are much larger.  But remember, Berlin was a divided city up until 1989, so the two airports make a little more sense.  Construction is underway for a large international Berlin airport but it has been delayed a few times...  For now, the two airports seem to work and both are just a quick 15-20 minute drive into the city.

**Berlin was the first larger city we have ever been to with a transportation system that did not require scanning your ticket upon entry or exit or both.  In fact we couldn't figure out how to validate our Berlin Welcome Card but maybe because it had dates/times on it, it was already validated.... So on our last day on our last metro ride, we had chatted about how we had never seen anyone checking tickets and then... of course we got stopped by guys in plain clothes checking tickets, but we were just fine!

***I just have to remember this adorable story -- we were riding the #100 bus with a group of German high schoolers.  Serafina and I were sitting on the top part of the bus and she was just a tad excited about seeing a bunch of the sights.  The high schoolers thought she was hilarious and had an absolute blast practicing their English with us, so much fun!

Friday, September 14, 2018

First Day {& Week} of School 2018

Our sweet girl started 3 años this past Monday.  It was a big deal for all of us since this meant our Serafina was starting Spanish public school (like starting elementary school in the states).  I have written about Spanish school in the past here and also about the registration process here.  Just a quick reminder though, Spanish kiddos start public school at age three (or the year they turn three) -- this means going to elementary school with all the big kids!  The younger kids are kept separate from the older kids (different areas of the building, their own playground, etc.).  But still, a big transition for everyone.
School started on Monday, but it turns out there was a meeting for the parents the week before... and I didn't know about it.  There is definitely no such thing as a phone tree or email chain here or letters being mailed home, however there was a notice at the school (and I am sure word spread among the parents who know each other).  But not knowing that I needed to check the school for notices, I missed the meeting.  Lucky for me the parents in Serafina's class are amazing and have been so kind and helpful.  Just like in our guardería, there is a WhatsApp (text message) group of all the parents -- this is how things are communicated to the families.  There is one (sometimes two) delegada for the class; this is the class parent and they are the ones that talk with the teacher and then send the information to the parents.  And everything is done over the group chat, so sometimes there are hundreds of messages that come through in a short amount of time, gets just a tad overwhelming trying to translate everything.  But I have had a few parents reach out to me and ask if we need help with anything -- only one speaks a little English but they are so patient and kind and understanding of my beginner Spanish.  Our sweet girl is the only American in her class (and about one of five in the whole school) so all of us will be learning more Spanish this year!

So, through the group chat I learned of the el horario de adaptación -- or the adaption schedule.  This is common for all incoming 3 años classes, no matter the school.  For Serafina's school this was her el horario de adaptación -- everyone (including parents, went on Monday for two hours), the class was split in half for Tuesday and Wednesday with some coming in the morning and some in the afternoon, everyone together for Thursday and Friday for a few hours each day... then full, regular days starting the following week.
Off we all went on Monday, along with the whole school as everyone only had two hours that day -- and well, it was just a tad crazy.  We found Serafina's classroom and had to cram 25 kids, plus their parents into a very small classroom on a hot afternoon.  Our poor sweet girl was so overwhelmed with all the kids and people and wanted absolutely none of it (she wasn't the only one).  So it was a rough two hours and not a great start to the school year, that was for sure....

But Tuesday went better -- she walked right into her classroom and did really well.  Wednesday she was little timid at the start but did great for the slightly longer time.  Thursday was great too, she didn't want to go but had so much fun and wouldn't stop talking when I picked her up -- telling me all about her day!  Friday we started at the regular time so it was a little crazy with all the people/kids but she had another great day.

Overall it was a good week and we are so beyond proud of our sweet girl.  We can't wait to experience more of what Spanish public school has to offer and will be forever grateful that we have this opportunity while we are living here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Longer Travels {Germany -- Saxony Region}

We recently got back from a week long trip to Berlin and some surrounding cities.  It was a much much better trip than our last trip to Germany when we all got sick and had to cut our trip short!  We spent the first four days of our trip exploring some cities and areas mostly in the Saxony region before heading back to Berlin for the last few days.  This post will cover the details of our time exploring the areas outside of Berlin -- the Spreewald area, Görlitz and Dresden.

We flew into Tegel Airport (one of two airports in Berlin) and rented a car.  While we could have done this portion of the trip with trains, the car just gave us more freedom and flexibility (and it was cheaper to rent a car for four days than to train to all of these places).  Driving in Germany was fairly easy, according to Trevor.  The autobahns we drove on did have speed limits and driving in the cities wasn't bad -- we have a pretty good system of me navigating and Trevor driving.  We also stayed a little outside the main parts of cities which helped since then we didn't have to navigate small narrow roads.

We went to the Spreewald area first which is about an hour outside of Berlin.  The Spreewald area is a Unesco biosphere made up of canals and channels in the middle of gorgeous forest.  You can take a punt boat throughout many of the channels but we opted to not be stuck on a boat where you can't move around with an active toddler -- but it sure did look like a gorgeous way to spend a few hours.  We stayed the night here and it was awesome, perfect location to wake up and explore the area the next morning.  The Spreewald is mainly between two towns -- Lübben and Lübbenau.  Lübbenau is a little bigger and has more to offer so we focused our time there.  We went to the Freilandmuseum Lehde and it was actually really cool (park in the bigger parking lot and walk down the road/path a ways to the museum).  It is an open air museum focusing on what life was like in the area over a century ago.  There were a few activities you could try (apple picking, getting water from the canal and milking a fake cow) which entertained the kid.  We ate lunch at a great little Italian place in Lübbenau and it was so good, also a very cute town just to wander around in.  Just fair warning -- we were the only English speaking people that we saw and no one really spoke English so made for a fun adventure.

Our next stop was Görlitz, a small town right on the Germany/Poland boarder just for one night.  We chose Görlitz partially because we wanted to go to Poland (and time didn't allow us to go more than a few hours).  Görlitz is known mainly for its architecture, surprisingly having survived destruction during WWII.  We stayed here and it was awesome -- great location and right on a tram line.  We ate at Görlitzer Kartoffelhaus (Görlitz Potato House) for dinner and it was super yummy and super kid friendly -- and shockingly did have an English menu even though none of the workers spoke English.

So while Görlitz does have museums (and also has a very close replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem), we spent a lot of our time unexpectedly at the zoo (website only in German and Polish).  Our sweet little lady woke up with the sun each morning (thanks to no blackout blinds in any of the hotels), so we needed something to kill some time before other things opened -- so off to the zoo we went.  And OH WOW -- seriously THE BEST zoo we have ever seen.  It was small but had so much to offer.  It was basically one big petting zoo and you could go into every single enclosure (and some animals didn't even have an enclosure).  Serafina became obsessed with the guinea pigs that you could play with and feed.  So needless to say we spent way too much time here -- and then walked around and enjoyed the gorgeous architecture Görlitz had to offer before having the most amazing lunch in Poland at Przy Jakubie (Jacob's Inn).  We purchased some bison grass vodka that you can only get (in its true form) in Poland.  Again another small town where we encountered almost no one who spoke English but made for some fun interactions (and a little scary food choices for me). 

looking back at Germany

Our final stop in the Saxony area before heading back to Berlin was Dresden -- which was another amazing city.  We had heard great things about the town from our friends and we agreed; Dresden was awesome and the new part of town reminded us both of Seattle and Portland. We stayed here, a little outside the main city area but right on a tram line (we bought the family day pass at the kiosk at a tram station and it was cheaper than individual day tickets, we couldn't figure out how to validate it and never saw anyone checking tickets*).  We used the trams quite a bit so I do recommend a day ticket, especially if you plan on going back and forth between the old and new town.

Dresden has a rich history, most recently being almost leveled by allied bombs in 1945 (most of its treasures were removed and stored safely).  August the Strong was a (most well know) past ruler and is responsible for many of Dresden's treasures and gorgeous buildings from the 18th century.  But most of the buildings in the old part of town are reconstructions after the bombings in WWII (but they are made of local sandstone which has natural oxidation and turns the stone black eventually -- so the buildings look much older than they actually are).

So now that you have a brief history of Dresden, you can enjoy many of its sights!  We walked a ton and covered a lot of ground during our full day in Dresden but it was worth it to see most of what Dresden has to offer (for reference we followed Rick Steves' Dresden Walk but went out of order to make it work for us).  We visited the Green Vault (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe) first thing in the morning as it requires a timed ticket -- best to book in advance, saves money and they were also super strict on the time (our ticket got checked a lot).  It is the Baroque treasury collection that was started by August the Strong and now includes treasures from the royal family -- it houses a lot (and I mean A LOT) of ivory which knowing where it all comes from can be a little disheartening, but still worth going, especially for the jewel room.  No pictures allowed and a very long (but good) audio guide and everyone is super quiet.... so some good headphones and a high interest show/app is a must for any toddler.  We also toured the New Green Vault (Neues Grünes Gewölbe) which is worth a quick run through for the amazing Dresden Green diamond.  You can also tour the palace but our little lady needed to walk and run, so outside we went to continue on our walk....
made of ivory (Serafina took this picture)
We wandered past the Theaterplaz and Semperoper (Opera House) before crossing the bridge (sadly lots of construction going on so not a great view from the bridge or of the bridge itself) into the new part of Dresden.  While Rick Steves' Dresden Walk ends at the grand (and huge) Albertplaz, we kept going to eat lunch at Curry & Co -- and had amazing currywurst (sausage with a curry sauce and fries).  It was well worth the nice (but long) walk out there.  Right in that same area is also a great bar to eat at and grab a drink (recommended by a friend) -- Bottoms Up.  This whole area of Dresden was super hippy and amazing and looked like so much fun to hang out in.... if we didn't have a toddler in tow (oh well)!
After lunch, we headed back to the old part of town and to the Zwinger -- gorgeous Baroque buildings and courtyard that once were used for royal court celebrations and now house three museums (you can buy one ticket and it will get you into all three).  We went into two of the three museums -- Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery) and the Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection).  Both were worth a quick visit -- the art gallery was much more stroller friendly than the porcelain gallery.  But we had a lot more fun in the courtyard taking pictures (Serafina did a lot of the picture taking) and letting the toddler run around.

Peanut took this one...

...and this one

We continued our walk past the Fürstenzug (Parade of Nobels) -- an insanely long mural painted on Meissen porcelain tiles (Dresden is famous for gorgeous porcelain but holy cow is it expensive).  The mural tells the story of seven centuries of Saxon royalty and shockingly the tiles are original as they survived the bombing in 1945.  We walked into the Nuemarkt (New Market Square) to admire the statue of Martin Luther, who came from the Saxony area of Germany and also to see the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).  This church is massive and sadly was destroyed by the bombs, but was rebuilt -- but you can still see a hunk of the rubble in the square.  You can go into the church but we happened to time it wrong and something (service, celebration... who knows) was going on so we couldn't go in.  We also did a little shopping along Prager Strass since the weather was a little colder than we expected and I didn't pack us enough warm clothes -- oops!  We ate dinner at a food stand somewhere along this street that was packed with Germans and it was delicious bratwurst that Serafina also loved.

Dresden has plenty more to offer and you could easily fill another day here -- we loved our time in this city (and the whole area) but now it was time to head back up to Berlin for a few days...

*Trevor and I both always buy tickets for the metro, tram, bus... whatever.  We have both (studying abroad in college) been caught on public transportation without tickets -- luckily nothing happened and we each only had to pay a small fine, but it taught us an important lesson: even if it adds a few minutes, figure out how to buy a ticket!  While we may not always know how to validate the ticket, we at least have one on hand in case we ever get stopped.

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