Sunday, July 24, 2011


I was very excited about today! Going to Trier is an amazing experience. It’s like a mini-trip to Rome, only an hour from home. I couldn’t wait for the children to get a sense of the far reach of the Roman empire back in its glory days.

The weather was cool, but we were blessed not to have any rain.

Our first stop was the Porta Nigra (black gate). It was built between 186 and 200 AD, and narrowly avoided complete destruction by Napoleon. It had been used as a church since the middle ages, and Napoleon was bent on dissolving the church. He did dissolve the church, but (according to local legend) kept the gate since it had Roman origins.

Justin opted not to go up the long and windy staircase, so he and Steffen and I hung out in the inner court while the others climbed to the top.

We then headed out to the town square, and stopped at the Roman Baths.

Finally, the crowning glory of the day: our visit to the Roman Amphitheater. The kids had a great time tearing around the arena, climbing up the stairs to the seating, and going underneath to where the gladiators and wild animals were kept while they awaited their battles.

The kids were especially fascinated by the grates that allowed them to look under the Amphitheater.

And Nathan terrified his mom by climbing way up on the walls. He was ordered down immediately after Dad snapped the picture.

Even Justin, who wouldn't go up the stairs was climbing all over everything. (You can click on any picture to make it larger.)

A Day Off!

Today we took a day off to allow everyone a little time to rest. Bryan was especially grateful not to have to do a lot of driving. Tina stayed home from work and we had a great time hanging out with her.

Tante Uschi and Tante Gretel (my great-great aunts) dropped by and we saw them for a little bit. They both live on Mutti’s street. At the end of the visit, Tante Gretel took Bryan by the hand and led him down the street to her house. She told him all sorts of stories, showed him her house and garden, and had a wonderful time talking to him. Of course, since she only speaks German and he only speaks English, he didn’t understand a word of what she was saying! He was very sweet and gracious about it, and we all had a good laugh when he finally broke away about half an hour later. Tante Gretel is 90, very fit, and I don’t think she really believes that there is anyone who doesn’t understand German.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Playmobil Fun Park

Today we did a trip that was all about the kids (and a little about Mom and Sara, who were Playmobil enthusiasts once upon a time.) The kids REALLY wanted to go to the Playmobil Fun Park. It was three hours away, but we knew it would probably be the highlight of the trip, so we decided to make a LONG day out of it. Daddy was a serious trooper- he did all the driving.

The park was great. It was basically just a huge playground, where everything was a life-size Playmobil set. (Those of you who aren’t familiar with Playmobil are missing out! They’re some of the best toys for kids out there, in my opinion. I’ve been collecting since I was five in Germany. Back then, it hadn’t extended out of Germany and was called Spielmobil.)

We definitely noticed a cultural difference when we went here. In Germany, people don’t sue like they do in the States. “At your own risk” really means that, and as a result, there were tons of very fun playscapes that never would have passed the safety test at home. A plank over water (no rails) was the entrance to the pirate ship. The kids climbed up ropes, ran around on slippery wet rocks in Dinosaur Land (Megan and Evan both whacked their heads as a result of that) and rappelled down hills. They slid down three-story slides on mats (even Carsten), sat on thrones next to Playmobil kings, and panned for gold in the Western Town.

Another cultural difference: No kids’ fun park would be complete without a Beer Garden.

Now, the adults were profoundly aware that this park was built for CHILDREN, not adults. Climbing from area to area often involved walking over swingy rope bridges or crawling through very small castle passages.

And, just to add to the experience, there was a dethroning as was common in medieval times:

One of the biggest challenges for us big people was keeping track of the little ones! There were so many great things to do that they just kind of scattered. We used the orange shirts again, and I’m glad we did. Carsten wandered off once, and someone at the park recognized that he must belong to us because he matched the rest of us. I was a little nervous about losing one of the kids all day, and the announcements that kept coming over the address system didn’t help. Every so often, a cheerful voice would announce, “Dearest Guests, we are requesting your help to locate a child. His name is Michael and he is three years old. He is wearing a blue shirt and a diaper and was last seen near the Construction Area.” And then a few minutes later, “Thank you, dearest guests, Michael has been returned to his parents.”

There was also an indoor area with EVERY single Playmobil set out for the kids to play with. Our kids could have spent an entire day just in that spot. All in all, this was a great day and well worth the drive, although if we had it to do over again, we would probably have stayed overnight and turned it into a two-day adventure.

And, of course, no trip to a Fun Park would be complete without ice cream!


We got up the very next morning and headed to Mainz. It was just over an hour’s drive away, and I figured that getting up and getting going would help us conquer jet lag more quickly. We’ve been studying medieval history, so I was really anxious to see the Gutenberg Museum and the cathedral.

The drive there was just beautiful. We all marveled at the green landscape, dotted with picturesque little villages. Pictures from the car didn’t turn out so well, of course, so those memories we’ll just have to keep in our minds.

The museum was fascinating, though unfortunately, more fascinating to adults than to children! It was definitely a “look, don’t touch” experience for the little people, and the museum designers were obviously not under 4 feet tall. Stepping up on the side of the exhibits was NOT in “ordnung.” Still, we got to see the printing press, and walk inside the vault with the Gutenberg Bibles in it. Amazing, truly amazing. Photography isn’t allowed, so you’ll have to take our word for it that we went in.

The square outside the Mainzer Dom (just across from the museum) had a lovely open-air market. We bought our lunch there and enjoyed it right along the cobblestone. The kids thought that was quite an experience.

Then, we moved on to the Dom (cathedral). Built between 991 and 1037, the building is remarkable. Soaring ceilings, gorgeous stained glass windows, sculptures: we walked around in hushed wonder.

Some of the relief images and statues creeped the kids out. Something about having skeletons in a church, I guess.

Justin said, “This is a lot nicer than our church, but also a lot scarier.” Megan was particularly discomfited. She wrote in her journal, “We went to a cathedral. It was creepy and I don’t talk about it.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Off We Go!

After days of preparation, we’re finally ready to embark on our grand adventure! We’ve packed the suitcases, the carry-ons, and the cameras. It’s time to hit the road (and sky).

We got to the airport on time, checked in, and made it through security with very little fanfare. We had everyone wear orange shirts so that we could easily spot any straying children. An added bonus of the orange shirt method: no one broke in on our group, even when we weren’t quite as tightly together as we ought to have been.
The first short flight to Atlanta was fun for most of the kids. Justin decided watching the take-off was a little TOO thrilling and he pulled down the blinds so that he couldn’t see out. Steffen amused himself by saying, “Bye, ‘Tonio!” as we left. He couldn’t see out the window until I unbuckled his seatbelt once we were in the air. Then, he looked out, saw the houses way below and said, “Oh no! Oh no! We fall down!”

We landed and got through the Atlanta airport, picked up some lunch, and just barely made it in time to catch the pre-boarding. The kids actually ate on the plane while waiting to take off. It’s amazing how fast a 2 ½ hour layover can go in a big airport.

The flight over was, of course, long. The kids, though, were happy that the movies and games were free, and those, in addition to the DS games we had gotten them for the trip, kept them amused for most of the trip. Carsten and Justin slept for about an hour right at the end of the flight.

Steffen, of course, was our main concern on the plane. He’s not old enough to have any idea what is going on, and you just can’t reason with a toddler. I had actually continued nursing him, even though he was getting older, because I knew that that would calm him and put him to sleep on the flight. After all, we weren’t going to be landing until after midnight San Antonio time, so he would OF COURSE get tired. Well, he DID get tired, but he would not sleep, and absolutely refused to nurse! “NO NEWSE! NO NEWSE!” he hollered, with great emphasis. What a little stinker!

He entertained himself mainly by playing with our IPhones. He would play music and change all the settings. He had one meltdown that was bordering on catastrophic when Daddy stepped in and took him to the bathroom. He brought him back all calmed down. Then, just as another meltdown was getting ready to start, breakfast came!! Yeah for food! Steffen fell asleep with his bagel in his little hand, right about 30 minutes before landing.

When we got to Frankfurt, we were able to get our luggage and get through passport control relatively quickly. Customs was completely abandoned. Apparently, if you’re coming in at 7:30 AM, no one cares what you bring.

Then, it was on to the car rental pickup. Bryan did a great job getting us out of the airport maze (with a little help from Tom-Tom and my rusty interpretations of the signs) despite his post-flight exhaustion. After an hour and a half in the car, we were very happy to see Mutti’s house!! The street looked just the same. We ate, took a short nap, and then, we forced ourselves to get UP, and take a walk. The kids go acquainted with the dogs and Steffen and Lucy had fun playing fetch.

Everyone crashed at 8, and with the exception of Steffen needing to sleep with Mommy and Daddy halfway through the night, we all slept well.