Barefoot Park

Last weekend we ventured to our first barefoot park (Barfuβpfad). The park was located in Bad Sobernheim, which is about an hour drive from our house. It was such a unique experience with lots of sensory and balance challenges for all.

When we first arrived, we parked in a parking lot of what appeared to be an abandoned building. We assumed we were lost (as usual) but our friend had arrived earlier and instructed us to follow the path to the park. There are white feet spray-painted onto the path to guide you were to go. There is a small fee to enter ( 4 euros per adult and kids under 3 are free). There is an outdoor locker area near the entrance. You can pay a euro to have a locker with key or you can leave your shoes on a shelf free of charge. There are absolutely no shoes allowed in the park.

Ok on to the good stuff. The first “obstacle” on the path was a muddy walking path.

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(walking up to the mud)

Notice O’s yellow shirt. Well that shirt didn’t last. O stepped onto the ramp to enter the muddy water area and slipped straight into the water getting completely soaked. It was a bit cold that morning so the cold water was definitely a shock for him. After some screaming, we made it to the other side of the mud pit and luckily we were prepared with a change of clothes for the kiddo. It was a rough start but after that first slippery mess it was all smooth sailing.

There were tons of balance obstacles like these moving planks. You can also see a balance board in the back.

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More water obstacles.

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Don’t worry we made it safely through this one and there was no mud. The park also did a great job of alternating between high sensory and low sensory items. For example after walking through the water hole that had large, hard river rocks, the next part of the path was soft grass.

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Here’s some wooden poles set up at different angles followed by soft sand as the contrast.

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As mentioned before it was a cool morning, so that cool sand felt amazing on your feet after walking over those harder surfaces. It really was a work out for the feet and calves both from a sensation standpoint and an actual muscular workout.

There were some more challenging areas in the park such as this river crossing.

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However, the park was set up so that you could always bypass something if it was too much. There is a bridge just past this river crossing area, which is where we made our crossing with the toddlers. All this talk of river crossing immediately makes me think of Oregon Trail (the computer game). Do you wish to ford the river? Don’t worry no oxen were harmed in the crossing of this river.

The trail through the park is just over 2 miles in length. There was always a different obstacle coming up so the kiddos never got bored along the way. There was also a playground toward the end of the route.

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The final obstacle was a long rope bridge or a boat that you pulled across using a pulley system. We opted for the rope bridge.

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There are benches and picnic tables throughout the park if you want to stop and have lunch or a snack. You can bring your own food in with you. There is a nice food area at the end, including beer and wine for sale. There was plenty of seating in this area overlooking the river.

Overall, we had a great time at the barefoot park. We are sure we will be visiting here again!

Garmisch-Partenkirchen Part 2

Back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen we go.

Summer Solstice Fires

This one wasn’t a planned event, we just happened to be in the right area at the right time. Every year during the summer solstice, it is a tradition in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area and throughout Austria to light fires on the mountain. The tradition has been going on for centuries and it is absolutely breathtaking to see.

It starts out by you seeing all of these twinkling lights almost dancing along the crests of the mountain. Then suddenly these lighted images appear. There are all different images but a large cross was the one most visible to us. All of this was easily viewed from our cabin porch. We sat there completely stunned. First, shock at what in the world is going on. Then, amazement at what was happening in front of us. You slowly begin to realize that all of those twinkling dancing lights are people up on the crests of the mountains moving along and starting fires.

I am completely failing at describing this scene to you. It was so astounding to watch that I didn’t even think to grab my camera or move until the fires were beginning to fade. In that final moment, I snapped a quick picture with my cell phone.

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Obviously this is a terrible picture but I hope it motivates you to Google summer solstice fires, see some amazing photos and really appreciate this event.

Partnach Gorge

This is another classic place to visit if you are in the Garmisch area. To get to the Gorge you actually have to park in an old ski jump parking lot. How old you ask? Well actually it is the ski jump used in the 1936 winter Olympics that were hosted in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is still used today but the stadium remains in its original form with some maintenance of course. There is actually a nice little café at the base of the jump which we enjoyed after our little hike.

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You walk through the stadium to get to the road that takes you to the gorge. There are signs in the stadium that lead you to the road and then you just have to follow everyone else up the road. You walk along a nice little stream. Of course there is a horse drawn carriage that can take you all the way to the entrance of the gorge but the walk is nice and not that difficult (though it was VERY hot the day we went with limited shade along the road). The Gorge has become something of a tourist hot spot and it now costs money to enter the gorge. This may sound crazy but check out the view.

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Unfortunately we didn’t spend too much time here because the kiddo had used up his energy walking in the heat. If we make it back to the Garmisch area, we will return to this Gorge and hopefully be able to enjoy more of the hiking paths in this area.

O’s Favorite things

No trip is complete without checking out some new playgrounds. Even the views from the playground were breathtaking.

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However, when we asked O what his favorite part of the trip was, the answer was playing in the rain.

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Family Photos

We also got some family photos taken. First time we have had our photos done by a professional photographer since the maternity photos we had done when I was pregnant with O. I can’t give away too much because the photos will be on our Christmas cards this year.

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Despite this long list of adventures, we really only touched the tip of the iceberg in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This is a nice ski area in the winter and there are lots of activities and areas we simply didn’t have time to see on this trip (I’m talking about you Innsbruck, Austria). We had a fantastic time and continue to enjoy our crazy European adventure. Cheers!

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen Part 1

At the end of June, we headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany along the Austrian border. It was our first glimpse of the Alps and it was spectacular. There are so many things to do in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area. Here is what we were able to see in our week there. I decided to break this post up into 2 different parts because, honestly, I babble on too much and there are a lot of photos to see!

Zugspitze

The Zugspitze is Germany’s highest mountain at 2,962 meters (a little over 9,700ft). Now that may not sound like much to our Pikes Peak friends, but let me tell you it is just as breathtaking. It is a sharp, steep mountain that rises from the valley floor. There is a cog railway train that takes you to the top and the view is of the Alps flowing into Austria.

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Of course we had to head to the top and we were not disappointed.

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At the “top of Germany”

Uncle Marcus (official title, kind of a big deal) was able to join us on this adventure.

Eibsee

On the way up to the top of the Zugspitze, we caught a glimpse of this beautiful lake. It was the Eibsee.We spent the next day on its shores. The water is unbelievably clear and an enchanting blue. There are hiking trails throughout this area and at the start of the lake there is a hotel, ice cream shop and a rental place to get a paddleboat, paddleboard, etc. Don’t worry this did not detract from the beauty and overall quietness of the lake. You could spend days here.

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This is a picture of O up to his waist in the water. You can barely tell he is sitting in water.

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The boys went out on the lake. The 2nd red dot is their paddleboat. Lucky for O, he had Uncle Marcus and Daddy to push him all around that lake. Ha!

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The girls stayed on shore.

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This lake is so special it has made it into our list of top destinations.

Ettal Abbey

This was a quick side trip we did spontaneously one day. It is an active Abbey and school however the big draw seems to be the beer. They brew a variety of beers on site and sell in the gift shop. The place is stunning including the inside of the church.

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However, I feel that it has turned into a tourist trap. Beautiful scenery, good beer, but don’t know if I would do it again. We went at the very end of the day and were able to avoid the rush as the last tourist bus was loading up as we got there.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle is probably the most famous castle in Germany. It is thought to be the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

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This is another super busy tourist area but if you have the chance you simply have to go. Once you arrive into the parking area (at the bottom of the hill) you have to decide if you are going to walk up or pay for a horse drawn carriage ride. It is a somewhat steep hike but worth it (there is a hiking path and a paved road). Takes 30-45 minutes.

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(view of the castle from the start of the path)

Hiking up to the castle doesn’t actually give you the greatest views. So you have to continue the hike up the hill to Mary’s Bridge. On the way up you will get a great view of Hohendchwangau Castle (try to say that 3 times).

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And views of the valley.

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When you finally make it to Mary’s Bridge you are greeted with this:

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Mary’s Bridge also happens to be a metal bridge with a wood platform. The wood bends and moves with the weight of all these people. I stepped on and NOPE! It totally freaked me out. I was on the bridge for maybe 30 seconds, had Marcus snap a picture and made a run back for solid ground. There is a beautiful waterfall sitting just below the bridge.

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However, everyone is there for this picture.

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Glad we went. Beautiful to see.

There are also tours of the castle that I have heard are fantastic. You must book them far in advance. We have 2 small children so …yeah…outside pics are good for us.

End of Part 1. Part 2 soon to come!

Luisenpark

Spring has sprung here in Germany and it is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It feels like every single plant in Germany flowers and the green of the grass is like from a fairy tale. Now that the sun is shining and the flowers are in bloom we have started to make our way to some new parks. Last week we visited Luisenpark.

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Luisenpark is in Mannheim. Mannheim is close to Heidelberg and about 50 minutes from our house. I read an article that suggested going there for the gardens but after doing some research I realized this park was going to be so much more than just the gardens and it didn’t disappoint.

First, this park is absolutely massive. One section is free and open to the public and the other section you must pay to enter ( 6 EUR for adults, 3 EUR kids 6-15 years, Under 6 are free). We went to the paid section only and let me tell you it is worth every penny. When you first walk in you are greeted by a beautiful flower garden.

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As you make your way through this section, if you head to the right you find yourself near the “zoo” section. Not really a zoo but there are some animals to see. There is a section with birds including penguins. There is also a farm section with sheep, cows, ponies, etc. There is also a fun playground here for smaller children (toddler). The whole playground is sand with little log houses spread throughout with some small slides. On one end of this playground is also a water play area, which is always popular here.

There is a lake in the middle of the park and little boats that cruise along it. The boats are called gondolettas and they actually move along a rope system in the water. We had too much baby stuff with us this round (We are still snapping E’s car seat into the stroller) so we didn’t get a chance to ride. However, it looked so relaxing and it is my top priority next time around.

As you make your way around the loop, you find yourself in this beautiful open area.

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There are chairs and loungers sprinkled around the grass. People are having picnics and playing soccer. It is just a wonderful scene. We also found this playground.

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I don’t know who built this playground but they made O’s dreams come true. He is absolutely obsessed with running up and down ramps. This playground is literally just a bunch of wooden ramps with 2 slides. He played on it for 40 minutes straight!

The next section of the park is the Chinese gardens. There is a teahouse that is open for lunch only. This is towards the back of the park and was very peaceful despite the ever-increasing Sunday crowd.

By the time we had reached the back of the park, O was getting tired and E was asleep so we didn’t get to play with the next section, which was disappointing for me. The next section was a sensory area (my physical therapist brain was loving it). There was a barefoot walking bath that had all different materials along the way. A balance bridge that rocked as you walked across it. O did do this part. I was worried he was going to be scared but he absolutely loved it and it really challenged his balance (which of course I loved). There was also a small creek running through the area and kids were encouraged to play in it (barefoot of course!). They had a “sound garden” area where different music was played. They also had instruments made from wood for the children to play with. The motto for this section of the park from the Luisenpark website is “eyes open, ears open, and feelers out”. It was a child’s paradise and a physical therapist’s dream.

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( not the sensory section but you get the idea)

These are just the areas we were able to get to during our time at this amazing park. They also have a massive indoor playground, which I hear is very popular during the winter months. They had a gigantic bounce house. Though it was in a permanent structure so no fear of it flying off! There was also another water play area, a castle themed playground that was more suited for older kids (above toddler age), a small aquarium, a butterfly house, and multiple restaurants including a wine cellar/beer garden.

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If you are ever in the area I highly recommend Luisenpark. Check out their website for details: www.luisenpark.de Tip: If you use Google Chrome as your browser it will automatically translate the page to English for you non-German speakers (like me).

How to Recycle/Take Out the Trash in 23 Easy Steps

Taking out the trash in Germany is no simple tasks. There are multiple trash cans, a millions rules and strict schedules. If recycling was an Olympic sport, Germany would medal every time!

Getting used to the German trash schedule has been a daunting task for us. It all started when we initially rented our new home. The relocation agent made sure to go over the trash schedule and she even provided a handout for us to read1. The handout also had a website2 that provided more detail about what item goes into each of the 4 trash bins. Yes that is a 4! Let’s break it down…

  1. Bio Bin (brown bin)3– this is where all the food scraps go. In addition you can add paper towels, tissues, tea bags and coffee grinds. Basically, stuff that can decompose in a giant compost heap somewhere out there. Yard clippings/ waste can also go in here.
  2. Plastic bin (yellow bin)4– This is where the majority of your food containers go, Ziploc bags, plastic wraps, candy wrappers, aluminum cans, tin cans, etc.
  3. Paper bin (blue bin)5– newspapers, printer paper, cardboard, etc.
  4. Regular trash (grey bin)6– basically anything that doesn’t belong in the other bins with a few exceptions.

This seems reasonable until you really start thinking about everything. As the relocation agent was reviewing this all with us I had a question.

 

Me: “So what about the milk carton? It has a plastic spout but the rest of the container would qualify as paper.”

Relocation Agent: “If you are a good German you will cut out the spout.”

I laughed…..she didn’t.

I am not a good German.

 

Our first stop was then the store because we had to get some kind of organization going for all of us. We purchased this trash can7:

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For some reason the blue bin is green but oh well. We also have a trashcan for the “regular” trash.

Ok we are ready to go. Let’s try to recycle this lovely tea box:

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Lets say you just used the last tea bag. After you have made your tea, you are going to drop that tea bag into the brown bio bin. For the box, you need to remove the outer plastic wrap and place it in the yellow bin. The box itself will go into the blue bin. We are getting the hang of this! Now lets try these:

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Ha! Trick question! The answer for these items is none of the above. The blue plastic bottle in the middle probably made you think yellow bin. You can technically put the bottle in this bin but then you would be missing out on the refund. For some plastic and glass bottles you can return these items to the store8 and get a little money back. So we have a separate container9 to store those items that need to head back to the grocery store. Now the other 2 bottles in the picture are glass and are not eligible for the refund at the store. So where do they go? They need to be recycled at one of the glass recycling containers that are positioned around town that look like this:

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Notice that there is a bin for white glass (or clear)10, green glass11 and brown glass12. Yet again we have to have a separate container13 to store these items until we make it down to the glass recycling center. Now before you run off to recycle your glass you have to remember a few rules. First, you can only recycle glass when it is not quiet hours (remember those from a few blogs back). Which means, not before 7am14, not between the hours of 1pm-3pm15 and not after 8pm16. Also, no recycling on Sundays17 and German Holidays18.

Now that we’ve managed to separate everything into its designated bin, we now have to get it out to the curb in time for its pick up. Here we go…

The Bio bin is picked up every Monday19 except December- March20 in which it is picked up every other Monday. It is picked up every week during the warmer months due to the smell (not joking).

The regular trash is picked up every other Monday21. It is the same Monday as the bio bin is picked up during the Winter months or the week opposite the Plastic (yellow bin) pick up.

The plastic bin (yellow bin) is picked up every other week on a Wednesday22. This is the alternating week to the regular trash pick up as mentioned before.

The paper bin (blue bin) is picked up once a Month23, usually the 3rd week of the month. It is always a week that the yellow bin is being picked up but the paper bin is picked up on Tuesday and the yellow bin will be picked up the following day on a Wednesday.

Of course all of this is thrown out the window when it is a German Holiday.

Needless to say, we have a print out of the trash pick up days stuck to our fridge because I can’t remember the day of the week most of the time let alone what trash needs to be out.

Ok we have made it! And that is how you take out the trash/recycling in Germany in 23 easy steps!

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(Another way to recycle the bio)

Rüdesheim

Hey we are starting to get out of the house! Evelyn has passed the 3 month mark and the temperatures are starting to warm up. This perfect storm means time to get back on track of discovering Germany.

A few weekends ago we decided to check out the town of Rüdesheim that sits on the Rhine river west of Wiesbaden. This is the heart of wine country. Beautiful vineyards cover steep hills that descend down to the river. Rüdesheim is considered part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site due to being part of the Rhein River Gorge.

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Even though it is a cloudy day you can still see the absolute beauty of this area.

Rüdesheim is about a 40 min drive from our home but we are able to drive through Eltville (another great wine town that sits on the river) and along the river during this drive.

(In Eltville on a separate trip)

Our first stop once we arrived was the Niederwalddenkmal (or Niederwald Monument). This huge statue sits on the hill above Rüdesheim and was made to celebrate the Unification of Germany. The large female is Germania and apparently she is facing France (“the enemy” at the time). This statue is just gigantic.

You can hike up to the statue, take a gondola, or drive. It is still winter so we opted for driving. As a bonus, we got there so early the parking attendant wasn’t there so we got to park for free. There are some benefits to having children who get up before the sun.

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After the monument, we headed back down into town. We went to the Drosselgasse, which is a famous shopping street near the water. Mainly shops and restaurants, with very few of them actually being open due to it being the off-season. I have heard that during the summer these streets are extremely crowded with tourists. The area did open up to this charming square with church.

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It also had a fantastic chocolate shop. O made out like a bandit with a chocolate car. Look at the size of this thing!

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(In true toddler fashion, he had one bite and was done with it)

We finished our visit with a walk by the wine museum and then some lunch.

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(When in wine country….. Yes the glass did survive lunch and that is bubbly water)

I am really glad we visited Rüdesheim in the off-season. We were able to enjoy the town still in its winter slumber without the massive crowds and all the chaos that goes with it. I am sure we will be back here again. There are still several castles and ruins in the area that we didn’t get to on this first trip.

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Off to the next adventure!

St. Martin’s Day

On November 11th we celebrated Veterans Day but also for the first time we participated in St. Martin’s day here in Germany. St. Martin was a Roman Soldier who became baptized as an adult and became a monk and eventually a bishop. He was known for his quiet life and considered a friend of children and patron for the poor. St. Martin’s day is always celebrated on November 11th and is considered the end of harvest/start of winter. It is also considered the unofficial start of the Christmas Holiday season.

St. Martin’s day is fun for the children as it is tradition for the kiddos to parade in the street carrying lanterns being led by a man on horseback dressed as St. Martin. At the end of the parade is a bonfire and music. Basically it is a big party.

Let’s start with this lantern. Two weeks before St. Martin’s day all the parents were invited to O’s school to make lanterns for the parade. Picture this: 10 children (3 years old and younger) and all their parents put into a small room around a very low child size table. I am 8 months pregnant and getting down to the floor is near impossible. The gathering time was the end of the day so O of course thought I was coming to pick him up, not participate in craft time (despite us talking about it for several days before). He is not impressed by crafts and wants to leave immediately. Once everyone is gathered, the teachers start explaining how to decorate the lanterns and put them together. Of course they are explaining this all in German and my German skills are still terrible. The 2 teachers who speak English aren’t there for this event and the only other parent I know there speaks Italian and some English. So we have a cranky toddler who wants to go home, a very pregnant mom who can barely reach the table, limited understanding of the instructions and lanterns and tissue paper as far as the eye can see. Needless to say…hot mess express! O ended up tearing up some tissue paper and gluing it to his lamp after much debate and we ended up leaving early (to avoid a major meltdown), which is a No-No in German culture. You are expected to come exactly at the time invited and should leave at the time that the event is indicated to end. So if you are invited to something and it says from 3-4pm then you are expected to arrive at 3pm (not a minute later) and stay until 4 pm. I think I got away with it because I was 8 months pregnant but the teachers made sure to announce to the rest of the group why we were leaving early.

We headed home covered in glue but I felt good that O had tried to make his lantern including tearing up paper and using some toddler scissors. Well a few days later I see the other lanterns the parents and children had made. Apparently, it is ok for parents to basically build the lanterns for their kids at this age. The parents had made super fancy looking lanterns with names cut out in tissue paper and one had a forest theme with finely decorated leaves. Then there was ours…. And well it looks like a 2 year old put it together. The teachers called it “shabby chic”.

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On St. Martin’s day, everyone gathered at the school with their lanterns and lantern sticks (a stick with a little battery powered light at the end). Side Note: Apparently they used to use little tea candles in the paper lanterns, so the joke was that no St. Martin’s day is complete until you have a parent stomping out a lantern on fire while a child is crying near by. The children were given this big pastry called Stutenkerl. It is kind of like a sweet bread that looks like a gingerbread man. O LOVED this and it fueled him for the long walk.

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(O with lantern, stick and bread in mouth. Ha!)

O’s school group walked down to a local park where other schools in the area had gathered and then everyone as a large group paraded down the street to meet at a large school yard/open space. This was actually a rather large parade and the police had blocked the roads to allow everyone to pass.

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At the end of the parade in the large open space was a bon fire, music and more food (mostly pretzels). O danced and didn’t want to leave. St. Martin’s day success! We really enjoyed this celebration and look forward to participating next year.

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Driving Germany

Ah Autobahn how I love thee! My husband and I have both successfully passed our German driving course so I thought I would chat a little about driving in Germany. First, not everyone has to take a German driving course to get a driver’s license in Germany. In fact, our Colorado Driver’s license is accepted as a direct transfer here in Germany. You can go into the German “DMV” and just trade them out. However, the military requires that all active duty military, staff (including contractors) and their families take the written test. It is a 3 hour class followed by a written exam and you actually need to study before hand because German road signs can be tricky (mainly because the words are in German. Duh!). I am actually really glad we had to take the course because it gave me a much better understanding of the rules of the road here and I feel much safer.

Ok that stuff is boring. Let’s get to the entertainment. Fun German Road signs:

ausfarht-sign

Ok I just had to get it out of the way. A$$fart signs everywhere!

streetlight

This one isn’t a sign but a streetlight marking. If you see this painted on a streetlight what it means is that this particular streetlight is not left on all night. So it may be turned off at like 9 or 10 pm. If you park under this streetlight overnight you are expected to leave your parking lights on all night to make up for the no streetlight. Cars with European specifications can do this but US spec cars are not made to have the lights on all night so don’t park under these streetlights at night!

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Parking on the curb is permitted. I feel like this sign should just be everywhere because parking on the curb is the norm around here.

rough-road

Ok here is my junior high humor again. I saw this sign and I was like why is a bra laying down in the road? That is not a bra but a rough road sign.

water-exit

This sign just cracks me up. In the manual it states that this is posted in “areas where there is danger of the vehicle leaving the road and entering a body of water”. Um, what?? Like does the road lead directly into the lake or is this an area where your GPS is going to say “drive straight” but really that’s a river not a road. Apparently it has happened enough that there is a sign.

Ok final one.

minion

This is my favorite one. To me it looks like a Minion wearing a party hat. It actually means that this road has priority but only at this intersection so the other cars are supposed to yield to those on this road. Boring! Much more fun to think about Minions having a party.

All in all, German rules of the road are very straight-forward and easy to understand. The American system is way more complicated and has even funnier signs.

The big difference with driving in Germany is that EVERYONE follows the rules. Ok let’s say 99% because there is always that one guy, the tourists, and the Americans that are always bending the rules. This is more of a cultural thing but it makes driving on the roads really nice here. Everyone follows the rules and so you know what to expect. It also creates this very smooth flow of traffic particularly on the Autobahn. You are expected to move over for people merging. The whole “zipper rule” (you let one car in to the lane to merge and then the next car merges behind you like when 2 lanes are becoming one) is law so you are required to be nice and let someone in which in turns allows the traffic to keep moving. You NEVER pass on the right and slow traffic keeps right. No Colorado road blocks here (read 1 car is passing another car at 1 mph faster than car being passed resulting in back up of cars for a mile or 1 car sitting in left lane going 10 mph below the speed limit preventing anyone from getting past).

You do have to watch out for fast cars. Germans love their sports cars and since there is no speed limit on sections of the Autobahn they like to go really fast. They can sneak up on you quickly if you are not paying attention. On the flip side, it’s like going to an auto show everyday. There is always some really nice, fancy, and super expensive sports car zooming by me everyday. Fun to watch!