Schloss Neuschwanstein

With Mom here for a visit, we’ve finally had enough courage to brave a small day-trip with the kids. It wasn’t easy to battle car-sickness, cranky hungry toddlers, and frequent potty breaks, but we are thrilled to have been able to see such a beautiful Bavarian castle. (Thank you Grandma!)

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We hiked up the mountain with our stroller and picnic lunch. During the climb, we had a beautiful view of the fall foliage and sweeping vistas of the valley below to help keep our spirits up.

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We only got a little bit lost.

Just kidding — even on our late-October weekday visit, you only needed to follow the crowds to know where to go.

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Although Lucy did want to stop and pick up every leaf and rock she could get her hands upon.

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Our tour wasn’t scheduled until later, so after our picnic lunch we attempted a walk to Marienbrücke, the bridge directly behind the castle which spans the canyon and offers unparalleled views. A tip to future visitors, however: it’s too crowded! Imagine being crushed from all sides like the shrinking hallway in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”. Many of our photos from the site include odd bits of other people who couldn’t help but be in the way of our camera.

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Lucy tried her best supermodel face.

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With such postcard-ready views, it’s easy to understand why this site has been such a popular destination for decades.

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Sam liked seeing a man in costume playing a hurdy gurdy.

No cameras were allowed inside the castle, but we were allowed to see King Ludwig’s throne room, bedroom, and other ornate spaces.

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A view from Neuschwanstein of the nearby castle Hohenschwangau and the alpine foothills.

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And a shoulder-ride back down the hill. What more can you ask for?

Also, a big thank you to Joe for driving a stick-shift foreign car along the German Autobahn. You have more courage than I ever will!

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Foreign food Friday – the dairy case

In German grocery stores, the dairy section is usually quite enormous. There are shelves and shelves of cheese, although Cheddar is very difficult to find. This is the land of Gouda, Edam, and soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert. Many varieties of milk are not refrigerated, having been heat-processed to be shelf stable. In fact, many items found in cold storage in American grocery stores are left at room temperature here, such as margarine, cans of whipped cream, and sometimes even fresh eggs.

The yogurt section is a sight to behold. Although there are much fewer milk-alternative yogurts than I used to be able to find easily in the US (soy, coconut, goat milk). The Germans like their yogurt, flavored quark, and buttermilk yogurt in a wide variety of flavors.

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A bit hard to see, but this brand offers “Afrika” yogurt with orange and red tea flavors and “Asien” yogurt with pineapple and dragon fruit.

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There’s even alcoholic yogurt! Think rum, champagne, bourbon… That’s one way to start your morning, I suppose, in a land that often serves beer with breakfast.

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And my favorite find in the dairy case: pre-dyed hard boiled eggs. Why do we Americans only dye our eggs at Easter? And why go to all the trouble of boiling and dying them ourselves. Genius!

Playground pics #2

I’m working on a post about our new apartment (long overdue, I know!), but am having some photo transfer issues. So stay tuned on that…

In the meantime, I’ve got some more gratuitous playground photos of the kids. We’re trying to get as much outside time as we can before the temperature drops below freezing.

A little history lesson: Ulm was part of the boundary dispute in the Napoleonic Wars that ended in the Treaty of Paris in 1810. Following that, many portions of this region were selected for federal fortifications, with Neu-Ulm being the site of the largest complex constructed in the 1840s. Right behind our apartment is one of those fortifications, known as the Glacis. The garrison was dissolved after WWI, but the Glacis exists as a popular public park that stretches through much of the center of Neu-Ulm and hosts public concerts and events throughout the warmer months.

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The entrance to the park. Very space-age amidst all the greenery (but fitting, as you’ll see).

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Lucy is eager to check out the rocket ship structures.

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Joe at the bottom of stairs, trying to help Sam navigate getting down (the slide was a bit too long and steep for our little guy).

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A view of the Napoleonic-style lawns and embankments.

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Lucy is thrilled to have found a play area more her size. The tiny Dalek-looking things spin around if you hold on, and the teepee structure at the edge is a sort of whispering gallery, where you can play telephone with people speaking quietly in the pair of structures.

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More fun things to climb.

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Joe: Time to go!

Lucy: Catch me if you can!

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Lucy’s found something else to climb. Have I mentioned that almost-2-year-olds like to climb everything?

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A shot of the sunken fortifications. It’s a little bit graffiti-strewn in spots, but not nearly as badly as the Army bunkers I used to visit in Washington State.

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A lion’s-head fountain embedded in the slope of the bank. This was Sam’s favorite part of the Glacis and definitely something we’ll visit again, especially on warm spring days.

I referenced my history info from the following websites:

History Neu-Ulm

Fortress of Ulm

Working at an international school

***Disclaimer: This is my personal interpretation of my husband’s experience. I cannot pretend to be representative of others’ experiences. We are in no way trying to put forth a complete picture of the school we work at nor international schools in general.

Joe has worked in three public elementary schools in Washington State, before taking the cross-Atlantic leap to come teach at an international school in Ulm, Germany. Here are some of the differences we’ve noticed:

The pay & cost of living: We are not making a ton of money, but surviving as a family of four on a single salary is much more feasible now than in America.

The class size: Joe currently has 15 students, compared to 22-26 in his US public school classrooms. Some of his colleagues have as few as 8 students in their classes. It really changes how much attention teachers can give each student when the class sizes are so much smaller. The classes at his international school go on a lot of field trips each year, which is much more possible when you don’t have as many students to shepherd around.

The gender ratio: Sometimes at American public schools, Joe was the only male teacher other than a PE teacher and a janitor. Now it’s much closer to 50/50. I believe this to be both a recruitment tactic on the part of the school and also a symptom of the fact that men are more likely to move internationally for their careers. While women certainly do, it’s harder for a woman to be assertive and ambitious even today. And when they have families, I do believe women are less likely to ask their husbands to quit their jobs so that they can move for their own career opportunities.

Parental involvement: Because international schools are elective, they operate much like private schools. Since Sam’s tuition is free for us, we are not exactly sure of the sum the other students are paying, but we saw one figure that looked quite high. Many of the parents in Joe’s classroom own their own businesses or work for high-profile companies. Thusly, they often have more flexibility to come to parent night (Joe’s attendance rate was nearly 100%) and invest time and money in their children’s education. That is quite a difference from some of the low-income classrooms in which Joe has taught, where parents struggled to keep their kids clothed and fed, and often didn’t have a chance to help with school because they were working multiple jobs or caring for multiple children at home.

Discipline: Where we come from, I feel that there was a very clear disciplinary process. Students and parents understood that if they were overly violent or disruptive toward other students that the punishment would progress from small consequences to eventual expulsion for serious offenses. I worry that with high tuitions being collected, the international school is afraid to expel a student because that would mean so much money lost. So they try to deal as best they can without that ultimate punishment. This can make for a tense situation because teachers and other parents in the classroom feel somewhat powerless to provide a good learning environment for the other affected students in the class.

Overall, we’ve had a very good experience so far. It’s a steep learning curve for Joe to be immersed in an entirely new curriculum, but his colleagues have been very supportive. I’m amazed to witness how collaborative the teachers have become, given that many of them are new arrivals at the school this year. It’s been good to have a contrast to the American public school way of doing things, and I think this will make Joe a stronger teacher in the long run.

Foreign food Friday – Market edition #2

I will get back to more personal blog entries again soon.  I promise!  But having these little Friday deadlines does somehow force me to get on the computer and post something. I’m still trying to create this social media habit for myself.

The fresh food markets are starting to wind down a bit after the cold fall weather slowed the fresh fruit bounty. But we’re still seeing some great crops in our town farmer’s markets.

Germany has some amazing berries, including the biggest, reddest currants I’ve ever seen. They have giant figs the size of tangerines and strawberries that are better tasting and less seedy than the local berries I grew up on (sorry Bainbridge, but it’s true!). But did I get photos of any of those before the summer ended? No, unfortunately not.

The plums here have been a favorite in our family. They have lovely damson plums and plums of all colors and sizes that remind Joe of the fruit trees on his childhood in Napa. Sam loves the small, yellow ones called Mirabellas because they’re bite-sized and super sweet.

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And just like the giant pumpkins that sit outside American grocery stores in October, some of the farmers’ stalls are trying to outdo each other with the size of their giant squash!

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While we’re mourning the end to the summer produce, we’re looking forward to the beauty of autumn in Bavaria. Hearty German stews and roasts are better suited to cold weather, anyhow.

Happy Oktoberfest everyone!