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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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

Playground pics

We found a great playground only a block from our new apartment, and the kids and I enjoyed a day there while Joe was getting his classroom ready. In general, we’ve found German playgrounds to be much better designed for kids of varying ages than those in our old neck of the woods. The playgrounds that would be interesting for Sam were too dangerous for Lucy, and vice versa.

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After a little fear, both have become lovers of the slide. Careful, though, it gets hot!

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She can’t quite move the bouncy toys yet, but she loves to try.

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Sam usually hates shaky drawbridges, but this had nice strong beams to hang onto.

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Not sure what this is supposed to be. A snail?

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Lots of low walls for balancing.

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Lucy tried to run away when it was time to go.

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Surveying the view from up high.

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Love the days when they play well together!

Dinosaur Day

We’ve been having a bit of morning rain here in Ulm lately. So we decided to try something new and ride the bus to the local shopping mall for some indoor walking. It’s very nice at the Blautal Center, actually, and I’m sure I’ll be back to do some shopping for the kids and for our apartment. Sam loved the fact that they had a temporary dinosaur exhibit with life-size models.

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We loved the diagonal moving walkways — a cross between moving sidewalks at the airport and an escalator; great for use with strollers!  We comforted in the similarity with American shopping malls (lots of cell phone kiosks, jewelry stores, and a food court). The food court was a bit different, offering Turkish, Scandinavian seafood, and traditional German fare along with the ubiquitous Chinese and Italian.

And we had fun with some of the stores that displayed English names or signs. One advertized their “Freaky Sale!”. [Sorry that some of these pics are a bit blurry…]

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“Schmitt Foxy Food”

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“Mister Lady”

All-in-all a fun rainy-day outing in our new hometown.

Wir sind gekommen — We have arrived

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The journey was exhausting. We expected it to be rough, but it’s been three days and we’re still trying to feel normal-ish. There’s the jet-lag, and the heatwave, and the fact that we packed far too many bags and forgot our stroller.

Then, a tummy bug knocked out several of us, leading to even more exhaustion as we both try to adjust to normal daylight hours but are unable to sleep at night. Joe & Lucy had a long walk through the empty train station the first night, and we’ve all been napping through “housekeeping” at the hotel during mid-day.

We are reveling in the foreignness, enjoying the walking experience and all of the yummy foods we have been able to try. Sam, our grumpy 4-year old, isn’t making for a very positive travel companion, but we’re trying to work on that. He’s expressed homesickness more than once, and has yet to find any food he really likes, poor kid. Other than gummy bears, of course.

It took us two days to find enough travel adapters to charge our electronic devices, making us feel even more isolated from our friends & family back home. Our hotel is the InterCityHotel, which is actually built as part of the train station complex, putting us right at the heart of the loudest part of the city. And since it’s been dreadfully hot, we leave our window open at all hours. So we’re all becoming very familiar with the sounds of police sirens, drunken people after midnight, and drag-races taking place just outside.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  •  5 bags, 2 carseats, and 5 carry-on items is FAR too much for two adults to handle. German flight stewardesses are (for the most part) quite rude.
  • German public bathrooms have toilet paper MUCH rougher than America, and paper towels by the sinks that are soft and velvety.
  • Carbs are easy to come by (and delicious), but good luck locating any vegetables! The only we’ve found so far are the occasional bit of lettuce on a sandwich or some creamed carrots as part of a cafeteria buffet.
  • Sam loves escalators and will hunt them out in every department store and train station.
  • It’s interesting to be out around 8pm in this smallish European city – there’s the families with kids wearily heading home and the scantily-dressed youth heading out for a night of partying. Venture out at 6am and see the reverse – my kids, skipping over the cobblestones as the hungover masses do the walk-of-shame back home.

More soon!

Maps

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I love looking at maps. Maybe it’s my left-brained attributes taking over yet again, but it’s fun to get a feel for Ulm before we even arrive. Google Earth has allowed me to zoom in and explore our future hometown, so it won’t really feel quite so foreign in those first few days and weeks.

Ulm has a lot of the comforts at home, like big department stores (IKEA, Toys ‘R Us) and fast food (McD’s, Burger King, KFC). But no Starbucks — the nearest one is in Esslingen an hour away!

It has many things that we can’t easily get in my small town (H&M, Body Shop, a very cool waterpark)

It seemingly has more than it’s fair share per square kilometer of gyms and dentists…will Germans be even more image conscious than Americans?

It has some really great parks and public squares with weekly farmer’s markets, something that is hard to come by in my semi-rural Pacific Northwest region.

It’s only a 25-minute drive from Legoland.

And it has this: Gummi Bear superstore!

Don’t you want to come and visit?