Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kid Friendly Bank

One thing I really like about Germany is our local bank.  Just about every time I go there with my son (who is now 9 months old) they give him a toy.  After he was born they gave us a German baby book as a welcome present.  As the months have gone on we have been given stuffed animals, key chains, and this week a soft ball.  My baby is now at the age of wanting to throw everything you give him on the ground then anxiously and happily will look for it and watch as you go and pick the item up.  So my banker took a thin piece of rope and punched a hole in the tag of the ball and thread the rope through the hole.  I was then able to tie the ball onto my son's stroller so he wouldn't throw it in the street on our walk home.  While many Germans I encounter are not the "friendliest" people, for the most part the people who work at our bank are.  Thank you Volksbank!  

Does anyone else have good experiences with their local bank?  Does your bank give your children toys? I'm curious if  gifts are common at other banks in Germany or in the U.S.

Related Article:  Opening a German Bank Account

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Baby Sling Recall

Slings and other infant carriers are great.  Many of my friends have baby slings.  One of my friends shared this with me and I wanted to let other parents know about the Infantino baby sling recall.  Three infant deaths have been reported.  The two slings being recalled are the Infantino SlingRider and the Wendy Bellissimo baby sling.  You can read more about the recall here and at Infantino's website.

My baby is too big for a sling now but they are very useful during those first few months.  I personally never owned a sling but rather I used a Moby Wrap, BabyBjorn Synergy, and now we mainly use an Ergo Baby Sport.  Next baby I will probably purchase a sling. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dogs, dogs, everywhere!

One of the first things you will find different when you come to Germany is that dogs are welcomed pretty much everywhere.  Don't be surprised when you go to a restaurant, even an expensive one, and see at least one dog sitting under the table at his owner's feet.  The restaurant will usually offer the dog a bowl of water.  Most of the dogs we have encountered are well behaved.  Dogs are also welcomed at the malls and in most stores.  They can ride with their owners on public transportation and are truly viewed as family members. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Road Construction

Today on my way home I saw children playing in a mound of dirt with their little Tonka trucks. They were having a great time loading their little dump trucks and making "roads" around the hill.  This normally wouldn't be concerning but this dirt mound was for a construction site next to a hole in the road. As I continued home I  thought about their safety and wondered where are these kid's parents? If I could have gotten a picture it would have looked something like this.

photo by Sean Dreilinger

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Casting Call - Expats chance to be on TV

A New York casting agent contacted me from House Hunters International inquiring if my family would be interested in participating on their HGTV show, House Hunters International.  Unfortunately, as much as we would like to, we cannot because we are currently renting our house.

If you would like more information to be on the show, please feel free to leave a comment and I will send you more information regarding it.  There are two requirements to be considered: (1) You must have relocated overseas during the past couple of years, and (2) you must have purchased your home.  They provide compensation and a nice DVD of the show if you are selected. I think it's a great opportunity and would be a lot of fun.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Our time in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was amazing!  But before you read on, animal lovers and those with queasy stomachs beware!  There are a few pictures that might be disturbing but I wanted to share with you the whole experience.  Well, almost. 

We spent three nights and three days in Barcelona.  I do not recommend our hotel unless you are on a tight budget.  It was a nice 4-star hotel, however, it was a bit far from the city center, about a 30 minute bus ride.  We stayed at Hotel FrontAir Congress.  The only benefit besides it being cheap, less than $100 a night, is they offer free airport transfers.  Other than that you'll spend a great deal of time commuting into town.  It also costs 12 Euros per person for breakfast.  There's a McDonald's in the same parking lot but it is not open for breakfast.  There's a mall next door with a grocery store but is closed on Sundays.  I would recommend staying somewhere close to Las Ramblas, especially if you have limited time in Barcelona.

The mall next to our hotel had a grocery store that had some interesting meat for sale.  PETA would not be pleased with this display.  Since I had never seen anything like this, I took a picture.

Some people like to buy their pork attached to the hoof.

The metro system is great in Barcelona and for 7.85 Euros you get a pass for 10 rides.  You can split this with other people and it is one of the cheapest ways to use the metro.  The pass is also good on the bus and tram.

Our first full day we strolled the streets of Las Ramblas.  We saw a lot of street performers (please tip them if you take a picture of them) and enjoyed all the interesting pet store stands and markets.  Plan to spend a few hours strolling the street and stop for coffee if you have time and enjoy people watching.

One of the markets in the Las Ramblas district displayed something that reminded me of my high school biology class.  So sad.  After visiting Barcelona I seriously reconsidered becoming a vegetarian.  I mean seriously, does this really help them sell their pork?  I also now wonder if the animals they were selling on the street were for pets or to eat.  They did sell live chickens and roosters in a few booths.

I guess these little piggies went to market...and stayed!

While we were walking to get on the cable car we saw a man riding his bike totally naked.  That's something you just don't see in Texas.  We took the cable car across the Barcelona Port (Transbordador Aeri del Port) and saw amazing views of the city.  The cable car dropped us off on Montjuic Mountain.  There is a second cable car on top of Montjuic but we didn't ride it.  We got some ice cream and it started to drip rain on us so we decided to head off the mountain.  The Transbordador Aeri del Port was 8 Euros per person.  Babies are free.

View of Las Ramblas from the cable car
Monument of Christopher Columbus built at the site he arrived in 1493 after he discovered America

On our way to the cruise ship we took a taxi from our hotel (70 Euros) and drove past the other side of Mount Montjuic and passed an interesting cemetery.  The Montjuic Cemetery is quite impressive and has graves on all levels of the mountain and is the oldest cemetery in town.  We have never seen anything quite like it.

Our last full day of Barcelona we took the metro to Park Güell.  I have never seen a park like this.  The park was designed by Gaudi and is built on a mountain.  There was a musician playing music, some entertainers, beautiful views, and lots to explore.  Another perk, it's free!  It's a nice place for adults and children.  Some say Gaudi's work inspired Dr. Suess.

Next we went to see Sagrada Familia.  This church was designed by Gaudi but was never completed.  It is amazing!  If you're limited on time just take a taxi from Park Güell.  It will cost 7-8 Euros and will save you a good 45 minutes to an hour as the metro is kind of far from Park Güell.  We did not have time to go inside the church but wish we did.  The cost is 10 Euros per person.

If you have any suggestions of places to see or things to do in Barcelona, please feel free to share.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ports of Call - Western Mediterranean Cruise

Here is my summary of each port of call we visited on our cruise on the Norwegian Jade.  In a future post I'll tell you about our time in Barcelona and later give some travel cruise tips for people traveling with a baby.

Casablanca, Morocco

The five of us took a taxi tour in Casablanca.  We took the ship's shuttle into town and decided to take a taxi for what we thought would only be 10 Euros to the Hassan II Mosque.  Well, we ended up doing a 2 hour tour with the driver.  We were all a little suspicious after he removed his taxi sign after we got in his car and were ready to get back to the ship once he was pulled over by the police. Thankfully we got to see all of Morocco we ever wanted to see and do not feel the need to go back.

First we went to Hassan II Mosque, which is the second largest Mosque in the world - largest religious monument after Mecca. We could not go inside because we are Christians. Which was fine. It was an impressive monument.  Our driver then drove us through Anfa (a wealthy part of town), past Rick's Cafe, the Royal Palace, we stopped at Andalusian Gardens and we saw the old and new Medina. We also drove through the United Nations' Square where the police pulled over our taxi driver. Our driver got out and argued with the police, got back in the car, told us they were giving him a ticket for speeding, and then immediately our driver took us to a strange park and told us to get out of the car and wait while he went to take care of his police issues.  The park was filled with lots of locals  and we were not sure if he was going to come back for us or not. Thankfully none of us were alone.  We just watched our pockets and stayed together.  Our driver did come back to get us.  He then wanted to drop us off at a pharmacy to see a spice demonstration and a theater. But after he dropped us off at the strange park we just wanted to get back to the ship.  I'm glad we made out of Morocco safely because we later found out that most taxi drivers pack guns and will sometimes drive people to secluded places and hold them up for ransome.  Scary!!

Rick's Cafe

Hassan II Mosque

Agadir, Morocco

We decided not to do a tour Agadir. I really wanted to ride a camal but that would not be possible with Caden, so we just got off at the boat but didn't do anything in the city.  We left Caden on the boat with my parents.  This is the day we played tennis with my dad.  The port area was not pretty but we enjoyed a game of tennis on our ship's tennis court.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain

Las Palmas was beautiful!  We did another taxi tour.  We found that if you have more than 2 people it is often cheaper to take a taxi to see everything you want to see.  You also get a more personalized tour and are able to go at the pace you want to go.  Our driver was fantastic!  We took a 3.5 hour tour here in a nice, clean, and comfortable taxi for the same price we paid in Casablanca.

Here we went to the Botanical Gardens in La Calzada (Jardin Canario), the largest botantical gardens in Spain.  Our driver took us along a winding road to look out above the volcanic Caldera of Bandama.  He drove us through the oldest quarter of the town called Vegueta to see Columbus' house and the Cathedral.  We went to Teror Village and saw the square and the church.  Then we went by Arcus, the stone church.


The house Christopher Columbus lived in before he sailed to America

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Portugal is one of my favorite countries and the island of Funchal did not disappoint.  It was my favorite port.  Not only was it absolutely breathtaking beautiful but the people were very friendly.  We took another private taxi tour and were blessed with another wonderful driver.  He told us that Funchal does not have a lot of crime and generally people look after each other.  Don't you wish your neighbors were all like that?

Our driver took us to the Botanical Gardens with more than 2,000 plants.  The garden was on a mountainous hill and had beautiful plants and amazing views.  We spent a little over an hour there.  We then went to the Village of Monte where we road a tobaggan on wicker sledges downhill back to Livramento.  The tobaggan ride was a lot of fun!  This was the main thing I wanted to do here.  Last, we went to Cabo Girao, Europe's highest sea cliff at 1900 ft.  Cabo Girao is the second highest sea cliff in the world, the tallest is only 3 meters higher.  The views were absolutely amazing!

Below are pictures from the Botanical Gardens, Cabo Girao, and our tobaggan ride.

Malaga, Spain

We decided to take a 40 minute horse carriage ride around Malaga and saw La Alcazaba, the Cathedral, Plaza de Toros (La Malagueta), and Playa La Malagueta.  Caden seemed to enjoy the ride, this was his first time to ride a horse, or a carriage pulled by a horse.  Then we walked around the city and passed Museum Picasso and visited Pablo Picasso's birthplace.  His house was not very impressive, but his art was neat to look at and some of it honestly looked like something a child would draw.  I guess if you live during the right time you can make big bucks or someone makes big bucks off your work once you die.  We also went into a run down mall and bought a snack at a local Dunk n' Donuts, it's not the same food, I got a smoothie and it was horrible!  Everyone else got coffee and a donut.  We had a nice time in Malaga.

One more thing, I also decided to get a haircut in Malaga.  I don't know why I like to get my haircut in any country but Germany but I do.  I don't speak Spanish very well but thankfully Collin is fluent.  So he told the man what I wanted and the guy did a great job.  The only thing different was the man who cut my hair sat down to do it.  Don't most people stand?  Oh well, for 17 Euros you can't beat it!

Below are pictures of Pablo Picasso's house and the castle in Malaga.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Western Mediterranean Cruise

Our cruise was amazing.  Our flight was only delayed one hour and it was because the French Air Traffic Controllers went on strike.  Go figure!  Anyway, we made it safely and were able to meet up with my parents which is what matters most.   

Thankfully we were not cruising on Louis Cruises (the cruise ship that got hit by three "abnormally high" waves that broke windows in the front of the ship and killed two people. Our condolences go out to the families and friends of those who lost someone that night.

We left out of Barcelona and sailed on the Norwegian Jade.  This was our baby's first cruise and mine and my husband's third. We got a penthouse suite with my parents that had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a living room, and a dinning area.  We also had a butler, something we've never had on a cruise ship before. I highly recommend getting a suite! The master bedroom and bathroom in which my parents so generously let us have for 8 of the 9 nights was very spacious! It fit the baby's crib nicely. From the shower we had a huge window looking out on the ocean, and a nice ocean view from the big bathtub. Our suite also had a private balcony and four televisions! Crazy! We  do not allow our baby to watch TV. However, two of the TVs had DVD players and we could rent movies from our ship to watch for free. So most nights after putting our baby to bed, my husband and I watched a movie in the living room or sat and talked while my parents went to a show or other evening event.  Our ship also had a tennis court and my dad and I played a set. It was really nice!  They also had a special room on the ship for children under 2 called Zoo under 2.  We took our son there a few times and he had a great time.  

Our baby did great and everyone had a wonderful time.  This coming week I will post our experiences at each port and about our time in Barcelona.  
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