Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Opening a German Bank Account

One of the first things we did after moving into our house in Germany was look into opening a German bank account.  I am amazed at how many of my American friends don't have a German bank account.  If you work for an American company and get paid in USD then you don't necessarily need a German bank.  Although some reoccurring bills require payment through a bank with a German account number such as some cell phone contracts.  If you decide you don't need a German bank, you can just pay your landlord directly in cash at his bank or a local bank, same with doctor bills and utilities.  However, I find that having a German bank saves me time and money.  Not only that but in Germany most places we shop only take cash or the EC card (which is a European debit card). The EC card is different than US debit cards, your American debit card will only work if the business accepts credit cards.

When you're comparing different banks ask to see a copy of their fees in writing.  Sadly, I did not find any "free" banking in my town.  I was not used to this because in the States I will only bank with a bank if there are no fees associated with it.  Fees vary from bank to bank.  I pay 2 Euros per month and can make unlimited deposits, pay my bills online for very cheap, and get an EC card.  Most banks offer services such as online only options, or limit the deposits you can make into your account (except for direct pay), some include an EC card, others have a monthly or quarterly fee for an EC card.  Not to mention some banks charge a small fee to use their EC card.  My bank allows me to make 5 purchases a month without charging me.  Since we also do business in USD it is important that I can get Euros out of the ATM and deposit it into my bank account without any additional fees. 

So why would one want to open a German bank account?  One of the biggest reasons we decided to open a German bank account was to make our German transactions easier.  All of our medical bills, rent, utilities, etc. are paid online. Also we wanted an EC card. It also helps to know some German because many banks offer their services and websites only in German - only German online banking seems more secure than US online banking.  However, once you learn how to bank in German it is not much different than banking in English.   After making the large 1200 Euro purchase for our dining room table and having to get cash out because the department store did not take credit cards, we decided we needed an EC card.  We are Americans after all.  Most Americans don't really like carrying around a lot of cash.  Not using a credit card is easy for us because we rarely use a credit card anyway.  But not having a debit card was difficult. Also, having an EC card makes things easier when we travel within the European Union, as we can book our flight and hotels with it.

I encourage you to consider opening a German bank account if you live in Germany.  It is really simple and and makes life a little easier.  My son loves our bank, just about every time we go he gets a toy.  Lately he's been getting toy cars. The sweet people who work at our bank love children and are always so kind to us. 

Related Article: Kid Friendly Bank

Friday, June 24, 2011

10 Money-Saving Travel Tips

Pisa, Italy - April 2011
My family loves to travel.  We take a vacation almost every month.  My son just turned 2 and has already been to 17 countries.  Obviously in order to travel as much as we do we have to be wise in how we spend our travel budget.  Here are ways we save money while traveling so we can take more vacations.
1. Look for free things to do.  Websites such as make finding free things to do in every state easy.  You can easily find free museums, zoos, parks, concerts, and more.  If you live in Europe or are planning a trip here, check out

2. Take a cruise.  Believe it or not cruising is one of the more economical ways to travel.  If your plans are flexible, book a last minute cruise to save even more.  My travel cruise agent has always helped me save money on cruises.

3. Go camping.  Camping is a cheap way to travel.  Most campsites cost less than $20 a night.  See my camping article for lots of tips.

4. Share a hotel room.  If you have two or three kids you can generally share a hotel room.  Get one room with double beds and add a roll-away bed if you need to.  Or if you are really adventurous you could try something like CouchSurfing, where you stay on someones couch for free.  Couch surfing probably works out better if you are not traveling with children.

5. Consider flying.  If you have to spend more than one night in a hotel to reach your destination it may be worth it to fly, especially if you only have one kid.  Remember, if you spend two nights in a hotel on the way there, you’ll have to spend two nights in a hotel on the way home.

6. Join Priority Hotel Clubs.  Most hotel chains have a hotel priority club.  Members get points for every night they stay that go toward free nights and upgrades.  Also don’t be afraid to call a hotel directly and ask if you can get a discount if you stay more than one or two nights.  A cheaper hotel chain in the Europe is Ibis.  We have stayed at Ibis Hotels in Germany, London, and France.

7. Look for a package deal.  Package deals can save you money, especially if you are traveling last minute.  Book a hotel, flight, and rental car together and save.

8. Travel during the off-season.  Spring, fall, and winter are generally cheaper times of year to travel than summer.  Traveling during the off-season can save you a lot of money.

9. Stay at a bed and breakfast.  Many bed and breakfasts are cheaper than hotels.  Plus they usually include a nice breakfast.  We spent a week in Ireland and only booked our first and last night.  You can read about our Ireland vacation here.  You can find many bed and breakfasts here.

10. Rent an apartment or condo.  If you are going to stay somewhere for a week or longer sometimes it’s less expensive to rent an apartment or condo.  Not only will you save money sleeping but you can cook some of your own meals and save money by not eating out every meal. has a great list of apartments and condos for rent.  We rented an apartment in Cinque Terre, Italy, and in Florence, Italy.

How does your family save money when traveling?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My baby boy is 2!

Big 2 year old about to eat his cupcake!
This week my son turned 2.  According to he is now classified as a preschooler.  Where has the time gone?  It seems almost like yesterday he was born.

We lived in Germany almost 11 months before I gave birth to him.  I had a great experience and can only speak highly of the healthcare in Germany.  I gave birth naturally and without any drugs.  Midwives assisted me until the very end when the doctor came in to help with the delivery. From my experience, giving birth was nothing compared to recovering from giving birth.  That was difficult.  I broke out with PUPPS which is a horrible rash that spread all over my body.  It felt like poison ivy and lasted for 4 weeks.  I could not take anything because I was breastfeeding.  I looked for natural remedies that were safe and came across drinking dandelion oil. The horrible tasting stuff that I got from my local Reform Haus helped.  However, I still have a nice rash on my stomach from the experience.

At my son's bowling birthday party
Being a mom is a lot of fun.  If I would have known how much I would enjoy this I would have tried to become one sooner.  I truly can see why the Bible says that children are a blessing from the Lord.  Parenting by no means is easy and it's not always enjoyable but overall I love it.  This past year my son has gone from walking to running, climbing, and jumping.  His vocabulary has exploded and he knows so many words.  He can count to 20 in English and 10 in German and Spanish.  He knows all the shapes I know, all the normal colors, and most of the animals and sounds they make.  He loves animals.  My son also knows the alphabet letters and sounds they make.  He can spell his name and a few other words.  Now when we read, he looks at some of the words and spells them.  If he knows the word he'll say it, if not he'll look to me or my husband, whoever is reading to him. A few of his favorite things to do are playing with friends, making balls with play-doh and putting them through the molds, going to the park, singing, building towers with his blocks, playing with his cars, reading, and shooting hoops.  Lately he has been sleeping in his big boy bed.  I will write a separate article about that since we practice attached parenting and did not let him cry-it-out.  So this is a very special time for us.  If you've always put your child to sleep you understand the sacrifice of your own personal time involved in sleep training.  Overall he is a very talented and smart little guy. The next step will be potty training, something I'm looking forward to and not at the same time.

At home receiving a gift from our sweet neighbor
On his birthday, my son said the prayer before we ate dinner.  Our neighbors were over for dinner and they got to be here for it.  Usually after we finish praying he continues on thanking God for things.  The other day we asked if he wanted to say the prayer.  He said, "yes, please!"  He is pretty good with manners and saying please and thank you.  When he prayed he thanked God for everyone sitting at the table.  I know God was pleased.  My husband and I both have a close relationship with God and want to pass on the faith and hope in Jesus Christ.  There is so much freedom in being a Christian.  

To celebrate my son's 2nd birthday we had a bowling party last Saturday.  The kids had a great time.  Then on his birthday we ate dinner with our next door neighbors and one of our other next door neighbors came over and had some cake with us.  We are blessed to be surrounded by wonderful people.  When we lived in the US we never were this close to our neighbors, except maybe in college when we lived in the dorms. If we can't live close to our families at least we are fortunate to have great neighbors.

Happy birthday to my sweet son.  I love you and am so happy to be your mommy! 

Eating pizza at the birthday party

Impressive!  He was able to bowl by himself! Of course we stood close by! 

At the hospital, newborn


Friday, June 17, 2011

Am I really 29?

Am I really 29?  I can't believe how fast my 20s have gone.  I just turned 29 a few days ago and had a wonderful birthday.  I know many people who stay 29 year after year.  As for me I think I'll just be 29 one year then join my friends in their 30s.  I have never really had issues with my age.  I am what I am. =)

This year's birthday was very nice.  Husband spoiled with me lots of gifts and a nice lunch out to one of my favorite restaurants in Mannheim.  It's called Skyline.  This was our third time to eat there.  We went for the first time last year on my birthday and again for our anniversary.  It costs 4,50 Euros per adult to go up the tower plus the cost of food.  So it's a nice place to go if you are celebrating a special day.  And the food is actually really good.

When I think of birthdays I think about spending time with family and those I am closest to. One of the hardest things about being in Germany is not having extended family around. Thankfully we have some great friends in Germany and I have the best immediate family living in my house so that makes up for a lot. It doesn't replace my family and friends in Texas but it makes life in Germany fun. My husband wanted to have a small party for me this year but I really just wanted to keep things simple.  Maybe on my dirty 30 we'll do something big.  We ate lunch out because lunch is a little quicker than dinner which is easier when you have a toddler.  We ate tacos for dinner followed by a triple chocolate cake.  Then we played Don't Break the Ice with my son before getting him ready for bed.  I like playing games and this is one of a few that we can all play.

Check out the beautiful flowers from my husband!
The night did not end how we had hoped.  My son ended up throwing up all of the cake, ice-cream, and dinner.  Yuck!  After giving him another bath, er shower, my husband sat with him until he fell asleep.  That put my husband to sleep.  Which I understand, my husband gets up early and if you're in a dark room with a child it makes you tired.  I ended up going to bed around 10:30pm after putting the clothes that were vomited on in the dryer.  I remember staying up super late in my teens and early twenties.  Boy have times changed!  I think it just goes to say that we have grown up and realized the importance of sleep.

Overall it was a very nice birthday.  I'm looking forward to this next year and seeing what God has in store for me. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Deluxe Veranda Suite on Holland America

A few of our friends and family have asked to see pictures of the suite we stayed in on Holland America's ship the Ryndam.  Our cabin was on the 10th deck and we were room 004.  Our cabin type was called Deluxe Veranda Suite on Holland America Cruise Line.  We had an amazing time.  When you have a young child you tend to spend a little more time in your room, at least we do.  Staying in a suite made things a lot more easy and relaxing.  We had a lot of space, extra services - including laundry and dry cleaning, a special breakfast just for suite guests, special parties, lunches, and other perks.  If you are able to save a little more and splurge on a suite then do it.  This was our second suite to stay in, first on Holland America.  We stayed in a penthouse suite last year on Norwegian Cruise Lines and that was really nice too.  We feel extremely spoiled when we stay in a suite.  Cruise ship suites are special and so are the services, I highly recommend getting a suite if you can.  If you are unable to get a suite then I recommend splurging on the laundry service.  We used it almost daily and it was so nice to have most of our clothes clean when we returned home from our vacation.  A HUGE plus for someone who lives in Germany where it takes 3-4 hours to wash and dry one load of laundry. Ugh! We also have an amazing travel agent.  If you are looking for one, contact Cathy, she is wonderful!!

Here are some pictures of our cabin and balcony. 

Nice and comfortable king size bed

Living area

Awesome balcony!

Dressing room and where we put our son's bed at night


Jetted Tub!

Picture I took on the balcony with reflection of the size

Friday, June 10, 2011

Oslo, Norway

View from our balcony
Our last port of call on our Holland America cruise before returning to Rotterdam was to Oslo, Norway.  I loved this port town and this was one of my favorite stops.  There was a lot to do and see.   We took a 1.5 hour bus tour around the city and stopped at the famous Vigeland Sculpture Park.  We have never seen so many interesting and somewhat disturbing statutes.  It was a huge park, with a playground, and had lots of statutes made out of granite.

Along our bus tour we saw the Akershus Fortress, the Parliament building, the Royal Palace, and the Nobel Institute.  We also passed the Viking Ship Museum, Kon-Tiki Museum, and many other places that we could have stopped at.  We were planning going to the Kon-Tiki Museum but decided we wanted to eat lunch on the ship and we would go back later.  The weather was so nice that day that we ate lunch then let our son play outside on our balcony as we enjoyed ship and people watching and the nice weather.  The captain gave us a bottle of champagne so we ordered room service and had a drink on our balcony.  We would go back to Oslo.  We really liked it.

Oslo Tip:  If you ever stop in Oslo, it is easy to get around on your own.  Some stops are worth going on a n excursion with the cruise ship and if you like that kind of thing then go ahead and take a ship excursion here. However, if you want to save some money just do your own thing.

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Famous "Crying Baby"

Oslo City Hall - where the Nobel Peace Prize is given

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Skagen, Denmark

Drinking my hot chocolate in Skagen
Our third port of call on our Baltic Cruise on Holland America was to Skagen, Denmark. Skagen is a fisherman's village.  We took a boat tender to shore.  My son fell asleep in my lap on the way to shore - it took about 15-20 minutes to get there.  He woke up before 6am that day and was pretty tired.  He slept for almost 2 hours. Skagen is not a city I would have gone to as a primary destination but it was nice. 

The waffle cone making man
Since my son was asleep and it was quite windy and cold, we walked through the town, stopped in a few shops, and decided to stop for drinks at the Brondums Hotel.  This hotel was one of the stops for a shore excursion and was very nice.  For two drinks we spent $25.  Like I said before, Denmark is expensive.   I had hot chocolate and thankfully it was some of the best hot chocolate I have ever had.  We sat and talked in this sleepy town and enjoyed the rest.  After our son woke up we went back through the pedestrian walking zone and walked to the other side of the main street.  My husband and son stopped for a waffle and ice cream while I went on to look in a few more shops.  The prices were outrageous and there was nothing worth spending money on.  Except for a Skagen watch, which I really wanted.  We looked in the watch store at the famous Skagen watches but ultimately decided that $300+ for a watch was not part of our budget right now.  However, we did end up getting Skagen watches, on our ship.  We lucked out and bought them on our ship for half off.  We love them, they are light weight (made out of titanium) and exactly what we have been looking for.

Skagen is a cute sleepy town.  There are sand dunes, if it was not so windy, we had considered seeing them.  We attempted to go in the Skagen Museum but when we got there we found out that strollers were not allowed.  It would be a great city to bike in but overall there was not a lot to do with a young child.  Most other cruisers seemed to shop and sit at the cafes.

We love our Skagen watches!
Danish Krones

Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli Gardens
We docked in Copenhagen for an overnight stay at 6pm on May 31, 2011.  That was during dinner so we did not go out.  I also had a spa appointment at 7:30pm which I did not want to miss.  I got a facial, massage, and pedicure.  I don't usually go to the spa except when we are on vacations such as cruises. 

We explored Copenhagen the following day.  The main thing we wanted to do was go to Tivoli Gardens amusement park which did not open until 11am.  The mornings are the best time of day for us.  My son woke up around 6:30am almost everyday.  A few times before 6am.  The sun rose at 4:30am which woke us all up early.

This ride cost us $15 to ride
The first thing we did in Copenhagen is took the ship's bus to town.  Then we walked around the peditrian only area, explored the shops (all of which were too expensive and not worth the money (in my opinion) to buy anything), and ate lunch at McDonalds.  We are not big McDonalds fans, however, we did not want to spend $40+ on lunch.  I think it cost us around $20 at McDonalds, which is expensive for McDonalds considering we got two Happy Meals and one cheeseburger.  After lunch we went to Tivoli Gardens.  Our son was free and our tickets were around $30 each whcih did not include any rides.  If you wanted to get unlimited rides the ticket jumped to around $75, I believe.  Or you can just pay for rides as you go, which is what we decided to do.  The rides cost anywhere from $5 per person to $15 per person.  The only rides our son could ride cost $5 since he's small.  If he was older we would have bought the unlimited ticket.  We only spent around $25 for rides and sadly only rode 2 rides, like I said, Denmark is expensive.

The park was neat though.  There was an aquarium which of course cost money, I think around $8, and we got to see them feed the fish.  There was also a nice playground which our kid loved.  We enjoyed our time at the park and are glad we chose to do that.  Copenhagen is a nice city and I would go back. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Helsingborg, Sweden

Our first port of call was Helsingborg, Sweden.  Since we are traveling with a toddler we decided it would be easier for us to do our own shore excursions.  It's cheaper and we can tailor them to our needs.  We looked at the shore excursions offered by Holland America and then decided what we wanted to do from there.

The Swedish people were very kind and welcoming.  Most everyone spoke English.  We decided that going to the open air museum would be the most enjoyable for our family.  Our son loved it and so did we. The open air museum is called the Sofiero Gardens.  We took the local bus to the gardens and walked up the hill.  It was about a 15 minute bus drive from the town center, very easy to get to.  The bus driver even told us when to get off.  The gardens had a lot of neat things in it.  You learn about farming and how to grow a garden, there are farm animals, a children's activity house where kids draw pictures of what they saw, we even got to hang our son's picture on the wall.  It was a beautiful place to run around and explore, perfect for a little guy with a lot of energy.

One of many garden plots

Children fishing in the little pond

Old town

Sweet boy in the children's learning center at Sofiero Gardens

After touring the gardens we headed back to the town center.  I wanted to buy a dress from Sweden.  Thankfully there was a H&M.  H&M has less expensive clothes than many places and the style is usually more alligned with what I would wear.  Sweden is expensive, not as expensive as some of the other places we visited but more expensive than Germany.  I lucked out with finding a beautiful blue and white dress for half off. 

Enjoying our balcony in my new dress

My husband enjoyed going in one of the electronic stores and seeing a 3-D TV.  On the ship we met a man who had a 3-D video camera, which was neat.  I'm not a big TV person so it will be a long time before we make a purchase like that but it was neat to see.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Baltic Cruise with a Toddler

We just got back from a wonderful vacation.  My family took a 7-night Baltic Cruise on Holland America Cruise Line.  We sailed on the Ryndam.  I have been wanting to take a Baltic Cruise since we moved to Germany.  I am glad we finally were able to go.  This was our second Holland America cruise and mine and my husband's 4th cruise, and my son's 2nd cruise.  We sailed from Rotterdam, Netherlands.  Before our cruise we spent one night in Delft, Netherlands, which is about 20 minutes from Rotterdam.  Delft is known for their pottery and we actually were given four Delft pottery coasters for free as a gift from Holland America since we were past guests.

It is a lot different taking a cruise with a toddler than traveling with just my husband and I.  Last year when we took my son on his first cruise he was only crawling.  Now that he is older he enjoys running rather than walking most places.  We were disappointed that Holland America did not allow our child in the kids' club.  I had read somewhere that children under 3 could play in the kids' club if a parent accompanied them.  Even when no other children where in there we were told we couldn't stay there and he was not welcome. Thankfully, we were able to pay extra for a babysitter and my husband and I went to dinner alone twice.  We love our son and are always happy for him to come along but sometimes it's nice to have adult time.  Our Norwegian Cruise Lines ship had a special area for children 2 and under, including their own swimming pool.  Not having a place for our child to play besides our room was a little disappointing.  However, having a suite made up for the inconvenience as we had extra space for him to play.

We were blessed with a deluxe suite on this cruise.  We really lucked out as we were upgraded about a week before our cruise.  We are past guests and did pay for a balcony suite (which on this ship was just a balcony).  So when we were upgraded to a deluxe suite we felt very blessed.  Our room was beautiful and spacious.  If you ever get a chance to stay in a suite on a cruise ship, I highly recommend it.  Not only was our room twice the size of the balcony cabins but we had special privileges such as free laundry and dry cleaning throughout our cruise - which I highly recommend, especially if you are traveling with your child(ren).  We were also able to have special breakfast in the specialty restaurant, priority boarding on and off the ship, a nice lounge just for suite guests, and more.  Last year we stayed in a penthouse suite on Norwegian Cruise Lines which was very nice as well.

Holland America, the Ryndam
You can read about each country we visited in a separate post.  As an overview we visited Rotterdam,  Netherlands (which is a beautiful city); Helsingborg, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark (where we spent the night); Skagen, Denmark; and Oslo, Norway.  Before our cruise we stopped in Dordrecht, Netherlands, and visited the Noah's Ark Replica.  My almost two year old son has now been to 17 countries. He is becoming a world traveler and picking up new words from different languages all the time.

Noah's Ark Replica - de Ark van Noach

I love the Netherlands.  On our way to Rotterdam, we stopped in Dordrecht, Netherlands, to see the almost completed Noah's Ark replica, known as de Ark van Noach in Dutch. We were hoping that it would be open but it is not quite finished yet.  It is planned to be completed in mid-July.  Since we were in the area, we decided to drive by it and take some pictures.

The owner, Johan Huibers, has spent the past few years building an ark that is identical to the ark Noah built in the book of Genesis.  Mr. Huibers is going to fill the ark with life-size animals.  From outside the fence, we could see an elephant and a giraffe.

Once it's finished Mr. Huibers hopes to sail the ark to various places around the world.  He hopes to use the ark as a teaching tool to share the Bible.  I look forward to going back and touring the ark in Dordrecht, Netherlands, once it is completed.  I think people both young and old would enjoy it.  You can read more about the ark at and

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