Getting to Legoland Deutschland

No one ever said traveling with kids was easy, and we have had our fair share of challenging travel days. Our kids have really gotten to be very good travelers, but our trip from Munich to Legoland felt like Chevy Chase trying to get to Wally World.

We left our Munich apartment at 10:15am, and took the bus to the Ostbahnhof (East train station) because it went straight there and we figured it would be less crowded than the central Hauptbahnhof. Joe got our tickets for Günzburg, Germany, home of Legoland Deutschland. Estimated time of arrival: 12:50

Unfortunately, when we got the itinerary for our tickets, the first leg of the trip took us to the Hauptbahnhof. Oh well, no problem. We grabbed some food for breakfast and went over to the S-Bahn (Strassenbahn or street level tram) to the Hauptbahnhof. The train’s departure time came and went, but the train didn’t move. The conductor was making announcements in German that we didn’t fully understand until a friendly passenger told us that there had been a derailment at the Marienplatz, and that the train would be delayed for quite a while. It was recommended that we take the U-Bahn (subway) to the Hauptbahnhof instead.

This was a little frustrating, but we gathered our things and walked quickly through the train station to the U-Bahn platform. After waiting nearly 10 minutes, the train pulled into the station so completely packed with people going to Oktoberfest that there was no way we could fit our family of 5 with luggage. A few other people pushed past us to get on, and the train left the station, leaving us standing on the platform, and taking with it our last chance for catching our train at the Hauptbahnhof.

A nice gentleman suggested that we take the U-Bahn in the opposite direction for a few stops in order to get on the right train before all the other people got on. So we did. And about 25 minutes later we were back at the Ostbahnhof, only this time we were already on the train packed with people going to Oktoberfest. About 5 stops later, we squeezed our way out of the train at the Hauptbahnhof having long since missed our train to Günzburg.

Joe figured out when the next train was, and we settled onto the platform for the 30-minute wait. Amazingly, this train was a more direct route, and even though we had wasted an hour trying to get to the Hauptbahnhof, we would only arrive at Legoland 30 minutes later. Our new estimated time of arrival: 1:20pm. We boarded the train, and the kids got out their books satisfied that we were finally on our way to Legoland. The rest of the train ride was uneventful, even enjoyable.

They announced that the next stop was Günzburg, and we started collecting our things again. The next few minutes are a blur. There was a stuck train door, too many things that didn’t get repacked, kids that were a little slow… Joe was taking off the luggage while I corralled the kids, and as he came back on the train to grab more bags, the doors slammed shut and the train started pulling out of the station. We were banging on the doors, pushing buttons and yelling “Stop!” knowing full well that there wasn’t anything we could do, as the whole car of passengers looked on in horror. Emily finally lost it when she saw her suitcase sitting on the platform as we raced away toward the next station.

Each member of our family handles stressful situations in a different way. There was some yelling, some crying, some whining. It was like we all went through all 5 stages of grief, from anger through acceptance, in about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, a well-meaning passenger and a ticket-taker helped us figure out a plan. We got off the train at the next stop and went over to yet another platform to board a train going back the other way. Remarkably, when we got back to the Günzburg station 40 minutes later, our luggage was sitting on the platform right where it had been left.

Now we just had to get from the train station to Legoland. But, when Joe checked the bus schedule, he discovered that the Legoland bus doesn’t run for several hours in the middle of the day. LegolandSo, we waited at the taxi area for about 15 minutes before a taxi came and dropped us off at Legoland Deutschland at 3:05pm.

Legoland is just 120 kilometers outside of Munich, but it took us 6 hours to get there. (That’s an average of 12mph). And for the next two days, I had this song stuck in my head:


Posted from Günzburg, Bavaria, Germany.

Munich with munchkins

Swiss schools have a three week Fall break that started last weekend. Not only do the kids have off of school, all adult groups also take three weeks off, and even some family run shops are closed while the whole country goes on vacation. So, like all the other Swiss families, we took off for a trip in southern Bavaria. First stop: Munich, Germany.

Dinner in MunichIt is Oktoberfest season in Munich, and we were told it would be crowded and touristy. But, as we have thrown a home-town Oktoberfest party for the past several years, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the real thing! Amazingly, we found a cute, affordable apartment in the city for the family. We packed up our liederhosen and dirndls and we were ready.

Our apartment was right by a bus stop, so once we were settled in, we hopped on a bus to explore the city. We all got pretty good at navigating the Munich public transportation system, to the point that the kids knew which U-Bahn (subway) stops we got off at to make our transfers and when to push the button on the bus to let the driver know we wanted to get off. The first night we went to the Odeonsplatz, a pretty and posh area of the old city. We ate dinner in an outdoor café and reacquainted ourselves with wonderful German food. Then we walked down Theatinerstrasse to the Marienplatz, Munich’s famous central square, to show the kids the major landmarks of the city.

In the mornings, we took the kids to some less crowded, more peaceful areas of Munich. We walked through a small part of the huge Englischer Garten where we watched surfers on the Eisbach river, talked to the ducks by the Japanese Tea House, and ate lunch at the beer garden by the Chinese Tower. The next morning, we went to Max Weber Platz, which is another nice park by the Isar river, Lunch at Augustinerkellerwhere we found a spielplatz and just played with other local families. After working up an appetite, we went to the Augustiner Keller for lunch. It is Joe’s favorite place on the planet. This was his third visit, but his first time eating outside in the beer garden, and he said being there “made his soul feel good.”

Tuesday afternoon we took the family to Oktoberfest. We got all dressed up and headed over to the festival grounds on a very crowded train full of people wearing trachten. In fact, this is probably the one place you actually look out of place if you aren’t wearing liederhosen or a dirndl. At the festival, we bought the kids the traditional heart-shaped gingerbread cookie necklaces to wear, which they promptly ate. We rode on many rides,including the large ferris wheel, the haunted roller coaster, the little train (for Henry), and the grand finale –

Oktoberfest Kids– the swings that spun and rose up several stories in the air. Everyone had a good time, though for being a beer festival, we didn’t have a single beer. But not to worry, we fixed that later.

We got a lot of great pictures in Munich. Check out the gallery here.

Posted from Waltenhofen, Bavaria, Germany.

Swiss Banknote Series: 100 Franc Note

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

100 Swiss Franc NoteAlberto Giacometti is a Swiss sculpter, painter, draughtsman, and printmaker born in the Graubünden region of Switzerland, near the Italian border in 1901. His father was an impressionist painter.

He began his arts studies in the School of Fine Arts in Geneva, but subsequently moved to France to study under Antoine Bourdelle.

Woman of Venice

He produced a number sculptures of the human form, and states he purposefully tried to sculpt the human figure not in its natural form but rather as the shadow that it casts. An example of this can be seen in the sculpture Woman of Venice (II), seen on the left.

He died in 1966 in Chur, Switzerland, of pericarditis and is buried in his home in Graubünden.

Today, the bill bearing his name will buy a mid-level mobile phone (not a smartphone) at Swisscom.

Posted from Münsingen, Bern, Switzerland.

Picking up the pace

The past couple of days of grandma and grandpa’s visit have been packed with activities. We checked off some things that we’ve wanted to do, and it was fun to share it with them. On Friday, after the kids got home from school, In Bernwe took grandma and grandpa to Bern. We visited the Rosengarten for the first time, which has a beautiful rose garden with fountains (hence the name), a stunning view over the old town, and a fun playground for the kids.  After spending some time there, we walked down the hill to the Barengraben to show grandma and grandpa the bears of Bern.

Friday night, grandma and grandpa generously offered to watch the kids so Joe and I could have a night out. I met up with him in Bern, and we had a fantastic dinner sitting on the terrace of the Casino Restaurant.  The Casino is not a place for gambling as you might think, but rather the theater for the Berner Symphonieorchester.  We even went into the lobby after dinner and heard the last few minutes of a Strauss concerto for French horn. By the end of the day we both agreed that the city of Bern is beautiful, historical, easy to get around, culturally active… it’s really growing on us.

Rafting the AareOn Saturday we crossed off another big thing we have wanted to do: raft the Aare river from Thun to Bern.  Grandpa, Joe and I took the older two kids to Thun where we rented all the rafting equipment. We spent the next three hours floating down the clear blue water of the Aare with the sun over our heads and the mountains at our backs.  This is typically a very popular thing to do, especially in the summer. But, it is late enough in the season that we hardly saw anyone on the river during the first half of our journey.  As we got closer to Bern, there were more people swimming, sun bathing, river surfing, and generally trying to enjoy this unusually beautiful weather in late September. After returning home, we capped off the day with a traditionally Swiss raclette dinner and a campfire in our backyard.

Grandma and grandpa’s visit is quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow, we will once again stay around Münsingen and try to fit in a few fun things while we pack for our respective travels.  We plan to take them to the Dampfbahn and to the Gasthof Löwen, the oldest restaurant in Switzerland, which is located right here in our town.

We got some great pictures in the past couple of days, which you can see here.

Posted from Münsingen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland.

Our first visitors

Grandma and Grandpa Brezinski arrived in Munsingen on Tuesday, after a packed 15-day tour through Switzerland.  They’ve seen many areas that we haven’t even been to yet. Now they are happy to slow down their pace a bit and play with their grandchildren.  And, their grandchildren are thrilled to have them here as well!

We have had a few beautiful days for them to get to know our little Swiss town.  We haven’t gone very far, but they have been to the grocery store, where they stocked up on Swiss chocolate.  Grandpa walked with James to school this morning.  We took them to see the Aare river and our local creeks.  And grandpa joined Emily, James and me for a Walking with Grandma and Grandpabeautiful bike ride toward the mountains with fantastic scenery.  We’ve also spent a lot of time in our backyard kicking a soccer ball, playing ping-pong, and watching Henry entertain himself with the gnomes. In the next couple of days we have bigger plans to take them out of town.  But, all that really matters is that we are together for what will probably be their only visit for the year.

Being away from family is definitely one of the most challenging things about this whole adventure. Skype is great, and all (although my parents don’t have a web cam, and opt for good old fashioned phone conversations).  But it isn’t the same as being there.  They will miss a lot of milestones for our kids during the year, and we will miss a lot back home too. It’s a small price to pay for the experience of living abroad, and we certainly aren’t the only people in this situation.  However, it is really nice to have family here with us, at least for a few more days!

Posted from Münsingen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland.

Swiss Banknote Series: 50 Franc Note

Sophie Täuber-Arp (1889-1943)

50 Swiss Franc NoteThe first woman in our series, Sophie Täuber-Arp is a female artist born in Davos, Switzerland in 1889. She married the Dada artist Jean Arp in 1922. She studied art in Munich and France, as well as in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Her art is highly geometric in nature with influences of Cubism. She was skilled in textile techniques, sculpture, paint, and dance. Samples of her artwork can be viewed online through the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

She died in Zurich in 1943 when a gas stove in her home malfunctioned while she was sleeping.

Today, the Swiss bill carrying her image will buy you a Skross World Adapter PRO+ at melectronics. It is, quite honestly, the best travel adapter Swiss Francs can buy. I own two of them (and it only cost me “a pair of Sophie’s” as they say in Switzerland).

Posted from Münsingen, Bern, Switzerland.

Rain, rain go away

Well, I was supposed to be writing a post about our wonderful weekend in the mountains. We had it all planned out, reservations made, suitcases (almost) packed.  But, the weather forecast got worse and worse.  It said rain all weekend and no visibility, so we canceled our plans at the last minute and stayed home.  Now the most exciting things I can report from the weekend are a trip to a mall (and let me tell you that malls are not a cultural experience.  A mall is a mall is a mall.)  We also watched the Packers game live on Sunday night, which was noon in the US. Woo hoo!

Monday morning it was still raining.  Henry and I went to our music class, and I arrived from our bike ride cold and pretty wet.  Music class is all in Swiss German.  I’ve learned most of the melodies and some of the sounds/words.  But mostly I am singing gibberish and following whatever the other parents do.  Fortunately, in a toddler music class, this is not too difficult.

By noon, we had stopped at the grocery store and come home soggy just in time for Emily and James to walk in from school also soaked. I understand that this kind of weather is commonplace in Swtizerland, so we have to get better at this!  On the bright side, the forecast is much better starting tomorrow — both for the weather and for our plans.

Posted from Münsingen, Bern, Switzerland.

Playground Fun

Recently, the kids and I went once again to the local playground or “Spielplatz,”  and I realized that playgrounds are another expression of cultural differences.  Some friends of ours who are doing a fellowship in California posted a picture on their blog of a great playground on Venice beach.  American playgroundIt is a large version of a standard American playground, made mostly of plastic, with bars that are the required width so no one will fall off.  Things like merry-go-rounds and see-saws have all but disappeared from American playgrounds, presumably because it was too dangerous for kids.

Here, going to a playground is like going back several decades in a time machine.  They are all made mostly of wood, rope, and metal.  There is always a stand-alone slide and a sandbox.  If you are lucky there will also be one or more of the following: Spielplatzswings, a see-saw, a zip line (James’s favorite), a merry-go-round, rocking horse, and something I call the spinning rope of death.  The last one is like a giant rope ladder with rope swings attached to it that is wrapped around a pole.  Adults or older kids run around spinning it as fast as they can and try not to get hit by the kids who are clinging to the ropes for dear life.  The kids think this is a blast!

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there are no training wheels here.  I realize my children were very late to learn to ride two-wheel bikes.  But, I haven’t seen any training wheels at all here.  In fact, come to think of it, I haven’t seen any tricycles either.  Even little kids who are 2 or 3 years old ride on “first bikes” that are like mini-two-wheelers with no pedals. They push themselves along with their feet, learning first to balance before learning to pedal.

As I’ve mentioned before, ALL of the kids either walk, bike or scooter to school by themselves from Kindergarten on.  I’ve even seen entire classes of kids riding their bikes behind their teacher to go on a field trip.  Not to generalize too much, but there seems to be a little less coddling of kids here than is typical in America.  Here’s some shots of my kids flinging themselves around at the Spielplatz and having a blast.

Posted from Münsingen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland.

Swiss Banknote Series: 20 Franc Note

Arthur Honegger (1892 – 1955)

Born in 1892 in Le Havre, France to a Swiss family, Arthur Honegger would become a celebrated composer with significant Swiss connections. He studied music in Paris and Zurich. Among his many compositions is one entitled “Pacific 231” a symphony that attempts to recreate the sounds of a steam locomotive that goes by the same name.

He lived in Paris for most of his life, and died of a heart attack after a protracted illness in 1955. His last composition was a Christmas cantata. Below is a YouTube video featuring some of his music.

Nowadays, 20 Francs will buy you a case of Feldschlossen Bier at Coop.

Posted from Münsingen, Bern, Switzerland.

What a weekend

We didn’t leave the country (like two weeks ago) or go up to the mountains (that’s next weekend), but we squeezed a lot into the last couple of days. James and a dinoIt started on Friday afternoon when I took the kids to Europe’s “World of Dinosaurs.”  It’s a collection of life-sized dinosaurs in an outdoor setting that happens to be one town over from us right now.  We biked there and enjoyed getting up close and personal with dinosaurs, and even being paleontologists for a while.

With Grandpa in BernOn Saturday we spent the day in Bern.  Grandma and Grandpa Brezinski are on a 15-day tour of Switzerland.  Saturday was their day in Bern, so we met up with them and their group for a tour of the city and a nice lunch outside the Bundeshaus (the Swiss capitol building).  Unbeknownst to me, there are several outdoor markets in Bern on Saturdays, and there was also a large political rally going on right on the Bundesplatz.  So, the visit was a bit chaotic and too short, but it was wonderful to see my parents here in Bern.  (We will welcome them to our home in 9 days after their tour.)

It was a hot day, so after lunch we parted ways and I took Emily and James to the Marzilibad, the outdoor public pool complex in Bern.  It is a beautiful setting, and we had a great time splashing in the pools to cool down.  I’m not sure why, but it seems like none of the pools in Switzerland are heated. Emily at MarzilibadThe weather here isn’t exactly tropical, so the water is FREEZING!  I can understand the Aare river being cold since it flows from a glacier, but the kiddie pool should be warmer than 70 degrees!  But we had fun alternately chattering in the pool and laying in the sun.

Sunday, we stayed in Münsingen for a family day.  It was a clear morning, so we hopped on our bikes and went on another family bike ride.  We rode on the bike path between Münsingen and Thun with a gorgeous view of the mountains ahead of us.  All together we rode about 5 miles and got passed by many more serious bikers than ourselves.  But it was beautiful and, for us, quite an accomplishment.

DampfbahnIn the afternoon, we went to see the Dampfbahn Aaretal, the local mini train run by a club of train enthusiasts.  There are a couple of small-scale authentic steam engines, and the kids got to ride the trains around the fairly extensive track.  Henry, our biggest train fan, loved it!  The rest of us thought it was pretty cool too.

I’m a little sore, pretty tan, and very tired!  Also grateful to have new and exciting things to experience with our family.  Check out more pictures from the weekend in our gallery.

Posted from Münsingen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland.