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A Perfect Day Trip to Gdansk

During our 10-day holiday to Poland, we escaped the hot beaches for a city day in Gdansk. What a lovely city! We explored the city on foot, wandering through the old town and a few key areas I'd earmarked for entertaining kids. Here's what we saw:

We arrived by train and walked about 10 minutes into the city center. Near the KFC at the train station, we found the underground tunnel to safely cross the busy main road. With our Lonely Planet in hand, we headed first to the Golden Gate, happening upon the lovely Millenium Tree on our way there.

The gate itself wasn't much to look at, but the Ulica Dluga was gorgeous. The history - and how it was completely rebuilt, stone by stone - was fascinating. We went on a perfectly sunny Tuesday, where it also happened that the Dom Uphagena was free that day.

After wandering inside to see how the wealthy lived, learning how the original items inside had been kept away but the original building destroyed & later rebuilt, we headed to …

Tips for Visiting: Sopot, Baltic Sea, Poland

Summer break! After weeks of feeling burned out at work and exhausted by hot, long summer days and 2 little boys with seemingly boundless energy, I was so looking forward to a break.

We flew to Gdansk for a 10-day summer break, starting with 5 days at the beach (Sopot) and 5 days in the city (Krakow - post to follow). Despite previous frustrations with airbnb, there was not much else to choose from for apartments in the area, so we were stuck with it. Furthermore, googling Sopot hadn't turned up much; it was a place you had to sort of figure out while you were there.

Good thing I'm here to help and share our 'lessons learned'...

General tips for Sopot:
Stay on the west side, as close to the beach as possible. It's much quieter, shadier, and kid-friendlier. There's a huge beach playground and park playground, both on the west side of the Sheraton. This was a looooong walk from our airbnb. Mix it up. We didn't want to spend every day at the beach, so we coordin…

Furniture Store Daycare and Other Wonders

After years of wanting to try it out, we finally got a taste of free furniture store daycare. It was magical! Kinderparadies at Moebel Martin in Mainz, conveniently located next to the cafe (we literally ran into friends from daycare whose grandparents brought the kids to play while they got a coffee), entertained Navin for a good 2+ hours.

As far as I'm aware, daycares at furnitures is not a thing in the US except for Ikea. But boy is it ever here. Ikea offers it, therefore so do all other furniture stores. Here's how it works:
Kids must be 3+.There is a time limit - usually 2 hours.Trained caregivers will watch your kids and even provide snacks / drinks.You can bring house shoes for your kiddos - they likely won't be able to wear outside shoes in the play area. That's pretty much it! The only disappointing part was that Nayan couldn't go too - but we will be going back when he turns 3 in a few months! The staff will call you once the time is up or if your child re…

Just in Time for the World Cup - a World Cup Birthday Party!

After what seems like no time at all, we have a 5 year old! It happened so fast, and he has become very opinionated lately. Especially when it came to birthday party planning. For the first time, he didn't want a pinata, but did want a World Cup theme. He also wanted a treasure hunt - this is really popular with the kids here and pretty much every party we attend has some kind of treasure hunt component. There's been a police-finding-a-robber hunt, a photo-based treasure hunt around the university, and (the coolest) a treasure hunt through the forest.
Naturally, we obliged. Google turned up a wonderful resource for themed birthday parties: We acquired plates, cups, balloons, trinkets for the goody bags, and (the most popular) cake decorations, all with a soccer theme. Navin helped me make his red velvet sheet cake - it tasted so good! One trick we learned was to use the red food coloring from the Asian grocery store (powder form) - the red color was much rich…

A Quick Overnight in London

A perfect day in London. That was the plan, and we managed just about everything, even good weather, for a trip to see Hamilton and celebrate 10 years of marriage.

For the first time in a while, I successfully convinced S to plan everything well ahead of time. Well, except our flights - we ended up paying a bit more than expected since I waited until 6 weeks in advance to book... The theatre tickets were booked as soon as I found out (via Facebook) that they were released for the London show. When Harry & Meghan got engaged, I rushed to book the Taj St James Hotel near Buckingham Palace, and a convenient 7 minute walk to the theatre, just in case there was a rush on hotel bookings. Finally, for all I'd heard (and enjoyed for dinner) about Dishoom's breakfast, I booked a breakfast table for Saturday morning.

Day 1: 
So our plans for Friday were set - after setting up our tag-team of babysitters and village of neighbors to look after the boys, dropping them off at daycare and …

Three Disappointing Days in Stuttgart

Not every traveling experience is perfect, and traveling with young kids can be especially challenging. Stuttgart brought out more than the usual challenges for me.

Although we spent 3 days in the city, we could have spent 1 and returned home via the comfortable train. That's because my biggest takeaway was that hotels in Stuttgart are expensive! I looked for a while before settling on the Hotel Unger - mostly for location, breakfast, and the four-star rating. At 161 euros / night, it wasn't exactly cheap. Although the staff and breakfast were great, it was more in line with a 2-star Ibis hotel in any other city - older interior, poor ventilation in the rooms (and importantly, no air conditioning until the outside temp was 24C. I was melting at night), and near a bar which got very noisy between 12-4 am. Our experience at the Ibis Styles in Nice (still my favorite) far outranked this one, at nearly half the cost - in Nice, no less! Our friends stayed at the Schlossgarten hote…

At the Gym in Germany

One of the first things I do when I move somewhere, is find a gym. Even though I've never been one to make friends with people I meet through the gym, it somehow feels familiar, and helps me get into my familiar routine of being able to regularly work out, no matter the weather.

When I moved to San Francisco 14 years ago, as an AmeriCorps volunteer on an extremely tight budget, I did monthly trials for nearly every gym in the city (this could warrant its own blog post). No matter the neighborhood - if I could take a bus there, I would try it out for a month. It worked for a while, until I eventually convinced my boyfriend (now husband) to sponsor membership to a place near my apartment until I could afford it myself. What a guy.

Flash forward to moving to Mainz, and I learned my company had a fitness reimbursement plan and discounts already available, with Fitness First. There was one within running / bus distance to our flat, so I tried it out and quickly signed a contract. At th…

A Perfect Easter Break in the Black Forest

The streak of travel continues! Although we hadn't planned our Easter trip until the very last minute (just 2 weeks before), we managed to hook up with friends living in Lausanne to meet in the middle of the Black Forest, which was also right in the middle of our two cities. We booked a bauernhof urlaub - our second attempt at a farmstay holiday - just outside the town of Wolfach.

I would say the two best lessons learned were (1) book early for the best price on accommodation and food. We definitely overpaid due to late booking, and could have probably negotiated a better price on meals; and (2) have a backup plan for bad weather. We had a full rainy/gray day and could only find outdoor or open-air activities nearby. Luckily the other days were sunny and warm-ish, but alternate options would have been good. Oh yeah and (3) when hiking to a vesperstube, make sure they're open! We walked for over an hour up a steep hill to one, only to discover they were closed. We were starving,…

2 Perfect Days in Lisbon

It's rare that I travel for work, so it's always extra exciting to get a few days away on my own. Unfortunately, I caught the flu during my much-anticipated Munich trip (meant to be 3 days), and so did my youngest. After miserably attending a presentation for half a day, giving up and going back home a day early (which led to a different fiasco thanks to Deutsche Bahn, involving being stuck at Frankfurt central station at 1 am. Which is typically a less than ideal place to be after dark... and taking a pretty expensive taxi ride home from there... ), I was far too excited about my recent 3-day trip planned to Lisbon for a team offsite.

I knew most of the days would be spent in a conference room at the lovely Hotel Tivoli, but we were able to carve out time to see many of the city sights. The hotel was a bit of a walk to many touristy sights, but fortunately Uber is all over Lisbon to save the day (and legs).

Day 1: 
The first day, our group did an organized scavenger hunt durin…

A Perfect Overnight in Heidelberg

After a bit of a travel break, I'm back! We went to Heidelberg (again) for an overnight with the visiting grandparents, and had a lovely time in the very walkable Alstadt. 
We stayed at the Gasthaus Hotel Backmulde, in the heart of town, after a short drive over from Mainz. Although the hotel has (limited) parking, P8 is just a few blocks away and very reasonable at 17 euros / day. They even have family parking right by the elevator! We loved the little hotel - the three-bed and two-bed rooms (16 and 18) were very spacious, breakfast was perfect, and we could easily explore the city just by walking around the corner. 
We started with quiches, grilled sheep's cheese with veggies, and tea and cake at the lovely Cafe Schafheutle. The garden seating was covered and warm, and the lively atmosphere and friendly waitstaff made it easy to stay and thoroughly enjoy our lunch. We continued to wander, mostly popping in and out of shops, finding a collection of unique items at the GOODsHOUS…

Shoe Shopping in Germany

When I told my mom I was moving to Germany, one of the first things she said was to keep an eye out for Gabor shoes. Although I have no idea how she knew about the brand, it was further proof that she knows a lot more than I do about shopping.

Thus began my education into the world of German-made shoes. There are a lot of well-made shoes here, under a number of different brands, and I've finally made sense of what styles suit mine - and price areas. There are also a million shoe shops, but also zalando and mirapodo for online shoppers like myself, both with an inclination to send discount codes regularly.

One of the best lessons I've learned about shoes here - is side zippers! I still don't see this elsewhere, but a lot of shoes have laces and side zippers - it makes getting shoes on and off worlds easier! It also looks pretty stylish.

It can be hard to sort out which brands are worth the prices, so enjoy my guide below --

Caprice - slogan, "walking on air". I re…

What's the deal with Tchibo?

Tchibo. They're everywhere. When I got here, I was so confused by the store-within-a-store, that also had its own standalone stores. Why did their inventory change so often? Where was their stuff made? How come they sell coffee AND sports bras?

While I can't answer a lot of these questions after 5 years here, I can say Tchibo is a quirky little brand that has rotating items, usually around a theme (and often seasonal). I am finally starting to get a sense of when to expect what at Tchibo (spring cleaning, winter onesies for everyone in the family, workout gear for the new year... you get the idea). It can be a great source of useful, and fun / not useful items for the house AND they even sell furniture on the website.

Overall, I've been happy with my Tchibo purchases. Women's clothes can be hit or miss, but their ladies' pjs as well as almost anything for kids are always a hit. I appreciate their wide usage of organic cotton and fair pricing. Some of my best finds…

All About Kinder Basars

I often joke with S that I wouldn't know how to be a parent in the US. There's so much I've learned that's specific to where we live.. it will be hard to (someday) re-learn things that I've come to take for granted. One of the biggest is access to kinder basars. I know a lot of churches host consignment sales, but I have yet to see something like the kinder basar system over here.

Every Feb-March and Sept-Oct, each neighborhood in Mainz hosts a kinder basar for either spring / summer or fall / winter clothing for kids. Toys, shoes, carseats, strollers, bikes, etc... are also included. They are well organized events in which parents can either set up a table and sell their own goods, or drop off a crate of stuff and have the organizers divvy it up, attempt to sell it, and return what doesn't sell the next day. A portion of the earnings support a charity, sellers must bring a cake (it's imperative that shoppers be able to pause for cake and coffee while they …

An American, Cloth Diapering in Germany

While we are almost at the end of our diapering journey (for now, anyway), I have remained committed to using cloth the whole way. Except when we travel, our kiddos have always had little cloth bums. Not only are they way cuter than disposables, we've had almost no issues with diaper rash and while I know every baby is different... I credit the cloth. We did, however, have a lot of leakage issues - maintaining the elastic is not for the non-committed! We've worked through it all, and I'm so glad we stuck with it.

It took me a while to find my way cloth diapering here, since I couldn't easily find the brands I was familiar with. I turned to Facebook groups, our babysitter, and a little shop in Ireland that shipped to Germany and even provided moral support.

I relied heavily on bumgenius (a mix of all-in-ones and pockets), with a few blueberry simplex and flips (wish I had more of these). I stocked up on these when in the States through Kelly's Closet, where  I found …