Thursday, August 30, 2012

Packing Light with a Toddler in Tow

Tonight we are setting off for yet another exciting adventure. This particular adventure is a tad bit different than trips we've taken in the past. We're heading to Mallorca where we'll be spending exorbitant amounts of time worshiping the sun, feeling the sand between our toes, and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Exploration of the local towns will be done, if for nothing else to discover the delicious local cuisine; however, unlike our other adventures, this one is a true vacation - or at least that's the plan. Nothing but pure relaxation. The three of us will be joined by two of our closest friends here in Germany, and we cannot wait!

Another difference between this trip and others is that we are flying the infamous Ryanair. You can find ridiculously low fares, which is the reason we are flying to Mallorca this weekend, but they have strict rules, so you have to be wary of carry-on restrictions, boarding pass requirements, and joining the cattle call to find a seat on board. Because of this, we have to take our already light travel habits one step further to be sure we don't get caught owing Ryanair more money for our baggage.

My friend K wrote a brilliant blog a few months ago about how she packs light for her Ryanair excursions. Following her lead, I thought I'd share how we plan what we are going to bring and pack light with a toddler in tow. In all fairness, this beach vacation made it easier for us this time around to keep things light because the weather is forecasting hot temps with little to no rain, and we are staying at a two star bed & breakfast. That makes things slightly easier than packing sweaters and jackets and tennis shoes for colder temps with a lot of walking, or trying to pack stylish clothing for posh city visits and resorts.

We each get one carry-on and the dimensions are really strict. For four days and four nights, this is what we are taking with us:

So, what do we have insidee these three small bags, you ask? Well, for my little man, we still need to pack diapers. (Not sure when to expect that to change, so we'll accept it for now.) My friend, B, gave us a couple of her cloth "swimming diapers" so we could now avoid the need to buy separate diapers for pool-time. This worked out perfectly for this trip. I somehow managed to cram four full days worth of diapers and baby wipes, three pairs of shorts, five t-shirts, two swim trunks, and two cloth diapers for swimming into his small backpack. Phew! We are leaving late tonight to head to a hotel near Frankfurt Hahn airport, so he'll wear his summer jammies, and the outfit for the plane is sitting on top so we can avoid tearing the backpack apart to get to his clothes.

For my end, I packed mostly sarongs, tank tops, and sundresses. Since we don't really have room to bring towels with us and I'm not sure what our towel situation will be like at our small hotel, I figured the more sarongs the better so they can double as towels and cover on the beach. I am bringing one sarong that easily dresses up with a nicer tank top, one sundress that I'll wear on the plane and have available for other outings, and a wrap dress I bought on our honeymoon that I rarely ever get to wear that'll shape itself into about forty different types of dresses. Figured that could come in handy. I threw in a couple more casual sarongs and tank tops into the mix for beach time and wandering around town, and one extra tank for sleeping. Because we are hoping to spend a lot of time on the beach and in the pool, I'm bringing two bathing suits for each of us.

To bring things up a notch when our feet leave the sand for the pavement and we head out to dinners at night, I'm packing a few pieces of jewelry. I kept it simple though, but with a little variety of things that will dress up the sarongs. Things like small pendants, bangle bracelets, fun earings, and the necklace my sister made me. I plan on only bringing my wedding ring mostly because I'm paranoid about losing the others on the beach or having them get stolen. These will all fit carefully into a small cloth bag I can slide into my daypack.

Toiletries are kept to a minimum. In fact, most of what we are bringing is sunscreen. I'm sure we'll be able to buy more there, but I need plenty of it. The last thing we want is a sunburn on our vacation, and this family is as fair as they come, so we will be layering it on thick this weekend. I also packed small shampoos (including baby shampoo for little r) and conditioners and soap because I read that our two-star hotel doesn't provide any. Figured we could try not to smell too much... Tooth brushes, toothpaste, face wash, and face lotion are also necessities, but they don't take up much space. I'm keeping my make-up to a minimum as well, being sure it all fits in my small make-up bag. These items will fit easily into my small daypack leaving more room in the backpack for our clothes.

And finally, traveling with a toddler means we need to bring entertainment and fun snacks along for the plane, the car, the train, meals out at restaurants, and evenings before bed. In addition to a few cars, a coloring book and crayons, and fun snacks, we will also be toting our iPad for much needed movies when little r has had enough (as much as I hate the idea of plopping him down in front of a movie, it's a Godsend more often than not). In fact, our family is an electronic mess of toys and we will certainly be bringing a handful of them on this trip. The iPad, both of our iPhones, my kindle, and Big R's fancy camera will be in tow, as well as, all of the necessary charging devices. I debated for awhile whether we should also bring our Nook because it has all of little r's electronic books on it, but I think I'll pass on that this time around.

All of these things fit nicely into our three bags including Big R's clothes (two pairs of shorts, two polos, a long sleeve light-weight button down shirt, four t-shirts, and underware). I'm still debating whether I will be happy with only bringing one pair of sandals, and also whether I should bring a hoodie or small sweater to wear just in case things get chilly at night or on the plane. These will probably be last minute decisions...

Hopefully we'll end up with everything we need on this trip. We might actually have some space on the way home because we'll have fewer diapers, so some trinkets could come home with us.

I'll have to admit that it has gotten much easier to travel light as little r gets older. No bottles, baby food, or a million changes of clothes is necessary anymore. At this point though, I think practice starts to make perfect and you just figure out how to make it work. You rarely need as much as you think you do, especially when you are traveling to a developed country. One way or another, you can always track down the things you might have left behind. Challenge yourself on your next trip to pack a little less. You'll probably be thankful that you did :)


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Power of a Book

Have you ever read a book that completely consumes you? From the first page, you struggle to put it down and find yourself hanging onto every word? I'm not usually that person. I love to read, but I've never had trouble putting a good book aside. Until I picked up our book club book for the month, "The Art of Racing in the Rain," by Garth Stein. I completely and utterly devoured this book. I felt as though I couldn't breath until I finished it consuming the words as they flew across the page.

When I started the book, I wasn't sure I'd be able to read it. I won't give anything away because I want others to enjoy this amazing literature as much as I did. The story is told through the eyes of a dog as he goes through all of life's obstacles with his "master." I knew it would be difficult. The same way that reading "Marlo and Me", as fun of a book as it was, could only lead to tears because that's what those books always do. I was barely through the first chapter of "The Art of Racing in the Rain" and I was already crying...

Losing Rani was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through. And it still is. In some oddly human way, you almost feel guilty mourning an animal so deeply. Within the span of a month after Rani died, we lost a close family member and my sister lost a good friend. It seemed wrong to be so overwhelmed with the death of an animal, so I pushed it aside. This past week has been hard again though for reasons I'm not sure I could explain.

After fighting through the initial tears, I allowed myself to get lost in this book. I made myself go to sleep knowing I would be dreaming about it all throughout the night. Somehow this morning I was able to finish it - all 400+ pages of it. I read it while we played with cars and trains, while we ate our snack and drank our tea on the porch, while little r was a chef preparing me pretzels and sausages... The book made me feel Rani with my every being. It was amazing. The writing was incredible and the words were empowering and courageous. Through the pages I started to understand why losing a dog is sometimes harder than losing a friend.

The final chapters left tears streaming down my face. I walked back inside from the porch and I felt like I had to get out. It's a beautiful day, and I hadn't gone for a walk in what felt like ages. Since kindergarten has been on break and the temperatures have been crazy hot, I hadn't taken to the trails in awhile. I missed having my furry walking companion. That companion that always assured I got the fresh air I needed and walked the trails whether rain or shine. Even when I didn't want to, she knew I needed it.

So I put my shoes on and told little r to come for a walk with me. When my toes hit the trail, I started balling. I couldn't hold it back. The tears flowed and my breathing sobbed. I decided to let it all out. Crying is healing and I knew I needed the release. Little r put his sweet hand in mine and walked up the path to the hill all the while he was telling me about how Rani was going to come back next weekend and play in the field. Sometimes as a parent you can find the willpower to say all the right things in these sorts of situations, and other times you just nod your head and say, "ok."

When we got up to the field, I told little r that I missed Rani so much. He just smiled at me and gave me the sweetest hug and held me tight. Then we walked the rest of the trail back home and talked about the wind blowing in the corn fields and picked apples from a tree.

It is a beautiful day. The power of a book can be amazing, don't you think? If you are a dog-lover, this is a must-read. You will thank me for recommending it to you later...




Monday, August 27, 2012

Is summer really almost over?

The end of summer always sneaks up on me. Does it do this to you? Those long summer days slowly get shorter, and you know that your days at the pool are numbered. I feel like I blinked and it was the end of August already. Summers here in Bavaria remind me of the way I felt about summers when we lived in Vermont, I'm actually sad to see them go. The warm air, days by the pool, late evenings sipping wine on the porch...
I can honestly say though, I have never had a summer quite like the one we've had this year. Although it might be coming to an end, we still have so much we are cramming into our schedule in the next couple of months. Little r has been on vacation from kindergarten for two weeks now. I really thought we would make each other completely crazy sitting at home trying not to go after each other's throats. Instead, we have somehow managed to stay insanely busy and preoccupied with travels, sun worshipping, and festivals. We need summer to end just so we can catch our breaths!

little r enjoys some time hanging out with the men at the table
This lederhosen has been donned on many occasions already
All this travel and nonstop action is absolutely a blast, but it certainly has a way of catching up with you. I've been surprised that it hasn't affected me more - the lack of routine, especially - but I most definitely feel it every 5 or 6 days. I can feel it in little r when he is clearly needing a good night's sleep, and I'll get that unsettled feeling of almost being frazzled inside because I haven't planned a meal or read the news in weeks. As soon as my stomach forms into knots, we pick up and go somewhere else exciting and the knot disappears. I'm just hoping all this nonstop action is giving little r worldly culture and not putting me in the "bad mom" category. So far he's doing quite well with it all.

little r being a trooper out late with our friends...
August has been a month full of festivals. We went to several wine and beer festivals including the nationally famous Sandkerwa (super awesome annual beer festival) here in Bamberg this past weekend. We went last year when I hadn't even lived in Germany a month yet, and we just couldn't wait for Sandkerwa this year. What a blast! But holy heck, if I don't have a pretzel, bratwurst, or beer for awhile, I'm sure my body would be very happy with me. This really is a pretty incredible place to live in the summertime though, despite what your body might think :)

Some of the ladies enjoying the local beer
And the men clearly enjoying the beer as well...
After our trip to the Rhine Valley, and several late nights hanging out with friends at BBQ's and Sandkerwa, we were exhausted yesterday. We got little r to bed early, we even climbed into bed earlier than usual. Much to this mommy's absolute blessed suprise, my little bear decided he'd crawl into bed with us early this morning and then sleep until 8:30 a.m.! Any regular reader of my blog understands how much of an anomoly this is! I'm not sure of the last time I slept that long - it was pure heaven, for both of us!

I'm going to stay somewhat low key this week to prepare ourselves for another weekend of amazing plans. We are heading with friends to Mallorca, Spain, to spend the weekend on the beach in true Spanish style. We all can't wait, especially little r. We're taking Ryanair for the first time, so the adventure promises to bring a few stories and a tip or two about how to pack super light with a toddler in tow. Then we are off to the States for our law school reunion in Vermont. We'll be gone for a week, and we are doing the double dare of flying Space A. That will create many a blog-worthy post, that I can assure you! I'm oddly looking forward to the unconventional method of travel (right, as if the standard way is too boring, right?)...

I'll be sad to see the warm weather go, and when the sun sets at 4:00 p.m. and it's too cold to sit out on the porch anymore, I'll just dream about warm drinks by the fire and all the adventures we have planned this winter. Oh yes, we have no intentions of sitting still just because the sun has gone. I suppose we'll just catch our breaths when we leave Germany, which will hopefully not be any time soon!






Friday, August 24, 2012

The accidental perfect, last-minute trip: Germany's Rhine Valley

The only thing more perfect than an amazing trip is one that happens accidentally and at the very last-minute. You know, one of those surprises you could have never expected? No planning, not much effort, just "oops, that was really cool!"  This last adventure easily fell into that category.

A couple weeks ago, Big R told me he had a case docketed out in Kaiserslautern on the western side of Germany.  I know he had mentioned this to me in the past, but I flat out forgot - that or I wasn't paying attention as I'd been lost in his sea of trials not remembering which one would occur when or where.  Being as little r is out of school for the next few weeks and the western end of Germany is not one we've discovered much, he encouraged me to go with him.  Big R had done this last May when he had a trial in Vicenza, remember that?  Italy is absolutely beautiful, and I was happy that I was able to see that corner of the world, but it was also a tad bit stressful traveling alone with my screaming toddler.

I took a chance and decided to ask a friend here if she would be interested in joining us.  B has a son that is 7-months old, and I was hoping she would be in for an adventure.  Much to my happy surprise, not only did she say 'yes' but she couldn't have been more excited about the trip. We honestly had no idea where we were going to go.  We played around with the idea of visiting a few cities along the Rhine and Mosel, or thought maybe we'd head over to Strasbourg or Luxembourg.  But honestly, we really were not quite sure where we'd end up.

At the last minute administrative issues made it complicated for me and little r to stay with Big R during his trial.  B's response was, "let's go anyway!"  I love this girl...  Since we were leaving from home instead of staying east, and we didn't want any meltdowns from Baby H in the car, I decided I would plan a trip for us in the Rhine Valley.  As a Rick Steves' junkie, it was an area I had not only read about many times, but also one that I had been dying to visit and yet somehow never seemed to get there.  So, we loaded the kids up and headed out for our little adventure to Germany's Rhine Valley...

The beautiful town of Bacharach, Germany, along the Rhine River became our home base for this adventure.  Everything about this trip was easy. It was easy to find, easy to park, easy to find a fantastic place to stay, easy to find good food...  We arrived mid-afternoon, so we parked the car, found a cozy cafe for a delicious lunch with the boys, and then went on a search for a hotel to call "home."

Our home for the next couple of days was this charming little gingerbread house called Pension Im Malerwinkel.  Our original plans of staying in a castle in town changed quickly as we didn't get a good vibe from the place. Fate definitely led us to the right pension. We had free parking, a beautiful garden terrace, a view of the vineyards from our hotel room, and the price could not have been more perfect to keep the costs down for this trip.
Archway adjacent to our hotel
View from our hotel room of the adjacent vineyards
little r in the archway
View from the garden terrace
little r and me standing in the garden terrace at our hotel
The garden terrace at our hotel
Once we were checked in and had the boys cleaned up and readied, we decided to do some exploring in Bacharach.  It is a precious little town surrounded by hills lined with vineyards that is well-preserved in its historic state with a castle peering over a cliff protecting this gem and its citizens.
little r  walking with B and baby H through Bacharach
Building in the center of town.
This saying was made for me. Translate to read, "Life is too short to drink bad wine."
More vineyards...
and more vineyards...
Views as we strolled through Bacharach
B and baby H in the center of Bacharach
Views of the hills across the river from Bacharach
We took our time hiking up to Burg Stahleck, or Stahleck Castle.
Burg Stahleck as seen from the center of Bacharach
The weather in Germany has been especially hot these past few weeks, and our trip was no exception.  It just slowed us down so we could take in the views, and boy, were there views!  I think at certain points we'd come around the corner and literally have to catch our breath because the sight before us was so overly breathtaking.  It was unbelievable!
little r was our fearless leader up the trail to the castle
View of the Rhine River
Ruins seen from Burg Stahleck
little r enjoyed the views as well
Burg Stahleck is now a youth hostel, known to the German's as a Jugendherberge.  The walk up was primarily for the views as there was less to see once we got inside.  We headed back down toward the center of town, and we did a little wine tasting and purchased a couple bottles of wine we had hoped to enjoy a little of during the evenings after our daily adventures. We then discovered what was likely our favorite part of Bacharach - a gelato cafe that made homemade Reisling Wein Eis.  Holy zonkers! This was probably the absolute most refreshing tasting ice cream I have ever experienced.
A little piece of heaven: Riesling Wein Eis
The Eis Cafe in Bacharach - we stopped here at least a few times :) 
little r tried a new flavor each time, and no, he didn't try the Riesling - no worries
baby H discovered his newfound love for chocolate ice cream
The boys were tired, so we headed back to our cozy hotel.  After we all took turns bathing and rinsing off, we took the boys, a bottle of wine we purchased in town, and a few snacks, and we found a quiet spot in the garden terrace to enjoy the evening.  The boys were surprisingly well-behaved, and we had a really nice end to our first day in the Rhine Valley.

The view after sunset
After enjoying a delicious German-style breakfast of brotchen, meats, cheeses, and coffee provided by our hotel, we were energized and ready for our day.  We had decided that we wanted to take a cruise up the Rhine River toward Saint Goar to explore the Burg Rheinfels.  But mostly, we just really wanted to take a cruise on the Rhine.  There are a couple of different touring companies that do the cruises every couple of hours throughout the day, so we picked the one that we felt would be the best fit.  The first cruise left at 10:00 a.m., and the morning was outright spectacular.  Again we continued to try to catch our breath as we  felt there was an amazing view at every turn.  Such a perfect morning.
One of the towns along the Rhine
Our seat in the shade on the cruise up the Rhine

little r trying his hand at sailing :) 
Saint Goar was a nice town, although not quite as charming as Bacharach.  From the brochure we had for Burg Rhinefels, we had hoped to take a "train" up to the top, but unfortunately it was no longer in service.  The walk really wasn't too strenuous or steep, we were just dripping from the heat and humidity.  Yes, it really does get that hot here, believe me.  We actually had to take a few breaks on our way up to the top just to cool off.

Main road through Saint Goar
Store claims it has the largest cuckoo clock in the world
Burg Rhinefels was a great castle to explore.  It is incredibly well-preserved, and the history of the castle is fascinating. We saw tourists from literally every part of the world.  As much fun as we were having though, we decided we really wanted to get back to Bacharach on the next cruise so that we could enjoy more of the charming town we were calling home.  The cruise back involved fewer pictures and more relaxing.  The boys were definitely getting tired from all the heat and excitement.

We ditched the baby carriers for the strollers and found our way through Bacharach and landed at the quirkiest and friendliest Weinstube and biergarten.  The seating for the Weinstube was inside an old carousel and it sat adjacent to a funky theater that the same family owned.  We think they did marionette type shows, but were honestly were not quite sure what type of theater performances they had there.  Little r's favorite part of this place was an old carnival ride.  The owners also had a child about little r's age and his toys were surrounding the place for all to share.  I think little r played hard for two solid hours if not more.  I had to keep making him take a break to drink water so he wouldn't overheat.
The old carnival ride - little r was in heaven
Inside the Weinstube
View from the Weinstube - breathtaking!
Weinstube was set inside an old carousel, and little r just loved the toy car
Lovely Riesling we enjoyed made from grape grown on the hill adjacent to the Weinstube
The atmosphere of the Weinstube and the happy kinder also meant that B and I were able to truly enjoy our evening, and it was such a perfect and relaxing setting (yet again).  B told me she thinks this was easily the best find of our trip.  We shared a bottle of a local Riesling made from vineyards on the hills adjacent to the Weinstube.  Since the boys were so happy, we eventually decided to just have dinner at this perfect little place and finish out the evening there.  We seriously could not have planned a better evening.  When little r literally could barely stand from playing so hard, we packed things up and headed back to our Pension.

We all slept in the next day, which is no surprise considering how much we had done the day before, and after breakfast we took a couple more hours to stroll through town, along the old town walls, and up inside an old Tower where we got more amazing views of Bacharach.
B and Baby H on the pathway up to the Tower
Burg Stahleck
Kisses on the Tower
The only picture of the four of us on the trip
Beautiful Bacharach
Grapes on the vine
Riesling grows here :) 
We had to get at least one more scoop of that Riesling Wein Eis before we left!  Then we got in the car and headed away from the beautiful Rhine.

To break up the drive, we decided to stop through the town of Rothenburg ab der Tauber.  It's another quaint town where the Allstadt is still surrounded by the old medieval walls.  Big R and I visited here last December when my sister was in town, and we got rained out, remember? I had been wanting to go back ever since, and it was a perfect day to rediscover Rothenburg, especially since B had never been.  Our trip was finished off with a lovely afternoon wondering the streets, eating amazing food at a charming hotel bier garden with delicious food and the friendliest and most attentive waiter I have had yet here in Germany.  (Little r got ahold of the camera quite a bit during the end of our trip.  He took some fun pictures of our lunch including me playing with my phone and some nice pictures of our food - haha.)
My little musician in Rothenburg
Just part of a normal day here in Rothenburg

What are you doing on the phone, mommy?
little r's lunch
Flamkuchen - and no, I didn't share AND I ate it all :)
You seriously could not have planned a more amazing and perfect trip.  The warm weather didn't beat us, we managed to still enjoy our adventures and the boys were so well-behaved it was almost uncanny.  In fact, I would say, the whole trip was absolutely meant to be.  Just perfect...

Thanks B for a fantastic trip.  When can we go back?! :)