The Rhine River in Germany is such a beautiful and iconic place. It meanders through some of the most stunning scenery in Europe, with ancient castles dotting the lush green hilltops. It's the place featured on all those European cruise commercials, where the lucky participants are glamorous and elegant and they attend orchestral performances in ball-gowns while gliding along the romantic Rhine in storybook Germany.
The Gilbert family arrived to this gorgeous and tranquil scene ....in not a very gorgeous or tranquil state. In fact, we were down right crazy-person level of "what the heck are we doing here, GET ME OUT!!!!"state of mind. Well, I was.
And I blame it all on....the lack of toilets in Europe, plus a few other things. My over-the-top idealism being another.
I had read about a museum that housed the world's first printing press, the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany. It was on-route for our trip up towards Goar on the River Rhine. I thought that this was a fantastic opportunity to really put our worldschooling hats on and to cleverly and engagingly educate our children about the wonders and importance of the written word. I would write blog posts about how much they learned, and, well, it would be awesome!
Fast forward through a hectic morning of re-packing our car in the rain in Strasbourg,
and then driving in that same small, very squishy contained metal box with 5 noisy and whiny children for the next few hours....we were ready for a break. We arrived in Mainz, did a quick shop at a supermarket for some lunch......wait, that sounded too easy. it is never just a quick shop. What it is really like is this;
Ross or I go into a shop to get some food. Usually this was Ross because I tend to spend way too much money on unnecessary items whenever I'm in a shop, particularly foreign ones;
Skyler - "Oh, look, weird foreign pickles in a jar....I should definitely get some in case they are an amazing local delicacy"
Skyler - "Oh, wow, 800 different types of German chocolate! I'm going to need a sample of them all so that I can survive the coming car trip."
Skyler - "Look! Lederhosen are on SALE!!!"
I get back to the car....
Ross - looks in horror at the haul "What are you thinking?! How can we fit all that in the car??" and "We can't afford anything else for the next week!"...and so forth.
So usually we elected for Ross to be the food shopper, he is way less distracted by enticing foreign edibles. Or clothes. Or lederhosen.
But....that meant that I was often stuck in a car with a crying baby and lots of fighting whinging children. This tends to send me a bit angry crazy. I wish I was one of those Mums who could turn the horrendous waiting into a game, or some other funloving connecting type activity. But that was not our reality. There was usually a lot of frustration, threatening or bribing of ice-cream going on.
Of course, we could take them all into the supermarket, strap the baby to a trolley and march 5 kids around while quickly trying to pick the cheapest and most suitable lunch items in a foreign country before they all die of hunger or make too much of a ruckus that we get kicked out......
hahahaha!! No thanks. We only did that a few times!
Anyway, lunch was finally bought and we managed to find a playground. But after such an eventful morning with so much activity, we were all busting for the loo.
And was there a convenient public toilet in the community park in Mainz, Germany?
The kids went behind a bush. But as for me...I was breastfeeding on a rock, I had been squished in a car with way too many kids, I was frazzled and frustrated and I was NOT going to pee behind a bush. Ross suggested I go to the porta-loo on the construction site near the road. I looked over at the cranes, trucks and helmet wearing workers, and their one blue porta-loo sitting in a pile of dirt on a hill...
No. Not happening.
So I threw a mini tantrum, and stomped off in the direction of town. I told my family they could jolly-well wait for me to find a proper toilet. I walked for about 10 mins and eventually came to a fancy looking convention centre with well-dressed people sitting around a bar. I did the whole 'pretend I'm on the phone to an important client and I totally belong there' thing and marched right on through.
Eventually I returned to my family and we set off again. The town was confusing, and we couldn't get any sort of internet to work on our phones. Ross was stressing about the traffic, and I was stressing about not being able to find the map to the museum, and then we ended up on some sort of ring road that took us out of town. I was upset and wanted to go to the museum, but we were frazzled and we couldn't access the needed info, and then we had missed it. Gone were my dreams of literacy appreciation for my children.
The rest of the drive was difficult. I remember that our baby was crying, and I was full to the brim of intense unpleasant emotions. Frustration, regret, annoyance. When we finally arrived in Goar at the castle Rheinfels we were all in a bit of a state. Especially me. The scenery was beautiful, but I didn't want to experience it while feeling so awful. I took a big time out once we arrived, prayed a lot, cried a bit, and then....kept on going.
Seeing beautiful and amazing places around the world really fills up my soul, so it wasn't long before I started to feel more peace.
Happily, there was a toilet available for use. Although, only a brave man would be willing to attempt to use this particular medieval contraption.....!!!
I ignored the tight state of our budget and indulged in buying my kids swords and shields. And anyway, we'd saved money on lunch because I hadn't gone into the store and bought a ton of weird foreign goodies. It was the best thing I could have done. I felt so much joy watching my children pretend playing on the ruins of a real medieval castle. Pure magic. The kind that is rare and special and never-to-be-forgotten.
We chose this castle to visit because it was recommended by our favourite tour guide 'Rick Steves'. A beautiful and interesting ruined medieval castle dating back to the 12th century!
My kids got to experience medieval imprisonment in the stocks;
Being thrown in the dungeon;
And looking out for pirates and invaders!
But best of all, were the tunnels! Deep down in the belly of the castle was a network of dark winding tunnels which created the perfect amount of danger, mystery and medieval adventure for our little knights.
We walked around (or in the case of my kids, chased each other around ) and enjoyed learning in a hands-on, real kind of way. It was pretty amazing to learn about history at the actual places that the history occurred. My kids imaginations were in overdrive!! They gruesomely delighted in horrible stories of deadly hot tar and medieval torture and guillotines over toilets. They ran and laughed and fought off dragons.
After a rough start to the day, the end turned out to be pretty amazing. There was drama, but there was also delight. The kids had fought their imaginary dragons, and I had fought off my own internal ones. The battle to chase away my own negativity and frustration was a fierce one, but worth the fight for the joy that followed. The day was imperfect and full of extreme ups and downs, but I'm grateful for it all.