Germany was our first country to really explore and experience together, we were in Switzerland for a day, but it was so brief that it's a bit of a blur. I thought it would be fun to write about some of the things that we felt really made up our German experience for those first few weeks.
1. Amazing parks and playgrounds.
Wow and wow. The playgrounds were simply fantastic. Everywhere. They were all well maintained, and all had creative sturdy, cool things to play on, explore and discover. Often they had hands-on learning types of play equipment. We were simply thrilled about this, is was such a relief to know that we could easily find places for the kids to have some fun and blow off some steam.
Something about Germany felt very safe. I'm sad to admit it, but it did generally feel safer for our kids to run around or go to the loo than it does in Australia. I was unsure if this was simply due to my ignorance of dangerous occurrences ( we didn't exactly watch the news ), or if it was indeed as safe as it seemed. After talking to a few different friends and together with our experiences there, I decided that it is probably a bit of both, but that I definitely felt a greater sense of security there. Maybe part of it is because everything is just so perfect. Even the garbage has a specific system that everyone follows meticulously. The houses, the lawns, the playgrounds, the roads.....all in perfect order. Everything has a place, everything has a rule. Well, that's how southern Germany felt for us at the time, I can't speak for the northern area. I'm not sure how I would feel living with such a high level of order and control in everything, I think I like a little unpredictability in my life, but the playgrounds we visited in southern Germany ( and there were a lot! ) were adventurous, safe and just amazing! I made a joke to our friends at some point that we had come to Europe, with all of it's high culture, impressive architecture, famous art and medieval history; but that all we had done was go playground hopping through the country!
2. Sausage sausage and more sausage!
So we were traveling as cheaply as possible. Eating out in a non lavish restaurant, with kids meals and not getting drinks still cost us about 60 Euros ( around $100 ).....so we made our own food as much as possible. We found that the best and easiest option was the humble sausage. But in Germany, it is not so humble. My kids never quite got over the giggle factor of calling a sausage a 'wiener' and we found we were eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were endless varieties! They were good for a snack on the road, for our baby to munch on or a full fledged proper meal. Most sausages in Germany are already cooked, so if you want to be fancy you can brown them up in a pan, but it is not necessary.
We probably overdid it, because it wasn't long before I was proclaiming that;
"If I never see a sausage again in my life, it will be too soon"...
Well......that was until I discovered the bacon-wrapped, cheese-filled variety. Haha
3. The cutest towns you can imagine....in boiling heat!
I was blown away by just how enchanting everything looked. I really loved the little towns with their own medieval history, a castle on the hill, cobbled streets, tiled roofs and window boxes filled with flowers. Ahhhh, so pretty! And that green colour!!! We really enjoyed the beauty of it all, well, the little moments in between dealing the the crying baby, kids fighting, and cooking to death in our car every time we drove anywhere. Oh, I think I have forgotten to mention, the air-conditioning in our trusty car kicked the bucket two days into our trip! It would have cost us almost the same to fix it as is it did to buy the thing in the first place, so we just wound down the windows and tried to tell the kids that they were experiencing a little of the 'good old days'.
But boy, was it hot!!
In light of this, I suppose it is fairly understandable that my kids were always trying to dive into every water source they could find. Europe is not well equipped for any kind of summer heat. At home in Australia on a very hot day, I know that I can always find relief from the heat in almost any shop, museum, cinema....and most homes. But NOT in Europe. Shops and museums were the worst! The best thing to do was find a nice shady park, or a river or pool. Or as far as the kids were concerned, a public fountain would do too, lol. But even in the heat, southern Germany looked like a picture.
4. Paying to pee.
I found the whole loo thing both annoying and amusing. It was cheaper to pee in Germany then in Switzerland, but it still came with it's own set of challenges. Public loos were fairly few and far between. At one park the kids were all busting, so we had to all sneak into a fancy looking building nearby; sweat-soaked and bedraggled looking and hope we didn't get told off. Tourist sites were OK, but general public areas, aarrgh!
Our solution was usually a petrol station, and here comes the amusing part. The person serving would double check that we were actually customers who were buying fuel, then, when we confirmed that we were in fact truly paying customers (me in English, them in a gruff German), they would usually give us an annoyed look (as if we were causing them some great inconvenience) and then hand us a key. Poor them, it must be so hard to hand over a key to let kids pee. Haha, whatever! I was usually of the mindset: 'if it's not gold plated, why all the fuss?'
Later on in our journey we returned to Germany and found this hillarious picture of......um.......a lady peeing? Ross stipulates that it is not how men pee. Maybe a man with diarrhea? Hahaha! This picture was in front of a vegetable garden plot. Obviously they had had trouble with too many people peeing or pooping on the garden? Probably the poor souls were in need of a public loo and after being turned away from the petrol station, there was nowhere else to go! Well, the kids decided to flaunt all of those rules by posing in front of that amusing and culturally unique sign.
5. The infamous Autobahn.
I don't have photos to help describe this, so words will have to do. We found the Autobahn to be.....ah.....hair-raising.
Yes, a little, definitely stressful. The Germans have a very sensible rule whereby trucks have to stay in the right lane and stick to a speed limit of 80kms. I liked this one, there were no trucks weaving in and out or speeding dangerously. However.....on the left, there was no speed limit at all!!!!
It wasn't so bad if there were three lanes, we could humbly 'putt putt' our way at a moderate 100kms in the middle lane, while all the speed demons passed us on the left. But if there was only two lanes, oh my goodness! We were either wedged in between the trucks, or taking our lives into our own hands to pass them.
Ross would look in the mirrors to check all was clear and pull out knowing there was no one behind us, and then WHAM, there would be a car riding us up the backside. Usually a Mercedes, BMW or an Audi. They just roared out of no-where, going anything up to 200kms or more! And remember we had to have all our windows down or we would all pass out from heat stroke, so the noise was incredibly loud. Poor Bo was often woken by a roaring engine passing us. Actually, poor us, because then we had to get through the hot drive with the extra addition of screaming. We usually kept a fair supply of sausages on hand for any such emergency. Then we would have to pull over somewhere to breastfeed Bo, pay for the loo for everyone and keep going.
I have to say that the drives on the first part of our trip were a hellish experience; hot, loud, stressful. It is much better to look back on them in hindsight, rather than live through it. But it was all part of our trip. It was all the worst thing in the world, and the most beautiful and fantastic thing ever. All wrapped into one.
As a friend of mine recently said; .."the beauty and horror of travel"