Saturday, March 31, 2012

Birthday Gifts from the States

It's been more than a month since Brady's birthday, but I think we've received the last of the gifts that have been sent by family and friends back in the States.  We've very grateful that our family and friends back home were thinking of Brady on his birthday and sending gifts was more than we could have ever imagined.  We know how expensive it is to even send a small package, so the gestures do not go unappreciated.

The first package arrived a few days after Brady's actual birthday.  It was from his Pap (Andy's dad), Lori, Aunt Kat, and Uncle Jimmy.  The first present he opened in the package was a learning puppy.

The next gift was a toy Telly and Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.

The last gift in the package was a Rock and Roll Elmo guitar.  When Andy brought the package into the house and set it down, we heard the guitar start playing music.  We were surprised that the Customs office didn't tear open the box when it started making noise.

The next package was from Uncle Pat (Andy's brother) and Aunt Leecie.  Aunt Leecie must have picked up on Brady's love of cars, because all the gifts were wrapped in Cars paper and the first present was a talking Lightning McQueen!  It was a huge hit with Brady.

Uncle Pat and Aunt Leecie also sent a book about colors and flash cards that you use to spell out three letter words.  Aunt Leecie is a fellow teacher, so she always has a great mix of education and fun gifts.

Last, but certainly not least, was the gift from Aunt Dunny that arrived only a few weeks ago.  At this point, Brady knew that if there was a brown box in the living room, that it meant there were toys inside.  This package had been opened at the Customs office, so when Brady looked inside, his suspicions were confirmed!  Aunt Dunny had gotten him a big box of Duplos!

The best part about this box of Duplos, was that it came with a car, a small man, and the parts to build a house.  Brady loves to build his blocks high on the car and when they come tumbling down, he exclaims, "Oh no, no, no!"

I love looking at these pictures and seeing the progression of Brady's hair getting longer.  We came to Germany with a pair of hair clippers, and I fully intended to cut both boys' hair.  Brady would only need cut once and Andy maybe twice while we were here.  This past week, Andy wanted his hair cut and it was a complete disaster!  I freaked out about halfway through and wanted to quit.  It's passable now, but I don't think I'll be doing that again and I'll NEVER touch Brady's hair.  It was definitely a lesson learned the hard way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Heidelberg Castle

I got some really great recommendations on places to take quick day trips while we're here and one of them was Heidelberg Castle, or Heidelberger Schloss in German (schloss is German for castle).  Since hardly anything is open on Sundays, that makes them the perfect days to visit castles and museums since they are open almost every single day of the year.  This past Sunday, we decided to head to Heidelberg to check out the castle since it was going to be a gorgeous day.  It's only an hour drive from where we live, so we left in the morning and were back home by mid-afternoon.

Heidelberg Castle is a famous German ruin. The castle has only been partially rebuilt since its demolition in the 17th and 18th centuries. The earliest castle structure was built before AD 1214 and later expanded into 2 castles circa 1294; however, in 1537, a lightning-bolt destroyed the upper castle. The present structures had been expanded by 1650, before damage by later wars and fires. In 1764, another lightning-bolt destroyed some rebuilt sections.  Geez, talk about the odds of lightening striking twice.

 This is a picture of Heidelberg Castle and its grounds in 1650 before the fires and wars.

We drove up the windy hillside and parked in the lot situated above the castle, so we got to walk down through the courtyard on our way to the castle.

 Andy and Brady peeking down to the cool tunnel in the courtyard wall.

 Our first view of the castle on our approach through the courtyard.

Starting to view some of the "ruined" portions of the castle.

Andy was just blown away by the fact that a whole side of a brick wall had just sheered off in a war attack.

 We got our tickets to go inside and this is the clock tower passage, leading to the castle square.

 A look down inside the castle walls.

 Inside the castle square.

 Of course, Brady loves anything that has anything to do with water, so he was instantly drawn to the small fountain inside the castle square.

Once he was out of his stroller, all he wanted to do was walk.  He was really fascinated by the bricks on the ground and would stomp his feet.

 We walked through an arched passageway in the castle square that lead us out to the balcony and this is the view of the front of the castle that can been seen up high on the hill from the city below.

 A view of the town below.

 An unfinished rebuild.

We went down into the basement and they had some pretty impressive stores for wine or beer (I'm sure since we're in Germany it was beer).

 Our view on the way back to the car.

The fountain in the courtyard.

This was only the first of many castles we have plans to visit and the only ruin on the list.  I can't wait to explore more of the "fairytale" types of castles.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Brady's 1st Easter Egg Hunt

I have recently become a part of the International Women's Club of Stuttgart.  They have women who are members from all over the world, but the language of the club is English.  There are women who are married to Germans, women affiliated with the military, some women that are Germans themselves, and women like me who follow their husbands on an international work assignment.  There are all types of events, some for the women only, some where the kids are welcome to tag along, and then there is a special section called the mother's corner, where the events are for the kids.  Yesterday was their Easter egg hunt party, and the whole family was welcome to come along.

Andy usually takes the car to work and I am the one who uses the trains, so it's rare that Andy gets on a train, and I am so used to it that I plan out my route and go.  He's basically just along for the ride.  We took two different trains to get to the area where the party was being held at someone's home.  We got there and Brady wasted no time starting to play with the little boy who lived there's toys (he's never shy when it comes to toys).  Other families started coming in and all the adults started chatting while the kids played for a while.  Everyone brought a dish to share so there was a nice spread, so we could snack and chat.

There was an egg coloring station, but those who know me, know how I am about eggs, so we decided to steer clear of it.  It was pretty messy and we were just fortunate that Brady didn't try to drink one of the cups of dye (which my mom accidentally did when we were kids and did them in coffee cups).

 We took the party outside, where some of the kids were already playing.  The mom who organized the party set out all the eggs and then we set the kids loose.  As you can see above, they didn't waste any time.

With our limited air freight (and the change of breakage), we decided against bringing Brady's Easter basket to Germany.  That meant, all the had was a Ziploc bag in which to collect his eggs.  Next year, it'll be better ;)

After all of the eggs were collected, there was a pinata.  It was a really cool pinata in the respect that you didn't hit it, but there were strings attached and the kids could pull them one by one.  Only one of the strings would actually open the pinata and release the candy.  Of course, things don't always go according to plan, and once all the strings were pulled, the pinata hadn't opened. 

Once the candy was released and "rained from the sky," it didn't take the kids long to pounce.  Brady was one of the younger kids there, but he managed to walk away with a fair share of candy (mainly small packs of gummy bears, which are really popular here).

After all the excitement, the kids were free to play again.  Brady took a liking to the sand box, but not having played in one before, had more fun dumping sand out of it.

 Love this kid!

After the party, we got back on a train and headed downtown (which was on our way home anyway).  Andy doesn't go downtown much, so I took him around for a while and then took him to a little pizza window, where we got a few slices.  Since the weather has started warming up and spring officially started, all the eis cafes (ice cream shops) are open.  We decided to take Andy to one (at this point we are methodically testing them out one by one and haven't been to the same one twice).  He enjoyed both the pizza and the ice cream, so our day of family fun ended on a positive note.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Long Night of Museums

One of my new mom friends here in Stuttgart suggested a while back that we take a mom's night out to the Long Night of Museums event.  It's held once a year here in Stuttgart (other cities do it as well I've heard), and during that night, almost every museum in the city is open to ticket holders.  The ticket was 16 Euros and included your public transport that evening, so it was quite a deal.  Some of the museums can cost upwards of 6 Euros each, many being more.

Three of us were available to go and were excited to get out without the kids.  The event was set to run from 7PM to 2AM, so we met up a little before 6PM and sat down at a restaurant to plan our attack and get a little something to eat.  This is where I officially had my first apple strudel in Germany.  I grew up with Austrian immigrant grandparents, and my Oma has been making me apple strudel since before I could walk.  I wasn't sure any other strudel would live up to my expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I'm not saying that it was better than my Oma's but it was very good.

7PM rolled around and we decided to start making the most of our evening out.  Some museums are only open during certain parts of the year, so they were a little more popular on this evening since it's not something people could see anytime they wanted.  One of those was an underground bunker that also served as a hotel during WWII.  Below is the wrap-around line waiting to get into the bunker.

 The hallways inside the bunker

 One of the rooms inside the bunker

We spent a little time wandering in and out of museums that we probably wouldn't have paid for admission normally.  We went to a photo gallery, a large modern art museum, a tiny museum that was about the man who tried to kill Hitler, who was portrayed by Tom Cruise in the movie Valkyrie. 

There was lots of projection shows and entertainment throughout the downtown area

 The New Castle at night

 The Opera House

One of the museums we were most interested in visiting was called the Fruit Box (English translation).  It contained old musical instruments.  As a musician, it was something I was excited to see.   When we first got there, people were starting to sit down for a demonstration.  We grabbed some seats and although the presenter was in German, one of the moms we were with is married to a German and gave us a rough translation.  He discussed how children can make music out of anything and then invited us to come up to a contraption in the center of the room.  It was rigged with strings and various metal objects.  He encouraged us to grab two pieces of the string, to wrap them around our fingers, then place our fingers in our ears.  He then proceeded to tap on the various metal objects connected to the web of strings, and you could actually hear it through the vibration to the strings on your fingers!  It was really cool.  Below is a shot of the contraption from above.

We then went upstairs to look at the old musical instruments.  There were some really beautiful and interesting pieces and show below are some of them.

This one was so beautiful.  It's amazing how intricately built and decorated these instruments were, constructed hundreds of years ago.

After we left the Fruit Box, we walked over to the planetarium where they were having shows, and after waiting in line for about 15 minutes, we were told the next show wasn't for about 30-45 minutes, so we headed to the presentation at the Hauptbahnhof instead.  They were having an exhibit about the new Stuttgart 21 project which will completely transform the station and change train patterns in the city as I mentioned in the post about the train system here.

The scale model.  It's hard to see, but it was cool to see what will be underground once the project is completed.

It was about 11:30, when we were finished with the Stuttgart 21 exhibit and we were about ready to call it a night.  We stopped and grabbed a snack and chatted for a while longer, then split up to take our respective trains home.  I had a really great time and was so glad to have met some other mom friends.  It's great that we can get out during the day with our kids and then get together occasionally at night without them.  I don't know how I'd survive here without them!