Monday, August 3, 2015

Kaiserslautern, Cuxhaven, and Cologne

Hi! We've been home for over a week now, my children have stopped waking up at 6 a.m. (BLESS) and, relatedly, have also stopped being cranky and overtired in the evenings, the fog feels like it has lifted, and as a result I'm ready to talk about our actual trip to Germany, because it was amazing, truly, and deserves to be recapped.

We spent just over two weeks in Germany, including a few days at Torsten's parents' house near the small southwestern city of Kaiserslautern, then a week in Cuxhaven on the North Sea, a day in Cologne, and then a few more days at Torsten's parents' house to round out the trip. All destinations turned out to be fantastic.

I actually wasn't super excited about the trip--not because I thought it would be bad--but just because I was crazy with work and travel prep and also had the huge obstacle of taking two kids (one barfy) over the Atlantic ocean that kind of served as a mental block between me and the actual fun part of the trip. While I guess that means I lost out on some of the fun of anticipation, it had the unexpected result of making the trip itself actually quite delightful because I had no real expectations.

This was our first trip to Germany in the summertime, and it was lovely. Torsten's parents have a gorgeous yard and garden, complete with extraordinarily pleasant patio, and the city of Kaiserslautern is really lovely and has great restaurants. Between those and Torsten's mother's excellent cooking skills, we were extremely well fed. We took the kids to a garden show/water play park, on a rowboat on a nearby lake, to a local small-town carnival (where Torsten's beloved sunglasses of 10 years were lost in a tragic bumper car accident), and walking around downtown. It was all delightful, but honestly we were all just as happy at home, where the kids played in the yard, picked berries off their grandparents' plants (they got a good system going where Callum, who refuses to eat fruit, would pick the berries and hand them to Annika, who ate them as fast as he could pick them), played games, and had a great time with their grandparents.

The week in Cuxhaven was the biggest unknown for me. Torsten grew up going to Cuxhaven every year (he failed to mention to me that this was on the recommendation of his doctor, because apparently the incredible salt air of the North Sea is good for asthma--I don't know if it's true or not but I will say that Callum didn't need his albuterol at all during the week we were there, and did require it in Kaiserslautern), and has a combination of very fond memories of loving the location and bitterness over never getting to do all the expensive fancy stuff he wanted to do as a kid because his parents were very frugal about vacations.

So, he wanted to go back and do it properly, with a nice hotel with an oceanfront balcony, the renting of a Strandkorb (basically a fancy beach chair) right in front of the water line, and eating at delicious local seafood restaurants. I was on board with all of this, and we did do it all, but I was a little worried that it would fall short of his childhood dream and he would be disappointed. Add to that the fact that the North Sea isn't always known for its nice weather, as I learned first-hand when Torsten brought me there once IN NOVEMBER (OMG COLD OMG COLD), and I was a little concerned that the trip might be a bust.

But, not to worry, it absolutely was not. It turned out to be completely amazing and ideal for families with little kids. Torsten's parents came along (though they stayed in a different hotel) and that worked out great. We rented two side-by-side strandkörbe for the week, right in front by the ocean. We bought beach toys for the kids, including a hardcore metal shovel for Callum. We got lucky with the weather, too--it wasn't exactly hot, but it was sunny all but one day (we spent that day at an awesome indoor wave pool with a fantastic baby area where both kids were completely delighted), and we were able to spend all but that one day at the beach, which apparently is never a given at the North Sea, even in July. The hotel also had a fantastic pool, where we went every afternoon after we finished at the beach, much to the kids' delight (also the only way we could convince them to leave the beach).

Side note about Cuxhaven: it is located on a part of the North Sea called the Wadden Sea, which is an intertidal zone known for its tidelands and mud flats (called "watt" in German)--basically, it's super super flat, so when the tide goes out, it goes out really far, for literal miles, and people can walk out on the watt to explore. You can also take a horse-drawn carriage over the watt at low tide to visit a nearby island, Neuwerk. The watt can be dangerous, though, because when the tide comes in, it comes in fast, and people can get caught out too far. To that end, there are rescue towers built pretty far out from the shoreline for people to climb if they get caught out by the tide.

The beauty of this for little kids is that for an hour or two at high tide, there's water to splash and play in, and for the rest of the day, it's just stretches of wet sand, which is ideal for kids. Ours basically spent the entire week building sandcastles and digging holes. AND, even better for us, they did this with their grandparents while Torsten and I lounged in our strandkorb and read. Lazy parenting WIN. Also, Callum's German EXPLODED during this trip, which was amazing to watch and really validating after the incredible effort that we've made to teach him German, and was also great for his relationship with his grandparents, since they don't really speak English.

We also took the wattwagen out to Neuwerk Island one day, which was fantastic (side note: there are lots of horses in Cuxhaven and they walked by our hotel multiple times a day, and Annika came home from that trip obsessed with horses--every time she heard hooves outside, she would go sprinting to the balcony yelling HORSIE). And we ate incredible amounts of delicious food. (Callum, picky eater extraordinaire, even ate an entire fleischkäse sandwich one day--miracle of miracles.) Truly, it was great, and Torsten is totally validated, because we will definitely go back there the next time we're in Germany in the summer (hopefully two years from now).

We left early on the way back in order to spend the day in Cologne (fun fact: the German name for the city of Cologne is actually Köln), where we explored the famous cathedral, walked through the amazing central shopping district (and yes, OK, bought a few things, including a German stuffed horse for Annika), and had two incredible meals.

We spent the last few days of the trip back at Torsten's parents' house, going into Kaiserslautern a couple times but mostly lounging around and visiting with Torsten's friends and family. Putting the Cuxhaven trip right in the middle of our two-week visit really made the whole trip short... it was stunning how quickly it felt like it was already time to go home. We were genuinely sad to leave. On the plus side: next time we plan this trip, I will definitely be excited in advance. I already am, and it's two years away.


  1. This is so amazing! I did the same thing where the logistics of the whole trip and the transatlantic flight had me so nervous I didn't look forward to Europe at all. So when we got there the trip was awesome! Having family already over there and familiar with the area (even though they're expats) was huge.

  2. Babies on the beach!!! HAPPY babies on the beach! I love their little faces!

    I'm so glad you survived both the flight(s), the trip itself, and the jetlag!


  3. SO! AWESOME!!

    I've never heard of this mud flat phenomenon! I mean, I've heard of mud flats, but I didn't realize it worked like THIS. That's so interesting and cool!

    Man, so much good stuff in this post. Extra sweet that Callum's German improved so much!

    Also glad the jetlag has abated :D

  4. Wow this looks like such a fun trip! I'm glad that you guys had such a good time and that you are already looking forward to the next trip!

    The mud flats thing is fascinating- I have never heard of that! Izzy would LOVE to play in that all day.