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At the Gym in Germany

One of the first things I do when I move somewhere, is find a gym. Even though I've never been one to make friends with people I meet through the gym, it somehow feels familiar, and helps me get into my familiar routine of being able to regularly work out, no matter the weather.

When I moved to San Francisco 14 years ago, as an AmeriCorps volunteer on an extremely tight budget, I did monthly trials for nearly every gym in the city (this could warrant its own blog post). No matter the neighborhood - if I could take a bus there, I would try it out for a month. It worked for a while, until I eventually convinced my boyfriend (now husband) to sponsor membership to a place near my apartment until I could afford it myself. What a guy.

Flash forward to moving to Mainz, and I learned my company had a fitness reimbursement plan and discounts already available, with Fitness First. There was one within running / bus distance to our flat, so I tried it out and quickly signed a contract. At th…

A Perfect Easter Break in the Black Forest

The streak of travel continues! Although we hadn't planned our Easter trip until the very last minute (just 2 weeks before), we managed to hook up with friends living in Lausanne to meet in the middle of the Black Forest, which was also right in the middle of our two cities. We booked a bauernhof urlaub - our second attempt at a farmstay holiday - just outside the town of Wolfach.

I would say the two best lessons learned were (1) book early for the best price on accommodation and food. We definitely overpaid due to late booking, and could have probably negotiated a better price on meals; and (2) have a backup plan for bad weather. We had a full rainy/gray day and could only find outdoor or open-air activities nearby. Luckily the other days were sunny and warm-ish, but alternate options would have been good. Oh yeah and (3) when hiking to a vesperstube, make sure they're open! We walked for over an hour up a steep hill to one, only to discover they were closed. We were starving,…

2 Perfect Days in Lisbon

It's rare that I travel for work, so it's always extra exciting to get a few days away on my own. Unfortunately, I caught the flu during my much-anticipated Munich trip (meant to be 3 days), and so did my youngest. After miserably attending a presentation for half a day, giving up and going back home a day early (which led to a different fiasco thanks to Deutsche Bahn, involving being stuck at Frankfurt central station at 1 am. Which is typically a less than ideal place to be after dark... and taking a pretty expensive taxi ride home from there... ), I was far too excited about my recent 3-day trip planned to Lisbon for a team offsite.

I knew most of the days would be spent in a conference room at the lovely Hotel Tivoli, but we were able to carve out time to see many of the city sights. The hotel was a bit of a walk to many touristy sights, but fortunately Uber is all over Lisbon to save the day (and legs).

Day 1: 
The first day, our group did an organized scavenger hunt durin…

A Perfect Overnight in Heidelberg

After a bit of a travel break, I'm back! We went to Heidelberg (again) for an overnight with the visiting grandparents, and had a lovely time in the very walkable Alstadt. 
We stayed at the Gasthaus Hotel Backmulde, in the heart of town, after a short drive over from Mainz. Although the hotel has (limited) parking, P8 is just a few blocks away and very reasonable at 17 euros / day. They even have family parking right by the elevator! We loved the little hotel - the three-bed and two-bed rooms (16 and 18) were very spacious, breakfast was perfect, and we could easily explore the city just by walking around the corner. 
We started with quiches, grilled sheep's cheese with veggies, and tea and cake at the lovely Cafe Schafheutle. The garden seating was covered and warm, and the lively atmosphere and friendly waitstaff made it easy to stay and thoroughly enjoy our lunch. We continued to wander, mostly popping in and out of shops, finding a collection of unique items at the GOODsHOUS…

Shoe Shopping in Germany

When I told my mom I was moving to Germany, one of the first things she said was to keep an eye out for Gabor shoes. Although I have no idea how she knew about the brand, it was further proof that she knows a lot more than I do about shopping.

Thus began my education into the world of German-made shoes. There are a lot of well-made shoes here, under a number of different brands, and I've finally made sense of what styles suit mine - and price areas. There are also a million shoe shops, but also zalando and mirapodo for online shoppers like myself, both with an inclination to send discount codes regularly.

One of the best lessons I've learned about shoes here - is side zippers! I still don't see this elsewhere, but a lot of shoes have laces and side zippers - it makes getting shoes on and off worlds easier! It also looks pretty stylish.

It can be hard to sort out which brands are worth the prices, so enjoy my guide below --

Caprice - slogan, "walking on air". I re…

What's the deal with Tchibo?

Tchibo. They're everywhere. When I got here, I was so confused by the store-within-a-store, that also had its own standalone stores. Why did their inventory change so often? Where was their stuff made? How come they sell coffee AND sports bras?

While I can't answer a lot of these questions after 5 years here, I can say Tchibo is a quirky little brand that has rotating items, usually around a theme (and often seasonal). I am finally starting to get a sense of when to expect what at Tchibo (spring cleaning, winter onesies for everyone in the family, workout gear for the new year... you get the idea). It can be a great source of useful, and fun / not useful items for the house AND they even sell furniture on the website.

Overall, I've been happy with my Tchibo purchases. Women's clothes can be hit or miss, but their ladies' pjs as well as almost anything for kids are always a hit. I appreciate their wide usage of organic cotton and fair pricing. Some of my best finds…

All About Kinder Basars

I often joke with S that I wouldn't know how to be a parent in the US. There's so much I've learned that's specific to where we live.. it will be hard to (someday) re-learn things that I've come to take for granted. One of the biggest is access to kinder basars. I know a lot of churches host consignment sales, but I have yet to see something like the kinder basar system over here.

Every Feb-March and Sept-Oct, each neighborhood in Mainz hosts a kinder basar for either spring / summer or fall / winter clothing for kids. Toys, shoes, carseats, strollers, bikes, etc... are also included. They are well organized events in which parents can either set up a table and sell their own goods, or drop off a crate of stuff and have the organizers divvy it up, attempt to sell it, and return what doesn't sell the next day. A portion of the earnings support a charity, sellers must bring a cake (it's imperative that shoppers be able to pause for cake and coffee while they …

An American, Cloth Diapering in Germany

While we are almost at the end of our diapering journey (for now, anyway), I have remained committed to using cloth the whole way. Except when we travel, our kiddos have always had little cloth bums. Not only are they way cuter than disposables, we've had almost no issues with diaper rash and while I know every baby is different... I credit the cloth. We did, however, have a lot of leakage issues - maintaining the elastic is not for the non-committed! We've worked through it all, and I'm so glad we stuck with it.

It took me a while to find my way cloth diapering here, since I couldn't easily find the brands I was familiar with. I turned to Facebook groups, our babysitter, and a little shop in Ireland that shipped to Germany and even provided moral support.

I relied heavily on bumgenius (a mix of all-in-ones and pockets), with a few blueberry simplex and flips (wish I had more of these). I stocked up on these when in the States through Kelly's Closet, where  I found …

A Visit to the Euro Space Center!

A friend recently moved to Belgium and suggested we meet a little over halfway to his place, at the Euro Space Center in Libin, Belgium. I couldn't tell what to expect from their website, but the good news was kids under 6 were free, and an audio tour was included in the basic entry price. Also, at about 2 hours from Mainz, it met our 'stop for gas and food' requirements.

After 2 enjoyable hours touring the Center, I highly suggest a visit! The audioguide was very engaging. The story focused mostly on the Western history of space travel, with bits of culture and historical context woven in. Somehow, miraculously, the whole tour captured & kept the attention of 3/4 of the kids (ages 2-4)! There was a nice mix of video, audio, and tactical components, and enough space for little people to run around. We found a very light crowd at the time we went - late afternoon.

A couple of school groups had formal tours arranged and got to try some of the interactive simulations, whi…

Public Transit in the Rhein-Main Region

It's taken a while to figure out the public transit in Mainz, and how to make the most of a ticket, so here is what I've learned...

Our transit system has an app - called MVG Mainz - but I find the RMV app (beyond the Mainz/ Wiesbaden region) far more comprehensive and easy to use.

I've also recently started using the RMV Smart app - in beta since Oct '17, and a great way to purchase tickets online with demand-based pricing. With it, users can pay 5 euros for a month (does not automatically renew), for the right to a 50% discount on all of tickets that month. Although right now you can only buy one-way tickets, the prices are based on demand - so you can save a bit traveling during off-peak hours, or just from city centre- city centre. Tickets bought through the app are valid for an hour and a half.

Now for the paper ticket stuff. In Mainz, as in every city, there are a million different options for ticketing . It can be tricky to figure out the right one - I used to ju…

Grocery Shopping in Germany

Recently Mainz got an Edeka "Scheck-In" grocery store, and it has changed my world. Ever since I started traveling, I've loved exploring local grocery stores. Ideally with someone who knows what's what, but on my own is just fine, too. Now that I know my way around the stores here, it's fun to show visitors some of the little detailed things I've learned about shopping here.

So, back to that new store. It's a lot like a Whole Foods, with way more international specialties, and reasonable prices. Sometimes they even have grocery baggers (!) (I know. Sometimes?!!). Obviously I no longer want to shop anywhere else, but if I have to, I distribute my grocery dollars in the following way...

Aldi -
Taking over the U.S. market, Aldi is a great source for inexpensive (organic) produce, delicious plain greek yogurt, the perfect milk for making cheese (paneer), filled pasta, fresh parmesan cheese, nuts, dark chocolate, frozen veggies, and fun things to look at in th…

Weekend Activity Packs for Gray Days

It's been a gray winter 'round these parts. Between the dreary skies and endless rain, it's been tough to get out of bed in the mornings. It's so dark! The upside, I suppose, is any moment the sun comes out, we run outside like we haven't seen it in years. So that's fun.

Now that the kids are old enough for joint activities, we've discovered a few fun interactive things to do. My favorite - and something I don't remember being around when I was a kid - are ironing beads. I bought the space set by Hama (in the US, it's easier to find the Perler beads brand) along with a glow in the dark set to go with it.

The space set came with beads in all the colors you would need to make the mobile pictured on the box, with easy to follow patterns. The beads did not come sorted, but it wasn't a huge hassle to find the ones I wanted (the kids, however, quickly lost interest in this bit).  We got two sets - the Hama Glow in the Dark Ironing Beads and a space ki…

Trying New Things - the Foodist Adventskalender

It's a month AFTER advent ended, but it's never too late to review an advents calendar. Right?

Anyway. After a boatload of Facebook ads, I ponied up for the Foodist "Active" (supposedly healthy snack-based) Adventskalender. I couldn't find much about what to expect from Googling, but I ordered in advance for a 10% discount, and waited to see what each little box held.

The packaging was really slick. Festive green to match your holiday decor, great graphics, and compact. At 40 euros, it was totally reasonable - especially since ready made advent calendars for each person can add up. The kiddos enjoyed opening a box every day, tossing it to me to read the 'phrase of the day' (these were very cute), and trying the goods inside.

The snacks were a bit mixed in tastiness level, but definitely original finds. Many came from the UK, and had unique ingredients & origin stories. As a person who really likes trying new things, I was all about having a daily eati…

Clothes Shopping in Germany

When I moved here, I was tempted to keep buying all of my clothes stateside. I would wait until my annual trip back home, and spend a day at the mall - trying to cover all seasons in one go. I tried ordering online, but the shipping and customs costs completely turned me off that track, too.

Over time, I've found my favorite shopping sites and figured out how sales work. It's all about the timing and yes, the loyalty cards. Some things are really not that different. As I've gotten older, I've simplified shopping to classic pieces, solid colors, and sustainable production. I thought it would be helpful to share what I've learned.

Sales tend to be bigger in January and July, but store newsletters seem to offer deals all the time. I also like the tried-and-true trick of keeping items in a shopping cart while logged in until the store magically sends a coupon code over to your email. You can find extra discounts on, or cashback (a la ebates) on