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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 it's own app - the MVG Mainz app - 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…

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 payback.de, or cashback (a la ebates) on shoop.de.

Wha…

Parents... Stay in the Picture

A couple of years ago, I read an article about how moms should stay in the pictures we take of our kids. My gray hairs have multiplied, but I try to stick to this -- I remember fondly looking through old pictures of me as a kid - and loved seeing what my parents looked like back then, too.

So I have a new plea for parents when you send out annual holiday cards. For those like me - intensely private on social media, rarely sharing photos of people online - it's often the only way I get to see what old friends are up to, what they look like, and how much their kids look like them or their spouse. But more and more often, holiday cards feature only the kids, maybe along with pets.

I remember the moment this happened when my parents received Christmas cards from their friends. I was about 7 or 8 and all of a sudden, I only saw my buddies in the holiday cards strung across our living room. Now that we're grown, we want to share photos of our kids in similar ways.

Living away from m…

3 Perfect Days in Nashville, TN

We recently trekked across the ocean for a family reunion on both sides - in lovely (but freezing) Nashville, TN. Over 10 days, we explored the city, bonded with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and even managed a very cold game of freeze tag outside.

Following, some tips on your trip to Nashville!

Day 1: 
We stayed in 2 airbnbs over the trip, and I could highly recommend both. One, full disclosure, belongs to a friend - and both are in charming city neighborhoods. The first was walking distance to activities in 12 South; the second* close to a number of shops and eateries in East Nashville (*link TBA).

Start your day with breakfast at Box - Bongo + Bakery. The bright cafe has healthy treats, good coffee, and even a play corner (oddly placed right at one of the cafe entrances, where the playmat doubled as a doormat) for little ones. I enjoyed the pumpkin spice latte and a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin. The homestyle breakfast was tasty, too. Given the play area setup, I'd …

3 Perfect Days in the Alsace

We just returned from a 3 day trip to Strasbourg, France. One of my favorite cities, it's a short 2-hour drive from Mainz and there is a ton to see.

Day 1: 
We stayed at the budget-friendly, well-located, and cozy Hotel Roses. Though they don't have parking, the lot across the street was reasonable (20 euros max per day, but very narrow parking spots and driveways - proceed with caution!). Our first room was not renovated but still well appointed; we moved to a triple room the next night which had ample space for our family of 4 (2 under 4). Overall I was really happy with the hotel - location, staff, amenities, price were all perfect for a weekend getaway.

We spent the first day wandering the pedestrian area by the Notre Dame where we also saw the Astronomical clock (though we missed it go on at noon) and eating some very delicious ice cream (useful note - no takeaway ice cream allowed at the tables - so we had to find a place to sit near the church!). After a fantastic fully ve…

TV overseas!

The other day I had it. I threw up my hands in frustration. Why didn't we just get real tv already? Why does Chromecast give me such a headache? (clarification: it's usually not the Chromecast, but either our network or more often, our macbooks) Why can't I just turn on the news for a minute?
Thus, the list below. I'm already enjoying a livestream of Sky News and the option to flip over to a marathon of That '70s Show. Ah, the familiar background noise of tv... 
We use a (paid) VPN service to access delayed tv, and there are a lot of livestreams available as well; here's the list so far: 
Live Channels: ABC Live
Click2Houston (Channel 2 Houston News)
MSNBC Live Al Jazeera Live Sky News(off VPN) CNN NDTV India Reuters TV Deutsche Welle English France 24 English Bloomberg Washington Post Live Comedy Central  Fox CBS News BBC
USTVNow - the free version is good, the paid / HD version is really impressive!
Delayed TV by channel: NBC (off VPN) Hulu

3 Perfect Days in the Palatinate Forest

Ah, the Palatinate Forest... it doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Bordeaux, France, but it was a truly hidden gem just 90 minutes from Mainz. Therefore it made for the perfect weekend getaway with kids!

Day 1:

We stayed at the lovely Villa Maria in Hinterweidenthal. For about 100 euros / night, we had a huge room, giant bathroom, and breakfast. The hotel also had a big garden outside and indoor sitting area (with wine and beer that could be purchased). It was so relaxing and I couldn't help but think what it must have been like living here when it was originally built. Across the street (a bit noisy, even at night) there was a daytime market with yummy fresh fruit, and just 900 metres away is the Teufelstisch!

We spent at least 3 hours at the playground here the first day, and 2 more the next. The walk all the way to the top is not as hard as it looks, and there is an amazing, giant slide that anyone above the age of 6 can take down. Naturally, we ditched the kids with thei…

Cleaning Products in Germany

Before moving here, I was never so aware of the variation that one could have in cleaning products. There are so many options, and it's also a bit tricky to figure out which of the eco-friendly options (should you prefer them) work better among the rest. Here's a starter guide to help out...

For really powerful cleaning that's not eco-friendly, but does the job: Bref (any type) and Bleichmittel (bleach) are my go-tos. Persil is great for laundry detergent. DM brands are excellent value as well.

For eco-friendly cleaning: Ecover's quality is excellent. Frosch is also very good, and picking up quite the following outside of Europe - most of their products are even made in Germany / Austria! Don't forget to load up on "waschlappen" for scrubbing...

For room-by-room cleaning:

Kitchen:

Ceramic cooktop scraper: you can buy a small tool (I found one at Tchibo) to scrape food off the cooktop, then scrub it clean. Don't use steel wool, I learned this the hard w…

3 Perfect Days in Bordeaux!

One of my new favorite cities... Bordeaux was a beautiful destination to do a bit of city-wandering, playground-visiting, and good-food-eating. If I could go back and rent a car, and explore a bit more outside the city, I could have easily filled up a week.

Day 1: 

We stayed a bit outside the city at the Mercure Le Lac, since we were tag-alongs to a scientific conference, but right on the tram line - 20 minutes straight to the best place in town, Miroir d'eau. On a sunny day, nothing beats people-watching with an ice cream here, or if you have kids, letting them splash and run around. We spent hours here, every day. When the kids got tired, we wandered around the city and let them chill. 

We got ice cream here and wandered over to window shop at Rue Ste Catherine.. then called it an early night to head back up to the hotel. 


Day 2

We wandered about the Basilica of St Michael and I browsed the flea market for some gorgeous antiques and knickknacks. It was en route to the Marche des C…

3 Perfect Days in Porto

We recently returned from a very relaxed 5 day trip to Porto, Portugal. Although flight times were a bit on the odd-hours side, we chose Ryanair - 50% cheaper than any other airline to fly, even with car park and seat reservations! We used the extra savings to rent a car & car seats (I'm quickly becoming a fan of Enterprise. They consistently have the lowest prices, and this time even installed the car seats for us!). For 700 euros, we had flights and a car for a family of 4, not bad.

The car came in handy as we stayed a little outside of town at a gorgeous apartment by the marina. There was plenty of parking and a Lidl within short driving distance - plus the hosts left us a few bites & port, a fun surprise!

You can easily Uber around as well - it's by far the cheapest and fasted method of transport, even compared to driving in and paying for parking. Porto really felt like a great value for excellent food, tourist activities, and parking in town. If we'd had more…