Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Morroco, Portugal, The Canaries and Spain

One thing us Corry's have a hard time with every year since we've lived in Germany is the weather.  It's nasty.  As I write this, my family in California is going through a cold snap.  Colder than it is here right now, in fact.  It's not necessarily the cold that I have a hard time with, but the lack of sunlight.  This area of Germany is the darkest part of the country.  Last winter was our darkest in a long time.  I added up the total hours of actual sunlight last winter and it totaled 8 days of sunlight over the entire season combined.  That usually means that the sun was able to peek out just a few minutes, or an hour or two if we were lucky, a few times a week if that.  During this time, we are just not at our emotional best.  Most people in this area will admit that January and February time is "hibernation" time.  Many of us stay inside and when folks interact with each other, we are all just a little grumpier.  I remember when we first arrived here in Germany.  It was November and we were riding the shuttle from our plane to baggage claim at the Frankfurt airport.  A German man commented, "It's really a shame that you arrived this time of year".  Little did we know how right he was!

Besides all of the precautions one needs to take to avoid weather depression, this year we decided to do something a little more about it. We took advantage of a deal that Norwegian Cruise Line had put together.  For the fall season, kids sailed free.  Many cruise lines have these deals going on.  I believe (the infamous) Costa Cruise Line is a company that has great deals.  So, this Thanksgiving (and Hanukkah) we extended the sunshine a bit and cruised down south where the weather is still a little warmer.  It was a 9 day cruise that departed from Barcelona and had port visits in Morocco, the Canary Islands, a Portuguese Island, and Malaga, Spain. 

It makes "cents" to shop around and do a little homework.  We spent 1 day in Barcelona before departing.  Most folks would assume that we took a Ryanair flight but it turns out that most of the time, the Ryanair flight schedules tend to be out of sync with our cruise schedule in Spain.  So, instead we took another discount flight (Iberia). This flight had more generous rules when it came to baggage weights and sizes.  Also, we were leaving from Frankfurt International to Barcelona International.  The drive up to Frankfurt sucked because of traffic but because it was the International airport, there were tons of discount parking areas for us to use.  We used Tourcare.  We were very happy with this company.  For 56 Euro, they provided shuttle service to the airport and for almost 2 weeks of covered parking, this was MUCH cheaper than paying the airport rate.  

Like our Summer Mediterranean cruise, the ship departed from Barcelona, Spain.  I really, really love Barcelona.  It reminds us so much of our adopted hometown of San Diego.  I will do a shameless plug right now and beg the Navy to offer my husband a job in Spain! We went with another family on this cruise.  The mother (my good friend) knows Spanish well.  All of us know Spanish well enough to read most menu items, order, and find out how much things cost. It felt really good to know the language. A small tip to getting around with a family.  If taking public transportation, check with the metro or train information area (AKA an actual person), or check online before visiting the city to see if there is a family ticket or something more economical to purchase.  For the Barcelona metro, we purchased a T-10 ticket for each member of our family. This covered 10 round trips.  This was much cheaper than buying a new ticket for each destination. We were even able to use this same ticket when we returned from our cruise and needed to get to our return flight. We had seen most of the popular places in Barcelona already but something new we were able to enjoy was the Boqueria Market.  If one would like to experience the sites smells and tastes of Northern Africa and Europe blended together, this is it!  For a foodie like myself, this was truly a treat to see. Go there for breakfast they have a fabulous variety of fresh fruit juices and smoothies.
Boqueria Market, Barcelona

Our first stop was Morocco.  I have to say ultimately, I was not impressed with this destination. We thought we had read up and done our homework but it was still not that fantastic.  I'd like to think I'm a pretty positive person.  This was probably the worst city I've visited while living in Europe.  It's really, really cool to say that we've been to Africa.  That's about it. I have nothing really to recommend here.  If we did it over again, we would have probably skipped a tour of any kind and just walked to one of the local nearby markets for an hour or so. 

Following Morocco was a day at Sea and then Funchal, Portugal on Madeira.  We love Portugal. Portugal is completely laid back. The Portuguese are completely welcoming and warm.  My favorite is the pottery and linens.  The absolute most fantastic thing about cruising with a family is being able to utilize the ship's Kids Club.  This means mom and dad get to go to port while the kids enjoy the ship--they really would rather be on the ship! The kids club is really a ton of fun.  They meet all kinds of other kids and sometimes create great friendships.  One major bummer was that NCL only offered care for children two years and older.  So our friends didn't have care for their just-under 2 year old.  We love their toddler; but just wish there was a babysitter or some kind of option for them to get some grown up time together.

Then it was on to Arrecife....uh oh!  Rough day at sea threw a wrench in our plans and we ended up going to Santa Cruz.  This was a much larger and busier island than Madeira.  Great part about the Canaries, just about everyone speaks Spanish here!  We only had several hours to spend here so unfortunately we could really only enjoy the shopping area and a light snack. If we had more time, we might have taken the children to see Loro Park.  Of course recently... we just watched Blackfish.  If we had seen this movie before going on our cruise we might not have gone to see the Orcas.

After another day at sea, we were back to mainland Europe.  Our final and my favorite stop was Malaga, Spain.  Malaga is simply a beautiful city.  The home of Pablo Picasso and many other famous artists, this clean and elegant city was a joy to visit. So much of the city still has it's Moorish influence.  The streets and shops were extremely clean.  Well worth the visit and if Mike and I could, we'd go back to spend more time there. There was a fantastic juice, smoothie and coffee bar we stopped at on our stroll through the main strip.  El Ultimo Mono Juice & Coffee.  For anyone out there looking to get a little travel detox healthiness in you, this was the place.  Fantastic blends of fruits and greens YUM! Mike was also the awesome husband that he is and purchased some beautiful earrings for me at Pebbles & Chance.  Click on their name for a link to their Etsy page.  These are completely unique and handmade.  Camilla & Abi Cherry are sisters that make the items.  As one of the sisters told Mike, "We are very busy"  I don't doubt it!

Overall, this was a great cruise.  I can't ever say that I've had a horrible cruise.  Although there are naysayers out there who may comment things like, 'On a cruise you just can't get the real authentic feel of a place' or, 'your just a tourist'  this is true to some extent.  But honestly with young children and traveling, spending time in destinations and experience everywhere "like a local" is just hard to accomplish as a young family.  Not impossible but difficult. We are on a limited budget and have limited time.  For us, going on cruises is an economical and timely way of getting a taste of everything on our bucket list while we are here in Europe.  It gives our children a chance to enjoy the traveling and hopefully have fond stress free memories of our destinations as well.  Children are children they like their creature comforts.  Have a semi regular place to lay their heads in the evening and knowing that they can enjoy some familiar foods is nice and creates less stress on everyone. 

A couple little complaints for NCL.  We would have really appreciated getting some basic information on our destination days.  A small leaflet included a map and a few restaurant and shopping recommendations slipped into our Daily Freestyle newsletter would have been extremely helpful.  Also, available babysitting for children under the age of 2 would have been fantastic!  The small lectures on the destinations was not very helpful either.  Although, I appreciated a brief history of the location we were going to, information on transportation, tipping, where to shop, where to eat and general navigation of a port should be the priority of these talks.  The food on the Norwegian Spirit was not the best.  We were previously on the Norwegian Epic and experienced a much better dining experience.  That being said the staff was excellent as always and everything was clean and well maintained.  The Kids Club was so much fun for our boys and they loved being able to perform in the circus for their parents and cruise patrons.  Stay tuned for pictures! If our readers are in the market for a good cruise, Norwegian really should be at the top of the list.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


To view all photos from our Prague holiday, click here.

Not sure if anyone has noticed... but we haven't posted in a while.  There a lot of things going on in our lives right now and in a lot of ways, Europe or, Germany was not what we thought it was going to be.  We really thought we were going to be traveling all the time.  Seeing a new site every weekend... that kind of thing.  Then reality hit us like a smack to the---well, you get my drift. Although it hasn't been what we thought, we have been really blessed to see what we've seen.  Don't want to come out sounding like a downer. 

The hardest thing for us to swallow is the price tag.  Stuff is expensive here.  Not everything, I really think everyday stuff isn't too bad.  There are a lot of folks who might disagree with me but I really think once one gets the hang of things, they can find things on the cheap.  I think I've blogged about this before but I may need to add a tip or two in there.  The "expensive" part is the traveling part.  Getting around isn't as budget friendly as we thought it would be. 

Recently, we visited a city that was friendly on the wallet and a fabulous place to experience:  Prague, or as the locals call it, Praha.

I'll preface this by writing that I really hope I don't offend anyone out there. Please gather comfort in the thought that I am being honest and naive in my writings. Slowly but surely I hope the reader can understand that I am learning as I go.  

I have to be honest, I wasn't really all that thrilled about the idea of visiting Prague.  Even with all of our friends raving about how wonderful it was.  Prague is in the Czech Republic.  Eastern Europe... when I think of Eastern Europe things like Heavy Metal (which I actually enjoy but it can be dark and scary), the movies "Dracula" & "Black Hawk Down" spring into my brain.  Rest assured, Prague couldn't be further from this stereotype.

Our family decided to drive.  From where we live (in the Kaiserslautern area) it took us a little over 5 hours to get there.  At about an hour before the border, we decided we should stop for some dinner... there was literally nowhere on the A6 (stretch of autobahn) to stop.  A word to the wise, if it's close to meal time and you've got kidlets, be sure to stop around or before Nuremberg for a bite. There are rest stops but no eateries for about an hour past this point.  Once we crossed over the Czech border, about 20 minutes in, there was a Shell Gas station and McDonalds...yes, we eat at Mickey D's when we are traveling.  Get over it. We have kids. 

We arrived in Prague in the evening.  We stayed at the Hotel Amigo This was a great place.  The price we paid for 3 nights in a suite (3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom) is equivalent to what we would have paid for 2 nights in a basic hotel in a major city in the States. The suite was clean and included breakfast (fresh fruit, veggies, Muesli, bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, etc.).  Hotel Amigo was located very close to the city center.  Easy for us to catch the metro to wherever we wanted to go. Again, this place was very reasonable. Parking ended up being 19 Euro a day, but even at that price the overall room cost was cheap.  Not too different than many other hotel prices for parking in a city.

Our first day was spent in the Jewish Quarter.  This was fascinating.  Prague has an incredibly rich Jewish history dating back to the 13th century.  Also, the oldest intact synagogue in Europe is located here. Even if you're not Jewish, this is a historic gem.  An absolute must see. Like any tourist, I absolutely had to get my Golem.

We were able to get weekend tickets at the Metro information booth.  I believe for 3 days it was around 15 Euros a ticket.  Using the metro, which by the way, is very easy to navigate, we headed to a mall where there was plenty of places to eat.  Also, there were a ton of little stands selling street food.  Czech street food and drink during the winter consists of hot wine (honey wine and black currant YUM!) dark beer, sausages, roasted ham (also assorted plates of mixed ham with potatoes), fresh fried potato chips, potato pancakes with saurkraut (they were about the size of my head!) crepes, and trdelník.

By our second day, all we needed to see was the astronomical clock.  This is the 3rd oldest astronical clock in the world and the oldest one that is still working.  Over 600 years old.  You know what they called "America" back then?  Nothing! Because Columbus hadn't even found it yet!  Joshua really got a kick out of this.  In fact we all did.  This was truly a treasure to experience.  Be sure to watch it go off at the top of the hour.

We ended up having a little more time than we thought we would have so we took a detour to the Bone Church or, more appropriately the Sedlec Ossuary.  We were so glad that we did the drive, about an hour outside of Prague in Kutna Hora.  This small chapel was built in the 1200's.  The abbot of the monastery took a trip to the holy land and returned with dirt that he sprinkled on the property.  Because of this, it became a popular place to be buried.  Sadly, because of the plague and brutal war, the chapel was burdened with too many burials.  There are several stories as to why the bones became a visible part of the church, but somewhere over 40,000 people are part of this church. After seeing the church, we did a little shopping and lunch where we dined at a local restaurant and drank local wine and beer.  Czech beer is fabulous!  Their wines are sweet and wonderful as well.

3 nights was a perfect amount to have a relaxing tour of the city and outskirts.  We didn't feel too rushed.  Of course, if we wanted to push it hard we would have been able to see much more, but really, these were the most important things we wanted to do and we wanted to have a laid back kind of time.

The Czech people are incredibly welcoming and warm. The art and music culture thrives here.  Like most northern European places the majority of folks know English so it's easy to communicate.  We felt incredibly safe and comfortable while touring.  There are tons of things to do and shop!  Prices are reasonable and the food & drink is divine!  A must see if touring in the area.

For more info check out Rick Steves' site.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bad Sobernheim Barefoot Path

A year or so ago, Nicki and Josh took a trip up to Bad Sobernheim to hike the Barefoot Path.  Joshua had so much fun, he couldn't wait to go back.  Nicki... not so much.  So over the following months, Joshua periodically asked if I could take him up there again.  Today was the day; and it was just Joshua and me - a little father/son hang out time.

Bad Sobernheim is located along the Nahe River, about an hour and a half from Kaiserslautern.  The park, as you can read in the above link, is one of many that has popped up in Europe over the last decade or two, for the enjoyment of people who would like to walk without shoes in a natural environment.  The concept isn't entirely foreign to me.  While living in San Diego, if I wasn't at work, I was either in flip flops or barefoot.

The trip up to Bad Sobernheim is scenic!  The town is nowhere near an autobahn, so we weaved our way through fields, hills, and riversides to get there.  Even saw a deer crossing the road in one spot.  Upon arrival, we got a little lost.  My GPS was set for the bahnhofstrasse (train station street) and I must have missed the signs for the park that were mentioned in other people's websites.   Rain was also pouring pretty hard at this point, so I wasn't a happy camper.  We stopped at the train station parking lot and found a town map.  Between that and calling Nicki for some further guidance, we were able to reset the GPS to get closer to the park entrance. In case you're interested, the address below will get you on the correct street heading towards the park, just keep going straight on the street from there and you'll dead end at the parking lot.

GPS Address for Bad Sobernheim Barefoot Park:

Münchwiesen 44
55566 Bad Sobernheim

When we arrived, the rain fell for a few more minutes before tapering off.  We purchased tickets, which were 3,50 for adults and €2,00 for children (3-17 y.o.).  The hike is about 3.5 km (2.2 miles) and is an absolutely fun and enjoyable journey.  

I had a great time just hanging out with Joshua, walking, talking and joking around.  Next time, we may bring Sam along so he can experience it too (he loved the photos we took...), but it was nice to have some one-on-one time just with Joshua. 

If you're interested in the complete set of photos, click here.  Disclaimer:  If you don't like to see pictures of feet, don't click through.  There's lots of feet... and filthy ones at that!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


What happens when you're a little more hard core health food nut then what your average grocer can provide?  It's a little tough to answer this question when living abroad...but possible.

There are a couple things that I haven't been able to find at the Commissary on post or at the local grocer.  I found Nutritional Yeast at the Landstuhl Reformhaus but I wanted to look for some other things too and do a little price comparison shopping.  I was intrigued (well, maybe more like "green with envy and drooling") when  a friend posted that she was able to get Rinder Schinken (Cured Beef similar to Spanish Cured Ham) at the natural food's store Alnatura.  Also, sometimes the commissary just is out of the healthy stuff.  (I tend to be a conspiracy theorist about this subject)

I had heard the buzz about this store from others but finally decided to take a drive there myself and check it out.  This morning I set out armed with my year 2006 GPS.  Well, after an hour of the GPS and me trying to find the place, I gave up (temporarily).  Sammy had had it and I had to get him to school.   It was such a thorn in my side that I couldn't find it.  I just had to try again.  I gave up my workout time (Such a sacrifice!) and headed out again.  This time, I had Google maps directions as well.  So, because of construction and the fact that downtown Kaiserslautern is an evil place (I don't know if the road construction will ever stop).....I got lost still.  I was so turned around and side tracked that I got flashed! AG! Speeding ticket to arrive in a month or two in the mail.  Despite all of the cosmic vibes trying to bring me down, I found it! 

For people looking for a little more variety or, who are very conscious of what they are eating (for allergies or other health reasons), this place is for you. For people who want to really save, not so much.  The food, tea, coffee, lotions and potions here are almost all if not all organic, free trade, and or cruelty free. I spotted Baluga, Red and Yellow Lentils beside the regular ones.  They have red Quinoa, chia seeds, soy, almond, rice, and hazelnut milk, all the nut butters one could imagine and yes, my beloved my Rinder Schinken! They now have tiny beef sausages as well.  For a kosher gal living in a world of pork this is heaven!  Rinder Schinken is lovely on it's own or, wrapped around some melon. 

If you'd like a link to where Alnatura Kaiserslautern is located click here

More about Rinder Schinken? Click here