Germany Quirks

I love living in Europe, more specifically Germany.  It’s a beautiful country with a great location, central to so much of Europe.  It’s quite perfect for travel.  A great aspect of living in another country is discovering the quirks that make it unique; and then realizing that you have adapted to these differences and have discovered a new normal for yourself.  I think every place has its own unique quirks and Germany is no different.  Here are a few quirks that I have experienced in my first four months.

Blowtorch Lawn Maintenance

Yes, you read that correctly.  It’s true.  In Germany, you cannot use weed killer like Round Up for fear of harming the ground water supply.  So, what better way to kill weeds in your driveway and along the sidewalk than with a blowtorch?  I first observed this common practice one evening while taking my trash out to the bin.  I heard a strange noise and looked over at my 70-year-old neighbor lighting up his driveway.  I thought he must have lost his marbles.  I have since witnessed this practice several times – to include my landlord lighting up my own driveway.

Trash is Serious Business

Germans do not take their trash lightly.  Almost everything is recycled.  Which is great because I absolutely believe in recycling, but I had a love hate relationship with this when we first moved to Germany because I wasn’t quite sure what went where.  It’s not as simple as the US process.  I have six separate bins in my house – bio waste, residual waste, packaging materials, glass, paper/cardboard, and plastic and glass that can be turned in for store credit.  This picture explains it pretty well and was a lifesaver when I had to start this process.  You can be fined for incorrectly sorting your trash.  I haven’t personally witnessed anyone getting fined, but everyone says it can happen.  Germany’s recycling rate leads Europe.

Quiet Hours

Germany has quiet hours every day.  It’s true.  Fines are given out if you do not adhere to the quiet hours. This was hard for my family and I to adjust to when we first arrived. On Sundays and German holidays, excessive noise is prohibited from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays. During that time, noise levels must be kept down as much as possible.  The use of lawn mowers or other noisy equipment is only permissible from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, and is not permitted Sundays or holidays.  As you can imagine, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. is prime outside play time for children and my daughter is loud when she’s at play.  She has learned to keep it down during quiet hours.  It’s nice to witness her practicing self-control.  I noticed this rule was followed more during our short stay in Kaiserslautern, but is a little less stringent in my village. Thank goodness.

Tiny Swim Shorts

So, I’ve discovered that it is extremely easy to tell the difference between American men and European men at the public pool.  American men are usually the ones wearing board shorts as swim trunks, whereas the European men wear tiny swim suits.  Imagine just a touch more coverage than a Speedo. This style suit is worn by the young males all the way to the geriatric ones.  I’m sure the tiny suits are more comfortable for swimming and they honestly makes more sense.  It was unusual to witness at first because in America only a small minority of men are willing to venture into the tiny swim suit fashion.

Speed Cameras

In Germany, police do not have to worry themselves with traffic stops for speeding motorists because there are strategically placed traffic cameras that dole out speeding tickets to the offending parties.  If you’re going more than three kilometers over the speed limit, then you get a ticket in the mail.  My husband, who I must mention never gets speeding tickets in the states, has racked up a whopping seven tickets in the four months that we’ve lived here.  I haven’t received any…yet (knock on wood), but I have managed to blow out two tires.  That’s a whole different story. 

Grocery Store

Visiting a German grocery store is quite the culture shock.  The first time I visited one was a few hours after landing in the country.  I needed to stock up on some items for the temporary apartment and there was a grocery store right around the corner.  First of all, I was extremely jet lagged.  I think I ended up purchasing beer, bread, milk, peanut butter, popcorn and Nutella.  I’m blaming the jet lag on my unusual purchases and the layout of the store.  It was all quite differently organized than what I was accustomed to in the states. And although I had been studying Deutsch, I was having difficulty with reading the packages.

I have to admit something that is quite embarrassing.  I could not find the eggs.  I went up and down that store searching for eggs.  I was too jet lagged and not confident in my Deutsch speaking skills at the time to ask.  Eggs should be by the milk, butter and cheese, right?  I never did find the eggs on that first trip.  What I later discovered is that eggs don’t have to be kept cold if they haven’t been washed.  I guess I should’ve known that, but I didn’t at the time.  The eggs were in the middle of an aisle, not in the cold section.  Other things you should know before visiting a German grocery store:  Bring your own bags because they don’t have any plastic bags and you have to bag your own groceries.  Also, be sure to weigh your produce before you get to the checkout.  They do not weigh it for you. 

Living abroad is fun and forces you out of your comfort zone.  I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to embrace the quirks even when I find it difficult. Have you noticed any quirks on your travels to different countries?  Please share in the comments below.

Happy travels.

Guinness Storehouse vs. Smithwick’s Experience

I recently had the opportunity to visit Ireland with my family.  We were of the mindset that when one is touring Ireland one must learn about AND sample its brews.  It’s customary.  No, no, no…a requirement.  So, to meet this requirement, we participated in the Guinness Storehouse Tour in Dublin and the Smithwick’s Experience in Kilkenny on consecutive days in October – the “non-tourist season”.  Both were interesting, informative and offered beverages for tasting.

Below is my brief comparison of the two tours. 

Guinness Storehouse – Dublin – Thursday around 2 P.M.

  • The seven-story Guinness Storehouse is a historic building full of interesting facts about the brew and its creator, Arthur Guinness. The original 9,000-year lease that Arthur Guinness signed in 1759 for the St. James Gate Brewery is entombed in the floor of the lower level.  Quite fitting since this is where to tour begins.  The displays were on such a large scale making it visually stunning, especially the section on the ingredients – barley, hops, water and yeast.  The price was 18,50 euro per adult. We used the Dublin pass though.  I recommend it if you plan to be in Dublin for a few days.
Playing around in the marketing/advertising section. This was one of my favorite parts.

Pros:

  • Interactive Marketing Area – This made for great photo opportunities and was entertaining.
  • Food Court – Nice variety.
  • Displays – Large scale and well-done.
  • Vast Amounts of Information – Thorough history and brewing process information.
  • Tasty Ale (obviously)
  • Views from the Guinness Gravity Bar – Located seven-stories above Dublin with an approximately 280-degree view of the city.
  • Great Souvenir Shop

Cons:

  • Crowded – I would hate to be here during peak tourist season.
  • Small Elevators – Try to avoid using them.
  • Not enough seating in the Gravity Bar and overly crowded.  Couldn’t really enjoy the view of Dublin because you have to be right by the window to see it due to the amount of people crowded inside the room.
  • No Tour Guide – Required to read the many plaques or use a headset for most of the information.

Smithwick’s Experience – Kilkenny – Friday around 2 P.M.

Located along the Medieval Mile in Kilkenny, the Smithwick’s Experience (pronounced “Smittick’s” by locals) is a must see in this picturesque town an hour south of Dublin.  The tour takes place in the old brewery and is guided by a local “Cat” (someone from Kilkenny.)  The information on the brewing process was thorough and clearly presented.  The history went back to the Franciscan monks who originally started brewing in Kilkenny, all the way up to John Smithwick and his family.  The tour featured the history of the various struggles in running the brewery to include John Smithwick being Catholic during the Reformation and not being able to technically own his brewery and how the brewery survived and even thrived during WWII – called “The Emergency” in Ireland at the time.  The price is 15,00 euro per adult.

Cheers! Tasty ales.

Pros:

  • Tasty Ales – We were able to sample Smithwick’s three ales.  The red, pale, and blonde.  The blonde is yet to be exported out of Ireland because it is quite new.  It was delicious and probably my favorite of the three, but all were great.  
  • Tour Guide – This made it more personal, entertaining and allowed for questions.
  • Vast Amounts of Information – Thorough history and brewing process information.
  • Sample Room – Looked like a little, Irish, Smithwick’s themed pub.  A lot of seating and comfortable.
  • Not crowded – There was a good flow of people probably because the tours are guided and staggered, but never felt crowded.

Cons:

  • No food option onsite.
  • Beginning of Tour – It was a bit strange.  You’ll understand when you go.

So, what’s the verdict?  Go to both!  They were both enjoyable in their own way.  My advice though for the Guinness Storehouse – GO EARLY.  Maybe if you go early it will be less crowded, which was the biggest con about the experience.

If you enjoyed this blog, checkout my other experiences from Ireland.

Happy travels.

Things to do in Kilkenny Ireland

Blarney Castle and Gardens – Ireland

Blarney Castle and Gardens is a must see in Ireland.

My family and I just returned from our amazing trip to southern Ireland.  The country was beautiful and the people were spirited and kind…and the beer was delicious. On our six-day trip, we traveled to and explored Dublin, Kilkenny, Cobh, Spike Island, the Dingle Peninsula, the Cliffs of Moher, Killarney, Cork, Galway and Athlone…I may have forgotten one or two.  I can’t wait to go back.

This is my favorite picture of the Blarney Gardens. (No filter. No editing at all.)

One of my favorite experiences from the whole trip was visiting Blarney Castle and Gardens.  This was on the third day which was tightly scheduled and we almost opted out of this excursion because our schedule was so tight.  That would’ve been a huge mistake. 

So, instead of opting out, we got up at 6 A.M. so that we could get ready, eat breakfast and arrive at the castle when the gates opened at 9 A.M.  Best idea ever because we were the second, third and fourth people to enter that day and it was so peaceful and the early morning lighting was absolutely perfect.  Getting up that early also allowed us no waiting in line to kiss the Blarney Stone; which I heard sometimes there’s a two hour wait…that’s worse than a ride at Disney World. 

Advice:  GET UP EARLY and GIVE YOURSELF TWO-THREE HOURS TO EXPLORE

Things to do at the Blarney Castle and Gardens:

Kiss the Blarney Stone

Go ahead.  Do it!  It is in fact the castle’s claim to fame at least on the surface.  Legend says that by kissing the Blarney Stone you will be blessed with the gift of gab…eloquence of conversation.  There are some things to consider.  First, if you don’t arrive early, you will be waiting a long time.  Second, if you are afraid of heights, this may not be for you because you are backwards, upside down and head first leaning over the edge.  It is safe though.  There are bars and there is someone there holding you, however, if you’re not comfortable with heights, you may struggle a bit.  Third, the Blarney stone is at the top of the castle and the climb up is steep and narrow.  All that being said, I think it’s worth it.

We were the first ones to kiss the Blarney Stone this day and the attendant just cleaned it…so…hopefully I won’t contract mono or the plague.

Explore the Castle

This castle has its charm with its picturesque, sturdy exterior and interior spaces that feel authentic. The thick stone walls and narrow steep stone staircases and corridors show today’s tourist a glimpse of what it must have been like to live in and defend this great castle.  You will see the great hall, bedrooms, “bathrooms”, towers, the murder hole, and many other rooms.  There are no furnishings, but that really didn’t bother me.

Blarney Castle on a beautiful morning in October.

Creep through the Caves

Beneath the Blarney Castle lies a series of caves.  These are fun to explore, but can be a bit muddy after rain and some are a tight squeeze.  My seven-year-old thought it was the best!  These caves once connected to the main castle and were used as exit and entry points.  Now, they’re just really interesting to explore.

Tour the Gardens:

Visit the Witch’s TreeIn the gardens of the Blarney Castle stands an amazing tree with wide-spreading branches.  Below the tree is a shallow cave…just a small room really. However, it has a fireplace with a chimney protruding from the ground on the opposite side of the tree and cave entrance.  The tree is rumored to once house a witch.  It’s outward appearance and lower cave enclosure is reminiscent of a fairy tale setting I read as a child.  Nearby is similar cave that once belonged to a hermit.  It is said that people from the castle brought food down to sustain him.

Waterfalls There are a few small waterfalls a short distance from the castle that flow into small pools at their bases.  It’s peaceful and picturesque.  The sound of the water from the falls was also soothing.  I think it helped that we were some of the few people in the garden at the time. 

Blarney House – Situated on the surrounding grounds near the Blarney Castle is the recently-restored Blarney House.  Originally built in 1874, it is only open to the public during the Summer months.  So, I wasn’t able to tour it, but the outside is worth the quick trek from the castle.  I would love to have seen the interior.

Horses – I can’t personally attest to it, but apparently there are horses fenced in within the garden a short walk from the castle.  They were not in the pasture when we passed by, but I’m sure it would be nice to see them.  I bet younger children would enjoy a quick peek.

So, these were just a few highlights to explore within the Blarney Castle and Gardens.  If you’ve been, please share your favorites in the comments below. 

Happy travels.

Hike to Hamburg Tower Kaiserslautern, Germany

View of Hamburg Tower - Kaiserslautern, Germany.  Built in 1900 as a landmark for a scenic view of Kaiserslautern.
Hamburg Tower – Kaiserslautern, Germany

When hiking up to Hamburg Tower in Kaiserslautern, do NOT do what I did.  I accidentally took my family on the extended, extra-long, scenic, scenic route.  Probably added on a couple of miles for my husband, seven-year-old daughter and I.  My advice: Choose the path that appears to be less traveled…that will make all the difference. This advice will save you from a lot of tortuous hiking and affirmations that you and your husband could never hack it on The Amazing Race without embarrassing yourselves.  You’ll understand my advice when you get to the crossroads.

The hike up to Hamburg Tower itself is quite beautiful and surprisingly peaceful even for a weekend afternoon/evening.  We occasionally crossed paths with a few people – hikers, mountain bikers – but for the most part we were free to explore in solitude as a family.  The hike is not difficult and had we not taken the scenic route, my seven-year-old daughter would’ve had no problem with it.

The view makes it all worth it.  You can see so much of Kaiserslautern from the top of the tower.  The tower itself looks like it materialized out of a Disney movie or fairy tale.  I was expecting Rapunzel to throw down her hair.  We made it to the top of the tower a couple of hours before sundown and it was absolutely perfect. 

View of Kaiserslautern, Germany from the top of the Hamburg Tower.
View of Kaiserslautern, Germany from the top of the Hamburg Tower.

The hike back down to the bottom was way more enjoyable because we had gravity on our side and we took the shorter route.  Again, it was quiet and scenic. 

Victory beers!

One of my favorite parts was the hotel/restaurant at the base of the hike.  My family and I relaxed.  My husband and I had a couple of German beers and my daughter played on the playground, which was nice and within view from our table.  The food was good, traditional German food and reasonably priced.  There was a stage so I think sometimes they have live entertainment.

Overall, it was a great way to spend a Sunday in Kaiserslautern, Germany

Happy travels!

Seven Things to do in Bern, Switzerland

I recently had the opportunity to visit beautiful, beautiful Bern, Switzerland.  Known for its Bears, Beers, Buskers and a Brilliant mind.  Well, at least during my recent trip.  This city was a stop along a larger trip, but totally worth it.  We only spent a day here, but my family and I enjoyed the architecture, food and energy of this beautiful town in Switzerland.  Here are seven things to do while in Bern, Switzerland.

Visit the Famous Bern Bears

A Bern bear lounging in Bear Park in Bern, Switzerland.
Bern Bear lounging in Bear Park in Bern, Switzerland.

Bern is known for its bears. There’s a bear on the flag, many statues around town pay homage to bears, and bear souvenirs are hibernating in the tourist shops.  Honestly, I’m not sure where the bear obsession originated.  I’ve read many theories, but I’ll leave you to explore that further on your own.  The fact is that the city is home to three full-grown bears.  They live in Bear Park (obviously) by the Aare River.  It’s not like seeing a bear in a zoo enclosure.  The park habitat is quite large, remains fairly natural, and there’s a path that encircles the enclosure.  So, seeing the bears is likely.  I saw two of them…possibly all three. 

Dip your toes (or whole body) in the Aare River

Family of three dipping their toes in the Aare River in Bern, Switzerland.
Dipping our toes in the Aare River in Bern, Switzerland.

The frigid and beautiful Aare River borders Bern on three sides.  And it is actually “a thing” to go floating/swimming down the Aare River.  If you’re feeling adventurous, go for it.  Jump in – literally.  I witnessed one guy jump off of one of the bridges into the river.  However, most people I observed took the more conservative approach by wading in from the shore.  If you can make it to the end of the Bern section, you’ll be rewarded by a really great gathering of other adventure seekers at the pub on the shore.  I promised my daughter we would swim in the Aare during July 2020.  Stay tuned for a follow up post on that adventure.

Take a Picture at the Clock Tower (Zytglogge)

There is a beautiful, picturesque clock in Bern that makes for a great photo opportunity if you’re willing to get up early to beat the other tourist to it.  Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of random people in your family photo.  It is quite lovely.  Built in 1530, it is the oldest clock in Switzerland and is said to have inspired Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  So, something you should definitely see.  Also, it’s quite close to the main streetcar stop for the historic section of town so it’s quite convenient for a photo opportunity.

Tour the Albert Einstein House

Maybe it’s the nerd in me, but I really thought it was awesome to be standing in Albert Einstein’s former living room and lean out the window to look at the view that he once had of the main street.  Besides being in the same place that once housed a brilliant mind, there was also an extremely informative video about Einstein’s life.  I learned so much more about him, his family and his struggles.  Once you tour Einstein’s apartment try the café on the first floor. 

Relax at a Local Brewery

There’s a restaurant at the top of Bear Park called Altes Tram Depot Brewery & Restaurant that brews its own beer and has a lovely view of the park, Aare River and Bern.  Sit on the balcony and drink it in – the view and the beer.  A beer and some bears (sorry I couldn’t help it).  There’s a gelato stand close by as well.  My husband and I got our daughter a gelato, while we enjoyed our beers.  It made for a great afternoon break from touring the city.  The beer was quite good.

Stroll

View of the Aare River in Bern, Switzerland.
Strolling along the Aare River in Bern, Switzerland.

Bern is a very strollable city.  The historic section is not very large and has plenty of markers to help you get your bearings. Stroll along the river, or throughout the city.  Both are beautiful.  The river stroll is quieter and you can watch people swimming along the Aare River and the views are amazing.  Strolling through the city offers plenty of shops, dining options and architecture. If you stroll along the outskirts of the walled section of Bern at the higher altitude, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views.

Enjoy Buskers Bern

So, we were fortunate enough to accidently tour Bern during the Buskers Bern festival.  It is an annual event that celebrates street performers. There’s music, dance, theater, street performances, art and acrobatics at about 25 different venues.  Talented, high quality performers.  I must also mention that for the amount of people that were at this festival, no one got too rowdy.  Everyone stayed very civil.  Plan your trip around it.  You’ll be very happy you did.

Friendly Observations:

  • People drink straight from the fountains in town.
  • Use public transportation because parking in the Old Town is quite difficult.

I’m sure there is much more to do and see in Bern, Switzerland, but like I mentioned, we were only there for a day.  If you’ve been to Bern, Switzerland, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  If you haven’t already been to Bern, which of these seven would you most like to experience?

Happy travels.

Hi, I’m Lex

Hi. I’m Lex…short for Alexis.  My family and I moved to Europe in July 2019.  We’ve already had quite an adventure. This blog is a way for me to share some of my experiences on this beautiful continent – travels, observations and adapting to life in Europe.  My hope is that the information I share will guide you on your future adventures in Europe and occasionally elicit a laugh as I openly describe my sometimes embarrassing experiences adapting to my new environment.

Let’s see…what you should know about me…I’m a wife; and a mother to one amazing little girl.  I love coffee, wine, traveling, kickboxing, reading, photography, cats, writing (obviously), architecture and history.  Oh, and the Green Bay Packers.  I’m more of a night owl than an early bird and would rather eat chips and salsa than dessert.  I usually connect quickly and easily with others, however, connecting has been difficult due to language barriers, but I’m working on it.

When my family and I heard we would be moving to Europe and staying for three to five years, we immediately started writing down places we wanted to visit.  I’m curious, if you could visit any place in Europe, what would it be?  Let me know in the comments below.  I’m excited to share my adventures and experiences with you and look forward to reading your comments. 

Happy travels!

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