When we last left off, my brother and his family had just joined us in Heiligensee, near Berlin. Read The Germany Journals (Ger-nals?) Parts One, Two and Three if you haven't already.
Once the kids are all up, we got the fun of seeing them play together and then a quick bike ride to the park - with a combination of bikes with kid seats, a trailer, and little bikes for Shark Boy and his cousin. We got to the playground, played on the playground train (made of stumps) then the slide and a game of hide and seek. The Lightning Kid sat this little excursion out in favour of a morning nap - but when we got back for lunch and naps for the rest of them - it was his turn to ride in the bike seat.
I generally prefer the trailer for safety reasons, but it's great to see him enjoy the ride (and more importantly, tolerate a helmet).
We'd seen posters around town for a Kids' Fair near the big shopping mall. Things to do for kids seem to be always available in Germany - if you know where to find them. In this case our search led us through the mall which resulted in extra stops for espresso, ice cream (my third spaghetti ice cream of the trip) and books (as well as a tantrum or two).
We had some trouble finding the place (it's a semi-industrial/commercial park) and when we did - there was barely anyone there. The carny/operator guy seemed to think the threatening weather had kept the crowds back but I couldn't help but think the hidden location added to that. The good news was we could walk onto any attraction like a bouncy castle as a family or even have rides stopped and started at our leisure. There may have been some bent rues about adults on rides too... We called it an evening before the rain hit and got the kids home for dinner and bedtime.
In the morning we took all the kids on another riverboat cruise except the Lightning Kid. Its pretty uneventful, in spite of the kids' efforts to run around, split up, and generally get close to railings and other threats.
To me, driving in Germany is a little more stressful than back home - there's different rules for right of way (cars entering the street from the right have right of way unless otherwise marked - very counter-intuitive), you can't turn right on red, the speed limits (or lack thereof) on the Autobahn and generally dealing with the fact that you don't know where you're going. Like I said, it's a little more stressful.. but factor in dark and rainy weather, rush hour traffic and noisy kids in the back seat and you have a white-knuckle experience. Our GPS unit seemed determined to route us to every major road and highway via some byzantine combination of side streets and alleyways. There might have been smoke coming out of my ears by the time we got there but it's nothing a beer and pasta dinner (plus cake and cookies) couldn't fix.
We took the kids to Jack's Fun World again; it was interesting to see how the presence of his cousins affected Shark Boy's behaviour - he was a lot more game to get onto structures and trampolines and less into riding solo on video game motorcycles and other stationary, coin-operated machines. He even tackles some slides that he left alone the last time we were here. A big highlight for me is seeing the Lighting Kid flash his big smile at me when we ride the little train together.
Knowing we've got the journey back to Frankfurt the next day, we opted for a slower afternoon rather than take the kids swimming - they'd had enough big time action for the day. It was nice to keep things simple at home and we got a shot of the kids together on the couch in what is becoming an annual tradition.
Heading back to Bad Homburg, the families were splitting up in a race - the train (ICE & S-trains) versus car. Would the delays of train stations and transfers be less or more than those of Autobahn traffic jams? (Note: my hand-written journal runs out here. A month later and my memory of our last day is a little hazier). We rode the ICE a little more knowledgeably this time, and managed to keep the boys reasonably entertained (resulting in reasonably good behaviour) for that portion of the ride back. Moving around the cars and getting food proved challenging, as the train was full of drunken, loud Bayern-Muenchen fans on their way back from a Champions League Final victory.
We made it to Frankfurt station and felt like ice cream... but we were being ice cream snobs and the Hagen Daaz and Movenpick kiosks were not going to cut it, so we got a couple of pastries instead and boarded the S-Bahn/S Train. S-Bahns are a little like street cars on steroids, and tend to help bind outlying communities and suburbs to the downtown core of cities like Frankfurt. Ours was very crowded and our stroller had to fight for space with bikes... while a separate section of seats were vacant. They were 'First Class' seats; I found the idea of a First Class section in a commuter train service very odd, but there you have it.
|Riding the rails (again).|
We spent a lovely evening as two families; the kids playing in the backyard and take-out pizza for dinner. One last night and the next morning we would be winging our way home.
The flight home was not overnight like the way to Germany, so we were a little worried. Fortunately, the boys kept their chaos on the lighter side, and we also had another empty seat beside us. We shuffled around quite a bit to keep everybody satisfied.
|This picture is not representative of the overall flight|
The young lady you can see in the background of the picture actually managed to catch Shark Boy and keep him from falling off the seats while he was sleeping. I thanked her profusely, but the best part was that she had forgotten a bouquet of flowers, and we were able to find her at baggage claim and return them to her; Shark Boy did the honours of hand delivering them. And with that, we were home, safe and sound.
Obviously there are a lot of great memories in a trip like this, but I won't lie: it was exhausting, and overall made me wonder if it's worth all the effort. More than what I got out of the trip, or what the kids got out of the trip though, is its symbolic value (for lack of a better term). We are a family with widely varied interests and priorities, we might have some special needs, we have personalities that could be classified as forces of nature, but we will travel. We will seek adventure, we will cherish our extended family, whether it's now when it's hard because the children are so young, when it's a little easier because they're somewhat more manageable, or even when they're teenagers and don't want to hang with their parents quite so much. Values like these are instilled through tradition, and tradition means repetition, and sticking to it even when it's hard.
Labels: bicycle, family, travel